Cyrus Bozorgmehr, The Rabbit Hole (Creative Space, 2013) and other writings (Book Review)

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Cyrus Bozorgmehr,
The Rabbit Hole
(Creative Space, 2013)
and other writings at djbroadcast.net

rabbitholecover

Writing about music counter-cultural tendencies that we participate in poses questions about historification that are not easily resolved, but are rather left in a state of perpetual negotiation. Those who choose to undertake the task of critical writing that present counter-narratives to the omnipresence of music industry journalism in print magazines and on a plethora of music websites inevitably make strategic choices about modes of counter-dialogue to engage diverse readerships. In the last few years, there has been a resurgence of artists/musicians/participants who have printed a number of provocative books that we have followed with great interest. The medium of photography and the photo book was used to tell multiple, interconnected stories about free parties in the Paris catacombs in the truly illuminating Paname sans dessus, dessous! published in 2006. In datacide 10, I reviewed the problematics of Pencilbreak: A Graphicore Compilation, which took the strategy of representing music through the visual medium of flyers, posters and album covers. Published in 2011, Sudden Infant: Noise in My Head, The Actionistic Music and Art of Joke Lanz is a fascinating book that operates on multiple levels as a memoir, a photo book, a collaborative self-history and a discography through the inclusion of an interview with Joke Lanz, drawings, photos of performances, manifestos, poetry, concert posters and flyers, texts by collaborators, and a visual discography. Riccardo Balli engaged in a plundering of counter-narrative strategies in his Italian language publication on Milan’s Agenzia X called Apocalypso Disco: La Rave-o-luzione della Post Techno. The excellent book includes interviews with artists such as Christoph Fringeli, Sansculotte, Daniel Erlacher (Widerstand Records), Ralph Brown and others. Several chapters are made up of Balli’s ingeniously amusing counter-histories of interconnected music genres in a fictional plundering of writings of Philip K. Dick and Fulcanelli (first published in English in Datacide). Another book chapter blurs the boundaries completely between fiction and non-fiction in a retelling of some aspects of the Dead By Dawn parties in 1995. Academic writing informed by ethnographic and anthropological methodologies about sub-cultural musical experiences are investigated in the interview with Graham St. John in another book chapter. Most recently this year, there are two engaging examples of mixing the curatorial project of presenting counter-cultural tendencies through exhibitions with that of a companion book. One project was the exhibit and book Berlin Wonderland: The Wild Years Revisited 1990-1996, which featured short personal narrative texts by artists in music, theater and the arts that gave context to photographs grouped together in themes like ‘open doors’, ‘disarmament experts’, ‘wild gangs’ (both which focus on Mutoid Waste Company), etc. Opening on October 1 in Newcastle, Australia is Fistography – Bloody Fist Records – The Exhibition that displays all the label’s releases in chronological order along with ephemera including press clippings, posters, flyers, equipment and photos. This is a truly monumental archival undertaking documenting the years 1993-2004. Simultaneously, an internet radio broadcast out of Hertford featured the BF back catalog. The exhibit is complemented by a show featuring Xylocaine, Hedonist, Epsilon and Mark N spinning BF tunes on Oct 3. Mark N has also published a 300-page book documenting the label’s history titled Fistography: Bloody First Records, Newcastle, Australia, 1994-2004. Critical readers and participants may have these and many other examples in mind when undertaking the ruckus, fictional experience that is The Rabbit Hole.

This is a deeply amusing fictional novel that will no doubt make readers laugh wildly and at the next turn snicker knowingly at the maschinations of a collective that in one summer throws massive renegade soundsystem parties in various locations in and around London. Many readers, including myself, track down this paperback or ebook because it is one of the few fictional narratives about the worldwide teknival movement, and it is written by Cyrus Bozorgmehr aka Sirius, member of Spiral Tribe and SP23. One of the pleasures of reading this book is the constant elision between fiction, personal experience, and (non)-history – the reader may ask herself at any particular moment, ‘Is this a history of a soundsystem crew revealed in a over-the-top, far-fetched retelling, or a narrative slight of hand imagining what could be?’. That inquiry only takes the reader so far since there’s a lot going on in the book. What becomes much more satisfying is the reader’s traversal of the literary play between the comical, the serious, and the caricatured as the crew members’ grapple with the principles that inform their collective actions, deploy strategies of collaborative artistic creation, experiment with the transformative potential of music, deal with the insidious nature of the music industry and commercialism, and negotiate state repression and infiltration.

The book’s prologue sets the stage with the corrupt police officer Barry and his partner Joe witnessing on the street a pulsating, luminescent rip in the fabric of time that gives them a vision of reality which they pass through. It is unclear from the characters’ perspectives whether the whole rest of the book is ‘reality’, farce, or drug induced altered state. In prologue part 2 and 3, the police force attempts to corrupt the ‘independent’ art scene, which is constantly satirized in the book, by having the officers pose as famous graffiti artists and an art critic, and injecting lots of money into the scene to buy off people. However, the plan seemingly goes astray when Barry is kidnapped by a supposed anarchist group to Colombia where he is forced to drink a concoction that sends him on an intergalactic trip down the rabbit hole of consciousness. Chapter 1 opens with ‘Barry’ wiped clean, unable to remember anything except his drug induced rebirth leading the character to call himself ‘Ben’. On the plane back to London, Ben meets Tim, and together they go to the communal squat. The characters of Sam, Gary, Carly, Chris, Tim, Dan, Harry and others are introduced throughout the plot, and some of them go to a demo, which is in fact an authorized tri-monthly ‘dissent outlet gathering’ with vaguely defined anti-capitalist tendencies. The managed ineptitude of ‘democratic’ protest in ‘free, public space’ leads the squatters into a debate on the topic. They decide the way to challenge the system is to create an outlaw free space, a big renegade party where individuals can find themselves and a new reality.

