Socially Overwhelmed By Isolation Thomas Venker

Socially Overwhelmed By Isolation

April 14, 2020

Written by:

Thomas Venker

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People say we got it made / Don't they know we're so afraid / Isolation / We're afraid to be alone / Everybody got to have a home / Isolation / Just a boy and a little girl / Trying to change the whole wide world / Isolation

The world is just a little town / Everybody trying to put us down / Isolation
I don't expect you, to understand / After you caused so much pain / But then again, you're not to blame / You're just a human, a victim of the insane

We're afraid of everyone / Afraid of the sun / Isolation / The sun will never disappear / But the world may not have many years / Isolation

John Lennon - “Isolation”
When was it normal to expect the state to take care of our problems? That’s not why most of us started being active in the sub-culture, right? More like the opposite, we chose our way of life as a sign of protest and opposition against the world out there. We should not forget this in moments of crisis.

Over and Over Again

Photo: Thomas Venker
Photo: Thomas Venker
One of my first thoughts when the lockdown started was: ‘How will I – a very social person by profession as much as personality – handle this enforced curtailing of my social activity?’

Well, how little I knew in those early hours and days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not long after my calendar was packed with an endless supply of video conferences (in apps blissfully unknown to me until the virus came into my life), WhatsApp calls and old fashioned phone calls. Where before this brutal intervention you used to be able to shunt things off into emails without any thought, suddenly it felt inappropriate as of course talking in person to one another is such a different thing, much more emotional and vital right now.

But then again, how often is one able to share the same feelings and experiences with real and honest emotions over and over again, not to mention the loss of concentration you get after talking for hours in these ways. There have been many days within the last four weeks of being home, besides a daily run and two weekly grocery errands, where I was simply at the end of my ability to talk socially. I’ve found the need to deliberately switch off the phone, not check mails constantly, just to allow the isolation its reality (or at least some shadow version of it). I feel a bit weird doing so. But then again it’s also in the knowledge that there are so many other things to do.

Is it only me, or are we all working twice as hard since Corona hit town? But of course not as productively and focused as we used to be (or at least thought we were). Now we spend our days planning and communicating these plans with everybody. And on top we have to put in the work of rescheduling things that honestly, we don’t know will even ever now take place. One has to keep going, right? Otherwise the dark clouds take over and we should be wary of that. And so we all wonder: When will this be over in the fullest sense? When are we able to travel and meet people and perform again?

What we know for sure, many of the established structures of the past, even some we thought are here for ever-ever will not exist anymore. The effects of this crisis (and we can only see the beginning of its effects thus far) will be significant for car companies, for banks, but even tougher (as we are not so systemically relevant (as they say) for the many small businesses that make up the cultural world.

Which clubs, venues, festivals, labels, promoters, magazines, writers, photographers and artists to name just a few of us will still be in business by the end of Corona times? Since the late 1970s, when punk changed the world and kicked off the DIY attitude of cultural existence, we saw a constant extension of independent and autonomous sub-cultural groups and structures. Now there is a certain degree of uncertainty of who will still have the faith and energy for this often tough DIY path, which spaces and programming ideas will survive the economic backlash of this mess.

Will there be a recession – well, it would be a wonder if not. A depression too? Will there be a high inflation rate, even hyperinflation? Or a deflation? I am not enough of an economist to go in depth here, but I am afraid of those processes and what they will do to all of us and the fragile cultural set-up we call cultural home.

The constant overflow of information doesn’t help either. In the modern social media world we see – and this is the opposite to isolation in the classic 20th century way – far too many self-appointed voices in direct competition and debate with each other. Not always with a constructive ethos, often ego-driven and not only with a non-negotiable attitude but also unable to listen to the theses, arguments and emotional landscapes of those around them.

