Filmmaker and Participant Records co-founder William Markarian-Martin captures iconoclast, outsider artist Richie Culver in his mother’s house near Hull, revisiting the home town he spent his entire young adult life trying to escape.
The resonant barrage of concrète clatter and MRI machine churn of ‘Create A Lifestyle Around Your Problems’ swells at the beating heart of I Was Born By The Sea, the devastating debut album from iconoclast, outsider artist Richie Culver. Unfurling as relentless friction, a Sisyphean surge and retreat that evokes trying and failing, again and again, to break out of an itching cycle of frustration, the track’s DIY sonics sandpaper a malleable surface upon which Culver inscribes his observations from the fringes that take on cavernous emotional potency with each repetition of his dissociated delivery. Here, the artist looks back at the “hardest working man in the job centre,” this “habitual bastard,” the “most underrated person in your family,” pinned under the crushing weight of his home town, obsessing over the need to escape while battling the apparent absurdity of such ambition: “you and god on a rollercoaster.” For the accompanying visual Culver, alongside close collaborator and Participant Records co-founder William Markarian-Martin, fittingly makes a return to his mother’s house in Withernsea, the titular seaside town of his birth. “The video was shot in my Mothers home near Hull. Where I was brought up also,” explains Culver. “You can hear the Sea from inside the house in Winter. Sometimes you can’t walk on the promenade because it’s so wet & wild.” Captured with an unflinching and poignant fusion of grey nostalgia and tender catharsis, Create A Lifestyle Around Your Problems evokes a past battered by the rain, shaken by personal struggle and ransacked by Tory austerity. Footage of foam-flecked waves crashing across sodden concrete is obscured by the phrase “picture yourself succeeding,” as cold rain smudges a blurry lens.
Supplementing the track’s original bleak seaside poetry with additional writing, Culver and Markarian-Martin’s video reimagines the composition as a surreal broadcast from the Withernsea tourist board, inciting viewers to “think a positive thought to drown out a negative thought,” to “minimise obstacles,” while the fraying crunch of the broadcast’s grim soundtrack evokes the kind of limbo it feels impossible to imagine ending. Shifting focus in a hallucinatory sequence of dusty bottles of cologne, grey skies and various items of Elvis Presley memorabilia, the broadcast messages abruptly turn to faith, as though picking up evangelical radio signals or plundered from local church billboards. “If god be for us, who can be against us?” we are asked, before an unconvinced assertion: “I can do all things through christ which strengthen me.” This soggy invocation to faith transubstantiates the images of Elvis presented to us into escapist iconography, the fading remnants of the ‘Fantasy Island’ of Culver’s turbulent past, monolithic and technicolour, yet dull with salt and petrol fumes. “My Mother is obsessed with Elvis. Always has been,” explains Culver. “My stepdad was a singer in the local pubs. We always used to sing Roger Whittaker – ‘The Last Farewell’. That’s what I am singing in the video. I never really learned the words properly. Nothing like staring down the barrel of the North Sea on a wet & wild Tuesday evening in January.” All of this before pitching in to the spoken word of the track proper, a doom-laden introductory exclamation singularly evocative of an unmistakeable anxious stasis: “Woke up. In the morning. Pray for me. Don’t trust Elvis. Bad vibes. I wish I could sing. I listen to grime.”
The work vibrates with a tension between painful recollection and optimistic forward momentum, something that characterises the emotional texture of I Was Born By The Sea. Culver’s cold narration matches the temperature of Markarian-Martin’s seaside footage, yet at the same time alludes to the position he now finds himself in, ready and able to look back without blinking, a process that has continuously provided the engine for his ongoing journey as an artist and musician. “Hometowns are odd things,” he says. “Nothing can hold you back like a hometown. Imagine if your hometown was New York though. I wonder if New Yorkers know about the North Sea in January. My eldest son was originally in the video. But my partner said we should edit him out cos the video was a bit too morbid.” It’s this playful irreverence around very real strife that drives Create A Lifestyle Around Your Problems, around which the industrial scrape and hum of the track turns, burrowing towards some deeply buried feeling, probing at the waterlogged roots of the artist’s present clarity. Even the track’s title, which at once to alludes to Culver’s past struggles with substance abuse, evoked in the sparse paranoia of his television static soundscapes, also seems to refer to the uncompromisingly autobiographical nature of his visual and sound art, which tackles with piercing economy his trajectory from self-described shut-in, wracked with low self-esteem, to a vital voice of the resolutely fucked, contemporary condition of the United Kingdom, echoing from the outside in. Like finding god in an Elvis mug, or translating the North sea into both blistering noise and heart-breaking song on I Was Born By The Sea, Culver finds wild beauty in places that once looked desperate.
‘Create A Lifestyle Around Your Problems’ is taken from I Was Born By The Sea, which arrives via REIF on November 11.
Create A Lifestyle Around Your Problems Credits:
Director – William Markarian-Martin
Additional Camera – Takeru Brady
Music – Richie Culver