Jeremy Corbyn supporters have been demonised from the word go

First published by International Business Times UK on 17th August 2016

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Despite the Conservative Party’s success in leading Britain into the disaster of Brexit, the complete lack of responsibility taken by the three key figures in the Brexit campaign (Johnson, Farage and Gove), the very public mess of professional backstabbings that followed, and the fact that Theresa May, a politician will a clear disregard for basic human rights, is ensconced in Number 10, all eyes seem to be on the Labour Party’s struggles.

Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have been unfairly demonized by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and by comfortable, London-based political pundits since the outset. His inclusion on the leadership ballot in June last year was viewed as an indulgence, a foolish little outing for an ageing, left-wing politician, and his unprecedented win saw hackles rise within the party and across the media landscape. Even the ‘ethical’ and purportedly left-wing Guardian would not give their support to Corbyn.

Corbyn has been forced to battle on all fronts, taking on not only the Tories, but his own party who have hardly covered themselves with glory during this episode in Labour’s history. Accusations from leadership contender Owen Smith in today’s BBC hustings debate that Corbyn has failed to work with his colleagues are truly laughable, as Corbyn’s only crime towards the PLP has been to be voted leader (with the biggest mandate in Labour Party history). Mass resignations, open disloyalty and barbed comments to the media were carried out by anti-Corbyn Labour MPs and the responsibility for these actions sits squarely on their shoulders. They have shown a remarkable disrespect for the Labour members and supporters who voted overwhelmingly to elect Mr Corbyn as leader.

The National Executive Committee’s (NEC) move to block 130,000 Labour members who joined after January 2016 (and the subsequent legal wranglings) is another attack on Corbyn’s supporters and it feels horribly unfair that the NEC is able to simply rewrite the rules of Labour membership because they wish to oust Corbyn. Last week former Deputy Tom Watson warned of ‘Trotskyist infiltration’ in the Labour party and of course Jeremy Corbyn was to blame for this. Corbyn has become Britain’s most popular scapegoat, and his supporters are tarred with the same brush.

Owen Smith’s accusation that Corbyn of taking Labour back to a 1980s politics of mass protest rallies in last Thursday’s leadership debate is absolutely indicative of the paternalistic attitude of many of Corbyn’s critics. It doesn’t seem to matter what ordinary Labour party members and supporters want. We’re treated as plebs, fools and extremists, not as the people that the PLC is there to represent.

It’s immaterial how many people have joined the Labour party because they’re energised by the common sense policies and ‘kinder politics’ espoused by Corbyn, or how many people have turned out to attend rallies up and down the country. It’s of no consequence that Labour members are calling for a fairer Britain where the agenda of austerity is challenged, tuition fees are scrapped, corporations are forced to pay their taxes, rail fares are affordable, mental health is addressed in a compassionate and cohesive manner, green solutions are engaged with, and billions are saved instead of being funnelled into nuclear weapons. It doesn’t matter to the PLP because they always know best.

Saying that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable doesn’t necessarily make it true. If he were so unelectable, why would the NEC need to go to such great legal lengths to ensure that the 130,000 new Labour members were excluded from the leadership ballot? Why would the media bother with bias and smear if Labour has no chance of being elected under Corbyn? It has, of course, been proven that clear bias has been applied to articles about Corbyn across major publications, in a vicious and destructive way previously unseen even in the hard-knock world of political reporting. The ugly treatment of Corbyn indicates fear of a man who has forever voted on the right side of history and who cannot be bought.

I’m now going to take the opportunity to state that the abuse of ‘Blairite’ or anti-Corbyn MPs by those who support the Labour leader is absolutely abhorrent. It flies in the face of everything that Corbyn stands for. There is no room for sexist or homophobic abuse, threats of violence, or any other kind of intimidation or harassment among Labour supporters. It is unequivocally wrong and it disgraces all of us.

However, it’s essential that this bad behaviour from some supporters does not eclipse the consistently bad behaviour of anti-Corbyn MPs, media pundits and the NEC. Labour must start listening to it’s members, and fast. Within the media bubble, it’s easy to see Corbyn as a lame duck, dragging his wounded body towards a sad conclusion, but when you get out on the streets and talk to people, a very different picture emerges. Corbyn has already won 285 nominations from constituency Labour parties, not because people want to see some kind of ersatz ‘Red Britain’ or because they are stupid, or even because they’re endeared by Corbyn’s ‘dad dancing’. His support comes from the fact that he was the only 2015 leadership candidate to provide an alternative to the Tories’ cruelty and their slash-and-burn austerity agenda, and from the policies he stands by. If we are to move towards a fairer Britain, the PLP must scrap it’s patronising ‘Daddy knows best’ approach and wake up to the real concerns of Labour members.

