Rantings for Politically minded queers, women and lefties
who find fault with everything
Anyone Ran Out Of Toilet Paper?
Far be it from me to complain about the gay scene (“Oh, for Gods’ sake Ste, will you just LET IT GO?” I hear you cry). With its ‘dazzling’ lights, beautifully priced drinks, stereotypes on every corner and roughly about six brain cells bobbing up and down the road (that'll be between every pub and club, mind) how could I? Yes, even I occasionally venture to Canal Street. Gone are the days when I had to rely on the place for sex, something even the biggest scene-hater will (usually) admit to- I have a partner to do that sort of thing with these days (self righteous b**tard, aren't I?), but even in my most apathetic of moments, knowing what is happening in the U.K and around the world to other gay people is still something that stirs a bit of interest in me, even if it is incredibly depressing most of the time. So, where better to pick up a free gay newspaper than Manchester's gay village? I must admit, its usually a very quick visit, as the temptation to stop in the Union and dance to Steps is too much to bear (being a gay man), and after all I have the important business of watching videos and videos of Shirley Basset and Kylie Minogue at home.
So anyway, on a trip home to Liverpool from the coach station at Chorlton Street last week, I decided to pop into everyone's favourite sex/leather shop “Clone Zone”, a shop so ludicrous that even the Village People would blush on entering. I picked up a copy of The Pink Paper, by far the most coherent and news-orientated publication of the gay ‘world’ (God, I hate that expression), to find out what's been going on. Lets face it, the only time gay issues are raised in the national press is when the Daily Mail occasionally decides to portray us as glorified paedophiles. Flicking through the pages on the coach towards the capital of culture (any comments on this? Put them on the message board!), one thing struck me as incredibly weird, something I’d never really noticed before. The sloppy mixture of articles on serious issues such as partnership rights and gay bashings was mixed with blatant plugging of new gay clubs which were embarrassingly passed off as reports, which is not only bad editing, but downright insensitive towards the real issues. I don't have a problem with publications catering for the gay scene - if its there and people want to waste their lives in a feather-boa-ghetto, it may as well be reflected and catered for (my gripe is the fact that the gay scene actually exists). What I do have a problem with is the fact that the only paper to take gay issues head-on is now apparently treating a gay club moving venue in Newcastle (NOT the capital of culture, ha!) with the same amount of priority as partnership rights. I mean, priorities? We all know that the gay scene is bonkers, but have gay people now turned so shallow that nightlife is classed as a class A ‘report’? Flick even further through last weeks Pink Paper and you will discover a near- full page feature on a glorified clown, sorry, drag queen, making a comeback , space I'm sure could have been used much more constructively (and if the editor of The Pink Paper happens to be reading this, no I'm not talking about S-Club 7 splitting up). It would be far better to have a small section dedicated to the scene crap at the back of the paper, or, better still, no scene coverage at all. After all, there are several free wank-rags available on the gay scene that already cover this sort of rubbish regularly, and usually they are sat next to The Pink Paper in the bars they are provided in too. The Pink Paper is the only real gay paper that deals with news seriously, but now it appears to be travelling down the same tacky road as every other ‘gay’ publication.
So, where exactly does this leave those of us who want nothing to do with the gay scene but care about where we stand and what issues are happening out there that affect us? For the time being, just a little bit insulted, which personally I can live with. After all, the news is still actually there. However, the way things are going, were heading into a situation where both straight and gay society seem to view gay issues as being about clubbing just as much as homophobia, and those of us with any conscience could end up ignoring the gay press altogether, relying solely on The Guardian to find out what's happening in the gay political world, and subsequently missing out on a lot of important issues. In this homophobic country (come on, admit it), that's not only scary, but frankly its a very dangerous situation to be in.
