Wednesday, December 18, 2002


1/ DIZZY RASCAL – “I Love You” (white label)

And this year the criteria are… surprise, surprise, surprise. When the bass-blasts tear through like Rotterdam Terror Corps and the electro claps scythe ‘n’ shear like stressed metal, “I Love You” hits with the force of an aesthetic ambush: this ain’t UK garage as we’ve known it. Then the rap enters--a high-pitched male voice, weirdly poised between distraught and derisive: Roll Deep’s Dizzy Rascal making his solo debut--and you know you’re witnessing the birth of the New Thing; #8 in a series of convulsive renewals with the hardcore/pirate radio continuum. I want to believe this is the real-deal paradigm shift so much that I can’t trust what my ears are telling me: that it is.

Must have heard this about ten times on the pirates before anybody played the actual A-Side, the vocal cut. Increasingly the dubstrumental flipsides of top tunes seem to be preferred, as backing tracks for MC’s freestyling. It’s mostly Dizzy, with a girl cutting in now and then, and even after a score of listens I still don’t quite have a grip on the lyrics, whether there’s a narrative as such. It’s more like a panoramic, fractured overview of modern romance, unified by a consistent harshness of tone that mingles contempt, coldness, callousness, me-I-disconnect-from-you. Meanwhile, the fembot’s lobotomised voice incanting “I-love-U” in speak-and-spell tones seems to be there to parody or puncture the vacuousness of Barbie-style love und romance. Chilling but thrilling.

2/ DJ MARKY & XRS featuring STAMINA MC – “LK (Carolina Carol Bela)” (V Recordings)

After seven years of sweltering humidity Manhattan-style, I actually found summer in London---near-constant rain, the lowest amount of sunshine in a couple of decades---literally refreshing. Wearing a sweater in August: what a buzz! Besides, who needed sunshine with “LK” supplying the summer vibes? Marky Mark & XRS’s drum’n’bossa reworking of a Jorge Benjor & Toquinho tune from 1969 is the first D&B record I’ve paid money for since 1997. And it would hit our rented living room like a bolt of joy, either with the inanely-upful-yet-irresistible MC vocal or as the instrumental version.

Must admit there was a great vibe emanating from the drum’n’bass pirates this summer; the scene seems always to be on the verge of a comeback, but the music never quite makes it for me—good to see vocals and pop sensibility making a reappearance, but the beats are just too linear, still stuck in the one-bar loop rut that Tim Finney @ Skykicking’s identified as drum’n’bass’s post-techstep downfall. Likewise the beats are the least interesting thing about “LK”, supplying propulsiveness but nothing else; what makes it sublime is the plangent and sparkling cat’s cradle that is the pizzicato acoustic guitar figure, the gulf-stream currents of warm bass, and the nape-tingling vocal melody (hard to tell if it’s a straight lift from “Carolina Carol Bela”, or whether vocal science has been been brought to bear in repatterning it). Apparently this tune wiped the floor with Fischerspooner on Top of the Pops, which is just icing on the cake.

3/ MUSICAL MOB—“Pulse X (VIP Mix)” (Inspired Sounds Records)

Backing track of the year. Literally: it’s only raison d’etre is as a launching pad for freestyles. “Pulse X” (just one of a series of mixes: “Y”, “Z” etc) raises the same question as “Grindin’”: is this even music? Strictly speaking, it’s unlistenable on its own, outside the mix, and all the way from beginning to end. It barely has structure, just alternates between three simple, pared-to-the-bone patterns; rhythmic propulsion stripped of all affect, bar an aura of bleak purposiveness. Apparently people on the scene use the term “eight bar” to describe this style of nouveau 4-to-the-floor garage, ‘cos after eight bars it switches. Musical Mob’s own term is “raw for the floor” (the title of another of their tunes, which I yet to hear, at least knowingly). In “Pulse X”’s wake, there’s a whole mini-genre of this stuff, just beats and acrid bass, tunes like Rolldeep's "Creeper": not DJ tools, which is how such minimal and tracky tuneage functions in other genres like techno, but MC tools.

Apart from working as the spartan backdrop for the MC to ride, a beatscape to negotiate, the other main use of “Pulse X” is to be dropped for a minute or less, simply to rachet up the intensity level. When that doom-boom pulsekick pounds, boo! It’s a track that’s designed to be dropped, rewound once, maybe twice, and then mixed out again as swiftly as possibly.

A few months ago I googled to find out whatever I could about Musical Mobb, which turned out to be hardly anything, but it did pull up an old ILM thread from the early summer (the topic was trends in 2002 and whither-next for music). And there was “Pulse X”, mentioned in passing as “UK garage’s nadir”, a death-knell. Hmmm, maybe it is, within UKG's own aesthetic terms. But in creating its own scale of values and desirable qualities (concussive, punitive, flagellant, desexed, joy-stripped: Swans’ Cop meets Schoolly D’s “PSK What Does It Mean” meets Rotterdam Termination Source's "Poing") this track creates its own perverse aesthetic universe. Like “I Love You”, it signals the birth of the New Thing.

