Zang Productions

Benjamin Blower

6th Sep 2012

The ABH show on tues night was a lot of fun. You can see it here.

Barowclough and Joel the Custodian both got up for some ABH rap performances and then there's Catriona Heatherington's wild poetry in there too, which took me back the Doors' live albums I used to listen to all the time as a kid. 

Also, I dreamt about about the new Birmingham New Street train station last night. It was quite something.


3rd Sep 2012

Its been a long time with no correspondence, so I'll fill you in on everything.

-The Army of the Broken Hearted are performing with guest appearances by Barrowclough and Joel the Custodian tomorrow night at the Bulls Head in Moseley.

-The New ABH album is sounding good, and I'm just coming towards the end of a short book to go with it. These days, when you make a record, everyone just thinks you're looking for a career as a rock star, so we're reduced to writing books to go with albums, to show that we mean what we say.

-Florent are working on a total rock album right now. Selina Blakeney is half way through a full length album, and Barrowclough is sitting on a second Zang EP.

-Its true that Waler have moved on from Zang having deconstructed the music world to the point that any kind of record label seemed superfluous. I'm just mastering their new ep now. It's really good. You'll be lucky to get one though. It's not for sale or up for free download or anything. I'm not totally sure, but I think the deal is that if you want one, you just have to get in touch with them somehow and show them that you care...

-I'm reading Mutiny! by Kester Brewin. Only a third in but I'd recommend it. So far it's quite fascinating.

-I've got a few brilliant ideas that I can't tell you about right now.

That's all.


5th Apr 2012

"I believe that when ya pray, you're tryin' ta get yer thinkin' straight, tryin' ta see what's wrong with th' world, an' who's ta bame fer it. Part of it is crooks, crooked laws, an' jist dam greedy people, people that's afraid of this an' afraid of that. Part of it's all of this, an' part of it's jist dam shore our own fault..."

Woody Guthrie, the folk singer of 1930s-50s migratory America, travelling homeless for years over the huge country, stowed away on freight trains and boxcars, singing for small change to the masses of poor people who were hoping to find work and a life somewhere. I bought his autobiography Bound for Glory looking for a vision that the ABH might relate to, of an artist giving his work to grass roots people for their liberation and empowerment. The book really only gets to all that in the last third, but it did get there.

The nature of his approach is very ABH-ish in the following respects: his music is simple enough to play anywhere. He just needs his guitar. He didn't need a venue or a mic or what-have-you (although he often played in bars for the change he was living on). His songs responded to his moment of history. To work, poverty, exploitation, drink, prostitution, injustice, mortality, TB, racism, ships and trains, beauty, war, the love of his people, and the love of a beautiful land. His songs distinguished between sheep and shepherds, oppressor and oppressed, the many and the few. His songs critiqued injustice and oppression. His songs incited social and spiritual dialogue among grass roots people. He rejected the money and the reputation that came with the rich bars and restaurants, opting instead for solidarity with the poor. The people could join in with his music. His music created situations that unified people in a shared social/spiritual experience.

Maybe the most vivid episode comes after he's been a travelling homeless musician for some years and he arrives in New York. There he auditions for a steady job in a fancy restaurant high up in the Rockefeller building, but he walks out of the room once the managers start talking about make-up and show tunes and dressing him up like a clown. Down in the lobby he starts playing his songs, dumbfounding everyone there with the spectacle. He then walks out and all over Manhattan till after dark, playing songs and accumulating a crowd of people as he goes. These stories are about the people, about unity, solidarity, community, sharing joy, sharing pain and so on. Scene after scene he brings crowds of people together like this.

It's a very ABH picture and I think we've created our own similar scenes to similar ends. I wanted to spend some time thinking about some of the differences between Woody Guthrie's migratory America of the 1930's and our 21st century British scene.

Migratory America is made of masses of very poor people and families moving around and looking for work. A virtually homeless class looking to build a life from scratch. They dreamed of putting roots down. It was sort of a blank canvass... a developing country with only developing infrastructure. It was still young in its cultural story. What would this country become? What would it end up looking like? What kinds of politics and economics would prevail? And it was only just the dawn of mass culture, and music was not yet heavily mediated. If you heard the sound of music, probably someone was sat there playing it. To hear it on the radio was a novelty.

