Monday, October 06, 2003

Never got to Marcuse, but Norman O. Brown, yes yes yes. Life Against Death: another inter-library year-off-before-college favorite. Quite an influence on Jim Morrison apparently. Brown comes up with this wacked-out, impractical and unliveable rereading of Freud contra its positivist reductions at the hands of American psychoanalytical industry. His polymorphous perversity advocacy very much chiming in with Situationism, "playpower", yippies et al (although the scholar Brown was quite sniffy re. the counterculture, drugs, etc, if I recall). Love's Body, the sequel: a bit fragmentary and aphoristic, this heads deep out into the mystic, throws the Bible into the mix, suggests we give up language altogether. Totally nuts. There was a third one.
Ah. I've took someone whom Eden's quoted on Hawkwind to be Uncarved.Org's actual own Official position on Hawkwind. Seems like he actually thinks they're shite but has barely heard them. In fact, it appears that it's Shards Fragments & Totems who really = Hawkwind. I was actually vacillating between Eden and Meme but came down... the wrong side so it seems.

Hawkwind do appear to be a band to which embarrassment attaches itself--I remember the guy from Loop getting all hot under the collar about being compared to them. But quite why Amon Duul II are cool, and Hawkwind not, is hard to see.

Edgar Broughton Band---always wanted to hear them. Who else is there in the longhaired postpsych but too-raw-to-be-really-prog sector? Tractor were pretty cool. Man? Another one I wanna hear. Stackwaddy.
Back like Lazarus: the Sixties-haters vs Sixties-lovers debate. Nigel from The Yes/No Interlude: "Reading Theodore Roszak's The Making of a Counter Culture (1969), a useful corrective to the usual soppy memoirs of the 60s. Indeed, it's hard to recognise the world he was writing about from the consensual histories of what that decade was supposedly all about. It wasn't just the Beatles, Twiggy and Carnaby Street, you know. Some people read books back then...."

That's another one I got out on the Hertfordshire inter-library loan system!

Hammill, sorry K-Punk, says: thank prog we're out of the Sixties at least and talking Seventies. But surely prog proves that the early Seventies is the continuation/expansion of the Sixties project? Periodisation is always tricky when it comes to culture, but if epochs and epistemes actually exist in pop culture they definitely don't correspond to the decades, they overlap. Some historians put the end of "the Sixties" at around 1974 when a whole bunch of factors (OPEC-induced oil crisis, world recession, end of Vietnam War etc) brought a distinct epoch starting roughly 1963 to a close. All the narratives and movements and struggles, in pop and in para-pop (politics/culture/art/media/fashion) that escalated
in the mid-Sixties didn't punctually terminate on Jan 1st 1970, they carried on, mutating and in some cases intensifying.

I just mentioned the Hawkwind scene--that's one Sixties-continues example. Others include Krautrock/kosmische rock (Faust and Amon Duul w/ the communal thing, links to German radical politics); folk-rock; 70s political soul (all catalysed by Sly & the Family Stone according to Greil Marcus); glam's secret hippie roots (Tyrannosaurus Rex's faery whimsy, space fantasy, acoustic guitar + bongos >>> T. Rex chrome boogie 4 teenyboppers -- plus Bolan was in John's Children, of course). Even the underground disco scene, pre-Saturday Night Fever, was full of former headz, Happenings-style lights/sonic overload, and love peace unity respect rhetoric, it was driven by the same energies that pushed the gay liberation movement and civil rights. Beyond music, the Seventies auteur movie thing continued what began with Easy Rider et al.

Given punk being staffed by 1968-veterans, and post-punk's connections to pre-punk culture/secret hippie roots, I actually think there's a case for saying "the Sixties" really ends circa 83/84, when the independent/alternative ideal died, or at least calcified/withdrew/festered. In the broader culture, you could date it from the Falklands War (and ineffectual protest movement c.f. Vietnam) and Thatcher's reelection (ditto Reagan). Her first term, I think everybody on the left thought was a fluke, rather than a real sea change. The fact that she was reelected despite massive unemployment etc was the real hammerblow. Sheer disbelief. Thatcher-Reagan was all about reversing the gains of the Sixties, about the breakup of post-war liberal/permissive consensus.

Round about then your Rough Trades went entryist, started adopting managerial structures and competitive practices, using radio pluggers. It was time to "get real" or go to the wall (whereon the writing was).

If I was to date the utter end of "the Sixties" in music terms to a single record it might be Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer". Those albums around "Games Without Frontier" and "Shock The Money" were his "postpunk" efforts (paranoia, alienation, no cymbals on the drums). "Sledgehammer" is him selling out to the Eighties, that burnished airless Go West beige-funk sound. See also ex-Traffic man Stevie Winwood's records of that time.

Non-coincidentally, the final end of "the Sixties" musically in the early/mid Eighties coincides with... the Sixties Revival. Only when it was truly dead could it be recycled as blank homage: Jesus & Mary Chain, Primal Scream trying to Love meets soft Velvets, the Paisley Underground, Byrds-imitators galore, The Cult circa "Revolution"... Or as joke: Doctor & the Medics, Neil the Hippy's cover of "Hole In My Shoe".

Anyway Mark shouldn't hate on the Sixties because if ever there was a time that was all about discontinuum and breaks and looking forward and refusing to be weighed down by the past, it was then. Christopher Booker wrote a whole book trying to discredit the Sixties project--the title was The Neophiliacs. It's not the "real" Sixties fault that the nostalgia industry got hold of it and effectively ruined it.
prog blog addenda #1

--- Hawkwind are great! "Silver Machine": godhead. That wasn't a diss John, but a compliment, and also a genuine attempt to place where you're coming from (pretty accurate it seems). A crucial band for all the reasons you list. On the flyer for their first event Throbbing Gristle positioned themselves as "post-psychedelic trash" and I think they had the Hawkwind/London squat/free party nexus in mind as an area they wanted to tap into (this is before punk had emerged, so what other context could they look to). Someone could/should do a book on that post-psych/pre-punk zone, Pink Fairies Gong Here & Now etc. Hawkwind: A big influence on Chrome, and there’s definite parallels with the more guitar-driven Cabaret Voltaire. Hawkwind: definitely one for Tres Hot in the next year's Uberhipster Index.

--- I'm thinking Carmody's more like Roy Harper than Fairport Convention

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Prog-blog.

TWANBOC = Robert Wyatt

K-Punk = Peter Hammill

I Have Zero Money/Howie = Magma

Heronbone = Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

House At World's End = Fairport Convention

Freakytrigger/NYLPM/Ewingland = Brian Eno

Worlds of Possibility = Popol Vuh

Somedisco = Ivor Cutler

The Original Soundtrack = Kate Bush

Uncarved = Hawkwind

Pillbox = on a good day John Martyn, on a less good day Wigwam

Blissblog = on a good day Can, on a less good day Henry Cow

(to be continued, revised, amended...)
The return of the Archives. (thanks Matt)

Friday, October 03, 2003

Further to the East Indians in the West Indies, bhangra/dancehall postcolonial bizniz 'n' ting topic, Dave Stelfox tells me that Diwali man Lenky is in fact half-Indian.
I love Dr Who too and certain images from it haunt my memory from childhood but I can't remember any actual plotlines or series scenario so can't participate in the amazing auteurist discourse instigated by K-Punk. But I did recently acquire Out of This World, a nice BBC Radiophonic Workshop album of 'atmospheric sounds and effects' as used on Dr. Who and other science fiction/supernatural programmes. It's surprisingly listenable considering that many of the "tracks" are as short as 12 seconds (the average is more like 45 seconds, almost Commercial Album length) and have titles like "Sea of Mercury", "Firespitting Monster", "Terror Zing", "Venusian Space Lab", "Andromedan War Machine", "Laser Gun, five bursts" and "Gravity Generator". Hey, here's one that's called "Magic Mushroom" (and it's only three seconds long!). Is this a deliberately dropped clue that the Radiophonic Workers were not unacquainted with psychedelics? I think we should be told! Very nice tacky cover, oh for a scanner and I could do the TWANBOC thing. Annoyingly the Dr. Who theme is not included.
Promising new blog with a quite splendid name: Tufluv.

