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Thurston Moore: daydream believer

The Sonic Youth founder at east London's Café Oto.

Musicians stand in the middle of the room, eliciting long, scraping noises from a violin and a guitar. Later, a saxophone splutters along to a shakuhachi (a kind of Japanese flute), both instruments serving more of a percussive function than a melodic one. It’s the first night of Thurston Moore and Mats Gustafsson’s weekend residency at Café Oto in Dalston, east London (22 September). All around me, bearded men in tennis shoes twitch in their seats in excitement.

Accompanied by Kiku Day on shakuhachi and Phil Wachsmann on violin, the Sonic Youth founder Moore and Gustafsson, a Swedish improv saxophonist, take juvenile delight in loudness. At one point, Moore jams a drumstick between the strings and body of his guitar and rubs another drumstick against it – Spinal Tap-esque silliness that manages to extort exhilarating new textures from that most standard of rock instruments.

Son of a music and philosophy professor, Moore – a tall fiftysomething in a T-shirt and jeans – still physically resembles the institutionalised grad students who have long been a big portion of his fan base. As he sits brutalising his guitar, his face can seem serious or sulky but his manner suggests a class clown: he has a slightly awkward, “What, me?” demeanour that the singer and poet Lydia Lunch once said reminded her of Ron Howard, the actor who played Richie Cunningham in Happy Days.

Moore moved to New York City in early 1977, hoping to “fuck Patti Smith” (according to a rambling account he wrote in 1994). Though he’d been drawn to Manhattan by its punk reputation, that scene was already in decline by the time he arrived – so much so that Lunch was dismissing Television as “a bunch of old men playing wanky guitar solos” in the local press.

The art circuit, however, was booming, with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, among others, refashioning crime-ridden downtown New York as a cultural frontier where miracles happened just a precarious walk away from Wall Street.

Gimme indie rock

Moore soon hit his stride as a member of Sonic Youth, a band that perfectly embodied the city’s polygamy of art, business and music. With albums such as Daydream Nation, they redefined punk as an intellectually rigorous art form and opened the way for 1990s indie rock by championing new talent (including a then little-known Seattle group called Nirvana).

Sonic Youth’s status as prime movers for a generation extended beyond music. When Moore and his then wife, the singer/bassist Kim Gordon, announced their divorce last October, Elissa Schappell at Salon mourned the end of the 27-year marriage. “How could New York’s ‘underground power couple’ call it quits?" she wrote. "As if they were mere mortals?”

Schappell wasn’t alone. At Café Oto, I hear people still trying to come to terms with the private dramas of musicians they probably don’t even know personally. Both Gordon and Moore have new projects and Sonic Youth seem as good as finished. But on the strength of Moore’s Dalston show, it seems the teenage riot isn’t over yet.

Yo Zushi's most recent album of songs, "Notes for 'Holy Larceny'", was released by Pointy Records (£9.99). His new song "Careless Love" can be downloaded for free here.

Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Labour conference special

Flickr/Alfred Grupstra
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How will future videogame makers design a grand strategy game about the 21st century?

With the diminishing power of nation states, and the lack of conventional warfare, what would a 21st-century grand strategy game look like?

In the world of historical strategy games, it always seems clear how to win. Paint the map your colour. Raise your flag over the capitals of your rivals. Pave the streets of your cities with gold. Games based around statecraft in olden times will tend to have diverse objectives, they usually focus on the greatness of a nation in the traditional senses of the word: military might, technological advancement, religious and cultural hegemony. These same priorities hold up from the times of the Roman Republic to the Cold War.

Yet if games designers in the future were to look at the world of today, how would they interpret the actions of modern governments? Do the same goals as before apply or have we moved on? Are the objectives of contemporary societies different, and if so, just what would a player in a game of 21st-century grand strategy be trying to achieve?

One thing is for sure, the conventional measures of success in historical grand strategy games don’t stack up so easily in a modern setting.

War, for instance, has always been a staple part of historical games and it remains a preoccupation of contemporary society too. In the 15 years of the 21st century, Britain has invaded two countries, conducted armed interventions in three more and is even now lining up the procurement of new fighter jets, new aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons at incredible expense. So we can safely say we do not live in a peaceful age.

But despite having all this firepower and the political will to bring it to bear at the drop of a dossier, war doesn’t seem to serve Her Majesty’s Government in the way it does in either the history books or the strategy games. There is no territory to be won and no rival great powers being thwarted – only air strikes, occupations and teetering puppet governments.

Indeed the only country whose military adventures bear any resemblance to the old-timey way of doing things is Russia, with Putin perhaps the last of the breed of world leaders who still thinks swapping out the flags on municipal buildings constitutes a legitimate redrawing of national boundaries. Given his famous distrust for technology it seems quite likely he didn’t get the tersely worded Tweet from Obama about how that kind of thing isn’t supposed to work anymore.

On the economic side of things the approaches opted for by governments today don’t fit with the historical mind set either. Nations are no longer trying to get rich for their own sake. Privatisation relinquishes the assets of the state in return for a temporary financial gain and long term loss of revenue. Deregulation and poor tax enforcement bleeds capital overseas. It is here we see perhaps the key difference between games where you play as The State itself and real countries, countries run by people who have bank balances of their own and competing party financiers to appease.

The idea of running a country for the purpose of making that country wealthier and then reinvesting that wealth back into the country by developing assets and infrastructure has gone out of the window. Simultaneously both the leftwing model of a state run for the benefit of its citizens and the rightwing ideal of a country mastering its economy to become a more powerful force on the world stage have been quietly phased out. Outsourcing and tax havens suggest that there is no longer room for patriotism in economic policy – unless you’re China, of course, but it wouldn’t be much of a game with only one nation playing it.

On a technological front there was the space race, and there have even been games built around it. But in the 21st century, the urgency and the sense of competition has been lost. Rovers on Mars, probes on comets and space stations tend to be viewed in a spirit of collective human achievement, partly because of the collaborative nature of modern space exploration, and also, I suspect, because lots of people in those fields are Star Trek fans.

The idea of going to Mars so you can stand on the surface of another planet and tell the Communists to stuff it no longer appeals as much as that whole "pushing back the scientific boundaries for the benefit of all life of Earth" deal. It is laudable, but not ideal for games built around competing with other countries.

In the 21st century grand strategy game, we wouldn’t be looking to conquer the world, we wouldn’t be looking to buy it and we wouldn’t be looking to leave it in our technological wake either. So what does that leave? What would 21st-century grand strategy look like?

It could be argued that we’ve moved beyond the era of nation states as the bodies driving world affairs, and such a game might reflect that. Maybe something more akin to a Crusader Kings game would be the way to go, with the player taking the role of an individual – a connected political blueblood, perhaps, like an oligarch, a CEO, an activist turned politician, a drugs baron or a terrorist leader. Or maybe we would play not as an individual, but as an organisation, for example the CIA, ExxonMobil, Isis, Amnesty International or the Solntsevskaya Bratva.

It may be that we never see the present day immortalised in a strategy game, at least outside of that passing phase in Civilization where everything is either settled down or exploding in nuclear fire. Perhaps we’re destined to nestle into a historically obscure crack between the tumult of the 20th century and something spectacular or horrible yet to come. It is nice to think, however, that the times we live in are at least interesting and that maybe we’ll get to see it all laid out in a game one day, if only to find out what winning the 21st century would look like.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture