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2020 Roundup

Velocity Press authors

Despite clubs, cinemas and book shops being closed for long periods during what has been a grim year for all of us, the lockdown has provided an opportunity to read, watch and listen to both new and old material. To wrap up the year, we asked the Velocity Press authors how they have been keeping busy during lockdown and what they’re looking forward to in the New Year.

In the face of difficulties placed on publishing, we have still managed to publish five fantastic books this year: Martin James’ State of Bass, Junior Tomlin’s Flyer & Covert Art, Laurent Fintoni’s Bedroom Beats & B-sides, The Secret DJ’s Book Two and Oli Freke’s Synthesizer Evolution. There have also been other notable club-culture related books, such as Caspar Meville’s It’s a London Thing and Martin Russell’s Liberation Through Hearing.

Although the music industry has taken a monumental financial hit, a lot of great records have been released this year, as well as there being an unusual amount of free time to delve into old favourites again. From re-discovering mid-90s ambient techno, going down the rabbit hole of Aphex Twin’s synthesizer inspired titles, to listening to Moses Boyd’s 2020 Mercury Prize-nominated Dark Matter, our authors have been listening to a diverse collection of music.

Synthesizer Evolution book
OLI FREKE

It’s been a strange old year, what are your reflections on it?

Bit of a groundhog day situation – hardly leaving the house and all that. Luckily I can do my day job at home without too much trouble, but I should probably make more effort to get out! Studio tans and book tans are all very well, but…

What have you been reading this year?

Entangled Life by the fantastically named Merlin Sheldrake about fungi was amazing; loads of stuff about quantum mechanics, the history of it, and how Einstein never went with the Copenhagen Interpretation. The Jackson Lamb / Slough House spy novels are great fun. Also sci-fi, like the one about how spiders became intelligent through a genetic mishap and ended up using ants as calculating units in their ‘computers’ 🙂

What have you been watching?

The Small Axe series on iPlayer has been great, directed by Steve McQueen. The second one was an incredible mood piece about Lovers Rock reggae, and the first one was a story more people should know about. I’m looking forward to the rest.

I like a bit of horror film action – Platform (Netflix) was one of those great concept films like Cube or TimeCrimes, an interesting idea well-executed. Possessor – by son-of-Cronenberg was what you’d expect in the body horror and gore stakes.

The documentary about the ‘freelance’ spy who infiltrated North Korea on a sort of personal mission was rather extraordinary too. Think it was just called The Spy as part of the Storyville series (iPlayer).

What have you been listening to?

I recently realised just how many tracks the Aphex Twin had done with specific synth names in their titles – there are over 20! From GX1 Solo (Yamaha’s first synth from 1973, costing over £50k – and the ‘Twin has one!), to the Cheetah EP, named for the Cheetah MS800 – universally hailed as the most annoying synth ever made. There’s Fenix Funk 5, Cirklon 3, Synthacon 5 and many more. It’s good to know Richard D is also a true synth fan – as well as one of the most prolific and inventive electronic musicians.

What have you been playing with?

Musically speaking I’ve unwisely got on the slippery road of modular synthesis – but am loving the E-RM Polygogo digital oscillator combined with the Intellijel Metropolis sequencer (based on the Roland 100m sequencer) and some other bits and bobs. It just can’t sound bad and is so much fun.

Which websites have you used the most?

A ton of synth websites and synth manual repositories!

What have you been doing the most?

Trying to find time in between the day job, writing the book, spending time with my family and trying to get some exercise to tinker with the aforementioned modular synths; but 20 mins a week isn’t really enough!

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

VACCINE!

The Secret DJ
THE SECRET DJ

It’s been a strange old year, what are your reflections on it?

In some ways, the new normal isn’t all that new. I never go out, spend all my time on a computer and have no money. Plus ça change, as they say. In a sense it has been a prism, we’ve got to see some things like just how awful the Conservatives and hard-right are, in all their vile glory. I think that has value. The extreme polarisation between the political left and right and the rise of ‘woke’ is hard to experience for some, but also essential. There is growth in extreme circumstances.