Particularly enjoyed this bit: “What did hi-fi ever do to Dillinja? The man must have some enormous sulphur-belching reservoir of acidic loathing for stereo sound, speaker boxes, studios and anything remotely involved with the amplification of noise because anytime he goes near them he seems intent on obliterating noise itself: amping it up to that event horizon where sound ceases to be sound and turns itself inside out, imploding in a deafening white silence where it just goes * and screams like a newborn baby Big-Bang into the dimension on the other side of the sonic boom. This isn’t music, it’s a murder.”

Course I'd much rather prefer to read this description than actually listen to a Dillinja record these days--that boy used to be a GOD to me but then circa “Acid Trak” he went all Dom & Rolandy and lost it major far as I’m concerned. I suppose this begs the question why I like the punitive aesthetic when it's Grime but not post-97 d&b.... I have no answer as yet... have to get back to you on that one...

Tufluv has nice wide range well beyond the usual bloghood suspects, for instance stuff on 'broken beats'. Must beg to differ though: that West London Soundbwoy favorite “Loose Lips” is a ghastly thing. If that tune broken beats’s best effort at an Anthem the scene’s got problems.


More reactionaries--Garage Nation promoters talking in RWD webzine about their intention to bring back UKG oriented to an upmarket crowd and pure niceness vybe:
That crowd is still there, a lot of people still want to go out and hear garage but feel intimidated. It went too underground, bands like So Solid gave it a bad name, but I think it’s coming out of that a little bit. All the MCs rhyming about ‘I’m going to kill your mother’ and all that, we don’t wanna hear it. … We’re trying to take it back to the vibe it was, for the people who wanna hear UKG but don’t wanna hear an MC shouting all night. That is happening now and it’s the reason old skool is doing so well. “

“Kill-your-mother” is what they used to nickname that ultraviolent strain of hardest-core gabba back in the day. One of my few disappointments with the way Grime’s turned out is that the gabber-garridge vibe didn’t last very long--“I Luv U” and a few pirate tunes nicking the Human Resource ‘Dominator’ dronewarm sound, and that was about it.
Time of the Season. Silver Dollar Circle brings bad news for the EZ's and Timmi Magics of this world: "Grime seems to be getting colder, even more minimal and mechanical as the winter sets in; check out Youngster's DJ sets on Rinse on tuesday nights. last tuesday the MC was goading Youngster to 'take it colder, we're gonna get below minus degrees'. and the music got ever more inhuman hostile and grinding to point where it was just a stuttering electronic pulse with metallic flickers over the top. And they refused a request to play 'eskimo' cuz 'this is a forward show'. is 'eskimo' now old skool/played out?!"

And further to the Wiley "Eskimo"/Residents Eskimo thing, I forgot that Wiley of course also did a track called "Igloo"...


Friday, September 26, 2003

Martin Clark the news editor of Deuce tells me:

"Wiley co-promotes the Eskimo Dance raves, hence the term "Eski" in the music policy. But so far no one else seems to be using the term in London..."


More good bits from the latest Deuce:

EZ unwittingly puts his finger on what's good about grime: “It was much rawer, emptier, dark and nonmusical than any other styles within the genre

Tim Smith, Dizzee Rascal’s former music teacher:
“If you analyse his patterns they’re very interesting. A lot of it is very modal, very Oriental.”
and intriguingly
I’ve got all his music still--I must give it back to him--I’ve got 30 numbers by him."

Dean Boylan from Dem 2 also complains about 8-bar as “just the people that can’t take the music further than drums & bass. It’s not music to me!”, but his partner Spencer Edwards surely ought to know better given his background: “Joy Division played a big part in my early musical influences. Also Kraftwerk, then Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle. The more experimental/industrial edge of electronica has always been deep rooted in me”. Another Rob Haigh! Bet Spence turns out to be been the Tibetan thigh-bone trumpeter in Nocturnal Emissions or something.

Jonathan Leidecker reminds me that The Residents actually released a special disco version of Eskimo called “Diskomo”. Would love to report that it is in fact the unwitting and unheralded prototype for 8-bar but having just played it, in all honesty it's not. But it is full of the same sort of sounds your Wileys and Jammers like to use, ultrasynthnetic and plasticky, plinky-glinky, or just plain wrong-sounding. On The Commercial Album two tunes do sound especially and queerly 8-bar like: the pagoda-stately “Amber,” and the ultra-aptly titled “Japanese Watercolour”, with its weird combo of clunky bombast and calligraphic elegance tres redolent of Orientalist 8-bar. The Commercial Album method--removing all the redundancy and repetition from pop songs, distilling them down to anr ad-length 60 seconds--is also something that should be compulsory for 8-bar don't you think? As noted by Technicolor a while back, you really don't need much more than a minute of any of these tunes, which is why it's quadruply galling to have to pay 8 quid for a one-sided 12 inch. They should either do them as 7 inchs retailing at a couple of quid each, or give us eight 90 second minute 8bar-jingles per release.
Robin Carmody on what he calls fascist-hop, and specifically Cam'ron's "Get 'Em Girls":
“Did Westwood deliberately time Cam'ron's "Get 'Em Girls" to start just as the finale of Last Night of the Proms was roaring into action just down the dial? At any rate it worked; the slow-building orchestral sample, grimy atmosphere turned up to 11, heartless threats ("get your face slapped" indeed) is a well-worn format by now, but at that moment, it couldn't have been bettered. It sounds, in a way no Dre production ever could, as though Cam's *raping* the orchestra…”


"Bad Moon Rising... was the first SY record I bought, at the tender age of 11, and to say that it expanded certain parts that were best left unstretched would be rather the understatement"--the precocious Jonathon Dale. Fuckinell, the only "pop record" I owned at the age of eleven was the seven inch single of Scott Joplin's theme from The Sting. Talk about inauspicious beginnings....



Thursday, September 25, 2003

New on hyperdub, Mr. Sterling Clover's Coalition of the Thrilling: Hip-Hop's Long Hot Indian Summer explores the intersection of bhangra & hip hop. Killer line, imagining dancehall-bhangra as the "the burnt out ends of British Empire getting together" to compare notes and dish the dirt---"the momentary sonic promise of a postcolonial first wives club..."

Aren't there actually a fair number of migrants from the Subcontinent living in the Caribbean? Not sure if this was postcolonial/intra-Commonwealth drift (c.f. Indians moving to Uganda) or something that went on during actual British Empire days, but that's the impression I got from somewhere. I think circa a few years back I heard a whole spate of soca tunes that were like soca-bhangra, was puzzled, and then someone explained it in those terms--not just sonic-meme drift but actual population-drift.

[pause]
Aha! here we have it -- [consults Dave Thompson's Reggae & Caribbean Music guide] -- there's a section on Chutney, a style of Carib music. In the 1830s a whole load of "indentured servants" were brought
from the East Indies to the West Indies--400 thousand of them, mostly "from the Western and Southern states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and the area around Madras, and were settled primarily in the British colonies of British Guiana, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica". Some opted to return when their time of service ended, but many stayed. According to Thompson, their descendants constitute 43 percent of the population in T&T, and 52 percent in Guyana. The ethnic/political/musical history that ensued is too tangled and complex to precis but here suffice to say in the mid-Nineties a chap called General Grant had a "dub-chutney" hybrid hit that he called "bhangra-muffin" and there's been loads of Indian music flavored hits in the Caribbean including "Calcutta Woman" and "'Ragga Dulahin."