It's been said before but I'll repeat it / Don't you feel like you've been cheated? / It's been shoved down your throats, you eat it / They say it's true, you believe it / Small parts isolated and destroyed / See the big boys play with their toys / There is one thing I will never do Trust you / There's one thing that I have learned / All God's children will get burned / And if it comes down to me or you / Who do you think I will choose? / What's the deal? 50% of the door? / Well, then, come on in, come on in for more / What's that you say, we get a guarantee? / Then fuck right off, you mean nothing to me / Isn't this a sweet romance / So why don't you get off your ass and dance?

Nomeansno Live - ”Small Parts Isolated And Destroyed”

Photo: Thomas Venker
Photo: Thomas Venker

A Way of Life

Coming from all of this uncertainty I am pretty sure we will see a certain amount of downgrading of established standards. Not only fee-wise and in terms of professional travel and accommodation (we at least have in Europe, bands who toured the United States of America know how much luxury we have here), as money will be for sure tighter, but we are also going to see a high demand for solidarity.

This is a good thing waiting for all of us behind the tunnel of Corona. Too often – even in DIY contexts – it has recently felt like people are playing the same high stakes games like in the low stakes economic reality. Everybody trying to maximise profits and often ignoring the fact this might not be for the better of the wider social and economic cultural ecosystem – too big of a topic to follow this here in depth, but I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Coming from this, the one thing we all have to ask ourselves: how bad has the pandemic really hit me personally? Should I even raise my voice in complaint, loud and urgently? Am I really a victim here? I say this with emphasis as so many friends and acquaintances around me, artists as much as people with other, more regular jobs immediately cried out loud and demanded for the state to help sort things out. Of course I understand that in moments of uncertainty we all try to preserve as much of the existing status quo as possible. But then again, when was it normal to expect the state to take care of our problems? That’s not why most of us started being active in the sub-culture, right? More like the opposite, we chose our way of life as a sign of protest and opposition against the world out there. We should not forget this in moments of crisis.

In fear every day, every evening / He calls her aloud from above / Carefully watched for a reason / Painstaking devotion and love / Surrendered to self preservation / From others who care for themselves / A blindness that touches perfection / But hurts just like anything else / Isolation, isolation, isolation / Mother, I tried, please believe me / I'm doing the best that I can / I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through / I'm ashamed of the person I am / Isolation, isolation, isolation / But if you could just see the beauty / These things I could never describe / These pleasures, a wayward distraction / This is my one, lucky prize / Isolation, isolation, isolation / Isolation, isolation
New Order - “Isolation”
Photo: Thomas Venker
Photo: Thomas Venker

Mental and Geographical Borders

So to answer the question, what did the Corona crisis do to me personally. In two short weeks I lost what looked like a well planned out year of work –suddenly all the gigs of the artists I manage were gone from the calendar, performances we had worked on for a long time, festivals and tours (huge respect for the bookers who have to work out this mess, get travels rebooked, try to reschedule everything... tough job!). Same with a festival I am involved in as co-curator (thank God it is not canceled, only postponed till 2021), some of the journalistic projects are also canceled as money is tighter now and for sure the advertising situation of Kaput is not getting any easier – in general a tough game as The Attic will confirm for sure.

But then again: some projects stand, despite the huge impact of the virus. For now, the storm isn’t quite bringing me down. That said, it feels right to look out of the window and remember those who are in tougher situations (not only due to pandemic), so many of them doing so for a long time and who will remain there when most of us – hopefully – are back to ‘normal'.

It feels good to see a certain degree of solidarity between the people happening these days. This is important as we need to stand together in this, think beyond national borders as much as against territories of disagreement. Before the crisis, open international dialogue was of highest importance, now it is essential for the world to keep its head above water. We mustn’t lose the air we all need to breathe by letting others manifest borders, either mental or geographical.

