‘Where the pavement turns to sand’ Sleaford Mods & Neil Young (1979)

This recent collaboration between Nottingham-formed Sleaford Mods (Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn) and the collage-satirist Cold War Steve (aka Christopher Spencer) has produced this amazing combination of song and video UK Grim. Spencer’s framing for the video, takes our eyes roving precisely across pantomime collages that capture a state of the UK, across the powerful and the reactionary in the sphere of governance and society, while the duo’s song delivers a pounding look at the socio-political living room of the UK.

You’re trapped, me too, alienation and no one’s bothered…’

Sleaford Mods, No One’s Bothered

The energy and intensity that comes from the sonic production of UK Grim gives it the edge to cut through the cultural clutter to something revealing while keeping mobile. Applied with the Cold War Steve treatment, we encounter a chaotic, claustrophibic modernity of stories and the tag lines of micro-control and brutality, as well as those puppet-agents of power; oleaginous, decadent and self-serving.

Politics Now

Screen Cap from UK Grim. It was reported in 2021, that Prime Minister Johnson said he would prefer to ‘let the bodies pile high’ than order another lockdown.


‘Threesomes and wealth measles penetrate the cornflakes, I want it all like a crack forest gateau’

Sleaford Mods, UK Grim

Sleaford Mods have been out on their own with their direct fiery recoil towards power while catching the details of authenticity in culture through the minutiae and nuance of circumstances in life. They can unexpectedly take on the street-fictions of romanticised criminal power ‘standing around outside tower blocks acting like a gangster‘ (Nudge it) as much as they might also tirade against the structures of impoverishment or the self serving masters of the UK as a whole.

Andrew Fearn’s urging electronic pulses and beats; loops and refrains of punkish power – bring to mind their most direct and genealogical US precursors of the 70’s-80’s – electro-punk pioneers Suicide. Primarily Alan Vega and Martin Rev, they produced songs of alarm and screeching intensity, railing against power as well as the oppressions of poverty and social destitution – as in their 10 minute howl of fury; 1977’s Frankie Teardrop.


It should be clear that for who knows how long, the UK has been the institutional preserve of a ruling interest dedicated towards the accumulation of their own power and enrichment (and a corresponding maintenance of reductive compression against the public at large). It’s telling that the video for UK Grim features a gated-up Eton private school – the epi-central incubator from which much of this travesty is generationally churned out. Frankie Boyle shares some structural perspectives on this in a fascinating interview from 2017 (video here).

The whole thing that they are is a group of people pretending to represent the interests of a constituency that they don’t represent. They represent the interests of… capital and they’re the class enemy of the people they say they represent… the sort of people who are going to go into that are broken sociopaths. There’s a whole public school system that’s designed to break these people’s psyches to the point where they can spend their life lying to this group of people on behalf of this other group of people. That doesn’t breed talented people who can connect with the public…

Frankie Boyle

In practical terms (on the front line) from the earliest practitioners of Neo-Liberalism in the 1980’s, UK public services, lands and interests have been sold to enrich boardroom-stock owners and investors, while successive governments stripped out support and care structures within the welfare state. John Harris recently noted this cuts programme in the Guardian, emblematic of the wider circumstance – from a Tory local council which take in ‘mental health care, street lighting, libraries, transport for children with special needs, and more.’


The Village Square

How and where the UK Grim video launches itself in a typical English ‘village square’ cuts to the heart of the Ur mythos being used to drive reactionary narrative forces prevalent in our media and social context. The village square as the heart of a parochial and quaint England life and tradition – that which is always at risk and must be defended, the English image of its own quintessence. Of course here Spencer floods it fairly quickly with sewage and filth, cathartic no doubt, while referencing the ongoing controversy in the UK of privatised water companies flooding rivers and seas with raw sewage, hundreds of thousands of times each year. The CEO’s and stock holders of these companies meanwhile (some of whom are giant US equity funds) make huge sums with no respite – a new story about which arrived in the last few days (and this piece details ownership of UK water companies).

Yet from the first few seconds of our encounter here with the composite work UK Grim, a kind of spell is enacted, Andrew Fearn’s monotone electro-pulse conjuring a sped-up dread akin to Ennio Morricone’s taut and disturbing pulse from 1982’s The Thing soundtrack. Ramped up and set to Spencer’s psycho-hallucinatory fervor of background jingo-ism and right wing patriotic mouth-frothing. A flat, giddy dream of ‘England’ although of course, the song is ‘UK Grim’, despite Williamson telling us ‘In England no one can hear you scream…


Screen Cap from UK Grim


A curious resonance from UK Grim occurs once more in its opening moments when a Spitfire plane lurches over head, it invites the sense that the UK remains haunted while still in some way being war-laden. The song’s opening electronic pulse – a siren, while a tired, slightly-crazed glory-dream of British WWII inspired righteousness plays on. It doesn’t really go away either, this sense that there is a war going on, while in the video the ‘Mods avatar cut-outs go by scenes of carnage and debasement in the seat of power – where the leaders have partied till they puked while tens of thousands died as a result of their decisions.