A SORRY STATE OF AFFAIRS
"Gay People In Alternative Music"
The bulls**t you hear when you work behind a bar. I was in work the other day listening to this middle claarrss student musician tell his girlfriend how wonderful and diverse the music scene in this country is. Amongst this overload of utter claptrap came the comment, "but anyone from any walk of life can make any kind of music they want to, that's the beauty". In a sense he's right. Anyone can make whatever kind of music they want to, but whether anyone is gonna take it seriously and actually listen is another matter entirely. All different kinds of music does get signed and get exposure, I don't dispute that. But take a look at the people who are making this music and what, if anything, they're saying and you might begin to get a little disturbed. They're consistently male, consistently middle class, consistently white and almost always heterosexual. And you might say that it doesn't matter if someone is gay or straight, male or female or whatever when it comes to a song that's been written, but my point is that songs are written from the experience of the songwriter, and frankly I’ve heard enough songs about failed heterosexual love. And when there's a barely a single gay person in a successful or even signed band, i'm sorry, but there's a problem. And the problem is one great big fascist industry.
Rock and alternative music has always been dominated by the male heterosexual. You know the cliché, four long haired rock 'dudes' from the states whining about their broken hearts, songs about drug addiction (you crazy guys!) and interview upon interview slagging off "sluts" and "faggots". Or there's the milder type, the British indie boys e.g. the Stereophonic or David Gray, whose' music is so utterly bland and predictable it's sickening but support is given in the overload 'cause they're just normal lads who made it from the bottom straight to the top. Such unchallenging music always will because it will always sell. If the Stereophonic were all gay and replaced the word "she" with "he" in the majority of their songs, they’d be labeled a "gay" band, therefore scene specific, therefore still playing some p*ss-stinking dive in llandudno.
Alot is also made of the glam rock, so-called feminine bands such as placebo. You know, the 'bisexual', wacky ,dress wearing prats who constantly boast about minor homoerotic experiences in an attempt to appear controversial. It's one thing being a spoilt heterosexual brat who accepts the odd blowjob from a male groupie to appear a bit crazy, but facing a lifetime of unequal laws, being spat at in the street and fearing the threat of violence and ridicule if you dare to hold your partners' hand in public is another thing entirely.
All that is left to pick at in rock culture as something positive for gays is those who come out of the closet to the media some years after their initial fame. For example, Michael Stipe. An excellent songwriter, and I daren't dispute that. But yet another gutless gay man in music all the same. For a band who have been in existence for over 20 years and who are famous for writing about personal traumas and emotions, I can't help but find it a bit strange that barely a hint of his sexuality has come across in R.E.Ms' songs. I've certainly heard several references to "she" or "her" in an R.E.M 'love' song. So Stipe tries to throw the world off the track, gets bored and announces "i'm a queer artist" in 2001, and people seem to think he's a hero for it. True, he never said he was straight. But he never said he was gay either. Maybe it is none of our business, but I don't but all this "privacy" sh*t when it comes to your sexuality. Heterosexuals don't often whinge about the right to keep their sexuality a secret, and unless we try to treat our sexuality in the same way and stop hiding behind closed doors, nothing is ever going to change. We should get on with our everyday business without fear of damaging our careers and if people don’t like it, tough. Personally, I wouldn't want money that could have come from homophobic hands. I'm not solely having a go at Michael Stipe here, he's just the most recent example in a string of closeted songwriters.
I'm not saying that all gay men and women in music should be political about their sexuality. What I am saying is that when the very few gay people who are in well-known alternative bands are all too willing to keep their sexuality under wraps there's a serious issue that needs to be discussed. Music, particularly rock and alternative, is supposed to be a place where feelings and emotions are released no matter how displeasing the general public finds it - the sex pistols, nirvana and Marilyn Manson are just a few bands that spring to mind. Gay people face a lot of repression in everyday life, more than most, and we should be there too. But the question is- do record companies want to sign music that doesn't pander to the straight boy stereotype? It's all fair and well for the manic street preachers to whinge about fascism but it's still very safe for the music industry. It's not really that confrontational for straight men to sing about the struggles of homophobia and sexism. The success of the Manics compared to the success of a political female band such as sleater-kinney proves this, and the same rules apply to gay men and women.
