Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Mr. Clark with two intriguing takes about dynamics/exponentiality/diminishing returns within the pirate radio 'nuum. Especially interesting to read about London gun culture, "hunger", and blocked routes to self-advancement, in light of this recent, most peculiar squirm of squeamishness concerning what would seem to be undeniable aspects of the sociological backdrop to grime.

Meanwhile, for the NY shanty house massif, two upcomings:

Friday April 1st

'Keepin' it low'- special brand new event

DJ Dinesh Birthday bashment featuring:

Greg Poole, Edwin Stats & DJ Dinesh & MC Deadly Crisis, RX crew UK

Playing a mix of Dancehall, Hip-hop, UK Grime, & Bhangra

Classic bollywood films to be screened throughout the night

No Cover, Doors: 10pm-4am

Location: White Rabbit, 145 East Houston st., Corner of Eldridge and Houston, F or V to 2nd ave stop


Saturday April 16th

Goldspotmusic presents:

HEAT - 'The Grime showdown'

for the first time in NYC

Jon e Cash (Black Ops, UK),
DJ Dread D (Black Ops, UK)

HEAT brings you the current godfather of the UK Grime and sublow scene. Jone E cash hails the legendary London Black ops crew- responsible for several underground grime anthems including 'War', is a major producer in the UK scene. He is also backed by DJ Dread D, famed selector from the Blackops crew. Expect to be hit with raw energetic grimey beats, live MCing and pure Blackops mayhem.

Plus MC: DJ Dinesh & Greg Poole and MC Deadly Crisis, UK

Location: Crash Mansion, 199 Bowery, corner of Bowery and spring st

11:30pm to 4am, $5 before 12pm, $10 after,

www.Goldspotmusic.com or 212-560-0951

Sunday, March 27, 2005

feeling/really feeling/really REALLY feeling: STOP PRESS

silly me, shoulda shoved this in there, the one entry cut for space from the Wire Grimer:


The sped-up diva on “Str8 Flash” might be a nod to Kanye West’s Chaka-accelerating “Through the Wire” but equally could be a folk-memory flashback to the early Nineties, when rave producers whisked female vocal samples into helium-squeaky hypergasms of phantasmic bliss. That said, everything else in Lowdeep’s hot-hot riddim testifies to the influence on grime of the last half-decade of rap and R&B. Pizzicato harp-like sounds and stuttering beats create a frozen peak of tense glory. IMP Batch’s “Gype,” the inescapable riddim of early 2005 and the backing track for Crazy Titch’s “Sing Along,” takes grime’s quasi-orchestral ambitions to the next level. Using classical music samples (possibly Prokofiev), IMP Batch expertly chop up and resequence the refrains--fluttery flutes, cascading strings, a cello ostinato--to form a hilariously prissy yet dynamic groove. This parodic high-culture refinement makes a wonderfully incongruous setting for Crazy’s hoarsely hollered anthem.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

not done one of these for a while, got quite a backlog:


Annie, Anniemal

Four Tet, Everything Ecstatic

DJ Sergio Mama & DJ Flavinho, Caldeirao Do Funk

Gang Gang Dance, God’s Money (The Social Registry)

Dizzee Rascal, “Off 2 Work”

Various, Risky Roadz: Tha Roadz Is Real

Really Feeling

Ying Yang Twins, “the Whisper Song”

0 = 0, Punctuality (Planet Mu, forthcoming)
Fantastic retro-tinged-but-still-fresh-feeling junglizm from a guy called Jason in Toronto, not modeled so much on raggAmen rinse but Omni Trio-style exploding-divas bliss-blitz. Extra place in my heart for the track that samples Tasmin Archer’s “Sleeping Satellite”, a crypto-homage to earlier Archer-sampling ardkore 1992 track by DJ Smooth and Energy on the NutE label

Bizzy B, The Science EPs Vols 3 & 4 (Planet Mu)
The lord of darkcore.

