Drowse are a pretty special band. I’m not sure any other artist working today has the same ability to produce such accurate sonic reflections of what the mind feels like when it’s being battered and shook by the illogical and harsh whims of depression. I mean, yeah, sure, you had Swagger Jagger by Cher Lloyd, but that was eight years ago now, and after listening to it nonstop for the past 100 months* I feel like I could really do with another option for when I want to close my eyes and wallow in the distressing cacophony of my own head being echoed back to me. Seriously, I can’t tell when this album stops playing, the noises I hear keep going on!!
(*it was released in July 2011, so it actually has been exactly 100 months. I hate that! The very rare occasion that I do a bit of fucking research and it looks like I’ve just picked a randomly high number! Maybe I should have gone for days. 3’054 days. Yeah, that sounds better. Ah well, too late to change it now)
Seriously, what’s the deal with depression? I don’t mean to ask what the deal is with how it feels. I mean, firstly I have the music of Drowse to cover a lot of that. Plus of course there’s me, though I’ve never been great with explaining whatever it is that snakes around in my strange and disturbing brain (“It’s like… washing a spoon… in the sink… and every now and then the water stream from the tap hits the curve of the spoon… and you get splashed in the face… and your shirt gets a bit wet… but, like, worse…” Alex Palmer, 6th World Conference on Neurology and Neurosurgery, 27th March 2019, Paris). And I feel like each and everybody’s experiences with depression are so wonderfully different and unique, we all just want the world to stop in such wonderfully disparate ways, that explaining your experiences is not always likely to chime with anyone else. I don’t mean to ask you what the deal with it is scientifically, I know the exact reasons behind somebody not having enough happy juice going through their neurowotsit and therefore feeling a little ‘boo-hoo’. I know the science behind penguins and female orgasms too, but that doesn’t make me any more likely to believe either of those exist.
No, I mean why is there so much of it? I’m depressed, you’re depressed, Drowse’s Kyle Bates is depressed, Mabel Harper is depressed, he’s depressed, she’s depressed… There’s a mental health plague taking place in the Western World, especially among its young, and we don’t seem to want to ask why that is. While we’ve reached a point now, thankfully, where mental health can be openly discussed and admitting your problems won’t necessarily get you labelled mental and have you immediately removed from any post you might be stationed in, we still don’t really talk about it, do we? Sure, we talk about our mental health, and what struggles we have with it, and we might hear the science behind the reason our brains make us want to stay in bed crying all day, but this all supports the preferred narrative that depression and mental illness is absolutely our problem that we have to work to improve. We don’t actually debate why all these people have mental issues, we just celebrate the fact that we can now easily talk about it openly. Sure, all this depression in neurologically substantiated- we can point to the bits happening in a brain that mean that you’re depressed- but we never consider the causation behind this. Why do some people produce less serotonin? Why the fuck are so many people depressed??
It’s been made to seem taboo now to talk about the causes of depression. To talk about depression’s causes is an unacceptable leftover from these pre ‘woke’ times, when depression wasn’t understood and everybody had to have a clear reason to feel sad. Now, we know that depression just happens, that it’s just a thing, like having blonde hair or big teeth. To talk of reasons or causes is just blaming the individual for something that they can’t help! For shame! Well, fuck that, I haven’t been called ‘The Internet’s One Legitimate Voice of Truth and Bravery and Intense Sexuality’* for nothing, I’m going to explain this shit! If depression was ‘just a thing that happens sometimes’ like flying ants and Shaggy making a comeback, then why are there so many more depressed people now than there were in the past?? From 2005-15, cases of depressive illness increased by nearly a fifth,and people born after 1945 are ten times more likely to get depressed than those born before. Does this mean we just need another good World War to get people’s spirits back up?? The stock response to this is simply to point out that our definitions have improved in that time, so there are only millions upon millions of more depressed people now than there was 10, 20, 30, 100 years ago because we can now more easily recognise it. Just like people are 50%+ more likely to report not sleeping as well or remembering less or having a poor appetite or feeling fucking overwhelmed? We just didn’t have words for that in the 1980s!
