Tag Archives: Gridlink

Listing 2014

Is there anything more self-indulgent and aggrandising than making a list of your personal achievements over the last year? Yes, plenty. But it still makes me feel like a bellend. I’ve had to tell myself repeatedly that writing this is more an exercise for myself, to help reinforce in my mind the positive aspects of my life over the last 12 months. If other people read it and get something out of it, great. But ultimately, this post has an intended audience of one. And that’s OK. I think.

 

Good things that happened to me in 2014

1) I got a job at least somewhat related to my degree. The start of 2014 saw me unemployed with little hope of finding any income, which was compounding my existing depression and feelings of worthlessness. But to my continued surprise I was offered a fixed-term contract with an organisation in London, which allows me to at least occasionally use my Japanese for translations or just conversing with colleagues. It’s not perfect, but of all the jobs I’ve had it’s definitely been one of the most bearable, and it might end up being a stepping stone towards something more permanent. It won’t, but it might.

2) I moved out of my parents’ home in an East Anglian village to a room in London. I can’t pretend my current living situation is ideal- the house is in a frequent state of disrepair, the estate agents have often been slow to respond to complaints and send repairmen around, and my room is tiny. And there are plenty of alienating moments living in the city, close to millions of people but rarely interacting with any of them. But the rent’s cheap for London, and it’s quite close to where I work. More importantly, it’s been the first step in becoming more independent, having to look after myself after a long period of feeling like a child being looked after by his parents. And now that I don’t spend all of my time with my family, I find myself appreciating the moments I do spend with them a lot more.

3) I made a number of new friends and acquaintances, aided by Twitter. I’m very ambivalent about the site overall, honestly. While it can be a great tool for connecting with people from all walks of life, and discovering information and perspectives you would never be exposed to through mainstream media, this year has demonstrated how easily it can be used to harass and threaten people, particularly those already subject to marginalisation and persecution. But I’ve been lucky enough to find no end of funny, intelligent, socially engaged and compassionate people through social media, and after moving to London I was also able to meet a fair few of them in real life. I hope it goes without saying that relationships developed solely online are entirely valid, but it’s been wonderful to be able to meet people in the flesh as well. For someone struggling with low self-esteem like myself, the fact that someone was willing to make the effort to come and see me in person helps me feel as though I might be a person that others value.

4) I finally sought medical attention for an ongoing condition which had been causing me discomfort and embarrassment for months. For a long time, my depression and low self-esteem had convinced me that I did not “deserve” to seek relief from this problem, that it wasn’t serious enough to do anything about. But I eventually decided I was tired of dealing with it, and sought help from a private clinic after the NHS were unable to provide assistance. I’m glad I did. The resulting operation was unduly expensive, and caused a great deal of pain immediately afterwards. And I still resent the fact that I was unable to have this dealt with on the NHS, that people in worse financial straits than myself would have had to put up with it. But I’ve felt much better about myself since, and I hope that if anything similar happens in future I’ll be more able to value my health.

5) While my writing did slow down towards the end of the year due to both a lack of confidence in my abilities and creative block, I wrote several blog posts in 2014. One in particular achieved a certain viral presence, and resulted in wider discussion about extreme right-wing politics in heavy metal. There was some unfortunate and perhaps inevitable negative feedback as well, though I largely felt annoyed and frustrated by this rather than threatened. (It’s inescapable that as a white, straight, cisgender etc etc man, the backlash received here was minuscule compared to what others have dealt with this year, often for far less strident comments). In any case though, it felt good to have contributed in a small way to the conversations that have been happening this year around prejudiced and discriminatory politics within metal. I’m not sure if my creative block is going away anytime soon, so I’m trying not to set myself any unrealistic goals with regard to writing in 2015. But if I come up with even one post that engenders as much discussion this year, I’ll be more than satisfied.

6) I finally recorded some of the songs for my long-gestating hardcore/grindcore project Anal Gender. The resulting demos are the sketchiest of first drafts, lacking vocals, drums or indeed anything but the guitar parts I’ve written over the last couple of years. But there’s been some positive responses, and I’m hoping that this year I can recruit some band members to flesh out my ideas and maybe even start playing live. (click here for the demos in question)

7) Owing to aforementioned issues like my mental health and the medical problems in 4), I’ve not kept as fit as I would have liked this year. But again thanks to friends on Twitter, I was able to find a great gym dedicated to strength training upon moving to London. I hope to continue using it through 2015, and to regain some of my enthusiasm for powerlifting. At this point in my life, I have few illusions about becoming a champion in competitions or developing a bodybuilder’s physique, and I don’t think I really want those things anyway. But if I can end 2015 lifting even slightly heavier weights than I was at the end of this year, I’ll consider that a victory.

8) Thanks to my move to London, I was able to see far more live music in 2014 than in the two years before it. This wasn’t an entirely positive thing- most of the time I go to these shows on my own, and for whatever reason this felt especially lonely this year, which put a damper on some otherwise great gigs. Hopefully this year will include a similar number of shows, but I’m going to make a stronger effort to invite friends along with me this time.

Albums I enjoyed in 2014 (no particular order)

1) Gridlink- Longhena

2) Thou- Heathen

3) Swans- To Be Kind

4) 100 Onces- S/T

5)  Pallbearer- Foundations Of Burden

6) Yob- Clearing The Path To Ascend

7) Tombs- Savage Gold

8) Panopticon- Roads To The North

9) Morbus Chron- Sweven

10) Diskord- Oscillations

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Personal Bullshit IV: finding inspiration where you can

ambergray

I’ve done some rambling, self-obsessed posts in my time, but this might be the most self-absorbed piece I’ve ever done. Read at your own peril.