We are also seeing, unblinkered, the plague ravers, the business techno DJs who don’t care about the chance of killing people. I mean just look at that sentence, the scene of love and unity is fine about killing folks in exchange for cash! Beggars belief. We are seeing the ‘disruptors’ like Amazon and its cousins in our scene like Boiler Room exposed. DJ rapists being outed. Light is being shone on some very dark places. I’m all for it.

What have you been reading this year?

I have found, becoming someone who has had to market books to people for the first time, that the world is very much split in two. Perhaps for everything, to a ratio of 50/50. I think there are ‘readers’ and ‘non-readers’. I’ve been a reader since I was a kid. So the habits are the same every year. A couple are always in the toilet, sorry but the prime reading spot is the ceramic throne. The main one by the bed. I juggle a fun read with ‘improving’ ones pretty much all the time. The fun ones are nearly always sci-fi now, in my old age I have stopped caring completely what people think and just enjoy. As you get older, you tend to relive the peak years, so I re-read things like Iain M Banks and particularly the ‘Culture’ set of novels. Golden era stuff like Asimov, Ballard, Phillip K. Dick, Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, Heinlein, Jack Vance… the list is long.

I read Spanish newspapers to try to improve my frankly embarrassing Spanish. I get Private Eye sent, although it takes so long to get here, it is political history instead of current affairs. I just read a bio of Putin’s reign of murder. A cracker on the East India Company. Elephant Man bio. Fear: Trump in the White House. I’ve got everything Bukowski wrote, which is a feat as he was tremendously prolific so I’m nearly always reading him. I read comics a lot although they feel less and less relevant, much as I try.

I guess I am an old man now, so it’s mainly history, politics and holding onto my youth. Standard old man bollocks.

What have you been watching?

We could be here all day. I review film and TV on the side, so it’s a constant. I get sent promo stuff daily. It’s rarely good, sadly. I was impressed by, and continue to be, anything HBO-related. TV-wise I loved Succession, The New Pope, Baghdad Central, American Gods, The Boys, The Deuce, Sharp Objects, Small Axe, Watchmen, Trust and Westworld. Classy stuff. I’ve been saving the BBC’s Martin Chuzzlewit for Christmas as Dickens is none-more-festive and it’s an all-time fave for me. I like that comedy Ghosts as it’s very English and you can miss that a lot.

I remember my first couple of winters in Ibiza when it was just Spanish terrestrial TV, and even the Spanish will tell you how awful it used to be. Then I got a DVD of Phoenix Nights, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it almost made me cry, I was so happy to have something so familiar overseas.

Filmwise, ooo! I dunno. So many. Standout? The Lighthouse? Loved it! No fish is too strange for my aquarium. Parasite. Loved The Joker. 2020 wasn’t huge for film, so I’ve been watching a lot of faves. Cyrano De Bergerac is a weepy that always gets me. Death in Venice. I loved watching Amadeus again the other day. I saw Tenet; I see why people had trouble with it, feels like he’s hit that ceiling of ripping himself off like Tarantino. I could blither-on forever about screen obsessions…

What have you been listening to?

Well, here you go. The modern malaise is a glut in output that has devalued it to a point less than zero. Literally. Hardly enough hours in the day to keep up. With music, I haven’t calcified and stopped, or relive the past. I’ve never stopped being obsessed with the future. You do get to a point with being a DJ and a producer where you spend so much time inside it all; you can lose the sense of what it used to be just to be a music lover. It gets like a job. Being aware of it happening helps. For fun, I enjoy the new young jazzers like Snarky Puppy and Vulfpeck. Classics like George Duke or Chuck Mangioni and maybe treat myself to a bit of the more bonkers work of Scott Walker on a Sunday.

