Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A new online publication: Dancecult: the Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture

Lots of interesting looking articles, but of special interest to parishioners, two reports on the UEL Hardcore Continuum symposium, by Jeremy Gilbert and Mark Fisher

Re. Mark's points about the abstract reality of the hardcore continuum:

I think one place to look where this seeming empirical/theoretical clash is resolved is in History. They are plenty of examples of material/social phenomena that are real and concrete but are not necessarily consciously apprehended in their systemic totality by the subjects who constitute and sustain them. Imperialism might be one example, although in that case words like "empire" and "imperial" were used by both the dominators and dominated. A better analogy for the HCC would be what historians used to call feudalism but is now known more precisely as manorialism (a/k/a serfdom). With manorialism, I don't think people inside that system necessarily went around thinking of it as a system, but just as the ways thing were done, in the same way that it's unlikely that any peasant declared, a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "Now we see the violence inherent in the system!". But that doesn't mean that the systemic-ness wasn't there, or that there wasn't violence inherent in the etc etc. Manorialism/serfdom is a specialist term, conceived retrospectively, and never used by the actual inhabitants of what it describes; but that system (relations of fealty, property rights, division of land, farming methods, inheritance customs, etc) existed as both an abstract structure and a lived reality. It evolved through time, rising and declining; it co-existed with other kinds of socio-economic activity, like the guild system and merchant trade, which evolved into the early forms of capitalism, gradually eclipsing the manorial system but not extinguishing it for a long time, indeed the latter lingered long, long after its prime. The analogy here would be the HCC's coexistence with emerging delocalised and web-enabled forms of music culture which look set to eclipse its own particular system, which increasingly seems like an aberration, something swimming against the tide of the Nineties.

What is the systemic core of the nuum then? It's a particular set of relations based around pirate radio, dubplates, raves and rave-style clubs, along with certain kinds of music-making technology, also various customs and rituals. I've argued that the nuum is a UK adaption of the Jamaican system. Instead of sound systems mutating into raves or clubs (the obvious adaption, you might have thought), I think what happened was that pirate radio stations took the place of sound systems: they were sounds on the air. Another major UK mutation of the Jamaican approach was with dubplates. In Jamaica and in the direct UK transplant of the Jamaican approach in the form of UK reggae systems, dubplates specials were the unique property of a single sound system. In the UK hardcore raves scene, a more complicated system developed because of the guest DJ circuit that sprang up from the late Eighties onwards as a result of house music. That meant that deejays, instead of being tied to a sound system or a club residency, became independent operators playing at different raves and clubs. Dubplates then became a kind of patronage system or symbiotic exchange relationship between a DJ and a loose stable of producers. Sometimes, with a really powerful deejay, that becomes an exclusive relationship (Grooverider's boys would give only him their tracks; he would choose which ones out of many offered to make up as dubplates). Sometimes it would be semi-exclusive (a name producer giving dubs to a select group of deejays). And you had DJs who were producers themselves and cut dubs of their own music. This particular system is eroding as terrestrial broadcast pirate radio wanes in importance, while DJs increasingly move to digital formats and make a name for themselves with give-away mixes on the web. Similar to the emergence of merchant trade and early capitalism in parallel with a waning feudalism, you can see a new system, fully integrated with the web, eclipsing the older one.

If you only consider this music in terms of sonics, its genre characteristics, rather than as an element within a socioeconomic system, the dimension of continuity becomes fuzzier. You might hear its proximity at certain point to other sounds and imagine that there's a link there, when in practical terms--as scene rather than genre--these are two distinct subcultures. A good example of this is Big Beat. A genre I happen to like a lot. In its prime, it produced some fantastic records and some of the best dancing nights of my life. Now Big Beat actually had some resemblances to hardcore: the collision of hip hop and house, the riffy-ness, the hell-for-leather drugginess. But from a historical perspective, there is very little link between Big Beat and the hardcore continuum. All those people like Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim came out of the Balearic/Madchester/indie-dance lineage. Big Beat was organized around a completely different systemic infrastructure to the nuum. There were no Big Beat pirate stations. Big Beat was much more intimately connected with the mainstream record industry, there were relationships to certain major-league indie-rock bands (which as Britpop took off became the biggest rock bands in the land), there was the connection with the power nexus of Heavenly (the label/publicity/management organization), and so forth. It was based around a different circuit of clubs and had a markedly different audience composition.

Now, as I say, I have great affection for Big Beat as a moment, so it's no slight to say it has little to do with the nuum (even though later on you had a breakbeat-y strain of garage was that was oddly close to big beat, sonically). But equally, as fond as I am of the records, I would have to say that the reason that Big Beat didn't lead to anything (in terms of subsequent genres or a legacy beyond itself) has everything to do with it's not being based around as radical and fertile a systemic structure as the econo-cultural engine that sustained and--even now--sustains hardcore/jungle/UKG/grime/dubstep/funky.

I suggested that the inhabitants of the HCC are unconscious of it. Well, they don't use the term, and probably that's for the better! But it seems to me they are actually perfectly aware of what they're participating in, as indicated by quotes like this one from Geeneus in the much-discussed XLR8 piece on (cough) "funkstep":

Things come back around, and even though funky is called funky, really you could say it's not that much different from garage. It's just another full circle. With America, hip-hop is hip-hop, and even though the music changes and new sounds and people come into it, the flow remains hip-hop. But in the U.K., as soon as something new comes along, it’s like, “Oh, that's new music—let's call it a new name!” when really, it's all the same thing. We just progress along. So I'm doing funky, Skream's doing dubstep, Wiley's doing grime, but we're all together. We're all on the same radio station, we all come from the same place, and we've all got the same influences. It's really all part of the same continual flow.

That's the horse's mouth.