However, the problem doesn't just lie with the music industry. The fact is, gay people just aren't forming bands. We believe the crap they sell us - that rock is for 'real' (ahem) men and disco is for gays. Once we come out, we're encouraged into the segregated arms of the gay scene, and after the traumas that usually lead up to coming out, most of us want to fit in wherever we can. But during this fitting in process, a certain amount of conformity is required, and too may gay people are all to eager to shred their individuality to belong to the gay scene. By exactly the same principle, many gay people stay in the closet, get married and get a mortgage. Both seem equally as immoral to me. As for the gay man or woman who wants to start a rock band, well! Don't worry guys because it's not only the indie boys on the music scene who will laugh at your expense, the canal street queens are having a good laugh in equal measure- it's just not a very gay thing to do you see. I personally cannot and will not dance to Kylie in some trendy bar like a good little queen. If that's your thing then go for it, but what if it isn't? Something drastic needs to happen and soon, but being an ex- scene queen (my secret's out!), playing in a political band with a gay agenda amongst bands and bands of heterosexual men and by nature a pessimist, I seriously doubt it ever will.
So when you're listening to the radio and contemplating what a bad year it is for anyone making alternative music, remember. Every year is a bad year for gay people making alternative music. Feel the bitterness, and do something about it.
NB: This article was taken from the culture sucks fanzine, printed and distributed around manchester in June 2002. For a free copy of the fanzine e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW DEAL FOR SLAVES!
The one sure thing about any government who are ever going to get into power is that they'll want the country working away like slaves, regardless of how badly paid or pointless the workers' jobs may be. Unemployment being down means people are prospering happily in careers and not spending taxpayers' money, right? However, whilst taking this "everybody must work" stance when it comes to working-class employment, governments simultaneously talk about the right to an education, conveniently ignoring the blatant contradictions that come with both issues being at the forefront of British politics. New Labour, as we all figured out around about the time student grants were replaced with student loans, are no different to the Tories when it comes to equal opportunities for all classes, yet feel the need to pat themselves on the back when it comes to recent fallen unemployment statistics - thanks to the vile, forced labour that is New Deal.
If I can put my bitterness aside for a few moments (always a problem of mine), i'll give you my own personal example. Four years or so ago, I was an eighteen year old living in a Liverpool bedsit and claiming job seekers allowance. Whilst I had no career in mind at the time, I was enjoying studying for two 'A' levels in the local college, and for what it's worth, getting damn good grades. After six months of JSA payments, New Deal arrived and I was now to sign on in a painfully bright orange upstairs area in the jobcentre. I was to sign on with Margaret, my New Deal dictator, sorry, "advisor"- an evil woman with a ginger perm and on a grade A mission to get as many young people into employment and herself a promotion. When I told her of my college studies she proceeded into quoting my job seekers' agreement with the correct and seemingly fair information that to be claiming job seekers' allowance, I must be actually job seeking. Whilst this seems like a fair deal, this basically meant that I had to either give up college to enter into an abysmal job, or alternatively study at night school after working a 48 hour week, plus travel time plus a social life (18 year olds are entitled to one, are they not?). Part time work is not an option with New Deal, as the main priority is getting those unemployment statistics down and part time workers who still claim extra benefits do not count as employed, as benefits (e.g. housing benefit) are still being claimed. So then, in this situation, where does the government stand? Was getting a good education my right? It seems not. The biggest irony with New Deal - this is something our Tony doesn't often mention - is that in some cases the government, i.e. the taxpayer, pays half of the workers' salary! Unemployment may be down, but who really is gaining? The answer is two parties - the government, who get browny points for the fallen statistics, and the employer, who gets a new member of staff for four or five grand a year for a worker they'd usually have to pay double the amount for. The country as a whole, and the worker gains absolutely nothing. As if all this isn't humiliating enough, some people on New Deal are sent on short courses teaching them basic maths and english skills and how to "perform well" at interviews, regardless of their intelligence. In my specific case, I was in effect taken out of college, where for all the government knows I could have had plans to become a doctor or a lawyer, to work printing documents in an office. Night school was not an option in my case, not only because I would've died from exhaustion, but also because my college simply didn't have any spaces left in night classes. Of course, some people do work full time and gain great qualifications at night school, and well done to them, but the fact is that young people need all the encouragement they can receive to study, and I just didn't get that.