4/ LAID BLAK – “Scream & Shout” (Moist)

It’s not all darker-than-thou UK gangsta menace, this garage rap biznizz. All kinds of voices—playful, humorous, downright affable—can seize this moment. There’s room for Busta Rhymes dementia (see Robloe & Kin featuring Nor-T Jack Fever’s “Bounce”, below), for Shaggy-style comic loverman braggadochio, for Barrington Levy-like tender charm. Flitting between the last two modes, here’s Bristol crew Laid Blak and this overlooked gem of a tune, which is about as far from garage rap’s customary skrewface as possible. The bit where a tipsy-sounding Mc Joe Peng mumbles mawkishly “he is a nice and decent fellow, I am a nice and decent fellow, we’re all nice and decent fellows” might be my favorite vocal moment of the year. He’s such an amiable sort he can even get away with a move-on-up positivity sermon without making you cringe: “I don’t mean to make you paro/but what about tomorrow?/If we continue with this way of life we’re heading for pure sorrow/And what about our children?/What future have we gave them?/Enjoy it now ‘cos when it’s gone expect a little mayhem/I’m talking to my brethren/I’m talking to my sistren/It’s time for us to pick up the fight ‘cos we want our children to live right.” The jaunty “Original Vocal Mix” is the one to go for, reminding me slightly of prime Madness, but the more garagey DJ Lewi Dirty Vocal Mix is also good.

5/ GK ALLSTARS – “Garage Feeling” (GK Allstars)

This chart’s fastest riser; a week ago it would have been just crinkling the edge of the Top 20. “Garage feeling, come on ravers, feel what I’m feeling” is the chorus lick, but it doesn’t feel like garage: the ominous glower of suppressed thunder running behind most of this track is more redolent of the blaring noise-riffs on Trace/Nico/Ed Rush/Fierce tunes from ’96 (i.e. the kind of dirgefunk that originally drove the jungle massive into the garage in the first place). A lot of garage rap, it’s like No U Turn if they’d used MCs, and the MCs tried to match the sheer toxicity of the noise with their lyrics. The No U Turn boys talked about wanting to “hurt people” with their beats, of being on a “hurter’s mission”, and that’s what most of the MCing is about: verbal maiming, ego-mangling, rubbing people’s faces in their nobody status. Not this tune, though: “Garage Feeling” is a celebration, albeit one queerly pitched between euphoria and dread: a communal anthem for a scene organized around the dream of leaving behind your community and achieving megastardom. What’s to celebrate? Just the struggle, the determination, the confidence that you will triumph. Shining in the darkness.

6/ STYLES – “Good Times’ (Ruff Ryders)

B-boys on E, slight return. Well, the hip hop/Ecstasy raveolution didn’t quite pan out, but a handful of mersh-rap tunes this year continued the eerie-echoes-of-ardkore syndrome. Most notably this Swizz Beatz/Saint Denson co-production of the first single off the debut solo album by Styles, second-fiddle to Jadakiss in those unloveable Lox. Speeding up and doubletracking old-soul diva Freda Payne into a brace of bliss-giddy hummingbirds, this is pure ’92 business, complete with synth-gurgles out of “Papua New Guinea,” a subliminal stab pattern groove that’s like hardcore running at quarter tempo or even slower, and love-song-subverted-into-drug- song cheekiness (Freda’s swoony “I get high high high high/high on your memory high on your memory”). Except, except, this tune’s not about E, it's about weed. And it’s as harrowing and nihilistic a glimpse into the motivations for some kinds of recreational drug use as any smack or crack confessional. “I get high as a kite/I’m in the zone/All alone/Muthafucka case I’m dying tonight… I’ma smoke ‘til my lungs collapse…. Yeah I smoke like a chimney/Matter fact I smoke like a gun when a killer see his enemy... Shit, I get as high as I could/Cos if you see things/like I see things/I’ma die in the hood.” This ain't Cheech & Chong. With the fade-out's sign-off "I am the ghost/floating" making a chilling link between getting wasted and gangsta's "we already dead" fatalism, the title “Good Times” emerges as bitterly ironic--like Chic’s song of the same name was actually intended to be, as opposed to how it was taken by the disco nation.

7/ PLATINUM 45 featuring MORE FIRE CREW – “Oi!” (Go Beat)

Like “Bound 4 Da Reload” this took me about six hearings before I could get my head round it: so harsh, so rigid (those dead-eyed looped “hey”’s and cold cold claps), and, like “Reload”, so ruthlessly amelodic it initially appears to be completely hookless. But as with “Reload”, repetition proves it to be insanely contagious and something of a landmark release: a real generation divider, bearing the same relation to UKG-as-was that the first Casio-driven dancehall tunes like ‘Sleng Teng’ did vis-à-vis roots reggae. The jabbered words remain largely unintelligible to these ears, though, and I still haven’t worked out how you’d dance to it: the core pulse seems most suited to the pogo, believe it or not.

