Saturday, January 31, 2004

Amazingly detailed evocative stuff here from Robin at Undercurrent on jungle's dangerbass--this in the middle of an equally excellent thing on Dizzee (yet more proof of A/ how he's really yet to be exhausted, discursively, which is pretty amazing really, and b/ how something about Dizzee-as-topic makes writers raise their game).

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Name Game

Well, if it’s not going to be Grime, I’d almost prefer Eski. At least it sounds new and strange. So what if it’s totally bound to that one-man-genre Wiley--there’s precedents for a brandname becoming the preeminent term for a whole genus--look at the way people in the UK say “I’m going to Hoover the carpet” even if the vacuum cleaner they’re using’s a different make.

As for “garage”, well why not take the anti-neologistic stance even further? How about “hardcore” for real continuum continuity. Or ‘Nuum Beat. (Only kidding).

(Angus's point about “garage” preserving the nonexistent link between Larry Levan and Wiley is cute but.… well you know there is a scene and a sound at stake here you know!)

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what any of us decide to call it or not-call it-- the scene will decide. Wish it would hurry up.

That to me is the most intriguing thing: the failure of the scene to come up with its own genre term. It doesn’t seem a particularly encouraging sign.

The semantic vacillation and indeterminacy is actually hurting the scene, holding it back, I think. Genre names, when spontaneously generated from within a scene as the condensation of popular desire, have a powerful centripetal force. You can track a genre coming through (the shift from jungle tekno in 92 to jungalistic hardcore in 93 to JUNGLE in 94) and feel a subculture achieving a sense of its own identity and purpose. The name becomes a rallying cry, a recruiting tool. Names, well-chosen names, are semantic weapons for storming the barricades of the media, announcing yourself to the wider world. Loud and proud. We're here, get used to it.

The inability of the G**** scene to name itself suggests both a lack of will to power and, more worryingly, a lack of internal cohesion. It's like it's simultaneously withdrawn, insular, yet paradoxically fractured, fractious. A centrifugal tendency is at work that is really undermining its impact.

In terms of outside coverage, it’s quite comical the way newspaper pieces have to say “the music that is known variously as V W X Y Z” or “no one’ s quite decided the name for this new genre yet but…”. In his Dizzee piece in the New York Times, Kelefa Sanneh listed about six synonyms for Diz’s scene (including “gutter garage”, which never had any real currency outside my head! Well good to know who one of Blissblog's readers is anyway).

In terms of G****’s internal politics, the non-consensus over a name seems to reflect its excessively Balkanized crew-against-crew territoriality. That’s got to have some relationship with the poor sales of the music. The whole dubplates/specials thing, that JA sound system-descended strategy of keeping your own music tightly to your collective chest so that punters have to go to the dance if they want to hear it AT ALL (or tune into that specific pirate, even that specific crew show)…. it’s been taken way too far. The dubplate thing, once so exciting, has now ventured along its own axis right into a Zone of Fruitless Intensification. Even a lot of people in London must feel: if you're going to make it that hard to get hold of your music, I’m not going to bother. Presumably most people just tape it off the pirates and then by the time the vinyl’s come out a small aeon later, they can’t be bothered, they’ve moved onto to something else. That's if it ever comes out at all. Hence the syndrome Matt noted, where sales of 1000 are astronomical, the cue for incredulity. Shit, I can remember when Deep Blue's “Helicopter Tune” sounds 22 thousand, when a medium-level jungle tune sold 5 or 6000.

The way it’s going, I can almost see G*** turning into something like the NZ noise scene, lathe-cut editions of 25. Except it’s actually easier to get hold of Dead C-type music in the rest of the world!

Following this train of thought has made me feel quite gloomy re. G***, Eski, whateverthafuckitwantstobecalled. Although people on the ground tell me that my 2step Revival/Reinvention fantasy is just that, a fantasy, I do think that some kind of swing the other way is inevitable--towards extroversion, groove, inviting people in, openheartedness. Only three year and a half years ago the 2step generation rule da nation. It owned UK pop music. Now it’s shunted itself into a skrewface corner, clutching its shrinking pie. If experience shows us anything, it’s that there’s some kind of Internal Pendulum inside the Pirate Continuum, whenever the music goes too far along one axis (into a Zone of Fruitless Intensification), it’ll swing back violently the other direction. It’s a sort of self-correcting device. G**** is on the edge of the ZFI, maybe already some distance into it, on multiple axes --clunky/cruddy-soundquality/non-danceable/words>music/testosterone/dark'n'moody -- and it’s easy to imagine it whizzing back the other into swing/deluxe-gloss/groovy/music>words/oestrogen/light'n'happy. The ‘Nuum’s dormant/latent House genes will surely reactivate.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Have also to second Matt's comments about D Double E's "mui mui" noise: "“Birds In Da Sky” = most heinous omission from my Faves 2003 and if I’d done a Fave Discrete Sounds of 2003 list "mui mui" would have been in the Top Five.