The video takes us through caravan parks and fly tip sites in the countryside that are emblematic of a retreat from a connected form of life – a masked violence towards the treasure of the land and nature. In some respects, Beak>’s song ‘(Merry Xmas) Face The Future’ (below) is brought to mind with its video invoking eco-alarm and a parody-attack on our populist political imps (and which inspired the writing of this post).


Narrative Wars

We are at a point where the flexibility of the definitions of what is taking place in reality are – through narrative strategies – a very primary battleground on which the campaign for minds is fought by warring plutocrats throughout the ‘westernised’ democracies and beyond. To an extent, this has always been – but now it has moved into a more menacing and open repudiation of shared experience and understanding and more operatively, shared conceptions of the value and form of truth. Now that social media has platformed the individual operationality of access and voice – narrative action can travel much more roughshod, creating pervasive enclaves of believers with their own formulaic access to ‘the truth’.

In one of his many thought-provoking and brilliantly researched documentaries for the BBC (which started with the seminal and vital ‘The Century of the Self‘) Adam Curtis in 2016’s Hypernormalisation (above) traces the morphology of narratives-as-power as it pertains to modern political action and control. One of Curtis’ assertions is that Trump “defeated journalism” by rendering its fact-checking abilities irrelevant. Much could be written about what is well and unwell about Curtis’ work, a telegraph review of Mirror Lake espoused that “Adam Curtis sounds like just another prophet asking us to have faith in his vision. Which is an irony.[4] However, for me what remains unshakeable is the direct understanding he has of the manoeuvrable power of narrative and that the work itself is what needs to be engaged with – towards what we discern of its value and its capacity in our lives.

Curtis summarised part of these concerns in this short 5 minute piece from 2014 (below) commissioned by TV critic turned writer Charlie Brooker (the megabrain behind dystopic reality-inversion thoroughbred Black Mirror). Curtis refers to the work of Putin adviser and strategist Vladislav Surkov and the concept of “nonlinear warfare” to create confusion and layers of confusion to disrupt cognitive and social stability on a state and individual level.


Seeds of departure

A problem with the prevailing mode of political abstraction, even revolutionary, is that it often does not account for concepts of subjectification and stratification as features needing to find space in a narrative of cognitive and socio-cognitive realism. An evolution of human cognition, spirit, understanding and crucially perception are what is required to elevate the political alongside any micro-politics. As I have referenced elsewhere, this is why Le Guin put out her call for ‘realists of a larger reality‘. To engage with which, transformation towards new structural norms of conception are required, the language of shared human experience must evolve along with its conception. Of singular instruction here would appear to be the Dao De Ching, in dealing with questions of politics, more precisely leadership and the actions of the populace as a body – a reading which can take place as to the individual body – while drawing inexorably from forces at the edge of understanding within this time/space of human positioning. An approach practical and yet mysterious that espouses that humans use Way as a presence :


…Look at it: not enough to see.
Listen to it: not enough to hear.
Use it: not enough to use up.

The Dao De Ching


In terms of retaining some kind of space or a contact that reaches outside the grim tableau of UK socio-political installations, There are lyrical departures in UK Grim that suggest something more than the primary assumptions of the pre-eminent perspectives of human affairs.

‘…As I pound the slabs of this dreamscape into X

Sleaford Mods, UK Grim

At the end of the second verse, dreaming is called upon in Williamson’s lyrics – minimally but with that curious solidity of “the slabs”. A beguiling suggestion both as a foundational buttress of underpinning in the dream, and a last-grasp connection from the primary frothing oppressive charade (of “the components”) of UK Grim to it and this (as in ‘reality’) also being a dreamscape. The idea of a crystalised form of dreamscape, or abstraction is something that will be explored more below in Neil Young’s song The Thrasher.

To his credit, Williamson while pounding against the heavy solidity of ‘the slabs’ is also transforming on the vector of the real ‘towards X’ – the process of making (and re-making) the unknown connection. The unknown about what was only thought wholly known. Lyrically it seems vital that this be here, not least for its movement towards a ‘truer’ or deeper understanding (that which is made to show itself – even if in the context of ourselves being the thing that changes) but as the movement towards transformation and flexibility in the context of that discovery. It would be disrespectful to not point out here, that it is clearly also a warrior statement, aligned with the reformation of the dreamscape, as dreamed by Williamson – the slabs of which we all might know.


