Friday, July 30, 2004

At the risk of triggering more bizarrely rancorous blasts,  a few further thoughts.


This is where  I’m supposed to go "Touche," right? Except (and Lord knows I’ve written about this many times before, in relation to jungle, dancehall, and so forth) the crucial distinction is between microcapitalist versus macrocapitalist.* Given that the market is all we have as reality is currently constituted; the market, therefore, is where struggles are played out. Everybody needs to make some bread; everyone dreams of making their art pay. (I'm an entrepeneur too, a small business hawking wares on the ideas market). But surely it's obvious there's a difference between someone hustling white labels direct to record stores and entertainment mega-conglomerates with shareholders and bottom-line considerations.  There’s all kinds of reasons, practical and sentimental, to root for the little DIY guy. Between those extremes there's many levels and gradations.
You have more established and business-like but still fundamentally aesthetics-driven labels like Locked On or Warp or Kompact or _____ , and again I would argue there is a significant difference in motivation and mode of operation to a mega-conglom like Sony. Surely I don't have to point out how, through the entire history of popular music, most if not all of the "revolutionary" phases have been driven by independents and the pressure they’ve exerted on the majors (Sun Records being an absolute classic example), or through the work they’ve unintentionally done for them (discovering new talent, new styles). One might also note the role of
aesthetics-driven medium-size labels (I would count Island, Virgin, Elektra, as originally fitting this mold, independent-spirited even if they went through major distribution, although eventually they got so big they became more or less majors). The accusation levelled at labels like these, or later Rough Trade, as being mere "hip capitalism" or "hippie capitalism" always struck me as facile, given that capitalism is the venue, forum, infrastructure, government reality, through which all these battles or aesthetic partisanships are played out. In other words, it's not the selling, it's the what's being sold that is the important consideration.

(The facts that major labels sometimes release great records, that some idealistic and aesthetics-driven people work within the corporations, that in hip hop some crews have pushed their way in and turned from underdogs to overlords, that microcapitalist scenes (e.g. Jamaica in the 70s) often have shadier ethics and treat their artists worse than the macro congloms, and that many microcapitalists would probably like to become macrocapitalists--doesn't change my basic point here.)

--- market forces
The reference to market forces wasn't to posit some outside zone of purity beyond the market, but really to make an analogy between people who believe in markets (let them be free and everything will sort itself out and all will be hunky dory) and those who believe in the chart as anything more than (at very best) neutral device for tabulating what's selling. Of course the market isn't a level playing field, and as K-Punk points out, neither is the chart. The first thing conglomerates do if they can is restrict the free play of the market and get as close to monopoly as they can without the US Government Trust-busters checking them. At various points in pop history, the market has been thrown into sufficient turmoil (again I'd point to the pressure exerted by independents) that something like Kogan's "context of abundance" has existed--the Sixties, postpunk/New Pop, rave, hip hop at various points. But the majors have no real interest in hosting a context of abundance (it's too volatile, the profit margins are too slim, you don't get the economies of scale). The majors would rather have blockbusters than maintain a whole load of mid-list (publishing term) artists selling cult levels of sales (that wasn't always the case: Seventies with Harvest and Roy Harper, etc).

The same logic affects media: market forces led to the travesty of an MTV where the music content almost entirely disappeared at one point; it’s led to Clear Channel. Radio in this country takes segmentation and redundancy to the ultimate degree and then as Douglas Wolk has pointed out slaps ten tons of compression on the signal because everyone wants their record to leap out of the speakers and be competitive. Radio programming and the sheer muscle needed to make a hit in a country so vast are the reasons why Chartism of the kind espoused by Morley has almost never been a viable stance here. (Reprinted in Ask, there’s a piece he did on Meatloaf for NME where he leaves the UK all buzzed up on New Pop and then arriving gets his spirit crushed by the "rolling rocks" of Foreigner, Styx, etc). In terms of pop media, my utopia wouldn't be based around the official chart but the  "mixed economy" of London's radioscape:  the state-run stations with their vestigial Reith-ian commitments to the non-commercial,  the commercial pop stations and Kiss FM,  the eccentricty of  Resonance, and the polyglot babble of community ethnic stations, and not least, the pirates with their amateur ethos and hacking into the public airwaves.(Worth noting how often the golden ages of pop and rock in the past have all been bound up with radio--pirate radio in the Sixties, FM radio in America in the late 60s and early 70s, and so forth). 

