I’ve always been a fan of the strange, somewhat musty world of British retro culture. From the long forgotten library music worlds of KPM and DeWolfe, to even, dare I say, the pseudo-grotesque works of On The Buses and the Hammer film stable of the 60′s and 70′s. One of the reasons I love them is that they, alongside many other cultural artefacts, paint an altogether different picture of this time from the full-bore swinging version we are led to believe existed back in 60′s.
In the last 10 or so years, the study, reintroduction and reinterpretation of some of the more obscure of these weird-beard archives has led to scene (of sorts) forming around the concept of ‘Hauntology’. A term originally introduced by Jacques Derrida in 1993. The term was first introduced to me through Simon Reynolds increasingly relevant and vital book ‘Retromania’. He cites both the rise in interest in the work of the pioneering, but relatively unknown British sound architects BBC Radiophonic Workshop as an example of Hauntology at work.
It’s spectral sonic beauty, abstracted from it’s original uses, takes on another context. A hazy document of an imagined time. More recently bands such as Boards Of Canada, have taken that one step further, taking the spectral elements of British ‘B’ culture and blending it with modern electronica to create something both as familiar as the test card, and as eerie as the Shipping Forecast.
So why mention it? Well, namely this video of Hells Angels from 1973, got me thinking all over again about the relevance, and brilliance of this sort of content.
A 1973 documentary about the Hells Angel’s represents everything that is interesting around retro culture, and Hauntology. The 39 years of age has turned what was clearly meant to be an alarmist shock piece on the rise of biker gangs (and therefore you would assume, lawlessness at large), into a piece that shows what happens when hippie culture, which briefly, the Angels were a part of, is filtered through a British lens.
This is Altamont as imagined through a Little Chef service station in Luton. The Hells Angels in the film might look cool (and no doubt, their iconography and style has been liberally integrated into all manner of fashion types since). But their feeble rebellions are met now with a lashing of comedy and, in the end hopelessness. Hollow bravardo statements are mixed with truly bizarre ‘That’s Life’ on-the-street vignettes. These juxtapositions, while meant to tell a sensationalised story in ’73, now look strangely tame and hopelessly naive. It also highlights one of the reason’s the concept of Hauntology would never really apply to similar American cultural artefacts.
Their assimilation of a quintessentially Californian and American constructs and pastimes (The Hells Angels and Motorbiking in general), is the key element that makes them so bizarre. How exoctic is rebellion on the M25 on the way to a disused canal boat on the Thames? But, in it’s inability to reach it’s own version of exotica, these videos (and many others like them), and the wider Hauntology scene, provide a fascinating way to appreciate an archive of time when life, was more square, but much more interesting in how it articulated it’s squareness. I’ll be posting more of these as and when I find them.
(Via Dangerous Minds)