CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech |  New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS  | interviews

dover street market, new york  コム・デ・ギャルソン

Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe are the tireless twosome causing ripples in the zeitgeist. Welcome to Dover Street Market—New York’s newest fashion ecstasy machine!

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Rei Kawakubo is the supreme avant-guardian and Zen-like dream weaver who founded Comme des Garçons way back in 1973. Besides creating rumbustious, retina-zapping ranges that hack your brainwaves and look more like otherworldly origami than clothes, she and her gung ho gang of iconoclasts ingeniously pioneered pop-ups and guerilla shops in the late nineties/early 00’s and have made some of the most incredible garments, recognisable icons and sartorial gizmos the world has ever known. Her husband and partner in crime, Adrian Joffe, is the softly-spoken, hyper-polyglot entrepreneur (he speaks Tibetan and Japanese) and CEO with an uncanny knack of winnowing out the wheat from the chaff. Together they are the DreamWorks of the fashion world and big-wig ayatollahs of the avant-garde, sprinkling star dust on Gotham’s Gramercy/Murray Hill neighbourhood with the eagerly anticipated, majestically renovated DSM-NY.

The newest store, which follows on the heels of London's monolithic Dover Street, Tokyo's Ginza location and numerous backwater pop-ups, is like an indoor cathedral, a fashion fortress and tour de force with over 20,000-square-feet, seven floors, a centralized crystalline elevator and an eye-boggling assemblage of the proprietors’ pursuits: menswear, womenswear, astral accessories, art and novelty items from the most coveted collections, celebrated designers and underground upstarts (Azzedine Alaïa, Supreme, Tricot CDG, Black CDG, PLAY, A.P.C., Christopher Kane, Junya Watanabe, Rick Owens, Juun J, J.W.Anderson and Nike, to name some).

Looking at the 103-year-old venue you feel immersed in a romantic-majestic mondo of imagination complete with a colonnaded limestone façade, hybridized neo-classical interior and sprawling gold-encrusted tree sculptures designed by the Japanese artist Kohei Nawa. The space teems with regimented rails, rows and quirky, customised cases of avant-garde everything (many of the designers and artists have fabricated their own sections and micro-interiors) and the Brooklyn-based artist Calx Vive will debut a range of ‘sonic experiences’—transmitted through various sculptures positioned throughout the store.

Located at #160 Lexington Avenue and 30th street, DSM-NY is poised to be NYC’s coolest concept boutique, offering a smorgasboard of global brands, creatives, collabs, one-offs and even a Parisian-style café—the esteemed Rose Bakery. With the competition currently quaking in their boots and DSM-NY’s doors set to open on 21 DEC 2013 at 11am sharp, we can expect a perfect storm of money, marketability, art, fashion and instant gratification. i-D fired off a few questions at the head honchos, Rei and Adrian, about the store’s fresh start in NYC and their underlying philosophy.

How did DSM come to fruition in NYC and why this address? 

We started eying up the property after a friend suggested the building to us. It was love at first sight! The property has a really unique history: built in 1909, perfectly formatted and formerly the New York School of Applied Design for Women and, subsequently, Touro College, we fell in love. In terms of the business, NYC currently has nothing like DSM so we felt like we could fill a void and add value to the city’s retail landscape.

How will DSM-NY differentiate itself along lines of aesthetic and assortment? 

We’ve completely demolished and refurbished the space’s interior. But with the overhaul it will nonetheless embody an unabashedly ‘NYC-spirit’ and will distinguish itself along lines of design originality and unique, cutting-edge merchandise. It will be a kind of hybrid retail concept that fuses together department store, gallery and concept boutique; we want to adhere to our underlying ethos of "beautiful chaos" and that’s what the newest iteration will represent.

Do you mind that the neighbourhood is virtually devoid of fashion stores, boutiques and retailers? 

We think it’s all about the store’s site, the building’s heritage and our brand(s). We’re not that worried about the foot traffic or the absence of a retail cluster. In fact, it’s an added bonus for us that we’re here all alone. (Our Mayfair location is also located on a very quiet block and somewhat removed from traditional retail venues. It’s a good thing!).

