Monday, February 28, 2005

that The Game is a right frowny bugger, ruddy great creases on his face, he really doesn't look like he's enjoying the high life one bit

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Few final thoughts on the hot topic du jour:

I dunno, folks are saying now, take it as a very entertaining record, take it purely on its musical merits (what’s known in argument-judo as the pre-emptive, or in this case post-emptive, deflation: “don’t get so serious, so worked up, relax and enjoy”), I dunno, though, seems to me that a miasma of significance has draped itself around this record, partly emanating from the artist, partly from the handlers and the journalists, and accordingly that doesn’t just entitle but kinda behoves us to inspect the M.I.Asma to see if its various strands cohere into anything, er, coherent. And I’m genuinely confused here, it doesn’t quite add up for me, I mean, MIA-believers, you tell me:

----What is the significance of naming your record in homage to a struggle that 99 percent of your listenership don’t know anything about, a very specific and local struggle that doesn’t appear to have much in the way of resonances outside its own borders, certainly nothing very clearcut and rubberstamp-able. I know as little as anyone about the Tamil war for independence, if I did tons of reading and research, I might very well conclude it’s a righteous one, i still don't know where it fits with baile funk etc. talking of which...

--- what is the significance of playing music from the hillside slums of Brazilian conurban sprawls to audiences thousands of miles away geographically and just as remote in terms of their living conditions etc?

As for the fake/real thing… I can’t believe so many people still think the following is a devastating argument-judo move:

--“aha! You have just committed the cardinal error of demanding authenticity from your entertainment! thereby exposing yourself as prehistoric throwback and [ach, spit] rockist to the core!”

this seems a bit tired to me, these sort of arguments have been going on for at least 20 years, if not earlier (Notes On Camp… well really they go back to Oscar Wilde at least, saying that sincerity was the death of art).

it’s also funny in a way, because in quote unquote real life, people tend generally to operate in ways that would appear to valorize “authenticity”, they get angry when people lie to them, they recoil from phonies and bullshitters and poseurs, find people who front both amusing and sad; if they buy a bag of chocolate covered raisins and get home and find it’s chocolate covered peanuts they get irritated [true story that]. Outside the realm of entertainment, we tend to value honesty, sincerity, straightforwardness, consistency…. Perhaps if “rock-etc” [used here as shorthand for everything that might be under discussion, e.g. hip hop, rave, grime etc] was “just entertainment” ie. showbiz, then masquerade/artifice/pretence would perhaps just be taken for granted in the way that people into Vegas type stuff aren’t looking for the authentic or a real person underneath the performance. But in “rock-etc” we still adhere to a vague hankering for some kind of correlation between persona and person. Why is this impulse so persistent? And are we wrong to feel that way? [The closest Anti-Authenticists get to a moral judgemental tone is when dismissing Authenticists]. And what would be lost if we ceased hankering for it?

They complain finally that I’m responding to the hype, not to MIA. But the anti-Realists ought to be down with the idea, surely, that hype is an intrinsic part of the pop process, that there is no clear borderline between the pop art object itself and the discourse/image/marketing that enwebs it (that metaphor itself inadequate because enweb suggest something exterior to the art object that is then applied to it, whereas it’s more the case that discourse/etc interpenetrates the very fibres of the art object and emanates at least in part from it; art = "active criticism", rhetoric given aesthetic form; that fame, as someone, er, famous whose name I forget (Nietzche?) said, is the sum of misunderstandings that surround a person (and we might add disagreements, interpretations, etc). To make some distinction between this “peripheral” stuff and the supposed “real” thing that should be the only legitimate object of discussion ("why don't you just review the record/gig" being the ultimate crap-cutting, frame-narrowing dis-intensifier, the kind of thing that makes Mark K-punk's blood boil), well such a distinction would seem to be a bit… Authenticist, actually!

I think this guy’s Frivolist take on the record/phenom might be the sane one, clearing the miasma away and enjoying it as pop, i.e. not-rock.

... some day I’ll unfurl my MIA-as-Haysi-Fantazee analogy…
As a sort of answer to Nick Gutterbreakz damning-with-faint-abuse of LCD Soundsystem, here's that interview with James Murphy as promised a while back. It's not really a riposte to Nick's thing, actually, as I could very easily be swayed to his way of thinking. Also think Morley hit the nub of ambivalence very acutely in his Observer Music Monthly review of LCD, esp. this bit:

"If you've never heard most of the stuff LCD stuff into themselves you'll think it's worthy of considerable worship. You'll dance until you drop. If you know the stuff, then, yeah, it's good at being good, at knowing how to be good, and knowing what is good, and in the end, good, but not that good"

which chimes in with my point herebelow about "the crisis of well made music"

there is a prize for whoever spots the quote I tampered with (thinking it would only ever get read by Germans!)

This post will set up nicely for the next one which will be about the rift in temporality that occurred in the early-to-mid Eighties, Spacemen 3 and citational aesthetics, and possibly the discussion of the Libertines over at Dissensus but possibly not.

[extract from an article originally published in Groove magazine, Germany, January 2005]

Released not long after “House Of Jealous Lovers”, LCD’s debut single “Losing My Edge” was the first indication that DFA weren’t just a pair of capable remixers, but that there was in fact a whole sensibility, aesthetic, and ethos behind the label, as well as a groovy retro-nuevo sound. Sung by Murphy, the song is the plaint of a cool hunter type--a musician, or DJ, or record store clerk, or possibly all three--who’s agonizingly aware that he’s slipping, as younger kids outdo his esoteric knowledge with even more obscure reference points. “I'm losing my edge to the Internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978,” the character whines. “To the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties”. The aging hipster’s claims of priority and having been first-on-the-block get more and more absurd: “I was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City/I was working on the organ sounds with much patience… I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids/I played it at CBGB's… I was there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan/I was there in Jamaica during the great sound clashes/I woke up naked on the beach in Ibiza in 1988.”