8/ VITALIC-- “Poney Part One” (International Deejay Gigolo)

Did this even come out in 2002? Heard it on the dancefloor a lot this year, though, and think maybe it got re-released in some form; what the hey. As Tom Ewing observed on NYLPM, this is not a song so much as a sound; in that sense it’s much more techno in spirit than Nu-Wave. It’s as if glamour somehow abandoned its human husks and became a freefloating ectoplasmic entity, a spectral incandescence, a brilliantine trembling and aching of the air itself. “Poney Part One” is the best example of electroclash’s definining irony/liability: for a genre dedicated to bringing back songs and stars, its best tunes are depersonalized instrumentals. If “Poney”’s magnesium-majesty were anything like the norm, the nu electro would fulfil and surpass the hype a hundredfold.

9/ CLIPSE – “When The Last Time” (Arista)

Does the world really need another Lox? “Obnoxious with the women”, endlessly referencing the powders that made their wealth and laid waste to their community, faces frozen in masks of disdain, leaving a trail of ho’s in their wake like used condoms, the aptly named Malice and Pusha T are not nice fellows. Still, for the Neptunes’ maddening noise-riff (gets me flashing on SMF’s
h-core classik “Rush Stimulator”), for Kelis chick-lost-her-mind vocal loop, and for this killer couplet about a girl stepping into his car--“She know from the beginning/She added to the list of them chicks that I done bin in”—I must confess I find this impossible to resist.

10/ GENIUS KRU – “Course Bruv“ (Kronik)
Like Laid Blak’s “Scream & Shout”, this tune (which came out late in 2001 I believe, but I loved it this year, so…) is loveable because Genius Kru are just so goddamn amiable. They just wanna spread “nuff love” and they’ll even share their drink with you, ye olde rave stylee. The brain-infesting chorus goes:
Male Voice: Can I have a sip of that?
Genius Kru: Course bruv!
Sexy Husky-Voiced Female: Can I have a sip of that?
Genius Kru (going up slightly in pitch): Course luv!!

The whole tune, with its ditzy string-section and bubblebath synth-swirls, is like an endless carousel loop of bonhomie. “Still having fun inside the party/Still got the Rolies and the ladies/Still don’t wanna hurt nobody.” Love it to the bone.

11/ PITMAN – “Phone Pitman/Pitman Sez” (Pitman)

Hip hop is so massive as a cultural influence in Britain now that it has spawned its own micro-genre of parody rap, with an undercurrent (a la Ali G) of genuine anxiety about the (Black) Americanisation of UK youth. But this 7 inch single, purportedly by a rapping Yorkshire miner, wouldn’t be half so hilarious if it didn’t actually have an authentic North-of-England flow that actually works as hip hop: the droning phlegmatic stolidity of the voice, its baleful bulk dragging through the beat. It’s a joke, except it sort of isn’t. As per Terry in The Streets’ “Irony of It All”, the UK has its own thugz, and while they don’t carry Uzi, you’d still do well to cross the road to avoid them. (Won't quote any lyrics, because if I started I'd end up quoting them all, like kids in the schoolyard the day after everyone's favorite sitcom).

12/ HEARTLESS CREW – “The Heartless Theme aka The Superglue Riddim” (Warner)

More positive G-rap: a wonderfully jaunty groove hooked around an insouciant whistling synth (like the kind of chirpy early-bird
milkman who drives you up the wall) while Heartless Crew rap about how their success is all down to years of dedication and honest graft dating back to the early Nineties: “When we go shopping buy the latest design/That that that that that’s mine/Heartless Crew we bought the whole shop/Some people thought that we hit the jackpot/Or if we done a move that was hot/but nah nanana nah we been working hard.” And if you thought their name signified war-of-all-against-all ruthlessness, think again: they’re heartless cos “our hearts are inna the music.” Aaah.

13/ JA RULE feat ASHANTI – “Always On Time” (Murder Inc.)
Ashanti’s golden filtered vocal might be the most gorgeous sliver of melody this year, and Ja Rule remains as loveably ludicrous as ever, from his DMX-to-the-power of 10 honey’n’gravel voice to his dress sense, which in the video for this song makes him look like he’s in Pilot or Sailor or like some superfly version of John Lennon in the early Seventies.

14/ MC GOD’S GIFT versus TEEBONE – “Tribute to 32 MCs” (Solid City)

A testament to the importance of MCs in UK garage, this tune pays homage to thirty-two true originals—from founding fathers like Creed, Kie, Sharky P, Munchie, PSG, Neat, Blakey, Charlie Brown (RIP), right through to nu-skool boys like Neutrino, Wiley, Asher D, Romeo. And what better method than the sincerest form of flattery? Expertly forging their signature licks and trademark catchphrases, God’s Gift crams so much V.I.B.E. into such small space, it’s enough to make your head explode.

