We end at the start: Huck’s January 2024 Newsletter

We end at the start: Huck’s January 2024 Newsletter
Emma Garland’s first monthly dispatch of the year takes in a bonfire of culture: Pitchfork’s demi-demise, the slow death of music writing and death of venues.

Hi, I’m Emma Garland, former Digital Editor of Huck and current writer about town. In this monthly cultural digest I’ll be diving into a definitive issue of the moment, whether it’s the trials and tribulations of the creative industries or the celebrity couples we’re obsessed with performing armchair psychoanalysis on and why. It’ll also be a good laugh, hopefully. Join me, won’t you?

Emma Garland

Fair play, 2024 has come out swinging. Within the first week we had: a guy go viral for getting his arse stuck in a vase at a New Year’s Eve party in Alabama; the discovery of underground tunnels beneath a synagogue in Brooklyn that led to police brawls, an onslaught of antisemetic conspiracy theories, and a video of a dude climbing out of what appears to be a storm drain; a round of unsealed court documents linking Jeffrey Epstein to Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz (who responded to the inclusion of his name by attacking “radical feminists” who don’t condemn Hamas) among others. Also, a 16-year-old almost won the darts and said he’d use the prize money to treat himself to some more vapes.

All of which is to say: there’s been a lot to keep us stimulated during what is famously the most miserable month in the solar calendar, when the sky turns a uniquely wretched shade of grey and all advertising U-turns from ‘fuck it, eat / buy the thing! It’s Christmas!’ to ‘look what you’ve done, you hog. Also you owe the taxman nine grand.’

Perhaps chaos comes to the fore more when culture goes into hibernation. You could make a strong case for that being business as usual these days, given the overall consistency of chaos and the feeling that culture is gasping for life. But the industries do actually stall in January because it’s a bad month to ask anyone to spend money on anything. There’s very few new releases across music, film, books. Instead we get a fresh crop of reality TV shows, like The Traitors, Real Housewives and Love Island: All-Stars, capitalising on the fact that people are spending more evenings on the couch eating from the same batch of ‘healthy winter chilli’ for a third night in a row.

Meanwhile a slew of awards ceremonies – the EMMYs, BAFTAs, GRAMMYs – cleanse the palette by celebrating what’s already happened, with most of the chatter around this year's EMMYs revolving around The Bear and the actors involved in The Bear, regardless of whether or not it was about their performance on The Bear. Jeremy Allen White almost destroyed the fabric of society a few days prior by wearing some pants for Calvin Klein, Ayo Edebiri glued it back together again on the night with her good natured charm and wit, and Matty Matheson became potentially the first person in history to begin an acceptance speech with “WHAT’S GOOD???”.

“Fewer grassroots music venues means less places for new artists to cut their teeth.”

Emma Garland

For those working within the culture industries, January also brings the delightful trend of job losses. FACT Magazine retired its long-running mix series this month. There are planned layoffs at the L.A. Times. Pitchfork, for better or worse the most deferred to authority in music journalism for the last two decades, has been inexplicably folded into GQ, which has felt to some like a final blow for specialist music writing – particularly after mass layoffs at Bandcamp last year, the loss of print publications like Q in the UK, and VICE similarly folding Noisey (along with all its other verticals) into its main site to let it wither. This is all especially depressing for anyone who, like myself, grew up having their tastes and ambitions shaped by new media. There was an outlaw mentality to it that sucked in a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have had a look in. Certainly music writing was of little interest to me until the blogosphere exploded in the 00s, wrestling influence away from big city newsrooms and traditional gatekeepers and handing it over to a global network of shitheads – who cared so deeply – writing in the glow of a laptop in their bedroom in Minnesota or Kettering or wherever.

The impact of that is only visible in the health of culture at large, which is currently on a respirator. Fewer special interest outlets devoted to niche or as-yet-unknown artists means fewer pathways for underground talent to emerge, or fresh ideas to enter popular consciousness. The same trend is visible in TV, with the fate of productions resting in the hands of streaming platforms that can sell up midway through a series – taking the funding with it – or disappear a show with little notice.

Fewer grassroots music venues means less places for new artists to cut their teeth. Hell, even Ice Spice is crying out for robust criticism that actually engages with her music from a place of consideration. Of course, none of this is perceived by corporate strategists who, as The Guardian’s Deputy Music Editor Laura Snapes put it, “condemn platforms that don’t meet their shifting goalposts (remember “pivot to video”?) to the enshittification that is coming for the last good parts of the internet.” Even if it did register, very few people in the C-suite would have a vested interest in protecting it anyway.

And so, at the start of another year, we’re faced with the question of what happens next. What shape will culture take when it’s tethered so carelessly to short-term shareholder profits and fairweather tech platforms? How do we move forward when everything is being eaten alive by global monopolies that leave everyone else fighting for scraps? Most acknowledge that the future of media is independent or worker-owned, which is true, but has to be followed with a deep breath because it implicitly requires starting from scratch. Still, it’ll happen. As depressing as it is to watch everything once promising about new media get completely obliterated within the space of a few years by the kind of ‘line go up’ sickos who play in an all-CEO rock band called The Merger, nothing is meant to last forever. You can’t rebuild without knocking shit down first. Everything ends at the start.

