Thursday, December 22, 2005

Make room! Make room!

Having a massive purge at the moment. Imminent life changes require the creation of space. On a more general existensial level, all those stockpiled cultural artifacts have reached an intolerable pitch of oppressiveness. The 20 year mark also seems a good symbolic point at which to pare down the accumulated culture-matter to an essential core, if only to be able to access more easily the stuff you want to.

I quite enjoy purges. It goes back to childhood, when my dad would periodically institute what he called an “admin”, the gist of it being that we would throw away approximately a quarter of our belongings. Don’t know how--aged six, seven, eight-- I managed to accrue so much stuff (certainly didn’t have a lot of pocket money), but it was astounding how much there was to chuck out. And there was a strange gleeful exhiliration getting rid of it, an existensial lightness after the potlatch was done. This current purge, though, is less of a joyous affair, more fraught. Being an accumulator-by-profession complicates the process, it’s often hard to know what you should get rid of, there always being the future possibility that a CD or book might be urgently needed for research purposes; or that a band might warrant reassessment as critical climates change, the Uberhipster Index waxing and waning in unforeseeable ways (example: I really should have hung onto that Sub Pop advance cassette of the Earth album, shouldn't I?).

Nonetheless it has to be done. So far I’ve dealt with CDs and tapes; vinyl lies ahead, daunting. Everything goes into three categories: that for which a strong desire or likely imminent need exists, to be situated ready to hand; that which I cannot bring myself to let go of, or can imagine might one day be needed, boxed up and stacked away, out of sight and out of mind; that whose significance, once deemed large enough to warrant its retention, has now receded to a seeming near-zero, and looks unlikely to enjoy resurrection, plus music that, in all honesty, I can’t imagine every really wanting to hear again, life being short. It's never that easy, though. Certain favourite artists, there’s an impulse to keep every last they ever did--Stereolab, Royal Trux, Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert--even though the oeuvre is preposterously, un-navigably extensive and in most cases there's a definite “passing their prime” point. Then there’s groups where you like the idea of them so much, you want to give their oeuvre a proper appraisal at some point, to see if it finally truly clicks: Broadcast and Add N to X being good examples.

(Exempt from the purge, pretty much, have been those genres so loved and so esteemed that they’re hard to be hardnosed about. Bleep, Belgian, hardcore, jungle, 2step, postpunk, gloomcore, psychedelia, Krautrock, probably a few others…. here I cherish the second-rate, even third-rate instances, the botched and the under-baked. A definition of musical true love: how hard it is to part with even its most mediocre output. Partly it's sentimentality (especially with the rave-related stuff); partly because it's because a grander Geist, a larger cultural project, seems to infuse even the most humble specimens of the genre. And in ethnomusicological terms, even the lowly examples of hardcore/jungle/UKgarage carry informational traces or data-nuances, function as tiny clues or puzzle-pieces as to the meaning of the greater whole.)

So where has the axe been falling? "Incredibly Strange Music"/exotica/E-Z listening--I mystifyingly seem to have a lot of this stuff, most of it still shrinkwrapped-- got pruned to within an inch of its life, leaving just a single Esquivel CD and Arthur Lyman’s Taboo (and that only for nostalgic reasons: Monitor crew friend Micalef, legendary for his indiscriminately voracious appetite for records, had this on vinyl back in 1981). Heavy culling in the late Nineties experimental electronic and weird-dance zone, all that clicky-and-glitchy. Whole oeuvres felled: Autechre, Squarepusher, Cristian Vogel (the latter with a twinge, but cmon, let's get real Simon, when will you ever, etc). Mille Plateaux/Force Inc stuff underwent heavy-duty reduction (got rid of all of Electric Ladyland series, kept the Curd Duca albums though!); Mille put out some great stuff, but did err on the side of overproductivity (all those Rauschen 3 CDs comps...). Digital hardcore, decimated: lovely bloke, Alec Empire, and a great idea, but it's hard honestly to see when the inclination or occasion to play those records would ever occur. Glitchcore, also harshly assessed. Underground rap, ditto (sorry, I’m simply a simpleton when it comes to rhyme schemes). Trip hop already got pared to the bone during previous “admins”, but this time gloomyguss DJ Vadim didn't survive and I’m already wondering what, if anything, I can get for that Mo Wax box when I get round to the vinyl. Postrock’s gone through a steady thin-down over the years, but further flab was shed (especially the American end of it). Early 90s chillout got pretty kitschy-sounding pretty rapidly (the new exotica?), which of course soon became its retrospective charm (and you have to love and even admire its commitment to beauty--all those luvverly textures and heaven-scented melodies--especially c.f. the clicky-glitchy-drilly mohair-underpants IDM of the later Nineties). But still, some further weight was shed in that dept. Illbient, in its own Afrodiasporafuturoid way, was just as schlocky, and most of it has now entered my personal dustbin of history.

Although relatively conservative genres like trance, big beat (bye bye Fused & Bruised), retro-electro (adios Adult.), electroclash, et al, suffered some downsizing as well, overall the connective thread running through this purge was that wherever there was a whiff of innovation-for-its-own-sake, without any other expressive purpose (on the individual level) or exciting social energy attached, then I’ve been inclined to wave it goodbye. As much as I value innovation, experimentalism, futurism, etc, where that seems like the sole axe being ground, it's not ultimately that interesting to me. Or at least, it might have grabbed initially, but that fades away.

Cassettes for some reason are much harder to get rid of. Compilations, if self-made, often have memories attached to them, and are residues of effort; if not, they were usually gifted, often come with handcrafted packaging, etc. As for the pirate tapes: as unmanageably voluminous as the archive is, I’ve always felt like I could never get rid of any of them, because they’re documents of this amazing culture, and who knows, it's possible that a tape in my possession might be the only surviving documentation of that particular pirate show. Then again, like any culture-zone, there’s a helluva lot of indifferent output, shows that just never ignited, that merely went through the motions. So where the titles I gave the cassettes at the time give me a hefty hint--Tamestep 2000, Blandstep Bizniz 2001--I’ve taken it, and, with a twinge of regret, condemned them the tape-over-for-interviews pile. Grime tapes I’m generally less attached to because they rarely have that random MC element that I liked in hardcore/jungle/Ukgarage: the incantatory freeform riffing, that whole element of the subcultural unconscious speaking itself through ad libs and off-the-cuff nonsense. Grime MCs, aspiring professionals all, generally have their verses pre-prepared and deliver them in set form over the tracks, sometimes leading to a less-than-perfect fit between the internal rhythms of their prosody and the beat-patterns. Still, I'd find it hard to get rid of them; after all, there might be adverts on there (ethnocultural documentation innit), or rare beats that never got further than being dubplates.

If it sounds like the cull has been harsh, well, the decisions are less to do with the worth of the music on some absolute objective level and more to do with my personal life-economy. Plus, you should see the vastness of what survived. And, needless to say, my plans for further accumulation are extensive. We purge, we binge--it's a syndrome.

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