As well as being a hilarious auto-critique of hipsterism, “Losing My Edge” obliquely captured something of the pathos of the modern era. All this massive ever-accumulating knowledge about music history, the huge array of arcane influences and sources available thanks to the reissue industry and peer-to-peer filesharing, all the advantages we have today in terms of technology and how to get good sounds, have resulted in a kind of a kind of crisis of “well made” music, where producers are scholars of production, know how to get a great period feel, yet it seems harder and harder to make music that actually matters, in the way that the music that inspired them mattered in its own day. “Record collection rock” is my term for this syndrome, although the malaise is just as prevalent in dance culture (look at the perennial return of the 303 acid bass, each time sounding more exhausted and unsurprising).

“Losing My Edge” was very funny, but also poignant. Murphy agrees. “It’s incredibly sad. It took people a while to pick up on that. At first they were like, ‘ha! You got ‘em’, like it was just a satire on hipsters. What’s truly sad, though, is that the initial inspiration for it was from my deejaying in the early days of DFA, playing postpunk and an eclectic mix of dance and rock. And suddenly everybody started playing that kind of mixture, and I thought ‘fuck, now it’s a genre and I’m fucked, I’m not going to get hired’. My response was, “I was doing this first,” and then I realized that was pathetic, that I was this 31 year old hipster douchebag. So at the end of “Losing My Edge,” that’s why there’s the long list of bands-- Pere Ubu, Todd Terry, PIL, the Fania All-Stars, the Bar-Kays, Heldon, Gentle Giant, the Human League, Roy Harper, Sun Ra, on and on--‘cos in the end that’s what my attitude reduced to, just running around trying to yell the names of cool bands before anybody else!”. He says that a big part of DFA’s attitude is that “we definitely try to shoot holes in our own cool as fast as we can, because being cool is one of the worst things for music.” He cites DFA’s disco-flavored remix of Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” as an example, its softness representing a deliberate swerve from the obvious punk-funk sound that DFA were known for.

“Beat Connection”, the even more impressive flipside to “Losing,” was also a meta-music statement, with Murphy accusing everyone on the dancefloor of colluding in lameness. “Everybody here needs a shove/Everybody here is afraid of fun/It’s the saddest night out in the USA/Nobody’s coming undone.” He explains that this was inspired by his and Goldsworthy’s experience of the “really uptight” New York club scene at the tail-end of the Nineties. When Murphy compares his lyrical approach to The Stooges--“really simple, repetitive, quite stupid”--he hits it on the nail. “Beat Connection” is dance culture’s counterpart to The Stooges 1969 classic “No Fun.” Which was probably the very first punk song--indeed the Sex Pistols did a brilliant cover version of it.

When people talk about LCD Soundsystem and DFA, though, the word that comes up isn’t punk rock so much as postpunk--Public Image Ltd (the band John Lydon formed after the Pistols broke up), Gang of Four, Liquid Liquid, etc. Murphy originally got into this era of music when he was working as sound engineer and live sound mixer for Six Finger Satellite, an abrasive mid-Nineties band who were precocious--indeed premature--in referencing the postpunk period well before it became hip again circa 2001. In a 1995 interview with me, Six Finger Satellite were already namedropping late Seventies outfits like Chrome and This Heat. They also recorded an all-synth and heavily Devo-influenced mini-album, Machine Cuisine, as a sideline from their more guitar-oriented, Big Black-like albums. “Going on tour with Six Finger Satellite was one of those super fertile times in my life in terms of finding out about music,” recalls Murphy. “They were like ‘do you know about Deutsche Amerikanishce Freundschaft? Do you know about Suicide?’, and they dumped all this knowledge on me while we were driving around the country from gig to gig. This was a few years before I met Tim, which was itself another very fertile and immersive period in terms of new music.” The Six Finger Satellite connection endures. DFA act The Juan Maclean is actually Six Finger guitarist John Maclean, making Kraftwerk-like electronica.

“Losing My Edge” b/w “Beat Connection” was followed by two more fine LCD singles, “Give It Up” b/w “Tired” and “Yeah” (which came in a “Crass version” and a “Pretentious Version” and managed to make the 303 acid-bass sound quite exciting, against all the odds). These six early single tracks are collected on the bonus disc that comes with the debut LCD Soundsystem album. Running through a lot of the CD--particularly songs like “Movement” and “On Repeat”-- is that same meta-musical rage you heard in “Losing” and “Beat”: a poisoned blend of a desire for music to be revolutionary and dangerous, along with a defeatist, crippled-by-irony awareness that the age of musical revolution may be long past. “Movement,” the single, fuses the sentiments of “Losing My Edge” and “Beat Connection”, with Murphy surveying the music scene and pointing the finger--“it’s like a culture, without the effort, of all the culture/it’s like a movement, without the bother, of all of the meaning”--and then confessing to being “tapped”, meaning exhausted, sapped of energy and inspiration. Although the sentiment could apply just as equally to dance culture, Murphy says the song is specifically a reaction to all the talk of guitar rock making a comeback, “all the inanity that gets bandied about as rock journalism. It’s a complete rip of fashion journalism--‘the high waisted pant is BACK’. Like that's supposed to mean something. I mean, I hope you don't go around hearing ‘abstract expressionism is BACK! and HOTTER than EVER!’ in art mags.”

