93–97 Rewind

Short talk from the event Between Sound and Concept: Listening with the CCRU, December 2021, Coventry Biennal

 

What time is it?
What time was it?
Was it, Even?
Strung out across two decades, possibly more, ‘untold eldritch millennia’, I should think.

To be back in a city that’s almost unrecognisable as the one in which I spent an important period of what suddenly I realise I have to call my youth, and to be asked to locate Ccru in a history of radical cultural movements in Coventry as a city of culture, is something that induces perplexity and templexity.

The Warwick Philosophy Dept.’s dictum that ‘Ccru does not, has not, and will never exist’ points to an enigma which this event threatens to exacerbate into cognitive trauma.

Because, in spite of this timeless prohibition, Ccru exists today more than it did during the short period during which it was a name on a door in a corridor in a university campus in the dying years of the twentieth century.

For two decades Ccru has been more invisible, even to itself, than we can now imagine.

Despite the importance of the episode in my own life, at the time of republishing the Writings, in the wake of Mark Fisher’s death, I had no expectation that it would mean anything to anyone else.

Like all former ‘members’—a word that in itself feels absurd to utter—I have the weird feeling of not knowing what happened, or whether I was even actually a part of it or not.

The reality of the Ccru who produced those writings was that of a small group of people with no real official status, no resources, no visibility. And was always a question of obscure compulsion rather than programmatic intention.

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One of the reasons why Ccru thought is being taken up with uncanny enthusiasm twenty years later, not just as a historical curio but as an abstract map of the contemporary, is the model of culture mobilised in its work from the very beginning—which is contained in the very phrase ‘cybernetic culture’.

Yes, it was about an analysis of what happens to human culture when it is mediated through technical machines, but it was also about understanding culture itself as an immanent meshing of overlapping processes—biological, cognitive, libidinal, social, economic, artistic, technological—a complex understandable only in terms of cybernetic machines.

Cybernetic culture.

The understanding of cultural tendencies and products as the objects of cybernetic processes.

+ the emergence of bizarre quasi-archetypal expressions out of the autonomic processes that result when the collective unconscious begins to lock into technological codes and speeds.

+ the assumption that cultural dynamics are impersonal, authorless, distributed, the property of no one, and may even be parasitical entities that propagate by locking onto the human nervous system.

Today’s cultural technology, or technological culture, is deregulated and fluid enough, has fast enough feedback loops, for the kinds of cultural processes extrapolated by Ccru to become visible to all but the most myopic of observers.

If we look at the media landscape today—but already, we can’t just say media landscape. technology, media, microcurrencies, identities, mental illnesses, digital infection, fear spirals, millenarianism… For example, how could you understand the connection between memes, social media, and NFTs as anything other than the product of cybernetic ecosystems that are technological, social, libidinal and economic all at the same time?

Cultural processes, inseparable from machines, that spin off in directions oblique to any human intention, as the result of the spontaneous emergence of little bundles of aesthetic tics, copied like viruses, and which exert some kind of compulsive remote-control grip over millions of human brains, without anyone really understanding why, or being able to control it, or knowing how it is altering human minds.

And we are now seeing the significant reinjection of those curious little cybernetic-cultural storms into the economy via technologies in which currency is difficult to distinguish from content, and synthetic distributed time enables a new economics.

Lastly, as many have observed, whether they see it as a welcome object of fascination or as a deadly threat, many of these operations also have a great deal in common with magic, with sorcery.

Which is not yet to get into the whole question of time, the time hole.

Hyperstition implies a non-chronological model of time. A great deal of the Ccru’s compulsions were, let’s say, related to a ‘classically radical’  impulse to escape, to get outside of the box that happens to be labelled ‘human life’, ‘being human’, or just ‘being’, at this particular point in history.

At the ultimate level of what keeps us in a box, chronological linear time is a kind of transcendental cover-up, and nothing short of a cosmic struggle is afoot.

By all means necessary, discover or design weapons to break out of what William Burroughs would have called the ‘reality studio’.