21st Century Britain is made up largely of a homogenous mass of private individuals and families, each in their own private space, working essentially to maintain their position in the consumerist programme. This is a developed country that has become all that it will ever be (or, that the feeling anyway), and has found itself in a kind of spiritual crisis - utterly disillusioned with all it has managed to become. It is in the thick of the process of mediating life in its entirety, a process which has cheapened the value of music along with everything else by making it commonplace and unreal.

So while Guthrie's Americans were a people being formed, we are a people being dismantled. While their American story was young, unwritten and full of possibilities, ours is old, exhausted and heavy with boredom. While the popular music of migratory America came largely from the voices and hands of ordinary people, our popular music has been absorbed into mediums and commodified. The ordinary people only imitate the music that the powerful mediate to them.

What do these distinctions mean for ABH practice?

Firstly, the deconstruction of our peoplehood only calls all the louder for public music in public space for public ears and public participation. The difference is that, for us, it is a subversive act, which I don't think it was for Guthrie so much. For them it was a step towards something. For us it is a radical about turn, a non-compliance with the general direction of things.

Secondly, and similarly, the absorption of popular music into the hands of the powerful, who hold the keys to mass culture, only reinforces the need for local, live, grass-roots manifestations of art, without technological mediums between giver and receiver, and without a third party of beneficiaries, labels, advertisers and sponsors and such hovering around the edges, diluting total public ownership. Guthrie was not an artist being marketed to the people, he was one of the people and the sincerity and power of that connection was possible because of the general absence of mediums or third parties. Again, the difference is that for us it is an act of subversion to work outside the structures that have become ubiquitous - that claim to be a totality with no possibility of life outside or beyond itself.

The third consideration seems most layered and poignant to me right now. That is, the difference between being at the beginning or the end of a historical narrative... the rise of a nation, or the fall of one. It follows that Guthrie’s songs may be loaded with a certain steadfast hope about where they might be headed as a people, whereas ours are necessarily loaded with lament about where we've got to. What kind of hope do we project into a time like this? That is, towards which new possibilities do we energise each other? Lament for its own sake is of no interest to us.

In 2004 I asked a lot of Christians whether they thought that we as a people could change or be changed for the better. The answer was 'no' every time. Human history had to be seen as a downward spiral, and ours looked like the sorriest case. But my conviction was that we had to contend for liberation through repentance, and that it had to be possible. Maybe the people would never accept the subversive dare to, against the empire's wishes, turn around and stare in the face of God, but they could. It has to be a genuine possibility, and not just a joke. My conviction was that a person has to contend for this possibility, or be a liar when he prays May Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven...

The hope is in God's very odd response to repentance. What kind of power does this nearly unutterable incantation release? What new and unforeseen possibilities? The empire denies and forbids the recognition of any power greater than itself, but if we were to rebel and give our attention to such a power, what would we find? A power like the empire, only more so? Or different in kind, releasing a whole other lot of possibilities? It will surprise us every time, even if we thought we already understood it. It is not a purely historical hope, but it not a purely super-historical hope either. As the prayer above suggests it has to be absolutely both.

We should consider the subject further soon.

8th Mar 2012
The Army of the Broken Hearted as an arts collective has taken a particular approach - the school of artists as the school of prophets. For now we will call it the prophetic aesthetic.

• The art of the prophetic aesthetic is concerned with its own moment in history.

• The art of the prophetic aesthetic is concerned with how its own moment in history fits in the wider historical process.

• The art of the prophetic aesthetic is concerned with its own people - that is, the people it manifests itself among.

• The practitioner of the prophetic aesthetic tells the people's story to the people and so reveals their identity as a people by virtue of their shared story.

• The prophetic aesthetic distinguishes between the sheep and the shepherds, between the people and their leaders. They hold the shepherds accountable in the eyes of the sheep for their actions regarding the sheep. They energise the sheep towards a critical consciousness regarding their shepherds.

• The prophetic aesthetic tears down and it builds up. It deconstructs the oppressions and illusions that hang over the people, and it construct the alternative community: the people of God.

• The prophetic aesthetic aims to give solid form to the apparent and yet elusive power structures which oppress the people, since it hard, as they say, to kill a phantom.