---no resources of its own.
Pop, we appear to have agreed, has no aesthetic essence; it’s not a style of music. What is it then? It’s a space and a process: synthesis. Sometimes the synthetic process creates splendid results.  "The pop tradition" if such a thing exists is essentially a tradition of borrowing things from other traditions and combining them: folk forms, high culture, the avant-garde, exotica, showbiz (the styles of which if you trace them back far enough turn out to be their own combinations of folk forms and kitschified high culture element). Pop’s alchemical X factor is technology, the crucible of the studio. (The auteur synthesists are almost always the ones who’re most adroit at working the latest tech--Trevor Horn, Timbaland). If you looked at, say, the Beatles and broke down their syntheses, you’d get rhythm & blues, music hall, George Martin’s classical-derived arrangement skills, bastardised (not an insult in my book) raga, Stockhausen, etc, etc… Pop’s alchemy, its magic, is to seal the joins so we don’t see them; it’s just pop, seemingly ex nihilo, glittering on your TV screen or  dazzling through the radio.

Eventually pop had been going long enough and accumulated enough matter that it could refer back to itself--its own back pages became a resource (glam, perhaps, that turning point of self-reflexivity). The already-refined and synthesized material could be super-refined and re-synthesized, either combined with earlier alloys, or blended with new materials from "outside". To really keep moving forward and surprising us, though, pop has to draw repeatedly on those external resources; it requires a steady input of raw materials.

Now certainly there are instances, numerous ones, where the raw materials are actually improved through this refinement and synthesis process. One’s perspective will vary on this case by case. Generally speaking the less you’re invested in a "raw" genre, the more likely you’ll be to favor its pop-ification. For instance, early this year I noted here there were noises in Britney’s "Toxic" that sounded like nu skool breaks but were approximately 1000 times better. Maybe if I cared a tinker’s cuss for Ils and Pilgrem I’d have a totally different feeling. As it is, "Toxic" vies with "Yeah" as my favorite single of the year. Both are good examples of pop-as-synthesis. If you were coldblooded enough to break "Toxic" into its constituents, you’d find R&B, techno, Bollywood, and so forth, and then this X factor element it’s tempting to call "pure pop sensibility" (although if you were even more coldblooded you could probably trace that back to earlier syntheses in the history of pop). Usher’s tune breaks down into R&B, house/techo, crunk (once a regional sub-market of rap, and at that point, sufficiently peripheral to be considered an underground, albeit a populous one).

If all the undergrounds, all the zones of Self Organised Autonomous Cultural Activity, decided to call a General Strike and refrained from coming up with anything new for five years… pop could run on empty for a while, reworking its own archive deposits. Sooner or later though an almighty dry spell would hit it.

Fortunately for everyone the SOACA zones are so helplessly fertile, and the people involved have such powerful economic pressures on them, they simply can’t withold their ideas; this ensures a steady supply of raw materials for pop to renew itself with.

(How much is Britain’s "innate pop genius" related to its imperial history as importer/processer/exporter?) * *

(And for sure undergrounds also steal and recycle ideas from pop--there's always been a reversibility to the process, and that was drastically intensified by the invention of sampling. But these transactions [jungle and UK garage’s bootleg remixes for instance, or Elephant Man versioning the melody from "Eye of the Tiger’] have a altogether different charge to them than when pop nicks ideas from below. Surely you can simply feel that? Impurism from above and impurism from below are not necessarily equivalent in terms of their "political" resonance,  although both can produce wonderfully listenable results.)