Modern stuff is hard as there is just so much, but I fell in love with Axel Boman, Nils Frahm, anything on the Citizens of Vice label and I’m sort of obsessed with a local Ibiza techno producer called MURJD currently. I’ve always accepted that dance music is disposable by nature, and I include my own work in that, so it sort of feels daft talking-up something that will be gone literally next week. That doesn’t mean I don’t value it, but I don’t hoard it. I love The Fall, Frank Zappa, and pop music means a lot to me still. I think Confidence Man are so awesome they make me feel like a proper fan.

What have you been playing with?

Playing with? DJ-wise? Or do you mean gadgets? Tough one. I’m not a gadget person or even all that into objects. By that, I mean possessions. I hardly ever buy anything other than groceries. Stuff ends up owning you. There have been no gigs so while I haven’t stopped, I’ve rolled-back on listening to promos and buying tunes for gigs. Sorry, not a great year, so not easy to answer with any clarity.

Which websites have you used the most?

Obviously, Google and the Socials. Surprised no one has used that as a band name. More than ever during COVID. A lifeline to the outside world and also a curse. Like all important things a double-edged sword. Mixcloud? Fair bit. I never used to do mixes, I had a thing where if you wanted to see me DJ, come see me DJ. Mixes devalued it. Since ‘becoming’ anonymous I figured people now read a book about a DJ taking an authoritarian stance, if only by association, so they’d better be able to see that ‘The Secret DJ’ can actually DJ. So hid a ‘secret’ account on Mixcloud and did a few sessions. What else? Bank sites a lot, trying desperately not to go under! Never off WhatsApp, which feels like a life sentence sometimes. My search history is probably extremely dull reading actually!

What have you been doing the most?

Panicking? Making hay? Hustling? I guess flailing about like everyone trying to survive this crisis. I get irate when I see folks playing it down. I had it for the best part of a month, and I nearly died! I’ve lost so much. On the verge of bankruptcy and it’s only the verge because in their infinite wisdom the Conservatives have halted bankruptcies during COVID, but allowed the banks to continue charging and hammering you to… yes you guessed it, bankruptcy. Which is none-more-2020. I’m big enough and ugly enough to look after myself, but you do wonder how the more vulnerable possibly cope. Winter looms. It looms like a motherfucker here at the best of times, it being a seasonal economy. Never loomed harder now. I’m genuinely petrified of it. On the plus side, totally worse places to be dealing with it! Swings and roundabouts innit.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

What else? The end of this fucking nightmare! Ha!

Bedroom Beats book
LAURENT FINTONI

It’s been a strange old year, what are your reflections on it?

Slow down. Digital life and real life are complimentary, but neither is absolute. More than ever, we need to consider political alternatives that can yield meaningful change instead of reinforcing the status quo. Defund the police (and then let’s take a look at all the other institutions that need rethinking in meaningful ways).

What have you been reading this year?

My reading habits have been off this year, like so many other things. A lot of my reading has been research-related to my book, old articles, archives, things like that. Two things stand out though: one is Kodwo Eshun’s 1999 classic More Brilliant Than The Sun, which I drew from a fair bit for my book. Still out of print which is a crime but worth hunting. So ahead of its time in the use of language to speak of new ideas and feelings. The other is Nathaniel Mackey’s From A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, which I’ve been reading on and off for a few years. It’s another one that innovates in using fiction to talk about music, in this case, jazz, and it means.

What have you been watching?

Dumb stuff that allows me to turn my brain off.

What have you been listening to?

Music that makes me feel comfortable. Some has been for research; some has been because I want to try and find some sense of stability while everything else feels like it’s spinning out of control.

Which websites have you used the most?

Discogs, for research.

What have you been doing the most?

Thinking. And trying to be present.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

Trying to get better at the things I know are good for me.

Junior Tomlin Flyer & Cover Art book
JUNIOR TOMLIN

It’s been a strange old year, what are your reflections on it?

My first thoughts are it has been a very trying, testing vexing year where you don’t know where you stand and what you believed when you were growing up is all wrong. Many of us, myself included, think that the freedoms we thought we had don’t exist, but alas we all have to get through it. Years of Brexit then COVID, believe me, I thought it was going to be frogs or locusts next. But hey, I have life and just have to get on with things. There has been too much loss this year, not just here but around the world.