• The prophetic aesthetic asserts that a people who no longer participate in the creation of culture are, in that respect, a dead people. Therefore, the rich minority who hold the monopoly on the creation of culture through mass mediums in the name of profit are, in that sense, killing the people. This is the essence of mass culture.

• Therefore, the creation of culture must be restored to everyday people outside the absorbing and monolithic structures of mass culture.

• Therefore, art itself must be wrestled free from the pacifying and compromised narratives of mass culture.

• The work of the prophetic aesthetic is forged in dialogue with God.

• The work of the prophetic aesthetic is forged in dialogue with each other.

• The practitioner is the least important party in his/her own work. The art of the prophetic aesthetic is for God and for the people. Both, equally, necessarily. It is the relation between these two parties that definitively concerns the prophetic.

• On the other hand the practitioner is utterly indivisible from his/her work. They are not an impartial conduits for a message. They themselves are the message. The word they speak must be absorbed into their life and their life must be absorbed into the word they speak. This is the essence of authentic culture.

• The practitioner of the prophetic aesthetic probably has a day job. Their art must grow out of the common experience of the people. Their art cannot be pursued as a career path out of the common experience of the people. The prophetic aesthetic is for the people and of the people.

• The work of the prophetic aesthetic is not designed for dissemination via the mediums of mass culture. Its fulfillment is in its actual, local and vital manifestation, among the people who may be met and known by the practitioner. Any mediation of the work must be strictly understood as replication and not the work itself.

• The work of the prophetic aesthetic is not designed for consumption by a mass audience. The work of the prophetic aesthetic must always be for the edification of the people that the artist lives alongside, face to face, in dialogue. Family, friends, enemies, colleagues, and the other dwellers of their own towns and cities etc.

• The prophetic aesthetic treasures public space for its expression.

• The prophetic aesthetic treasures domestic space for its expression.

• The prophetic aesthetic does not treasure commercial space for its expression.

• Since the prophetic aesthetic necessarily concerns the people, it is not to be merely received. It invites dialogue, response, and participation. The prophetic aesthetic seeks to pose questions to be answered and problems to be solved, regarding the moment of history that we occupy as a people. It invites everyday people back to the humanising commission - to create their own culture.

• The prophetic aesthetic begins and ends in God who precedes and outlasts the present empire and all its constructs - that the oppressions and enslavements of our times might be subject not only to scrutiny but also to power, and that the Source of liberation might be different in kind to the source of oppression.

6th Feb 2012

...An absurd title since we play our music in venues quite often. We only just played the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath the other day and we had a good time. It was there afterwards we were discussing the question of whether or not it was our business to play in venues at all. On our more radical days we say No, never! On other days we say sometimes... if its purposeful and if its fun. But either way, we all know that the home of our music is in public space and in domestic space. Our forays into commercial spaces can only be novel excursions to where we don't belong, because the commercial spaces, as they stand, cannot be the forum for the authentic culture of our people. And why not?

There is a tension on the lower rungs of the music scene's ladder between three parties: the band, the audience and the promoter (and all the while a fourth party hovers invisibly over the whole thing). It is the promoters' general method to ask the bands to bring an audience. Oddly, there is little pretense anymore that the bands are there to entertain the audiences. The "audiences" dutifully show up at the request of the bands, to pose as an audience so that the bands may entertain their own vision of themselves as cultural deities (as rock gods, or pop idols, or bohemian poets or what have you) - a vision that we've swallowed whole from the ever present fourth party, mass culture. Not only has the audience become a means to the bands' ends for the evening, it is usually the case that the evening is not an ends in itself either, it has become the means to a higher goal. We are not partying for the sake of partying, we are merely creating the illusion of a party as a fanciful launch pad toward careers in the music business, and this whole notion is yet another vision swallowed whole from the narratives of mass culture. The poor terracotta audiences, stood there with beer in one hand and coat in the other, are under no illusions that they're there to be entertained, energised or edified - or that they're there to party. This is so horribly obvious from the rotation of three or four or five different audiences in one night, standing patiently to gratify the vision of their friends' band and disappearing long before the next band has plugged in.

