Nought To Gain: Throwing Snow On Brexit And The End Of Democracy
“I had stayed up all night for it. I just couldn’t believe it. It was like I was stuck in a little bubble. It was utterly shocking - watching the results come in with this impending doom.”
Throwing Snow remembers the Brexit referendum result. The Houndstooth artist, real name Ross Tones, was sat at home, like many throughout the United Kingdom, utterly bewildered by what was happening before his very eyes. However, it’s not necessarily the decision that the artist is angered by - although he would tell you he is firmly in the Remain camp – it’s how we arrived at that decision.
When you read the term ‘Brexit EP’ what do you think of? No, this isn’t just an edgy writer coming up with a political sub-genre, it’s merely a reflection of an artist’s growing frustrations towards Britain’s contemporary social and political landscape.
“I never intended for it to be a Brexit EP,” he tells me, “even me saying that right now sounds very cheesy. Over the months and the years afterwards, the growing frustrations, and trying to see things from everybody’s perspective, was a big thing for me.”
Ross cites a book - The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathon Haidt – as being a huge influence on the creation of 'The Death Of Pragmatism', his latest four track EP out now on fabric in-house label Houndstooth – particularly the second track from which the title lends its name.
“The Righteous Mind gives a framework to look at other people’s opinions,” he says. “I’d read this about two years before the referendum and had tried to start a small project where news was displayed in a way that was balanced. So, you would have the facts in the middle and then what facts where being used by individual sides of the argument. I had been thinking about this idea of how to display information for people to understand that there is another side to a story.”
“Since the years that have passed since the referendum result, I have been trying to see things from other people’s perspectives, and the validity of them. That’s the only way I can objectively look at what’s going on.”
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In doing this, it suddenly dawned on the artist that no one was winning. No one was going to arrive at their preferred result. Ross’s music got angrier, not through a conscientious effort, but through a natural process in pouring feeling and thought into sound. Two of the EP’s tracks were originally planned to never see the light of day, having been written for a one-off live set at Berlin’s Berghain.
“I took those, and then a few months later, through frustration and anger, I completed the others,” he says, “There was only one date the EP could come out – the day after Brexit, November 1st. Then – of course – Brexit gets delayed again, which I’m happy about, but I thought that was so ironically beautiful that the whole thing was designed about uncertainty being the problem, and I had set a certain date, and then that date ended up being delayed. I found the whole thing quite funny.”
The EP’s opening track, ‘Nought to Gain’, is described in the press release as being inspired by “looking into the dramatic system modifications at play that change landscapes as a whole and when the supposed benefits of that modification no longer apply.” Ross de-constructs the sequence (and description), in both a musical and non-musical sense.
“'Nought To Gain' in a musical sense is so fragmented,” he says. “It doesn’t tie together but does at the same time. It’s structured through this fractured approach where things kind of work, but they’re constantly changing. There’s the break, and then it comes in with almost a completely different tune. That’s why it’s built like that. It’s meant to be that off the cliff moment.”
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“In a non-musical sense, it’s very easy to modify things little by little. Each one of those little modifications has knock on effects to other things. The stability of a system ends up being – you can knock things a little bit and make things a little better, and that can work to a certain point, but there comes a point where something must break to be built again. That’s basically what Brexit is.”
“We’ve made these little modifications and everyone goes 'ah well, if we break it all we can build something from the ground up', but these systems that have been set up are so complex, and have been around for forty years (with the EU specifically), if you try to remove those altogether and try to build it’s very easy to say all these things that you’re going to do, but each of these things have a consequence. That’s why I believe in Remain. I don’t think this is a pragmatic approach to solve anything.”
The artwork for 'The Death Of Pragmatism' lends itself beautifully to the idea of empathy. Phillipa Battye’s sculpture appears different depending on the observer’s position, thus applying symbolism to viewing debates or issues from different ideological stand-points. These stand points have become increasingly impassioned and animated since the result of the referendum.
At times, it can feel like a middle ground does not exist anymore. People are being pushed into the furthest reaches of the right or left as a result of a government attempting to the impossible task of squashing an enormously complex issue into a simple yes or no answer. Is it possible for us to empathise with the ‘other side’ anymore, or has this new brand of extremism gone too far?
“I absolutely believe there can still be a middle ground,” he says. “It’s an argument for a second referendum. We are perfectly happy to vote for two general elections, in which you again squash multiple issues into one decision, yet we somehow see it as being undemocratic to re-ask a very important question that could change everything about the proceeding twenty, thirty or forty years, and the rest of the future for that matter. This argument that it’s undemocratic to go back it just patent ridiculous. For both camps it seems necessary to build bridges and to empathise.”
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As the creator of a politically charged collection of work, I am keen to learn what the artist hopes the listener will take from the sonic experience. Politics and music have been intertwined throughout history. Can music still influence an attitude of revolt and revolution in today’s contemporary society?
“I think it can,” he determines. “It’s very hard to do with electronic music without any vocals. I can get across the emotion in the music, but the only way I can be truly vocal about it is by using track titles to be that vocal line that can point you in the right direction. I really hope people read The Righteous Mind, I genuinely do.”
“People having different opinions can have an evolutionary basis. I hope people read that and think ‘oh, that’s an interesting way of thinking about it.’ They might not agree with it, but at least they’ll get something out of it. That is politically charged. It isn’t dictating what people should do or say, it’s giving them art and if people want to find out more about it at least there’s an avenue for that. Otherwise, it’s just an obscure track title.”
And so, as our time together draws to a close, I ready the million-dollar question – the question everyone is wondering, but no one seems to have the answer to. Just what is going to happen with Brexit?
“The only correct answer is – I don’t know,” he admits. “There’s profound bravery in people saying they don’t know the answer. I wish people wouldn’t get screamed at on Newsnight for not knowing something. What do you expect? It’s not possible to know. There is too much complexity.”
“I have no political allegiance. I don’t think things can be framed as left or right. Right now, I’d probably try and vote for Labour because they want a second referendum. I’d vote for them on that one fact.”
“I live in a district that if you looked at voting tactically, I’d probably have to vote Lib Dem to top the Tories. Even in that I’m restricted from democratically saying what I want because I’d like the Tories out. I’d prefer that there was a government change with a different point of view, but I can’t vote for the party that I believe that to be.”
With a resigned note, he ends: “This idea of democracy is, quite frankly, hilarious.”
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'The Death Of Pragmatism' EP is out now on Houndstooth.
Words: Andrew Moore
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