 

Labour disrespected its own members by trying to bar them from voting – the High Court ruling will benefit Corbyn all the more

First published by The Independent, 8th August 2016

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Today the High Court ruled that it is unlawful for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to bar 130,000 new party members from voting in the upcoming leadership election. Five Labour members took the NEC to court over the restrictions imposed on their right to vote, and were vindicated in a historic victory for Jeremy Corbyn, those who support him, and ordinary members forced to pay a £25 “supporters’ fee” on top of their party dues.

The NEC has endeavoured to block Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters at every opportunity, even forcing him to threaten legal action to ensure that his name appeared on the leadership election ballot. Although Corbyn’s leadership splits public opinion, it’s undeniable that he has swelled the ranks of Labour party membership to heights unseen even under Tony Blair. He commands huge turnouts at rallies up and down the country, and has energised a generation of young people who are statistically more unlikely to be politically engaged.

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid and subsequent election inspired me to become a full Labour party member. He was the only candidate with a clear anti-austerity agenda, and he demonstrated a commitment to a politics free of smear or personality contest window-dressing. Voting for Corbyn in 2015 didn’t feel like making a compromise or choosing the lesser of several evils. To me, his policies are common sense promises that address Britain’s growing wealth divide directly.

I don’t think it’s fair that the poorest and most vulnerable in society are penalised while corporations and wealthy individuals are able to avoid paying the taxes they owe, with major accountancy firms advising government on policy and writing in loopholes to benefit themselves and their clients. University graduates should not be saddled with enormous debts, and others priced out of achieving their academic potential altogether.

We should be encouraged to use public transport, instead of being charged rip-off rail fares. Inequality of pay for women and young people should have long been abolished, as should zero hours contracts. I want to see us invest in green solutions to protect our planet and create new jobs, rather than pissing away billions on nuclear warheads designed to cause devastation and genocide.

I’m also keen to stand behind a party leader who doesn’t curry favour with media moguls who have undue influence over British politics and seek to retain the status quo. Labour should be a party that promotes fairness and equality, and protects the interests of ordinary people, not just the privileged few.

It doesn’t matter how many times the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) or political pundits (usually older, financially secure and based in London) throw around their accusations of unelectability, a split Labour party, or “dangerous socialism”. The policies that Corbyn champions are meaningful to hundreds of thousands of people, and absolutely necessary if we’re serious about building a fairer Britain that works for the good of everyone.

The Labour coup was a disgrace and the MPs involved revealed themselves as no better than bickering children. They disrespected the party members they’re elected to represent and showed major disloyalty towards a leader elected with the largest mandate in modern Labour party history.

With regard to the NEC, it’s highly disheartening that Labour members have been forced to go through the courts in order to secure a vote that should unquestionably been theirs. The NEC decided not to follow their own rules by barring those who joined Labour in the last six months from voting, an arrangement made all the more sourly suspicious as it was so obviously for partisan reasons.

Today’s High Court victory is a signal to the NEC that they cannot ride roughshod over the rights of Labour party members just because they want to slash the number of Corbyn’s supporters in the upcoming leadership election. The involvement of the courts should never have been necessary.

Attempts to dissuade newer members with financial charges, as though our more recent admission to the party makes us somehow illegitimate, will not stand. The NEC has been clearly quashed in its attempt to pervert the democratic process. Come September, if Labour party members wish to re-elect Corbyn, we absolutely will.

Drowned in Manchester – Summer 2016

First published by Drowned in Sound, 19th July 2016

Summer in Manchester is all about music. It’s festival season, we’ve had at least one spell of warm weather, and the city is buzzing with anticipation for approaching holidays, and the prospect of cold beers and barbecues. As always, Manchester’s best up and coming artists are playing live shows and releasing diverse, innovative, and often completely DIY records that can be your soundtrack for the summer.

NEWS

Dot To Dot returned to Manchester for another epic urban festival instalment on 27th May, with headliners including Mystery Jets, The Temper Trap, and Rat Boy. Local acts made a splash, with notable sets from Blooms, Goda Tungl, and The Bear Around Your Neck, and there were also some stand-out performances from US outfits Diet Cig and Day Wave. Festival Coordinator Ben Ryles said: “It’s great to see local bands play the festival and then use that as a springboard for other opportunities. We have a huge affinity with the scene in Manchester and I think that shows in our bookings for Dot To Dot and our other concerts in the city”.

On 11th-12th June, thousands of revellers arrived in Manchester for Parklife, an independent festival and the brainchild of the Warehouse Project brigade. Parklife celebrated its 7th anniversary this year, with a strong line-up featuring The Chemical Brothers, Craig David, Ice Cube, Chase & Status, Bastille, and Jess Gynne. Parklife has proved so popular that the 70,000 strong event has been moved from Platt Fields in Rusholme, to Heaton Park.

Ben Thompson, one-half of the successful punk band Nai Harvest, and his partner Meg Williams have joined forces to create Luxury Death, a lo-fi indie rock project originating in their bedroom. Thompson will be on guitar and vocals, and Williams on keys and vocals, with a full band for live shows. Luxury Death have already been picked up by an independent UK label, and their first single will be coming out in early August. Stay tuned!

