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If all goes to plan, all UK legal limits on social contact end on
21 June.

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April 2021

So... back to the Old Normal again?

The world after the COVID-19 pandemic will be very different the world before it. How could it not? Trump's gone, the uncertainty about Brexit has happened (at least initially), and effective coronavirus vaccines are now available (even if only in the wealthier countries). But the question I'm wondering is: how fundamental is this change going to be? Are we going to have some big lifestyle changes – e.g. more working from home, more shopping from home – but the big global trends (e.g. climate change, Western political decline) just going to carry on as normal?

Let’s take the music industry as an obvious example: many in the business have basically given up, left the sector and taken work elsewhere. There's been a lot of talk about how this is a game-changer for the business as a whole. But the underlying demand for music hasn't gone away. It’s been a catastrophe for individuals, but will it have a lasting effect on the whole industry?

Actually, I’ve been mulling quite a bit on the future of the music industry beyond the pandemic, and I do keep coming to the conclusion that (after a period of readjustment) it will pretty much snap back on the same trajectory that it was on before.

I suppose I’ve been wondering this because, like a lot of people that run live music events, I sort of need to plan for it. When is safe to go back? I want the Bastard Session to take the absolute safest course – but maybe that will be sooner than I was expecting?

Anyway, now that my sleep is pretty much back to normal, this month has been all about navigating this strange ‘Normal / New Normal / Old Normal’ Venn diagram. What’s going to change? What’s going to change back? What had already changed but it took the pandemic to make that change obvious?

And looking at them now, this month's recommendations seem to be about this tension, of things reaching a turning point: in pop music, internet culture, personal privacy and big tech.

This month’s newsletter might be a bit incoherent, because I feel very ambivalent about all of this. On the one hand, I want the world to return to normal as soon as possible. But I don't want all the world to go back to the normal of 2019. I feel like, for all the suffering, we must get some positive change out of it, right?

But then… does life actually work like that?

New Music This Month

Right, enough serious contemplation.

Here's more dumb TikTok.

Nearly 15 minutes of 60-second-or-less collaborations and general tomfoolery.

Recommendation

VOLCANO-CAM
Live from Geldingadalir volcano, Iceland

Before we get into the meat of the recommendations...

Working from home can be a strain – trying to concentrate in an environment with such little new sensation to stimulate you.

If you find that having something on in the background can help with this then why not try something my brother recommended to me: a live webcam filming the Geldingadalir volcano in iceland. Kind of like gazing at a roaring fire, but on a slightly more biblical scale.

Now, a couple of things to bear in mind: this is a live webcam of an outdoor phenomenon, so if you log in at night time then the screen might well be dark (depending on where the webcam is – I think it moves around).

Also... the thing I find mesmerising is that the lava seems to spurt up in slow motion somehow. I keep looking at it, and thinking – is this footage slowed down? No, surely. Or... wait, is it?

Recommendation

THE JOY OF HYPERPOP
Is HYPERPOP The Future of Pop?

Okay, this is a video that I've been meaning to recommend for months, but each time I've postponed it because it feels to me like the subject of a whole newsletter.

It's a deep dive into the genre of 2010s music known as Hyperpop, and the aesthetic behind it – an aesthetic based on turning the dial up on bubblegum pop so far that it becomes deliberately grotesque. Vocals are autotuned until they're almost unrecognisable. Bass becomes distorted and overpowering. Gender stereotypes are exaggerated and exploded.

So much of popular music is endlessly, tediously recycled, but Hyperpop is the first truly new genre I've heard in years.

Like most movements in pop music, most of its leading lights were/are in their early 20s, and here's a weird thing that no one acknowledges about people in their early 20s: they tend to be incredibly nostalgic. They tend to express a view that the world is being made shallow and superficial by a younger generation (i.e. their peers) who have minuscule attention spans. They tend to pine for the good old days, when culture was less slick and more wholesome. I certainly did at that age (maybe we all have a panic when we turn 22, because technically we're no longer youths and it makes us feel impossibly old).

I feel that Hyperpop expresses this nostalgia for the aesthetic of the early internet. The days before Instagram, where you need to show off your perfect body, your perfect diet, your perfect home and your perfect career. It's a celebration of websites covered in GIFs with neon green text on a yellow background. In Comic Sans. Blue by Eiffel 65 is the national anthem.

It's simultaneously (i) very carefully considered and (ii) delightfully weird, and I think it's a joy.

Recommendation

THE VERGE ON 'GOOGLE'S NEW UNION'
The Google Union and what it means

From the push against Instagram culture to a push against the power of Big Tech as a whole.

Google workers forming their own union is, as this journalist says, a big deal. And it's not just Google: Kickstarter already has one, and even Uber and Amazon workers are pushing for it.

This does actually feel to me like a fundamental change, which might not have been caused by the pandemic but has been almost certainly accentuated by it.

Unions were supposed to be extinct – a relic of the days of huge manufacturing sectors and the three day week. But now not only are they adapting to the modern economy... they also want to have a say in company strategy, and ensure that a company whose motto is 'Don't Be Evil' has to live by that.

Recommendation

NAOMI WU'S MICROPHONE JAMMER
How to beat the wiretappers

Here's a really left-field example of citizen pushback against Big Tech and the encroachment of surveillance in consumer devices. Chinese YouTuber Naomi Wu designs and tests a neckless that will jam microphones. Which is kind of amazing. It sends out a kind of static that renders them useless.

Now, I hate that I have to do this, but it seems like many people get put off Naomi Wu because of her clothes choices. (In addition to the more obvious fact that she is a woman who works in tech and that she's Chinese.) I think she's entitled to presenting herself however she wants – and again, I feel I shouldn't have to add these caveats, but put it this way: she's very aware of the criticisms.

