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  • Beasts in the East – Saigon Thrash

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    Neil Massey's photographs of the Saigon underground thrash metal circuit, taken in the last decade. Use the little arrows either side of the images to scroll through the folio.

    The first band photographer Neil Massey saw live, aged 15, was The Damned. After relocating with his family to Vietnam in 2010 – chosen for its large and lively young population – he found himself at an underground metal gig in Saigon, where this arguably very Western form of musical rebellion had been appropriated and bastardised into esoteric thrash metal, with a thriving scene to support it. Massey began documenting the bands, people and venues, just like he had photographed Thailand’s Full Moon parties, Somerset’s druids, Middle American teen ‘mooks’ and other subcultures for magazines like The Face.

    “Sixty percent of the Vietnamese population is under 30, most living with their parents until marriage,” says Neil, “Pressure to conform comes from all sides; the Communist Government, state run media and the family unit itself. Private moments are shared in public spaces like crowded coffee shops, bridges and parks. But high quality Internet access, provided by the state but not censored nearly as much as, say, China’s, provides a glimpse of life outside the borders.”

    The bands were mostly inspired by western equivalents and had names like ‘Rot’, ‘End of Road’ and ‘Seismic Origin’. Although one band, ‘Wừu’, was named after “Bok Wừu, an ethnic minority hero from Pleiku in the central highlands of  Vietnam,” explains Neil, “In 1939 he joined the communist backed revolution against the French colonial power. Twice he was caught by the French army but escaped, the third time they caught him they cut off both ears, all of his fingers and nose.” Massey named the London photographic exhibition that followed after the scene’s number one record label: Bloody Chunks.

    The gigs take place in front of crowds of 80-100, in thirty-plus degree heat, in dive bars, decrepit 80s-style discotheques, shacks and even living rooms. Sometimes, the police decide that they’re not going ahead and festival ‘Deathfest’ was required to make unofficial arrangements with local law enforcement.

    Details spread by word of mouth and social media. “They’re young and broke, so drinking is limited and drugs are imperceptible. The energy is akin to a straight edge crowd,” says Neil. Bare feet are common in the moshpit, because many Vietnamese take off their standard issue flip flops at the door.

    “The atmosphere is less ‘angsty’ than at a metal gig in the west. The impetus seems to be on brash self-expression for its own sake,” says Neil, “criticism of the authorities is heavily frowned upon, but this way the youth can be outrageous without provoking their ire. The government creates a little uncertainty over what is or isn’t really allowed, which actually generates a wild energy. And that’s partly the appeal of the place, why it’s becoming an alternative holiday destination to Thailand – it’s a little harder to get to and has that untamed vibe which suggests creativity.”

    See more at www.neilmassey.com and follow Neil at @mrmasseyman

  • Flow State – Mode 2 Interviewed

     

    Mode 2 is a statesman-like figure within graffiti art. Pioneering the craft in London during the 1980s, he has since taken the style, technique and themes of graffiti to his canvases and sketches. Career events include his artwork forming the front cover of Henry Chalfont's seminal book Spraycan Art in 1987 and being one of only two British artists asked to appear at 2011's Art in the Streets (the other being Banksy). He regularly paints outside to considerable acclaim.

    We asked Mode 2 to discuss five pivotal pieces of work from his extensive portfolio.

    He chose two environmentally-themed murals ten years apart in Germany, improvised lettering in a tribute to his contemporary Atome in 1997, his artist-in-residence period at upmarket erotic boutique Coco de Mer, two murals promoting the peace process in the town of Omagh in Northern Ireland and a 2017 outdoor collaboration with Bando and Shoe.

    You can buy Mode 2’s unique edition of ten ‘Straps’, and original artworks, at Laz Emporium now.

    Follow him on Instagram: @mode2official.

  • The Witches of Oz

     

    Seminal 60s underground publication Oz – grab your collector’s copies in our books section – is back in the culture news this month, courtesy of new work by influential feminist graphic artist Linder Sterling at the Liverpool Biennial, inspired by Germaine Greer.