However, there is a much wider problem with New Deal, and without wanting to sound like an idealistic anarchist, people simply should have the right to spend their lives in whatever constructive way they want to. Taxpayers are not the only people who make up a healthy society. Granted, some people on benefits are nothing but lazy thieving scum who'll spend their giro, steal somebody else’s' and do nothing for the community but terrorize it. Force them into work by all means, the fewer parasites like that on the street the better, but to assume that all people on long term JSA fit into that category is unfair. Some of the most intelligent, hard working people I know have been on JSA for years - a waste, some would say. But what exactly is a "waste"? Touring with a great band? Painting and exhibiting art? Writing and distributing free journalism? These are just some of the examples of what my JSA friends do with their time. Or, for example, milking cows for four pound-twenty an hour? Go figure. True, some areas run a "New Deal for musicians" course, where budding musicians who want to get into the industry (assuming that all musicians actually want to get into the industry) get free access to studios and free instrument-playing lessons, but what really is the point? Once the course is over, the 'student' only has to go and get a job straight away, and what are the chances of breaking it into the industry after a few months spent with some ex- member of showaddywaddy? The New Deal for musicians is a desperate attempt on New Labours' behalf to appear like they actually understand alternative lifestyles, and as per, they fail abysmally.
Maybe instead of this forced Labour, the government should be looking at the reasons why people don't want to work, and the answer lies firmly with the minimum wage, which is a national disgrace. Four pound-twenty per hour leaves the full time worker, after rent and council tax (council tax is another article entirely.) with about ten pound per week more than a JSA weekly payment, which means in effect the worker spends forty hours per week working for ten pounds, and is so exhausted after a working week that all their worthwhile projects at home eventually end up abandoned. And still, frankly, poor.
The New Deal issue is an issue that people all over the country - workers, too - should be fighting against. And just for the record, I am a full time worker and not a bitter dole-ite - or is that JSA-ite now? - fighting his corner (well not anymore anyway). The situation looks set to get worse, too. The government is currently considering a system where traveling jobcentre pigs turn up at the doorsteps of people’s homes to give them an option - apply for the jobs they have at hand, or starve.
The are ways around New Deal- for example, signing off after 5 months of being on JSA (before the six month New Deal deadline) and then signing back on as a new claim after a few months, but obviously the alibi must be fool proof and money will be needed to get through the months (a cash-in-hand job is always a good start), but if this new system does go into action like it apparently will, how will people cope not falling into glorified slavery? One thing's for sure, the intelligent JSA-ite will always find a way, but for the meantime I just hope my taxes aren't spent on too cheap a cider, after all i'm much happier with my money going to descent people with an aim in life than to the government to spend on dropping bombs on innocent people in the middle east.
MANCHESTER MUSIC VENUES
The joys of starting a band, eh? That powerful feeling of putting the band ads around the local record shops, which usually read something like, “bassist and drummer needed to form revolutionary band now!” So eventually you get the musicians, you have the songs written, you’re thinking "the world is my oyster!" and you get a gig at the local venue. It takes approximately three or four gigs to realise the real reason that music venues exist, and believe me, it ain't to promote "up and coming talent".
The idea of bands paying the venue to play is a concept most bands detest and rightly so- I mean, PAYING to provide the entertainment? How sick is that? Of course, this system should be eradicated, and more or less has been now with the exception of a handful of venues. But take a look at the new system that most venues now operate on instead and ask yourself, is this actually any better? The answer is, quite frankly, NO.