How do you balance art and commerce in a complex, globalized world? 

Basically, creativity comes first and commerce second. Even though we are expanding around the world with numerous labels and extensions in our portfolio, Rei oversees everything and puts the creative process at the heart of the business.

How would you characterize the ‘fashion system’ today and what are your core values? 

Generally it’s a commoditized hodge-podge of high-street labels and ‘fast-fashion’/diffusion/RTW and luxury lines. At DSM our objective is to embrace hard work, high quality, creativity and inventiveness. Our ‘kachikan’, or system of values, goes into everything the company does. Not just clothing but everything. It has to be novel and it has to be fundamentally creative.

Do you mind that the neighbourhood is virtually devoid of fashion stores, boutiques and retailers? 

We think it’s all about the store’s site, the building’s heritage and our brand(s). We’re not that worried about the foot traffic or the absence of a retail cluster. In fact, it’s an added bonus for us that we’re here all alone. (Our Mayfair location is also located on a very quiet block and somewhat removed from traditional retail venues. It’s a good thing!).

With regard to CDG in particular, is it a challenge to market and sell such theatrical and abstract offerings? 

We make and market around 95% of what we show on the runway during fashion week. We even produce pared down, more wearable versions of the originals or re-fashion/resurrect looks from the archives. CDG and DSM have a die-hard, “fundamentalist” customer base and the business does very, very well.

What’s the division of labour like?

I mainly deal with the organizational structure and processes; Rei is the creative adrenaline, design director and dream-maker.

In your view, how does fashion relate to personal identity? 

The clothing you wear corresponds to and governs your demeanor and emotions; it shapes peoples’ perceptions of you and influences your identity. Fashion plays a key ontological role in defining the ‘self.’

SHOP OPENING: 21 DEC 2013 at 11AM #160 Lexington Avenue + 30th street, NYC

shop.doverstreetmarket.com/us 

Text Cody Ross


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CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Comme des Garçons | Dover Street Market New York
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Comme des Garçons | Dover Street Market New York
avant-gardism | 前卫 时尚 | 时装编辑
CODY ROSS  | think piece
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Comme des Garçons | Dover Street Market New York
lfw: survival of the fittest, a darwinian reading of fashion

Charles Darwin, the perennial disruptor, beetle collector and ‘Saint of Science’ turns 205 today. i-D's Cody Ross considers the topsy-turvy world of fashion through a decidedly Darwinian lens.

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It was 205 years ago today that the beetle collecting, globe-roving doyen of evolutionary theory was born. Charles Darwin paved the way for breakthrough ideas like ‘natural selection’, ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘punctuated equilibrium’ and as a result uncrumpled something fundamental. In 1859, at the ripe ole’ age of 50, he wittily hacked scientific orthodoxy with his ‘On the Origin of Species’ and concocted a fantastic set of principles for thinking about biology, business, creativity and human progress (even the wishy-washy world of the Arts—fashion included) that are applicable over two centuries later.

There’s no ‘grand theory’ of fashion—nothing comparable to, say, string theory, relativity or the theory of evolution. Postmodern theory is a kind of pell-mell pulp of Hegelian-Freudian-Lacanian say-sos spiced up with arcane -isms and alt lit spiel; Neoclassical theory—the idea that we are all Vulcan-like, rationality-maximizing machines has proven to be quite crummy in the grand scheme of things; and the next big thing—‘Behavioural economics’—is a grab bag of social psychology, neurobiology, microeconomics and gut feel consisting of more paradoxes and anomalies than you can shake a stick at.

When thinking about fashion, evolutionary theory is still the it-est insight around. That’s because the fashion industry, love it or loathe it, has all of the defining tics and teeter-totters of a true evolutionary scheme: 1. random variation 2. tooth and nail competition 3. genes and memes 4. speciation 5. natural selection 6. collaborative behaviour and 7. scope for extinction. The crux of it is that ‘fashion organisms’—designers, editors, art directors, retailers, bloggers, models; what have you—arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that bump up their ability to compete, survive, and sustain their creative niches. That can be a messy and maddening experience, as most of us in the biz know. But besides its rather merciless and mechanical character, the fashion world jungle has an arguably deeper evolutionary purpose: it serves as a kind of structural template for probing, prospecting, reflecting consciousness and expressing identity. In the end it propels inventiveness and confers on each of us a certain ontological status. As in nature, it is an energy source that makes change possible and fitness essential.

