Music: Scrap Brain – Unhappy Hardcore EP
Scrap Brain’s debut EP was a timely burst of cathartic rage, in a year with much to be angry about. Emerging from DIY Space For London’s First Timers Fest, which provides workshops for under-represented people to form bands and play their first gigs (other alumni include Big Joanie, currently creating a buzz with their debut album Sistahs), their EP was picked up by the excellent US label Thrilling Living for a (sold out) 7″ release this February, and they went on to support Screaming Females on their UK tour. Backed by a band drawing influences from hardcore, punk and metal, singer Camille Rearden’s forthright lyrics detail the claustrophobia and disconnection of being a young queer person with mental health issues. Vindictive is the EP’s stand-out track for me, its lyrics reclaiming and repurposing personal insults as a furious and unapologetic celebration of personal autonomy and self-acceptance. If your year was missing some righteous, validating feminist punk you could pogo to, then this EP is for you.
Book: The Lady and the Little Fox Fur
If there’s any writer whose work I’d like to see more of in print, it’s the somewhat maligned and misunderstood Violette Leduc, so it was a pleasure to see Penguin Viking bring her 1965 novella back into circulation this autumn. It takes us inside the head of an isolated and lonely elderly lady living in Paris, on the brink of both destitution and, perhaps, insanity. Critics of Leduc often seem unable to avoid projecting stereotypically gendered ideas onto her work, characterising her writing as somehow femininely “hysterical”, unruly and over-emotional. In actual fact, her control of a fluid and naturalistic prose is impressive, conjuring a sense of a stream of consciousness without abandoning structure or pace, and this is deployed with particular success in this short book. We follow our protagonist as she wanders the streets of Paris, and within her own thoughts, fears and fantasies. We feel close to her and her precipitous position, about to drop off the edge of society, to a life on the streets.
Despite its bleak premise, Leduc excels at pinning down the elusive and transcendent moments of beauty which can emerge from the ugly mundanity and mess of life, and we are also with our hero as she experiences absolute joy and the brutal, essential thrill of simply being alive. Much as with In The Prison Of Her Skin, Leduc’s desperately sad autiobiographical work which peaks with one central, quiet, joyous moment (which reduces me to tears every time – I recommend it to people as a darkly-mirrored companion piece to Tove Jansson’s Summer Book, another touching account of a young girl’s relationship with a beloved grandmother, and perhaps an influence on Jansson), so this book has its pivotal (non-)event, the inescapable eye of the whirlpool, and the build up to it is incantatory, hallucinatory, and wholly satisying. Leduc leads us there expertly, with infallible pacing and rhythm, and not a touch of womanly hysteria. Most of Leduc’s books remain out of print, available only as second-hand ’70s Panther paperbacks with gaudily titillating covers, marketed heavily for the depictions of a bisexual life which were considered socially transgressive at the time. The work deserves better; this new Penguin edition is a wonderful start, let’s hope that it heralds the republishing and reappraisial of her other important books.
Art: Ikegami Yoriyuki
The narrative paintings of Tokyo-based artist/illustrator Ikegami Yoriyuki have really delighted me this year, the work of an individual voice really coming into its own (biographical information is scant, but they are self-described on their Behance page as a “cartoon student”). Full of colour, detail, humour, mystery, wonder, imagination and whimsy, the paintings most often detail events in the life of a human child, who has seemingly been adopted by a family of rabbit-people. Cats reach the planet in the form of colourful meteor showers, and the other human children who occasionally appear are most often found tragically encased within massive gem stones. What is going on? I have no idea, but it’s been a joy to follow the evolution of this mysterious world and the deep love of nature it reflects. A fourth self-published collection of work (Recipes) was released in April, followed by a compendium of the four volumes so far (titled Petals) in the autumn; a second printing of which can be pre-ordered online from Tokyo’s Popotame shop and gallery.