While we're talking about postcolonial dislocation (and c.f. TWANBOC's recent splendid two-part history of Indophilia in jazz and rock) it feels vaguely salient to follow up the recent revelation that I'm 25 percent Cockney by mentioning that I'm also 37.5 percent Indian. In fact as far as I can work out the 37.5 per cent is from Goa, which seems sort of appropriate. Sadly owing to my dad's White-Teeth-level saga of a life leaving him extremely Anglicized I didn't grow up exposed to ragas and other non-Western sonix like Geeta did. No, it was all Oscar Peterson, Dudley Moore Trio, Songs For Swingin' Lovers and West Side Story round our house. Musicals, I love 'em.

i was second-thinking the Residents/8bar parallel below as unusually fanciful even for me, but wait up a second thar-- first I learn that the Residents were majorly into gamelan and Harry Partch (composer who built his own metallophonic invented instruments--another chaps whose worth-hundreds-of-quid-now-album title escape me just now I picked up for 75 p in Oxfam in '83) and that parallels the plinky-chimey tuned percussion vybe in much 8bar grime. And apparently their other big thing was soundtrack music (Morricone an especial favorite chez Residents) and of course soundtracks is where 8bar gets both its strings-stab grandiosity/poignancy ("Terrible","Ain't A Game" etc), its bombastic fanfares, and its pseudo-Oriental vybes. But really the clincher is... The Residents did Eskimo , a recreation in sound of the Inuit world, while one of Wiley's prototypical 8bar tunes was "Eskimo" (just one of approx 100 snow/ice/polar themed tracks). Which doubtless in turn inspired the Eskimo Dance Rave and its (imaginary? I really hope not) genre Eski….

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

another good bit from that Timmi Magic interview: "The 'What Is Urban House?' night has eliminated the MC and we've added Kele Le Roc singing along with the music. We've eliminated the rewinds and added live percussion." Woooh, vibetastic!
One of the very few music magazines I pay money for these days is Deuce. Like
Touch but with a much younger feel, it’s a London “urban music” mag --the notional spectrum is rap ragga R&B UK garage bashment, but in practice these days it’s more or less contracted to GRIME. It’s not fabulous journalistically, but it has features on all the big names on the scene (September’s cover is J Da Flex, July’s was N.A.S.T.Y.) and I like the way they use slang in the news pages (“Dumpvalve Recordings has bare new releases lined up for this autumn”) as if these words were just proper Queen’s journalistic English. Deuce is also great as just a fat wodge of scene-discourse to chew over, the lack of distance from the scene is actually a positive thing in this respect--in a sense the ads for raves and the readers letters give you as much raw data as the reviews and features.

Best of all are the covermount CDs--indeed you can think of Deuce as a cheap CD sampler (3 quid in the UK, $7-50 in the USA) with a free magazine attached. The Dumpvalve CD was pretty dull admittedly and marred by an intrusive MC every minute and a half, but the current issue has J Da Flex celebrating 1Xtra’s Anniversary and while not my favorite strand of the ardkore continyumm is pretty fucking slick (some good Plasticman and Mark One tracks). And the N.A.S.T.Y. mix by Jammer was fantastic: 24 tracks, killer 03 classics like Kano's ‘Boys Love Girls,’ Jammer/D.Double E's lovely “Birds in Da Sky,” Jammer’s diva-portentous “One and All”, plus a whole heapa brand new stuff from Jammer, Bigga-Man, Davince and Lewi Lewis. Jammer is giving Wiley a real run for his money on the avant-8bar artcore tip. There’s a staggering sequence in the middle--“Weed Man”, “Pick & Mix”, “Why”, “Thug,” “Let Go”--that is pure Orientalist darkbliss. The bamboo music of “Weed Man” especially feels like these guys have somehow penetrated, via intensive exposure to the degraded forms of videogame muzik and martial arts movie soundtracks, deep into some heartcore of Chinese and Japan musics. All tuned percussion pings, sploings, tabla-like wibbles, and musique concrete plashes, “Why” is like Arthur Russell meets Swizz Beatz. What's exciting about the post-"Ice Rink" wave of eightbar is that it's not something you could really have predicted or logically worked out as the next step from where UK garage was at a couple of years ago. All these real downtempo, assymetrically structured grooves featuring what Paul ‘Sci-Fi Soul’ Kennedy calls “bass-Slinkying-down-stairs” b-lines, these broken melodies and pizzicato jitter-riffs: you think how did they get here from there (2step)? As much as I love the new LFO and Kraftwerk records, this stuff really shames them, makes them sound antique, this is the level of newness they should be coming up to still deserve the reputation they once had.

PS: I was listening to the N.A.S.T.Y. cd on phones while trying to read Chris Cutler on The Residents, it was like a split-brain thing, and the half of the brain listening to
N.A.S.T.Y. suddenly thought “why, you know what, this really reminds me quite a bit of the Commercial Album--plinky, glinty, sounds, off-key non-Western tonalities, gamelan-jingles”. and I swear the idea came up independently of the fact that I happened to be reading File Under Popular's chapter on the Residents, it really was like my head was in two different places. Eerie!

PPS. Sounds like I was knocking Deuce as journalism, well you’re not going to get Finney-level texturological/riddimatic minutiae-minded analysis for sure, but the latest ish (September) has some good pieces. There’s a breakdown defining all the new garage subgenres -- dubstep, urban house, 8bar, 2step, sublow, grime, 4beat, breakbeat garage, dark 4/4 and more (and an earlier issue included something called Eastbeat--wa?). (Also in a big ad for The Eskimo Dance rave, there’s a reference to a genre called Eski--??????). Elsewhere in the mag there’s a whole interview with Timmi Magic the guy behind the What Is Urban House nights and This Is Urban House compilation. The emergence of Urban House shows Grime has literally polarized the scene, forcing those who don’t want to get down with its unforgiving futurist programme to go backwards, past 2step, past speed garage even, all the way to 96/95 and that pre-“Ripgroove”/”Soundbwoy Burial” moment when UK garage was more or less a US garage-wannabe scene. Explaining the spate of Back to ’95 nights oriented around “130 bpm 4/4” deepness, around “the elimination of the MC” and the abolition of the rewind, Timmi Magic spells it out: “the reason why people play old school is because there’s nothing new coming out [in the deep 4/4 vein], there’s a brick wall been built. So you either go forward or play old school.” Erm, well, how about we “go forward” then?

Sunday, September 21, 2003

bit more on london versus...

i don't think i've been saying that london is the font of all greatness, obviously there's been times when the rest of the UK has been in the ascendant, but even during say postpunk -- when Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, despite their own internal rivalries, collectively commandeered the limelight -- even then London held its own with PiL, This Heat, Slits, Raincoats, and so forth (I also think Wire and the Banshees count as London since Watford and Bromley are in London's orbit). it's a self-perpetuating thing, for better or worse -- people just come to london, a high proportion of the best and brightest, and things simply happen there -- like for instance i don't think a single member of the raincoats was from london but that's where they accreted and found a context that nourished them.

my point though was really about dance music -- after about 1990 the capital keeps coming up with the goods time and time again, at least in terms of paradigm shifts -- good records have come from all over the country of course but nowhere else has really created a innovatory New Style... for instance Gatecrasher-trance was based around music from Holland and Germany like Paul Van Dyk, there was nothing sonically local about it

the mystery to me is Manchester -- what happened to it after Madchester turned to Gunchester? ... and what in the last ten years has actually sustained the perennial undying Manc patriotism about itself as the counter-capital.. as far as i can see it's come up with near to nowt in the last decade ... . Badly Drawn Boy... Gomez... Am i missing some obvious cutting edge dance (or other) entity from Manchester?