Darwinian dramz

Skitzoid processes are fast at work in the creative economy, churning out all sorts of sartorial ingenuity. “Chance,” Darwin said, “is intrinsic to mutation, which is the process by which fresh variation is offered up for selection, and that process is blind.” That bright insight applies to fashion organisms in spades. When tawdry no-hopes transfigured their rebel yell tees with safety pins and studs in the early 70’s they unconsciously became part of a biota of the fashion sphere—they invented ‘punk’ and in the process coaxed all its splendiferous offspring: grunge, goth, mod, new wave, The Sex Pistols, Vivienne Westwood, etc. When Björk donned Marjan Pejoski’s iconic Swan Dress during the Academy Awards over a decade ago, she paved the way for fashion cyclotron Kokon To Zai (KTZ) and all their rip-roaring intergalactic get-ups. And when First Lady Michelle Obama sported a Jason Wu dress during her hubby’s inauguration she unwittingly catapulted his label to top of the fashion food chain. These are, in effect, but a few instances of fashion’s ‘blind mechanisms’ and nonlinearities at work—the myriad mutations, gestations and random bursts that produce the ever propagating, always germinating sartorial tree of life.

Broadly speaking, the principle of the survival of the fittest applies (what Darwin called “the struggle for existence”). Designers and fashion houses with a ‘selfish gene’ that excel at self-perpetuation and making memes (snazzy branding, in other words), will tend to rise above the rest, at least for a while. Innovation and novelty are byproducts of competition; some labels will work out, many will not. ‘Creative destruction’—the equally incessant process whereby weaker labels go belly up or, quite often, get gobbled up is a menacing but munificent force (think Theory’s takeover of Helmut Lang, PPR’s acquisition of Christopher Kane and Juun J’s absorption into Samsung).

Darwin banged on endlessly about competition and fitness as the fundamental grease of the system. Indeed, fashion organisms are in competition with one another for finite resources, customers and anyone who will bat an eye. At certain times and in certain places, certain species may become dominant. LVMH is the alpha dog in luxury, and H&M, Uniqlo and Top Shop dominate their respective markets for fast fashion retail. But innovations by competitor species, or the emergence of altogether new players (‘speciation’), prevent any permanent hierarchy or monoculture from crystalizing. Concept shops like Opening Ceremony, VFiles and Machine-A or niche labels like Holly Fulton, Hadria and Katie Eary are smaller in scale and scope, but their creative directors dream big dreams and constantly collaborate, differentiate and produce artistic zings that keeps them fit in the pecking order (what Darwin called ‘differential survival’).

Avant-gardians like Tatsuro Horikawa of the inimitable JULIUS label, Aitor Throup, the philosopher king of London menswear, Chen Man, the Middle Kingdom’s most subversive shutterbug and of course fashion’s darkest horse, Rick Owens, whose insurgent energy has threatened the whole paradigm, have all taken matters into their own hands, evolving their strategies, changing the currents of fashion, its structures and maybe its internal values. These players are at the forefront, confecting the purest, most coveted fashion meth around and constantly tinkering with their aesthetic DNA to make them fitter. SIBLING (designed by happy trio Joe Bates, Cozette McCreery and Sid Bryan) are a prime example of a disruptor rearranging the fashion value pool, especially in men’s avant-garde knitwear; so too are Bernhard Willhelm and cyber-punker Nasir Mazhar, two designers who are pushing the parameters around unisex athletic gear and artisanal streetwear.