Winding up here, I guess my contention is that making a fetish of the Charts is to privilege the pop process (extraction/refinement/synthesis/distribution) at the expense of the subaltern zones of primary production, who literally come up with the goods time and time again. Glittering on your TV screen or dazzling through the radio, pop can be "the free lunch" of Kogan lore. But let’s not forget who grew the ingredients.

* indebted to CCRU's work for this opposition.

* * this analogy appropriated, in truly colonialist style, from nativist/Anglophobe/new pop hater Dave Marsh, and then inverted.

(Fuckinell, I was planning to make the blog more telegraphic and aphoristic. Oh well...)

(Further thoughts on possible reasons why such heavy investments are made in the word "pop" to follow. Right now as boss/sole employee of my own enterprise, I really ought to get back to work).

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

further rough notes on noise, soulcialism, the charts:

--- "lovelynoise": transcending the harmony/discord binary,  sounds that if you could examine their harmonic spectra would count as "dirty" but the effect is pure piercing idyllic bliss. Examples:  that exquisite, un-sourceable plangent riff in the Royskopp tune whose name escapes me,  lots of sounds in Boards of Canada, much of the guitar content in AR Kane’s records, Disco Inferno, Flying Saucer Attack, many more....

--- Green Gartside interview, 1988. On the subject of Wet Wet Wet ( who took their name from a Scritti song) and their ilk.

GG: "You're right, there's this wholesomeness, earnest expressiveness, honesty...and yes, that's garbage. I would say that soul and funk are the most WRECKING experiences, you can feel it when a really NASTY groove hits you, there's much more a sense of falling apart, in an affirming way, than of its..." (really sneering now) "...its honesty."

SR: Hasn't soul become over-written and over-determined in much the same way that you used to complain rock was in  1980? It's got so I can't listen to Aretha Franklin's voice without horrid words like "pride and dignity" popping into my head.

GG "I think you're right and it's something we should, um, band together and fight against! No, if that is the story that maintains then it needs to be contradicted and undone, and another story needs to be told about it, because that sure as hell wasn't what appealed to me about black music, even though the 'health' factor was salient at the time, strategically."

SR: Do you follow what happens in the world of rock? I mean, what do you think about the validity of "noise" as an option?

GG: "There is no point at which music stops and noise begins...that's elementary. I've always considered music as noise and noise as music...these are obviously the arcane squabblings that persist in the airless, closeted confines of the music papers."

---  For what we are about to receive, may the Charts make us truly grateful. Believing in the charts is like people who believe in market forces. Forget "like"--it is believing in market forces. Anonymous consumer decisions infallibly generate a weekly smorgasbord of surprises and things you didn't know you wanted until they tugged at your ear. Does it actually work like that in practice though? Is TOTP an accurate scan of the true scope of popular desire? What is its ratio of surprise to tedium? I haven't lived in the UK for years so I couldn't say, but the few editions I caught in the last decade haven't been encouraging.  You'd probably get as good results by stumbling blindfolded into the Virgin Megastore and grabbing the first 16 CDs to hand. Scrolling back and forth across the FM dial would be at very least as effective in terms of exposing yourself to random and unfamiliar delights (if you live somewhere like London anyway), the pirates (of many more hues than just Grime or Garage) and the licensed ethnic community stations vying with the state-owned stations and commercial pop radio.

Instead of the munificence of  the charts/market forces, personally I'd rather trust in "self organising autonomous cultural activity" aka the massive(s) aka scenius aka the global undergrounds to keep on coming up with the goods. Trust in the pressure that pushes up from below, in from outside. Pop today is reworking and recombining materials that in greatest part originally came from S.O.A.C.A. Pop has no resources of its own, apart from the archive of its own earlier reworkings of S.O.A.C.A. material.
The Great Rock Discography, by Martin C. Strong (Times Books) is a very useful reference book, with release dates down to the month (if not day), musician line-ups, catalogue numbers, track listings for albums, labels on both sides of the Atlantic, and chart positions. It also includes the occasional sublime typo:

St Pancras/not issued.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Amblongus, nice, on listening to some of his old faves. Including Gryphon--a different album by whom I recently acquired. All to be revealed, shortly, in some detail.
Stubbs, hilarious, on his Maker memories. Looking forward to the next instalments (but also ever so slightly apprehensive...)