    Working under her surname in Dada-esque style Linder, a born Liverpudlian, burst to notoriety with her record sleeve for The Buzzcocks’ 1977 single Orgasm Addict. When Tate galleries purchased the original artwork Linder based the sleeve on in 2007, she told Time Out: “The late ‘70s were pre-style press, so the images of food, washing machines or record players came from mail order catalogues and mainstream women’s magazines such as Woman’s Own. In the British pornography I used – FiestaMen Only – the bodies weren’t toned or airbrushed and pubic hair wasn’t shaved, so there’s a real physicality to them. Now we’re fairly at ease with that kind of imagery, but back then women wouldn’t have been expected to know about porn, let alone look at it or make work with it.” The Tate catalogue cites Linder using an iron, a ‘symbol of female displacement’ as ‘a sexy weapon’.

     

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     Linder's art for The Buzzcocks' Orgasm Addict, 1977.

     

    Linder would go on to become Morrisey’s muse (the song Cemetery Gates is apparently about her and she photographed the portrait on the cover of The Very Best of Morrisey), play The Hacienda with her band Ludus while wearing a meat dress almost 30 years before Lady Gaga did at the 2010 MTV Awards, and, recently, depict Mary Queen of Scots ‘Northern Soul dancing’ in a video installation for Chatham House. Critic Amy Tobin says of Linder, “Her work excites all six senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight and the pyschic, and it moves from the expected locales of contemporary art—the gallery—through to the magazine or zine page, the book cover, the stately home, the runway and the stage.”

     

    Mary Queen of Scots dancing to northern soul, for Chatham House.

     

    At this year’s Liverpool Biennial arts festival though she has returned to a pet subject – Oz magazine, and not only the collage style used by both Sharp and Linder herself, but in particular the March 1969 Women’s Lib edition guest edited by first wave feminist icon Germaine Greer.

     

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    Germaine Greer's 1969 Women's Lib edition of Oz which inspired Linder. 

    Oz is viewed as the ultimate counter culture title, although arty, cheeky fanzines can be traced much further back to Wyndham Lewis’ and his futurist bible Blast! in the early 20th Century. Begun in early 1960s Australia, its manifesto was to be a “magazine of dissent”, be that racy psychedelic illustrations by co-founder Martin Sharp or a detailed guide to the Sydney criminal underground. 

     

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     Bob Dylan cover by Martin Sharp, 1967, available now.

     

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    Issue ten, 'The Pornography of Violence', available now.

     

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    Issue three: Mona Lisa smoking a spliff was considered a triumph of collage at the time, and highly controversial. Available now.

     

    Greer had written for Oz under the name ‘Dr G’ while a postgrad in Sydney. Upon travelling to study at Cambridge and live in London, she took up the mantle again, writing characteristically provocative articles about, for example, how to knit a willy warmer, lampooning the seriousness of post-war feminism. She was also writing her defining work The Female Eunuch while sharing a flat with John Peel. In the run-up to launch Greer was given a whole issue of Oz to make her own, the Women’s Lib Issue. Linder found a copy at an antiques market in 1972, and says it has inspired her ongoing Bower of Bliss series that forms part of Liverpool Biennale.

     

    Video guide to a major Bower of Bliss installation at Southwark Tube station, London in 2019.

     

    While discussing the subject is out of this writer’s pay grade, feminism has for obvious reasons often been uncomfortable with its leading lights expressing overt sexuality. Indeed, big hitters like author Angela Carter attacked Greer after The Female Eunuch was published, and Oz gave women’s liberation firebrand Michelene Wandor the chance to rejoinder in print. So I can only turn to esteemed Observer design critic Caroline Roux, who says of the Bower of Bliss series: “women do not only need safe spaces, but joyful ones too.”