Late night bar Big Hands ran a rooftop all-dayer on 25th June, presented by Only Joking Records, Gold Soundz, Family Tree, and Fuzzkill Records. The line-up included Teeside garage band Girl Sweat, punk/garage outfit Audacity from Fullerton, California, Manchester’s indie/surf three-piece Beach Skulls, and garage rockers Fruit Tones.

On 29th June, all-female indie pop trio Peaness, opened for Glaswegian three-piece Paws at Soup Kitchen. The Peaness girls have also recently released their first single ‘Oh George’, a foot-tapping, joyful indie gem.

GIGS

Manchester’s beloved Deaf Institute turns eight years old this year, and the venue is throwing a massive birthday party on 12th August. There will be live music from Manchester/London-based Everything Everything (their 2016 albumGet To Heaven is out now), Marple indie pop five-piece Dutch Uncles, and Manc techno legend DNCN, plus DJ sets from Mark Riley, Doodle, Girls On Film, You Dig?, Piccadilly Records, Spotifriday, So Flute, Bophelong, and Gold Teeth.

West Coast neo-punk twin brothers The Garden will be playing an intimate gig at Fallow Café on 27th August. This falls on the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend, and tickets are already selling out.

Also on 27th August, Bad Habit Events presents a ‘Secret Summer Forrest Rave’ in an as-yet undisclosed Manchester location. Details are thin on the ground at this point, but there will be three stages set up, with sets from deep tech, minimal, deep house, and psy-trance DJs. If you’re interested, the best thing to do is join the Facebook event and wait to be messaged with more details.

RELEASES

Current Mancunian favourites Spring King launched their first album, Tell Me If You Like To at Manchester’s Band on the Wall on 10th June. Hotly tipped by both Zane Lowe and Sir Elton John, Spring King’s album is a riotous blend of noise guitar and spirit-lifting choruses. Distortion-heavy and garage-influenced, Tell Me If You Like To is a record for anyone who likes their British indie suffused with spiky intensity.

The 10-track offering showcases plenty of Spring King’s previously released material, including ‘Who Are You’, ‘Demons’, ‘The Summer’, ‘Detroit’, and ‘Rectifier’, making it difficult to imagine where the band will go with their second album. Tell Me If You Like To is released by Island Records.

Surf-pop three-piece Blooms released their second single ‘Porcelain’ on 16th June, premiering the track on DIY Magazine. With dreamy, haze-soaked guitars, the single’s verses and chorus are undeniably catchy, but the instrumental breaks are where ‘Porcelain’ really shines. It’s a highly personal piece of music, with the lyrics describing the impact of caring for a loved one who struggles with mental illness. ‘Porcelain’ demonstrates Blooms’ range, and provides a sense of depth and maturity, tempered with the uplift of the memorable guitar riffs and melody.

For fans of Fat White Family, neo post-punk five-piece Cabbage are released their debut EP Le Chou on 10” vinyl on 30th June. They’re known for chucking vegetables into the crowd during their packed sets, by Cabbage are more than a gimmick outfit. The album’s lead single ‘Kevin’ is suffused with dark humour, rich guitars, and a heavy psych feel. Other stand-out tracks include the tongue-in-cheek ‘Contactless Payment’ and ‘Austerity Languish’, 2:26 minutes that just beg to be jumped to in a sweaty, darkened room.

Manchester wavey/psych quartet Caesar are releasing their first tape with Blak Hand Records this week, and the A-side ‘Hazey’ is already available on Soundcloud. Expect plenty of reverb and delay, plus some heavy tracks lasting around 6 minutes long. You can catch Caesar at Gulliver’s on Tuesday 21st June, sharing a bill with TVAM, Dirty Heels, and Lavender.

For more amazing Manc offerings, check out our Drowned in Manchester playlist.



Jeremy Corbyn created the role of Mental Health Minister – he didn’t axe it without a fight

First published by The Independent, 6th July 2016

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Today, Labour supporters, MPs, and mental health campaigners alike are disappointed to learn that in the wake of the Labour Coup, the position of Shadow Minister for Mental Health has been scrapped. The first MP to hold the post, Luciana Berger, was among those who resigned after the sacking of Hilary Benn. Jeremy Corbyn has revealed a pared-down Shadow Cabinet line-up, reduced from 31 positions to 25, with the brand new mental health post among those axed.

I wrote a piece in support of Corbyn’s decision to create a ministerial post that bravely addressed Britain’s growing mental health crisis, in this publication. As an ambassador for the charity Young Minds, an organisation that provides support for young people suffering from mental illness, it is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge the scrapping of this essential role.

To erase the position sends the wrong message to those who suffer from mental health problems and those who have dedicated their lives to caring, educating, and researching. It says that a minister for mental health is expendable, when in reality, we need a dedicated department for mental health more than ever.