What is noteworthy is that these innovators and disruptors grew out of the same creative gene pool as their forbearers, building on past substrates, and paving the way for future offspring. It is fashion’s own version of ‘natural selection’ and gene transfer—when design performs the same role as genes in biology, allowing information to be stored in the organisational memory and passed on from individual to individual or from house to house. Observe the ingenious interbreeding between Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe, the awesome osmosis between Gareth Pugh and Rick Owens, the evolutionary alchemy between Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff or the aesthetic encoding alive in the work of the ‘The Antwerp Six.’ These creatives caromed off each other’s ideas and techniques, leaping from medium to medium in madly unexpected ways, splicing genes, bridging lineages and producing novelty in the process. In evolutionary parlance, they are a kind of ‘Galápagos Islands’ of fashion bubbling with astonishing variety, whose unique traits combine and recombine, perpetuate growth, enrich our habitat and condition our collective consciousness.

Others, too, like Claire Barrow, Carri Munden (Cassette Playa), Shayne Oliver (Hood by Air), Astrid Andersen and Alex Mattsson are a rising crop of artisans making their way up the food chain. Armed with a knack for radical experimentation, a tolerance for failure and a willingness to aggressively co-opt technology and media, these veterans and newbies alike are reshuffling the deck of fashion design and, in their own roguish way, elbow the competition and play a game of ‘survival and revival of the fittest.’

In evolutionary terms, then, the fashion industry appears to be in the midst of a kind of “Cambrian explosion,” with existing species flourishing and new species adding and synchronizing their competencies with it. The giant lumbering Brontosauruses such as Richemont, LVMH, Zara and Vogue (a few of fashion’s ‘apex animals’) represent incumbent power and corporate interests on one level. But, as in the natural world, their existence does not preclude the evolution and continued existence of smaller ‘avant-garde’ species. Size is not everything, in fashion as in nature.

What matters in evolution is not your size or your complexity. All that matters is that you are good at surviving, preserving and passing on your creative DNA. The fashion equivalent of evolutionary success is being good at grasping the zeitgeist, changing as circumstances change, getting recognized, generating returns on investment (at least 51% of the time), and spawning imitators that use a similar marketing model. All are easier for small, witty designers who are creative, highly motivated and ultra-brave.

Oh, it might also help to have a nodding acquaintance with that big-bearded beetle-boffin, Charles Darwin, who married his first cousin, had ten children and once said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Happy birthday, Charles Darwin, you rabble-rouser, you!

Text Cody Ross


CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Charles Darwin | Fashion Theory | Business of Fashion
CODY ROSS  | top 5s
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech |  New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech |  New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech |  New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech | HADRIA | New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech |  New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech |  New York Fashion Week
out of this world technology at nyfw

Call it neo-futurism. That ever-expanding aesthetic of sci-fi tinctured with hi-tech elements currently injecting pizzazz into the fashion sphere. It’s everywhere; from wifi wigs and photo-luminescent clothes to freaky deaky holographic get-ups that react to sound, alongside spectral materials reacting to light. So far at New York Fashion Week, we've seen oodles of artists, designers and models fronting tricked-out gear and awesome, alien-inspired wears. Futurism is alive in NYC’s fashion hive, and UFO sightings are rife. Here are five haute-tech NYFW trends that have punched a hole in the fabric of space-time.

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back to the future



The NYC fashion scene swelled with attendees sporting all manner of tech breakthroughs. From Milk Studios all the way up to Lincoln Center, i-D saw sneakerheads sporting Marty McFly ‘sky tops’, ostensibly capable of self-lacing, and pulse-taking Nike fitness bracelets. Other sartorial braggadocio came in the form of ‘smart clutches’ that charge smartphones without a plug and bags with inbuilt speakers to pump up your playlist on the fly. In Soho, pop-ups and kiosks were all the rage, showcasing stretchable microchip tattoos, computer camouflage protos and even bespoke body-scan machines to measure a precise fit.



paranormal



Over at Pier 52, NYC-based ØDD channeled astral avant-gardism and modern spirits. Designer Judson Harmon was inspired by lunar cycles, artificial intel and mappings of hyperspace. He pushed across a multitude of boundaries into mixed-media and technology with gesture-based unisex accessories and clothing that communicates with different devices via bluetooth. The models could be seen manipulating the sounds with a few simple arm strokes and finger gestures. Welcome to the future. 