>it's not as if there are no pirates outside the holy wall >of the M25.

yes it's true there's pirates elsewhere in the UK and elsewhere in the world, but for some reason the concentration of them in other UK cities has never achieved critical mass and become a self-perpetuating new-sound-generating machine like it has in London. i was going to say no other city needs to re-enchant itself through collective audio-hallucination to the same extent (norf souf east and west we've got you locked etc) but manchester is still pretty dreary and inclement-to-the-soul despite the recent facelift...

re. Mark's point about london not being vital in the Eighties and suddenly switching on in the nineties, i don't know if this is quite what happened... i've got hardly any personal experience of london clubland before the 90s, i went to one warehouse party, a few clubs -- but there was a whole proto-rave warehouse culture going back at least as far as this thing in the early eighties called the dirtbox (i think that's the name) with jeremy healey (as in haysi fantazee!) djing (he was actually cool and underground at one point believe it or not). but my sense is that with london's pre-rave club culture and warehouse party scene, there were various flavours but one thing they had in common was they were all based around music that wasn't made in London -- it was all imports -- rap, electro, funk, go go, house -- or old connoiseur musics like rare groove, even a bit of northern soul. there was this massive 'street sounds'/street beats culture in London (as there was in bristol and elsewhere), but almost entirely based around music imported from America.

as far as i know the first stuff that has a real London dance identity is all those DJ records from 87 onwards like s'express, coldcut, bomb the bass, MARRS and also perhaps the renegade soundwave stuff, maybe meat beat too.

there was quite a london-specific reggae scene in the 80s though--all that fast-chat toasting by smiley culture and sound systems like saxon. The DJ records and the fast-chat soundsystem scene are both pre-glimpses of hardcore, if you combine the dj-records' breaks & sampladelia with the gruff ragga chat and b-line presha you get ragga twins shut up and dance rebel mc ibiza noise factory....

so i imagine the eighties in london was actually pretty pumpin', vital in a certain sense but not necessarily fertile in terms of creating new sounds

why london was a little bit slower than the North in terms of homegrown house and warping the detroit-chicago-nyc importz sounds to Uk-specific needs thing i couldn't say, but we're only talking a year or so....

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Feels like we're heading towards a faintly querulous deadlock in london vs. provinces so lemme just weigh in with one cheap snipe-

--- doesn't the expression "sent to Coventry" refer to somehow who's been pushed to the cold periphery of a social circle, banished?

(though they did give us 2-Tone and Doc Scott you know so big up alla da Coventry cru)

and a few more sensible points:

in re. the fractured unmanageable magnitude of london as the fantasies about it and the realities of it overlap and clash in friction
>But who has that experience, apart from theorists >like us,

well, how about anyone who's gone on a night bus journey?

it's the hugeness of London, it always blows my mind, the geographical spread of it seems to be on the same order of Sao Paolo or Mexico City, rather than New york which feels compact by comparison

>and are you really saying that this experience is >productive of culture?

yeah -- bringing it back to my favorite subject -- the pirates, it's like a consensus hallucination of london as this electric city -- the superimposed sound-web that connects all these in reality quiet dreary places distributed across a vast area. it's only recently that the pirates have got so specific about this or that particular End. Garage isn't just an East thing, there's pirates all over, in the South, the West, the North... (and not just garage pirates--dancehall, drum'n'bass, etc etc). With Grime sure there's more of a local slant these days, but the overall mythos is still in the lineage of "London massive", "it's a London thing", "London sumtin' dis"

which relates to why i still think it's gerrymandering the vote if you exclude from London's tally of greatness all the sublocalities of the city.. East London is the eastern part of London

I do agree with Mark though that London can be a right shithole a lot of the time. There's been trips back where I've thought "what a dump" -- skies the colour of the interior of a Cornish pastie, sourfaced people everywhere, foul air, traffic like the sluggish pulse of blood through clogged arteries. Large swathes of the city are just humdrum, internal suburbs secreted within the metropolis. Then there's places like Dalston (you can see where TG got their death factory vibe from). Or Southfields, where I went once to interview gabba dj Loftgroover, and where there's this huge rent in the landscape: on one side this vast industrial zone of smokebelching chimneys, freight yards and what i could swear were oil refineries, and on the other side of this fissure these dowdy dejected crescents of maisonettes. You think 'how can people live like this?'...

People are always surprised when i tell them how pleasant New York is as place to live. Well, a huge rat ran across the children's playground in Tompkins Square park the other day but... It's the same latitude as Barcelona. Blue skies most of the winter. Clean (relatively anyway) air thanks to compulsory catalytic converters on every vehicle.

London strikes me as the kind of city where you have to be very young or pretty rich to really get much from it. If I lived there in my present circumstances (neither, and with a 4 yr old) I can easily see I'd probably end up staying in almost all the time and in that case you might as well live in a dormitory town like Berkhamsted or somewhere idyllically English-pastoral like Wiltshire.

It seems much harder to get to the centres of energy in London than it is in New York, say.

Ah, but when you get the centres of energy, they burn so much fiercer than New York's. (Perhaps because all the aggravation of getting to them, and the tension of the rest of their London lives, gives people more to let loose?).

And ah, London, on the rare occasions when the sun does come out... the dream landscapes of Brockwell Park... sigh...

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

miniscule and tardy contribution to the byrds discussion between worlds of possibility and somedisco--i really like the bass playing on their records, especially 'eight miles high' and younger than yesterday. perhaps not an instrument that you'd first think of in connection with that kind of jangle. and i really really like the basslines on love's forever changes. "you set the scene": dynamic! (good drumming too, throughout) changes and "7 & 7 Is" on heavy rotation here at the moment. that bacharach/tijuana brass move they make is almost roxy-like in its anti-rockism, renders jefferson airplane grateful dead and big brother & the holding company irrelevant before they even exist really, subverts the cliches of "psychedelic" at their very infancy (good cliches, mind). shame about side two of da capo though...
whole heap of new/new-ish bloglinx and updates over there, most already familiar to most... You.... can.... feeeeeeeeeel... the energy .... [extends arms, palms facing down, pulsates hands]... like some huge ever growing pulsating brain that rules from the center of the blogverse* ... a self-organizing, anarcho-rhizomatic, globally-dispersed music (and whatever it connects to) paper with no editor or
publisher -- a radically Deleuzianized NME-when-it-was-good happening in almost-real time -- got the news dept (check), gossip (check), reviews (check), rants (check), interviews (okay not so hot there, give it time), thinkpieces (check), letters page (check)... the pay's not great but you can't have everything...

*--incidentally tom i think blogosphere is jon dale's coinage, or at least that's where i first recall reading it... i can claim blogmos though which i see has caught on like wild fire...]
London (is) massive. While we're lavishing praise on Heronbone, Luka’s last prose-poetical evocation of London’s splendors and subterranean currents really ups the ante in the metropolis versus provinces argument. It’s both a mistake, as Luka illustrates, and also a teensy bit unfair to take London as Capital of Everything Official Bureaucratic Top-Down Arborescent Non-Deleuzian (finance, art, media, government) and then just ignore the eight million or so people who actually inhabit the city and makes their lives and culture there. “London” isn’t a figment, it’s precisely the meta-experience of moving across this huge variegated terrain of villages and zones, trying to fit it all together in your head and make sense of it, the friction and insanity of those crammed multitudes, the inexhaustibility of the city [note 1].

I’d probably side ideologically with the K-Punk pro-provinces line, but if you’re talking about cutting-edge dance music, about scenes and leading-edge genres, well, London’s been runnin’ t’ings since the end of '90, surely that's undeniable. 1990 was when the capital found its rave identity, those first Shut Up And Dance and Ragga Twins releases: house + hip hop + ragga + techno = hardcore/darkcore/jungle/drum&bass/speedgarage/2step/grime. The neverending saga. What have the regional metropolises (good point Luka, they are centres too--no one's bigging up little market towns in Herefordshire-a wedding in which was the specific inspiration for my comment about places in the UK with no black people), what have they actually come up with in that timespan? Sheffield (and Leeds and other South and West Yorks towns) had bleep’n’bass, but that was gone by 91. Manchester: not a sausage really since “baggy,” and even that was a bit of mish-mash, and how much of it really stacks up in retrospect (Northside!?!?), or led to anything else? Gerald, their finest son, got wise and got with the junglist programme and eventually moved to London. Midlands: I like Mark’s Coventrycentric counter-thesis, in fact I think I once used Eclipse/Doc Scott/Absolute 2/the fabulously named Simon ‘Bassline’ Smith against the it-all-started-at-Rage-Fabio-Grooverider version of jungle history. But really the Coventry thing, and Formation in Leicester, and the Bristol guys, are ultimately satellites of the London breakbeat action, outposts of junglizm.