Virus Syndicate, The Work-Related Illness (Planet Mu)
It’s grime oop north (sorry)

Animal Collective featuring Vashti Bunyan, Prospect Hummer (FatCat)

Jane, Berserker (Paw Tracks)

Mu, Out of Breach (Manchester’s Revenge)

SLK/Wonder, “Hype! Hype” (DJ Wonder Refix)

Crazy Titch/Imp Batch, “Singalong/Gype Riddim”

Bruza, “Not Convinced” (Aftershock)

Kano, “Reload It” (679 album sampler/debut album, TBA)

Konono No1/The Dead C, Split Series 18 (FatCat)

Boredoms, Seadrum/House of Sun (Vice)

Belbury Poly, Farmer’s Angle
Belbury Poly, The Willows
The Focus Group, Sketches and Spells
The Focus Group, Hey Let Loose Your Love
(all Ghost Box)

While not really sounding much like Position Normal, the first batch of stuff from Ghost Box--the label started by Julian House and his mate Jim Jupp--has a very similar effect on me: this is serious audio-madeleine bizniz, flashing back to a bygone England that was at once shabbier and seedier than the present one, but also more glamorous and strange. House = The Focus Group, Jupp = Belbury Poly; their music, different but informed by a shared sensibility and influences, at various points resembles the missing links between el records and Boards of Canada, between Vic Reeves and Selected Ambient Works Vol II (which I guess would be Chris Morris' Blue Jam come to think of it), between the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the Jerry Dammers of “Stereotype”/“International Jet Set”/"Ghost Town"/"The Boiler", between Michael Bracewell’s England Is Mine and Wagon Christ’s Throbbing Pouch. House is a scholar of library music, film soundtracks (especially Italian), early electronic music, the sort of arcana Trunk exhumes for our delectation, and so forth. The imprint of these sources is discernible in Ghost Box, but there’s something uncanny and oneiric that comes through that takes it well beyond mere esoterrorism and "record collection pop"; this is a genuinely spectral sampladelia. As you’d expect from a record cover designer (House's clients include Broadcast), the whole look of the releases is fully integrated with the sonic ambience--these are seriously attractive things to have and hold (especially the 3 inch CD that is Belbury Poly’s “Farmer’s Angle”). Several of the releases look like Open University textbooks. According to Julian, the idea is that the releases “form a set - like course-books in a way”, with a unified design inspired by “Schools for Colleges, old school textbooks and old Penguin paperbacks,” and which they plan to extend to “downloadable short films, stories, pictures.” For a taste of it, check out the Ghostbox site.

Really REALLY Feeling

Ariel Pink, Worn Copy (Paw Tracks)
Talking of things uncanny, oneiric, spectral... but also ecstatic, transcendent...

Oldstuff (reissued) Feeling

Scritti Politti, Early (no surprises there) (but do check this is you haven't already)

Orange Juice, The Glasgow School (Domino)

June Tabor, Always box set (Topic)
Well, bits of it--the early stuff, mainly, just that witchy voice + a few acoustic instruments.

Oldstuff (not reissued) Feeling

Steeleye Span, “The Blacksmith”

Matching Mole, “Instant Pussy,” “Instant Kitten,” “O Caroline” etc

Various Artists, 1981
“366 bands. 411 Songs. 21 Hours. 10 Discs. 1 Year” it says on the back. Put together by a young man who’d prefer to remain nameless, perhaps wisely so, and whom I’m not even sure was born in 1981, this is a colossal labour of love: a very attractively minimalist-designed 10 CD box (the tenth being mp3s and therefore as vast as the other 9 cds put together) of music--postpunk, new pop, new wave, proto-indie, “punk’s not dead" punk, anarcho-punk, hardcore, proto-Goth, synthpop, etc--from, you guessed it, 1981. Which might have been an even better year than 1979 in some ways, given that postpunk was still fairly vital yet New Pop was ascending. I’ve only got half way through it (and not even touched the MP3-laden disc), but it’s alarming--given that I’ve just written a heavily researched tome on this era--the extent to which A/ there’s lots of groups I’ve not heard and B/ there’s fair number I’ve never even heard of. But this is no obscurer-than-thou fest, the spectrum runs from mainstream acts like the Stranglers, The Undertones, Japan, and The Pretenders to Crash Course in Science, Scapa Flow, and Goat That Went Om, via Dif Juz, Klaus Nomi, Wim Mertens, Rudimentary Peni, Tall Dwarfs, Art Bears, New Age Steppers, Felt, Wipers, etc etc etc. The selection and sequencing are ace (each disc is thematic and identified with intriguing glyphs), and if it wasn’t such a wanky word, I’d say this was a first class feat of “curating”. Here’s hoping the young man does equivalent jobs for 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1982. If you want to get on the waiting list, email soundslike1981@gmail.com and put "1981, via Reynolds" in the subject line.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Gutterbreaks mystifyingly thrilled and 'thralled by the new Daft Punk. Still he makes a good case, almost enough to make me go back to it for a ninth go.

