Songshifting by Chris Bell


Rarity Dean is on a deadline: ‘The Grid’, the paper she writes for as a music journalist, is a relic of a past age, still attempting to champion the new music although the bands’ recordings are banned and home entertainment is considered treasonous by a repressive regime overseen by the impresario.

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The state-sponsored Affable DJ Hologram gives the public a sense of freedom through a stylised form of entertainment while the impresario controls punters via its intelligence agents Raguly and Nebuly, who spy on bands, punters and the media. Set in a city that may be an alternative or future London, musicians have developed what seem to be supernatural abilities. During sanctioned concerts bands levitate, disappear or induce extreme physical reactions among the punters. An ability to songshift – a benign but elusive form of time travel that enables listeners to slip into the relative safety of their pasts with the help of their chosen music – is highly prized and jealously guarded by punters and musos alike. Fraser Carlyon is bassist with Scrooch, whose music falls outside the spirit of the times. Dean suffers from worsening musical hallucinations and relies on the ‘Grid Encyclopaedia of New Music’ to refresh her memories of tours past as she tries to dodge the impresario’s agents. The state’s experiments in mind, mood and crowd control ratchet up a notch when the impresario begins to administer a psychotropic drug called Sentimental Hygiene in clubs and venues.

As rebellious musos, songswappers and rival gangs fight the system, Dean inadvertently discovers more than she’d bargained for: a more worrying explanation for the musos’ supernatural onstage ‘shtick’ and the ban on recorded music. Meanwhile, a power struggle rages between Scrooch and their biggest rivals, the Dust Bunnies, who eventually call a truce and join forces for Imprimatur, an event to protest the ban on recorded music. The managers attempt to delay the event’s cancellation using a taste of the authorities’ own medicine, and the pervading mood of darkness lifts as Raguly and Nebuly are thwarted by the power of music and strength in numbers.

Bell is very, very good indeed. His work is smart, mythical, intimate and wonderfully international in flavour TERRI WINDLING, The Year’s Best Fantasy &; Horror Chris Bell’s ‘Saccade’ is a beautifully constructed, heartfelt work …He has a gift for emotionally loaded, short, concise statements -SOPHIA IOANNOU, Seven Stories Press

Paperback: 316 pages
Dimensions: 6 x 9 inches


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