With one in four people experiencing mental illness every year in Britain, we are clearly facing a problem of epidemic proportions. There has been some success in the breaking down of stigma surrounding mental health issues, but we still have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to conditions like schizophrenia and types of personality disorders. Physical conditions are still taken much more seriously, despite the high mortality rates of many mental illnesses.

The number of hospital beds available to mental health patients has fallen, meaning that patients are often shunted around the UK for appropriate treatment, and that some of the most vulnerable people in the country, including children, are held in police cells.Waiting lists are so long that many people feel hopeless about ever receiving treatment, and others end up in Accident & Emergency just to ensure that they’re seen by someone. Treatment for eating disorders is patchy throughout the country, with some counties offering no services at all. The pressure on existing services means that many sufferers are deemed ‘not thin enough’ to be taken seriously, although BMI is not an accurate indicator for many types of eating disorder. Mental wellbeing is still not addressed robustly in schools, when this could make a massive difference to the lives of young people. There is no doubt that we need a Minister for Mental Health.

It is, of course, tempting to turn this situation into another stick with which to beat Corbyn. Despite having the largest mandate of any leader in the history of the party, drawing thousands of people to rallies around the country,and seeing 100,000 people join the Labour Party since June 23rd, party MPs and the mainstream media are determined to brand Corbyn a lame duck.

I firmly believe that Corbyn’s hand was forced over this issue, by the mass resignations in the Labour Party. He created the Shadow Cabinet mental health position. I doubt he let it be axed without a fight.

It is undeniable that Corbyn is having to make near-impossible choices in this nightmare couple of weeks. It is my hope that the party will hold another leadership election, Corbyn will sweep another win and the Labour Party will finally get behind their leader. With their support, the much-needed ministerial mental health role can be resurrected and the Labour Party can get on with its work – work that should absolutely include holding the present government to account over broken promises, lack of funding, and the continuing mental health crisis.

Dot to Dot 2016: The Drowned in Sound review

First published by Drowned in Sound, 8th June 2016

DiS went to Dot To Dot festival over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, calling in at Nottingham on Sunday 29th and Manchester on Friday 27th May. Here’s our two writers’ Harriet Williamson (Manchester) and Dom Gourlay’s (Nottingham) main highlights.—

Manchester

Goda Tungl @ Kosmonaut

Our first stop was Kosmonaut, to see Mancunian four-piece Goda Tungl. Perfect for fans of Foals’ first album, the sharp mathematical guitar, pleasingly dark lyrics and frontman Scott Brown’s impressive vocal range combined to create some incredibly memorable electro-indie tunes. Brown’s jerking, long-limbed movements kept all eyes on the stage during a stand-out set, despite early technical difficulties. Top tracks included Shabba, Lostboys, and Teething, all from their new EP ‘Zoo Bar’, available now. Goda Tungl deserves to go places.

Day Wave @ Soup Kitchen

The Soup Kitchen basement proved much too small for everyone who turned out to see Day Wave, AKA Jackson Phillips, and his band from Oakland, California. People were packed into the suffocatingly hot underground space, with more queueing on the stairs. Day Wave’s winning formula is the pre-chorus drop, then the glorious swell as the tune resurrects itself and leads into a wickedly catchy chorus.

Meadowlark @ Night and Day

Meadowlark are not just a vehicle for former YouTuber Kate McGill, they’re a darkly atmospheric folk outfit that are well worth a listen for fans of Laura Marling and Bright Eyes. They already have a substantial cult following, with a new tour starting in September. Unfortunately, the venue’s sound system and the noise of a crowd insisting on carrying on their own conversations did much to cover and blur the sweetness of her voice and the bright, heady guitar.

Baba Naga @ Kosmonaut

Sheffield-based Baba Naga played another packed venue, with festival-goers crammed into the doorway and on the stairs throughout their set. Your reviewer was unable to actually get inside the room or see what the band looked like, but enjoyed the heavy psych vibes nonetheless. With big reverb and languid vocals, Baba Naga are on the circuit for a number of festivals this summer, including Field Day, Visions, Green Man, and the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. Fans of eerie, mid-sacrificing psych-rock should aim to catch them on one of their festival dates.

Blooms @ Texture Bar

Blooms gave a strong performance at Texture bar, and despite the fact that their set clashed with the Mystery Jets’ headline slot, a sizeable crowd turned out to see the Manchester three-piece. Huge energy from brothers Tim Daniel (bass) and Mark Daniel (drums), with Matthew Adams on guitar and vocals putting his heart and soul into the performance. This band is perfect for fans of Diiv, Deerhunter, and Real Estate, mixing dream surf-pop shoegaze vibes with Manc miserablism. Stand-out tracks included the new single ‘Porcelain’ that explores mental health problems, indie pop banger ‘Head is Swimming’, and ‘Alaska’, a song that manages to be both heartfelt and catchy, with an incredible guitar riff.