(*by my Mum. On my Tinder bio)
I do actually agree with part of that though- it is a lot to do with definitions. In the past, we would have noticed all of these people feeling really, really shitty and thought ‘Wow, this here society sure is fucked up, dog!’. Now, we just call it depression, throw some pills at it, and move on. You’re not sick because we’ve made you sick! You’re sick because of your brain chemistry! Diagnoses now begin and end at the individual, simply identifying biological causes rather than examining social factors. For a short period in the 1970s, what we now know as PTSD was actually widely referred to as ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ or ‘Vietnam Disorder’, before its name was swiftly changed to take away the associations with America’s hideous failures in the country at the time (“Noooooooooooo! Nothing to do with what we’re forcing people into over in Vietnam! There’s something wrong with your brain’s chemistry!!”. The phrase ‘Vietnam Syndrome‘ doesn’t even mean the same thing in 2019, but at least it’s not been completely depoliticised). Referring to how so many people feel in today’s society simply as ‘depression’ is a similar attempt to depoliticise it. Yes, there are little lights in your brain that don’t come on when you’ve got depression, but we have to recognise that the social, political, and economic make up of society is a significant contributor to people’s mental health, and certain social structures seem to be more designed to make you feel as shitty as possible. Do you see where I’m going with this yet? I’ll let Iain Ferguson explain:
“it is the economic and political system under which we live—capitalism—which is responsible for the enormously high levels of mental-health problems which we see in the world today. [it will only get better] in a society without exploitation and oppression.”
Yeah, sorry to break it to you, but the reason you feel so shitty and want to curl up in bed until you smother yourself to death with your duvet is because of capitalism! You’re constantly being fed lies that the capitalism that you’re living in is actually some sort of entrepreneurial utopia, that anybody could become the next Bill Gates or Richard Branson or Simon fucking Cowell or Jeffrey Epstein. This is despite the fact the likelihood of anyone actually raising their stock in society has actually diminished since the 1970s (at a similar rate to how depression has increased, funnily enough). Don’t want to be rich?? That’s impossible, you’re told at every turn that wealth is the only key to fulfillment, that only the rich are truly happy, the only real winners. Of course, anybody can make it into this top sector of society if you just work hard enough. It’s a complete meritocracy, everyone gets what they deserve! Why don’t you have anything? Well, only one person to blame…
Christian Marazzi, who I’m pretty sure played for Parma in the 1993 European Cup Winners Cup final, has spent a lot of his time since retiring from football working as the Director of Socio-Economic Research at the Scuola Universitaria della Svizzera Italiana (CTRL C, CTRL V…), and is currently investigating the link between modern (‘Post-Fordist‘) capitalism and bipolar disorder, the condition both Kyle Bates and myself suffer from* (hey! We’d be such good friends! So much in common!). Deleuze** and Guattari*** had already claimed that schizophrenia is the condition that marks the outer edges of capitalism, but bi-polar disorder is the very creamy centre of capitalism. The way capitalism functions is one big attempt to turn us all bipolar, and trendsetters like me and my bezzy mate Kyle are just one step ahead of the curve. With its endless boom and bust cycles, capitalism fundamentally is bipolar, lurching from hyped up mania (“Buy stocks in all the websites!!”) to catastrophic comedown (“Wait, how the fuck is a site that lets you stick Anne Robinson’s face onto photos of your dog ever going to make money? Sell! Sell! SEEEEEEEEEEELL!!”) which aren’t called economic depressions for nothin’! Boo-ya! Argument:won. And there’s still more words to come!! Capitalism feeds on and reproduces the moods of populations and, I’m sorry, without our delirium and occasional crises of confidence, capital simply couldn’t function.
(*or should I say, “The ‘condition’ that both ‘Kyle Bates’ and ‘myself’ ‘suffer’ from”, yeah?? No. I’m not disputing that depression and other mental problems exist, I’m not disputing that people suffer from them, I’m just stating that, contrary to popular belief, there is a reason behind them. Also, I’m not disputing that either Kyle Bates or myself exist, so you really wouldn’t need to put quotes on their names. That sentence is an absolute flipping mess, sort it out. D-)
(**central midfielder in the 1993 final)
(***unused substitute. Yeah, that’s right, I’m making jokes about people with funny foreign names!! What, you thought I was better than that?? Have you even read this blog?!)
