Pop Grenade

Pop Grenade


Check the shelves and you’ll find all sorts of books that contain ‘Dispatches’ from some place of other.  Christ, even I’ve written one.  My particular Dispatches were ‘From The Wrong Side’ but of course I, in turn, picked up that meme from some now forgotten popular culture title, the idea itself dating back to those wartime dispatches from the front, that would carry important military intel.

The intel here is not military… well, not entirely military… although some of these Dispatches have the feel of skirmishes behind enemy lines.  However the notion is more to gather together Matthew Collin’s edgier experiences behind the cultural frontlines, and collect them into one volume.

Collin is a sometime music journalist and foreign correspondent with a good sense for being in entirely the wrong place and at right time, blessed with a keen ear for turning those experiences into engaging, page-turning copy.  He penned a very readable overview of the history of the rave scene in Altered State, and our paths therefore must have crossed on a dancefloor somewhere, at least culturally, as that is very much the cultural terrain I also inhabited, even if our Dispatches seem to have found their way separately to Mixmag (Collin) and DJmag (moi).

Pop Grenade is something quite different however.  Collin has developed a kind of style that combines autobiography with retrospective ethnography, gathering various sources from his notes, journalism, secondary sources, memories… all fragments assembled here in creating an almost patchwork mechanic for telling the stories that make up this volume.  There is a theme, however; a seam, that runs through the book and links the stories, and that is that each of the six chapters details Collin’s experience with a particularly explosive flashpoint in recent cultural history: Berlin’s post-Wall party scene, the free party scene after the collapse of Yugoslavia, the controversy surrounding Pussy Riot in Russia (a country that politely asked me to leave following an regrettable mix up during one of my own Dispatches adventures).  And of course the thing that holds the whole volume together is the beat… the electronic beat of dance music, which pulls all four corners of the world together.

As Elvis Costello was once reported to have said: writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but Collin manages to do quite the merry architectural gig. Describing techstep, for instance, he details ‘a digital storm of swarming basslines, horrorcore samples and steam-hammer snares’; in describing the scene more generally and the collapse of the rave ideal he recalls a DJ ‘banging out the vilest lowest-common-denominator house-by-numbers, each tacky riff and ‘atmospheric’ breakdown cynically programmed to excite the formulaic raptures of the Ecstasy user’.

Good, good stuff. Collins can write, no doubt, and evoke a scene with great mastery even if, at times, both the writing and situation can come off as little sub-Hunter S. Thompson (but then all subjective writers will forever find themselves in that man’s shadow). The ‘dark tourism’ idea has also been done before, notably by P. J. O’ Rourke in titles such as “Holidays In Hell’, even if this volume does give that notion a particularly musical kick in the pants and the retrospective nature of the collection means we lose some energy, some immediacy, perhaps proximity to the moment.

However that is really to nitpick.  What we have here are some great tales, told well.  Collin chucks his grenade over the trenches.  Duck behind the couch as it goes POP!

Pop Grenade is available now via Zero Books

Simon is a writer, broadcaster and countercultural investigator. Over the last 15 years he has written for everyone from The Guardian to Loaded magazine, presented television for Rapture TV and hosted radio programs for the likes of Galaxy. He has also found time to earn a Masters Degree in Novel Writing and write three books (a collection of journalism, a guidebook to Ibiza and one on financial planning for young people – the most varied publishing career it’s possible to have) and establish and run a PR company, Pad Communications, looking after a range of leisure and lifestyle clients.He currently splits his time between researching his PhD at Leeds University, looking into various countercultural movements; consulting freelance for PR clients; writing for the likes of Marie Claire in Australia, The Big Issue and the Manchester Evening News, where he reviews concerts, theatre and is their Pub & Bar Editor. He is also broadcaster, appearing regularly on Tony Livesey’s late night 5Live show for the BBC, and also for BBC Radio Manchester Gourmet Night food and drink show.Simon’s main focus has been music and travel. His career has included editing Ministry of Sound’s magazine in Ibiza for two summers and also writing two long-running columns for DJmagazine – ”Around The World in 80 Clubs” (which took him everywhere from Beijing to Brazil, Moscow to Marrakech) and “Dispatches From The Wrong Side”. A collection of the latter was published in the UK and US as the book Discombobulated, including tales as varied as gatecrashing Kylie Minogue’s birthday party, getting deported from Russia, having a gun held to his head by celebrity gangster Dave Courtney and going raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers. He has recently written for the likes of Red magazine, Hotline, Clash, Tilllate, Shortlist and the Manchester Evening News. Pad Communications has recently consulted for clients as varied as Manchester nightclubs and New Zealand toy companies.On a personal note, Simon is a Londoner who left the capital at the age of 18 and never looked back. He sees himself as a citizen of the global dancefloor having lived in Sydney, Los Angeles, Ibiza and Amsterdam. However his life is now rather more sedentary. After all his adventures he bumped into and subsequently married his highschool sweetheart from their North London Grammar. They now live in Stockport with their four children and four chickens, trying to live the good life. Simon recently turned 40 and is steadfastly refusing to have a midlife crisis – as in, growing a ponytail and buying a shiny red sports car.OK, maybe he’ll buy the sports car…