The Bear Around Your Neck @ Cord Bar

Manchester-based singer-songwriter Nathaniel Scott, AKA The Bear Around Your Neck, has been steadily gathering momentum for quite some time now. His hypnotically dark brand of folk music takes a great deal of inspiration from both country and psychedelia, with delicately picked guitar arrangements breaking through atmospheric amplifier fuzz. Scott opened his set chanting ‘I’m an open wound’ as a segue into the searing melody of The Fruit Fly Way. Scott used the set to showcase a couple of brand new tracks, and closed with a deliberately chaotic patchwork of feedback. Cord Bar reached full capacity and people were turned away, testament to the appeal of Scott’s haunted, emotionally raw brand of psych-flavoured, fuzz-heavy folk.

Diet Cig @ The Ruby Lounge

Diet Cig were hands-down one of the best bands at Dot to Dot this year. The garage punk pop American two-piece was fronted by a tiny dark-haired pixie, Alex Luciano, who exploded on a stage as a ball of pure energy, jumping and high kicking without pausing to catch her breath and watching her, it was entirely possible to forget that live music could be anything else. Drummer Noah Bowman kept a cool presence in the background as Alex bounced her way through crowd sing-alongs, with the biggest grin never once leaving her face. Fuck your Ivy League sweater, as Luciano calls into the crowd, because this band is one worth getting sweaty and losing your cool for.

Spring King @ Central Methodist Hall

Spring King are currently hailed as a Manchester success story, hotly tipped by Zane Lowe and appearing on Jools Holland. Their sought-out headline slot at the Central Methodist Hall wasn’t quite as well-attended as expected, although plenty of younger teens took the opportunity to push and pogo in a sweaty knot at the front of the stage. The venue had sound troubles throughout the day and was an hour behind schedule when Spring King finally took to the stage. Despite their recent success, the band came off as generic with little to recommend them. Spring King might’ve given the show their all, but many people left wondering if their reputation is bigger than the songs that they actually play.

(HW)

Drowned in Manchester – Spring 2016

First published by Drowned in Sound, 19th May 2016

Musical prowess is woven into the fabric of Manchester’s history, just like political radicalism, stark industrial skylines, and gravy on everything. Artists coming out of Manchester have forever altered the cultural landscape of the UK, from The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits in the 1960s, to Factory Records and Joy Division in the 70s, The Smiths and the Madchester scene in the 80s, and Oasis, James and Mr Scruff in the 90s and beyond.

The weight of Manchester’s musical history can fall heavily on emerging artists, but despite this, new talent is rife in the city. Bands are sloughing off the dated remnants of Britpop and the Gallagher brothers and moving towards experimental electronic sounds and US-inspired grunge and shoegaze. Garage and lo-fi sounds mingle with sunny surf aesthetics, all tinged with the distinctive Manc Miserablism so particular to our great northern city.

NEWS
As this is the first column in a brand new series, there’s plenty of news to catch up on from 2016. Cosmosis Festival in March was a much bigger deal this year, held for the first time at Victoria Warehouse, one of Manchester’s most historic industrial spaces. The line-up included the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Jesus and Mary Chain, plus The Raveonettes and Manchester psych band Freakout Honey.

On 16th April, Record Store Day was a resounding success in Manchester, with long queues in some of our best-loved independent record shops. The official Record Store Day after-party was hosted at the Deaf Institute, with sets from up and coming surf pop/shoegaze three-piece Blooms, and Mancunian darlings Horsebeach. Elsewhere, Soup Kitchen hosted local duo Ghost Outfit and Radio 6 Music-accredited Mother, while Vinyl Revival presented an in-store gig with the Tom Hingley Band (of Inspiral Carpets fame).

Manchester’s current proudest export Money returned to the Rainy City to play their biggest show ever at The Ritz on 22nd April, supported by dark electro duo Bernard and Edith. Money released their critically acclaimed second album ‘Suicide Songs’ on Bella Union in January 2016, and we’re hoping to see more depressing brilliance from them over the coming months.

May 1st saw Sounds From The Other City return for it’s eleventh year, with stand out performances from heavy pop four-piece Church Party and Happy Meals, and a DJ set from all-female clubbing collective Witchc*nt.

GIGS
Dot To Dot Festival returns to Manchester on 27th May, with headline slots from Mystery Jets, The Temper Trap, and Rat Boy, plus local favourites including Zane Lowe’s hotly tipped pop rockers Spring King, and delightful dark folk solo artist The Bear Around Your Neck. We recommend checking out Blooms for fans of Deerhunter and Real Estate, and tight electro-pop duo Girl Friend.On 28h May, Manchester promoters Family Tree present Liverpool-based garage pop trio Beach Skulls at Fallow Café, with support from Manchester’s Fruit Tones and Bleached DJs.

RELEASES
Garage rockers Gorgeous Bully are releasing a split 7” with Something Anorak on Art Is Hard Records on 27th May, and the first release ‘Beaucoup’ is a celebration of sunny lo-fi pop sounds. Gorgeous Bully are known for their prolific output, DIY aesthetic, and searingly energetic live shows. Frontman Thomas Crang’s painful lyrics alone make the split 7” something to look forward to.