How about Unfave Discrete Sounds of 2003? Hands down #1 would be that bit where the singer in The Darkness squeals "geetar" just before the guitar solo come in during "A Thing Called Love". Phenotext to genotext, semiotically and symbolically, that is one repulsive little moment there. The aural equivalent of their thumbs-up gesture. It reminds me of when Robbie Williams does that self-undercutting eye-rolling thing while simultaneously apparently trying to deliver an emotionally convincing rendition of a song. (And how fitting that The Darkness made their mark supporting Robbie Williams at Knebworth). In writing on The Darkness, one thing that seems to crop up regularly are analyses on the lines of "they have a healthy sense of their own ridiculousness", or of "metal's ridiculousness" or variations thereof. Metal inoculated by its own internal Spinal Tap blah blah. Well I would venture that for artists a sense of your own/your genre's ridiculousness is an unhealthy thing, a little tumour of not-really-meaning-it, of witholding-yourself-from-full-engagement. I would venture further that all great metal, and possibly all great anything, is competely oblivious to its own ridiculousness--yes even AC/DC. (Queen i'm not sure about, early on I suspect they were oblivious and then at some point in the early Eighties they became aware of it --but, well, i'm not exactly a connoisseur of the oeuvre). To take the argument outside metal, look at Tom Jones. As soon as he realized that he'd become
a figure of fun, and decided to laugh with the audience at himself, to milk that kitsch/camp appeal, he turned to shit. (Maybe Ozzie has become metal's Tom Jones then). Mind you ol' frizz-hair tried the opposite tack simultaneously, trying to become hip (at NY's eve on some US channel Tom Jones did the most frightful version of "Burning Down the House"). Whereas someone like Neil Diamond say seems to have retained a modicum of dignity.

Jesus, how did I get from D-Double E to Neil Diamond?
Ingram maintains his Canute-like stand against the word "Grime". And shouts down the haters (all two of them)

Lathes: the New Zealanders' word for "dubplates", apparently

Thursday, January 22, 2004

more reading bonanza

Strewth! It's Marcello's epic encyclopaedic breakdown of the badnesses of 1985: THE WORST YEAR FOR MUSIC EVER, based the Gallup UK Top 40 singles charts of 1985 and the NME critics’ end-of-year Top 50 singles chart and Top 50 album chart. Sort of like his 1982 thing only even more thorough and unstinting.

I was actually thinking of writing something on the Bad Music Era, my postpunk researches having brought me right up to the threshold of 1983/84/85/86--the middle third of the Eighties, that grand Epoch of Disappointment, Frustation, Clutching At Straws, and Being Ashamed of Being British (not that the Yanks were doing that much better really). Why only the other day I had to listen to "Fat Man" by Southern Death Cult: truly atrocious, but it topped the UK indie charts for months.

More Diz-discourse from SF-J at Slate

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

reading bonanza

Jeff Chang on Dizzee. Interestingly invoking Kodwo and positing Grime as the return of More Brilliant Than The Sun’s repressed: “sociology, biography, and the real”. But when he refers to “London’s black dance music scene” in the mid-90s seeming to “cast off history’s weight and speed toward the millenium” I think he’s mistaking rhetoric (critical, and the scene’s own) for reality. Even in the most abstract all-instrumental beats-and-bass music, it--“sociology, biography, the real”--was always there if you listened for it.

(On which subject: a footnote to “rhythmic danger”. Drum’n’bass’s rather ignominous mainstream presence--brisk, pace-setting background music on TV, from Bravo interstitial music to the Powerpuff Girls--is dependent on the absence of the low-end dangerbass. Partly ‘cos you can’t get the visceral impact of bass from a TV, but also cos when background music bods make breakbeaty stuff for TV they often leave out bass altogether. The beats on Powerpuff Girls are actually quite full-on and jungalistic, 150 bpm and mashed up, but w/o the B-line presha the effect is just innocuously frenetic and exuberant.)

Geeta on Neubauten. Must try her idea of playing Metal Machine Music as dinner party music. Especially as I still have her copy of the record, shamefully unlistened to as yet. Never quite seems like the right moment.