forbidden planet



At Milk, Chromat’s ‘Bionic Bodies’ range was all about humanoids having trysts. There were chromatic armored bras, gladiatorial references, sheer fabrics with cool cut-outs and futuristic femmes fatales strewn with LEDs. i-D spoke to designer Becca McCharen backstage, and learnt that the collection “tells a story of a love affair between a human and a robotic being.” Think Bladerunner meets Helmut Newton; a smattering of Victorianism and serious cybernetic embellishments. The conceptual headgear was out of this world.



cosmos



HADRIA’s fanciful fabrications are at once romantic and futuristic. Designer Adrianna Beer showcased eye-popping, alien-like onyx rings, carnelian necklaces, bangles and baubles that reflect titillating torques, warps, and teem with an experimental feel and freaky edge. She said she was inspired by Zaha Hadid and thinking about ‘space-time distortions.’



get ready to kick some flash!



New York-based Aussie, Dion Lee showed structured silvery appliqued dresses that clung to the body like 31st century armor. Looking like glitzy get-ups from Flash Gordan, his elegant clothes set nerves jangling and were an all-out sensory shakeup.

Text Cody Ross


CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech |  New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech |  New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Fashion Futurism | Haute Tech |  New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Charles Darwin | Fashion Theory | Business of Fashion
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Comme des Garçons | Dover Street Market New York
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Comme des Garçons | Dover Street Market New York
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Comme des Garçons | Dover Street Market New York
CODY ROSS  | fashion →
CODY ROSS | Digital Media | Brittany Kubat | NYFW
CODY ROSS  | top 5s
Credits:

NIKE
ØDD by Judson Harmon
Chromat by Becca McCharen 
HADRIA by Adrianna Beer
Dion Lee
Ying Gao

Chromat pic by Koury Angelo for Milk Made
CODY ROSS  | think piece
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Footwear Trends | New York Fashion Week
nyfw footwear trends

OMG, shoes! This weekend, i-D popped by the presentations to check New York’s footwear pulse. Stylish showgoers and runway girls wore everything from Galoshes and Docs to Raphael Young thigh-high boots and sexy Saint Laurent pumps. Despite the snow-filled streets and bottomless potholes in NYC, it was a visual bonanza for the shoe-obsessed. We witnessed heaps of rebellious, wonderful and waterproof footwear; chromatic leather loafers, wicked wedges, witchy skiwear, grungy combats and swishy pumps. Here’s a roundup of the coolest kicks so far from frosty NYC.

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sorels

With roots in heritage old school, classic Canadian culture and excellent eco-friendly design, SOREL creates titillating and timeless rubber-made shoes and boots. A pair of these badboys is the perfect footwear solution for any streetwise, stylish showgoer... especially in slushy NYC. 
sorel.com

dr martens

Docs are ubiquitous this season (again!), both on the runways and in the grand-stands. The prevalent styles included the cherry red, laurel green or black 10 eyelet lambskin boot. Fronted by punks, princesses, goths and Ivy Leaguers alike, Docs are the snow-shredding, pavement-treading boot of choice this fashion week (our fave style is the 8-eye quilted boot in ANY color!). 
drmartens.com

raphael young

With an aesthetic akin to Battlestar Galactica meets Le Corbusier, shoes by Raphael Young are smart, ergonomic, hyper-modern and ohhh so sexy. We spotted them on numerous It Girls and fashion females, from the entire Raoul collection at Lincoln Center to Nicky Hilton and Leigh Lezark. The thigh-high lambskin boots are perfect for NYC’s polar whirl and will make you drool! 
raphaelyoung.com

camilla skovgaard


Camilla Skovgaard is the Danish footwear designer whose sawtooth soles and wicked wedges are some of the best around. Minimalist, architectural, cerebral and infinitely avant-garde, her Black Mandor wedge boots were the top choice amongst the hustling fashion hoarde and bucketloads of bigwig editors.
camillaskovgaard.com

united nude

Rem Koolhaas and Galahad Clark make footwear that conveys an unmistakable architectural language. Their United Nude brand pulsates with megawatts of energy and is a favorite amongst the NYC fashion tribe this week. Messrs Koolhaas and Clark’s shoes are multi-dimensional creatures embodying a sense of secret sartorial engineering and converting leather, wood and rubber polymers into a footwear dream. 
unitednude.com