Cybernetic culture is where that happens.

Cybernetic systems hook the unconscious up to technology, the integrity of time is breached, viral cultures give rise to runaway processes that reengineer the human sensorium with things that can only be made sense of from the future.

Sorcery, machines, positive feedback, cultures that are only quasi- or part-human, weird entities from outside.

Today perhaps it no longer seems so bizarre to collapse excavations of the deepest sources of sacred thought—time, desire, the outside, the collective unconscious, human fate—onto the vicissitudes of the technological environment.

But at the time this model of culture was largely out of place and out of step with reality.

Where music and sound comes into this is that it was in the realm of what was happening in popular electronic music that, in its early years, Ccru discovered one of their advance models for this future cybernetic culture, and located a cache of soft-weaponry for fighting the time war.

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In the circuit of nightclubs, pirate radio, and the bedrooms of young producers using consumer electronics to make new forms of music, in the mobility and mutation of samples, breakbeats, and new audio technologies, in the type of innovation that was happening particularly in the accelerated development phase of jungle between, 1993 and 1997, sonic forms were subjected to a period of particularly intense selection and mutation—broadcast on pirate stations, tested at full volume in the club, endlessly recombined and hybridised in the bedrooms of teenage producers that went by cryptic sawn-off codenames…the principle of selection being sheer intensity, or the ability to challenge the human senses and human sense.

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In general, theoretical readings of media had mostly focussed on mass media, broadcast media—McLuhan, Baudrillard, etc. The media of modernity. The lineage of cultural studies which came out of Birmingham and was particularly attentive to subculture, tended to read it in terms of the meanings attached to it by the participants, and from a traditional leftist point of view. Sadie Plant and her students who founded Ccru had left Birmingham to come to Coventry because they could see how that approach struggled to address rave culture which was a kind of biosociotechnocybernetic machine.

Jungle wasn’t mass media, and in some senses it was a folk culture, like an accelerated oral culture in which a series of vernacular forms developed and were shared.

But more than that, in between the shiny high-tech media landscape and the grimy circulation of street knowledge, the culture of jungle responded to what is called cyberpunk. It was a machine for producing massive distributed intensity with minimal means, assembling its own increasingly robust infrastructure from what was available to those black and white punks of the suburbs dreaming the future through sequencers and headphones.

Ccru is not interested in theorising music but in channelling the intensities that emerge from this culture into writing, and fuelling thought on the new conceptual configurations produced in the factories of this bodily and auditory experience.

Over a very few years the mutation of rave elements produced unprecedented, almost esoteric, rhythmically and tonally complex works that somehow always remained keyed into body response, to rhythm. But as your body responded, it changed you.

How far can you abstract?

We are dancing to something that doesn’t yet make sense, sounds that have no established place in any existing conception of music.

Escape, getting outside. Jungle felt like a transcendental training montage, a militant program of reconditioning to produce a new type of human. A hallucination of a future that twisted time.

First templex at the level of the culture as a whole, where it produced a kind of temporal gradient: Pirate radio: the dub plate is a track that doesn’t yet exist. The white label removes a track from official circulation in the semiotic economy. With an antenna you could reach out and grab something from the future right out of the air. For the duration of that track you’re living in the future. You might never hear it again.

When in 1994 Goldie’s ‘Inner City Life’ went mainstream, I remember mainstream Radio 1 DJs stuttering, struggling to say anything: cue Alan Partridge voice: ‘I think someone’s been sick on the drums!’ Those who listened and relistened to Rufige Kru’s ‘Terminator’ in 1992 had already had their ears stretched, been reprogrammed….

embracing time-sickness…liquid metal rewind

That’s accelerationism: virtual participation in the future. As Sadie Plant said, ‘The future is a feeling’; as Kodwo Eshun said, we are dealing in ‘sensations that we don’t yet have a name for’.

