When Hearts Were Tape Machines

I was at Crux last weekend for the Philophobia Music Phundraiser and something unusual happened. I felt something. Living in the 21st Century, I generally only feel anger, fear, hopelessness and loneliness but this was different. It felt ‘good’. I think that’s what we used to call it.

The weekend featured bands from across the labels lifetime, including some new friends and collaborations but mainly they were remixes of previous bands and projects. Which is to say it was a familiar crowd but nine years after a label built around a small social scene began its journey, the pleasure was just getting those people together in one room, people with more important things to be doing, these days.

Way back when, I would have been there in the audiences, two thirds of the way back with a discreet notepad to aid the following issue’s review, written after many drinks and a respectable hangover.

This time I played with my own band. True that I have done so in the past but this felt noticeable for me in that I wasn’t a token addition. I wasn’t propping up a line-up of better acts as I have in the past. My own songs were always inferior in their craft, style and presentation but it felt good to be a legitimate band playing sounds I can feel proud of. That’s my journey, one assisted by that simple thing ‘effort’. Why didn’t I do this earlier?

Still, I forget to spew my faux anger banter at being the longest surviving band on the label and still being on at 4:20 in the afternoon. No matter how good we get, I don’t think we’ll ever be a 10pm at a fundraiser band. Play the cards you’re dealt.

Upstairs I conduct some interviews for a potential documentary on the label. I’ll stop myself from saying what was said, what the recurring themes were, for fear of affecting any future search for soundbites, but this is clearly a community of people; it’s not so much about the notes and the songs.

Downstairs again, I see it all with these fresh eyes. It isn’t an idea, a purpose, a goal that connects these people. It’s something looser. Music, I’ve argued for a long time, is a formation point. I resent the passive snobbery of the wider arts world within our culture towards music, songwriters, gigs. Show me some-one in the Arts who doesn’t have some fond foundation in music, no matter how basic. Or, let me show you a future where young people don’t have that musical foundation to lead them into the wider arts. That future is tomorrow, and the day after.

This crowd is old. I feel old most of the time, in my bones. I still wear band t-shirts and skate shoes but I can’t stand up without groaning or sit down without groaning.

I think to a couple of years back when I played a solo set at Leeds Music Hub and my friend jamiesaysmile played too, both pushing our recent records. I thought then, I feel fine doing this now but at what age has it become a little tragic to be sat in a room with fifteen people playing them your ‘new songs’? 40? 50?

Our generation may not care. Writing angsty songs of escape may be our knitting, the home studio our allotment.

There were few new faces at the Fundraiser. Though not insular by design, it may be insular by necessity. It’s an archaic art-form, one not sophisticated enough for some, not interactive or immediate enough for others. Why would someone enjoy this music in this form? It can only be to support your peers or some appreciation of the form, the skill and invention of the playing that is specific to this place and time. It’s so niche.

I head off to have some press shots taken. We climb to the top of Rishworth Multi-Storey Car Park. My drummer bemoans the cliché of the location and I ask him what isn’t a clichéd location for a photoshoot. Come to think of it, what isn’t a clichéd chord? Lyric? Intro? Release Format? Banter? Song structure? It’s a strange thought in such a limited artform.

At the top of the multi-storey, nose to nose with Wakefield’s tallest and grandest architecture, we have our photos taken. And another discovery. Around 20 teenagers. We’re spoiling their party, but it turns out, they do exist. I see myself through their eyes; some embarrassingly old MEN posing like they are famous – for what? I know I’m old because their presence and imagined opinions don’t bother me. I’ve grown beyond it and its ok. But I still can’t answer their question. Perhaps because I don’t want to grow up any further, or I want to legitimise the decisions I’ve made, or I just want to be able to promote my art, this music stuff, to people beyond those down below, in Crux.

Sat on the sofa at the back of the venue, I feel pride in being in the same room as all these people. All at different points in their lives, at different points on the scales of cynicism, happiness, a personal measure of success. Many started with music but are now successful (and paid) in other fields too.

This isn’t an ending or a full stop, but I think back to the earlier days – which I only ever do against my better judgement. This crowd is more relaxed now. This is more like a reunion. It’s not just the scarcity of occasions these people are in the same place. It’s that the world and lives we all probably wanted didn’t pan out. No-one ‘made it’ in the music world. No-one broke free. Other things came along and over time we probably realised that they were better. Maybe because they were tangible and achievable. Maybe that brings peace in the end.

For this weekend though a cause has brought us to this place, for a man or label that made us feel like we achieved something and a support group that legitimised the scale of that success. Together again, if we wanted to, we could feel we were back there, when anything seemed possible. Me, I could turn off the questions, the serious questions, about this whole situation. I could hold back from digging deep and asking why things were this way and resisting the unscratchable itch to move things forward for the supposed better whether anyone else thought I should or not.

I could just accept. I think that is what most people do naturally. The feeling has since left me and I replay my Philophobia Playlist to try and re-enter this serenity. I just hope that some unknowable part of my tired mind can retain the experience and recall the lesson on my behalf, then feed that subconsciously into the rest of my existence. But as the near decade old wonder of Hearts Are Tape Machines flutters around my brain I can recall, vaguely, that it felt good. It felt good.

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