Text Cody Ross


CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Footwear Trends | New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Footwear Trends | New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Footwear Trends | New York Fashion Week  |  Raphael Young
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Footwear Trends | New York Fashion Week
CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Footwear Trends | New York Fashion Week
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CODY ROSS | i-D Magazine | Russell Brand | Politics | Economics | Policy | Ideology
russell brand, utopian idealist and third way theorist

Russell Brand is the cheeky, chummy political provocateur and pound-of-flesh activist who might just start a revolution. Well, maybe. i-D’s Cody Ross starts for but finishes against, presenting a free and fair view from across the pond, of Mr Big Mouth’s politics.

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He’s Britain’s potty-mouthed pontificator, a working-class hero, who wittily channels pseudopunk, celeb culture, Deepak Chopra, Jeffrey Sachs, Banksy and sexual anarchy. Brand has been the butt of a fair amount of criticism since his BBC Newsnight address a few weeks ago, but the quick-witted-Marxist-new-age-poet makes a valid point, calling for a swift “paradigm shift”, punitive action against malfeasant bankers and outright social revolution.

Serving Blue Sky crystal-meth to the sneering, jeering blogosphere and myriad armchair revolutionaries, the interview has since let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend. Everyone from Rupert Murdoch to the Dalai Lama and Vivienne Westwood have weighed in on what Brand had to say, and somehow a popular and queer fascination with him has merged into an enraptured discourse, where rage transforms into affection (and vice versa) that has the power to change the world.

In that commanding Q&A, his curious and bemused interlocutor, BBC’s Jeremy Paxman, called him out on a number of questionable positions, characterized him as “trivial” and criticized him for abstaining from the political process (Brand has never voted in a national or local election). “I have never voted...I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for perpetuating the advantages of economic elites.” He recently followed up with a sassafras essay in The Guardian, in which he doubles-down on his positions, excoriates the “duplicitous servants of the City”, rails against the “political hokey cokey” and insists that “democracy, in its current form, is a farce.”

Brand’s take on the current state of culture and politics reflects a fairly widespread view that blends apathy, anger, alienation and hair-trigger aggression. His refusal to go to the ballot box is simultaneously a statement of action and inaction, and his insurgent politics and ideological aphorisms are enthusiastically shared by droves of disenfranchised youths, middle class mums, freelance fashion designers and Hollywood elites, even if they are sometimes mindless bromides.

“The banksters-pranksters-wankers have nicked the system,” goes the phrase. “We want change!”
Despite his many televised conniptions and stream of consciousness polemics, Brand should not be totally written off; on the contrary. His arguments are indeed thoughtful, often intelligent and endlessly funny from a comedian who seems heartfelt and has merely been asked to contribute to a progressive political mag, The New Statesman. He’s making the point that things have gone alarmingly wrong, corruption has been unmasked, inequality is growing and economic opportunities are shrinking—it’s the “99% against the 1%”—a now familiar catchphrase that is synonymous with youth disruption and anarchy, where grievances range from Newscorp and the NSA to “false Consciousness” and Christmas holiday. “The banksters-pranksters-wankers have nicked the system,” goes the phrase. “We want change!”

But slogans aside, Brand’s argument has always struggled to explain his agenda in coherent terms to the world, especially since he rejects parliamentary politics altogether. He calls for “an immediate redistribution of wealth” (he specifically advocates garnishing the income of Topshop mogul Philip Green, for instance, who got a £1.2bn tax exception in 2005), “the end of Conservatism”, a “new conscious awareness” and the recognition that the current social structure is based on a contrived illusion: “Capitalism is not real; it is an idea. America is not real; it is an idea that someone had ages ago. Britain, Christianity, Islam, karate, Wednesdays, are all just ideas that we choose to believe in and very nice ideas they are, too, when they serve a purpose. These concepts, though, cannot be served to the detriment of actual reality.”

