Literally just a map of every town in the lyrics to ‘It’s Grim Up North’ by the KLF

Finding images of the KLF is surprisingly hard, but on the right is Jimmy Cauty, one half of the band, playing the Big Chill festival in 2005. Image: Getty.

Where does the north of England begin? The debate has been raging for decades.  But what if I told you the question has already been answered – specifically, by the techno-slash-art project the KLF.

In 1991, the band – then going under the name “The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” – recorded a ten minute song called “It’s Grim Up North”. The majority of the song consists of town names being delivered in a Scottish monotone over a pulsing techno beat, listing towns that are “are all in the North”.

If the KLF says it, who are we to argue? I’ve taken the song lyrics – using Wikipedia’s interpretation of ambiguous lines (so “Cheadle Hulme” not “Cheadle” and “Hulme”, but “Accrington” and “Stanley” not “Accrington Stanley”) – and, ignoring the fact that Leigh appears twice, mapped them all.

So, what is in the North?

The first thing you’ll notice is that “the North” doesn’t actually go all that far north. Barrow-in-Furness is the only Cumbrian town to appear, and there is not a single settlement in the North East: no Newcastle, no Middlesbrough, no Hartlepool, no Berwick.

By and large, the KLF’s North is the M62 corridor. Rugby league land. Roses territory. Lancashire and Yorkshire, basically. And not even all of Yorkshire – North Yorkshire barely gets a look-in, and Hull is the only East Riding settlement to appear. (At the time “It’s Grim Up North” came out, Hull was part of the unloved Humberside)

On the other hand, there’s quite a lot of Cheshire, even though many beyond the Tees sniff at its claims to Northernness. Lincolnshire gets a look in too, with three towns (all part of former Humberside), as does Derbyshire with two. Here’s the full historic county breakdown:

  • Cheshire: 10
  • Derbyshire: 2
  • Lancashire: 30
  • Lincolnshire: 3
  • Yorkshire: 24

Number of places mentioned from each historic county.

It looks like the Red Rose of Lancashire is victorious once more.

But the historic county boundaries don’t bear much resemblance to the modern day ones – especially in the part of the country the song covers. Lancashire and Cheshire have been chopped up, as Merseyside and Greater Manchester broke away; Yorkshire has been cut into four parts; and towns like Barrow-in-Furness and Warrington have been traded from one county to another.

Going by today’s county borders, the picture is a bit different.

  • Cheshire: 9
  • Cumbria: 1
  • Derbyshire: 2
  • Greater Manchester: 13
  • Lancashire: 12
  • Lincolnshire: 3
  • Merseyside: 5
  • East Riding of Yorkshire: 1
  • North Yorkshire: 4
  • South Yorkshire: 4
  • West Yorkshire: 15

Number of places named from each modern ceremonial county.

West Yorkshire comes out on top now, with Greater Manchester and the rest of Lancashire close behind. These are all fairly urban areas (many of the Lancastrian towns are either on the fringes of Manchester or along the M65 motorway around Preston and Blackburn). More rural regions like North Yorkshire and the East Riding are largely ignored.

A few more interesting facts: the northernmost town mentioned is Scarborough, the easternmost is Cleethorpes, the southernmost is Nantwich and the westernmost is Barrow-in-Furness.

If you average the co-ordinates of all the places mentioned, you end up just outside Rochdale Town Centre, which means the town probably has a good claim to being the most Northern place in the North.

The most populated place on the M62 that’s not mentioned is Liverpool, while the smallest place that is mentioned (not including windy Ilkley Moor) seems to be Pendlebury.

Anyway, I felt bad for the towns of the North East and Cumbria that the KLF never mentioned, so in their honour I’ve composed a fourth verse:

Birtley, Whitby, Whitley Bay,

Darlo, Boro, Hartlepool,

Kendall, Keswick, Windermere,

Norton, Stockton, Seaton Carew,

Amble, Alnwick, Berwick on Tweed,

Ripon, Richmond, Redcar, Thirsk,

Manors, Byker, Jesmond, Shields,

Tyneside, Wearside, the Lakes are also in the North.

Should the KLF ever reform, they’re welcome to this. And don’t worry about royalities – I know money’s a bit tight.


 

 
 
 
 

In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.