This means two things. One: the music scene is not for the people. It exists to aid the bands' (usually vain) attempt to escape the cultural insignificance of the people, and to enter mass culture's designated realm of fame and glory. Two: the music scene is not for the moment. These moments are contrived as mere stepping stones towards a career path misleadingly dangled before the people. The whole structure affirms and reinforces mass culture's stranglehold over the people. The whole structure asserts mass culture as the only realm of significance and power, and as the ultimate judge of the legitimacy of all cultural expression. The whole structure presumptuously assumes the total cultural insignificance of the life of the everyday people - the hair dresser, the bus driver, the office worker. In this structure, the only possibility of realisation is that an 'artist' might propitiate mass culture enough, and that mass culture just might graciously respond by sweeping the person up out of the venue and into their celestial place.

The venues of the music scene are generally complicit with this structure in their imitation of mass culture's theatrics. The stage - that the artists might be elevated above the audience, the lighting - that the artists alone might be shrouded in the illusion of glory, and the PA - that the artist's voice be given the illusion of a god-like prescience over everyone else's. Obviously we buy our ticket to see and hear the artist, but it is the familiarity of this scene as a pale replica of mass culture's realm of glory that reveals it to be, not an entertaining show in the manner of the circus or the stage play, but the yearning of an oppressed people who would prefer to be in the seat of the oppressor. Even if the artist truly innovates, the scene still imitates and the artist is stuck within that narrative.

Up the ladder a few rungs there are artists that we see because we are genuinely edified and energised by what they do. But even so, mass culture's oppressive structure still looms. I saw Carina Round play a set at the Hare & Hounds a while ago, and we the audience were there to see Carina Round (and not to entertain her vanities!). The guy from the Wonder Stuff got up to do a song with her at one point, and before he left the stage he gave his final word down the microphone. His sentiment was roughly this: that Carina Round is an exceptional artist and sooner or later the media will wake up and realise that. But what a patronising and presumptuous message! It asserts the oppressive dogma that Round's art is illegitimate until acknowledged and canonised by mass culture. And it asserts that this electrifying evening was merely a means to an end, that all we were participating in was part of Round's ongoing process of propitiating the oppressor (an assertion that does her art no justice). Those words spoken turn the whole thing into a sham. They relocate the place of meaning and vitality out of that room and into the mysterious and god-like will of mass culture.

The structure is the same on every rung of its ladder. It hangs oppressively over the bands who have fans, and those who merely have friends. It hangs oppressively over the artists we think are good, just the same as those we don't. It hangs oppressively over the music scenes we call 'dead', and those we call vibrant, since we only call them vibrant because some of the local acts have been accepted by mass culture into its inner ring. In the X Factor, that most diabolical expression of this oppression, which the bands, promoters and audiences alike all despise, the structure stands just the same as it does in the local venue. Both say that the people have no culture except that which mass culture recognises, and that the songs of a hair-dresser do not count until her face is coopted into the visage of mass culture and her songs are coopted to generate capital - until she is no longer a hair-dresser and no longer one of the people.

It is this assumption of the artist's mercenary self-interest (which is synonymous with our waning late capitalist era) and of the artist's obedient recognition of mass culture's hierarchical order, that made our words and music quite impotent in many venues. The ABH is unambiguously a spiritually and socially motivated collective. Our interest has been in our people, in our social awakening, in a spiritual liberation, and in the subversive and critical power of our repentance. But whatever radical, revolutionary, compassionate or offensive word we wished to speak in the commercial venues of the music scene, they seemed to be immediately emptied of any significance, because the structure doesn't allow for the possibility that the word spoken is ultimately for the people and not for the artist's own glory. Indeed, whatever vile and disgusting sentiments might be expressed are equally tolerable, because any word spoken in that realm is meaningless by virtue of the whole charade.

So it was for these sorts of reasons that the ABH took to the streets. People join in with us when we play on the streets, because the environment carries none of the alienating exclusivity of the venues. People dance to our music on the streets, because it is clear that we came to the people's realm to play for the people, and not, in some underhand way, for ourselves. People discuss, debate, agree and disagree with the words we speak onto the streets, because outside of its designated forums mass culture loses its remarkable power to translate the word of the people into nothingness and insignificance.

There are certainly venues, promoters and acts which are striving in various ways to overcome - the forerunners of new things, I hope. In order for the people to recapture a culture that is genuinely of the people and for the people - a culture that is genuinely our own and not some bid for acceptance by the mass culture that bears over us - we need to work outside mass culture's spaces, outside mass culture's mediums, and outside mass culture's narratives of fame and glory. It may be that there, speaking our own word in our own space, we might begin to ask ourselves the questions that truly concern us.