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Ewing on Morley. A classic column about how great the charts were in the summer of 1982. A founding text for Pop-ism for sure. I remember this piece vividly and totally felt the same euphoria about New Pop's apparent victory--the fact that it had driven all the crap from the charts (or almost all of it). Thing is, the moments when this kind of elation could be sustained by the actual contents of the charts are few and far between. (And within six months of Morley's column, the picture looked totally different, and PM spent much of 1983 railing against the likes of the Thompson Twins while simultaneouly plotting the counter-attack--ZZT (hence Into Battle, War on Pop). Since 1982, how many times, really, has a situation prevailed where the good stuff in the charts outnumbered the bad stuff?

Beyond that, though, I'm not sure of the extent to which you can make the charts the foundation of a pop theology. After all, they're simply a structure for tabulating what's selling, a statistical format. There's no aesthetic essence to "chartpop" (certainly nothing resembling the kind of distillate WonderPop as imagined by Saint Etienne). Iron Maiden and Dire Straits are two of the UK's most successful chart pop acts!  If the entire population of the UK suddenly got into thrash metal, or alt-country, would being a Chartist be such a rewarding stance?

The cooler-than-thou type is a bit of an Aunt Sally, a crude caricature. As an unhealthily attentive NME reader at the time,  I instantly recognised it as a jibe at Richard Cook, the paper's jazz critic, but also a champion of the likes of Rip Rig and Panic. Later he became the editor  [and founder?] of The Wire. Which is sorta interesting in terms of a genealogy of attitudes if you consider The Wire's anti-pop slant (the Sinker years being the exception obviously). But then Cook, as I recall, used to write enthusedly about all kinds of stuff in NME--Cocteau Twins, New Order, The Police, Lloyd fucking Cole. He even had nice things to say about Foreigner, circa "Waiting For A Girl Like You" and "I Wanna Know What Love Is".  So in his own way he too could probably have said "I like everything" and meant it.
My favorite bit in David Keenan’s Noise Primer in this month’s Wire:

"…New Blockaders collaborator Andrew Chalk… also ran a solo project, Ferial Confine, through much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, although the available recorded evidence is thin on the ground."

You don’t say, David! If the microcult-building/arcana-excavation industry carries on at this rate of unstinting assiduousness, the "project" me and the Monitor crew "ran" for a single afternoon in 1984--turntablism avant la lettre, fucking around with scratch techniques using cheap Dansettes, not just vinyl but (you hear me Richard D. James?) putting the stylus on the rubber mat or the metal surface of the turntable itself itself, Chris Scott (later of Talulah Gosh, and whose basement this took place in) running long ethnodelic 8 track tape loops made off field recordings around the room using jam jars for the tape to spool around while simultaneously super-8ing the whole thing for posterity--will soon acquire mini-mythic status. Available recorded evidence is thin on the ground, but…

Another notable bit, from the preamble:  "If pop music is daytime, a nine to five soundtrack regulating work and consumption, then noise is its night…. In contrast to music manufactured under the surveillance glare of pop, noise provides a cover of dark that encourages both experimentation and criminal acts. Noise generates the perfect conditions for interrogating control and jamming its channels. Noise is the meltdown of logic. And it refuses the notion that everything is consensual, that communication is paramount, that music must be about pleasure."