“On Repeat” is yet another LCD song about the ennui that comes when you’re been into music for a long time: the awareness of the cycles repeating, the eternal return of the same personae and poses, archetypes and attitudes, reshuffled with slight variations. “That attitude is where I’m coming from all of the time,” says Murphy. “The lyric referring to ‘the new stylish creep’--that’s me! The song is about hating what you are, and that giving you strength to hate everything else. It's weird. I love music so much that I want to drown it forever. Destroy everything.”

You can hear these conflicted emotions in Murphy’s singing voice. It has a weird tetchy texture that evokes a mixture of exasperation and fatigue, sounds at once spirited and dispirited. Murphy says that’s an accurate reflection of how he feels when he’s recording vocals. “It murders me. I hate hearing my own stupid voice in the headphones, with all the singerly bits and false poses. I sometimes have to sing things over and over until I hate the song, until there's no posy vocal bits in there that make me cringe. That song, ‘On Repeat,’ in particular was hell to do. But in the end I like it. Or at least I feel like I can stand behind it”. In terms of that frayed, worn-out quality to LCD vocals, Murphy says “I usually compress the shit out of the vocal with a VCA compressor, which is really brutal. And I try to mix them so that the frequencies are like "Mother of Pearl" by Roxy Music or "Poptones" by PiL”.

Yet for all the lyrical and vocal notes of disillusionment and frustration running through LCD Soundsystem, the music itself is full of exuberance and playfulness, a delight in the sheer pleasures and possibilities of sound. “Too Much Love,” which seems to be a song about drug burn-out and excessive nocturnal socializing, features an awesome grating synth-whine that makes me think of a serotonin-depleted brain whimpering on the Tuesday after a wild weekend. Another standout track, “Disco Infiltrator” nods to Kraftwerk with its imitation of the eerie synth-riff from 1980’s “Home Computer.” It’s not a sample but a recreation, says Murphy. “It just an ascending chromatic scale, really. It's not rocket science!” The track also features some sweet semi-falsetto singing from Murphy that sounds like David Byrne circa Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. “It's just my shitty soul voice,” laughs Murphy. “Al Green has a beautiful soul, so that's what you hear coming through in his voice. My soul is absolute rubbish, so that's what comes out!”

The closing “Great Release” seems like a homage to Brian Eno’s song-based albums like Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy and Another Green World. “Actually, it’s Here Comes the Warm Jets-era Eno,” laughs Murphy. “It’s not a homage, though--I hate that word. No, I just like the type of energy that some Eno/Bowie stuff got, and some of the space of Lou Reed stuff, like ’Satellite of Love’. Some journalist got kind of stroppy with me about that song, and all I could think was, ‘is there seriously some problem with there being too many songs that use sonic spaces similar to early Eno solo work? I mean, is this really something we need to talk about before it gets out of control?!?’”. I WISH I had that problem. Or is the problem just me--that I'm not being original enough? Because if it is, then let's just dump rock in the fucking ocean and call it a day, because I'm doing the best I can for the moment!”

Best of all is “Thrills,” in which Murphy comes off like Iggy Pop singing over a track that fuses The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” with Suicide’s “Dance,” over a fat bassline not a million miles from Timo Maas. Actually, Murphy says, the inspiration for the bass-and-percussion groove is Missy Elliott's “Get Yr Freak On”. “I made the original version of ‘Thrills’ right when that came out. I loved that era of mainstream hip hop, it was a free-for-all. And just the bass of it.”

Of course, all these comparisons and reference points only underscore the point I earlier made in reference to “Losing My Edge”: the poignancy of living in a “late” era of culture, the insurmountable-seeming challenge of competing with the accumulated brilliance of the past and creating any kind of sensation of new-ness. “Yeah, that is kind of tattooed on my stomach,” says Murphy, referring to this pained awareness of belatedness. He acknowledges that “great influences do not a great record make”. And yet despite all the odds, the LCD album is a great record.

When I mention the American literary critic Harold Bloom’s concept of “anxiety of influence”--which argues that “strong” artists suffer from an acute sense of anguish that everything has been done before, and that makes them struggle against their predecessors in a desperate Oedipal attempt to achieve originality--Murphy flips out. “It's hilarious that you say this--I mention Bloom's anxiety theory pretty regularly in interviews! This is the shit I've been screaming about for years. Learning and progress has always been based on learning from the past. Real originality never comes from trying to defeat the past right out of the gate. It's a spark of an individual idea caused by the love/hate relationship between a "listener" and the "sound". I love music, and it inspired me at first to copy it, then to be ashamed of copying it, then to make music in "modes" (genres) while trying to pretend they were original, then finally making music with a purpose--which for me was dance music. It made people dance. It was no longer just music to make you look cool and feel like you were part of something you admire.

“I don't feel like I'm in any danger of making ‘retro’ music, but at the same time, there are things about the ways various people who've come before me did things that I prefer greatly to the way ‘modern’ things are done. I use a computer. I edit and do all sorts of modern shit, but there are things I consciously do that were done in songs I love from before me.”