Christgau on the money re. R. Kelly and the sudden, bizarre eruption of critical love for this creepy creepy guy/minor talent (yumminess of “Ignition” notwithstanding).

K-Punk on fiyah… especially feel the comment on hip hop

Woebot's Sun Ra thing from last week was a stunner, Matt keeps on surpassing himself…. Suggestions for spiritual kin o’ Ra omissions: perhaps too obvious but any of those classic discoNubian Earth Wind and Fire albums like I Am; A.R. Kane’s i (which they wanted to call Supercallifragaliciousexpialidociuos but Disney said ‘no way’--another Ra connection, that Disney thing. Also in an interview at that time Rudi and Alex were on some kinda heliolatry trip, 'the sun loves us, its love is purer than human love'); Hawkwind; Gong.

Usually when Matt does these lists I get zero out of 10 but I was amazed that this time round I actually owned two of the records- the Messaien/Takemitsu and the Hildegard of Bingen. And that Ra record Matt fondles then passes over at the record fair--Disco 3000--is a favorite, taped off Stubbs two decades ago, and possibly the first Ra I ever heard. It's Ra solo on electronic keyboards, kinda cosmic lounge/Muzak-of-the-spheres vibe. Not sure where ‘disco’ comes into it. Never seen it since, never reissued on CD as far as I know. Wish I’d taped it on a better quality cassette!

I have actually seen Sun Ra twice--once in Brixton, at the Fridge, in the company of Stubbs and his missus, 1986, amazing; once at the Knitting Factory, early Nineties, bit boring to be honest. Round then I actually got to interview Sun Ra. I say “interviewed”, it was more like an “audience”. In two and a half hours, I must have uttered a sum total of forty words--nothing so presumptuous as a question. He did not disappoint. All the stuff involving word-games and hermetic etymology was pretty mindblowing, I knew about his Saturnian origins but most of the MythScience was unfamiliar to me at that point--pre-Szwed, pre-John Corbett even. Somewhere I have the transcript.

Come on Scott, get off your arse...
calling all doom supporters

a chance for Londoners to hear Miro, the Mover's right hand man, perform live as Hypnotizer, this Friday:

event -

venue -
(5 min walk from Vauxhall British Rail &
Underground station, underneath the
railway arches)

date -
Friday 23rd January 2004

times -
10pm thru 6am

door -
£10 b4 11pm & £12 afta innit

Doomhall (All styles of Dark Hardcore)
Music for this event -

25K Turbosound!!!

DJ's&PA's for this event include .. ..

HYPNOTIZER - Live (Things To Come Recs)
from pcp/kotzaak/dance ecstasy(Germany)
First UK live appearance!

MATT GREEN - Live (Epileptik)

FIFTH ERA - Live (Fifth Era Records)

SIMON UNDERGROUND (Underground Music)

FACE HOOVER (Crossbones/Hellraiser)

DARKSIDE (Corrupt Recs)

NEKRO (Crossbones)

+ Mystery South of London DJ

SCOTT BROWN + ENIGMA resident DJs & MCs in other room.

2 rooms & lounge bar - 800 capacity

Underground Music merchandise stall

Mentalists everywhere



Caution!Nuts Inside!
+44 (0) 7764 758 651

Friday, January 09, 2004

Acute ruminations on the concept of "revelance" from Man like Luka. Particularly dig the opposition made between
Repetition and Reinvestigation. And the jab at folks in Minnesota making tracks that could have been played on Kool FM in 94--ouch!

The concept of "revelance", along with similar ideas like "street credible", all the things that get your Auspicious Fishes seething (although i notice Nick's a Dizzee admirer now), is something i would have derided back in those blissy late Eighties-- or at least put scare quotes around. Admittedly this would have been a counter-reaction to some of the utter tripe music championed in the name of politics-in-pop by the likes of the NME in those days. but still--what a weird little art-for-art's-sake/pomo-damaged/aestheticisation-of-surrender bubble i must have been living in! Today it seems a matter of urgency that music be something you can tell the time(s) by. It's not the only criteria obviously--sonic strangeness for its own sake, pure enjoyability--but the stuff that does contain some kind of response to the present, or transmit some kind of information, is significantly elevated in my estimation.
That "response" or information need not necessarily be consciously transmitted -- for instance hip hop and dancehall are always going to be something you can tell the time(s) by just because of who's making the music and who it's made for. Same with pirate continuum stuff. It's political but not necessarily politicized. And of course the information may not be good news, heartwarming or hope-inducing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Gimme danger

Rather belatedly picking up from Tim Finney’s Skykicking post on drum’n’bass and the loss of its “rhythmic danger” of December 20….

