Apologies in advance if this concert review is skewed by my specific interests but the benefit of sharing personal peculiarities is rather the point.
In a recent interview the members of Franz Ferdinand described a desire to make a record they could imagine people listening to today. Today being the future we always imagined. It’s curiously apt that the Modernists who inspired much of Franz Ferdinand’s visual imagery conspired to drive culture into a cul-de-sac where original individual creativity was no longer relevant or thought to be genuinely possible.
Normally when you hear statements like the above from a band it’s a cue for the Les Frères Chemical to remix your almost finished songs but in this case its peculiar because A) I think they meant it and B) they seem to have achieved it. Achieved it if you subscribe to a rather old idea of the future currently gaining traction amongst critical theorists and athletics coaches*. I’m referring to A. N. Whitehead’s call to frame life as organic event rather than fixed object in his book Process and Reality. Central to this is the idea that individual creativity is a strange and dislocated thing. In ontological terms, he sees life as becoming rather than the artfully quirky state of being, (hip) seen through the bottom of a coke bottle.
In parallel to the commercialisation of individuality the problem with Modernism’s idea of creativity as the “new” was that everything ended up being a manifesto of an idea of the “new” rather than original in the true germinal sense of the word. This is mirrored in pop music’s tension between repetition and a quest for nascent originality. During my attendance at the concert with my Wife and two sons I realised this entanglement was richly and generously played out in every Franz Ferdinand song.
A lot of people and artists(!) are wary of theoretical discourse around arts and culture. I think this is because they think, perhaps justifiably, that it ruins the experience of the music or the artefact. It’s ironic then that a lot of really helpful theory surrounds the idea that original creativity can free us from the stasis of a patriarchal culture where consumerist forces convert creativity into just another ersatz chunk of monetary power. I’m thinking largely of Deleuze and Guattari’s pragmatic calling for a “local engagement that can be the only condition of resistance the only condition by which resistance may create a new cosmos.”
I think some bands joyfully retain this idiosyncratic localness, they thereby force the cultivation of an explosive engagement in their audience. This localness is about rendering subjective singularities before they are congealed into recognisable and repeatable forms. Franz Ferdinand are one such local band. In this light their peculiarities are not adopted mannerisms but part of a heart-felt desire to create something new. By this I don’t mean a synthesis of existing elements (see mash-up) but something non-repeatable.
The trouble is that somnambulistic UX culture lulled creatives (humans) into thinking that “its all been done” as if local strangeness counts for nothing. At the end of the 20th Century we all became the “girl with the mousy hair”. Deleuze argues that genuine originality in art can return us to a Nietzschean innocence of becoming. This is the child’s wide-eyed vision of the eternal return. Or as Simon O’Sullivan says in the intro to Deleuze and Guattari, “The new is an outside that exists within this world”. The problem is, and I get the feeling this is what new Franz Ferdinand song “Huck and Jim” addresses, is that pop music, like fashion, relies upon repetition of the idea of something new rather than something authentically new or local. The lyric, “We’re going to America / We’re gonna tell them about the NHS” is really about the dangers of turning genuine issues into an emblematic form of status creation.
So, all this is my way of saying that the Franz Ferdinand gig at The Brighton Dome was both sonically amazing and a reason for hope. They may not want me to pin my hopes on them for changing the cosmos, but it is these pockets of creative searching that will help us find a way out through the clearing.
There’s something to be said for hearing music very loud that helps you feel it in a transformative state. The meaning is delivered through affect rather than a reading of the signifiers (words) embedded in the form (music). Affect is a process and this follows the trajectory of transformation. Our progressive culture has been built upon the fixed separation of objective truth. According to Deleuze we need is a way of living in fluid entanglement. Always Ascending starts the set like a rave at the beginning of time “It’s just the way that gravity works round here / All slowly rising, falling patiently …”
This music is highly melodic and harmonious and yet makes a whole new sense when experienced at high volume. The band themselves build a performance around this equation. What became clear is the manner in which the songs are soothing and seductive but continually wriggle free of the standardised pop structure. They stutter and shift and make stomach-lurching skips but somehow retain a sense of flow. They do not make their “difficultness” into an equivalence of uniqueness but instead manifest a creative search for something that is novel and also as if we’ve always known it – as opposed to an ironic repetition of what everyone already knows.
This kind of song-writing is about trying to shape your creativity into something engaging without endangering its germinal energy or betraying its process by turning it into a signifier for awkwardness. So here is the Deleuzian point that only genuine and original creativity can critically engage with our times – as opposed to emblematic symbols of dissent.
If you listen to more than one Franz Ferdinand song you will experience a specificity which is beyond an algorithmic equation. Going back to the band’s desire to make a music for now I would say this is about shifting our idea of progress.
Innovation has been co-opted by market forces that insist upon repetition through familiarity. What I heard at the Franz Ferdinand concert was a joyful and inclusive sharing of pop-music as a space for autopoiesis, or what Nancy calls “being singular plural”. Pop music has historically been a format for rebellion and political dissent but in time this itself becomes another poster child for freedom. By contrast, from a Deleuzian point of view creativity as propaganda betrays itself and transformation can come from “Art’s ability to construct new sensations, unheard, unseen and altogether in human affects that marks it out as a force for genuine invention and resistance”
Adorno hated pop music’s drive to turn art into a repeatable commodity but I grew up believing pop music was a way of being or a culture in which imagination shaped reality. Perhaps I am an old fool who was overwhelmed by the experience of loud music shared with his wife and children. This doesn’t happen everyday and in itself is specific enough to warrant curious attention. You cannot separate the process of hearing the words from the music for this turns them into a letters page but Paper Cages has kept resurfacing in my mind since we drove home together after the show. Dear Sir…“You’re so vivid and free in your imagination”
* At a recent talk I attended by a swimming coach she outlined the benefits of non-goal orientated development in favour of process i.e. swimming better not faster
HURRY – LISTEN – FRANZ FERDINAND
PHOTOGRAPH BY MIKEY B. GEORGESON