Saturday, April 26, 2008

rhythmic danger: the relick

Spotted (and elaborated on) by Owen here, a terrific post on jungle/d&b/dubstep by the promising new blogg Mentasms.

Particularly like the description of post-any-good-at-all D&B as "hasty monotony", while the characterization of dubstep as a kind of riddimatic and bass-ic comfort food for ex-junglists seems painfully on point.

It reminded me of a terrible thought I had the other day, which is that the reason why dubstep, despite having a number of things going for it, will always ultimately be lacking for someone like myself is related to the reasons why you will never hear anyone utter the sentence:

"police are locking off dubstep raves"

There's a kind of homology operating at every level, from audience composition to rhythmic structure to the discourse surrounding the scene; a homology based on the absence of an element of danger

even as

a parallel homology runs through the whole enterprise, based in the enactment of fidelity to an idea of danger...

(the discourse for instance seems to echo, fondly and forlornly, a time when talking about minute riddmatic shifts in brain-clenchingly intricate detail actually seemed to stand for something* : to represent a challenging journey into the unknown, or to be aligned with actual social forces).

to me that is the most curious thing about the scene, the experiential disconnect between the sonic signifiers of dread/tension/apocalypse/darkness brandished by the music (along with its semiotic wrapping of titles/names/samples), a gesturing that's
rather often taken to the point of shlock; and then the utter amiability and mellowness of the vibe on the dancefloor.

* this relates to something I realised with a slight shock earlier this year, in an unlikely context--Germany, travelling on the autobahn--which is that I don't believe in beats anymore. The Freaks Believe in Beats was the title of, and the key vocal sample used on, the 1998 EP by Uberzone, an American electro-breaks producer I was briefly enamored with. Out of the blue that phrase popped into my head while we were listening to OutKast's Idlewild, the small supply of CDs in the car having been almost exhausted and me being mildly curious, having not bothered to check it out on its original release. Hearing some typical-OutKast rhythms--moderately angular, clatteringly clever--suddenly got me flashing on the excitement of tracking the BeatGeist all those years, following each advance towards the brink of total dysfunktionalism, every startling new balance struck between mechanistic and swinging... an adventure, a way of listening to and conceptualising about and feeling music, that began for me really with jungle, blossomed with 2step and street rap and nu-R&B and dancehall, then entered a tawny golden autumnal phase with grime... and then thinking about how it was all underpinned by a quasi-mystical faith in beats as somehow figurative: a belief that the tremors that each breakthrough by auteur-producer or scenius alike sent through the state of pop somehow correlated with or could be equated to tremors through society...

After a good decade at full-tilt, that particular structure of affect and belief** has faded away for me now, or for now (something could bring it back, possibly, but what that would be I can't even begin to imagine). Beats are just beats again: cool, funky, useful, invigorating, inventive.

** the third, or maybe fourth, in a series of such structures to wax and wane.