How To Dress Well on Mark Fisher’s Theory of Capitalist Realism

"I’ve just come from doing some press. Or, I should say, I’ve just come from doing some unpaid labor for a massive corporation."
  • I’ve just come from doing some press. Or, I should say, I’ve just come from doing some unpaid labor for a massive corporation. I’ve just gotten home from being the uncompensated mineable content-resource for a corporation valued at over four billion USD. Everybody else on set—the catering service, the PR person, the producer, the camera operator, the director, the photographer, the journalist interviewing me—they were all paid, albeit often meager amounts (I know some of these people well). They too are disposable—they aren’t my enemies, they are ultimately exploited laborers too. Now, I sit at my laptop and write 1000 words for Talkhouse; they will offer a small cash honorarium for my labor.
  • I have the thought: I am in a negative mood and should probably not write my piece for Talkhouse right now. Actually, I should say, I am in a great mood—but not a marketable mood. I’m feeling vital and critical and negative.
  • “That’s the irony—when there was a more vibrant culture, there was more refusal, criticism and negativity within the culture. In [our current] culture, which is quite objectively, an unashamedly mediocre, retrospective one, there’s very little negativity, and those two things are related. We have to recognise: pessimism is not in us, it’s in the culture itself. In the low expectations, depression, recombinations of the already existing things. We have to accept that is the situation. That recognition is itself a way to leave that embedded pessimism. And I use negativity and say, these things are bad, they just can be de-normalised, de-naturalised. Not in the name of how things were before—the only point to seeing things how they were before is to denaturalise. Because there’s a hyperstimulated boredom in contemporary culture; gossip is the dominating form. You don’t really want to know about Katie Price’s new boyfriend, but you sort of want to know about it. This is a form of distracted irritation really, you’re irritated, but you still have to know somehow. That is the dominating form of living in the times of reality TV. Because it’s so low level, you can’t get stimulated by it, but still you draw yourself to it. You just can’t help losing your time by looking at all sorts of boring things, the internet plays a great role in it. Still, stating that is a step forward to realise how strange the present moment is!” —Mark Fisher in The Quietus
  • I have a thought about the ephemerization of music consumption. It seems uncontroversially true that a person who purchases an artist’s music (either physically or digitally) as opposed to simply streaming it is notably more likely to engage in further material acts around this artist, e.g., to buy a ticket and go to a concert or buy a tee shirt. My theory is that the relative likelihood of these material acts is actually way more asymmetrically skewed than people understand—I’m not sure what the test would be to prove or disprove this. My hunch is this: someone who buys my album (either physically or digitally) and listens to it, say, once (and doesn’t even really like it that much), is monumentally more likely to engage with the work in the world than someone who streams the record many times and even really likes the work. It’s not simply the case that streaming music changes how we access music. Rather, it changes the axiological situation comprehensively. Our capacity to value is changed dramatically, and this capacity is what gives our lives texture, is what makes people who they are (and not simply a part of the faceless masses). This is a problem. This massive asymmetry is, I think, going to destroy live music and the possibility of a musical community. Under total emphemerization, only the stan is a reliable consumer. We stan incessant mediocrity! But, I have to insist, because of the kind of deindividualization that takes place in becoming a stan, there can be no community of stans. A community is only possible where people can express themselves, critically, negatively, vitally.
  • If half of the people who follow me on Twitter and Instagram sent me between, say, twenty-five cents and twenty-five dollars on Venmo or Paypal, I would earn substantially more money than I stand to make from people streaming my new record, The Anteroom. This would actually be interesting, because I would be able to see every single interaction and would be personally supported by the members of the community of which I too am a member, by the people in my world––all I see from streaming is which playlists I’m added to and how many times the songs are streamed. Of course, I could never do this. This would be “career suicide.” There is too much shame. Even writing about this feels dangerous! I’ve just paused in writing this to text this thought to a friend and they’ve told me: “I think there’s more literal value in pretending you’re well off. Like to me that’s a signifier of desperation that alerts gatekeepers that you’re undervalued in some way.” I’m genuinely afraid of sharing this thought—this seems to indicate to me that I’ve found something worth discussing further…
  • I’ve watched in the last decade a transformation of the relationship that obtains between a certain group of independent musicians and the people they take to be their audience. Concurrently, I’ve watched the pressure on independent musicians to engage in marketplace behavior—the behavior of celebrity, of selling oneself and having oneself be bought—escalate viciously and dramatically. This has made some great artists make some weird records, and not cute weird.
  • Pop music and populism create a certain and similar logic of relations, which can be expressed spatially: there’s a public down here, on the one hand, and then there’s a hero up there, on a stage, raised above the throngs. As an artist or politician or public figure of any stripe gets “more successful,” these stages get higher and higher, the public more and more faceless and abstract; the public eventually becomes the masses. Eventually, the listener—say, Tom Krell—is replaced by the deindividuated fan, and, eventually, through escalating abstraction and obsession, this fan becomes a truly impersonal figure: the stan. The pop star (say, Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons, or Donald Trump) flourishes most there where individuals will to give themselves over to a comprehensive program of depersonalizing stanning. Stans are reliable capital pumps.
  • “I think it’s a final argument, to me—irrefutable, against “poptimism”, the idea that things are so vibrant and dynamic—they’re not. The changes that we’re accustomed to now are small, they happen, but it’s not very good anymore. There’s an immense sense of inertia, and really one of the crucial things about capitalist realism is lowering the expectations. And corporate capital, in almost anxious, deliberate ways, had to massively lower what people expected from culture. Because it’s easier to standardise and mass reproduce mediocrity. It’s much harder to reliably tell us something actually interesting. What happened is that people don’t expect that anymore. Those low expectations have to be engendered. The depression that people feel causes a dissatisfaction—’come on, things are really great, it’s not a bad period’—but the depression figures tell a different story about what is happening.”—Mark Fisher in The Quietus
  • One of the things Joel Ford and I returned to throughout the making of The Anteroom was this sort of half-sentence axiom: “incomplete picture.” Or, more often stated negatively, Joel would say: “You’ve completed the picture too much. This sound right here—take it out.” And, usually, I’d take the sound in question out and reveal, suddenly, an openness: an openness for the listening act. “Incomplete picture” is, thus, a negative method for making space for others; negativity is about respecting the community of listeners.
  • Doing press is, in a way, like gambling. Some would say investing. But the difference between investment and gambling is that the former is deemed sound, while the latter is deemed unsound. One has better odds of paying off, one worse. What’s the ROI, then, on me writing down my thoughts for Talkhouse? TBD… Anyhow, the majority of the work I do as an artist is without any direct remuneration.

(Photo Credit: Zackery Michael)

Since the release of his debut album Love Remains in 2010, Tom Krell—AKA How to Dress Well—has crafted a reputation as one of America’s most original, focused and beguiling young songwriters. Merging ever surprising production choices and aesthetic detail with a sensual but sincere R&B influence and a deep, grounded emotionality, Krell has steadily established himself as one of the most influential figures in contemporary experimental pop music. Follow him on Twitter here and like him on Facebook here.