The "it's a rock record" point is a bit glaringly obvious, though. Trouble is, it's rock like Judas Priest is "rock", like the Scorpions is "rock".

Nice stuff on "Make Love," the only track I'd be sad never to hear again, with Nick comparing it to Cluster and quoting Eno on the latter's jam science. Nick concurs/concludes with:

"That's essentially what I get from "Make Love" - a sense of total immersion within a meditative state of playing the same thing over and over again."

Mmm, that must be why it's named after making love then!

The relevation that DP used to be huge S3 fans is also intriguing (can see the line between the sheer glistening cleanliness of Playing with Fire or that first Spiritualized album and Forever; also the repetition thing... but with Human After All the monotony crosses a line into something horribly fixated... is it the difference between 'repetitive' and 'repetitious' maybe?... the riffs are like cyborg nervous tics. looped for ever... it's like they've realized the grotesqueness within rock/pop/funk/disco etc that Devo gestured at with "Uncontrollable Urge".... it's all the more abased for being so utterly sterile and clinical... hence the Judas Priest/Scorpions analogy).

Also enjoyed the G-man's auteurist trawl through the oeuvre entiere of Monsieur Vibert. Beats me, too, why Throbbing Pouch is not more generally ranked up there with Endtroducing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

well that Jon E Cash/Cameo event set for friday appears to be cancelled, but don't lose heart, that very night, absolutely rinsin' and jugglin' mashment fun in the area, viz

DJ Ripley (Deathsucker Records SF)
Dave Stelfox (London)

107 Norfolk Street


9p-4a, $5

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Derek at Pop Life with a sharp and original take, kind of Eppy-inverted

here's some more oil on the dwindling fire

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

here's a hyperdub interview with dj marlboro from a while back, done by andy cummings, the first person to alert me to funk's existence (link via wayne&wax, who is promising to weigh in on the debate, sporadic skirmishes wherein continue to flare up)

got a whole bunch of interesting info on the historical background of the tamil/sinhalese struggle from various sources i've been meaning to stick up here, but since most of the MIA-lovers have now admitted they don't, in all honesty, give even half a shit and really wish people would stop harping on about those "extraneous" politics and leave them to their enjoyment in peace, perhaps i won't bother!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Check it out, in the April issue of Uncut, on newstands now in the UK, gotta a feature on Scritti Politti based around the Early reissue. Kind of a taster for Rip It Up and Start Again, itself out on April 21 in the UK, except I managed to write something that barely overlaps with the book’s chapter on the squatland diy-era Scrits, on account of getting a terrific interview from Green. He was charming, self-deprecating, and despite repeatedly insisting he has a terrible memory, really detailed in his recollections of the period. Despite his continued misgivings about the music first-phase Scritti made, he obviously has very fond memories of that whole time. I’ll put the full transcript of the conversation up with the launch of the Rip It Up website, which will gradually add footnotes to all the chapters, along with further transcripts and other material.

One thing Green referred en passant struck me as both amusing and oddly resonant. Last year Geoff Travis was given some kind of Mojo Award for his lifetime’s contribution to British music, and at the ceremony, Green and Carl Barat from the Libertines appeared onstage to jointly present the award to their benefactor. That chalk-and-cheese pairing struck me as containing volumes--or at least a decent-sized essay--about the last 25 plus years of British independent music culture. The obvious thing to say would be to see it as symbolizing a contraction of vision, a loss of ambition, sonic risk, and a sense of purpose: from Scritti’s attempt to dismantle rock form and rock ideology to the Libertines rehashing of rock’n’roll's (in)elegantly wasted Romantic dissolute-ness, all that worn threadbare mythology and its attendant sonic clichés.

When I interviewed Mayo Thompson, formerly Travis’ colleague at Rough Trade, for the book, a remark of his captured something of this narrative of diminuendo: he described how Travis ultimately settled into the role of “an expert on a certain kind of classic guitar group”--referring to The Smiths and Jesus & Mary Chain (who Travis took on when he started Blanco Y Negro), but you could certainly extend that to the Strokes and the ‘Tines. When you compare that to the prime-period RT possibility-space that encompassed This Heat, The Raincoats, Pere Ubu, Young Marble Giants, Essential Logic, Scritti, those Robert Wyatt singles, Swell Maps, Mayo's own group The Red Crayola, etc etc… well it’s hard to see how you couldn’t take it as a contraction. It's a shift that was crystallized semantically in the gulf between “independent” and “indie.” Still, as you know, I have a weakness for the Libertines, and almost out of perversity, I’d like to see if I can make a different argument.