    The topic of the Biennale is ‘The Stomach and the Port’ and it intends to profile ‘non western modes of thinking’. Linder, and Greer’s, work challenges the very ideology that they are responsible for sculpting, and is often intended to provoke. But it provides a more deftly communicated manifesto for change than any set of tired orthodoxies.

    See Linder's latest Bower of Bliss at College Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BN at least until May 19, most likely much longer. Buy vintage copies of Oz in our books section now.

  • Mrs Laz Writes…

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    Our columnist ponders the sudden revival in traditional rural living.

    The undisputed breakout trend of lockdown is Cottagecore (or ‘#cottagecore’ to be more specific). You may think you don’t know what this is. But even if you’ve been spared the hashtag itself, you haven’t escaped the vibe. Cottagecore has been seeping into everything during this spell at home. Inspirationally slow, idealised country living pairs perfectly with the desperation daydreaming of lockdown. Days of not being stuck inside four walls with screaming children or existential angsts: instead, heady dreams of lounging outside in a poppy-filled meadow, eating cucumber sandwiches with kittens and Mariah Carey. Alright, not Mariah. But you get the gist. Think being sat around embroidered tablecloths for a rustic tea outside, while eating baked apple pies with home grown produce from your orchard (which FYI mustn’t overlook a road, or any neighbours for that matter); it’s wearing an A-line skirt like Sandy in Grease and only having gentle conversations about knitting, or topiary.

    Why are so many women aspiring to ‘downspire’?  We’ve spent a hundred years (two hundred if we count La Wollstonecraft as our high priestess) trying to free ourselves from the shackles of servitude to the Patriarchy… What on Earth are we doing thinking it’s a good idea to idealise country living from a bygone age? Call me a twat but I have issues with this ‘building aesthetic movement’ as The New York Times describes it.

    The Office of National Statistics tells us that during lockdown 68% of women shouldered the burden of home-schooling, as opposed to 52% of men. Young girls of 14–25 reported they were doing 69% of the cleaning and tidying at home as opposed to 58% of boys the same age. When we know the burden of running the home has fallen largely on women how come we’re dreaming of a life gone by, where women washed clothes with a mangle and cooked on an open fire?

    Let’s actually break this down. Doing the washing in my Whirlpool might not look sexy on Insta but I can get a load washed and dried in just over two hours. 

    Scrubbing smalls in the sink with a pumice stone, washing in the tin tub and then pegging on the line in the orchard is likely to take up most of your day and then you’ve got to strangle the chicken, pluck it and put it in the Rayburn to slow cook for dinner. Are you fucking kidding me? Has anyone actually thought this through? I like a floral print as much as the next woman but let’s consider what upholding the plaudits of baking over a right to equal pay really means.

     

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    We may well be feeling a little lacking in identity post-Brexit, post-Trump, post-pandemic. But we seem to be gravitating towards the Tradwives uniform without fully understanding what we’re doing. A past where things were easy and happy and good is just a romanticised notion; ‘traditional’ values leads us quickly down a path to subjugation and white supremacy before we’ve even had time to print out a still from The Sounds of Music and whack it on the fridge.

    And another thing. I grew up in the countryside. Having left those rural racists behind, I’m none too excited to get back to the barley and listen to why everyone voted for Brexit.

    The Countryside is beautiful, yes. But I’ve never seen the countryside that exists in #cottagecore. The rural countryside that I know is poor, and largely forgotten, with bad education and few employment opportunities. We may laugh at Daisy May-Cooper in This Country (which if you haven’t seen it, do) but that limited world really does exist. When I was a kid, fun was had by killing animals, stealing cars and heavy drinking. No one was making jam in a gingham dress.

    I do get it. it’s been lovely ‘crafting’ over lockdown. Not scheming like the Artful Dodger – I mean making a rocket out of toilet roll, or a model of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon with wire coat hangers and BluTack. People are leaving our cities in droves for The Good Life and I fully understand the thirst for a simpler existence. But let’s be wary of those Internet posts of a carefully placed tulip vase fashioned out of a tortoise and glazed on a pottery course. Yes, it does look lovely against the backdrop of floral chintz but let’s not lazily step back in time without really considering what we mean by this. I would like to retain the right to vote and to work. I would also like running water and electricity.