 And Brand is dead on, for the most part: the democratic, free-market capitalist “construct” of the Anglosphere has very often failed to fulfill its promise. Despite the ostensible rule of the people, many are hanging in the balance, or have fallen through the cracks altogether. Hegemonic wars continue, albeit in the guise of “human rights” and “the war on terror.” Economic inequality intensifies while the environment degrades. Our system seems only to exacerbate it, and so radical, perhaps revolutionary remedies are required.

Yet Brand’s passionate polemic came with a dubious decree: until a “new Paradigm” or “alternative regime” is up and running, he argues, going to the voting booth amounts to “tacit complicity” in the criminality of the governing elite. So he refuses to cast a vote. If you sympathize with his gripe, he implores you to do the same.

"If his interview inspired even one young revolutionary to stay idle next election, Brand has done more harm than good."
On this, the insurgent comedian is dead wrong, and if his interview inspired even one young revolutionary to stay idle next election, Brand has done more harm than good.

I’m not merely trying to be pedantic or annoyingly political here. The intelligentsia and mainstream media, of which Paxman is a part, tends to capitulate to Brand’s tasty tirades and soaring Robin Hood rhetoric (I was shocked that Paxman didn’t rip into Brand). I guess that’s the tried-and-true alchemy of art packaged, theatricalized, theorized and made easy to digest. But as a fairly young person who is genuinely worried about the current situation and cares about the fate of individuals in society, it is NECESSARY and morally imperative to vote. Participatory democracy must be defended at all costs; failing to vote is tantamount to the same complicity and evil that Brand is railing against. And for all the talking heads who say voting is implicitly a coercive act because it lends support to a compulsory state, that is dead wrong, too (it is an empirical fact that functioning democracies [constitutional republics] are more robust, more resilient and allow for relatively peaceful and smooth power transitions and cultural change). Most importantly, constitutionally limited republics protect individual rights, property rights and freedom of expression (try Brand’s tricks in China, North Korea or Saudi Arabia and you’ll quickly experience the state’s coercive kapow or a trip to the gulag!).

There are obviously implacable problems with the current political and economic structure (not least, a total vacuum of visionary/transformational leadership and diffusion of centrist/pragmatic ideas). But participating in elections does inevitably change political outcomes and affects the lives of ordinary citizenry and real people. Whether you are in the UK or the US, Egypt or Afghanistan, if a monster gets elected into office, then the chances for irrational policy-making or egregious errors go up. Every vote does indeed count, and each vote not cast contributes to unfavorable outcomes. It boils down to this: if you had the power to effect change via the voting box but didn’t, you are complicit in whatever comes, including what Brand calls “the current system based on false consciousness that furthers the narrow interests of the elites.”

We cannot abstain from the democratic political process, no matter how flawed, just to exercise an abstract notion of civic or ideological purity. Not when people are suffering to the extent that they are now and not when the government so arbitrarily intrudes into our private lives with impunity. Our political alternatives are not the simple binary outcomes of the status quo vs. outright statism (Brand suggests government appropriation of “giant corporations” in the name of “normal people.” But that only creates a cascade of further appropriations until there is nothing left in society to take. We’d end up in the very Hobbsian jungle-state that we’ve struggled so hard to get out of. Just look at Putin’s Russia, Chávez’s Venezuela or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe); we can certainly nurture a more just social system through democracy, pluralism, free enterprise and civic engagement—what philosopher Karl Popper called “The Open Society”. And through a kind of economic rehab and by strengthening key institutions (legislatures, courts, administrative agencies and markets), we can make a better blueprint of how to reform the public sector, making the state far more efficient and responsive, and tempering capitalism’s harsher effects without vilifying capitalists.

The main lesson is not to be ideological but practical, and to blend market mechanisms with the welfare state to hone overall performance, promote innovation, entrepreneurship and to engender a compassionate and creative commons.

Raging against the machine in the manner that Russell Brand does can be effective in politics (and obviously gets good ratings on the telly); no doubt it lends a visceral and viral street cred to the cause. But remember this: by refusing to vote, you aren’t rejecting the “evil narrative” perpetuated by the political pecking order—you’re becoming complicit in very evil you are trying to undo.

Check out the interview and join in on the debate. And next election, don’t forget to go out and cast your vote.

Text Cody Ross