Hi, I'm Clara. I'm a music critic, and on Sunday 12th June, I tore my eardrum.

So far in this column I've spoken a lot about my private experiences with music. Partly because listening to music alone on headphones, walking around between places, is the main way in terms of hours-spent that I listen to it. Maybe it's partly also because I've so far written about the way that music has soothed difficult experiences, which I'm more likely to wish to process alone than I am positive ones. I do also listen to music alone to help process my intense, good experiences. Less often, but I do it. Tomorrow's entry will be about that. I also listen to music in public. That's what I'm going to talk about today.


Yesterday I had a conversation with my flatmate Dan about wearing band t-shirts to shows. He told me there's an unwritten rule on the indy scene that you shouldn't go to a show and wear a band t-shirt of the band whose playing. The way to be cool is to wear a t-shirt for a different band, who sound a bit like the band whose playing. That way you show your affiliation to the kind of music that's on display, without appearing like 'too much of a fan' of the individual band there. I was mystified to learn this. I've been going to gigs wearing band t-shirts for the band headlining for years.

It's nice that I was mystified; it's a sign of how much it has been possible for me, an unashamed fan of music, to have public experiences with it that feel authentic to me over the last few years. I had literally forgotten that trying to like music in a public way can be a referential sport - where you want to show how much you know or understand it, without ever surrendering to it. Because listening to music does involve something of a surrender to forces unknown.

I have always found that music has the power to take me under. Or sometimes, when I have gone under already, it has come to find me there.


In The First Bad Man, my favourite book of the last two years, Miranda July speaks about "always being the first person in a hot tub under the stars to say, "Gosh isn't it gorgeous here, isn't this an incredible experience, aren't we lucky to be here, in this hot tub, under the stars?". In a sentence of lacerating truth that I've been thinking about ever since, she adds, "I do that because secretly, a part of me wants to get out of the hot tub under the stars and go back inside, and naming an experience is a way of ending it." As a serial narrator, I can vouch that this is utterly true - so often I have tried to name an experience in order to make it stop, thinking that if I understand something, it will have less power over me. Music can help you understand things about yourself, and it can help you lay them to rest, but that isn't the whole story of what it makes possible.

Perhaps this is why the sentiment of Perforated Eardum No.7 is so important to me; that music does not just function as the naming of an experience, it functions also as the opening of another, not previously existent space. A space that makes room for you to be where you are, rather than a prompt that allows you to move on. Music isn't only a way to speed up getting indoors, away from the hot tub, as it were.


I have so much sympathy for kids going to shows and spending time coming up with band t-shirts for different but similar sounding bands to the band playing to wear. If you feel totally unknown in mainstream culture, it makes sense to try and network yourself into subculture as much as you possibly can. To know a large amount of indy music references, so you'll always have some level that you'll be able to join in on. It's the actions of someone frightened of being left behind totally. Probably of someone who has had this happen to them in some other area of their life before.

I understand why you would want to try and do that, while also knowing that music can never be taken away from you fully anyway. Nor can you take it away from yourself. You can't void its power, you can't make the experience of listening to it less intense and more manageable. However much about music you know and understand, one individual song can still floor you. Sorry pals, especially anxious pals, I know that's scary.


A few weeks ago I went to see a talk about radical publishing at Stoke Newington Literature Festival. It took the form of a conversation between Juliet Jacques, author of 'Trans: A Memoir' and Thurston Moore, of Sonic Youth fame. As the event was about publishing, Moore asked Jacques what books she had read as a teenager that led her to understand herself better. After thinking about it for a few moments, she said, "none". Thurston and the audience looked a bit uncomfortable at such a point blank response, so Jacques filled the silence by adding, "I did get that from music though."

She explained that she had in her youth been to see punk bands whose lyrics didn't speak about being trans, but whose singers visibly existed, while they sang, as trans people.

I'm not transgender, so the experience of watching performers who aren't easily delineated as male of female doesn't feature so heavily in my important musical memories, though I have seen them play, and it did expand my understanding of what was possible for other people in a visceral, none-theoretical way.

An experience that did stay with me personally was seeing The Julie Ruin play in Camden last year. Kathleen Hanna took to the stage, with big thighs not covered at all by a bright blue leotard, and a Croydon facelift level high ponytail. She didn't reel out the riot grrrl rhetoric about girls being encouraged to move to the front of the show that night and to take up as much space as possible, but her reputation proceeded her. There were girls up the front, and they were losing their shit.

I went to that show believing I would be separate from it. I was to be an anthropologist, looking with interest at how many more, or how many less girls still stood holding boys who were moshing's coats at a show headlined by a female-fronted punk band known to explicitly encourage women to be angry and intense themselves, and to feel safe to demonstrate that physically without fear of sexual or other physical violence from present men. I told myself that I was interested in the social/ political/ cultural dimensions of the riot grrrl movement, and was fascinated to see how they played out 20 years after it first started in America, in a different country.

That was such a lie. I left that show feeling different in my whole body. I even walked differently for days afterwards. I didn't feel disassociated from the show, and after, I felt less disassociated from myself physically than I had before going.

If I had tried to go to The Julie Ruin show wearing a t-shirt for a different band, I could not have avoided that. I see the whole referential economy of some forms of music criticism, some parts of music scenes, as an attempt to create an endless loop of elsewheres, so you never need admit that what you care about is happening right now. I understand the desire to try, but I know that to do so is ultimately impossible.

Maybe the best summary of this is from a Julie Ruin lyric from the song 'Lookout': "There's a storm out/ There's a storm out/ It's got a rhythm that nobody can ride out."