From Lawrence English
I often find myself thinking about the opening line of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” When the book was written in early 1980s, a dead TV channel was a deadened grey of noise. Revisit the book now though and its character has shifted, for in the digital age a dead channel is a richly saturated sky blue. The referential effects of time are not constant, but they rather provoke new perspectives and ideally new understandings.
This album, Approach, is an echo that has travelled with me for 33 years, even if I wasn’t fully aware of it. It’s a record about memory, about how seemingly cursory encounters shape us and how experiences accumulate in time. It’s a distorted mirror catching the diminished glow of the fires that forged me.
The record draws its root from Yoshihisa Tagami’s seminal manga Grey. In many respects this album is a soundtrack to that manga. What makes Grey unique, in the west at least, is that it was amongst one of the first Manga to be translated and distributed outside of Japan (yes, even before the touchstone that is Akira). It was one of the first droplets that has since become a torrent pouring outward from Japan. It was also the first Manga I bought for myself, when I was 13, and read as a serial.
I tend not to think or speak very much about my teenage years. I had some profound experiences that have carried forward, I forged deep emotional partnerships that carry to this day. The majority of that time however was something of a slog, a day by day performance of self-preservation. Those years were a quiet war to push back against expectations for a way of being I had no interest in sharing.
All boys’ schools, one of which I attended, are a maleficent prison if you are not participating in, or as was my case you are maintaining an antithetical position to, hegemonic masculinity. There’s no real need to detail my experiences but suffice to say several years after high school a classmate approached me in a stationery store and asked for my forgiveness for what he had done to me. I was only too happy to give him that relief, it was obvious he wore scars from those experiences that seemingly ran deeper than my own.
I don’t find myself dwelling on those negative experiences partly because during those years I was a sponge for culture. It’s difficult for me to quantify how much cultural consumption happened during my teen years, but I recognise now how formative so many of those exposures have become. An example of this came into sharp focus last year when I happened to remember, and then re-read Tagami’s Grey.
As laconic and occasionally unlikable as the main character, Grey, might have been I associated deeply with their sense of determination. Grey’s rejection of societal expectation (which is foregrounded by the edition’s introduction penned by speculative fiction author Harlan Ellison, who highlighted the class politics that haunt the storyline), and his refusal to accept the immobility of systems, and social codes, clearly resonated with me. Add to this a delightfully nihilistic optimism matched with unquenchable rage and that young version of me was sold; I knew already that sensation of rage, when applied with focus, would be my fuel throughout those years.
This record then is also a kind of sonic postcard retrospectively drafted for that very unsteady and volatile version of myself. It’s more than that of course, but I want to recognise and thank that belligerent young person, who seems so distant to me now. I recognise that their way of navigation, their determination to be curious and try to discover who they were, not who they were told to be, allowed this version of me to exist today. It also pays homage to the family and friends (and the cultural artefacts such as this manga) that helped cushion and guide that young body and mind. Without them, it’s difficult to know how I might be in the here and now.