Not saying that there weren't/aren't pumping club scenes all over the country and drug-dance vibes galore; I strongly suspect clubbing and raving's always been more enjoyable and full-on elsewhere in the UK than London (Scotland, phwwooooargh, I glimpsed Pure once, mental, and as for Rezerection... ; Gatecrasher in Sheffield... Liverpool knows how to partay... even the Isle of Wight was supposed to be pumpin' a while back... I still get emails announcing gabba events like Oblivion in Leicester, they always say something at the end like "CAUTION!NUTS INSIDE!)
But why have the provinces and the regions generated so little in the way of a distinctive, groundbreaking new sound? The reason is to do with London’s advantage, its crucial resource: the fact that it has a bigger black population than any other British city, and a white population that has been exposed to black music more extensively and in a longer-running, deeper-rooted way than the other towns in the UK. The other cities that come anywhere near in terms of riddimatic innovation contribution--Bristol, Coventry--are the ones that are mini-Londons in the sense of having substantial Caribbean populations.

I suppose the ultimate argument-ender against any provincialist who lives in London (c.f. Morley, who likes to call London “the Fake”, but has called it his home since… 1979?) is: if it’s so crap and barren here and so great and fertile there, why aren’t you still living in the sticks?

Disclosure of Bias: I only recently discovered that my maternal grandfather, long deceased, was originally from Hackney. Which means Dizzee and DJ Hype and the whole dem lott of them are practically kith and bloody kin! It’s the genes calling me to the music! I'm like 25 percent Cockney! Gorblimey guvnor!

Note 1: One of my fantasies is to do a documentary based around London’s third public transport system after the tube and the buses: the old overground railway system that traverses the city with those grim redbrick Victorian viaducts. All those strange routes that transect South London, and all those weird circular illogical-seeming journeys, like the line that goes from Dalston in a great arc up to West Hampstead/Golders Green in the North and then curls down and round to end up near Shepherd’s Bush -- you wonder what commuter would need to make such a journey from West to East? The idea of this pipe-dream doc is that, because property values are lower where there’s no tube station, following the overground rail network gives you a panoramic view (literally, you're often travelling on the same level as the terrace rooftops) of London’s most disregarded neighbourhoods--the dowdy suburbs concealed within the vast metropolis.
Luka
(delighted and relieved he’s decided to stick around) nails it, so definitively I’m going to quote the whole thing, or almost all of it:

Boy in the Corner, listened to in isolation, parted from its context, could easily be mistaken for a hiphop album, some of it I’d be comfortable calling hiphop, with a couple of qualifications, but that doesn’t make Dizzee Rascal a hiphop act. It’s possible that he intends to reposition himself as a hiphop act in the future, or his label may be keen to push him in that direction, I don’t know. I know some of his fans and admirers would welcome such a shifting of loyalties. But Dizzee didn’t emerge from the UK hiphop scene, his records weren’t broken by the UK hiphop Djs, weren’t stocked in the UK’s hiphop shops, weren’t played in the UK’s hiphop clubs on the UKs hiphop radio shows. Dizzee emerged from the UK garage scene, and, by extension, from Reynolds’ Hardcore___continuum___. There’s an MC tradition in the UK which operates outside of both reggae and hiphop, although it borrows from and is inspired by both. It was time for this tradition to bear fruit, to produce a form of music based around the MC’s performance, but maintaining a link to the jungle and garage music it grew out of.

…. just having a beat, and a bloke rhyming over the top of it doesn’t make it hiphop. The things which distinguish it from hiphop are, first of all, the music, the rhythms, the sounds, which form the backbone and the background of the music are not simply clones and reproductions of american forms, but the descendants of a separate, though related, family tree. they are a response to different conditions, environmental, economic, social, technological etc and the product of a different ancestry. Similarly with the MC (or the DJ, if you prefer) the flow, the form the performance takes, is not a hamfisted mimicry of american forms, but something which is determined by the regional accent, speech patterns, cadences, and by the form, the rhythms the MC performs over/with.

… what Dizzee does is inextricably entwined with the way he talks, (words take on different shapes, depending on where they are spoken, a word which in america may be elongated, in an english mouth becomes angular. an english Mcs flow is created to accommodate his accent) the language he uses, the way in which the music is used by it’s audience, and what that audience values in it, and the music his flow evolved to fit. the defining grimy rhythms, tracks like war, take them out, eskimo, igloo(devil mix), oi, I luv u, icerink etc, do not sound like hiphop beats and an MC would find it hard to approach them with a flow taken directly from an american rapper. tempos are different, accents and stresses in different places.…

An eucalyptus tree in australia is different to an oak tree in england is different to a palm tree in california. they’re different becuase they evolved to fit different conditions, they’re all trees, but the differences are as important as the similarities
.”

That it’s, surely--the last word on this subject.

Friday, September 12, 2003

On the subject of poporn or the pornification of pop, it's well worth having a gander at this piece by Fred Vermorel about biography, which addresses celebrity, personality-as-commodity and the invasiveness of "presence" (celebrities as stalkers, forcing themselves into our private mental space, our dreams and desires). Possibly the missus's finest hour as editor of the Voice Literary Supplement. There was actually an earlier version of this that was really far out but probably too outre for the Village Voice. Renegade biographer and theorist-provocateur Fred's a bit of a god as far as I'm concerned, for Starlust and the second Kate Bush biography and most of all his amazing Vivienne WestwoodFashion, Perversity and the Sixties Laid Bare. It's as much about McLaren as Westwood, and almost as much about Fred as either. Very interesting on the Sixties as way more complex and twisted than the retro-recycled reductions of it. On which topic, viz K-punk's comments, more to say, much more, at some later point...

feeling

troubleman united sampler w/ pixeltan, erase errata Adult remix, the roger sisters, wolf eyes, etc

city rockers singles 1 - 23 (but the second disc's fucked)

babazula/mad professor -- concept's a bit Laswelloid but this is ace 4thworldizm-- Turkish space-rock/postrock/unclassifiable band get dubbed up by the man who improved massive attack's protection no end. www. babazula.com. and their label doublemoon is www. doublemoon.com.tr.

bubba sparxx -- deliverance

richard x presents his x-factor vol. 1. his own tracks like 'just friends' are as good as the SOS Band and Numan ones.

really feeling

matthew dear--leave luck to heaven (spectral, due november). his 34th release this year surely? top tune: "an unbending." if isolee don't hurry up we'll all have forgotten him soon.

kraftwerk--tour de france soundtracks. not bad at all.

vybes kartel--sweet to the belly. #2 single of 03 after 'vexed', if only this went on for 30 mintues instead of just 3

lfo--sheath. despite being named after a contraceptive device (only dutch cap could have been worse) this is in my top 5 of the year, awesome comeback

junior boys--birthday/last exit ep (electroKIN).

not feeling

luomo--the present lover
really tried w/ this one but i dunno this strikes me as a rather sickly confection. is the idea we're supposed to give him kudos for almost being pop? in the main this seems to me as clotted and cloying as junior boys are spare and just-sweet-enough prefab/nile style.

Amen--they wouldn't let it die!

SFJ says Amen wasn't a marginal break in hip hop at all, "Most hip-hop heads, like me, were unimpressed with jungle for a while PRECISELY because we knew that sample. It turned out that holding "Amen" constant for all artists--almost like a rule in sports--and then requiring them to crack it open and chase a diminishing horizon of returns was the BEAUTY of jungle. But dumb headz just thought "We know that
one--come on, dig deeper."


Brandon Ivers, who makes drum & bass tunes and know whereof he speaks, offers a heterodox view to all the misty-eyed mash-up nostalgia, challenging the ideas put across by Remarc in that Knowledge piece about all the science being in the B-lines these days :

"as a producer myself I can tell you that there is in fact another key reason (beyond bass) as to why the breaks aren't as mashed up as they
used to be: Layering.