For anyone who has worked in a collective and thrown underground parties, it is thoroughly entertaining to read how the practical planning and philosophical/ethical ideas that inform the whole experience are dealt with by the fictional characters. The narrative follows the crew as they experiment with artistic creation and music, come up with some dodgy financing schemes to get 150,000 pounds, learn about soundsystem engineering, settle on the party name ‘the rabbit hole’ and an anti-promotional strategy of street graffiti, and scout for the perfect underground warehouse spot. The crew manages to pull off a massive party with many co-conspirators, which puts them on the radar of the state. The shadowy power figures don’t see the rabbit hole as a challenge (yet) to the status quo and forced societal management.

The critical practice of throwing free parties and the momentary emergence of sub-cultural pirate economies lived by the book’s characters can be read in dialogue with Bozorgmehr’s djbroadcast.net article “Is UK Conservatism Missing a Trick When It Comes to Dance Culture?” The Rabbit Hole crew’s seemingly successful, changing tactics of dealing with police interference to build a massive underground movement is a reassuring fictional counter to present day problems of throwing underground parties or small and medium sized festivals.

The major ethical quandary of the book centers on the theft by the crew of a massive gold generator stationed at what is initially thought to be a Monsanto test site for GMOs next to Stonehenge. The storyline is amusing yet deeply suspicious as it is revealed in the media that the generator was to be a donation to a Tanzanian village funded with money raised by British schoolchildren. With the crew planning a Solstice outdoor 2 week long massive, they vote in favor of keeping the generator temporarily, leading one character to argue that they had betrayed all their principles.

The story continues with the crew disassembling a b2 stealth bomber into a pentagram shaped ‘stone circle’ that shoots fire with a press of a button, various run-ins with some of the ’20,000’ Solstice partiers, the sensational, fictionalizing media hysteria, and the eventual police repression against the ravers.

In the article “The Malign Media Representation of Glastonbury and Other Events” on djbroadcast.net, Bozorgmehr argues that participants should be wary of how the mass media shapes public perceptions of underground music as well as larger, lucrative festivals. He makes the case that if one actually attends a mega event like Glastonbury, there is a plethora of underground creative currents being actualized on a massive scale. To dismiss a music genre or party as corporate may be to accept media mis-representations. Fighting the insidious force of commercialization necessarily entails not buying into mass media portrays of music ‘subcultures’ (which is the terms the author uses routinely rather than ‘counter-cultures’), and although it is not written in this article, a productive next step is the writing and publication of counter-narratives by the participants and creators that interact with underground networks.

The novel hits one of many turning points when Ben takes heroin from a strategically placed drug dealer to manage a bad acid trip, leading Ben down another hole as things progress. Several more parties go off despite police harassment, and the characters discuss how the feeling of the parties and its participants are ever morphing. However, a conveniently timed news report states that at a Congolese village many people were killed in an elephant stampede when the protective electric fence did not work because of the missing generator stolen by unknown thieves in Britain. After an intense argument between the crew about ethics and the potential corruption of their ideals, Tim leaves the group. Chapter 7 ends with the revelation that news story was a psychic war hoax planted by the state.

The rest of the story is written under the headings “Chapter ?????” and follows how some of the crew participate in music industry interviews and jump onto the major label Follygram to produce a rabbit hole album. However, once the artists signed away their artistic creativity for a 100,000 pounds advance, the PR machine of the music industry tries to force them to produce pop music aimed at tween girls, until the crew finally fucked off.

While the novel focuses on the characters’ brief and problematic foray into the corporate music industry through trade-offs between the potential money made that could be re-invested in the crew and the controlled management of the artists’ sound, the article “Has the Democratization of Dance Music Morphed into Tyranny?” for djbroadcast.net examines historic changes in the production and distribution of electronic music in independent networks as well as the music industry. The dramatic decrease in the price of gear and software made it possible for anyone to produce quality tunes. This ‘democratization’ of electronic music was further expanded by the cost-free distribution of digital music on net labels and through pirating. At the same time, producers struggled with the impossibility of making a living through music, experiences that are confirmed by staggering music industry statistics such as in 2011 only “0.00001 percent of the eight million tracks sold that year generated almost a sixth of all sales.” While some producers may attempt to make it big and become one of the manufactured names on the Top 100 DJs or 10 Richest DJs lists, the novel illuminates the many successes and challenges of co-creating an underground network for mind and body altering electronic music. There are numerous, playful accounts in the novel describing the dance floor as a place of transcendence and a confluence of the dj’s beats, the partiers, the artistic metal constructions, the walls of sound, and the urban wasteland. Bozorgmehr further explores these issues in the article “Sweatbox to Stadium: Has the Role of the DJ Changed?

The book concludes by tracing what happens to the various characters and the demise of the rabbit hole concept. Sam thoughtfully muses about whether there needed to be a point to the biggest underground movement the country had ever seen, and sadly acknowledges how Ben was successfully turned from one of the catalysts of it all into a starving addict unable to live his ideals. Just when “Ben” gives up and surrenders to the police state, Joe recognizes “Barry”.

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