Apart from that, personally, it was a good year for me, got a fantastic book out and even in the lockdowns I have still been freelancing and getting things done.

What have you been reading this year?

I have been doing more listening than watching. I bought two graphic novels: Infinity by Marvel Comics Volumes one and two. Apart from that, a book about the art and history of pulp fiction cover art.

What have you been watching?

I have been watching a lot of things. The Umbrella Academy, The Boys, Doom Patrol, Star Trek Discovery, Picard, The Mandalorian, Naruto, and Attack On Titan to name a few.

What have you been listening to?

Mostly jungletrain.net and, would you believe, LBC, and old vinyl and music CDs, Feferity Radio where I was on the show dropping vinyl with DJ freestyle.

What have you been playing?

Now that’s interesting, and the answer is my new Wacom tablet I was given by a former student of mine. I tell you it’s better than using a mouse; I didn’t even have time to play Tekken on the PlayStation 2. I have also been rehearsing with the band that I’m in.

Which websites have you used the most?

Website research and a lot of YouTube, it’s very good for putting a playlist together. It’s that versatile that you can send your friends the link.

What have you been doing the most?

I’ve been doing a lot of social media contacting people and spreading the word about my art book, getting and completing commissions, playing Scrabble online, and Candy Crush of all things, it’s a bit addictive.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

FREEDOM but I ain’t Mel Gibson, nuff said. Waiting for some semblance of normal and no restrictions, I want to go to the pictures, gym, hang out with friends, miss that, and everything else.

State of Bass book
MARTIN JAMES

It’s been a strange old year, what are your reflections on it?

Obviously, it started with the huge disappointment of having to cancel the promo tour for State of Bass. I’d really been looking forward to it and had arranged loads of meetups with old friends. As a result, the book launch felt very anticlimactic although the live stream we did with Jenna G, Nicky Blackmarket and Bryan Gee was brilliant. I think we had about 20K views in the end and loads of people were asking for a part two!

The summer lockdown was an incredibly creative time for me. I wrote and recorded loads of music with friends, did a lot of research and writing for academic projects and wrote some fiction. But I was also one of the lucky ones who had a full-time lecturing job. The downside of this was that all leave was cancelled so we could put all of our lectures and teaching materials online well in advance of students returning to studies. I will be getting my first break since September 2019 next week.

It was, of course, an incredibly important summer for a number of issues. Covid 19 has really brought inequalities to the fore. I felt so proud of the people who took BLM to the streets and demanded change. Although we can’t change history, we can alter the way it is represented. As a historian, I truly believe that all histories should be revealed – even those that are hard to swallow. British culture is deep and wide, it’s made up of so many ethnicities and identities, it’s ugly, and it’s beautiful, it’s produced some of the most shocking things imaginable but also amazing, mind-blowing things. Black Lives Matter challenged some of our colonial histories and ongoing attitudes. But by stripping away the layers of history to reveal the truths, a lot of stuff is brought out into the sunlight. Some of these truths might challenge our own views of ourselves.

My deepest hope is that BLM causes all of us to reflect on our own attitudes about all types of identity. But I also hope that it encourages us to find ways to talk about these different attitudes. I don’t think virtue signalling on social media is anti-racism. I also don’t think cancelling people is anti-racism. To really understand the poison, you have to spend time investigating the poison. Indeed, many people who have been cancelled have become strengthened by the process. I had a brief moment when a couple of people called me out on social media asking what a white middle-aged academic could really know about jungle, saying the book was whitewashing (an easy cliché through misinformed overuse). Thankfully some of my old junglist friends quickly shut them down by saying that I was there back in the day.