---first, if you’re going to talk about “rhythmic danger” then the role of the bass, and how that changed/deteriorated, is worth considering… “Dangerbass” is what I titled some mystery tune on an early ’94 pirate tape (still never identified, sigh)… back in those days the way the bass moved in relation to the drums, the vibe it created--stealth, trepidation, ominousness, lurking malevolence, a sort of tectonic instability--was crucial to that feel of rhythmic jeopardy Tim talks about… it also strikes me that jungle’s bass-motion was more musical, or musically interesting, than the way bass related to the beats in later drum’n’bass … from techstep onwards, the bass-riffs, as slathered as they are in “evil distortion”, operate in a much more regular and dependable-feeling way…

--- one thing that struck me is how the meaning of speed changed. The first acceleration, the foundational surge in tempo that turned house into hardcore into jungle, was felt as a cataclysmic increase. Catastrophic/revolutionary. Thousands dropped by the wayside, way more left the scene than stuck with it, they just couldn’t cope with both the speed and the choppiness of the breaks. But if you could handle the bpm surge, thrive on that sensation, then you were one of the headstrong hardcore. The headfuck, body-confound of the speed-surge--1991-1994, approx 120 bpm to approx 150 bpm--that was what made people says things like “you can’t dance to it” or “it’s just not music”.

The odd thing, though, is that drum’n’bass carried on getting faster after 94. It probably went up another 30 or 40 bpm in the four or five years after jungle had ‘arrived’ in terms of wider mainstream consciousness. But no one really noticed or commented on that further increase, it didn’t register as an equivalent amplification of intensity, either within the scene or outside it. But some people, some of the original ‘speed tribe’, did notice, and mourn, the way that as the music continued to get faster, all the interesting internal musical relationships of half-speed basslines etc disappeared. The further increase of speed seemed to narrow the music down drastically until all that was left was the sensation of pure linearity. The endless one bar loop chase-scene treadmill.

This suggests that on any axis of change, there is an optimal range, beyond which you enter the Zone of Fruitless Intensification. You carry on increasing the element or aspect that originally excited before, but the effect is not the same; and eventually if you keep on doing it, it actually becomes a negative.

The ZFI applies to all kinds of things not just music. Drug use, obviously; sex, love, relationships (you can enter the Zone of Fruitless Intensification with baby talk and sweet nothings), almost any hobby or obsession, art form or pleasure. But sticking just with music, I’d say that every style of music must have its optimal range and its ZFI range, you could plot them on a graph if you had a mind to. Gabba’s ZFI probably starts around 220 bpm, maybe a bit higher. That’s just tempo, of course, there might be another key axis, or even several axes, of intensification worth calibrating with gabba (distortion of kickdrum; noise; fuck you/kill-yer-mama/nasenbluten-puerility&nastiness). Minimal techno’s ZFI would when it just gets too emaciated, perhaps; microhouse when it gets too subtle, too nouvelle cuisiney. De trop de fromage, avec Gatecrasher-era trance.

One of the things that’s striking about jungle is that so many things were going on in the music you had multiple axes with the potential for fuck up and going into the Bad Zone and sure enough all of them were taken. The zone of fruitlessly intensified jazziness (think Wax Doctor, the later Good Looking stuff, the stuff Fabio ended up with); the zone of fruitless complexification (think what happened to Reinforced, Vortexion, all that stuff); the zone of fruitlessly exaggerated tumbly-Amen-exuberance (Aphrodite), the ZFI of apocalypticness/darkness (post-No U Turn).

(Mind you, there’s a perspectival element to this obviously. What many would think of as the Optimal Range of Intensification for hardcore>jungle is what a trad househead would think of, and did think of, as a ZFI--“fucking E-heads destroying the music”. And my ZFI for metal might be where thrash/death/black/etc headz think the key threshold into fabulousity actually starts)

In hip hop, an obvious axis on which there’s a ZFI would be Bling, also Thuggizm/Gangsta-Realism. Also, in undie, the encryption/prolixity/too many words to the bar axis.