But, but, but, but, Da-vid.... these ideas have been, if not definitively discredited, then at least severely problematised for oooh nigh on fifteen years, at least--they were beginning to look rather tired by the time of Big Black’s Songs About Fucking. This whole "harmony as lie/noise as truth" notion--come off it!  Just look at the modes of transmission, reception, and consumption in which your average noise outfit plies its wares. What could be more over-rationalised, orderly, contained, non-disruptive? Saturated with discourse, LADEN with conceptual baggage, the wares are served up to a totally pre-converted and unshockable cult audience. Whitehouse, perhaps, are still beyond the pale (beyond my pale, certainly), but at what cost.

Melodic or textural beauty (I’m talking about the Sublime here, rather than just your common or garden pretty tune or nice-sounding sounds) is just as much an uncanny strangeness at loose in the world,
outside sense or law. Extreme loveliness can be as intense as any noise. Conversely, noise, unleavened, is actually often rather dull. Lulling even--I’ve fallen asleep in not one but two different Diamanda Galas concerts (and I was a Diamanda fan!).

That said, I did like the bit where Dave goes on about two members of Borbetomagus who "lock horns like rutting moose."
That was a brief "retirement". Back, and funny with it.

Friday, July 23, 2004

explication for "hemingwoid" lurks herein, claims MC MC. Still don't get it to be honest but nice to find the
provenance of Koons Really Thinks He's Michelangelo utterance.
scroll down to thursday's petshop boys entry for equal 1st coinage of the month:

PS. Can someone show me how to do the bookmark thing for specific points in a blogg text? Yrs lamely.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Staring up balefully from the pavement, the face of DJ Hype--a neatly bisected poster for his gig tonight, placed right outside the entrance to our building such as I couldn't possibly miss it. What is this, a fucking hex?!

reminder for da NYC massive:

Jason Jinx and friends present

an old skool jam

Thursday July 29th 2004

AVALON 662 6th Avenue

$7 in advance; $10 on the door

proceeds to help DB get his money back after NASA relick debacle

advance tickets at Breakbeat Science and Satellite

or here at Jason Jinx's site

10 til 4AM

Josh Wink
DJ Dara
Junior Sanchez
Scott Hardkiss
Dave Ralph
Nigel Richards
Mr Kleen
Jason Jinx

Plus a special surprise guest
One for your calendars and engagement books London massive:

DROP THE BOMB II: The 2nd Coming

Oldskool Rave - Hard Acid - Doomcore - Hardcore Techno - Gabber - Speedcore

Friday 22nd October 22:00 - 06:00

THE HORRORIST  live (Oliver Chesler aka DJ Skinhead/Temper Tantrum/Disintegrator, Things To Come, NYC)

LENNY DEE (Industrial Strength, Brooklyn)

plus THE DARK INVADERS feat MC Shadow & Freddy The Flame - live;
SIMON UNDERGROUND(Underground Music); CROSSBONES - live(Phuture Rave); THE LURKER(Fifth Era); NEKRO(Crossbones Sound System)

£8 b4 23:00 / £10 after

The Egg Club, 200 York Way, Kings Cross, London. N7 9AP.

Nearest Underground station Caledonian Road or Kings Cross

For more info and advance tickets go here
or e-mail: dropthebomb2004

Horrorist live not to be missed, and Lenny Dee one of the great hardcore (in American/Euro sense of the word) DJs
Coinage of the month from Sherburne: "Almost everything feels apres garde these days." 

Kpunk takes the Shame riff and runs with it. A considerable distance! In a direction I'd not envisaged! But s'all good.
scroll down a bit for Wingco Stubbs hilarious visit to Buckingham Palace

MC MC on Annette Peacock’s I’m The One (already high, very high, on my Mos’ Wanted--and now higher still)

[that url -- --?!?  piles pun? explication, please!]

Simon SD on "lover’s grime"

(poss subconscious attempt on scene's part to outflank inevitable/imminent/impending gender-polar pendulum-Nuum swing back to 2step 4 da girls dem?)

((too Nipponese for ya MC?))

Shame so many folk been dropping outa the game lately.