15/ THE STREETS – “Let’s Push Things Forward/All Got Our Runnins” (Locked On)

An album artist, obviously, but if you’re going to record an Aesthetic Manifesto/Call-to-Arms you might as well release it as a single. But I’m mentioning this mainly for the B-Side “All Got Our Runnin’s”, one of my favorite tracks on the pre-release version of Original Pirate Material, but at the last minute inexplicably pulled and replaced by “Don’t Mug Yourself”. As well as being very funny and touching in a Madness-in-dejected--but-still-jaunty-vein sort of way, this song is totally radical in UK garage’s flash-yer-cash context: all spend and no thrift, the protagonist is paying for last week's "living for the moment" and struggling to make it ‘til next pay day.

16/ WILEY KAT featuring BREEZE, DANNY ISHANCE & JET LEE– “I Will Not Lose” (Wiley Kat)

In the quasi-orchestral mode of Pay As U Go Kartel’s “Know We” and Wiley & Roll Deep’s “Terrible”, this is a U.K. counterpart to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, the 8 Mile soundtrack megahit about seizing your opportunities ‘cos you may only have one chance to blow. As the idea of collective advancement fades from the U.K.’s popular memory, we seem to be becoming more and more American: suckers for the anyone-can-make-it lie that is the USA’s great ideological sleight of hand. Something about the way Wiley seems to almost choke up on the word “lose” in the chorus “I will not lose/Never, no way, not ever,” while martial tympani boom beneath him and a cello mournfully aches, seems to intimate that deep down he knows he might very well lose; and that winning in itself, within the terms of the game-as-set-up, is a kind of defeat. Because to make it means you have to leave so many behind.

17/ SOMETHING J/DJ MAXXIMUS – “Mercedes Bentley Vs Versace Armani” (Warp)

From the real thing to an IDM parody of 2step (Squarepusher ‘My Red Hot Car’ style). Well, not exactly: the story goes that DJ Scud was visiting these guys in Germany, and at some point tried to explain what UK Garage was about, as a culture, and played them a few tunes. And this track was the guys’ subsequent attempt to fabricate, from hazy memory, their own idea of UKG. Actually, it sounds more as if No U Turn had jumped ship from drum’n’bass in ’97 and really crudely leaped on the speed garage bandwagon. The more fucked-up and lurching “Dub Plate Remix” is the killer version. Like Scud/Errorsmith/I-Sound’s Roots Rock Ravers EP of last year, or the music of Hellfish & Producer, it’s the kind of phantasm-sound that makes you wish there really existed an entire subculture constructed around it.

18/ LUDACRIS – “Move” (Def Jam South)

It’s hard to take Ludacris seriously when he tries “menace”, but the groove itself intimidates with its slow-moving and bullying bulk. I especially like the scrapey drum sounds like a lion’s claws lazily worrying its prey to death.

19/ THE FOO FIGHTERS-- "All My Life" (major label)

I always thought this group were the definition of mediocre, and never understood why one of the great drummers of our time would abandon the kit for the mic’. But hey, he’s got another great drummer behind him, and this is the most dynamic and excitingly structured mainstream rock song I’ve heard in a while.

20/ JURASSIC 5 – “What’s Golden” (Interscope)

Bassline! But in truth I only really like this ‘cos it reminds me of The Stranglers! Seriously – the fuzzy melded keyboard/bass groove could be right off No More Heroes or Black and White, it’s a dead ringer for “Bitchin’” or “Nice “n’Sleazy” or even “Dead Ringer” itself. So domineering is that groove, I’ve yet to pay a second’s attention to the rhymes.

21/ BIG TYMERS– “Oh Yeah” (Cash Money)

What I like about this—apart from the supremely nifty and nubile groove—is its unexpected tone of monogamous affection and tenderness. This song is borderline marital! “No need to use a rubber/I'm your number one stunna/Now look what we done did/Messed around and had kids.” Probably just a calculated ploy to please the ladies, but could it be the Hot Boys have grown up?

22/ BLACK OPS Vol 3– “Howlin (Sublow Pressure)/Theme” (Black Ops)

With its bleep’n’bassy neo-electro sound and titular echo of Unique 3, ‘Theme’—so minimal they couldn’t be bothered to give it a proper title—suggests a Moebius loop of rave history. 1989: B-boys turn into ravers/2002: ravers turn back into rappers. But it’s “Howlin’” that’s the tear-out tune here: faecal blare of acid-bass, lupine whinny of synth, and funky-shuffle breakbeats that sound simultaneously frisky and ponderous, like the drumsticks are made of lead. Black Ops cru: one to watch for 2003.

23/ ROBLOE & KIN featuring NOR-T JACK FEVER---“Bounce” (Locked On)

In the gibbering-loon-on-the-mic tradition of Busta Rhymes, Slarta John and ragga deejays too numerous to list, the preposterously named Nor-T Jack Fever rides a limb-dislocating, wildly bucking robo-rodeo groove somewhere at the intersection of garage, dancehall, and Miami bass. Oddly the overall effect isn’t comic but faintly disturbing.

24/ THE STROKES – “Someday” (RCA)

With this song/video I finally got The Strokes: they’re the American Supergrass, right? The whole thing is all about the pleasures of being young: smoking cigs, drinking too much, staying up late, the odd bit of shagging, having good hair. And then writing incredibly tuneful and endearing (if slightly wet) anthems about it all.