I don’t think the ZFI is quite the same thing as self-parody. Partly because although the music can start to seem absurd once it enters the Zone, I think it’s more in the sense of a self-defeating dysfunctionality, something that doesn’t work anymore, give you the rush it did-- rather than simple ludicrousness. And in that sense, it’s no laughing matter. It’s also more impersonal and structural than the kind of self-parody that an individual artist can get into (and almost all do). Like, say, Morrissey, where you feel he could maybe have had the discretion to not go that way. With the ZFI it’s more like the evolutionary cycle of a species or something. Maybe it is self-parody, except there’s no self involved, ‘cos it’s collective, a scene or sound that gets mishapen (Echo & the Bunnymen: "losing the point of our mission/will we become/mishapen?"). The sound can carry on following its doomed path deep into the ZFI; meanwhile much of the original massive does the sensible thing and buggers off to something more, ah, fruitful and fruitious(c.f. speed garage in 97).

Now it’d be intriguing to work out what the significant axis on which the Zone of Fruitless Intensification will manifest itself, looking at some current musics. With Grime, one possibility is clunkiness. At the moment the music exploits the aesthetic possibilities of clunky-but-in-a-good way -- the clunk-crunk-funk nexus (the fact that stiff and lurching is actually more funky, or more rhythmically arresting/compelling, than fluid, nimble ‘funky’ playing). But I can already imagine that good-clunk turning to bad-clunk, getting both caned into the ground and exaggerated to the point of non-enjoyability. Same with the bombastic/doomladen post-Swizz/Ludacris fanfare-riff, although perhaps that's just a subset of "clunk".

I’m curious if Screwed as an Aesthetic has its ZFI -- and whether that would be the music getting slower and slower until it’s just this voidal subdrone (I should get Erase the World’s Baal to write this bit for me), a nauseously stretched out brink-of-standstill.

-- The Role of social energy. It’s not that drum’n’bass got shit because everyone ran out of ideas (or not only that--I do think most genres have finite possibilities, a seam that gets exhausted). Nor is that all the talented ones moved off to other fields (like steve gurley going into garage, 4 Hero doing broken beat, or Photek moving into house, and then onto hip hop [recent Deuce interview with rupert parkes: “‘s always been my roots, hip hop, honest! Detroit? Never heard of it.”]). A handful of producers did had the suss to move out of the negative vortex of d&B, but by and large it seems like a really high proportion of the original producers--dillinja, andy c, ed rush etc--are still involved, still at the helm. So why haven’t they been able to steer d&B in a better direction? Once a genius, always a genius, surely? It’s because of the massive. (“Scenius” isn’t a collectivized version of auteur theory, because at least 50 percent of “scenius” is the audience input). The jungle massive’s composition changed. It’s a different massive. A more studenty white M/C following embraced drum’n’bass in the late 90s; the orrrrrrrignal junglissss drifted off. Presumably, the new recruits were originally attracted by something “other”, but unconsciously, involuntarily, they gradually changed it back to something more “suited” to their class/race coordinates. The DJs are the membrane for this transfer of desire-data. Without necessarily being hyper-conscous about it, the DJs assimilate what the crowd respond to; there’s a positive reinforcement syndrome. The DJs are either DJ/producers and when they make new tracks they’ll consciously or unconsciously amplify the aspects that are getting the best response from the crowd; or they are in close contact with the producers, like Grooverider with his coterie of “boys”, and pass on the data that way, by selecting certain dubs and reject others. Either way the massive actually dictates, through a selective response to the new tunes coming on the scene, the music’s future path. That’s how dance musics evolve in the first place, and that’s how they devolve, in this case.

I noticed a different kind of dancing at a Dieselboy show in NYC in probably-1998, 1999, at any rate one of the last d&b nights for me EVER. There was a lot of energy in the club, but the way people moved was totally different than how people used to dance to jungle or even d&b -- very athletic, they were dancing to the fastest rhythmic element in the music. It was especially striking with these solja-girls dancing real hard, bounding on their feet, almost jogging. There was absolutely no wind-your-waist, no hips or bump’n’grind element in the physical response to the music, because there was no space in the music for that kind of movement. Now, the only place I saw dancing since that which resembled it was, interestingly, at psy-trance parties. Same sort of athletic/amazonian girls dancing very hard and very fast, bounding like antelopes or commandos. So when I said before about the new M/C recruits to d&B unconsciously, involuntarily, changing it to something more “suited” to their class/race coordinates -- I guess what I’m saying is they changed jungle into a kind of trance music--propulsive, cold techno-y textures, diminished role of MC, and most crucially the internal musical tensions that made jungle a form of black music gradually flattened out. It was exciting, the Dieselboy show, I’m not saying it wasn’t “valid” or buzz-worthy, but it was nothing to do with jungle. No danger.