"Most breaks you hear in jungle today are the product of 4-5+ breaks and drum hits layered together. This is quite a bit different from the days of Remarc, where you could get away with simply using a tough amen. It takes a lot of TIME to layer and program breaks like this. It also requires far more
knowledge of things like compression and EQing (otherwise you just end up with a sloppy mess).

"So, once you've spent four hours making this huge layered break, you get a little prideful of it. After all, cutting a break and rearranging it was a way to make a break yours... but layering and all this serves that same purpose as well.

"...and you also want to move on to the rest of the track!

"Moral: Breakbeat science does live on, but it's a lot more transparent than it ever was before.

"Secondly, if you critics out there were actually listening to the new jungle that was coming out, you'd notice that mashed up breaks are back in a big way. Go out to any jungle event... it may not be remarc-level edits, but the days of the roller are definitely OVER.
"

And Alan Murphy knocks out a whole essay:

Difference and Repetition: Genealogy of a Drum Break

The Winstons's Amen Brother drum break (along with James Brown's Funky Drummer) is one of the most sampled in contemporary musical history, almost single-handedly (now that would be amazing...) giving rise to an entire drum and
bass genre after fuelling hip hop only a short musical generation before.

The funk drum break was a crucial point in any funky track in the late 60's /early 70's; back in the 50's Art Blakey had given the drums a new prominence in jazz with his fiery, noisy solos setting new precedence for the drum kit (or traps, itself a relatively recent invention partly due to the rise of radio in the early 20th C and the need for the drummer to be able to play various sound effects as well as various drums - previously there was a drummer to play the bass drum, another to play the snare or a separate percussionist to play cymbals etc).

James Brown's mid-60's shift in R&B from the 1 & 3 to the 2 and 4 beat gave birth to a new rhythm - funk - that was a
sexy shuffle (on the good foot) between the straight rock and R&B/soul rhythms of the day. Simultaneously propulsive yet cycling internally, with the added syncopation of ghost/off snare and kick beats between the main counts it seemed to summon up a pre-orgasmic vertigo of endless repetition and relentless forward movement, more in common with Chinese/Taoist sexual practice than the Occidental obsession with climax, the end of desire (an abstract sex machine, as Deleuze and Guattari might have termed it if they had seen James Brown play in Paris in 1971 - between Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus - where a woman from the audience climbed on stage and stripped mid-performance).

Funky Drummer was a culmination of this rhythm, and of the breakbeat. The song seems to be improvised on the spot to fill space on a record or use up studio time, little more than that beat, when James counts down the band to sit out that break, and drummer Clyde Stubblefield just keeps on doing his thang, only more so, little knowing that future generations of samplists were waiting in the wings of history.

The essence of African-American art in the 20th C it has been claimed by Alice Walker, is that it seem relaxed, casual, and sweat-free in order to bely its complexity and distance it from work and the history of slavery; in a word - cool. Tap dance and jazz improvisation epitomised this sensibility which persists right up to Micheal Jackson and Prince, who seemed to glide on a super-human plane while they performed, and a strain of rap's "I don't even need to try to be cooler than you and get paid milions of dollars".

But like Fred Astaire's skeletal elegance Vs. Gene Kelly's muscular athleticism (film-musical dancing a mutation of jazz/tap and Irish traditional dance, whose frantic leg-work with a stiff waist and upper torso implied a sublimation of Catholicism-repressed sexuality; frigid rather than cool), the sweaty, thrusting, hard-working side of funk was the flip-side of cool, and James Brown was "The Hardest-Working Man In Showbusiness", the grunting, sweating sexual alternative to Motown's sweet, elegant, high-pitched R&B love-pop.

The Funky Drummer break combined both of these strains - not breaking a sweat while *working* it - in spades, and like any great drummer, Clyde was able to make every shuffling ghost snare and off-kick subtly, almost musically, different in pitch and timbre so that within the four beats - count 'em, that's all it is, over and over - was a dizzying sensation of rhythmic and sonic variation within a rigid structure, the syncopation fast enough to be just beyond the comprehending brain like a carrot on a stick that keeps the feet dancing and the head nodding while the brain is occupied. Ain't it funky, now?

Amen Brother did something very similar, with just a few more variations on the shuffle-funk theme, but it was the specifics of the recording, the reverberation of the kick drum and compressed hiss of the ride cymbal, that created more low-end ambience and high-end excitation; the drum equivalent of guitar distortion or Hammond organ Leslie speaker swell.

As appropriated by NWA's Straight Outta Compton, Mantronix's King Of The Beats, and Jeep Beat Collective's Mantronix/Amen-sampling Stop Ya Skemes, the break is classic-but-standard, but the high-end layer of cymbal noise generates that extra tension perfect for thug hop or dancefloor frenzy.

The other crucial difference not apparent in these traditional 4-bar sampled versions is where the original break continues with seismic pauses as the drummer stresses the occasional beat and leaves out the occasional played beat, which seem to (but don't) leave out a count and create an unexpected temporary black hole or pressure drop on an off-beat - something it shares with Al Green's I'm Glad You're Mine intro breakbeat, which proved perfect for Massive Attack's dub reggae Five Man Army workout on Blue Lines and was all over Timbaland's earlier reggae-influenced rhythms.

And reggae seems to be the key to the Amen Brother break's ascendancy to the throne of the drum and bass breakbeat science kingdom. Reggae and dancehall culture were writ large all over early jungle's 'Smokin' Joints', all frenzied sped-up dancehall snare-shots and manic bad bwoy chat, so fast that the dub bassline worked at half-speed or was reduced to single 808-style boom-drops.

When Amen's off-kilter beats were - crucially - sped up, then chopped up to re-emphasize that hyper-dub loping off-rhythm and added to the mix, it was like the discovery of Uranium's critical mass as dancefloors were devastated.

Never had club music been reduced to so little - entire DJ sets could be composed of cut-up Amen breaks, bass drops and the occasional vocal sample it seemed; but that hissing, ricocheting, stuttering Amen beat seemed to sound and feel best ON ITS OWN, over and over and over - bring the beat back, indeed, to infinity, always changing, always the same.



Thursday, September 11, 2003

reallly excellent piece on Morley's Words and Music written by the really excellent stephen trousse (the great lost Melody Maker writer--there was just that one live wedding present review, wasn't there? but ooh what a review). he seems to find words and music a bit exasperating and hard going. admittedly the list thing does get a bit out of hand, and after reading 90 percent of the book in like three or four days i had to pause for a couple of weeks before taking on the last two chapters with all the footnotes and lists. still and all, a sumptuous lipsmacking word-cake is a sumptuous lipsmacking word-cake, no? strangely (relievingly) trousse's critique doesn't overlap at all with my take, which one of these weeks i will get around to penning. maybe. the really odd thing about trousse's review is the admission early on that he interviewed morley circa nothing and then didn't write it up. (Hate it when people do that). surely in this neck of the woods that's a bit like having an interview with, i dunno, Kafka or Leonardo Da Vinci and then just sitting on it...


refreshingly demystified take on lundun's pirate culcha from Eden at uncarved -- renegade rhizomanticism be damned, the residents of the tower blocks on whose tops the pirates plant their aerials and micro-wave transmitters have a really hard time of it
New blogs of note
Quarks and Charms
by this chap Jonathan JD2 who had the great mini-essay guest appearance on kpunk a while ago on mp3 culture, a conversation i meant to chip into but, ach, the moment passed

the original soundtrack
which is the lovely geeta -- an actual female-gendered person of the opposite sex stepping into this rather boys-ownly hood so that's a cause for celebration in itself, plus she's gotta lotta say, and knows her science so that'll make us fronters hesitate for a second or two before making the old chemical-astrophysical-etc transposed onto music/culture metaphors.

there's some more but i can't remember where i wrote 'em down so later for that
Amen last dribs and drabs.

