Thursday, October 31, 2002

Old Skool Nostalgia, Part 2. Michaelangelo Matos gets misty-eyed about the most over-the-top rave bust ever. Repression just ain't what it used to be.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Wallowing Shamelessly in Technostalgia.
In mitigation, the night did trigger a few thoughts. For instance (much as I’m sceptical about cyclical, every-ten-year theories of pop culture) it did occur to me that the history of rave could be periodized in half-decade chunks (rave moving twice as fast as rock, naturally). 1988>>92 (the golden age from which DB & Dara cherrypicked their relentless onslaught of classics), is rave’s Sixties: the music glows with the starry-eyed, virginal euphoria of a culture’s extreme youth. 1992>>1997 would be its Seventies: fragmentation, darkness, aesthetic bloating (Timeless as Tales from Topographic Oceans) versus strategies of renewal-through-reduction (minimal techno). 1998>>2002 is clearly the Eighties: irony, self-reflexiveness, revivals galore.

Rave nostalgia--all those different old skool revivals---is a fascinating phenomenon: the irony of such an intensely future-fixated subculture being so prey to looking back, fetishising its own hallowed origins and lost moments. It really puzzled me until I realised, well, it’s just like me: I’m always decrying nostalgia and retro, but I’m also highly susceptible to that emotion. I can remember being five and looking back wistfully to how great things were when I was four! In terms of rave, I can feel a separate and distinct pang for each stage of the hardcore/jungle continuum: the nutt-E madness of ’92, darkcore’s shadow falling across the dancefloor in ’93, ’94 and the unparalleled bounty of ragga-jungle versus artcore, ’95 and the Speed versus AWOL schism, ’96 the year of No U Turn… Sigh, sigh, sigh, sigh, and sigh.

Maybe rave’s weakness for nostalgia is somehow integral to the future-mania, different facets of an acute sense of temporality?

I thought it was bizarre enough when you started to get Back to ’97 speed garage nights (mind you, that was five years ago, which would sorta fit the half-decade theory). But I know a few people who already feel wistful for the golden days of 2step: '98, '99, the moment just before it went mainstream. (As objectively as I can manage, the tunes from that moment do sound better: more exciting perhaps because the genre hadn’t yet fully arrived at itself, the tunes sounding incomplete but full of potential).

There’s another aspect to all this, what you could call anticipatory nostalgia: when you’re in a Moment, and suddenly think "will I remember this fondly one day?". With music, I’ve found that this question never raises itself when you actually are living through a period that turns out later to be regarded as a Golden Era. During post-punk, or late Eighties bliss-rock, or hardcore/jungle, I never thought about posterity: I was too fully immersed in the here-and-now, it felt like this Moment would extend itself in perpetuity. But when you’re actually ambivalent about a contemporary pop phenomenon, not wholly convinced or seduced (see: electroclash), I find the question becomes irresistible: you can't imagine who could possibly look back on this one day and feel an ounce of nostalgia.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare. How many holes? Just the one, very large hole. The whole is a hole. Kirk Degiorgio acts all offended when I lump him in with the soulboy snobs, and then offers up a defense that confirms the prosecution’s case, a text that’s doctrinaire soulboy through and through. From his Zelig-like presence at all the right-time right-place clubs he lists, to the feeble protestations of open-mindedness (Joni ‘Mingus’ Mitchell and Steely ‘Smooth’n’Jazzy’ Dan don’t exactly stretch the Degiorgio value-system, it’s not like he confessed to a secret penchant for Black Sabbath or the Fall!), what we have here is the profile of a soulboy purist: someone dedicated to loving black music so well, so meticulously, so exhaustively, so exhaustingly, that it makes up for the failure to have been born black in the first place.

What else but inverted racism and a loopy aspiration to ownership-through-total-knowledge could motivate someone to embark upon a website dedicated to documenting every single Black American music recording of the 1970s? I mean, there’s a number of “white” genres I love, but I couldn’t imagine building an equivalent shrine of data devoted to “white music of the Seventies”.

Kirk is what you could call SC: sonically correct. Also SC, as in Stuart Cosgrove, as in the era of NME when the paper was riven by factional warfare between the Cosgrove-led soulboy soulcialists (who wanted the paper to be a cross between The Face, City Limits and New Society) and the indiepop supporters (who wanted it to be a fanzine). (Both factions equally ridiculous to me over at MM, who never saw any problem with championing Dinosaur Jr and Mantronix in the same breath). I’m sure Kirk was so SC he’s never once picked up NME in his entire life (just Echoes and Blues & Soul, ‘course). But when he tells us how as a youngster he liked “disco, soul, jazz funk, rap, electro” and didn’t like “punk, ska, new wave or indie”, he does remind me of the soulcialist creed that only black music was valid (plus a smattering of music made by whites in utter obeisance to “black” values). But if Carl Craig, an honest-to-goodness genuwine black man, could be touched by The Smiths, why not Kirk? If at root it’s because of that typical soulboy “studentphobia”, an antipathy to the “kind of people” who like indie-rock, how sad is that?

