“Songshifting occupies a unique place in modern fiction: a simple, elegiac story, fierce and uncompromising, it is at once a love letter to a forgotten era, a richly evoked dystopia, and an examination of memory, longing, and music itself. Speculative fiction needs more writers like Chris Bell, ready and able to interrogate our world on their own terms, and probe the darker recesses of our minds. Songshifting demands to be read.” ROBERT DINSDALE, ‘GINGERBREAD’
“Bell writes excellently. It’s particularly rewarding to see that done around the subject of music because it’s such a hard thing to write about well. There’s a real and plausible sense of the future musical landscape despite all the bands being fictional and the characters are well drawn”
“‘Songshifting’ has the authenticity so many attempts at capturing rock music in a novel lack”
“The music scene that provides the backdrop to most of what happens is beautifully fleshed out. I love the slang Bell invented as well as the sense of history he invokes”
Nothing is as it seems. Recordings of your favourite music are banned and confiscated by a repressive regime. You can still see state-sanctioned bands play but at their gigs you’re likely to be administered Sentimental Hygiene: a top secret psychotropic substance with unpredictable and occasionally fatal effects. Of course, you won’t know it; although you may wonder why the musicians have developed supernatural abilities, levitating, disappearing or worse. Raguly and Nebuly, the state’s sinister spies, are everywhere; out to put a stop to anything not controlled by a shadowy head of state, the impresario. And should you manage to evade them, Hector, Scuttler, Mohock, Ugmo and Mentull gangboys are lurking, ready to do you damage and steal your gadgets.
Meanwhile, music journalist Rarity Dean is on a deadline: ‘The Grid’, the paper she writes for, is a relic of a past age, still attempting to champion the new music although all home entertainment is considered treasonous.
‘Songshifting’ is set in a city that may be an alternative or future London. The state-sponsored Affable DJ Hologram gives punters a sense of freedom through a stylised form of entertainment while the impresario controls them through its insidious crowd control techniques and censorship. So an ability to songshift – a clandestine and 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.
As the state’s experiments in mind, mood and crowd control ratchet up a notch, 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.