The dub spectrum Project
‘All my life my heart has sought a thing I cannot name.’ ~ Hunter S. Thompson
Return to the Fields
A bit about my journey…
I grew up in a council house in a village on Dartmoor overlooking a beautiful valley we simply referred to as ‘the fields’ where we would spend many an hour building tree houses, attempting ninja moves, swimming in rivers and exploring the terrain free as birds. The fields seemed a world apart from the village, with all its rules, and in many ways to us harboured mysteries akin to ancient myths and folklore. I was creative as a child; I particularly enjoyed drawing cartoons and was very good at theatre. My parents also like to remind me about the time I ‘Jackson Pollocked’ their bedroom with Mum’s nail varnish! It was Thatcher’s ’80s so tough times for those in the low income bracket living in rural areas but, although my parents struggled a lot financially (divorcing when I was quite young), Dartmoor was a truly magical place to have spent a childhood. The wonderful feeling of freedom and creativity amid nature experienced by my brother, friends and me remains, I think, the single biggest influence behind my work as a ‘grown-up’ artist and writer.
I was an anxious and rebellious indie-kid coming of age in the ’90s via underachieving at a small town comprehensive (beaten up and kicked out of home, aged 16, during my GCSEs but that’s another story!), and working various part-time jobs to earn money that was mostly spent on t-shirts, weed and cassettes. Early on it was all things indie and grunge — from Senseless Things, Ride, the Cure, Nirvana and L7 (and outrageous shows like The Word) to the dub and spaced out electronica of Mad Professor, Dub Warriors and the Orb. I remember discovering the golden era of hip hop from A Tribe Called Quest and the Beastie Boys to Public Enemy and the punkish gangtsa rap from groups like NWA. It was BMX, skateboards, Super Nes and Street Fighter 2 in an era of Strictly Jungle and The Edge mixtapes, late night cruising country back roads of Devon (usually to a free party), high as kites and trippin’ on shrooms, boppin’ to the D’n’b riddims of Hype, Nicky Blackmarket, Micky Finn, Darren Jay and more! Most of all, I’ll never forget the first time I heard Demon’s Theme on LTJ Bukem’s Logical Progression compilation; it blew my mind and got me into DJing! There was Bristol’s Trip hop and D’n’b scene from Massive Attack to Roni Size’s Full Cycle Records. There was the time we got loved-up to see Leftfield’s Paul Daley do a set at Plymouth Warehouse (with Fabio in the back room) and my first crowd surf was at a Prodigy gig on speed. We had music with energy, diversity and spirit that made it genuinely exciting to be young.
At college I encountered the barminess of Brit Art while visiting the now infamous Sensation exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. I recall being particularly drawn to the paintings of Chris Ofili and Fiona Rae. It was around this time that I realised the dream was to be an artist. The creative culture of the ’90s spoke to that rebellious teenager inside who, through youthful naivety, believed the 21st century would play host to an even greater spirit of indie!
After college I lived rent-free in a village pub while working in the bar and kitchen, deferred a place at uni, saved some money and travelled Australia and New Zealand. I attained a Bachelor’s from the Nottingham Trent University and later got my MA at Central Saint Martins, London (also making various trips around Europe whenever I could visiting numerous galleries and museums). The former I spent most of my time in record shops, spinnin’ a mixture of dub and intelligent drum ’n’ bass on Nottingham’s Fly FM and various bars and clubs, disinterested in the arty-fartys promulgating postmodernism’s arid worldview. I had lots of fun working part-time in a small bistro run by an old rocker and in my second year I undertook a collaborative project with Nottingham’s Royal Society for the blind, which got me short-listed for an Ambassadorial Scholarship. At the time I was hoping to study a Master’s in California, but sadly it wasn’t meant to be. Yet, still I dreamed and ultimately headed to London where I discovered that an idealistic council house boy from Dartmoor would come to find the art scene, in such a cosmopolitan city that had been so creatively vibrant only a decade earlier, boringly fauxhemian (the result of too much gentrification, maybe). I found the art world’s classism repulsive; London began to seem like little more than an oversized, noisy village and I realised I needed the quietude of the fields.
The ensuing experimental, melancholic and disenchanted years eventually led to a return to my roots, as it were, i.e. I found myself getting into the mysteriousness of landscapes, in particular the coast and countryside of my native Devon, drawing from the region’s folktales alongside the work of Jung, Eastern philosophy and art of the early modernists. I ran a couple of studios, which I mainly supported through various jobs including night shifts in a care home for adults with autism and learning disabilities to working for mental health crisis teams and teaching English at a language school in Exeter. During this time, writing was becoming an increasing part of my creative endeavours and has since come to the fore as a significant focus of my work.