As much as love, though, it’s hate that inspires LCD Soundsystem in equal measure. “I hate the way bands stand on stage, the gear they use, the crew they hire to tune their tedious guitars, the love they have for their special ‘guitar amp, the belief in their fragile, phoney little singer who's a fucking sham. They are not and will never be Iggy Pop. Neither will I, or my band, but we know it, and we're trying our fucking best to be the LCD Soundsystem. Complete with its laundry list of influences, failures and idiocies. At least you go onstage knowing that, good or bad, no one is like you.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Backbone for the Shanty House thesis in these grafs belw (from a
Slavoj Zizek piece on theTimothy Garton Ash first/third world book), thanks to Jordan Davis for passing them my way:

"The explosive growth of slums in the last decades, from Mexico City and other Latin American capitals through Africa to India, China, thePhilippines and Indonesia, is perhaps the crucial geopolitical event ofour times. The case of Lagos, according to Mike Davis, 'the biggest nodein the shanty-town corridor of 70 million people that stretches fromAbidjan to Ibadan', is exemplary: no one even knows the size of its population. Davis quotes a UN report: 'Officially it is six million, but most experts estimate it at ten million.' Since, some time very soon, the urban population of the earth will outnumber the rural population(this may already have happened), and since slum inhabitants will constitute the greater part of the urban population, we are in no way dealing with a minority phenomenon. We are witnessing the rapid growth of a population outside the control of any state, mostly outside the law, in terrible need of minimal forms of self-organisation. Althoughthese populations are composed of marginalised labourers, former civil servants and ex-peasants, they are not simply a redundant surplus: they are incorporated into the global economy in numerous ways; many of them are informal wage-earners or self-employed entrepreneurs, with no adequate health or social security provision. (The main reason for their rise is the inclusion of the Third World countries in the global economy, with cheap food imports from the First World countries ruining local agriculture.) One should resist the easy temptation to elevate and idealise slum-dwellers into a new revolutionary class. It is nonetheless surprising how far they conform to the old Marxist definition of the proletarian revolutionary subject: they are 'free' in the double meaning of the word, even more than the classical proletariat ('free' from all substantial ties; dwelling in a free space, outside the regulation of the state); they are a large collective, forcibly thrown into a situation where they have to invent some mode of being-together, and simultaneously deprived of support for their traditional ways of life. The slum-dwellers are the counter-class to the other newly emerging class, the so-called 'symbolic class' (managers, journalists and PR people, academics, artists etc) which is also uprooted and perceives itself as universal (a New York academic has more in common with a Slovene academic than with blacks in Harlem half a mile from his campus). Is this the new axis of class struggle, or is the 'symbolic class' inherently split, so that one can make a wager on the coalition between the slum-dwellers and the 'progressive' part of the symbolic class?"

that last bit interesting in possible connection to the weird symmetry/one-way love affair between bloggerati (typically info-class but leaning toward the vagabond end of that class--freelance journalism or members of the lumpen-professoriat) and grime specifically (but all world-is-a-ghetto musics)
that woebot/shanty link should be this, actually

a few people have laid the old fake/real line on me, but hey, it's not like the MIA-industry isn't playing that very same game (refugee/freedom fighter, and a lot of pieces mention "her mum worked as seamstress", often stressing "at minimum wage" or for super-added anti-imperial frisson, "did sewing for the Queen"!!!), there is some Real-ist credentials-proferring going on, which would seem to invite scrutiny on that level.

i see it there being a three tier dialectic of argument going on here

level 1: straightforward real/fake, authentic/inauthentic type discourse, of the kind that pervade indie-rock culture, hip hop culture, etc -- the "adolescent" mode of waking up to phoneyness and positing some pure, true outside (or with indie/alt-rock, an angsty inside, a true self that must be expressed)

level 2: the pomo, irony-imbued awareness of realness as construct, figment of discourse, language-game, etc etc. Ironically (cough) these arguments often implicitly posit a real realness underneath the fake-realness of gangsta rap, grime etc (cf Logan Sama's recent argument on Dissensus that most grimesters are actually pretty happy, well adjusted types who are quite affluent and have lots of brand-name goods, as opposed to hungry kids from the ghetto; or c.f. that JME song "Serious" which posits a real realness of hum-drum mundanity versus the gangsta fantasy pseudo-realness). we could call the shift from Level 1 to Level 2 the Springsteen Epiphany perhaps, when you realise the American Everyman Shtick is a construct, a fable

level 3: realisation that the discourse of "the real" actually reflects something in itself, the fact that people still fight over "who's real" is signficant; that fantasies are social facts that tell you something about who's dreaming them, so in grime's case what's going on are mixtures of straight reflection of how peoples lives (crime in London, blocked opportunities, racism, urban deprivation) that are also contaminated by media-feedback fantasy-loop amplifications of stuff derived from hip hop/dancehall, along with grime's own internal aesthetic demand for nastier rhymes, grislier threats, more ego-maiming humiliations, leading to exaggeration/selfcaricature.

don't know what level 4 would be, all thoughts welcome

Monday, February 21, 2005

A cat's cradle of MIA-discourse: Woebot's original Shanty House theorem; Carl at Zoilus' "pre-buttal" of my take is here and also here, although in actual fact it's really a post-buttal to Ghetto Postage's MIA-doubting post (and the irrepressible Carl had yet more rebuttal to Ghetto's rebuttal of his rebuttal), and at this point, that old maxim about no such thing as bad publicity springs to mind (although we'll see when the PLO-lyric/Tamil Tiger shit hits the mass media fan, if it hasn't already in re. the album's delay).

SFJ has a missive from Diplo elucidating the duo's relationship with baile funk. i must admit when i read this about him jetting to Brazil to get the records i was both impressed (jeez i love music but i can't imagine getting on a plane to get it) but the cynic (and Sarah Thornton Club Cultures reader) in me did also think "hmmm, subcultural capitalisation power move that, sort of dubplate/special/whiting-out-your-record-labels given a postcolonial/imperialist spin".

re. Carl's various points, i wonder if there shouldn't be some sort of statute of limitations with being a refugee? After almost 20 years of living in relative stability and comfort in the UK, doesn't it wear off a tiny bit. Didn't mention it in the review but live at the Knit Fac I thought it wee bit icky actually when, after someone threw a $20 bill onstage, she picked it up and said something like "us refugees can live off this for a long while". That same night I ran into a girl I vaguely know on the scene and she positively disgorged a long, academic-jargon tinged speech touching on postcolonialism/there-are-no-borders/hybridity etc etc, it gushed out of her, and it was eloquent and persuasive, but it did confirm my sense of MIA becoming a cipher/touchstone/mascot/etc for certain stories some of us want to tell themselves at this point of time. Will Hermes hit it on the nail in Pazz with his line about her being the "Zadie Smith of grime".

