A quick way to find out roughly how old people are is to ask them what music or computer game they were listening to or playing at the age of 16.
I have always considered myself a ‘baby punk’, I was old enough to scrape in and see bands like the Damned and Stranglers play live, in East Anglia where I grew up. When I hear the X-Ray Spex song ‘Identity’, I still feel a thrill for the rawness and edge of that time. In my youth I encountered odd people doing things in fields during the Summer. What I mean is performing. They included Lol Coxhill, Ian Hinchliffe and Bruce Lacey. Permission to be weird was given and taken.
In 2018 there is considerable interest again in gaming. If I had been 8-10 years younger I would have encountered the BBC Micro or Sinclair ZX Spectrum but instead I had a battered, and now treasured, left handed Ibanez Telecaster. I still play it. I spent two years in my bedroom mastering various guitar techniques and learning to tune the thing. I’m not keen on citing Malcolm Gladwell but in my case the 10,000 hours was taken learning thrash guitar. I may demonstrate this at Hello Culture in 2018.
Having creative people around you is of course very formative in determining what you do with yourself. This year I’ve been thinking a lot about my English teacher Roger Deakin, who encouraged my friend Paul and I to go to art school. Roger was a Cambridge educated hippy, who latterly wrote ‘Wildwood’ and ‘Notes from Walnut Tree Farm’. Again, permission given and taken; to be creative, make terrible noise with guitars and he took us to the gigs! I had no idea how generous this was when I was 15.
The game of the moment is Fortnite Battle Royale. Parents struggle with its addictive properties. You acquire an identity, jump out of the bus over the island with 99 other people and then plot to survive and/or kill as many people as possible (although you can play it to hide and not kill). What makes it compelling is the networked nature of other people playing in real time across platforms, as the island storms roll in and diminish the playable area. The avatars sadly reinforce common ideas of identity, ripped blond haired men with camouflage and steroidal women with unnaturally curvaceous breasts. None of the avatars have disabilities, there are no older people but there are a range of skin tones. There are no Nigel Farages either.
When I was dropped into a field at the age of 16-17 (Albion Fairs – some organised by Roger Deakin), I did not have a ‘Best Places to Land’ guide as you would with Fortnite Battle Royale. I just landed and tried to figure out what was going on. It was way more extreme than Fortnite. I had my first encounters with brilliantly creative people, ate odd hippy food, graduated to gigging in a band and discovered avenues of life that I had no idea existed. Various adventures ensued including a moment where all of the instruments went live from badly earthed extension cables trailing across a wet field. The memorable highlight was meeting a very small man crossing another dark field at Oaksmere on the Suffolk border. He looked up at me and said: “Weird, eh?” I looked back at him and said “Yes”. Later I learnt that it was Dave Rappaport.
At this point, I am trying to avoid heading towards a pre-digital golden age era preachy diatribe – more comparison of socialisation and interaction, formed through experience from childhood into early adulthood. The tools picked up in Fortnite are rocket launchers, assault rifles and pump shotguns. At the Albion Fairs it might have been dodgy food, Adnams ale and wood for fires.
I guess the formative moments of identity can be more compelling and visceral than that offered by Fortnite Battle Royale and the role models weirder, more extreme and certainly shaped around creativity and not annihilation of everyone around you. And, in case you are wondering, I have managed to get down to the last 11 in Fortnite Battle Royale by hiding in odd buildings scattered across the island. I was however taken out finally by a long range sniper. Oh, dear.