Still--quite a lot of energy out there. it ain’t dead yet people.

and here's Geeta w/ tha scoop on non-retirement of technicolor, plus new blogg by andy K

another new blogg -- send in the clowns

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

DJ Hype! In New York! On Thursday! When I saw the poster I was very excited... for about eight seconds. Then thought: "Nah. Bound to be crap". The Hype of 2004 is not going to be anything like the Hype of Subplates and "Roll Da Beatz", or even the Hype of Ganja Kru. (Do orrrrrignal soljas still in the game, like Hype or Andy C, actually understand that the music they're involved with now has almost no sonic or rhythmic relationship with what they started from a dozen years ago?)

I actually went to a drum 'n' bass event a month ago, believe it or not (the Dieselboy tour). Flushed up on post-Troubled Waters euphoria, and just curious. Big mistake. The irony that impressed itself upon me: there are few genres doing less interesting things with drums, and less interesting things with bass, than drum'n'bass in 2004.  
Jon, awesome, on Coil. Like a lot more specific artifacts by them, without actually ever feeling like I'm a Coil fan. To be a fan, you need to love the "what they're about". So for instance I'm a Prodigy fan cos i love the what they're about (and the new one's pretty good I reckon, they've got a sound and they're sticking with it -- like AC/DC, say). The Coil "what they're about" is too bound up with esotericism. It's geared around the select few; initiates. Also, it's so fucking content-heavy and concept-laden. The classic industrial hallmark where it's almost like there's a reading list attached to the record.

I bet you I've shared a dancefloor with Coil at some point during the tail end of their E-maniac phase. Seems very likely given both their drug and sexual proclivities they'd have ended up at Trade, which started at 5-AM on Saturday nights and went through to the mid-afternoon on Sundays. Boys stripped to the waist; a naked barrister; clutch of lesbians fondling each others tits in the corner. The most mashed people I've ever seen EVER. And site of one true mystical experience of me life.

The intriguing question for me is why a group who came so close to the heart of visionary madness in rave culture, then veered away from it and didn't become "hardcore" (and indeed are now so sniffy re. machine rhythm). Given all their interests (the early Coil stuff was recorded in a state of "amphetamania" acc. John Balance), it would have been perfectly logical for them to join in the whole darkside speedfreak moment-- their preoccupations with skewed sounds and audio-hallucinations and twitchy peripheral phantasms in the corner of your ear and shivery subdermal E-sensations, would have make total sense there. They should have joined the Reinforced crew! In fact the logical thing for them do (if they had any interest in propagating ideas beyond a cult audience, that is) would have been to start their own pirate radio station (shades of the whole Psychic TV fantasy of counter-media). Them and the Black Dog.
the new model for this blogg is Somedisco crossed with Woebotnik. Telegraphic innit. Longer posts at some point, probably.
personally i think the concept of the Guilty Pleasure is due a revival, not being pensioned off. Scratch that: we need to create a Shame Culture. People ought to be publically shamed, and ashamed, of the lamenesses they waste their brief earthly span on. I know I regularly feel like i'm letting myself down (being married to a TV critic at this present moment doesn't help).
microtrend in bloggworld -- bloggs named after painters. Viz,. 
Koons Really Does Think He's Michelangelo (thought MC MC had retired! Instead he's on fire!) and Mondrian's Sketchbook (home of Stylus honcho Todd Burns)

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Kpunk comments boxes = the nu-ILM, innit
tentative start to reassessment of mid-Eighties at this ILM thread, you sorta kinda sense people circumspectly and almost-surreptitiously scoping out to see if there's any subcult capital AT ALL to be gleaned from those Big Flame Stump Bogshed Hula Chakk Wolfgang Press etc records or whether it's best to just leap ahead to the late 80s  and be done with it

promising new blog *drip*drop*drap--check especially the techsonix-ly sussed post on scenes and soundsystems and also the one on more dubsteppin'
me on infinite livez
i'm still in a post-traumatic state after tonight's episode of Six Feet Under, got that poisoned by adrenalin feeling.  they crossed a line there, i think.