25/ MISSY ELLIOTT – “Work It” (The Gold Mind)

Not nearly as good as last year’s “Get Your Rinse On”: the groove sounds kinda clumpy when heard on a big system, the garbled
vocal hook gets annoying real quick, the verses see Missy blatantly biting Busta Rhymes’s flow, and overall, the whole song seems to be little more than a concatenation of ultimately grating gimmicks and novelty effects. But for the ace video (that little white girl rocks!) and just the way Missy says “get your hair did,” this earns a smidgeon of affection.

The runners up:

Kevin Blechdom, I Love Presets EP and Your Butt EP; Clipse, “Grindin’”; K2 Family, "Danger"; 50 Cent, “Wanksta”; Purple Haze Crew, “Messy”; Dem Lott, "Dem Lott's Ere Now"; Adult., “Me and My Rhythm Box” [aka Adult’s “CompuRhythm Version” remix of Soul Oddity’s remix of Phoenicia’s “Odd Jobs”, on the Odd Jobs: Discrimination EP]; Eminem, “Lose Yourself”; Saftey Scissors Versus Kit Clayton, Ping Pong EP; Nas, “Made You Look”; Ultrasound feat. Elizabeth Troy and Specialist Moss, "Heavyweight"; The Rapture, “ House of Jealous Lovers”; Ashanti, “Foolish”; Groove Chronicles, "Riddim Killa"; Tiga & Zyntherius, “Sunglasses At Night”.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Fave Singles of 2002 should be up by week's end...
A typically interesting and elegantly written piece by Momus on what he calls “Sound Dust”, aka laptoptronica. Two things somewhat disconcerting here, though. First, as several people have pointed out on an ILM thread (which Momus links to at the end of his piece), for an “I have seen the future” declaration, it’s kinda tardy: this has been going on for a good half-decade, was theorized/manifesto-ed in the Wire and elsewhere (Mille Plateau sleevenotes etc) way back, and indeed many of its original advocates have succumbed to doubts and/or ennui, as the problems with the approach have emerged (the peculiar generic-ness and homogeneity of the glitch/click genre--for a supposed infinite universe of sound it sure sounds kinda samey and hidebound by its own conventions; also the sheer tear-your-hair-out tedium of seeing laptop stuff done as live performance). The other aspect, which Momus glides by with a “this doesn’t worry me” although pour moi it’s the most worrisome thing, is the extent to which this globe-spanning rhizome of sound-pulverisers is in bed with Official Culture: museums, art galleries, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, academic symposia, etc. It seems that this area of sound design/glitchtronica is being consciously developed as the junior wing of High Culture. And for me that’s quite problematic. It’s not exactly Deleuzian, being reliant on institutional support and governmental subsidy. Anything connected with museums tends to reek of sterility: keep your voice down respectfulness, edification, the absence of social energy. History would suggest that the Jamaican model of Social Darwinist cultural production (fierce grass-roots competition to achieve economic power and aesthetic triumph, resulting in an endless quest for “fresh”: both to lure consumers and to win innovator-kudos among your producer peers), generates better results than the French model of top-down patronage. The Jamaican model underpins not just dub and dancehall, but hip hop and the entire UK hardcore (rave>jungle>garage) continuum; the French model produced IRCAM. Nuff said.
Well and truly talking out my ass. The "dearth of lovely electronica" thesis lies in tatters, as barely a week goes by without someone else chipping in with a “hang on a minute, what about this?” comments. Rephlex artiste Global Goon (comin’ on like Aphex circa 1985-92 according to Jonathan Proctor); Mego artist Tujiko Noriko (“the Japanese Bjork” says Spanish journalist Javier Blanquez, who also recommends Joseph Nothing (for its BOC-style “forest-like appeal”) and points out the glaring absence of Mum from my picture (dead right, and that group is also probably the reference point for the Pulseprogramming album). And a couple of folks pointed out that the entire output of Morr somehow skipped my mind when making the rash pronouncement. Particularly striking about that label is its ardour for early Nineties shoegazer/dreampop: they’ve released covers of Slowdive songs! and have the group Guitar, whose Sunkissed is getting bigged up majorly (see this month’s Uncut, with David Stubbs wheeling out such hallowed icons of halycon as A.R. Kane and My Bloody Valentine as co-ordinates for this album’s “brainbath” of “see-sawing guitar frottage”).