     

    Mrs L Likes

    Knole Sofas

    I really like saying the word ‘Knole'. And I want to live in Bridgeton or sit next to John Malkovitch in Dangerous Liaisons. Both are possible if you have a Knole.

    Torres Premium Potato Chips

    Up front, I have to confess: they cost nearly £5 a bag. They make me hate myself a little bit for buying them but as I crunch my way through the middle-class guilt of a truffle flavoured offering, I seem to forget this.

    Baywatch

    Revived on Comedy Central. What a theme tune. And why don’t we have more montages in dramas today?  And more people running in swimwear. Cinematic genius. 

     

    Mrs L Loathes

    Foot Tapping

    A certain Mr L loves a bit of this. In bed, whilst watching tv, at the kitchen table, in the bath. Have you seen Anne Wilkes in Misery? Yes people, I will.

    Holidays

    People droning on about taking a holiday, not taking a holiday, why they can’t holiday, why they can take a holiday, when they will take a holiday, who they’ll take on the holiday. What a snore. We’re just happy to be alive people, let’s just start with that and move forward one day at a time.

    The Great Pottery Throw Down

    Season 4 has ended and I am bereft. Waiting to see if a grown man cries over clay is a genius concept for prime time tv. Will season five happen?!

  • Charming Baker's Studio Playlist

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    Artist Charming Baker brings a characteristically tasteful music selection to The Brain this month.
    The tunes are taken from his studio playlist that he listens to for inspiration; it ranges from Dizzy Gillespie to fun Boy Three and Bach. Listen via Spotify below.
    We have Charming Baker's original art and these highly civilised unique art worked drinks trolleys, made from 1940s MoD document carriers, available now. 
    Follow Charming on Instagram: @charmingbaker.

     

     

     

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    Unique upcycled drinks trolley, from a selection by Charming Baker, available now.

     

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     Ambulatory Appendages by Charming baker, original art available now.

     

     

  • Laz Emporium Fanzine Issue #0 out Now!

    Scroll down for the articles and all that.
  • Twoccer's Ball - Rave in the North

    Laz’s photos from the north-east rave scene in 1991-92, when the Rave spirit democratised. Regional people who would’ve been fighting in city centres at pub closing time on a Friday night instead donned psychedelic fancy dress and danced together for days on end.

    Laz writes:

    Back in 91/92, ’Twoccer’s Balls’ is what raves were nicknamed in the north east of England, a very poor but very lively part of the country. For the uninitiated, ‘Twoc’ stands for ‘taken without consent’. Normally it was used in reference to stolen cars.

    These images were shot while I was studying photography at Newcastle Polytechnic. It was, as the phrase goes, grim up north at that time. Margaret Thatcher’s de-industrialisation had ripped the heart and soul out of the region and the UK was in the throes of a recession. These raves were a beacon of light and a place to forget worries about the future. The nation’s press though had demonised ravers as a threat to the very fabric of society itself; because they took new fangled drugs and danced all night.

    I couldn’t stand rave music. But I loved the abandon and the anarchy. And as long as they got to work or college on Monday who gives a fuck what they got up to on the weekend.

    It was an incredible thing. The energy of the raves were insane. Thousands of people whose normal Saturday night was a piss-up ,scrap, and a kebab who had replaced alcohol… with drugs. The ecstasy just about knocked back the inherent aggression, many a hard man was caught doling out the random hug here and there, creating this incredible tension in the air.

    I consider myself blessed to have been able to document the beginning of a movement. I just wish I’d been able to afford to buy more film for the camera, that I’d liked the tunes a bit more, and had money for a taxi to get home.

    'Raver One, a T-Shirt edition of 100 featuring imagery from the Twoccer's Ball series is available now.

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