The second abstract departure is the song’s end of chorus ‘In England, no one can you scream‘. It resonates as a statement of the desperation of so many people in the UK and how the capacity for care and response has been eroded both in a state and a communal form. Additionally, it retains its allusion to its origin, modified from the promotional tag line of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) ‘In space, no one can hear you scream‘. The ground-breaking film which tells the story of the discovery of a new, initially parasitic life form predatorial of humans. A form of the alien imbued with a kind of deep-dreamed sense of repulsion yet allure from H.R. Giger. The entire thing presented in a kind of darkly-esconced sensuality of the uncoiling of fear and death from the shadows and yet also from within, the seminal horror of parasytically impregnated humans ripped apart from inside during the emergence of their predator’s alienised offspring. In fact I would contend throughout the film’s rich subtextual back and forth, the true horror here is also precisely the elaboration of humans as a captured part of the breeding /life cycle of this newly discovered, powerful alien.

While suitably bleak, the song’s armament with a modification of the most powerful tag line in modern film – simultaneously expresses the horror of the lives that are at stake in the incarceration of poverty and modern socio-political forces – while also injecting just how ‘alien’ this behaviour and these circumstances are.

‘…pounding the slabs of this dreamscape…’

Sleaford Mods, UK Grim
Sleaford Mods and Neil Young. Photoshop composite AR


The desert in abstraction

‘…To where the pavement turns to sand…’

Neil Young, The Thrasher

As a companion in thinking to the political eviceration undertaken above, I was drawn to The Thrasher by Neil Young (above), a wind-swept, rust belt tundra of thought encased in the imagery of the land and people, that sweeps out to the vastness of the cosmos and then darts back to the cosmically-personal disposition of humans and their circumstances. It lays out with a practical inquisitiveness, the intensive span of a human life as it exists ‘Just another line in the field of time…’.


‘I searched out my companions, who were lost in crystal canyons.’

Neil Young, The Thrasher

In the sweep of a single lyric we have a life-abstraction as to how human beings can be caught by worlds of crystalisations of ideas, the effective strands and formations of an apparently closed-off or deadened reality. In this song, Young can offer glimpses of a transcendental lyricality, a sustained lucid plateau, containing both the energy of a wider perception and its attendant, necessary factor of escape. An unshackled visitation from human clarity and perception.

It was then that I knew I’d had enough, burned my credit card for fuel and headed off to where the pavement turns to sand.’

Neil Young, The Thrasher

A repudiation of capitalism, but also something else – an invokation of the desert (as Young puts it in an equation ‘With a one-way ticket to the land of truth’) – an actual space and its conceptual other, the place of apparent barrenness and emptiness, yet reciprocally equated both with the real, and with its transcendence at the point of truth. It is the annunciation of a seemingly inhospitable form of the planet, and which in this era is also the Matrix‘s bombsite of a simulated reality-as-predatorial-replacement-of-reality.

For Simulationists (if such a term exists) like Baudrillard – this means the evisceration of whatever was real in the first place (partly as acknowledgment that there never was a ‘first place’ for Reality anyway, it is the ongoing simulated replacement of its own absence). And yet the desert simultaneously remains the landscape equivalent of the void-made-real; a place that resonates in our fictions and dreamings of strange hauntings and appearances, disappearances and transformations.

Jodorowsky with actress Paula Romo in 1970’s El Topo

It is in the desert that Jodorowsky in El Topo tells us ‘The desert is a circle, we must travel in spirals.’ Bringing the sense of both dimensionality-in-direction and an intent that goes beyond the monomaniac capturing ( again Le Guin’s ‘We need realists of a larger reality’ ). It also manages to maintain the idea of return, a spirality is constantly about return and yet ongoing simultaneously returns to a different place further along.



They were lost in rock formations
Or became park bench mutations
On the sidewalks and in the stations
They were waiting, waiting

Neil Young, The Thrasher

For me, Young’s line ‘…where the pavement hits the sand‘ is also a remonstration for where politics in its molar state-form becomes a kind of voidopolis of the transcendental. In this place, how we now think of the human body must be re-engaged, to re-configure the body along with its becoming-abstraction also in the mode of encountering the desert, an intensive landscape of systems and presences, interrelations of unknown and hidden forces, particular populations in the absent prescence of the winds, shifting terrains and ultimately even strataspheres and geologies. In this sense, the body as micro-systems of internalised regularities in abstract and material productions, gains its dreaming correlation as the intensive (abstract) terrain arriving from unknown.