Talking of dreampop, I also forgot to mention the lovely-leaning first two releases by a mate of mine from Germany, Heiko Hoffman, who’s started his own label Mobile: the gorgeous accordion-and-melodica infused electronica comp The Asthmatic Worm (pick hit: Gotan Project’s "El Capitalismo Foraneo", which is good enough to belong on Soon Over Babaluma) and the Yuletide comp Seasonal Greetings, which comes in an absolutely darling pocket-sized hardback-style cover and features tracks by such doyens of lovelytronica like St. Etienne, Opiate, Hood, and the aforementioned Mum. Oops, lost my drift there: we were talking about dreampop. Yes, Heiko’s next project for Mobile is a compilation of shoegazer music, working title Feedback to the Future, with tracks by everyone from Pale Saints to Ride to Moose. Not sure if I’m ready to go “there” yet, meaning back to the 69/Isn’t Anything/Heaven’s End/Daydream Nation mindset. Some of the records from that era I really hesitate to relisten to, lest they fail to live up to my memories (and hype). Plus, the category of “bliss” or “rapture” doesn’t really cover even a fraction of what I look for from music these days. Come to think of it, I’m not really sure why this blog is called Blissblog (except for consistency with the website’s original, spur-of-the-moment-1996 url). Most of the music I’m really feeling seems to be more about pleasurable tension of varying sorts than ecstatic release or swoony oblivion. I have a mini-thesis brewing on this subject, actually : pop-culture fashions in emotions, phenomenological states, modes of perception, sensibility… But later—much later-- for this.

Speak of the devil… A care package of pirate tapes arrives, courtesy of Luke, four of ‘em, hot off the airwaves, new-ish crews he rates like Nasty Crew; some Wiley and God’s Gift (BTW, you must hear the latter's awesome “Tribute to 32 MCs”: sign of this culture reaching the point of self-consciousness, pride in its own legacy). On first hearing: the amazing ferment of ideas sonic and rhymeological continues, amid a lot of tracks that sound like broken machinery, work-in-progress, experimental prototypes thrown out on the marketplace willy-nilly. Full report to follow.

PS if anybody London-based wants to get into a trade pact thing (one obvious transaction --pirates present for pirates past] get in touch.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Luke's Epistle. There's this chap I’ve been corresponding with for a while, a young Londoner called Luke, who knows a huge amount about the MC tradition in jungle and UKG (and wrote an amazing prose-poem tract on this subject, most of which has been mislaid). A few weeks ago he sent an email, not exactly taking issue with my gutter-garridge as rave-punk spiel as taking off from it. At 23, Luke already feels too “geriatric” and “sensible” to go to clubs anymore: garage is kids music, he says, and “why
the fuck should kids have any interest in, let alone fill their music with, maturity, subtlety, elegance, responsibilty, good manners or any of the other things adults have tried to drum into them?
”But even though he’s from “the RIGHT side of the tracks”, he’s so deep into this music he can articulate what it’s about. Very well indeed:

It's like Bill Hicks said, 'life just breaks you, man'--but garage is for those who haven't been broken yet, who still believe it might work out, that anger and pride, a refusal to conform and obey, the putting of fun before responsibilty, the now before the future, are valid responses to life, that we deserve to have what we want... Young people still have pride and that pride is being constantly affronted, what's more, they still have hope and that hope is constantly being brought into question. So obviously the music should sound hurt, bitter, angry, wayward, but it's joyful too, that mad exuberence, the energy, the playfulness... You say let's hear someone talking about normal stuff, reality, but really, who cares, that’s boring, I know ‘normal’, I try and manage 'normal' every day I go to work, I hate it, I feel I got a plastic bag wrapped round my face. Normal human beings, anyone with a bit of spirit left can't deal with that world, I can't work full time or I just go loops, flip out and get sacked, there has to be a way to escape, and yeah, crime, or fame are not really answers, not ones i'm happy with but at least it's something-- anything, any ludicris fantasy, is better than capitulation”.

All of which is eloquent, impassioned, moving, and then you have to do a headswerve and say, hang on a minute, this is UK garage he’s talking about, 2step– slinky, sexy, bottle of Moet. Since when did it became the voice of disaffected, disenfranchised youth, the soundtrack for defiance and frustration? You could take Luke's words and teleport them verbatim back to 1977 and they’d fit punk perfectly (or at least one version of punk, the Clash/Jam/Tony Parsons version). Which is possibly the
most depressing thing about gutter-garage (or whatever it’s going to actually end up being called) --- the way that the sociocultural context that's shaped and prompted it is virtually unchanged since punk. The only difference between Blair Inc. and the fatally compromised and thwarted Labour government that backdropped punk is that Callaghan & Co were notionally socialist (in ’76 they were still nationalising the odd industry, like British Leyland). After 23 years of unbroken postsocialism, Thatcher-Major-Blair stylee, it’s easy to see why the underclass might feel like waste(d) youth, the effluent of an uncaring shitstem; from the Pistols' “flowers in the dustbin” to today’s MCs boasting about coming “straight from the sewer” or being "dutty, stinkin’, grimy", plus ca change. There’s crucial differences, of course. Punk was white, this movement is black (well, there's lots of white kids involved but the sonix and attitudes are black-determined). There’s no art school element, and unlike with punk there is almost no sympathetic analysis from the media, either newspapers or the music press. Gutter is even more of an outcast tribe.

