Friday, February 20, 2009


And I suppose my reaction is: what of it?

That's not a reaction to the music per se, which makes for perfectly absorbing listening. The Joker Purple Wow mix and the Vex'd Sundaywalkmanmix both get the thumbs-up from my chairbound ears; the Zomby EP at its best is like Isolee-goes-dubstep. Listening I can't quite imagine real bodies moving in real space (to borrow a phrase) to this music though. At its most writhingly omnivorous and deliquescent (the Vex'd mix, "Aquafresh" ) it would seem to require the kind of moves you associate with avant-garde ballet ensembles; elsewhere the vibe is more headnodding and stoner-y (Purple Wow). But putting its attractions and applications aside for a moment, what does the existence of Wonky prove vis-à-vis the Hardcore Continuum? The fact that a bunch of producers are making music that draws on some Nuum elements but adds influences from elsewhere? That does appear to be what a lot of the pro arguments boil down to: it don't just borrow from the Nuum, it borrows from all over. But that's happened before (sometimes excellently: Luke Vibert; sometimes not so…) and will happen again. It's perfectly possible and quite likely that Wonky will establish its own autonomous significance without having the slightest impact on the Nuum (which will flourish or wither for its own internally-driven reasons).

Wonky does have a vestigial link to the Nuum, of course, in so far as it's a name somebody [Martin Clark in fact] came up with to describe five or six producers on the periphery of dubstep who became increasingly (and understandably) bored with its constraints and accordingly worked in other flavours and feels: crunk, G-funk, Eighties videogame muzik, J Dilla/Flying Lotus kosmi-hop… Sometimes it sounds a bit like how you always hoped hyphy would; sometimes it recalls Schematic acts like Phoenicia but even more bendy-limbed, double-jointed and superlubed; sometimes it has the same relation to Ruff Sqwad that Squarepusher had to Remarc; sometimes it's like John Carpenter jamming with Zapp; sometimes it's almost like trip hop but with an Eighties digi-synth rather than Seventies analogue sound-palette. Today for all kinds of technological reasons it's more easy than ever to be polymorphously magpie-like. But it was never that difficult, which is why you had people making similar eclectronic moves from the mid-Nineties onwards, albeit with different sets of reference points.

Wonky is situated structurally in a similar place to breakcore, drill'n'bass, illbient. It's the latest in a(dis)continuum of post-everything genres. Or perhaps that should be genre-not-genres, since the definition of a genre depends as much on what's left out as what's included. Breakcore, drill'n'bass, illbient, all occupied the space-between, the peripheral hinterland surrounding the established genres, which are stable (yet evolving) and distinct (yet porous, allowing new influences in it). Now if you've read Energy Flash and specifically the chapter on art-tekno (what would later be called IDM), you'll understand my skepticism about the post-everything interzone--the feeling that this is a weak place from which to make music if you are looking to have any kind of cultural repercussions. Oh, good sounds can come out of it but…. Does anyone listen to the illbient records now? Are they talked about? The Nuum, though, has literally thousands of tracks up on Youtube. A vast tranche of discourse trailing behind it, of which the stuff that actually refers to the concept of the Nuum is just a thread.

I think this relates to the greater motivating and mobilizing power of the Nuum in all its phases (see also: equivalents in other areas of dance music, like gabba… or other sorts of music altogether, such as hip hop, or metal, or reggae…). There is something about the Nuum sounds that inspires fervor. The feverish generation of histories and theories (or rather the activation of theories that are latent and immanent within the music itself). And the Nuum catalyses not just theorisation but a testifying discourse.

This is related to the intrinsic power of the music in all its successive stages, for sure, but also I think to its being grounded: socially, geographically, in terms of material infrastructure. A music whose demographic is the hyper-hipsterati (hipsters sharp enough to disdain the stereotypical hipster), a music whose infrastructure consists primarily of the web* ... could that really have sufficient tenacity to stick around, to not be blown hither and thither by the winds of fashion? Music molded entirely according to the logic of online culture--drifting, distraction, intertextuality run rife, the additive logic of audio-greed (I'll 'ave that, and that, and that, and…). It might end up sounding how Buggy G. Riphead artwork looks**.

* For sure, grime uses the web much more than it did even four years ago. But (Martin Clark tells me) the "road" audience for grime and for funky still primarily look to the pirates, for terrestrial broadcasts in real-time (partly because that's compatible with in-car listening). In other words, they are still "locked on". When they cease to be…

** One of the emerging lines on Wonky is the shades-of-FSOL argument that it works by loosening up the strictures of the established genres, which are staid and monochrome. Alex Splintering's take seems to me a theoretically sophisticated and vividly phrased version of that e.g. it's not a genre it's a process (of wonkification)applied to various styles. Now dubstep could certainly use some wonkification, some irrigating colour-juice. But I'm generally suspicious of this kind of talk because it seems to imply that Nuum genres are constrained and restrained. But a huge aspect of Nuum music in all its phases is precisely that it sounds out of proportion, lopsided, de trop. Darkside is the paragon example of this wrongness-as-rightness. But let's take more recent examples: what could be more aberrant than Wiley's beats on "Ice Rink" or pretty much any Terror Danjah groove? And then there's bassline, whose arpeggiated B-lines are garish, rococo, ludicrously lubricious, obscene in their Rabelaisian ripples of flatulence. Nuum music has never been afraid to be daft. You might say it is always already wonky.


What is going on that the three ukdance genres of 2008-09 (almost) rhyme: wonky, funky, donk(y)?!?!