[Long pause]

Well, actually, the better ‘Tines song have a certain messthetic fractured splintery thing going on with the guitar, albeit closer to Subway Sect than Scrits. And there’s a surprising amount of space left in the sound (on the latest album, that is. The first one--generally regarded as stronger by most fans and critics--sounds a lot more conventional to my ears, the guitars filling up the soundstage in a boring "thick" sound, Oasis-style. Whereas the second album has one of the best productions--in the quasi-naturalistic sense of capturing, or simulating, a group playing in a shared acoustic space--I’ve ever heard, glistening and spacious and with this radiant aura of presence. Too bad the songwriting is so erratic). Hmm, what else? Well, there’s a certain charisma of frail thin pretty young men getting fucked up going on in both groups. Seems like Scritti could have given Doherty & Co a serious run for their money on the drink’n’drugs debauchery front.... Green hid it well but there’s more of a Brit-Sixties thing going on in the music than you’d think, a childhood love of Beatles and Kinks. And don’t the ‘Tines come out of some kind of squat scene? Playing gigs in your fans’ living rooms is kind of breaking with rock routines, barriers between audiences and performers etc, it’s quite anarcho-diy. (Even if it’s just to raise funds for smack and crack).

[Longer pause]

Nope, can’t do it--it’s definitely a decline!
3 upcomings:

sure nobody needs reminding about....


TOMORROW, Friday March 11

@ Rothko
116 Suffolk Street , NYC10pm - 4am


but how about this?


Friday March 25th

Goldspotmusic presents:

HEAT - 'The Grime showdown'

For the first time in NYC

JON E CASH (Black Ops, UK)



plus the return of

DJ CAMEO (BBC 1xtra - Piratesessions)

plus residents DJ Dinesh & Greg Poole and MC Deadly Crisis

Special listening party for 'Run the Road' from 10 to 11pm- bonus CD giveaways of hot-off-the-press Grime compilations Run the Road and Street Anthems mixed by Cameo

Location: Crash Mansion, 199 Bowery, corner of Bowery and spring st

Time: 10pm to 4am

Cover: $5 before 11pm, $10 afterInfo: 212-560-0951 or info@goldspotmusic.com

Cameo last time was firing, Jon E Cash should be interesting,

and finally:


(which might actually include me, hope to be in town that week)

DROP THE BOMB III - Nightmares Are Reality

Friday 29th April 2005
- 10pm-6am

65 Goding Street, Vauxhall, London. SE 11 5AW.

Room 1: Oldskool Rave – Acid – Hardcore Techno – Gabber – Terrorcore
20K EAW sound system – no sound limits!

THE MOVER – live (Marc Acardipane aka Mescalinum United, Marshall Masters, Pilldriver)

STICKHEAD – live (Kotzaak, Germany)

MANU LE MALIN (46 Records, France)

TRAFFIK (Energy FM), SIMON UNDERGROUND (Underground Music) FACE HOOVER(Phuturerave / Hellraiser), TRIPLE H - live(Krank Im Kopf, Holland), SLIM JIM(aka Kenny Kramp), NEKRO(Crossbones)

Room 2: Acid Techno (Hosted by Section 63 sound system)
D.A.V.E. THE DRUMMER(Apex / Hydraulix)
RACHEL RACKITT(Stay Up Forever / Vinyl Vixens)

£10 advance tickets / more on the door

Advance tickets available from www.PHUTURERAVE.com orKinetec Records, 15a Little Portland Street, Oxford Circus, London.