You could also take Luke’s words and drop ‘em smack dab into the middle of Teenage Wasteland, Donna Gaines’ brilliant 1990 book about metalheads and burn-outs in New Jersey (a subcultural continuum that runs from Sabbath through Metallica to Staind). And when Luke talks about how “threatening music doesn't make me feel threatened it makes me become the threat, and I doubt I'm alone in that; I'm not saying it makes me feel violent but it does make me feel sort of powerful, bigger and more important than I usually feel”, and then explains this maniacal self-aggrandisement in terms of a desperate response to narrowed opportunities, blocked dreams and the youthphobic attitudes and policies of the authorities and populace at large… well, it’s exactly the sort of interpretation/justification I’ve made for gabber: as a power trip for the powerless, darknoise for white niggas with bad attitude from Brooklyn to Glasgow to Rotterdam...

At this point it’s worth taking a quick look at the strange journey taken by this word "garage", track the drift of a signifier across the currents of culture. In the beginning (the tail end of the Eighties) it meant “music like Larry used to play at the Paradise Garage”, but of course this NYC/New Jersey sound rapidly codified itself as a genre and soon sounded nothing like as open-ended and quirky as Levan’s playlist; basically, it referred to a New York deep house sound, full of warm, organic textures that harked back to the “real” instrumental playing and lush orchestrations of Seventies disco and soul. As a scene, it was largely gay and largely black/Hispanic. In the UK, "garage" lost this racial and sexual designation to a large extent, appealing more broadly as quality music for cognoscenti and purists; its aura was adult, affluent, tasteful. This was real “musicality” for grown-ups, not rave fodder for drug-crazed teens. In other words, garage originally meant the sort of Gilles Peterson/Norman Jay subtlety-riddled snob stuff that Luke derides above! Speed garage circa 1997 ruffed up the sound a bit with junglizm and bashment vibes, but essentially the appeal was the same: a sexy, mature, monied sound. VIP biznis, seen. This carried on through 2step until 2000, when the kids staged their putsch: teenage boys bringing the darkness, the aggression, the brock-out energy, the apoplectic and apocalyptic emceeing--i.e. all the things that were never part of it before. Today, musically, there's almost nothing left to connect UKG 2002 to the house continuum, just the odd hi-hat twitch and ghost-trace of the bump’n’flex pulse.

From Kerri Chandler’s “A Basement, A Red Light and A Feeling” to GK Allstars’s “Garage Feeling”, a vast distance--sonic, cultural, geographical--has been traversed. The form of invocation is the same (an appeal to an untranscribeable yet visceral vibe, the gut-gnosis of the true believer), but the actual feelings in question could hardly be further apart.

Funny thing, culture, innit.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Still reeling from the Greensleeves launch party for Elephant Man’s third album Higher Level, probably the closest I’ll ever get to attending a proper bashment. What a strange-looking gentleman the self-styled “energy god” is—as my companion Sci-Fi Paul remarked, with his bright yellow tendrils of hair and homely face Elepant looks uncannily like Harpo Marx. And what gives with the bizarre patchwork corduroy suit in shades of brown, beige and white?

Elephant is probably the biggest dancehall deejay of the last few years, at least inside Jamaica itself, and offhand I can’t think of an event where I’ve witnessed such audience love: the front six rows were a forest of mini-cameras and camcorders, a panorama of adulatory faces and frank female lust. The first half-hour of the show was one of the most intense performances I’ve ever experienced, in impact terms on a par with Swans and Diamanda Galas. Perhaps the most exciting and thought-provoking aspect was the collectivity: it was meant to be Elephant’s show, but apart from a bizarre, extremely long and mostly (to me) incomprehensible-owing-to-patois speech right at the start of the performance, he mostly let his retinue of crew members and guests shine. Hardly any songs got played for more than a minute, and some got cut off after about 20 seconds; it was a chaos of MC freestyles and singers crooning lover’s rock and R&B in delirious falsetto (one chap actually sounding like a soprano, so womanly it was almost disturbing). And even though the event started to flag a bit about two-thirds through, owing to the excessive number of people onstage and the incessant swapping around of the mic, I’d still say this was way more entertaining than any hip hop show I’ve ever seen.

Which may explain the looks of sheer delight on people’s faces. After years of going to moody jungle and UKG events, it was a surprise, and refreshing, to witness such full-on enjoyment and joyousness. In a really interesting way, dancehall stars seem to simultaneously be treated as gods and yet have a representative-of-the-people quality that makes them accessible and down-to-earth. Maybe this is related to the way that dancehall’s turnover is so intense that most star deejays return to the street real quick. But while they’re in the spotlight, boy do they revel in it. Elephant, the bastard, made us wait two hours, basking in the VIP room as TV crews (presumably from JA) jostled for his attention, and members of his entourage seized their moment in front of the camera, firing off their mammoth “big-up” namecheck lists and performing their trademark vocal licks.