I stand by my argument that there is a massive overcompensation within soulboy discourse whereby it becomes impossible to admit that Europeans have contributed anything to music. (In the early days of The Style Council, Paul Weller, with the raging, risible zeal of the recently converted, actually declared of black people, “they’re the only people making any good music, like they’ve always been”!). The idea of Derrick May exaggerating his fondness for Frankie Goes To Hollywood and New Order in order to please white journalists is hilarious. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, he’s a forthright, somewhat grandiloquent chap, with a highly developed sense of his own mythic stature. It wasn’t like someone was holding a gun to his head when he volunteered the opinion in some feature on ZTT a few years back, that Frankie’s records “set standards that have yet to be surpassed”. The opinion is all the more striking given that Frankie get left out of most histories of dance music. (Not sure what his liking of Gypsy Kings has got to do with this---is Degiorgio implying that he’s got dodgy taste and therefore we shouldn't take his Frankiephilia seriously? But maybe Gypsy Kings are good (I couldn’t tell you)).

Seems to me like Derrick May always goes on about P-Funk in the same breath as Kraftwerk etc (he did in the Energy Flash interview I did with him). Surely everybody knows the importance of Parliament-Funkadelic to the Belleville 3? The D. May line about “P-Funk and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator with a sequencer” is oft-repeated to the point of cliche.

And wait a minute, folks, here’s one Derrick May from the sleevenotes to Conform To Deform, the recent box set of Cabaret Voltaire’s Virgin and EMI crossover years. “Back when electronic music was simply electronic music, Cabaret Voltaire represented a real level of prestige and excellence that definitely doesn’t exist today…. For people like myself groups like Cabaret Voltaire really set a high mark of excellence, you know, a high mark of standards that I wish we had today from young artists coming up making music. I tip my hat to them ten times. I’m glad to have been young when they were making music, and on the dancefloor, and be able to appreciate from that aspect…. Everybody from Frankie Knuckles to Ron Hardy to young black DJs in Detroit, to Richie Hawtin loved Cabaret Voltaire.” The actual quote is much longer and even more fulsome. I think we’d have to assume that this is actually Derrick May’s unforced, from-the-heart opinion. I can’t think of any reason why he’d exaggerate it. I would certainly trust May's perceptions about the role of English and European avant-funk/industrial in the prehistory of techno, before those of Kirk Degiorgio.

Rather than because it makes them somehow comfortable, I think white journalists get excited by the influence of Eurodisco and Anglo synthpop on Detroit ‘cos it STILL seems really weird that, say, the Visage B-side “Frequency 7” was a massive tune in the 313 area. (Especially as Visage don’t get much props even from people who liked early Eighties synthpop). (Weirder still, “Frequency 7” actually turns out to be pretty darn good!). (But again, just the idea that there was a subculture where people actually bothered to check the B-Side of Visage 12 inches for hidden gems, is downright weird!!). Detroit’s Europhilia is a strange historical phenomenon. Listen to the John Foxx-like vocals on Cybotron tunes. As Adam Lee Miller from Adult argues, what some cite as the first techno record, Cybotron’s "Alleys of your Mind”, was basically a black New Wave record, uncannily similar to “Mr. X” by Ultravox.

I also think Detroit artists know that this odd mix of influences is part of the city’s distinction and historical uniqueness. There was genuine unfeigned delight--and civic pride in Detroit openmindedness--evident when some of the Energy Flash interviewees remarked about how it was only in Detroit that you could imagine black folks dancing to, say, the B-52s.

It is enduringly fascinating how “the whitest shit” can, by peculiar processes of migration and mutation, turn into “the blackest shit”. A telling example is the music that came out of Belgium in 1990-91. Not only did Underground Resistance make records that sounded a lot like Meng Syndicate and 80 Aum, they clearly recognised the kinship (why else would they record a homage titled ’Belgian Resistance”?). Whether UR were actually influenced to get harder-faster-noisier by Belgcore tekno, is a matter for debate (judging by their earliest releases, I’d say “yes”). But there was indisputably some shared ancestry there; both Mills and the Belgian groups had been into Euro Body Music. The Reinforced crew loved that early R&S sound (Manix did the tribute “Never Been to Belgium”); so did Roni Size & Krust (they’ve talked about how “Dominator” blew their minds). Black musicians, generally speaking, seem to be able to appreciate sick noise and mad-fuck aggression; it’s only your white connoisseur-custodian types, with their velvet-glove approach of fidelity and sickly reverence, who have hang-ups about brutalism and “bastardisation”.

Right now, the mentasm noises and distorted kick drums are coming back full-strength on London’s garage pirates (it’s like some kind of hardcore continuum “race memory” is asserting itself). A lot of it sounds literally like gabba-garage. Which is weird ‘cos garage—demographically, and with the hip hop MC-ing and dancehall influences--has arguably never been “blacker”. Some ‘97-era speed garage heads bemoan this new style (spearheaded by Musical Mobb and Dizzy Rascal) as UKG’s nadir. But as history shows time and time again, one man’s nadir is another’s bright new dawn.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Kirk Degiorgio gets in a right tizzy with me for saying he's a bit of a soulboy snob (but what really rankles is the suggestion that he's not that dapper). See how many holes you can spot in his argument. Riposte to follow, if it's not too much like shooting fish in a barrel.

Monday, October 07, 2002