The journalist, Chris Hedges, used the phrase ‘Inverted Totalitarianism’ to describe the current state of rampant corporatism that has aggregated wealth – largely unchecked (not least by the media) – into a handful of oligarchs, which is having a detrimental effect on just about everything from freedom and democracy to the environment, health and the arts. Personally, I find cities to be judgemental and strangely oppressive spaces; everywhere you go you’re constantly reminded you’re not tall/beautiful/successful/rich/famous/muscular/sexy/smart/cool enough (delete as appropriate). However, if you keep consuming the right shit you’ll reach the ‘Promised Land,’ which of course you never do because the whole point is not to attain any kind of inner harmony or well-being, the point is to continue obediently consuming and conforming. Everywhere authority speaks through its signs: ‘No Entry,’ ‘No Stopping,’ ‘No Skateboarding,’ ‘No Cycling,’ ‘No Running,’ ‘No Smoking,’ ‘No Drinking,’ … No! No! No! No! No! Penalties for this, penalties for that. One rule for the haves and another for the have-nots. In contrast, nature assumes nothing of you, nor tries to mould you into an image to satisfy a meaningless construct; it’s a place where you can go and simply be. Unlike the city, nature offers a place where you can connect to a unity of freedom and serenity of the soul. Considering this, I would describe myself as a politically homeless Taoist-Anarchist: the spiritless, ‘End of History’ scenario regarding our absolute conformity towards embracing the continual acquisition of novelties produced by an insufferably banal, ecocidal, anti-human consumer culture remains an on-going source of despair. I ideate a pre-modern society without ‘leaders’ promoting self-interested materialism, and which seeks to use its technological advances as a means to live in greater harmony with the natural environment as much as each other (instead of facilitating endless wars and a culture of greed). I despise present-day authoritarianism in all its forms (be it from the left or right), and believe strongly in William Blake’s view that once the energy of imagination is used effectively to realise the connection between man and nature, the individual gains freedom from the restrictive bonds of unimaginative thought.
All of the above, coupled with my love of underground dance music, helped coin the term ‘dub spectrum.’ Since launching the website, I have held several exhibitions in the UK and abroad, undertook various projects and collaborations, sold a few works here and there, written a number of poems (some of which got published in various indie zines while in London), haikus and short films, as well as written two books: a novel and a long-form poem, extracts available on my website here and here for anyone who might be interested. I have since published both books as part of The ds Project. If you enjoy the samples then Adrift in Amnesia is available in Kindle and paperback editions here, and The Cycle Diaries can be purchased in paperback edition here. Adrift in Amnesia draws extensively from personal and professional experiences of mental health; many of the book’s characters, events and locations are based on real-life. The Cycle Diaries is a somewhat experimental poem born from an overwhelming sense of despair, curiously transformed each time I went mountain biking through Dartmoor’s breath-taking landscape.
More recently, I have become increasingly interested in the folk tradition and coastal landscapes of Cornwall after moving there in 2020 to study to be a Personal Trainer while working a mixture of jobs in cafes, pubs, a psychiatric ward and a homeless hostel. I completed the course last summer despite fracturing my ankle in May (further details of that here), which was shortly followed by the death of my grandfather. On my fourth attempt, I passed my driving test in Camborne and have headed back east to Devon to start work as an Activities Coordinator for a mental health charity. I have also begun working on a new novel (currently aimed at younger readers) inspired largely by Homer’s Odyssey and fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. It’s in the very early stages but I may post some extracts in due course as it develops.
I am always learning and appreciate how being absorbed in the creative process brings a bit of magic to life and, in turn, subverts a homogenised culture doing its utmost to destroy this. Nature and the mysterious, liberatory relationship it holds with the human imagination is what intrigues me most. A new journey begins with a return to the fields.
truth is vibe
© Percival Alexander
Update 2024: I’ve returned to the NHS working at a crisis house while studying a part-time Master’s in Psychology; currently hoping to progress into a doctorate in Counselling Psychology. Needless to say, not much in the way of time to pursue creative projects! Besides, the arts at present seem to be increasingly dominated by vapid bourgeois women who just want to be seen at the right parties – and who appear to have absolutely no idea that art without any passion for freedom is art not worth bothering with at all (don’t believe me, check out the Arts Council website and see how many references you can find to ‘artistic freedom of expression.’ Most of the art funded these days may as well come stamped with a government seal of approval. Personally, right now, I would rather spend the free time I have surfing, playing records or talking to trees).