For further info visit: www.DROP-THE-BOMB.co.uk

Seen Acardipane dj, just once, but never seen the live Mover experience, i'm betting it's memorable. Manu Le Malin is a great hardcore dj

just call me mr listings....
This here is a terrific piece of writing on the lady of the moment. Well, I glazed out a bit during the bar-by-bar musicological breakdown (while also thinking that, if one had the skills, one could possibly do the same thing to “prove” how great, interestingly aberrant in structure etc, any number of grime tunes, dancehall tracks, etc etc, are) Still the stuff on the lyrics is mighty evocative--far more (and you saw this coming didntya?) than the lyric itself. Extra cojones for singling out as the song’s nub of profundity a couplet that must be among the most irritating on the record (“trendsetters make things better/etc…”). No, but seriously, the reading of “Pop” here almost sells me on the idea that something special is going on. Anyway, now is perhaps the point at which we should all graciously (and gratefully) agree to disagree....

in further shanty-house related bizniz, cheers to peter maplestone for pointing out this Mike Davis essay a New Left Review piece called Planet of Slums, a "future history of the Third World’s post-industrial megacities", that envisages a "billion-strong global proletariat ejected from the formal economy, with Islam and Pentecostalism as songs of the dispossessed."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

DJ Marlboro's photolog! cool pix of some bailes--that's brazilian for bashments, innit. check out also the embattled tone of his motto here: it translates as "Prejudice is inside the heads of the minority that think they know everything." Funk carioca really is Brazil's ardkore--an embarassment to discerning folk in that country, sniffed at by the electronic music afficianados, or the majority of them at any rate. (Or c.f. dancehall in Jamaica, deplored by that country's educated elite). But Marlboro has started what would seem to be the Speed of carioca, a weekly night at Lov.e, a club situated in one of the most genteel neighbourhoods of Sao Paulo. The club draws about 400, which must be much smaller than yer actual funk bailes ( which i'm guessing are more at the scale of Sunday Roasts and similar one-off jungle events of yore, and probably contain wilder behaviour too.) How long before "intelligent carioca", or even drill'n'carioca?

Monday, March 07, 2005


Ooh, a reprimand from the Dean himself!

I dunno, to me, this historical stuff, while fascinating, simply amplifies and substantiates the succinct (of necessity point I made in the original piece, viz. the Tamil independence movement doesn’t fit the third world versus first world model, instead:

like Rwanda, it’s an ethnic war within a third-world nation

And substantiates it moreover with a load of queasy-making details. So “like the PLO, I don’t surrender”, that’s the same PLO in whose Lebanon camps her dad-- after whose guerrilla/terrorist (you call it) alias the record is named--trained and became an explosives expert? Mmm, that nugget sure is enhancing my enjoyment of the record, how about you?

For whatever reasons, she didn’t decide to name the album after her mother, “the saint”. She named it after the dad, who’s “mad.”

Now M.I.A. is no Muslimgauze, who released about 20 or 30 albums fixatedly endorsing the Palestinian cause. But Arular and Piracy Funds Terrorism nonetheless are limned with simultaneously blatant-yet-opaque allusions to terrorism in the abstract and to this extremely local and specific Tamil versus Sinhalese struggle. I don’t think I’d be slandering M.I.A.’s following overmuch if I ventured that in their heart of hearts 98 percent of them don’t honestly give two shits about that struggle, beyond at most a vague sentiment of hoping for justice to prevail, the bloodshed end, the two sides reach an accommodation and live in peace and harmony, etc, and so forth. I doubt if they’d want to take time out to study the subject, especially given that at the end of that process there’d still be no clearcut side with which to, er, side.

It’s never been in doubt that M.I.A. “owns” her experiences and can do whatever she wants with them artistically; the question is whether she’s made anything compelling out of them.
To my mind, I can’t see it, the terrorist allusions are larded in among the Missy-style sassy-me stuff. I don’t find it especially provocative, just sort of irritatingly undeveloped. It doesn’t generate any real resonances for me, nor is the music groundbreaking or arresting to the extent that you feel compelled sort-through your responses, as, say Public Enemy’s dodgy, confused, often deeply offensive politique did. So her use of terrorism is at once totally authentic (for want of a better word) yet the actual effect might just as well be cosmetic. It feels like radical chic.

I think Christgau’s elaborations on the already-known ought to place MIA-champions in a double-bind. On the one hand, the (Pop-ist) position that the politics have nothing to do with the record is now clearly untenable; enjoying the record in blissful ignorance is an unsustainable stance. On the other hand, the “the politics are central and that’s why she’s good, indeed contradictions and confusions even make it more aesthetically richer” stance are belied by the fact that the end result doesn’t actually feel that urgent.