Depression is particularly prevalent among the young because they leave school only to find that work is fucking everything now! This isn’t so bad for those people who actually find their work fulfilling and pleasurable, but for the other 98.72% work is nothing but a degrading and tiring leech of their time, where they’re put in constant competition with their work ‘friends’, who hate this job as much as you but would happily screw you over to keep it because if you don’t have a job then you’re REALLY fucked!! The overbearing everything of work should mean that you’re forced to appreciate your leisure time more and use it to fulfill your true desires, but no, Maron and Sweezy claimed that leisure time now is more synonymous with idleness, we work so hard and are so possessed by our stupid fucking jobs that all we want to do is ingest popular culture that requires as little from us as possible and can be passively enjoyed rather than demanding any major intellectual energies. Now, all you’re being asked to do at both work and leisure is fucking consume. But you don’t consume things that are worth consuming, you don’t want things because of the brilliant uses they could have (like, say, a carrot peeler, which can both peel carrots and, if you’re inventive, be sellotaped to your guinea pig’s claw to stand in for a giant sword for that photo you’re going to take of her dressed up as Cloud from Final Fantasy 7) but for the mark they are of your social position. You don’t just buy a thing these days, you have to buy THAT thing that all of your friends, neighbours and lovers have, otherwise you’ll fall behind. And these days you have to buy the latest version of THAT thing every few months, even if the old version of THAT thing worked perfectly fucking fine, but this newer THING has a button that sends a Tweet to all six members of BTS simultaneously and you’ll feel pretty fucking left behind if you don’t have that.
Even at the base level of consumerism, endlessly substituting products and essential items that you never had any chance to develop attachment to turns even maintaining the base level of engagement with society into a relentless and damaging pursuit of unobtainable standard. Emptiness, degradation, decay. Just call it ‘depression’ and market pills to them that make it easier to ignore. As Maron & Sweezy said more than 50 years ago, before they settled for being the two most politically conscious members of Migos, society was likely to continue in the “present process of decay, with the contradictions between the compulsions of the system and the elementary needs of human nature becoming ever more insupportable [meaning] the spread of increasingly severe psychic disorders.” Well shit, we sure did get that now, didn’t we? In 2019, the hideous mess of monopoly-capitalist society continues to be a laughable incompatibility between the ruthless pursuit of profit and the essential needs of people. How the hell is it even possible to foster decent mental health??
Taking us back to Karl Marx again- because he’s the fucking Daddy who predicted fucking everything and tried to warn us about this shit– he had a whole theory of alienation that predicted people being increasingly estranged from their production, their class and, finally, their humanity. Yeah, Marx was also into some deep, psychological shit, he wasn’t just about Russians killing poets with sickles in the snow, or whatever. He knew what would happen if so many people’s consciousness was shaped and bent by capitalism, an entire world’s unconscious drives repressed and directed towards acceptable social behavior. “We don’t want to be like this, capitalism! Why you gotta play that way?!” (Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (1932)). Under capitalism, a distinction emerged between human existence and human’s essence, and Marx argued (correctly, I’m sorry, fucking correctly!!) that individuals are separated from their essence as a consequence of their existence in capitalist society, and under capitalism humans become divorced from their own nature. Now, people are forced into continuously doing acts that don’t have any obvious point aside from money, and using that money to then buy products that only exist for people to revel in the fact they own them. Marx argued that work needed to be a fulfilling experience, allowing people to be freely expressive and to relate to the products of their labour as meaningful expressions of their essence and inner creativity. Under capitalism, however, labour is an alienating experience that estranges individuals from its process. Alienated labour is when “labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being…therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind.” This has happened. People are nothing and are encouraged to engage in worthlessness. We become alienated and depressed. This is nobody’s fault, but an unavoidable byproduct of capitalism. Capitalism ensures that human energy is channeled into labour, even though it is often miserable and tedious.
And we just accept this now. Around half of the labor force in Britain has reported experiencing work-related mental-health issues, and many more likely feeling a general sense of shittiness. The deterioration of mental health is now accepted as a standard response to wage labour, negative feelings are just accepted now as a standard reaction to work. The degradation of mental health is just normalised and depoliticised.
Oliver James has posited a correlation between rising rates of mental distress and the neoliberal form of capitalism- where every fucker is after everyone else and a person’s only worth is the money they create- practiced in countries like the USA, UK and Australia. We desperately need to reframe the growing problems of stress, anxiety and depression in capitalist societies. We currently stress that it’s all on the individual to solve their own little brain biology- we’ve neuralised a societal problem– we’ve privatised mental health over the course of the last 30 years, when we should instead be asking why is this so widespread. Capitalism is horrendously dysfunctional, and the costs of it on the world’s mental health is surely far too high to continue.
Phew… This was almost ‘Manic Street Preachers Length’…
Fucking awesome album, and one that shows remarkable evolution from their previous work. I claimed of that record that “As a pop record, ‘Cold Air’ is an absolute failure. As a coherent musical statement even it’s perhaps a little too muddled”, but on ‘Light Mirror’ Drowse seem to be edging ever closer to creating a work that more perfectly (‘more perfectly’…?) blends their sonic ambitions with a more genial (and, let’s face it, listenable) sound. Drowse are going to create something pretty fucking special soon, mark my words.
Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuy it!! Streams are worth next to nothing!!