Nick at Gutterbreakz sez: "all this talk about the Amen break, but no mention of my fave Cornishman Luke Vibert's 'Amen Andrews' project. "

I've been puzzled by the title of those EPs for weeks and only just twigged (being a bit slow on the uptake) that it's a rather labored pun on Eamonn Andrews. Who weirdly, after years, possibly decades, of absence from my consciousness, cropped up last week when I heard TG's early "Very Friendly" on First Annual Report in which he makes a grisly cameo appearance: Ian Brady's hacking the skull of one of his victims and brain-matter splashes on Eamonn Andrews on the TV screen doing This Is Your Life.

Remarc solja Mike P points me in the direction of this resource for jungle samplespotters and breakspotters and also sends through an interesting Remarc interview from Knowledge. Here’s a good bit with Remarc explaining the disappearance of the mash-up Amen-rinse vybe from d&B:

“The attention's been taken away from the drums & into the bass. As much work goes into the b-line now as when we used to sit there cutting breaks up manually. I used to go out and watch people dance to my edited amen - making hand movements to every snare, stutter & stretched crash to precision. Now I see the same thing but to the basslines. Edited breaks added to the energy & excitement of a tune but the b-line does that now, so I don't think it effects the scene or dancefloor too much, but I do feel the edited break thing will sneak back in.”

And Peter Maplestone the bashment bombardier down there in Australia suggests that Mantronix’s "king of the beats" has this “cut up 16th note shuffle” that makes “it a key precursor to jungle I reckon”

that’s all folks…
… course Dizzee & all that lott I’m sure are totally unaware of all this feverish bloggoid discourse around them… and probably just as well…

… the most striking thing about the Mercury result, what with Ms Dynamite last year, is that it’s the second year running that someone who’s not only UK “urban” but who came up through the pirates has won it. Which suggests that it’s actually some kinda objective fact that pirate radio/h-core continuum is actually the UK’s leading edge, this nation’s saving grace…

… “objective”, maybe, but far from accepted. My God those comments from the public are kinda scary--fear, condescension, “it’s just not music”… it’s easy to forget that most bits of the UK don’t have any black people or Asians…

… feeling oddly vindicated in my grime-as-digital-folk theory by learning that the Mercury panel includes Colin Irwin, Melody Maker’s folk music expert in days of yore. He used to write about Martin Carthy and such, and now his own personal Mercury fave is… Dizzee Rascal! Blew his socks off apparently. (Fall fiends might want to search out a great piece by Colin on the band making Hex Enduction Hour in Iceland, it’s on the web somewhere… look for early cameo appearance of Einar from the Sugarcubes)

… Simon Frith, you my nigga 4 life…

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

"....there's bare people I gotta thank--everybody at my record label XL, big shout to my old crew Roll Deep, massive massive respeck to all the pirates for the support, especially Rinse runnin' tings for years, erm, shouts to alla the E3 crew, my Hackney peeps, Bow peeps, oh yeah and big BIG shout to all my soljas out there in the blogosphere...."
Sub Low Pressure. Was the title of an email from the mysterious Androbot
which goes:


NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory detected sound waves, for the first time, from a super-massive black hole. The "note" is the deepest ever detected from an object in the universe.

"In musical terms, the pitch of the sound generated by the black hole translates into the note of B flat. But, a human would have no chance of hearing this cosmic performance, because the note is 57 octaves lower than middle-C (by comparison a typical piano contains only about seven octaves). At a frequency over a million, billion times deeper than the limits of human hearing, this is the deepest note ever detected from an object in the universe."

More at NASA

And in spiritually if not literally related news, there's this
(via Eden @ Uncarved Org) and there's this (courtesy of Mark P) on the phenomenon of infrasound (one of TG's old obsessions) and "vibe".

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Sick of the Sixties? It’s interesting to see Mark K-Punk in his stuff on Roxy Music railing against the Sixties because I was just about to do a little post on that decade: the gist of it being the idea that the differences between the pro-pop and pop-sceptic camps seems to have a lot to do, ultimately, with whether the entire cultural project of the Sixties ever meant anything to you. Not just the Sixties per se, but its inverse reflection (“punk”--underneath the rage and nihilism, still burns an idealism and an excessive expectation vis-a-vis music that are pure 60s--and look at the involvement of all those 1968 veterans w/ the Sex Pistols, Clash, etc), and its subsequent echoes and reinvocations: postpunk (which is nothing if not a second stab at counterculture, or for its critics, Sixties-style “hip capitalism”--they used to slag Rough Trade as ”hippies” and they were, in the best sense), or the blissrock/neopsychedelia of the late Eighties, or rave. If any of this touched you--either the Dionysian side of the Sixties-and-its-sequels, or the Edenic, back-to-the-garden side--then you’re bound to chafe a little at the idea of pop as pure product and celebrity, the porno-consumer-spectator model of interaction w/ music, slumped in the sofa with a remote in your hand.

(An aside: the classic porn-pop reaches consciousness and rubs it in your face moment: that first Jennifer Lopez single where the whole concept of the video was her as wank fodder, internet porn. Kleenex strategically placed next to the computer etc).

Of course there were many, many Sixties, including some-- Warhol, Pop Art, also Motown. Spector--that lend itself to the pro-Pop version of things. It was a fabulously complex, contradictory era. Radical feminism, Archigram, the Dutch Provos, McLuhan, Situationism, John’s Children and The Eyes, Blow Up, Joe Orton, Performance, communes, al the Prospective 21st Siecle type electroacoustic/concrete type stuff that Matt's just celebrated, the New Wave of science fiction (Ballard and inner space), Yoko, early Pink Floyd, The Doors (who I will persist in finding absolutely glorious… Heard “LA Woman’”on the car radio recently and thought of the cool fools who think they can see through or look down on Jim and his minions. This music is LAUGHING AT YOU!). No, no, it wasn’t all all Mary Quant and miniskirts and The Knack (and how to Get It) --which I still love--and the Beatles monkeying about in a field in A Hard Day’s Night.

(Talking of which a big round of applause for me for putting Ron Geesin in the Uberhipsters Index--there's a massive feature on him in this month's Wire. And it's a cool snapshot of Ladbroke Grove in the late Sixties and early Seventies too)

Of course I don’t remember the Sixties-as-THE-SIXTIES, being a child, apart from ‘Yellow Submarine’ on the radio and watching the moon landing while on holiday in Swanage. But as soon as I became “conscious”--1978?--I was totally fascinated by that decade. Bought ‘Playpower’ by Richard Neville. Even hung out a bit with the sad hippie contingent at my college who in 1981 were still listening to Incredible String Band (which I jeered at--not to their faces, of course--but it’s fabulous, they were right). One of them rushed round to borrow Playpower one morning cos it’s got the classic recipe for orange-and-sugar that’s supposed to wash LSD out of your system, one of them was having a seriously bad trip.

I bet if you scratched a bit below the surface Roxy would turn out to owe more to the Sixties than is immediately apparent, and not just Velvets and Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Eno, after all, with his debts to Fluxus, Cage, Steve Reich and the minimalists. He was obviously very taken with Syd Barrett and talked a bit later circa Talking Heads/My Life in the Bush of wanting to reinvent a form of psychedelia. There’s bits on the first Roxy album that sound like King Crimson. “For Your Pleasure” the title track is psychedelic as fuck. Manzanera’s playing throughout those first three albums is pretty trippy. And wasn’t he in a band called Quiet Sun? There was some crossover with the Canterbury contingent, and Soft Machine was one of the original all-night-rave, UFO/24 Technicolor Dream freak scene bands, alongside Floyd.

My researches into industrial took me back to Bomb Culture, by Jeff Nuttall, possibly the definitive book on the (British) counterculture, written in the summer of 1967. He writes about the sickness of the Sixties, the orgiastic violence in the music--which he diagnoses as symptoms of the insanity of living with nuclear destruction over our heads. It wasn’t actually that bright and optimistic. Maybe 1965-67, Ian McDonald’s lost wonderland, twas bliss to be alive in that dawn, etc. But mostly it was kind of a dark decade.
Amen to that. Mail bag absolutely bulging, who knew this would be the hottest topic yet in blissblog’s short life! Tons of emails telling me that the two most famous pre-jungle uses of Amen are Mantronix’s “King of the Beats” (must dig that out, got it on tape somewhere) and NWA's "Straight Outta Compton". Thanks all.