This is her Twitter bio:

  • Naomi Wu 机械妖姬 
  • @RealSexyCyborg
  • China's #1 Tech & DIY YouTuber
  • Open Source, 3D Printing & Digital Fabrication, Automation, Infosec
  • 1/18th synthetic
  • 'It's all about merit until merit has tits'

Recommendation

THE INTERNET PROBLEM
'I don't know much about Content, but I know what I like...'

Now it must be fairly obvious that I'm a little bit in love with internet culture. Or at least very curious about it.

This is a video from a YouTube channel called The Cinema Cartography – they normally make video essays about arthouse cinema, and art more generally. But this is just a discussion between its two creators about the harm that they feel internet culture is doing to art.

I don't 100% agree, but I think they make a very interesting point.

That there is a difference between 'Art' and 'Content'. And YouTube and other forms of social media are such hungry beasts that they tempt very creative people into just churning out ill-considered disposable content.

What do you think?

Leave a comment.

And don't forget to like and subscribe...

Recommendation

DOWNHILL CYCLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Wooooaoaaaaaaaaa....

Finally... this is nothing to do with the Old vs New Normal. Unless you want to see it as some sort of overarching metaphor of plunging into the depths.

But for some reason I've found myself scratching the itch to travel by watching YouTube videos of extreme sports in extreme locations.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding, but particularly downhill cycling.

I just find it riveting. Someone with a tiny GoPro camera strapped on, giving you a first person POV of something insane.

It's a bit like that volcano: oddly soothing.

It's been that kind of month.

Upcoming Events

Friday 14th March

One day we shall be free from Zoom! But for the time-being...

These are online versions of the Bastard English Session which has haunted the Isis Farmhouse Pub in Oxford for over a decade now.

You simply click this:

And then enter the password, which is:

  • bitshowy

And a reminder of the New (well, now Old) Bastard Protocol:

  1. If you’re performing, you’ll need to change your Zoom settings to ‘Use Original Sound’.
  2. It’s a one-at-a-time performing thing, and I have to mute everyone during each performance (because of audio lag) (and also, because I get an enormous kick out of it).
  3. Feel free to use the Chat function throughout!
  4. Also, I find all Zoom calls weirdly tiring, so feel free to hide your video, and wander in and out.

Dear Diary...

When I've tried to imagine what life will be like after the pandemic, I've kept coming back to this question: what will have fundamentally changed? It felt like Western Democracy was slowly sliding into the sea for most of the 21st century, and the pandemic came along and overshadowed that, but I’m still wondering, when it finally recedes... what's going to stop us from going right back to where we were?

Having said that, the more I think about this question, the more it seems clear to me what's actually likely to happen next. We're likely to go into boom times.

People around the world haven't been able to travel, go out to entertainment, go shopping... experience the world, basically. And industries related to these things have been crippled. But when the rules change, demand is going to go through the roof. Normally we think of an economic 'bubble' as being a boom that's detached from normal supply and demand, and when reality hits it's immediately followed by a crash. But it seems to me like the current crash is the bubble, that has restricted normal supply and demand, and when the restrictions lift a boom is bound to follow.

So there will probably be a lot of demand for live music! A lot of demand for travel, and for restaurants, cinemas, shops – even though the online alternatives (Deliveroo, Netflix, Amazon) still remain.

If so, that will clearly be great. It won't be a magic wand to restore the financial (or physical and psychological) ruin that the pandemic has caused. But if it happens then I'm sure lots of good will come from it.

I just feel like...

Well, like the Iraq War led straight on to the financial crisis, which led to the rise of polarising xenophobic politics, which led to Trump and Brexit… and then from out of nowhere there’s this world-crippling event which was totally unconnected to this chain of events. Sure, governments were unprepared, but they were unprepared for most of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Actually, perhaps that's unfair. Obama, and apparently even George W. Bush, had a pandemic plan – so Trump’s presidency made a big difference.

And Trump is no longer president – that is a very big deal. Because I really believe that, had it not been for the pandemic, he would have successfully defrauded the election been elected for a second term.

Okay, I'm kind of typing out loud here.

Maybe I can pinpoint something that fundamentally changed. The big problems, particularly in politics, got harder to avoid. The problem of institutional racism in the US, UK and elsewhere. An armed insurrection in the Capitol building – in which senators conspired to have other senators murdered. And also, a US stock market that was clearly completely detached from the real world – that soared as the economy went into free-fall.

We still have no new ideas though.

Which leads me to this:

A group of people standing way too close to a very active volcano.

While I was looking for the link for the volcano at the top of this month’s recommendations, I found the video above.

And it just felt like the perfect metaphor for the 21st Century. Something for future generations to look at and say "Wait, the ground is literally on fire? Why are they standing so close? Why are they just quietly milling about? And why are they filming?"

So What Have We Learnt?

I’ve been doing this newsletter for around 5 years now.

And today is the first time I’ve missed my self-imposed deadline of ‘the morning of the last day of the month’.

I was working to plan as normal, and then last night – at exactly the point I would normally go to bed – I realised that I’d got my calendar mixed up! I was a day behind.

Coincidentally, I had made a note for my future self earlier yesterday to remind myself that if I missed this self-imposed deadline… it might not be the end of the known universe?

One thing that we should really make part of the new New Normal is for us all to go easy on ourselves for anything that isn’t life or death. I really think we should carry that sentiment into the post-pandemic world.

Bet that lasts less than 5 minutes though.

Ask me things

If you have any questions then seriously, do please drop me a message using one of the pretty social media buttons below. About the recordings. About the folk session. About life. About the universe. About what day of the fucking month it is today.

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PHOTO CREDITS:
  • Click on the images to see the originals. (It just means less admin for me this way.)
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