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

grimy limeys #2 and #3 (and #4, possibly)

two for your diary:


Bangers and Mash 2

resident djs: shadetek sound system, drop the lime

february 11th, 10 til 4


Rothko, 116 Suffolk at Rivington, Lower East Side


HEAT - Grime Sessions


DJ Cameo (BBC 1xtra, 679 records)

MC Deadly Crisis

DJ Dinesh

DJ Greg Poole

Sunday February 20th

Location: Supreme Trading 213 N. 8th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

1st stopon the L train to Bedford ave.

Cover: Free

Info: 212-560-0951 or


Cameo, free, can you believe it!

Incidentally, Bangers and Mash on Fri Mar 11 looks set to feature:

Jammer, D Double E and Ears!!!!!!!

to coincide with Vice Recordings' release in America of Run The Road

fukinell, grime action a-go-go!!!!!!!

Nick Kilroy RIP

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Won't post the whole murphy interview just yet as the magazine it's in is still on the shelves, but here is the most relevant portion:

Of course, all these comparisons and reference points only underscore the point I earlier made in reference to “Losing My Edge”: the poignancy of living in a “late” era of culture, the insurmountable-seeming challenge of competing with the accumulated brilliance of the past and creating any kind of sensation of new-ness. “Yeah, that is kind of tattooed on my stomach,” says Murphy . He acknowledges that “great influences do not a great record make”. And yet despite all the odds, the LCD album is a great record.

When I mention the American literary critic Harold Bloom’s concept of “anxiety of influence”--which argues that “strong” artists suffer from an acute sense of anguish that everything has been done before, and that makes them struggle against their predecessors in a desperate Oedipal attempt to achieve originality--Murphy flips out. “It's hilarious that you say this--I mention Bloom's anxiety theory pretty regularly in interviews! This is the shit I've been screaming about for years. Learning and progress has always been based on learning from the past. Real originality never comes from trying to defeat the past right out of the gate. It's a spark of an individual idea caused by the love/hate relationship between a "listener" and the "sound". I love music, and it inspired me at first to copy it, then to be ashamed of copying it, then to make music in "modes" (genres) while trying to pretend they were original, then finally making music with a purpose--which for me was dance music. It made people dance. It was no longer just music to make you look cool and feel like you were part of something you admire. I don't feel like I'm in any danger of making ‘retro’ music, but at the same time, there are things about the ways various people who've come before me did things that I prefer greatly to the way ‘modern’ things are done. I use a computer. I edit and do all sorts of modern shit, but there are things I consciously do that were done in songs I love from before me.”

That seems to be a really good defence of the recombinant approach.

I think Ronan maybe right, the worst phase of retro-dance may be over, in fact that's why i originally compared the state-of-now to the rock Nineties, ie. the Sixties-cannibalizing Eighties being over... The comparisons of Tiefschwarz and LCD to PJ Harvey and Pavement weren't idly chosen, those seem to me to be paradigm examples of 90s artists doing really interesting stuff, Yet you could still imagine the "shrug factor" coming into play, someone inclined to be hostile/sceptical saying "ah, but she's just like Patti Smith really" or (bit later) "she's just reworking blues rock" (which she was of course, brilliantly) or "she's the female Nick Cave". Similarly with Pavement, "oh they're just a Fall rip off/Faust rip-off". The difference between rock and dance, though, is that rock has expressive content, so even if the music is kinda neo-conservative, there might be lyrical innovation going on. That doesn't really apply to dance, which is more functional (although you might say "expressive content" applies and operates on the collective level, the entire scene or genre maybe).

It's perspectival too: what seems revolutionary to a scene insider, can be a bit "big deal!" to someone less engaged, let alone the fully disengaged. The first example of this syndrome I can recall is speed garage, when some of the people who'd been won over by jungle were like, "but isn't this just, like, house music?".

So in the case of Tiefscharwz, the music is on the one hand fabulously clever and interesting, but i can still see how a sceptical outsider would have the shruggy response.

I guess approaching a lot of this stuff I have the head of a critic, which might be a professional liability (except I suspect i thought like this long before I did it as a job/vocation/mission), which is a kind of split response: on the one hand 1/ is this enjoyable/exciting? 2/ what can I claim for this?

Hitherto with dance music the two principal angles of claim-age have been "underground" (and/or drug culture) and "musical progression".

Which brings me to what I thought was the sharpest point Ronan brought up , in re. undergroundism and progressivism as key underpinning concepts of the dance culture and also being really rockist, he tartly suggested that:

"surely this ultra boring alignment with rock is why techno, in the strictest sense of the genre, is completely and utterly dead?" *

Touche, and you could say the same about drum'n'bass too (with the obvious renegade factions going against the bosh-bosh grain excepted). I had to ponder this one for a few minutes. I think he's right, undergroudism and progressivism pursued singlemindedly and to the exclusion of any other criteria leads to a dead end. But the phases of music I think of most fondly in the history of dance (hardcore, 2step) would have had the progress, the undergroundism, but also a strong element of poppiness, fun, rampant hedonism, and a bit of humour too. (Grime actually has a combination of all these, but it's lost the danceability). And i do think that if it's given up on those founding concepts altogether, "dance" does have a kind of rhetoric deficit -- if all it claim for itself is that it's good for dancing, well, there's loads of musics you can dance too, aren't there?

