I don’t drink, smoke crack or have a yacht, but, when it comes to art and culture I’m not just a consumer, I’m a glutton. Here are a few of my favourite things from the last year. It’s not an exhaustive list, but this is what first popped to the front of my head when asked.
Despite being very middle aged, I like to keep up with new music, not to be ‘down with the kids’ but simply to keep my aging ears working.
My first recommendation is an amazing album from Jonnine Standish, whose day-job is as lead singer of HRTK, an Australian dream pop band. ‘Blue Hills’ takes their ethereal sound into the realm of the unwell: it sounds woozy and concussed, with her crystal-clear voice occasionally breaking through. Deliriously good.
Bitchin’ Bajas are an American band with a daft name who, nevertheless, make great records. Switched on Ra has them breaking out the analogue synths to cover tracks written by jazz genius and Afro-futurist Sun Ra. Ra claimed to be from Saturn, and his music is suitably otherworldly. Bajas’ take on it is fantastic, but also rather eerie, like receiving a thousand year old radio wave.
A quick shout out to Bandcamp, which remains the source of an extraordinary amount of new music for me. BC is a platform that anyone can use which circumvents the usual power structure and mad capitalism that makes the music industry so hard to survive / stomach. If you love music and you’re not regularly scanning the site for new sounds, get involved, you won’t regret it.
I try to alternate my reading between fiction and non-fiction, but I have been particularly interested in history this year, specifically the English Civil War, which sought to turn the world upside down and create a system where all people were equal. No prizes for guessing how it turned out, but it’s a fascinating period. History books are great in times of contemporary stress and strife as, not only are there always parallels between what happened then and now (contrary to common belief, things don’t change much, especially human nature) but the comparison often put things into perspective, i.e. it’s rubbish to get trolled on Facebook for going against the grain, for instance, but at least they don’t nail your ears to a post.
The artist and poet B. Catling only came to writing fiction in his sixties but his work is absolutely essential. His latest book ‘Hollow’ melds together a Dungeons & Dragons type fantasy quest with The Dirty Dozen, set in a richly imagined fantasy landscape populated by odd, crooked creatures drawn directly from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights. Read it, you’ll be amazed.
I also subscribe to two magazines. I have been reading The Fortean Times since 1985 (it’s been going since 1976), and I never get bored with it. FT is a magazine dedicated to the weird and wonderful, collecting bizarre news stories and investigating the supernatural, paranormal, cryptozoology, flying saucers, cults, mass hysteria, etc. It’s funny and frightening all at the same time.
Raw Vision is the world’s only international journal about Outsider Art. I like Art in general, but there’s something about the work of untrained artists that really appeals to me. Perhaps it’s that desperate urge to create, not for an audience, but because they feel compelled to do it. Every issue is full of striking things informed by passion, obsession and expression.
I have a degree in Film Studies, so I know all about the high-brow stuff, but nothing appeals to me more than slightly tacky genre films, and that hasn’t changed this year. I recently watched the complete works of the director / producer of Robert Emenegger who, between 1980 and 1981 made nine direct to TV sci films using the same cast, costumes, sets and special effects and then never did anything again. The results (with titles like ‘PSI Factor’ and ‘The Killings At Outpost Zeta’) are all different and surprisingly well done, but also great fun to watch and pick up on silly details like ‘oh, there’s those trousers again’.
I’ve recently become fixated with Conspirituality, a podcast about how the wellness industry (particularly in the USA) has become a haven for right wing anti-vaxxers, eugenicists, cultists and conspiracy theorists. Spoiler: this is not presented as a good thing. It’s a wild world, who knew yoga could be so dangerous?
My go to podcast remains Weird Studies, in which two genial academics have fascinating and illuminating conversations about an bewildering array of esoteric subjects, ranging from the work of Marshall McLuhan, the music of the Wu Tang Clan, boxing, Twin Peaks, dreams, Tarot cards, consciousness and Conan the Barbarian. I always learn something new from each show, and end up scurrying away to hunt down more books, more films, more music…
My ‘philosophy’ is that learning never stops and, if you ever feel that you’ve come to the end of something in terms of a subject you either need to move on or dig deeper. I’ll keep digging. I live for this stuff!*
* and my family, of course.