Personally I think getting Prince Harry and M.I.A. into the same sentence is the kind of feat that ought to result in a round of applause. I guess people are more priggish than I’d imagined. But the suggestion that all brown skinned people across the world--South Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, mix-race, whatever--are united in some kind of commonality of subaltern experience strikes me as Otherizing exoticism with a large pinch of liberal guilt thrown in. (Not that there’s anything wrong with liberal guilt of course--liberals should feel guilty. Much of the time, I’m wracked with the stuff!). But surely, the very fact that Tamils and Sinhalese are locked in this grim struggle agitates against some notion of brown-skin universality of experience.

Another idea that the pro-MIA camp put forth--and which seems to me more tenable--is that her experience up to the age of 10 or so of turbulence, instability, hardship, subsequently authenticate her dabblings/borrowings from other chaotic and impoverished parts of the world. (Or “internal colonies” such as the grime scene, which is British imperialism coming home to roost). A sort of lifetime ghetto passport, valid in all territories across the globe. A ragged-trousered cosmopolitanism.

I can see the validity of this argument (although it smacks of the kind of realer-than-thou-ism approach that some of its proponents have accused me of at other strategic points in their arguments--bit of a contradiction there). (And presumably the Pop-ist contingent of MIA-love also believe in the proposition: “it’s not where you’re from it’s where you’re at”, which means that the immediate contingent context and conditions of production of a pop artifact far outweighs things some time in the past). But, well, let’s look at how the “ghetto passport” notion plays out in a specific instance--the case of the baile funk track which appears to be one reason the release of Arular has been held up. There is no clearcut right or wrong in the transactions delineated below, but they create a kind of cloudiness that for me blurs the line between “3rd world persons unite on shared communality of experience” notion and straightforward top-down appropriation.

Turns out that I actually know someone involved with DJ Marlboro, the guy who produced Deise Tigrona’s “Injeção,” the track which influenced, to put it mildly, “Bucky Done Gun.” Well, it’s not clear if he produced or if it was one of his people, but it was made in the studio he owns, he has the publishing rights, and it’s with him XL began negotiating the sample clearances. (Deise Tigrona is the singer, incidentally). “An inspiration” is how MIA/Diplo apparently described the relationship of “Injeção” to “Bucky Done Gun” (my favorite on Arular, as it happens). But the narrative here isn’t any clearcut imperialists ripping off the natives. Marlboro--real name, Fernando Luís Mattos da Matta--himself is no ghetto kid. He’s from a suburb of Rio De Janeiro, which in the urban geography of Brazil, means a peripheral neighbourhood with a lower middle class population. And he would appear to be the epitome of the petit bourgeois entrepreneur made very very good. His Big Mix brand includes a record label, a recording studio, a hugely popular radio show, a clothes line, and a monthly magazine. He also writes a weekly column for the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Dia. He appears to be pretty fucking wealthy, something like the Paul Oakenfold of baile funk--reputedly, he has 80% of baile funk--or funk carioca as appears to be the correct-er term--tunes under his publishing company.

The Paul Oakenfold comparison is a good one, as this guy--while not the only big figure in funk--is a foundational figure. There are real parallels between baile funk and rave-- in the early 90's Rio de Janeiro city council created a law to enabling the closing of bailes funks (bashments, raves, sound system parties) in the city.

Here’s Irony #1. Marlboro’s music has at its very “root” a form of appropriation. It’s one I would characterize as a sideways musical migration rather than top-down hijacking, but nonetheless… What happened was that he journeyed to Miami in the late Eighties and picked up a load of early Miami bass records by the likes of DJ Magic Mike and 2 Live Crew. Legend has it he acquired 600 of the then 1000 or so available Miami bass records and brought them back to Brazil. These became “an inspiration”, to borrow an expression, for a whole new genre of hybrid Brazilian dance pop. Marlboro wasn’t the only exponent but he was one of the very first. He did the first album that used Portugeuse words, Miami Bass samples, and Brazilian percussion heavily influenced by candomble. Funk Carioca’s use of Brazil’s own regionally variegated ethnic musics, incidentally, is totally impurist, jumbling up Bahia’s axe and the North East’s forro--this before you filter in the further impurism of the pirated influences from overseas, like technorave, Tone Loc, etc. Anyway, back to Marlboro. Right off the bat, he began selling huge numbers of records (250,000 copies of 1989’s Funk Brasil compilation). He’s remained a big big figure in this scene.

