Where have all the free flowers gone? And when I find them what will they cost?

To date myself: I remember back in the early to mid-2000s there where a lot of blogs happening, specifically I mean for UK-centric interest in the dynamics between culture, music, art and politics. Blogs like the late Mark Fisher’s K-punk, Owen Hatherley’s Sit Down Man You’re A Bloody Tragedy, Nina Power’s Infinite Thought (now offline) formed a central go-to cluster among a large amount of others (many you can find on Sit Down Man…’s blogroll links section).

It seemed like an insular crowd with bloggers responding to each other’s posts, commentary on comments on posts about links and so on. But that made a lot of sense – most publications and platforms are like that anyways, so why not start your own feedback loop? There were certainly a lot of active readers that followed eagerly. (There are so many more blogs than the above, some still running, but that’d be an exercise in linking, and kill my already tenuous angle here.)

In the past couple weeks I’ve found myself with extra time for reading and looking around to discover new writers. I started to wonder where a new generation of self-publishing opinion nodes might be, especially with the critical theory/agit prop avant garde vantage that the above and wider network came out of?

I’m a devoted listener to a range of currently exploding format podcasts (at least until Apple opens stats properly), from Longform to Intercepted to Night White Skies, Here Be Monsters, Theory of Everything and more, and a regular subscriber to publications like LRB, Sight & Sound, Jacobin, Frieze, The Wire (where I used to work until 2015), as well as platforms like The Intercept, New Inquiry and other more traditional media. But those are something far different with publication workflows and editorial hierarchies and traditions – great things, but very different from the diaristic and no doubt sometimes harrowing independence of blogging.

Power deleted her blog a while back, and after a long period not blogging but working as a university professor Mark Fisher recently killed himself – Hatherley’s last entry is a remembrance of Mark. It’s telling for this specific blogosphere that the eulogy is Hatherley’s first post since a 2012 update looking at Preston bus station. Things change, people have kids and/or get ever-overwhelming jobs, tragedy hits us so hard it’s almost impossible to recover; possibly blogging was for kids, the unemployed, students, energetic young writers working around or against frustratingly slow and fickle, traditional and conservative channels? Until they grow up that is and get real jobs – a tragedy of civilisation in itself.

Although I was a regular reader – I still have my RSS feeds going, alas now unread for a long while – I never participated in that scene in the sense of writing anything. I started as an intern at The Wire at the same time Mark started a one year stint as deputy editor there in 2008, then started writing alongside working as online editor there. No blogging in between for me. I’m not certain why I didn’t take it up but most likely it was a fear of doing that alone, teaching myself alone. (Though actually now I think of it I did start and write a few blog posts but they were so awful I don’t think they count.)

So blogs: RIP… or something. But of course that’s garbage journalistic yada yada! As parenthetically noted above many of the blogs that helped energise, at least in the UK, independent critical cultural writing are still running: Simon Reynolds has a number, mainly Blissblog (albeit a number form a kind of PR unit for his books, but so what), and many writers are now in newsstand/magazine rack/’proper’ publications. It was pointed out to me that another central figure/emitter Woebot returned a couple years back after a hiatus. He currently has 90+ incredible primer type mixes with his commentary, the most recent an excellent “Rocket Cottage: Faking Folk in the UK” instalment (taking a tip from former The Wire editor Rob Young’s Electric Eden book) and many more that I need to put aside listening time for.

Also, the polymathic writer Warren Ellis runs a blog, or something close to it in the form of Morning Computer, which is more like a diary cum notebook of fragmentary thoughts blasted out at unbelievably-early-o’clock in the morning through a caffeinated haze. He also sends out a weekly email newsletter, Orbital Operations that is omnivorous and inspiring in its engagement – from podcast and publication recommendations through to the minutiae of his impressive work schedule. (OO is one of the few sources of true creative inspiration for me. I’m sure that idea would scare Ellis. The LRB and The Wire also help form a life line to the eternal energy for me.)

The art world did blogs but in my experience not nearly as well as those that came out of music. In the UK there was the anonymous and gossipy satire site Cathedral of Shit which never really lived up to its name, ironically and disappointingly. That was possibly due to its main editorial approach being making obscurely snarky comments about gallery press releases. Later there was Horrible GIF, also run anonymously. It was (or is?) actually funny, thankfully, as well as more ambitious in being an intellectually driven type of tired-of-the-art-world CoS, coming out of a post-digital-totally-not-post-digital meme-driven episteme (ie university educated). There’s probably more out there but the art world is (still) too hung up in social hierarchy, curatorial coziness and academic dry text tedium that it’s nearly incapable of being interesting anymore, so it’s not really worth it.

After visiting all the above – and going through the hopefully evident intellectual emotional rollercoaster ride – I remembered that the Scottish musician, artist, writer, and eternal reader of culture Momus aka Nick Currie ran a busy and culture-enveloping blog called Click Opera. If there ever was a blog that expressed man-about-town sophisticate and erudite neo-bohemian avant-vibey-everythingness it was Click Opera and its daily doses of Momus’s eclectic and inquisitive hipsterishness emanating from Berlin.

In hindsight Click Opera sounds a bit like a more personable and less global-hypercapitalistic version of Monocle magazine. And I can imagine that for all the people there are who love Momus there are an equal amount who are put off by his svelte persona, find it all a pretentious schtick, maybe even a bit creepy… like I feel about Monocle. I’m not one of the latter Momus-haters (if there are even any at all) as I really enjoy his world and am at ease with pretentiousness. But what is this global citizen up to now? Surely someone with such a seemingly voracious appetite for culture and knowledge coupled with the desire to perform it back into the world, cannot stay silent? Well, nowadays he lives in Japan (natch) and is still making music, writing art criticism, and doing other projects. But tellingly he has made the ‘pivot’ to video, with a regularly updated YouTube channel. Momus now vlogs as an “Open University” lecturer – his own open university – and all the tangents and digressions of his blogs are a bit more unleashed now, it feels, happily.

But I still wonder where the new voices are? Did they leave text and make a pivot to podcasting? There’s certainly a lot of momentum in that scene, accompanied by a lot of marketing and advertising money hype. I have no doubt there are good producers – ones who have writing as their core production and mode of thinking, sketching things out and developing ideas – out there, and it’ll just take me some devoted research time (yes!). But I’m interested in how that economy of value has changed with an ever more developed internet of ecomms and monetised walled garden intellectual feedback loops. If you write something for free and publish it, what will it get for you, what will it give others?

As above many bloggers ended up writing for supposedly proper publications. Maybe some successfully ‘monetised’ their online presence – though what that means in this context is up for grabs. Also, there are numerous fledgling online platform publications that seem to straddle a vast grey area between bedroom based blogging and office spaced platforms. These smaller publications can publish newer writers in a professional looking formatted way, but like much independent press before, who knows if that can make a living, if that can make a culture, if not that then even the next issue?

I suppose the cycle never really ends and writing and culture are only the sum of what energy is put into them, and that’s always irrespective of formats, advertising money, or any money at all come to think of it. Just time and energy. Wherever you want to pivot, you still need the story and that usually happens off the clock where the time is real.

Also published on Medium.

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