* is it actually dead? i regularly get emails from little promoters in places like Leicester and Middlesborough -- god knows why! -- announcing strange little hardtechno events, the DJs have names like Dave Techno, and the flyers always end with the words "Caution! Nuts Inside". There's obviously still a tiny sub-underground of bangin' slammin' music made by and for pill-popping loons, perhaps a la my alternate heavy-metal analogy, these are like the tribes of grindcore and thrash and deathmetal who refuse to die.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ronan raises some interesting points. However the only one i'm going to respond to (cos I'm a bit busy) is the one i can easily knock out of the park (sorry!). The bit about Human League as just a British twist on Moroder--actually, Dare defined the state of the art at that point (i interviewed Rushent for the bk, he was quite sniffy about Moroder and only grudging re. Kraftwerk), Rushent & crew, they were using the absolutely top of the range, brand-new-that-week technology, and doing things nobody had yet done. Love and Dancing was the first remix album, wasn't it? I think they pipped Soft Cell to the post for that honor. (Also, the League can claim to have invented shaffel with "Things That Dreams Are Made Of" which has a sort of electronic version of the Gary Glitter beat on it). They were other New Popsters who had a bit of a postmodern thing going (soft cell with the northern soul element) but Human League at the point were pretty full-on modernist (unless covering the Get Carter theme counts as postmodernism). Same with New Order, they were responding to stuff that was happening in new york right that minute.

The "aging junglist" is a fair comment. It's totally accurate! But being one, i've now got a bit more sympathy for those older types who when i was ranting on about Loop or MBV whoever reinventing/rebirthing rock tended to have a shruggy reaction.

(which reminds me i forgot to mention the mini-shoegaze revival in dance as another retro trend, although that looking outside dance culture's own history, strictly speaking i suppose)

Jess has also has some nuancing. If anything, if his original analogy was based on the UK, the Fatboy-as-Beegees thing is even more shaky. If rave was disco, then the disco explosion starts in 1988 (or even earlier, "Jack Your Body" by Steve Silk Hurley was number one in the UK in January 1987). Fatboy-as-BGs happens a decade after all that. I'd actually say Fatboy is one of the first revivalists, his whole thing is a composite of old great tried-and-true stuff (everybody needs a 303, gospelly deep house with 'praise you', bit of old skool hip hop, some italo-rave piano on 'song for lindy', etc etc) which is irresistibly put together and serves as a kind of closing of the circle (i think that is the meaning of 'you've come a long way baby' sort of the ukdrugs-and-dance-culture equivalent of 'what a long strange trip it's been', the baby addressed not to an individual but the whole scene).

i dunno why it's so hard for folks to grasp that the original piece was about two continguous phenomena 1. the fortunes of electronic dance/rave in the USA (a bloody rout, basically c.f. my Nazi invasion of Russia analogy from last year) 2. the aesthetic midlife rudderlessness of the genre as a whole. After all, might they not be connected? if the genre was coming up with more mindblowing, you-really-must-pay-attention-stuff it might be doing better here. Probably not, given all the other factors stacked up against it here. But certainly shaffel or Sasha touting his Ableton Live thingy is not going to win back even the hipsters or fashionistas, let alone the fratboys.

in terms of optimism/pessimism, that piece went through many stages, and here is an alternate ending. another rockcentric analogy (cover your eyes people) but it might actually be the most accurate one. picking up from noting how weekly genre specialist clubs have died the death in san francisco but that special warehouse events (that have a sense of event) are thriving there, relatively speaking, it concludes:

"Perhaps the downturn for dance culture was necessary--a pruning back to the roots in preparation for regeneration. It can never be the new thing again, but it can hold out for renaissances yet to come. Perhaps the most hopeful analogy is with heavy metal, of all things. Throughout its long history, metal has gone through periods of commercial dominance followed by phases of being excluded from the mainstream and the radio. Metal has also experienced long patches during which it’s been aesthetically rudderless and sapped of inspiration. But it’s always bounced back. Dance music, like metal, is firmly established as a perennial option on the youth cultural menu. It will always attract a certain sort of person. But the chances are that somewhere down the line it will start once again to draw people beyond that core catchment. After all, as leisure activities go, dancing until dawn amid an ecstatic multitude remains a competitive option. “There’s been moments before when the scene’s changed and I’d think ‘oh God, it’s ending,’” recalls Galen [of Pacific Sound, SF party organisation]. “But here I am ten years since Pacific Sound started throwing parties, and it’s still going. The music is still coming out, even though the sales are down. There’s still people passionate about it. Maybe it’ll take some sort of trend in the music or something that hits a chord with whatever new generation’s coming up, and it could blow up again, in a different way”.

Going back to a point of Ronan's, quickly, actually the LCD Soundystem's probably my favorite lp of 05. the next thing i'll post here will be an interview i did with james murphy which includes quite a nice defence from him of the reworking-elements-from-the-past approach (and semi-refutation of the modernist/futurist completely-out-of-the-blue mindset that i have such trouble shaking off), however (cover your eyes again) some of his comments did remind me a wee bit of stuff Bobby Gillespie used to say in the early pre-acidhouse days of primal scream, he used to talk re. rock history as a library from which you can pluck books from any era.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Old-skool style inter-blogg discourse action! A response to Jess’s response to my “Living Death of Dance Music” piece (not in fact about its death but its midlife crisis). It’s a clever argument, attractive for its optimism (achieved by various contortions, I’ll argue), and certainly it does the job of setting up its author in his favorite persona, “Mr. Positive” (resisting his essentially gloomy nature--don’t fight it, man, feel it! Whereas me actually being an optimist, believe it or not, means I can be more steely-eyed in apprehending and assessing the grim truth). Scrutinized closely, the argument gets a bit crumbly.


