On the decks in the ruins of Bokor Casino, southern Cambodia. New Year’s Eve 2005. (Photo: Matt Fox)
As a lifelong music obsessive – a classically-trained crate-digging youtube-wandering junkie of all things sonic who’s devoted thousands of hours listening to and reflecting upon music in dusty rooms, on sticky dancefloors and in cough-ridden concert halls – I’ve finally learnt enough about music to know that I know next to nothing about it.
Until now, I’ve never been arrogant enough to share this nothing with anyone. But I’m starting to think that whether this nothing is worth something is for YOU to decide, whoever you are and wherever you may be.
There’s no grand scheme behind Parking Garage Politics. I’m just trying to express my love for a diverse range of music and other art. Hopefully, I can do this in an engaging way that’s clear and concise but also profound. The writing should have a logical flow: each post will grow out of the one that precedes it.
Through these pieces, I want to explore some key questions about music that have been on my mind for years. I may even come up with some decent answers – though I sincerely hope this doesn’t always happen, as it seems to me that the ability to leave us in a state of curious wonder is a key factor in why music so inspires the human spirit. So maybe the writing here will leave you with your own questions to pursue. If it does, it’s a job well done.
At the very least, if I succeed in turning you on to new music or inspire you to hear music you already know in a different way, then I can be happy that I’ve achieved something worthwhile. Let me know.
Paris, 14th March 2013
What will I find here?
There are 5 core elements to Parking Garage Politics:
Essays. A word which may fill you with a sense of impending doom. But don’t panic: I mean the word ‘essay’ in its original French sense; a try or attempt – or, even better, a shout out: a way of giving praise and respect, a cry of wonder, a call for help, an invitation to dialogue. The ultimate goal of an essay is to enhance enjoyment of the subject; if the writing detracts from that goal, then it’s not doing its job. These will be fairly long pieces at times – because not everything on the internet should be in snatch and grab format.
Can’t Live Without…. A medium-length piece that features a key recording. There’s a conscious effort on my part to focus on neglected or not-widely-known material in this strand. So while I can’t live without Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue or Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, it’s unlikely that you’ll find them in this space.
Freshly Pressed. A short piece that focuses on a recent music release. [When I say recent, I mean within the last couple of years. As a reader, I’m tired of the churnalism that has infected so much writing and broadcasting about the arts, where everyone is chasing the latest hyped record or book or show. Reviews have often become little more than rejigged press releases – or, even worse, press releases that are cut & pasted verbatim. So here you’ll find reflections that aren’t tied to this treadmill; reviews that are fresh but not green, calculated but not calculating.]
Undivided Attention. Inspired by one of the greatest examples of close reading: William Empson’s analysis of Andrew Marvell’s ‘The Garden’. Empson’s essay is everything that criticism should be: mindful, ingenious and, most importantly, loving. He had a genius for putting the objects of his criticism under the microscope in order for us to see them anew. As a reader, I’m always looking for this kind of writing and rarely finding it – especially about contemporary music. But why, in the youtube era, shouldn’t we share a song amongst ourselves and open it up like a box of delights to reveal its hidden beauties? Why shouldn’t there be more writing – whether it’s analytical or personal or nostalgic – that isn’t scared to focus in detail on a song, a lyrical line, a musical moment?
Mixes. Here you’ll find, er… mixes. Sometimes linked to the content of the above, sometimes entirely random.
What’s in the name?
‘Parking Garage Politics’ is a techno tune by Carl Craig, recorded under his Paperclip People alias, and made in the mid-1990s. You can find it on the album The Secret Tapes of Dr. Eich and listen to it here. I take the name of the tune to be a reference to the abandoned Michigan Theater in Craig’s hometown Detroit which, as you can see from the photo below, was subsequently converted into a parking lot: a city planning decision that beggars belief (1).
Photo: Bob Jagendorf, CC-3.0
In a scene from the French documentary Universal Techno, Derrick May – another Detroit techno pioneer – stands under the soaring, Italianate vaults and arches of this building, once billed as ‘a theatre for the whole world’, bemoaning its fate: ‘I totally believe in the future, but as well I believe in a historic and well-kept past. I believe that there are some things that are important. Now maybe this [building] is more important like this, because in this atmosphere, you can realise just how much people don’t care, how much they don’t respect. And it can make you realise how much you should respect.’
It’s commonplace to call Detroit techno – and the many genres of electronic music it subsequently influenced – ‘futuristic’ music, not least because its purveyors have always done so. But it’s worth remembering that this futurism is also a lament for a past that isn’t being curated or cared for in a way that it deserves. In other words, the music bears an important message for our modern age: that we need to pay more attention. And this is our starting point.
This is the politics of the parking garage.
Disclaimer: All the material in this journal is intended for information, delight and the stimulation of dialogue. I hope that it will also promote the work of the featured artists and, in some small way, help to them to make a living from the great work they do. I have the greatest respect for the intellectual property of others; so if you own the rights to any songs, images or videos being used and do not wish them to appear here, please get in touch and I’ll take them down as soon as possible.