In pop music, new aesthetic phenomena always temporalize, setting individuals in different relations to time. Pop has—at least until recently, but that’s a different question—always served to place the last generation, behind in time. But this was a more complex, shifting, multilevel. Timeless, Goldie said, and, as Mark Fisher said, he was wrong. Time more, more time, timefull or templexical.

Second and third templex at the level of the tracks and then the samples that they were built out of: a stretching, shifting, and breakage of musical time through the sampler, emblematised by the needling metallic affect of a voice strung out over a rattling flow of plasticised breaks.

A liquidation of music that followed the impossible diagonal between pitch and duration

+melody and percussion

+breaks and flows—beats chopped and manipulated so hard that cuts make liquid.

+breakbeat science, breakbeat dialects, such a fluency that sometimes i thought it was speaking to me in a language I couldn’t yet understand—virtualised talking drums.

Sound smeared across the overlap between pitch and rhythm, between sound and physical pressure, between black and white, between feminine pressure and masculine hypercontrol, ecstasy and darkside, endless simultaneous pressure and release.

Can you feel it? Nothing can save you. Enjoyment is synonymous with alienation.

Alongside these compounded transdiagonals, in Jungle 93-97 sound translated into concept by following a vector of abstraction. Hybrid and bastardised, jungle miscegenated, diagonalised and united not through common humanity but always by way of the alien and the abstract.

To a large extent, and from increasingly ‘dark’ perspectives as the 90s rolled toward the millenium, the scene pursued the collective construction of what Eshun would call ‘sonic fiction’.

Remember: no hundreds of online music magazines revealing the real names of the producers, where they lived, their favourite sandwich, and a picture of their mum.

No. To become a junglist was to dive into a pool of swarming intensities tagged by depersonalised ciphers continually circulating and recombining so fast you could hardly keep up.

Twisted Anger, Lemon D, Dillinja, Asylum, Trace, Dom & Roland, Krome and Time….a moving cartography of multi-level codings—producer names, track names, sample names … ciphers for intensive machines of unknown origin, with a hidden agenda, into which a human could plug themselves—a sonic ecology and fiction in which the culture was always visible and tangible before individuals and meanings, without them.

If the western model of music is an index of the Western model of time and therefore of what it is to be a human, then the unrationed euphoria engineered by the Akaiberpunk massive already mobilised all the operations needed to spring the timeline, take down arborescence limb by limb, and free up the seething potential of virtual matter.

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We all have our own compulsions.

If you must write, you want to avoid representing the sound and somehow plug writing into its operations. It flows both ways.

1/ The experience of sound—not least the impossibility of being a Cartesian disembodied thinking head once the bass grabs your stomach—excites thought. What can’t be immediately processed is an encounter

2/ Thinking about what’s going on inside and around the sound gives you new ways to listen, and a model to think other cybernetic cultures.

From theory-jungle mashup conference gigs to transcendental deductions to click/hiss rhythmic assemblages to sheer pandemonium, CCRU tried it from every direction.

Not thinking about but sharing a culture with sound, to produce another microculture.

Coventry and the midlands in general were a flashpoint for jungle.

Some of you in Coventry will remember what if was like to be on The Edge.

I promised I’d try to put together a ‘representative’ sample of tracks showing the chronological vector of abstraction from 93–97, and quickly realised it’s impossible. – precisely because of these infolded, complex temporalities. No one will ever be able to tell with any precision what came first. There is no timeline, only a time tangle.

Luckily it was never about representation or chronology anyway.

All I can do is give a practical demo of how words and sounds co-intensify each other—and let you judge whether it works or not.

Although, if you have to judge, then you weren’t there.

Maybe hear something of the fluency, abstraction, freeing of beats from regular metrics, the complex polyrhythm cutting and cutting and fluidizing until you’re no longer sure what you’re listening to…

Something took the sounds that once simply made humans move, and moulded them into a language that reprogrammed the body, and which our minds still haven’t deciphered.

Which is why, even if jungle as a genre is history, the machinic event of jungle remains a source of conceptual energy, perplexity and templexity.

Stay locked.