The recent ‘Small Axe’ drama series has been really interesting in that it’s brought back a lot of truths of the 70s and 80s that have been edged out of the retelling of those eras. My 20-year-old son was shocked at the levels of violent racism and even more shocked when I told him this was what it was like for young black people in Britain. It gave me the chance to talk about going to blues parties as a teenager and how much racism I witnessed. Some of the treatment that the police dealt rastas was inhumane. I have always considered myself to be non-racist, but BLM forced me to reflect on whether or not I’m anti-racist. In all honesty, I think I can do more. I think we can all do more. I think it’s clear from State of Bass that I love British Black Music, but I really think a black writer should be telling those junglist stories. Even better a black woman – because women are missing from these histories.

The winter restrictions and lockdown number two have been very depressing. I’ve found it incredibly hard to read or write, and loads of deadlines have slipped. The end of the year is dark for everyone this year. The summer lockdown seemed bright and full of brave new challenges. It was almost utopian. But the reality of cold, dark, wet Britain makes things less positive. The reality of mass unemployment, mass homelessness, widespread poverty and hunger is really terrifying. The fact that our children have all fallen behind in their school studies is worrying. Many kids forget how to be part of a social community. As we move into 2021, I feel so uncertain about how to face the challenges. But I do know we have to work hard at understanding the new landscape.

What have you been reading?

I was heavily impacted by Black Lives Matter this year, so it inevitably influenced my reading habits. So, apart from the books on Velocity Press which each deal with Black music from different perspectives (big love for ‘Join the Future’, Matt Anniss has done an incredible job mapping a predominately white, northern working-class scene that grew from a love of black music), I’ve also read the following books that are well worth your time: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. I know it almost became a cliché to read this book, but it is important in that it mentally repositioned my understanding of what it is to be white in our society. It was the first time I understood what was meant by ‘privilege’.

There were a lot more books, but these are the ones that immediately spring to mind.

What have you been watching?

I don’t watch that much TV, to be honest. I did see lots of Scandi-noir… I’m a big fan of The Bridge! I find myself being drawn to dark storylines in broken down, hard environments and with subtitles! Apart from that Small Axe is amazing and I really enjoyed I May Destroy You. I’m sure there were other things, but I’ve been preoccupied with music most of the year.

What have you been listening to?

My album of the year is Keleketla! by Coldcut in collaboration with a load of amazing African and Indonesian artists. It’s incredible. That took me back to my afro-beat albums, so Fela Kuti has been getting a lot of plays, especially Zombie, and Tony Allen’s catalogue, which is such a rich journey. I think my favourite is NEPA. I’ve also been listening to a lot of UK jazz artists. Moses Boyd’s latest album Dark Matter was wonderful. I also discovered his previous album Displaced Diaspora which has been a constant on my turntable since I got it. Nubya Garcia’s album Source was breathtaking. Other jazz artists gracing my record deck included Shabaka and The Ancestors’ Wisdom of Elders and WuHen by Kamaal Williams.

As albums of the year go, a close second to Keleketla! would have to be both albums by SAULT this year. Raw, gritty street soul, rough funk, and just a touch of a post-punk attitude to beat making. Listen to all of their albums, they’re truly incredible.

I’ve also got deeply into old post-punk, post-punk electronic music and contemporary artists who explore that era. Part of this was due to Nostalgia Deathstar, my music project with a friend that investigates that period of UK electronic music 1979 -1981 that became a huge influence on electro and early techno. My interest was also fired up through chats with my mate Tony Thorpe (Moody Boys, etc) about the soundsystem, funk and jazz influences on the post-punk era. We’ve also talked about how Black British youth have been written out of the post-punk story both by white and black historians. It wasn’t just white kids who responded to the call of punk. And similarly post-punk wasn’t purely the domain of white youth. Tony was in 400 Blows, he put out the first acid house compilation, he’s a groundbreaking post-punk artist who has remained at the forefront of electronic music culture, but he barely features in the retelling of these histories.

Other albums I’ve loved include the latest Asian Dub Foundation Access Denied, David Bowie’s I’m Only Dancing (Soul Tour), The Cycle by Mourning [A] BLKstar, Roisin Murphy’s Roisin’s Machine and Kelly Lee Owens Inner Song.

What have you been playing with?