And along with the sense of fun and release, my god, the style of the audience: with the men, it was sometimes so exquisite, it verged on (and this is damn weird all things considered) gay. The whole experience did make me sympathise with wigga types who just decide ‘"nah, white culture can’t compete with this’"and dedicate their whole lives to the pre-doomed fraudulence and pathos of trying to pass for black. There were a handful of white wannabes at this event, looking distinctly awkward. And of course there was ginger-haired Bobby Konders of Massive B/Hot 97 fame. (Talking of your white custodian/Steve Barrow-Barker types, I was given a flyer for a David Rodigan event: have you ever seen a picture of this guy, he looks like Alan Partridge gone totally bald!).

And the album? It’s great—my favorite track at this moment is “Tall Up Tall Up”, with its Yuletide dancehall versioning of “Joy To the World”, complete with string quartet. At a certain point I realized I was never going to be more than a dancehall dilettante, ‘cos to really keep on top of it is a full-time activity, entailing many hours in record-store basements whose walls are covered with 7 inch singles. But I look forward with renewed eagerness to the dilettante's annual ritual: buying the Greensleeves and VP
"anthems of the year" comps.
Another thought-provoking Needledrops column from Philip Sherburne, this one entitled Ever the Optimist and noteworthy for its honest gloom about the year's musical output, and for its candour about how professional anxiety plays into this despondency: the difficulty of selling stories about a genre (electronic music) that A/ seems to have been bypassed by History, and B/ is splintering into ever more miniscule sub-generic fragments and micro-cultures whose significance simply does not resonate unless you are a total 24/7 insider. 2002 was a year when even a Next Medium-Sized Thing would have been a boon. The inverse corollary of what Sherburne is describing is the syndrome where writers semi-consciously adopt a forced tone of optimism and excitability, because it gets them more work and longer word-counts. There's never been too much of a market for curmudgeons in pop writing.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Idyllitronica #3. As is so often the way (maybe I should just rename this blog “Not Fully Baked” and be done with it) almost immediately after I’d remarked herein some weeks ago that there’d been a dearth of sheer loveliness in electronic music, it was like, open the floodgates: a deluge of pure electronic loveliness. Slight exaggeration: three albums doesn't quite make for a flood, but it's certainly enough to make a paper doily out of yer thesis. Kaito’s Special Life (Kompact), recommended to me by a number of "hang on a minute, mate" correspondents, is just gorgeous. What’s sorta uncanny about this release is that it comes from the microhouse zone but its sound is only a hair’s breadth from full-on trance, all fluffy ripples of cumulus-cirrus sound and spangly acoustic guitars sourced in Jam & Spoon's '92 proto-trance classic “Stella” . The album sounds a bit like if the Chain Reaction boys, on some aberrant whim or out-of-character impulse, elected to go to Ibiza one year, where they did an E or three, heard Energy 52’s “Cafe Del Mar” , and promptly decided: “Detroit can eat a dick--this stuff is the shit! Fuck being so somber all the time! ”. Talking of which, the second of the three return-of-lovely albums is Scion’s arrange and process basic channel tracks on Tresor, which consists of exactly what it says on the wrapping: Chain Reaction's Scion isolating fragments from across the 18 sides of the nine original Basic Channel 12 inches and weaving them into new compositions. Suggesting infinite possibilities within the finitude of that BC 1-9 series, it fulfils the fan’s core craving for more-of-the-same-only-different. Almost too minimal and subtle for the blatant lush-ciousness of true lovely, arrange and process nonetheless qualifies thanks to its gossamer-delicate traceries of flicker-riffs and shimmer-pulses. Talking of pulse-programming, bait your breath for Tulsa For One Second by Pulseprogramming, forthcoming early in 2003 on the Aesthetics label. Exquisitely packaged in grey-streaked cardboard, this sounds something like an IDM take on Young Marble Giants' Colossal Youth, with maybe a bit of The Blue Nile in there too. Luvverly.
A biter confesses. I just plain forgot (honest, guv!) that CCRU’s Mark Fisher (now trading as Mark De'Rosario) had made the “punk garage” argument a year or more ago in this Hyperdub piece on Oxide & Neutrino, which opens by comparing “Up Middle Finger” to "Anarchy in the U.K." as epochal singles bringing rage and aggression back to their respective cultural moments. Massive props to Mark for his prescience.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

"Four bucks gets you in. 10 til 4. That's 67 cents an hour, man. Cor, you're gonna be sorted." The NYC massive shouldn't miss Sorted: the Relick, which takes place this Thursday (December 5th) at Bar 13 on University Place/corner of 13th Street. The first one (scroll down to the 'Memor-E Lane' item) was absolutely killer, and now DB and Dara are offering another chance for one and all to wallow unreservedly in the old skool time travel trip. The concept is "Music from London, Manchester & Chicago, 1988 - 1992" but don't expect too much acieed or baggy beat: last time, it was like rave’s own internal logic of intensification kept pulling the deejays towards 1991/92 and holding them there ('cos how could you go back down a notch in intensity?). 'There' being that explosive brink where hip hop met Italo-house met techno met Jamaica in the supercollider of mass MDMA madness. I intend to be one of the last men standing come 4'o clock in the morning, so chances are that drunk guy doing increasingly erratic finger-patterns in the air is going to be me.