The Null Device


The Grauniad has an article, by Bob Stanley (also one of knowingly smug London indie-dance outfit Saint Etienne), on the DIY music movement that formed in the UK in the wake of punk, with countless garage bands, improvised instrumentation, passion, whimsy, cardboard drum kits, homemade synthesizers, homemade C90s sold by mail order and pseudonyms more for escaping the attentions of the dole office than affecting any sort of rock'n'roll cool:

The look was monochrome, handmade, an A4 photocopied sleeve wrapped around a handstamped 7in single. Photos of the bands were rare. Grinder were an exception - their sleeve shows four blokes, three with moustaches, the other with a Rocky Horror T-shirt. DIY had no time for poseurs. Pseudonyms abounded, probably so the dole office wouldn't get wind (after all, some of these records were selling thousands of copies). On the ideal DIY single, Warner reckons, "no band member's name should be over three letters long; otherwise, it should be false. If there is an address on the sleeve it should be the drummer's aunt's house or a local youth club." One Hornchurch band, What Is Oil?, numbered Dunk, Mike, German, Stoat and - playing "toast with cheese" - Dungheap.
The sound was art-school - a kind of urban British folk inspired by Vivian Stanshall, Syd Barrett, music hall and Dada. It was rickety, semi-musical and open to anyone: it related to punk in the way skiffle had to rock'n'roll. DIY archivist Johan Kugelberg describes it as "the wild enthusiasm of being 17 and discovering Alfred Jarry and the beauty of children's drawings." Strange, redundant keyboards were a common feature, as punk had laid waste to anything outside the guitar/bass/drums set-up, and this old gear was going cheap. Martin O'Cuthbert's Vocal Vigilante EP lists a Dubreq Stylophone and a Crumar Performer as his instruments - highly desirable now but obsolete technology in February 1978.
If you can find them, DIY records are extraordinary artefacts - the last hurrah of the Angry Brigade, good hippy aesthetics, and the punk/situationist interface. If you can't find them, the Messthetics series of CDs provides an in. This was the sound of the underground; the hiss of the tape, the amateur pressing, the sloppiness and the sheer sense of glee. The feeling of liberty. Chuck Warner compares DIY to the early days of blogging: "Both DIY and the blogs were so engaging precisely because of their common carelessness about wide public response."
The DIY scene is often categorised as "post-punk" (which is chronologically accurate, though stylistically, as Stanley points out, the term belongs too much to more polished and/or deliberately abject bands like PIL and Joy Division to fit this scene easily); its history is mentioned in Simon Reynolds' excellent history of the post-punk era, Rip It Up And Start Again. Some DIY bands ended up acquiring skill and technical polish and metamorphosing into something slicker (most notably, Scritti Politti, who started off as rabid Marxist squatter types and ended up as a polished, if knowingly subversive, pop band, who, incidentally and through no fault of their own, served as the inspiration for the naming of Milli Vanilli); most vanished without a trace as their members got Proper Jobs. A few served as the training ground for other projects; the article mentions acid-house outfit 808 State. The DIY scene also spawned numerous successors: C86, bedroom electronica, the millions of homemade MP3s all over the web and phenomena like National Solo Album Month all owe a debt to this explosion of creativity.

It's interesting to compare the UK DIY movement with the "little band" scene in Australia at about the same time. They were roughly the same phenomenon (improvised, ad hoc creativity, occurring in the wake of punk), with similar aesthetics. However, the Australian scene seems to have been more live-performance-oriented, whereas the British one was more concerned with recorded music (the artefacts being homemade cassettes or hand-pressed 7"s). Could this be a result of Australian enthusiasts tending to gravitate to concentrated bohemian epicentres in the inner cities (St Kilda/Fitzroy, Newtown, Fortitude Valley and such), while Britons, not having any such focal points, remained in their suburban sheds, or of Australian musical culture being more rockist and/or more gregarious, with live performance being considered more important than in the UK?

bob stanley culture diy little bands messthetics post-punk the homosexuals 0

When the Chinese government commissioned the first statue of Mao Zedong to be installed in Tibet (in the town of Gongga), they took account of local sensibilities by making Mao look more Buddha-like:

The statue was designed by Zhu Weijing, president of the Changsha Sculpture Institute, who said: "I tried to understand how Tibetans feel towards Mao. Because they have deep feelings about Buddha, I tried to make Mao more like that, with a plumper face."

buddha china mao tibet 0

The latest innovation from MIT's Media Lab is a device that tells you when you're boring or irritating:

The "emotional social intelligence prosthetic" device, which El Kaliouby is constructing along with MIT colleagues Rosalind Picard and Alea Teeters, consists of a camera small enough to be pinned to the side of a pair of glasses, connected to a hand-held computer running image recognition software plus software that can read the emotions these images show. If the wearer seems to be failing to engage his or her listener, the software makes the hand-held computer vibrate.
The device was designed for people with autism and similar conditions who do not pick up social cues from facial expressions and nonverbal language; the computer in the device uses machine-learning software that is trained to detect states such as boredom and annoyance and alert the otherwise oblivious user to them.

If social prosthetics for the socially-challenged take off, perhaps soon clip-on cameras on glasses will become the new pocket protectors in the new nerd stereotype? Though this would only be the first generation; Mark II of the social prosthetic might offer additional functions, such as cue cards on how to play office politics, flirt or make smalltalk over a pint, for example?

(via /.) social prosthesis society tech 2

If you want a hovercraft, you could always do what this person did and cobble one together for about US$200, using a lawnmower engine and a fan from an air conditioner.

(via Make) diy hacks hovercraft 0