Let me explain. The major venues for small bands in Manchester operate a flyer/'ticket' scheme, where the venue gives the band a ticket template, the band photocopies this numerous times and hey presto, hundreds of tickets. These tickets usually give the punter between 50p and one pound off the door price, hardly a great incentive for the punter when they can pay in on the door for that little bit more money without the hassle of tracking a ticket down, and the band signs a contract agreeing that if less than 20 or 30 people (depending on the venue) pay in with these tickets, bands will not be booked again and will not receive any payment for the gig. Fair enough, new bands do need a kick up the arse to get promoting themselves and maybe this is one way of making sure they do, but when you look a little further into the ticket scheme it takes no time to realise it as the massive insult to underground/new bands that it is.
Firstly, the ticket scheme makes damn sure that even the bands that do manage to bring a large crowd to a venue receive no acknowledgement or payment for their troubles. For example, let’s say a band brings 70 people to a gig. How many of these people actually have tickets with them? Like I earlier stated, a measly 50p or one pound off the door price is hardly an incentive for the punter to e-mail or 'phone the band to make sure they take advantage of this oh-so-generous offer, and the venue knows this. The band can leave tickets in as many shops, pubs or bars as they like but this leaves only a matter of co-incidence for a fan of the band to actually find them. Anyone who then does have a ticket hardly guards it with their life and is likely to lose it or forget to take it with them on the night. So the situation is that the band who pulls 70 people has about 20 people (if they're lucky) paying in with tickets, the venue makes a killing on the profit front and the band, who are usually piss-poor (well I certainly am) and may have spent endless hours and minimum-wage or dole cheque money promoting the night themselves gets nothing. Of course, music shouldn't be a moneymaking exercise, it should be about performing and expression, but if money is being made, it’s only fair that the actual performer gets at least a fair share of it.
Secondly, this pathetic scheme promotes a culture where bands spend so much time harassing friends and work colleagues to come to gigs with tickets at the ready to get the numbers up on the door that they wrongly prioritize this as more important than actually trying to get their name out there and gaining real fans. Why on earth should bands be concerned with playing gigs to their friends? They can have private shows in the comfort of their own home! This culture is only encouraged by the "new band nights" that most venues play host to, where four brand new bands who absolutely no one has ever heard of play a long depressing night to mum, dad and their boss who they actually detest. Why new bands aren't put on a bill with more established bands for their very first few gigs remains a mystery, as this is a perfect way for the new band to gain fans through being seen live by fans of the established band. Good support slots are as not few and far between as they seem, and it makes sense that the band absolutely no-one knows should get the slot, rather than the more well known band who already has fans, which usually happens.
As for the minimum-of-twenty-or-so rule, what help does the venue really give in promoting bands? Sure, the band name is sent to local and sometimes national listings in magazines, but only the band name is sent with no description whatsoever. I don't care how striking a band name is, if I know nothing about them then I am not going! Compare this the "highlights" section most venues have on their own flyers...what exactly is classed as a "highlight"? A new band who happen to be fantastic? Of course not. The "highlights" are when the band with a newly-signed great big record deal with E.M.I who are NME's flavour of the month come to play, basically giving the band who everyone knows and will come to see anyway the little bit of publicity that is much needed by the smaller bands. The purpose? To make the venue look as desperately hip as it longs to be, and to have a chance to put the band in their hall of fame should NME like them for more than two weeks. Maybe if the smaller bands had more help from the venues they too would end up in their hall of fame, but laziness and a lack of adventure stops them from trying and bands have to rely on the old "lucky break". The simple fact is, bands shouldn't have to rely on lucky breaks, if there was more help from the whole 'business' (a horrible word to associate with music) from day one, bands would have more chance of gaining fans regardless of record labels and the national music press, who seem to have the worst taste in alternative music possible.
Before we get all-defensive and say, "but everywhere else works the same!”, the simple answer to that is WRONG. For instance, London venues ask the punter who they're coming to see on the door and make a note of it, which takes no time at all and makes sure that credit is given when it's due. They also describe the bands in their own mail-outs and listings, which is more than any Manchester venue does. It seems that even London, what is by nature the most shallow capitalist city in the world, treats bands with more respect than friendly Manchester does! As a band, we’ve been paid more times in London than in Manchester, despite us being based here for many years and being known a hell of alot more than in London where we have a pathetic amount of fans and despite only playing there a total of about eight times. It's a crying shame the way venues treat bands here because the underground scene is so good and there's alot of genuine talent about.