Disco was way bigger in America than rave or electronica ever were there. Bigger by a factor of ten, at a guesstimate. Let’s take the daftest comparison first: “Fatboy as rave's BeeGees.” The disco-era Bee Gees had seven Billboard Number Ones. At one point in 1978, “Night Fever” was Number One, “Stayin’ Alive” (which had already occupied the top spot earlier) then resurged and took over the Number 2 spot, cf. Frankie with “Two Tribes” and “Relax” at #1 and #2. Fatboy’s biggest album, You've Come A Long Way, eventually chalked up 1,800,000 sales in this country; the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack sold 25 million. American rave culture’s equivalent to the movie Saturday Night Fever is… Groove. Nuff said.

Disco achieved total pop hegemony in America, that’s why it was hated and feared. Disco-formatted radio stations sprang up all over the country, hundreds of them. In the New York area, the sole station that was playing New Wave succumbed to the disco format pandemic, which partly explains the discophobia of punks and why punk bands who went disco, like Blondie, were regarded as turncoats. Look, I’m not one of those rewrite-history types who say Electronica never happened in the USA, on the contrary, it was big here, and the expectations around it even bigger. The underground US rave scene was substantial. Even as late as 2000 people like Sasha could go to somewhere as unlikely as Denver and find 10 thousand kids buzzing for him. But to compare either 97-electronica-invasion or the American rave scene to disco is just silly. Artists like Chic, Donna Summer, Earth Wind and Fire, Michael Jackson (considered a disco artist circa Off The Wall) etc had strings of chart topping hits. There were scores of Billboard Top 20 disco hits, nothing like the smattering achieved by the Anglo-Eurotronica squad. Disco was a huge mainstream phenomenon, big enough to be satirized on TV and in song (Zappa’s “Dancing Fool”). All electronica got was Eminem making one snidy sneer at Moby and how nobody likes techno (it’s funny cos it’s true, boo hoo). Rave never achieved anything like the degree of name recognition here c.f. the UK where everygran knows what a rave is. For about seven years, every year, punctually, there’d be a Network TV show “introducing” raves and their dangers to American parents. The concept just didn't seem to be able to stick in mainstream consciousness. I remember doing a guest spot for a NYU class on electronic music culture, must have been 2001 or so, talking for about 20 minutes, doing my best job to be accessible, then throwing it open to questions, and the first question is (this from quite a young hip looking woman), “Mr. Reynolds, what exactly is a rave?”.

When the disco boom collapsed at the end of the Seventies its fall was precipitious, but on account of A/ the sheer vast scale on which it happened and B/ its indigenous American roots and strong gay base, what it fell back to was pretty substantial. Rave/electronica being essentially a transplant, an import (shoving aside the house/techno Chicago/Detroit argument for the time being), its purchase on foreign soil was not as firm. It has fallen just as precipitiously as disco did, but from a lower level of impact. This can be seen by comparing the post-disco bastions of “disco will never die” with their equivalent, cough, “strongholds” today. The Paradise Garage was the key bastion in New York (where it was just one of many, many postdisco clubs). I would estimate the Garage to have been at least ten times the size of APT, which appears to be its nearest equivalent today, if we want to equate disco with anglo-eurotronica, that is. I would wager--just a hunch, this--that the atmosphere at the Garage was approximately 30 times more fervent and full-on than APT. Same with the Warehouse in Chicago. But that’s in part because the Garage and the Warehouse served a function, as cultural spaces, zones where the doubly excluded gay/black audience could release the presha. (The part that felt truest in Jess’s piece was where he lets slip the Mr. Reasonable tone of measured optimism and launches into the stingingly accurate rant about NYC DJ bars where people just natter while beatmuzak bubbles in the background. It’s funny because it’s true… boo hoo).

The trouble with electronic dance music/rave in this country is that it never really came to serve such a sociocultural function, in the way that rave did in the UK and Europe. It was party music for middle class teenagers, drug-culture bohemians, and hipsters. As much as (some) hipsters might feel music based around presha-release, they don’t really have that much presha that needs releasing. Some would say, and they might be right, that those functions of presha-release in America are typically provided (if you’re black) by hip hop and (if you’re white working class/troubled teenager) by metal/grunge/punk.


I have the benefit here of having been around and into dance music of various sorts in the early Eighties. The first thing to note is that from a British perspective there was no “lull”. The Death of Disco that happened in America didn’t really take place in Britain. (Indeed disco’s purported Death was a totally unfamiliar concept when I first encountered it, which was most likely when I started coming to America frequently. I’d have been, like, “they burned disco records? The radio stopped playing disco?”) We didn’t have discophobia as this mass reactionary backlash in the UK. New Pop was heavily based on Moroder/Chic/etc. From the British perspective, it just seemed that disco more or less evolved seamlessly into the disparate dance/club fare of the 1980-85 period: the postdisco/synthfunk sounds of NY on West End/Prelude etc, electro, Hi-NRG, jazzfunk, et al. The second thing to note is that none of these musics had a retro element, a sense of harking back to disco, or to anything. They just felt like the next stage in disco/club music, a step forward because by the early Eighties most of them were so electronic, synthesizer/synthbass/drum machine oriented, whereas most classic disco-era disco was played by bands, had guitar solos, orchestration etc. So all this so-called lull period music--“Walking on Sunshine”, “Hip Hop Be Bop,” Let The Music Play,” “Don’t Make Me Wait”, D-Train, Sharon Redd, C-Bank, etc etc… some of which was floating over to the UK as import singles, some actually being licensed in Britain and reaching the pop charts (“Walking On Sunshine” got to Number 4 in the UK), just felt like properly modern and modernist dance music. It didn't particularly feel disparate or directionless either, at the time.