Emma

Emma: Besides mood playlists with stupid names like ‘cozy hobbit coffee shop,’ the only music I’ve been banging lately is CASisDEAD’s Famous Last Words. It came out back in October and is the reclusive rapper’s first proper album (his second full-length project in a two decade period), delivering some of the best storytelling in UK rap. Chucking dystopian sci-fi and real-life experience in a blender to create a world so vivid you can almost smell the rain and see the blood pooling on wet concrete at night. Between the ‘80s synths, speeding cars, drug deals gone wrong, femme fatales with fake French accents and the unexpected presence of Neil Tennant, it’s the kind of hard-nosed combination of seduction and danger that’s been markedly absent from visual media in recent years. RIP J.G. Ballard, you would have loved it.

Alex (Senior Editor):  2024 can’t be any worse than 2023, right? After my high expectations for last year were painfully shattered, I’ve started 2024 with some dystopian culture to prevent myself being disappointed by anything but the lowest possible expectations. I got started with the incredible Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Written in 1993, Butler gazed into the future and set her novel in a speculative future 2024, a post-apocalyptic Earth heavily affected by climate change and social inequality. In the real world, we haven’t quite reached apocalypse yet but everything else in Butler’s vision seems eerily prescient.

Journalist Robert Evans’ insightful but terrifying It Could Happen Here (season 1) podcast, sketches out the few steps we are away from our chaotic and increasingly extremist present to a second American Civil War. But as the US and UK bomb the Houthis without anything resembling a strategy and Trump inches closer to reclaiming the presidency, the jury really is out on which is more likely this year: World War 3 or Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo. The ICJ finding in the case brought by South Africa that Israel is undoubtedly committing genocide in Gaza and absolutely should stop committing genocide gives some hope. Maybe there are some institutions that still function and some in power who have not lost all humanity? No more genocide this year please. If that’s one New Year’s Resolution the world can stick to, maybe we can get around to dealign with some of the other major challenges that confront us as a species.

Andrea (Editor-in-chief): When Blindboy Boatclub was enlisted as Huck’s artist-in-residence for Issue 80, it gave me the jolt I needed to dig back through his podcast and listen to some of the 300-plus episodes he’s obsessively crafted, week after week without fail. There’s something debilitatingly inspiring about the Irish wordsmith’s approach to storytelling; how he zig-zags down seemingly tangential paths only to arrive at a kind of eureka moment that does a lot of things at once: exploring the historical roots of cultural absurdities (see: ‘The Colonial History of Pumpkin Spice Lattes’) triggering a series of generational awakenings (‘Barbie and Mattel as Millennial Pavlovian Conditioning’) and somehow acting as self-help therapy at the same time (‘The Mental Health of Adults Who Live With Their Parents’). It’s riveting stuff; funny, fascinating and always surprising. Listen in the dark, or blindfolded, for a full ASMR hit.

Ben (Digital Editor): As I sit and write this, it is the 67th day of January. My bank account has been empty for approximately 5 days and the few lentils I have left in my cupboard are mocking me. Pretty much any attempt at “dry January” or “healthy eating” has been abandoned and that perma-grey that Emma so beautifully articulated above has seeped into my bones. I am one with the cold and the drudgery. In amongst it all, and despite it all, I see little shoots of hope. The first glimmers of Spring. Of flowers shooting up and our time coming. I see it on my thrice-weekly runs (the singular resolution I have yet to cast aside), and I see it in the whatsapp groups and organising meetings and rallies and strikes across the country, and indeed the world. I see it in the stories of people and groups creating, imagining and resisting that we publish each day on the site. It’s so easy, particularly at this time of year when every fucker is broke, cold and miserable, to forget the power that we have when we come together, often against insurmountable odds and win. In that vein, I’ve spent much of this month revisiting some of the inspiring stories from our Season of Hope, in collaboration with Peace & Justice Project, to keep me going in the meantime.

Josh (Print Editor): As the world of media journalism reels from more job cuts (pour one out for those at LA Times and Pitchfork) my mind keeps returning to this piece written by the brilliant Ilana Kaplan for the most recent issue of Huck (out now) about why the outlook for media journalists is so, so bleak around the world and also why humans (rather than AI and robots) are more vital than ever to deliver the news we consume. Fun fact – I actually dreamt about commissioning Ilana to write this piece while I was in Spain, I messaged her in the morning and then I got really, really badly sunburnt.

Isaac (Social Editor & Photography Writer): 

I was put onto the work of Massoud Hayoun a couple of days into the new year, and it’s contemporary, socially and politically charged art at its best. An LA-based journalist and author who has pivoted to fine art, his acrylic paintings interrogate the West and the effects of modern capitalist imperialism in the Middle East. The dead are painted in a ghostly blue, with heart aching representations of real life events and people – from Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor who sparked the Arab Spring after setting himself on fire to Eyad al-Hallaq, a Palestinian man with autism who was shot by Israeli police on his way to special needs school in Jerusalem. Check out his work on Instagram, and if you happen to be in Marrakech at the beginning of February, take a visit to his exhibition at the 1-54 Art Fair.

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