Laurie Hulme aka Songs For Walter released his self-titled, self-produced album in January, and it’s definitely worth a listen for fans of wonderfully uplifting indie folk with a bittersweet edge. Think Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, but with more soul.

Manc four-piece Goda Tungl have released their second EP Zoo Bar, filled with electro-indie math-rock sounds. ‘Shabba’ is the EP’s stand out track, and vocalist Scott Brown says “the title is a joke, the song isn’t. The chorus was written while sitting at Gorton reservoir with a girl in the early hours of the morning. The verses were written a year later, at a much more stressful time”.

Swansea-born but Manc-based, Rachel Rimmer is a singer-songwriter to watch for alternative folk fans. She’s released her first EP Truce, a beautiful collection of soft, bluesy sounds, ideal for a lazy summer day.
NOW PLAYING
Of course, we don’t have the space to cover everything exciting that’s going on in Manchester music right now, but check out our playlist beneath to get a flavour of some of the incredible artists coming out of the Rainy City right now. Tracks from Fruit Bomb, Delamere, Pale Waves, Blooms, Flesh, and Easy Kill.

 

Can porn be feminist? A conversation wth Erika Lust

First published by Open Democracy, 27th April 2016

Feminist porn is sex on film showing women and men as sexual equals – that sex is something you do together, not just something that a man does to a woman

ADDErika books-1355

Erika Lust believes that porn can change. The Swedish erotic filmmaker with a degree in political sciences has won numerous awards for her work, including the Feminist Porn Award Movie of the Year in 2012, Cinekink Audience Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature, and the Feminist Porn Award for Hottest Straight Vignette two years in a row. Lust is a self-identified feminist and perhaps one of the most important alternative voices in pornography, due to her treatment of the medium as a legitimate art form that deserves time, care, and budget, and in which her actors are treated with consideration and respect.

Porn has long been a thorny topic within feminism, from the second-wave anti-pornography movement and subsequent ‘sex wars’ to the increasingly popular style of ‘Cool Girl’ feminism that posits all porn as empowering and positive. However, approaching the subject with nuance is key.

It’s simply untrue to state that all porn or porn as a concept is harmful to those who consume it or to those who work within the industry, and it’s equally disingenuous to argue that there are no issues with some of the most commonly viewed porn available online. Porn is an industry, but it’s also a product and it responds to the needs and desires and behavior of consumers. If we are to alter the product that mainstream sites are offering, then an alternative must be presented.

Can porn be feminist? Pornography is explicit material designed to sexually arouse the viewer and by definition, there is nothing inherently anti-feminist about porn, because there is nothing anti-feminist about wanting to be aroused or wanting to look at arousing images. Give me porn that shows women and men and non-gender-conforming folks enjoying themselves. I’ll download that. Hell, I’ll even pay for it. Porn can be feminist, but much of the content accessed by millions of viewers on the ‘porn giant’ websites like PornHub and RedTube is problematic.

The impression of variety and choice is belied by the fact that the majority of porn caters to the presumed desires of a male viewer. Mainstream porn makes weird, retrograde and highly racist categorizations of performers based on skin colour, and titles videos with the kind of misogynistic language you’d expect on a 4chan thread or scrawled on a school desk by a fourteen-year-old boy who thinks he’s ‘well hard’. Depictions of violent or degrading acts (slapping, choking, spitting, punching, biting, verbal abuse) towards women are now commonplace in mainstream pornography, and although these acts can be mutually pleasurable in a healthy BDSM context, they are not presented in a setting of trust and consent, leaving them open to interpretation by young people who assume that ‘this is what you to do girls when you have sex’.

The extensive research presented in the 2015 Girl Guiding ‘Girls’ Attitudes Survey’ is stark and damning, with 87% of the young women aged 17 to 21 surveyed believing that porn creates unrealistic expectations of female bodies, 71% saying that porn gives out confusing messages about sexual consent and makes aggressive or violent behavior towards women seem normal, and 65% agreeing that porn increases hateful language used to or about women.

Within porn, there are issues of consent (as in the case of James Deen, who has been accused of sexual assault on and off set by fellow performers, including the writer and porn star Stoya) of sexual health, of the kind of bodies that are represented, and of royalties (or lack thereof) and the ownership and dissemination of erotic material. There are also problems for performers who have left the industry and find themselves shunned, as former adult star Bree Olsen pens in her essay for the Daily Dot. She writes “people look at me as if I am the same as a sex offender. They look at me as though I am less than [them] in every way… I could never go back and be a nurse or a teacher, or work for any company really that can fire me under morality clauses for making customers feel “uncomfortable” because of who I am”. Shaming women for participating in porn, painting them as ignorant dupes, surmising that as long as they were paid everything is A-OK, or arguing that those who work in porn can’t be assaulted or raped – these positions are reductive, unhelpful, and often downright misogynistic.