So, what should we learn from this time of isolation? What can we learn? What will we learn? Well, hopefully we all get a better understanding how fragile our existence here on Earth is, and how short it is in general and how much shorter it can be if the cards are played badly by nature, fate or us. This leads us to the next catastrophe in the queue, not necessarily another virus (even though there are for sure some waiting in the steadily melting Arctic ice), more likely the breakdown of our environmental ecosystem. This is a ticking time bomb so much bigger than everything we are experiencing right now. But again, too big of a topic for here and now.

I saw you cry - were you frightened of darkness? / I heard you sigh - were you bored? / You never gave life a chance / You gotta give life a chance / Tomorrow came and you saved it for no-one / Yesterday's gone - you just threw it away / You never gave life a chance / You gotta give life a chance / They're only tears that you've parted with / They're only fears that you had / You may not know, but there was someone who cared / Not that you noticed, anyhow
(Scott Walker - “Someone Who Cared”)

Photo: Thomas Venker
Photo: Thomas Venker

Another Look Out of the Window

Personally, I think the post-Coronavirus world will see us re-cultivating our local networks, to stabilise and nurture our cultural ecosystem.

We’ve all got too used to cheap worldwide travel and the omnipresence of international artists everywhere, leading to the overlooking of local talents in front of us, as well as those institutions who established our local scenes. To a certain degree we all became a little corrupted by the world of brands and branding too. This has to stop and will stop, to a certain degree at least.

For example, do we really need world wide enclaves of festivals? Isn't the basic idea of a festival to experience the culture of this specific country / city and their local artists and not to get to present the ever same line-ups under the always-the-same banners? This isn’t the first time I’ve wondered about this – I wrote about this for Kaput a few years ago, in German. But now I simply don’t see this old situation enduring. But, then again, who knows? Predictions are easy to make, but reality is often a weird player.

Let me close this run of thoughts about isolation and self care by another look out of the window. Talking to my own social ecosystem and following their posts on social media in the last few weeks, I’ve seen all kinds of different reactions. Some fell hard and fast for conspiracy theories; others uncritically took to the new rules; some are totally happy and productive in their glorious isolations, others have gone dark and depressive. But somehow we all managed to keep on track, by communicating in person as much as by assuring ourselves through posts, comments and actions of our togetherness in this. As long as we do not make the mistake to become genuinely isolated and distant from each other, I am sure we can make it through this and rebuild a world we want to live in, on even better ground. It will take concessions and sacrifices, and it is important to fight everybody who wants to make us believe that borders and fences are the way to go. So let’s roll up our sleeves and do it. And please let's all make sure that we will not split into groups of pre-viral infection and post-viral infection – again: the sky only clears if we walk together, in solidarity.

So to return to the original question: do I feel isolated? Not at all – but I sorely miss seeing my local friends in reality and being able to take a train or plane to London, Berlin, Barcelona, Tokyo, Los Angeles or New York to hang with all those international friends who are a big part of who I am.

I know you've been hurt by someone else
I can tell by the way you carry yourself
But if you let me, here's what I'll do
I'll take care of you
I've loved and I lost the same as you
So you see I know just what you've been through
And if you let me, here's what I'll do
I'll take care of you
You won't ever have to worry
You won't ever have to whine
For I'll be there beside you
To dry your weeping eye
So darling tell me that you'll be true
There's no doubt in my mind, I know what I want to do
And then just as sure as one and one is two
I know I'll take care of you
I'll take care of you
I'll take care of you
I'll take care of you
(Gil Scott-Heron / Makaya McCraven - ”I'll Take Care of You“)


*This article is part of the project Music & Conversations in the Attic, co-financed by AFCN.
About the Author

Thomas Venker

Thomas Venker is co-founder and co-editor in chief of Kaput – Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop. He is also part of the editorial team of Chart – Notes to consider magazine, writes frequently for various magazines and newspapers, moderates panels and symposia for cultural institutions, and co-curated the Monheim Triennale. Venker also teaches music journalism and artist marketing at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Bochum, Essen, the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, and the University of Paderborn.

@kaput_mag Kaput – Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop
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