The state-body level political struggle remains, also now reformulated as one exceptionally dangerous and incursive aspect of an expanded eco system of meaningful, propulsive circumstances that exist throughout tableau of human forms and formations. Understood energetically as containing the range of outcomes of all forms of agency and their co-mingling in onwardly plunging worlds of worlds of ideation, realisation and transformation (even sometimes as apparently unchanging as the teeming granular world of the desert).

Neil Young- Dallas 18 Apr 2014 – Sten Thorborg


A song such as The Thrasher is working within the range of human circumstances, through the abstract circumstances of our traps (‘they were poisoned with protection… lost in rock formations‘), and yet it is so well equipped in the energetic dynamics of motion and understanding that it also becomes a line of intensified perception.

Where the eagle glides descending
There’s an ancient river bending
Through the timeless gorge of changes
Where sleeplessness awaits

Neil Young, The Thrasher

Sleeplessness is aluded to with the idea that becoming a more intense and alive being, challenging our known ontological parameters, entails not only that the losses and absences of our daily consciousness might be transformed, but likewise that of our sleep and dreams. Young suggests that we might as such re-engage consciousness and lucidity in our dreaming time, toward being dually awake and more aware in the twin-given modes known of our being.


A second contextual parallel in the song emerges with the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky (mentioned above as filmmaker of El Topo). Young references ‘the motel of lost companions‘ a place where he will not stay ‘…me I’m not stopping there.‘ It pairs with the scene featuring The Pantheon Bar in Jodorowsky’s ‘Mountaina Sacra’ (Holy Mountain) from 1973. The group travelling beyond reality, led by Jodorowsky have as their final socio-human-situated trial – to get beyond The Pantheon Bar, where they are greeted as arriving heroes. The bar is home to great artists, seers, poets and purveyors of the apparently magical and anomalous. Those who have made it to the location of ‘the holy mountain’ out past the human world and yet reside here in the veneration of the collective human narrative, never venturing on to climb the mountain itself.

And like Neil Young, Jodorowsky also continues.


The second occasion on which a bird in flight is called up, things again turns cosmic, through the terrain of the planet and simultaneously (like a dream) the realms of abstraction.

Where the vulture glides descending
On an asphalt highway bending
Through libraries and museums
Galaxies and stars

Neil Young, The Thrasher

Each time Young invokes flight, it is to take us out of the human-centric world of experiences towards an invokation of the cosmic as a place ‘Where…’. For these two moments in the song, we have a twin aspected world of the cosmic, both predatorial in essence, both descending upon us. The eagle glides transcendentally (‘the timeless gorge of changes’), while the vulture is taken within the human (‘on asphalt highway bending’) and yet still resonates with the cosmic, taking us through the houses and collections of human learning, to those ‘Galaxies and stars’

Young, emptied of bile or anger sees the vulture on the same straits as the cosmos. Perhaps this extraordinary measurement of being is levelled out with the subtext to the song as a whole. That its eponymous Thrasher, as well as being that which brings the harvest at the beginning (‘they were hiding behind hay bales’) is also at the end – death.

I’ll know when my time comes to give what’s mine’.

In this respect, followed up with ‘another line in the field of time’ Young is seeing his own final death and yet here too we can learn of different forms or aspects of death. Alongside this end to our journey, death is sometimes treated as an advisor, against the flotsam and jetsam of trivial concerns and self importance. Yet it is also as with this moment from 1970’s TV series Kung Fu, a necessary transition in being beyond encasement in ignorance and a correlate impact in our perception at-large. Prelude and threshold underlining a wider reality, and the finding of our place in it.

The Thrasher reveals a spectacular achievement of song writing as a story that encompasses the human strata of existence, then details the intent and will to go further, escape it – while sharing that part of that process also involves seeing and becoming aware of the formation of that which needed to be escaped in the first place, in order to understand or perceive in relation to it. Something that was a part of us and curtailed or reduced our capacities to operate beyond it.

The Thasher delineates in words and in its musical resonances, strands of the cosmic in the lines and arrays of human life – passes through the prevalence of shut-down realities (his friends and so many others in the ‘motel of lost companions’). While also, through the minutiae of our lives, reveal our encountering the re-aspected and cosmic, the abstract and incredibly related…

…To call into focus the transcendental, through a song of poetry, a river of words that arrives, keeps enough unknown, to form steps and half a bridge among the slabs and rubbles of possibility, even here… remains a gift for humans and the world deep in the heart of music… Waiting… Waiting…


Photoshop Composite AR

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