Erika Lust on set. Photo: Rocio Lunaire for XConfessions.com

Erika Lust agrees that porn has problems, but she’s committed to changing the industry, one porno at a time. I decided to sit down with her and talk about the kind of films she makes, her politics, and her crowdfunded XConfessions series.

HW: Erika, tell me a little bit about the kind of movies you make. What can a viewer expect to see and experience if they watch an Erika Lust film?

EL: Through my films I want to show that sex as the beautiful, healthy, exciting, intimate, wonderful and positive experience that it can be. I think we get so used to seeing sex presented only as violent, traumatic or overly commercialized that I think healthy depictions of sex are very much needed today! That’s what I aim for, to show the exciting adventure of passion and intimacy.

I want to show that women are not just sex objects, but that they are sexual complex human beings with their own thoughts, ideas, interests and passions, and that they have the right to pleasure. Also I don’t want to show men as sex robots without feelings, but sex as something you do together. That people can meet, communicate and develop through sex.  I like to make the films as cinematic as possible. There’s no reason sex on film has to be presented as cheap or dirty. I think it’s worthy of artistic framing as any other grand human experiences.

HW: Would you describe your films as ‘erotic art’ or pornography? Do you make a distinction between these two terms?

I see them as erotic art yes. I think the word porn carries so many bad connotations with it, so it’s hard to “reclaim” it. And the vast majority of what gets called porn is so different from what I do, it’s not so strange that I don’t feel like my films are not part of that world.  Yes, I depict explicit sex on film. But does that really put me in the same genre as someone who records a sex scene on a porn set, with no consideration for cinematography or artistic direction?

We could get really academic about the word and look at the modern definition which is basically just visual material intended to arouse the viewer. And sure, that is definitely part of the intention of my films. But if you go even further back to the origin of the word, it’s from the Greek ‘pornographos’, meaning “writing about prostitutes” and I think a lot of the old ideas about the Madonna/whore views on women are still true today, and still true for anyone working in porn. So it’s a complicated word, one that I don’t have an easy relationship with, like many other words really. Like many other words, it has far worse implications and social consequences for women than for men. Part of me thinks semantic reclamation is the answer, another part of me wants to move on, create something new.

HW: Why did you decide to crowdsource for the XConfessions series? What has the response been like from those who’ve pledged and from viewers?

EL: I started it because I wanted to make films based on the actual fantasies and memories of people from all over the world. It had felt so great for me to get to bring my own ideas to the screen and I wanted to see if I could make that happen for other people too. And also, I was just very curious to see what people would come up with. Luckily people really connected with the idea and started confessing these amazing stories. Definitely some things I could never think of, and lots of funny and sexy memories from real life mixed with all things ranging from poetry to IKEA-fetishes. The XConfessions entries make up a huge library of human sexual imagination.

People submit stories on the site, and I handpick two each month and turn them into short films. It’s given me the opportunity to turn fantasies into reality, which is a fantasy come true for me as a director. Because after all, that’s what I want from my films – to show a true and fair representation of human sexuality. It can still be full of fantasy and imagination, but it’s based on something way more real and exciting than what you’d see in mainstream porn. It’s coming from the inner working of the people’s brains and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help from the public, who keep bringing in all these amazing stories.

HW: How important is it to you to make porn that’s ethical? How would you define ethical porn?

EL: It’s very important. It’s quite simple. It’s about treating everyone involved like human beings, being attentive to their needs, requests and emotions, compensating them fairly and providing a good working environment with good working conditions. I also think it’s important to be ethical in the signals you’re sending out with your stories – that you make consent come through, not showing irresponsible scenes or anything to do with coercion etc.

HW: I want to believe that we can have feminist porn that doesn’t just cater to men and their desires. Is your porn feminist? What makes it so? Is it intersectional?

EL: This might be a good time to talk about what feminist porn is! So, feminist porn is explicit films made by people who have a problem with how the mainstream porn industry makes films. I’m one of those people. One common complaint about mainstream pornography is that it shows women as mere objects without any feelings or any power to say yes or no – it mostly shows women as catering to the whims of men, with no attention given to her desire and needs at all. A lot of porn is misogynistic – and proud of it.

There is so much porn where women are insulted and humiliated and it’s just presented as “normal”, and it’s expected to be this that appeals to the male audience, which is just crazy! Because most porn is made by men for men, the films embody the male gaze, and it results in women being presented only as objects of desire, never as subjects of pleasure. Men are strangely missing from much of straight porn, only appearing as disembodied penises – also is a form of strange objectification. God forbid that the male viewer might have any homoerotic feelings!

But it’s fully possible for films to be both sexually explicit and still show women as human beings who deserve respect, even when they’re naked, and that they have an equal right to sexual satisfaction, pleasure and desire. We can definitely create films that show women as sexual collaborators with men – rather than sexual conquests of men.

