Friday, 25 February 2011

Odd Future

"Quality. Cause motherfuckers are bored." I remember the words on the back of Def Jux Presents Volume 1 like they were burned on to my retina. That was 2002. In 2011, Def Jux has ceased to be the centrifugal force that it once was, lucky then that something new has just come to relieve the boredom.

Odd Future is the most exciting crew I have seen in ages. Tyler the Creator, Hodgy Beats, Earl and co are more like a punch in the face than a breath of fresh air. The internet is currently convulsing with debates about the near-the-knuckle lyrical content in the songs from the artists within the OF crew. Actually, they're not so much near the knuckle as leeches devouring the whole hand for the fuck of it. Even given that, all of this: "Oh are they sick, man? Are they real man? That guy Tyler is a faker man, thumbs up if you agree" bullshit is missing the point though. OF are so much more than the sum of their nasty words.

Lyrically OF are fucked up, there is no questioning that. As the saying goes though, it ain't what you talk about drugs and rape it’s the way you do it. On the bands wiki page that they have consistently denied being horrorcore when anyone tries to stick them with that label, and it doesn't come as a huge surprise. Trying to pin them down to something as limited as horrorcore does OF a severe disservice. Listening to Necro and the other doyens of the horrorcore scene was a cold experience. Behind the aggressive lyrical fronting, there was nothing else to grab onto, no substance or reason to care about whether what you were hearing was real or just calculated posturing. Listening to OF is completely different. They are the sound of youthful intelligence running buckwild; intelligence and personality seeping out of every syllable. It's not just about being controversial, it's about expressing the maelstrom of emotion and thoughts any kid worth paying attention to will undoubtedly feel. OF have personalities enormous enough to make the whole circus of dirty beats, sexual aggression and frequent vomiting in videos seem like a natural extension of themselves.

Everything that justifies OF to be as gloriously fucked up as they are was encapsulated in their recent performance on Jimmy Fallon. Tyler and Hodgy both appeared on stage in balaclavas: Tyler in Green with an upside-down cross on the forehead, Hodgy in black, minus the satanist imagery but no less menacing for it. After thirty seconds of Sandwitches the space around Hodgy and Tyler is so thick with malevolent energy Jimmy Fallon and the keyboard player from The Roots look nonplussed for a second, before they wisely come to the conclusion they are witnessing the first flush of two genii. It's not even a slight exaggeration to say that this is as striking a performance as At The Drive-In performing One Armed Scissor live on Letterman. The best part is though, behind all this craziness, OF just don't give a fuck. The giveaway comes at 1 minute 23 seconds when Hodgy can't stop himself cracking up after Tyler juxtaposes a line about aspiring to be Jeffrey Dahmer with breaking garden gnomes. As soon as the song ends Tyler jumps on Fallon's back with a grin the size of Texas and sticks his tongue even longer. OF are vibrant, alive, exhausting, thrilling, ugly, beautiful and fucked up. Everything young kids making music of any kind should be, but almost never are.

For any of you out there still debating about whether or not OF are for real or not, or whether to take them seriously, shut up. To those shying away from the lyrics, you're missing the point. OF matter. It's that simple. If they weren't worthy of your attention they wouldn't have it. They are the antidote to the boring autotune and bling bullshit spreading through hip hop like a virus. Stop questioning it and get on board.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Bullshit apprenticeships

You know that quote from Goebbels about the big lie? Let us recap: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."

We have come to a place in politics now which is directly influenced by Goebbels' cynical machinations. The Tories have evolved to realise the power that slick PR can have in implementing an unpalitable agenda. This is not a new phenomenon though, PR and spin have been a reality of politics since Kennedy marketed himself into the Whitehouse almost 50 years ago now. The only difference is the agenda and the scale of subterfuge attempted. Call me Dave and his gang are pushing through a cynical programme to break up the influence of the state more radical than anything attempted by Thatcher. To touch on a theme explored in an excellent article by George Monbiot, the conservatives of 2011 have learned that if you really want to hammer the poor to make the rich even richer, you don't shout and scream about it. You do it quietly with concerned yet warm look on your face. Tell them how you feel their pain, and wish there was another way, but there just isn't. Concilliation not confrontation. It works best of all if you can actually make people believe that the slap in the face you are handing them is for their own good.

While George wrote in the article above about the cynical dealings behind the scenes to make life easier for the rich and powerful, I want to talk about the other side of the coin. When a situation born out of contempt for the average person is marketed as being a great opportunity. In a word, apprenticeships. Apprenticeships, when used correctly, can be an excellent path to a stable career for the apprentice, and a way of allowing employers to invest in the kind of skilled workforce it needs while boosting productivity in a way not achievable through purely academic training. This has been a successful model in sectors like construction, engineering, plumbing, design etc for hundreds of years. And while it is true that Labour helped to create a stigma about vocational qualifications like apprenticeships during its regime, the need to rehabilitate apprenticeships is now being seized for more devious ends by the current Tory-led government.

Endless media campaigns are now flooding the local press all across Britain, and creeping into the nationals and broadcast media too; all telling us about the scandal of bias against apprenticeships. About how learning on the job is wonderful. No student-loan debt for today's savvy apprentices, thank you very much! Endless heads of chambers of commerce and college principles are falling over themselves to wax lyrical about vocational training. The thing is though, doesn't it depend on the vocation?

If your apprenticeship is setting you up with the skills to be a valuable resource in the labour market, giving you a trade and a career, then that's great. More and more though apprenticeships are being created in areas where they don't belong, as a way for employers to expolit their staff by not paying them the going rate. How would you like to be an apprentice in a call centre for example? Earning £95 a week (about two pounds an hour) for a job that would be miserable even if it paid ten times that amount. It doesn't stop there either. Apprentice administrator anyone? How about a pre-apprenticeship? That's right, a pre-apprenticeship. Unemployed people are now being offered the chance to volunteer on schemes lasting anything up to six months at the end of which they might get an apprenticeship if they do well enough. Yesterday I even saw an article about an apprentice street cleaner (local council's are being encouraged to participate in this apprenticeship revolution as the money saved on paying staff humane wages can be used to squeeze a few more miles out of our wonderful age of austerity).

How much is an NVQ Level 2 qualification to answer the phone to people having problems with their Virgin Media accounts really worth? I'll tell you, less than the paper its written on. All that 'qualifies' you to do is work in a call centre. The kind of basic training which used to be provided at a reasonable wage is now being sold to you as an opportunity you should be grateful to be given £2 an hour to participate in. So in 2011 what have we learned? That Goebbels clearly wasn't quite as good a liar as our man Dave. You don't hide an unpalatable truth from the people, silly. You give it a different name and tell them its a wonderful new dawn. Doublespeak never looked so good.

To learn more about the government's push on apprenticeships, visit