This is a call to practitioners. We will not suggest giving up using commercial spaces, or pusuing commercial aims. But if our work is in any sense, for our people, the dare is to take it to the people. To play where we shouldn't - in the unauthorised venues of public space, where our voices are somehow our own again.

15th Dec 2011

I've been belly-aching against The Sun.

Here's three thoughts on the Leveson Enquiry. Two bad ones and one good.

1. The Leveson Enquiry hears evidence and testimonies, but we are not shocked. We already knew the tabloids were chasing glamourous women down alleyways. We knew about their harassing grieving families. We already knew they've stalked and spied and hacked into the lives of whoever they chose. The defense of tabloid journalists is repeated over and over: but we've always done it like this... what's the problem? In this sense its not really the tabloids on trial, since they did all their evil in plain sight. On trial is a society that has knowingly hosted all this evil for years... an order that happily handed its people over to that racket of profiteers, to live under their dark narratives.

2. The Leveson Enquiry can bring no real change. We hope for regulations to be put in place, but any such regulation may be seen as the empire's empty gesture to a people who need reassuring that they're not being fooled around by their masters. Such 'changes' from the top are a means of curbing the possibility of the real change that comes from the people.

If we imagine the unimaginable, that the enquiry results in the shutting down of the Sun and all it's derivatives, we see that even this does the people no good. They would just feel that the men in suits are patronising them and confiscating a part of their identity. They would continue to identify themselves with that enslaving order and go looking for similar evils elsewhere.

Only the people themselves can bring real change. It is the people themselves who must overthrow the tabloids by finally rejecting them and emerging from that oppressive order. It is unthinkable that Leveson would shut them down, and it would be an ineffective gesture if he did. But it is not inconceivable that the people could shut it down by not buying it anymore, and if it happened that way then there would be no market left for any other such crud. It happened to the News of the World and it didn't take long.

3. The Leveson enquiry does create a moment of possibility... a moment of clarity when an antagonism can, and must be awoken between the sheep and their crooked shepherds. This is the moment to ask the question to the working men and women of the UK: Do you think the Sun cares about you at all?

It is time for the gospel of Revelation, of radical non-participation in the empire's oppressions: "come out of her, O my people." We can overthrow it by not buying it.

12th Dec 2011
A bit of footage from the Broken Hearted Christmas recording session.
Alleyways are the new studios…
And here's a great review of everything Zang this Christmas

16th Nov 2011
Babylon is Dead Vol#2 just got a nice review. Take a look...
Also, I've been working on a new ABH drumkit.

30th Oct 2011
I'm quite excited about the EP The Illusion of Freedom coming out tomorrow. That's hours away.

The world is in such a strange way right now.

I think we're all wondering if the Occupy! movement is going to keep growing towards something, and what that something might be. A lot of people think it'll just get tired and disperse, but I think all that has to go somewhere, right? There's a lot of criticism that they don't have any answers, but it's pretty awful that politicians and the media are so ready to mock the people for at least asking the questions.

Whatever comes of that, I have the impression that our international money troubles won't quietly disperse, and there's all sorts of crazy ideas where that's going.

A while ago I saw an interview with the philosopher Bertrand Russell, from back in the days when nuclear bombs were being brandished between America and Russia. He was seriously contemplating the possibilities of us wiping ourselves out there and then. He said he couldn't bear that thought. But I was thinking, imagine living in a time when people in the West felt so on the edge... It's not like Bertrant Russell was a melodramatic or unreasonable sort.

Maybe we're not in that kind of trouble, but I have the feeling we're in pretty big trouble of some kind.

Anyway, The Illusion of Freedom comes out tomorrow. That's all I really meant to say...


20th Oct 2011
Playing a charity gig at some kind of big sleep-out-in-cardboard-boxes-of-your-own-free-will-to-raise-money-for-street-children-in-Hoduras event this Saturday (22nd Oct).

A better explanation here...

Its outside Coventry Cathedral, and we'll be playing at 10pm ish, if anyone wants to come and join the band...

Benjamin Blower
Fiction Fight
The Custodians
Josiah Gillespie
Bethan Marshall
University of the King
Selina Blakeney
The Zang Productions Ensemble
Vincent Gould