I’ve been playing with the idea of doing a podcast series. But I’m not much of a gamer. I used to review games but realised they were taking up too much of my life. So I stopped. However, I do play the occasional game of Fifa so I can be Newcastle United and beat Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Man City. It’s proper fantasy football.

Which websites have you used the most?

The honest answer would be the online teaching platform that I have to use. The funny thing about 2020 is that I’ve become increasingly angry at online misinformation, so I’ve really stopped using the internet for research. Now I mainly use it for Discogs to feed my vinyl habit!

Join The Future by Matt Anniss
MATT ANNISS

It’s been a strange old year, what are your reflections on it?

It has been a very difficult year for many people and a real rollercoaster of emotions. Personally, the New Year began with so much hope: Join The Future, my book on Velocity Press, was getting great feedback, and in mid-March, just before the first national lockdown here in the UK, the spin-off compilation was released as the first record on JD Twitch’s Cease & Desist label. That was about as good as my year got. My dad, who had been my biggest supporter and an enthusiastic cheerleader for my writing, lost his battle with Prostate Cancer in August. I was lucky to be able to spend time with him in his final few months – post-lockdown I relocated to Sheffield briefly to be with him and my Mum –but it was extremely tough. As far as I’m concerned, 2020 can’t end soon enough!

What have you been reading this year?

The various lockdowns we’ve been through gave me a lot of time to catch up on books from the last few years, as well as new titles. I finally read Caspar Melville’s It’s a London Thing, which was published this time last year, as well as the republished State of Bass by Martin James. For some lighter musical reading, I dived into another republished music title: Chris Heath’s Pet Shop Boys, Literally, which offers a good insight into Tennant and Lowe at their pop prime in the late ‘80s (and the level of fame that came with that). Recently I’ve also been dipping in and out of the epic compendium/retrospective of Discotext Magazine, a Vancouver-based dance music fanzine published between 1988 and 1990. I’m now midway through Bedroom Beats and B-sides, another Velocity Press title, and am looking forward to diving into The Secret DJ: Book 2.

What have you been watching?

Strangely I have been re-watching epic old dramas a fair bit. Earlier in the year, I introduced my 26-year-old housemate to the mid-1990s BBC 2 drama Our Friends in the North, a series that made a huge impression on me as a teenager. When that ended, we moved on to The Wire – a truly brilliant series which I’d seen before, but he hadn’t. I’ve also re-watched a few US comedy series, too, in particular, Veep and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

What have you been listening to?

All sorts! When lockdown kicked in, I gravitated towards dub, roots reggae, and lovers rock, reacquainting myself with records I’ve bought over the years while adding to the collection. Since then I seem to have leapt between immersive and meditative ambient music, street soul, mid-1990s ambient techno – something I first fell in love with as a teenager – contemporary jazz and things that might sound good played at sunrise following an all-night rave. Having not been able to go out and dance this year, I’ve been feeling nostalgic for secret parties and mountainside raves I DJ’d and danced at in the past. Incidentally, you can hear some of what I’ve been listening to this year on my monthly Noods Radio show, Vibes From The TR13E – you’ll find this year’s shows (and earlier ones) archived on their website.

What have you been playing with?

Lego. Genuinely. I was a massive Lego enthusiast as a kid – not in a collector sense, just that it was my favourite toy. I have a few boxes of old bricks at home, so every now and then, I get it out of the spare room and sit there building random things. During the first lockdown, I created a miniature festival, complete with stage, toilets, ticket office and morning-after rave casualties!

What have you been doing the most?

Trying to remain positive and take each day as it comes. It sounds flippant, but in a year where so many of us have suffered in different ways, it’s vital to try and remain calm and positive. It’s not always easy, but I can assure you it has helped my mental health no end.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

Pushing on with a number of research projects I started following the publication of Join The Future. I’m also looking forward to the launch of a new event series focused on music books and journalism, which will hopefully be coming to Bristol in February or March, and the Join The Future takeover on Noods Radio in March. Above all else, I’m really looking forward to being able to dance outdoors with people, hopefully as the sun rises, at some point in the summer.