So the idea of feminist porn is simple: sex on film made in a non-sexist way. It shows women and men as sexual equals, that sex is something you do together, not just something that a man does to a woman. It has nothing to do with what kind of sex is shown – it’s all about how the films are made, and that consent really comes through in the story. For example, Tristan Taormino’s Rough Sex series is a great example that you can shoot and show any kind of sex in a non-degrading way.

HW: Do you think that porn has a problem with perpetuating racist stereotypes and categorizations?

EL: Oh yes, definitely. Viewing someone as a fetish because of their race is… well, duh, racist – exoticism is racism too. Sometimes defenders of mainstream porn say it’s actually “really diverse” because it caters to “every desire and fetish you could have”. But that’s not diversity. That’s just different body parts, separated from the person and served up to the viewer to consume, all presented in the same old repetitive way. And some people try to tell me that’s diversity. It’s not. It has nothing to do with real sex.

HW: Can porn be used as an educational tool?

EL: Yes! In an ideal world, everybody gets to have proper sex education in school that allows people to ask questions and get information that allows them to make informed decisions about their bodies and health. Great sex education also includes critical discussions about pornography. But this is something that is not available, or even a priority in many countries.

No one can deny that porn is a huge cultural genre and that many people, especially young people, watch it to learn about sex. So it’s important that we can talk about it like adults, but also that there are all sorts of voices in porn – not just one type of film that teaches guys to disrespect women and treat them as objects, and teaches girls to be passive objects without any needs of their own. We have to have films that also show sex as a healthy, positive thing that people do together, not as something you do to someone.

HW: Do you agree that it’s problematic to see acts usually associated with BDSM presented as ‘the norm’ within mainstream porn, particularly because they lack a context of trust?

EL: Yes I absolutely agree. That’s not saying that people are not allowed to engage in certain sexual acts like you say BDSM, but the way many of these films show violence and humiliation is in a way that shows no consent coming through at all! It shows sex as something aggressive that men do to women, and as something that women do for men. It’s not just misogynistic porn that’s guilty of that, it’s also things like Fifty Shades of Grey, that again, shows the woman as a passive, naive virgin who just gets right into BDSM with an emotionally abusive man, before she’s even masturbated. Come on! It’s ok to have kinks, it’s ok to like BDSM, but for god’s sake, let’s not forget about the importance of consent and communication.

When I directed my first BDSM-scene in An Appointment With My Master, I made sure communication was essential to the whole story, showing the performers Mickey Mod and Amarna Miller, both experienced BDSM-practitioners, talking about boundaries and what they were going to do. And the tenderness and trust that comes through in that scene is just stunning. It made it so sexy. It was important for me to show that side of consent, enthusiasm and communication.

HW: How should we go about changing mainstream porn?

EL: My stance is that there has to be MORE voices in pornography, more people that get to share their ideas about sex. That could eventually change the mainstream by making it more equal. But I don’t expect to come in to the mainstream producer’s sets and change what they do. I create the change I want to see myself – I can’t expect people who are, for example, proudly misogynistic film makers to suddenly go “hey, maybe these films are not so great for humanity.”

What I want to see is more women behind the camera, and more people in general who think differently than the average white, male heterosexual pornographer. Many women are tired of being presented with tired old sex-clichés everywhere they turn. They want to make their own narratives. And many women are tired of being told that all porn is bad and that watching porn makes you a bad woman or a bad feminist or whatever. Wanting to see sex on film doesn’t make you brainwashed, dirty or bad. But it’s great to see there’s such a healthy and powerful movement working on the opposite side of mainstream industry, making the kind of films they want to see themselves.

HW: What does being a sex positive feminist mean to you?

EL: I’m a sex positive feminist and film maker and I firmly believe that sex is a healthy and natural part of life. I think that those who want to should be free to create erotic material that reflects that. I wanted to start making adult cinema to add my voice, to show women as sexual equals who also have the right to pleasure, who are complex human beings with their own ideas about sex.

I think that adult films can be used as a tool for liberation and education. I want my films to make people feel liberated and happy, not oppressed and sad. Feminist porn has the power to influence. If you show the performers talking to each other, you show them both being excited about the sex, if you show sex with a context, you show embraces, kisses, consent, passion, enthusiasm, pleasure and orgasms – then I think that is a great thing to share with the world. There are too many depictions of sex out there that are traumatic, aggressive and violent – it’s almost made people believe that sex is always traumatic and violent. And if people hold the idea that sex on camera is always inherently sexist… well, I don’t think women will get anywhere if we’re not allowed to create our own stories about sex. I think there should be female voices within all cultural genres, including pornography. Just because some porn is very sexist doesn’t mean that all porn is harmful, harmful and exploitative.

After my conversation with Erika, I’m even more convinced that porn can be feminist, that it can include women as equal consumers, and it can treat performers fairly and ethically. Why shouldn’t we remake porn into something that’s wonderful?