I feel like this is an odd attribute in someone who went to study Japanese at university, but I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of anime. I enjoy the work of Studio Ghibli, of course, and the film version of Akira was very influential on me when I saw it as a teenager. But I’ve been somewhat wary of delving further into the medium, mostly for a reason that’s probably unfair: the fans. More than the stereotype of Western anime fans as socially awkward and obsessive to an uncomfortable degree, what put me off was the way some fans would latch on to this one particular aspect of Japanese culture, and act as if their appreciation for it gave them some unique insight into the country and people. To appropriate this area of Japanese culture without necessarily understanding it seemed to me an uncomfortable expression of Orientalism, the uncritical, adoring flip-side to the xenophobic Japan-bashing of something like Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun. I didn’t want to come off as one of “those” Japanophiles, so for a long time I avoided delving too deeply into anime, or indeed manga.

Recently though, I’ve started to think that these concerns about the people who consume anime shouldn’t prevent me enjoying the best of what the medium has to offer. A few weeks ago I watched an entire anime series through for the first time: namely, Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most famous and well-regarded examples of the mecha (giant robot) genre. I came to the show via an odd route. Given its large profile I had obviously heard of Evangelion before, but only became really interested in it because of the references to it in the music of Gridlink, the recently disbanded grindcore outfit whose final album Longhena has been one of my most frequently-listened to this year. I may therefore be one of the few people who heard the music referencing the show and then watched it, rather than the other way around.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the show and its accompanying movie conclusion The End Of Evangelion, in spite of some major technical and narrative flaws. The show’s producers were in dire financial straits by the end of its run, unable to even afford to produce animation frames, which is immediately obvious in the last few episodes when certain scenes feature still images for as long as a minute at a time. The attempts at humour in the show’s early run mostly fell flat for me, as did the episodes that merely reproduced the formulaic, monster-of-the-week format of shonen anime rather than subtly deconstructing it. By the end of the series, though, the show’s tone had taken a more serious turn, focused more on character than overarching plot, that resonated with me, particularly in terms of the insights it gave into its protagonists. The teenaged central cast, tasked with protecting humanity from invading “Angels” using the titular biomechanical Evangelions, felt real to me because of their responses to what, realistically, would be highly traumatic events.

Main protagonist Shinji Ikari, in particular, already suffers from low self-esteem  before being forced into war, and by The End Of Evangelion appears to be affected by full-blown depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Similarly, the character of Asuka Soryu Langley is initially introduced as confident to the point of arrogance, and at first seems to be a brash, cheery girl in the vein of so many other anime heroines. But she too struggles with self-esteem issues and emotional repression. Having linked her self-worth to her performance in battle, she is devastated by defeat, lacerates herself for her failures and eventually succumbs to a mental breakdown. I appreciated that a fantastical science-fiction setting would devote this much attention to the consequences of its events upon the mental state of its characters. But these characters’ feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred were especially resonant to me as someone who has struggled with the same emotions for most of my life.

It’s for a similar reason that the music of Gridlink strikes such a chord with me. Lyricist and vocalist Jon Chang has explicitly mentioned Evangelion as an inspiration (“It’s a really interesting theme which goes back to Evangelion, of characters who don’t like themselves; who don’t like their lives, and they really don’t like the world that much, but it is up to them to save the world”), and drew upon the imagery, themes and atmosphere of the series and other, similar anime and videogames to create a version of grindcore that retained the genre’s trademark furious anger, but also made room for the sadness and despair of these media’s central characters. The melancholy that accompanies the fury was more evident on Gridlink’s later releases, but their first album Amber Gray features a song directly inspired by Evangelion that balances the two on a knife edge. In just over half a minute, “Asuka” manages to neatly summarise the aforementioned Evangelion character’s emotional struggle, as well as some of the show’s central themes:

In the walls of your heart
I’ll always be no one
In the walls of ourselves
Kimochi Warui
No one hates you
as much as you hate yourself
in your own heart
Die

I can’t entirely explain why, but the “No one hates you/As much as you hate yourself” line in particular is tremendously evocative to me. To live with depression is to forever have that self-hatred accompany you. For myself in particular, the fact that you are always accompanied by yourself is what produces self-hatred. If you spend enough time with anyone you’ll grow frustrated with them at times. Being around myself at all times, and remembering the bad and hurtful things I have done, is a major reason I often hate myself. In the context of the rest of the lyrics, the line could be read as an accusation, an expression of frustration at someone’s depression from someone outside of it who does not understand how mental illness affects people. But it could also be read more positively, as an affirmation. Yes, self-hatred is a frequent feature of my mental state. But it is unlikely anyone in the world hates me to that extent- they don’t spend as much time with me, they don’t know all about me, they likely do not think about me unless I initiate contact somehow. In an odd way, I find it reassuring to hear Jon Chang scream that lyric, and to hear my mind screaming it back. I might not be able to remove self-hatred from my mind, but I can take some small comfort in the fact that others probably do not hate me as much as I think they do.

People, particularly my parents and other family members, sometimes ask me why I consume angry, despairing or melancholy media to the extent I do, with the implication that it is partially responsible for my emotional state. I wonder if it is precisely because it deals with the emotions I feel most regularly- anger, despair, depression, self-loathing- that things like Gridlink or Evangelion resonate with me. Or perhaps it’s because these things are skewed towards negative emotional states, that the inspirational messages I am able to take from them feel more real to me.