Please, please, please keep on forming bands before the likes of programs such as "Popstars: The Rivals" destroy real music altogether. But make no mistake about it-the venue, even if they like your music, doesn't give a damn. As far as they're concerned there's plenty more fish in the sea.
THE MARDI GRAS FIASCO
Just for one minute there, one glorious minute, I was almost proud of the Manchester gay community. Picture it, it’s a Thursday afternoon, I’ve cashed my giro (which had gone up by 70p a week...who says Tony Blair doesn't look after the unwaged?) and I pass the newsagents on Oxford Road to read a M.E.N banner proclaiming, "Gays to march through city in protest". I really should have known better, but I got genuinely excited. I mean, what could have stirred up such anger from a scene seemingly obsessed with E's and sex and not much else? Section 28? Partnership rights? The mutilated body of a gay man found in Camden a month earlier (yes, really, but yet again the national press chose to ignore the murder of a queer)? Of course not- what immediate benefits would that give to a queen looking forward to a party? No, as usual it was a big fuss about something of much less importance- the temporary cancellation of this years Mardi Gras.
Now don't get me wrong, if people want to throw their money away on over priced drinks, tacky cabaret acts, shit E's and unbearably loud Kylie song after Kylie song, that's entirely their prerogative. And on the surface, it’s good that people on the gay scene can show that they can stand up and be counted, and what's more, intimidate Manchester council and the police into getting what they want. But that's the problem...having a party is all they want.
Was the cancellation of Mardi Gras really that devastating? Let's face it, most of the venues would have been open anyway and the weekend would've been more or less the same bar the absence of a few tossers 'representing' the gay community by parading around on a float in pink bunny outfits. One thing is for sure, however, and that is that the reason it was cancelled was pretty pathetic- Manchester council had overspent on the Commonwealth Games and apparently couldn't afford the police to guard the outside drinking areas, and therefore restricted the drinking area to Canal Street alone (I mean, hello? 50,000 people on tiny Canal St?). It's pretty sick that they can afford to spend millions upon millions funding an event for tourists who'll be in the city for 10 days but have spent so much on the fiasco that they can't afford to support an event the people of Manchester will enjoy. However, my fury is not aimed at the gay scene for fighting their corner over this matter, my fury is with the scene for the fact that this is one of the only matters in about the last ten years they've threatened to take action over, give or take a march for the repeal of section 28 when it was a 'hip' issue. "It's the principal!" the queens cry, the queens by nature having about as many morals and principals as The Sun newspaper. What principal? The right to get f****d up for 3 days running? They could do that anyway without the official title of "Mardi Gras". The real point that lies here is that by the constant lack of interest in any political or physical attack on gay people either in this country or abroad, and a tantrum thrown at the prospect of a party being cancelled, Canal Street and its' camp queens, muscle marys' and biker dykes have shown us exactly where their principles lie, and that is with, sadly, dancing, having sex and buggar all else. If the gay scene did kick up a fuss over the things that really mattered, i.e. our basic human rights which are often abused in all manners of new and interesting ways, then I’d say good on 'em for fighting for Mardi Gras 'cause they deserve it. And if Mardi Gras was about gay pride like I’m told it used to be by older gay people I know, and not merely a money-making exercise by big businesses, I’d say good on 'em. True, money raised does go to charity, but in comparison with what money is made in the gay village over Mardi Gras when prices and entry fees to clubs are even more disgusting than usual, the amount of money the charities receive is interesting to say the least. Charities are there all year round and it's telling that the only time they really gain from the gay scene is when a party is provided in return.
One thing the threat of marching should teach us is that there is power in unity. The city councils' downright fear over the threat of action proves that when we shout loud enough, people hear and what's more, they react in our favour. Maybe now though it might be time to stop acting like spoilt selfish brats and to start threatening action over the things that really matter.
Culture Sucks is written by Stephen McCabe of
Manchester queer political punkpop band Stephen Nancy
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