If you look at that 1980-85 period between disco and house, you won’t find any equivalent to the self-reflexive and auto-cannibalizing trends in electrodance/postrave music these past six or seven years: nothing that resembles acid’s eternal returns (each time a little wearier),
Soundmurderer-style retro-junglizm, kid606 and rephlex bods rave-nostalgia, nothing close to the whole electroclash fad, or Metro Area-style negroclash (harking back to the very 1980-85 NYC period I was just talking about), nothing remotely like shaffel or the industrial/EBM/Goth referencing going on. Not only was revivalism unheard of in dance culture in 1980-85, I would also venture to say that postmodernism and retro-eclectic pastiche was too. (Possible exception: ZE, who aren’t exactly typical). The place where you found revivalism and retro-eclectic pastiche of the sort that permeates current dance music was, of course, rock music. Rock had started eating itself. So I'm afraid I must re-insist on the applicability of the dreaded rockcentric analogy: what are outfits like Metro Area or Soundmurderer, or auteurs like Maurice Fulton, Michael Mayer, and James Murphy, doing if not something equivalent to sampling-without-a-sampler approach of Jesus and Mary Chain or Spacemen 3? Murphy recreating on a keyboard the synth-riff from Kraftwerk's "Home Computer" for his own "Disco Infiltrator" is almost exactly like Jesus and Mary Chain mimicking the "woos woos" from the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" on Darklands.

Incidentally, one of the things that confirmed my sense of this “record collection dance”syndrome was the way people write about dance music nowadays, you tend to get a density of reference points and convoluted microgeneric positioning that only too aptly mirrors what’s going on in the music itself. (Writing in the earlier phases of the electronic revolution tended not to use reference points because it didn’t feel like there were any--this music was coming out of nowhere, it seemed, and if you mustered all your imagistic resources you could just about keep up with it, gesture faintly at its sensation-al futurity). This shift reminded me of the hyper-referential turn that rock criticism and especially fanzine writing took from the mid-to-late Eighties onwards, again accurately mirroring the citational nature of the music made by bands like Spacemen 3, Sonic Youth, Teenage Fan Club, etc. (My own writing of that period involved a battle between referentiality and the desperate quasi-messianic insistence on bliss-as-historical-ignorance: ‘Yes, yes, Loop use a wah wah pedal, but so mindblowingly it feels like it happening right here right now FOR THE FIRST TIME”). The wah-wah and the 303 are roughly equivalent, here. Both effects might, creatively used, trigger the same kind of intensity of sensation felt in their original heydays. But however hard its current deployers try, it will also always carry a period evocation, a patina of homage. As each year passes, the odds against its usage not being unutterably lame get higher.

This is the pathos of belatedness that accrues to all genres that build up a huge history behind them, a history whose highpoints and moments of virgin freshness get ever harder to rival, let alone surpass. It happened to jazz, to soul, to hip hop… I don’t see why dance music should be immune from this syndrome. A turning point in all genres is when it is possible to utter the words “old skool.”


As for the argument that electrodance music has triumphed indirectly through its seeping into the mainstream via hip hop and R&B, the whole “B Boys On E” phenom (modesty ought to prevent me from pointing out this was a syndrome I identified first, four or five years ago!)…. Hmmm, I’m sure that when Josh Wink contemplates his abortive major label career and Ovum’s annual turnover, it cheers him up no end that Lil Jon and Usher got to Number One using riffs nicked off house and techno. I’ll bet the jungle scene is over the fucking moon that Missy’s “Get UR Rinse On” got more radio play (and probably sold more copies) in America than the entire drum’n’bass genre did in its whole history.

A few final points:
Rockcentricity: rave and techno (maybe not house) easily have as much in common with rock as with disco. Two of the concepts--the ideas of “underground” and of “musical progression” --that underpin the whole electronic dance project (or used to--the point of my original piece was: whither now, given these no longer apply?) are if not owned by rock, then rockist as hell. A third key underpinning element, also largely fallen into abeyance--psychedelic drugs--has a history closely entangled with rock.

As for Jess’s final rhetorical flourishes:

>“Let them abandon it. Let the market shrink even more”
Jeez, if it shrank any further, it would be eight people in a dark basement with a Radio Shack music center. (One of the big problems with the contraction of the dance scene here is that a lot of this music is only experienced properly through a decent size sound system). I’ve actually been to a few events that are well on the way to this.

>”Rip it up and start again”.
It’s a nice catchphrase. I don’t see much evidence of the will or the ability abroad to do anything close to that. I see some people doing some very attractive rearrangements within the established vocabulary (most of the time there’s always that tinge of “mmm, niiiiiice… but haven’t I heard this before, really, honestly”). Nothing close to a tabula rasa, to the future shock of the now. That may come, I hope it will, but I’m not really sure how hunky-dory-ism is going to hasten its arrival.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

too bad i'm not in philly, this sounds like a combo of the two volume parties (cheers trish romano for the info)


Thursday February 10th

get it IN and get raw

2 Floors! Free!

Upstairs: UK Grime, Hip Hop, Dancehall
DJ's Dev79, Starkey & guests visuals by Brian Cook

Downstairs: Minimal Techno, Glitch, Microhouse
DJ's Accidently Andrew, Miskate, Fusiphorm,Someone Else (Sean O'neal)

Live PA visuals by Deidre Krieger

No Cover / 21+ only

IN - Every 2nd Thursday

drink specials: $2 pbr all nite $3 mixed well drinks all nite $2 shot specials till 12

La Tazza - 108 Chestnut Ave. Philly