The weird thing about the whole story is when we whiz ahead to the part where Diplo (originally from Florida, right?) replicates in reverse Marlboro’s journey to Miami, by being so enthused by this foreign music he actually flies out there to buy up a load of it.
The next part of the story I’m going to gloss over because I only have one side of it. But it seems that a set of cultural exchanges took place between Diplo and Marlboro, and then a harsh exchange of words. A guy called Mr Bongo played some kind of intermediary role. On SFJ’s blog, Diplo roundly calls him out as an asshole.

“Bucky” was made and then at some point somebody got nervous about its debts to “Injecao.” Quite late in the day, though, as the finished XL copy of Arular I have credits a sample from ‘Theme From Rocky’ and includes the guy who wrote it, Conti, in the publishing credits. But nothing about “Injecao”.

Now the interesting thing to me about this whole story is its non-clearcutness. Marlboro is way richer and more powerful than Diplo. Brazil is not a 3rd world nation. I’m not sure what it is--a country that encompasses 1st, 2nd and 3rd world elements? Sao Paolo, the only bit I’ve visited, is like a European city, you often feel like you’re in Milan. Another irony is that the official cultural ideology of Brazil is, or for a long time last century was, mesticagem, which means mixing, miscegenation.

There is also the striking mirror-image thing of Diplo as a younger version of Marlboro and both of them making their subcultural-capital moves, moving in on this exotic music, and at once championing it while building a career out of it. It’s what all DJs do to an extent (and some journalists, arguably).

Having said all that, I would say that Marlboro did with Miami Bass is the pretty much the opposite of what’s going on with the MIA record and Diplo’s own album Florida and Favela On Blast. Marlboro built up a homegrown grass-roots scene using a hybrid music that draws from outside but also reflected its environment; the music got so popular, its meaning and function soon escaped his hands as a cultural auteur, if not his hands as ultra-canny businessmen. There are loads and loads of other key producers and party organizers in the Brazilian scene, like Furacao 2000.

Whereas, it seems to me, Diplo/MIA at the moment are engaged in a peculiar transaction. It would actually be more interesting if they were Madonna-level and ripping off a subaltern culture, like she did with “Vogue”, then there would be mass-cultural reverberations. (Perhaps with this Interscope deal that will be the next stage). But as it is, so far, what they are doing is acting as self-appointed ambassadors for a music (or musics, since the sound on Arular is a pastiche of dancehall, the crunkier end of hip hop, baile funk, etc etc) that most of those hipsters could fairly easily access anyway with a tad more effort.

To me this whole story confirms the righteousness of my analogy between Arular and Duck Rock (with MIA herself being a sort of McLaren combined with an Annabella Lwin exotic uber-babe, and Diplo as Trevor Horn, Ann Dudley, JJ Jeclazik, and the World Famous Supreme Team all rolled into one etc). Now, ‘Buffalo Gals’ was one of my favorite records at the time, and I’m still very fond of it; it also has a certain old skool stature as one of the first chart record to feature scratching. But there’s no doubt that art school graduate Malcolm was operating in vertical fashion, taking all these “raw” elements from ethnic musics
(including South African township music, this back when apartheid still ruled and the ANC was considered a terrorist organization by the SA government) (and in fact he took some traditional and Soweto-pop songs and copyrighted them as his own compositions) and then McLaren combined this disparate mélange with a whole bunch of wonderfully loopy concepts of his own.

It is in this sense that my comment about Arular being “from nowhere” should be understood. Notice I didn’t say Maya is from nowhere (she’s from Sri Lanka via Acton and a whole bunch of other places). But the pop art-i-fact she’s made is not from a subcultural location in the same way as the musics it’s inspired by come from highly territorialized places, where they serve specific communities.

Yes yes yes, "nowhere" can be a utopic space of possibility (utopia = atopia =no-place) but (as regular readers to this blog will already know) I think the kind of discourse that once surrounded electronic music and celebrated it in terms of postgeographical/infospheric/nomadic drifts/deterritorialized flows blah-blah-blah, it’s pretty passe. Or it might have some validity, in some instances, but it needs to reckon with the fact that many of the most exciting musics of recent years have been totally bound up with a sense of place-- dirty south rap, grime, dancehall, Miami bass, New Orlean bounce, Baltimore breaks, reggaeton, etc. These are all local musics, not impervious or impermeable to outside influences, but obsessively referencing parochial details and surroundings. I would argue that this very insularity is integral and intrinsic to their ability to generate intensities. True, they all draw on other musics but the specific hybrids created make sense in a specific place and are addressed to a specific constitutency’s audio-erogenous zones; they service a demographic, a tribe. This contributes heavily to their vibe and flava.