Matos and Harvell go one better with near-simultaneous emails about this site where you can find a longer list of hip hop uses of Amen. To whit:

2 Live Crew's "Feel Alright Yall"
3rd Bass's "Wordz of Wisdom"
Brand Nubian's "The Godz Must Be Crazy"
Deee-Lite's "Come on In, the Dreams are Fine"
Eric B & Rakim's "Casualties of War"
Heavy D's "Flexin'"
Heavy D's "MC Heavy D!"
Heavy D's "Let it Flow"
Lifer's Group's "Jack U. Back (So You Wanna Be a Gangsta)"
Maestro Fresh Wes's "Bring it On"
Mantronix's "King of the Beats"
Nice & Smooth's "Dope Not Hype"
NWA's "Straight Outta Compton"
Salt-N-Pepa's "Desire"
Scarface's "Born Killer"
Schoolly D's "How a Black Man Feels"

There's also a really barely-scratching-the-surface list of Amen as used in jungle, and bugger-all on its appearances in drill & bassl.

So basically the consensus seems to be that it's a fringe breakbeat in hip hop history.

(Incidentally, when exactly was it that (mainstream) hip hop stopped using breakbeats, like, pretty much altogether? Cos you hardly get them anymore, right? That's why "Made You Look" stood out.)

Back to the mysterious properties of Amen, Derek Walmsey suggests: “It's the SOUND of the break, the production which is the thing, isn't it? Not the actual playing”.

And Ryan Kuo digs up this from some discussion board, as said by a fellow going by the name of Alpha Omega:

"The thing about the amen break is :=...COMPRESSION-however they compressed it, it's caused the frequencies to become huge & whatever way u process the break u will hear a different set of frequencies come out, probably the only break in the world that has that capability.”

Is this the technically-sussed explanation for the explosive quality of the break, which the junglists then literalized and intensified by smashing it to polyrhythmic smithereens?

Ingram takes a heterodox line (I should really get one of those comments boxes but Mark F’s always complaining about Enetation isn’t he--what does that name mean BTW? Sounds like a really unpleasant medical process, or something that happens during giving birth). Matt suggests:

wasn’t amen, in some senses a sad thing? All those earlier tracks had a million different styles of drums appended to them… what about that "sweet soul brother" james brown break that dillinja uses on "tear off your chest"? Really improbable, kind of delisingly weird. And then amen and....uniformity”.

Which is true to an extent: there was a point in ’94 when the overload of Amen-and-ragga-vocals was oppressive, on the dancefloor you couldn’t hear anything else, pirates were only slightly better, but it helps to explain why ambient-jungle seemed like a good upshot, and Speed as a crucial initiative. I think what happened is that syndrome of an emergent purism I’ve talked about before (e.g. things like gabba that are tilting into the future even as they narrow their focus to a bullet point, as opposed to retro-oriented purisms that conserve and curate. The first is like culture-warrior biznizz, the second like the "taste police"). So hardcore starts as this open field, this possibility-space, all kinds of quirky beats and not-fully-integrated experiments, but then the genre begins to coalesce as a defined identity, discovers its true self, hones down to an essence. And that’s Amen, “the genetic drumcode of the junglist generation” as I put it in the Remarc sleevenote. Where I also say:

“Someone who should know better once described "Amen" as jungle's default option--but that's like saying the Bo Diddley beat, or the twelve-bar blues shuffle, is something people fall back on when their imagination fails. Actually "Amen" is jungle's highest common denominator: its hard core….”

(The someone who should know better is actually Douglas Wolk, writing in the Voice about Hvratski’s Oiseaux album, which is based entirely around making sweet dirty unusual love to the Amen break, fucking with it in every imaginable way. And when I say "should know better" I mean Doug’s a very sharp commentator so it was a tad disappointing to read him dismissing Amen. But perhaps you’d have to have been on a jungle ravefloor in 94/95 in the strafing crossfire of an Amen tear-out to really know about the true power of this particular “potent cliché”).

This topic’s exhausted, so I don’t think I’ll bother putting up the whole Remarc sleevenote--you should just buy the album, it’s great (“Soundmurderer”, “RIP”, “Thunderclap”-- have beats ever been more mashed, rinsed, shredded to fuck, and still funked?). Should be out round about now. My copy arrived yesterday. Credits contain a reference to me alongside “Mike P’s soldiers”…

Monday, September 08, 2003

Amen Brotherhood. Man like Ryan Jon Kuo, he say: “Fracture & Neptune have a forthcoming track on Outsider entitled "Colemanism" which is a homage to the amen, of course. I was wondering where that title came from. Not sure how you'd feel about the retro horn stabs and bass licks thrown in there (they're also from "Amen Brother"), but that amen is sure chopped to goodness!” He also says that there’s a lot of sliced-and-diced rinsin’-like-94 jungle in the pipeline from labels like Inperspective, Offshore, Bassbin/Breakin, Outsider, which overlaps with “the ragga-breakcore axis of Rewind Records/Mashed Up”.

There is a certain sense in which the entire genre of drill’n’bass is just a footnote appended to 94-jungle’s metatext exegesis of those few bars of Coleman’s playing.

I wonder if Coleman the Creator is still alive, and if so, if he even knows the extent of his Achievement? Some very specific decisions he made---more like almost-involuntary reflexes, ingrained in his sinews and ligaments after years (presumably) of playing and practise---went on to become the foundation of an entire genre. A movement, a way of moving through the world. Those snares and ride-cymbals splashes and little pauses, they became woven into the nervous system of a
people. They're certainly part of the fibres of my being. And yet it was probably just an utterly unremarkable session (a B-side after all) for the Winstons, and a break Coleman could play in his sleep.

I’m really curious about the pre-jungle history of “Amen”. I’m not one of those Shapiro/Tompkins-type breakologists, obviously, but I can’t recall hearing “Amen” in any famous hip hop tunes. It’s a bit too uptempo and surging, really, it doesn’t have that slow-and-low quality. It’s not even funky really, but has this odd uptight frantic energy, which is obviously why it grabbed the junglists’ physio-imagination.

For those not heartily sick of the Amen overload I will shortly post here the sleevenote to Planet Mu’s anthology of tracks by Remarc--one of Amen’s greatest exegetes--which is due out any week now.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

I applaud the proliferation of the "dead shark eyes" meme. (Weird to find myself in accord with Auspicious Fish, albeit via Marcello). Perhaps it will have this viral avalanche effect and suddenly the Beyonce CD will drop off the album charts like a stone. One can dream. I'm actually enjoying "Crazy In Love", even those horny horns, but really only in the way one perks up when a really well choreographed and energized Gap commercial comes on TV. There was a review in the Voice of the Beyonce album and it boiled down to 1/ boy she's hot (and the writer was female and a mum!) 2/ boy, she's obviously getting a lot of nookie at the moment. That's the whole sales pitch isn't it? But when she's working that booty she's not thinking about sex with Hova or with anybody--just about shifting units. "Shark eyes," you said it bro': the undersea killing machine, or unscrupulous realtors a lan Glengarry Glen Ross, either way fits.

Can I just say, apropos of nothing really, that Christina Aguilera, whose "Genie" I really liked actually, these days looks like she's been slow-baked after being coated in a mixture of chip fat, sweat wrung out of Andrew W.K.'s t-shirt from the "Party Hard" video, and sex secretions? She's the Sunday Sport of the now-pop, the downward pressure on every female popstar to shed a bit more dignity and principles. What was it Morley said? "Pole-dancing pop fiasco Christina Aguilera".

Taylor Parkes wrote a really good article for Bang that got killed on the pornification of pop, and I was going to ask him if he wanted to post it up here but then I find out he's put it up himself--scroll down to the very first post--on what appears to be his new blog.