“They will die, no question, they will die. How long they will die, I just don’t know”.
The man uttering these words in the café of the Shaftesbury Curzon Cinema looked like a parody of a Hong Kong businessman from a Jackie Chan film- heavy set, the kind of unnerving smile that made you want to suddenly remember a forgotten appointment and head out into the street, scattering apologies and pedestrians as you made a dash for the nearest underground station. The man he was talking to was “Mr Wong”, who barely said a word for the entire length of the conversation. For those unfamiliar with the Curzon, it is literally across the road from Chinatown, so whilst that would make it a fairly obvious meeting point for Far Eastern businessman to conduct their affairs, it’s bohemian and louche quality- not to mention it’s extravagant, frankly gay, selection of cakes- made it a slightly incongruous setting for the dialogue that was unfolding. As the two men sat on tall stools by the window overlooking Shaftesbury Avenue, it became clear that the man out of HK central casting was on a mission to ensnare “Mr Wong”. He was describing in salacious detail the global appetite for ‘rare earth’ minerals, the essential components of most items of everyday modern technology. To get the dollar signs spinning in Mr Wong’s eyes, he was outlining Russia and China’s combined need for said ‘rare earth’, underlying that whoever was in the fortunate position of being able to offer these countries this precious resource would be in possession of ‘very..great…power’.
Mr Wong, it has to be said, was such a study in inscrutability that I feel totally vindicated in using this laziest of descriptors. It occurred to me that he didn’t actually have a clue what the Rare Earth Snake Oil salesman was talking about- a Gerard Street restaurant manager so far out of his depth that all he could do was double bluff by remaining at all times- well, there really is no other word for it: inscrutable. It also occurred to me that the RESO salesman might too be having a genuine job of trying to ascertain how much Mr Wong was playing a very cool hand indeed, and how much of his mind was actually occupied with that night’s menu and the ongoing problems of kitchen staff unreliability. RESO-man was certainly pulling out all the stops, name-dropping unfeasibly well-connected friends who had the ear of everybody from the chairman of General Motors to high-ranking politicians in various central African countries. Whilst listening to his patter, I was thinking about the fact that this location- on the very edge of Soho- was the cultural birth-place of a particular kind of scam that promised worldly riches beyond all imagining. Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist” was set in Soho, and there was something rather satisfying from a Psychogeography perspective about such a similar drama unfolding on the same hallowed turf.
When he said “They will die”, RESO man was referring to the companies that currently have the capacity to excavate ‘rare earth’, but who he was foreseeing being overtaken by the people he was asking Mr Wong to invest in. As compelling statements in crowded central London establishments by men in shiny suits with Oriental accents go, “They will die, no question” is right up there with “The fucking building’s on fire!”, and, as Bertie Wooster might have said if he had been born sixty years later: “To reach into the old trouser pocket and hit the record button on my trusty iPhone was with me the work of an instant”. The conversation yielded further tantalising lines, including: “China is to blame”, “He is a very powerful man” and my favourite: “Whether he wants us to push them out the way, or whether he just wants no trouble, I don’t know”. These prospected psychogeographical nuggets form the basis of the track “Return of the Unreliable Narrator”, the sixth track on the forthcoming “Liminalondon” LP. The track is still being produced, but you can have a listen to an extract of it on the Tumblr site.