A positive take on Arular would be to receive it as referencing an imaginary subculture, perhaps. Or as a sonic essay on the Black Atlantic (I would give it a B-plus, sonically, but question all the nonsequiturs about terrorism). In other ways, it’s just an expression of fandom, as Byron Bitchlaces suggested, it’s as if the bloggerati were an ethnos and had generated its own tribal music! Obviously potent music can be created out of diasporic experience, from deracination, but I think it’s worth acknowledging the something that is lost. A certain grain or character. (The most grain-free, characterless music on the planet is the most postgeographical--one example being Sasha-style progressive, as in the Global Underground compilations. That is music whose “locale” is the Globe--an abstraction).

* * * * *

Now I’m supposed to have argued somewhere along the line that education is bad and that only noble savages and apolitical ignoramuses like the grimesters make “real” music. Erm, actually, no--Dizzee may not have the jargon, but he’s a powerful intellect; these guys are patently virtuosos of language; grime is full of politics, based on confronting the limits and constraints of their lives, it’s just not often overtly politicized. And of course there’s an irony, of which I’m fully aware, that I’ve just written a book about postpunk which in many ways is a celebration of the art school tradition. But for all it's good points, conceptualism leading to aesthetic breakthroughs, broadened horizons, etc, art school music does often lack something on the visceral level. Not that grimesters etc are barbarians, but A/ those scenes are weirdly cocooned from a lot of mediatized stuff, I'm always amazed at how insular they are on some levels, material from "outside" filters in but in a weird haphazard way. They might appropriate stuff but you couldn’t say the mindset is “eclectic” or ”cosmopolitan”. B/ there is an urgency and hunger to the music that comes from the fact that music is too often their only escape route, whereas art students have a lot more options.

Okay, I’ve been scrupulously balanced and fair so far, I think I’ve earned another cheap shot, don’t you?

Am I the only one who finds the CD booklet shout-out to “all the fader peeps” just a wee bit cringy?


1/ go to 3rd item here for even more enjoyment-enhancing stuff about the Tamil Tigers,

2/ I like this guy’s analysis of how hype/buzz works and how there really is no such thing as bad publicity. (And not just because he says something nice about me at the start).

3/ Completing my honest confusion I learn that my absolute favorite grime tune of the moment, Kano’s “Reload It” was co-produced by Diplo with Kano. Although this is presumably Kano’s attempt to broaden his sound, and appeal, beyond grime to a more generalized hip hop-loving audience, ironically the lyric is totally grimecentric, all about the DJ reload ritual and which MCs on the scene get the most reload demands from the crowds-- just the sort of local flava I love and would hate to see get erased.

4/ Another comparison for Arular is Remain In Light/My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
Remain--ethnological forgery-type music that updates the Can approach into oceanic Gaia-funk--is an essay about the need to recover a more primal, un-alienated, non-Western, holistically-integrated etc etc mode of being, that poignantly doesn’t quite reach it. It remains slightly outside what its describing. It’s an example of just how great music produced by the art school sensibility can be, but also the limits of that approach. Remain also includes the Talking Heads second great song about terrorism (the first being “Life During Wartime”). “Listening Wind” does better than anything on Arular by actually making you sympathise with the terrorist’s point of view describing a guy who makes letter bombs and explosive devices in the free trade zone. The song is explicitly anti-colonialist (or what they used to call Coco-Colanisation), which adds resonance to the Fourth World nature of the music. Byrne provides a different example of how one can be an ambassador for world musics--starting a label, in his case Luaka Bop.

5/ There’s been some debate about how indebted Arular actually is to baile funk. Not too much in the strict musicological sense, “Bucky Done Gun” and a few other instances aside, but it’s clearly a kind of spiritual influence, a touchstone. What baile funk shares in common with the other shanty house musics is that it’s rude. (Exception here is kwaito, which on first listen is disconcertingly tasteful, such that you could imagine some Francois Kevorkian spiritual house type DJ dropping it, or West London broken beats clubs rocking it.). M.I.A. to me is on the whole just a little too polite a distillation of all these disparate rudenesses. The other thing about baile funk is that it’s cheesy. Samples from things like cheesy technorave tunes like “Met Her At the Love Parade,” elements that recall early 90s hip house of the Technotronic sort, or Europop. And there’s no contradiction, the rudeness and the cheesyiness are connected and mutually reinforcing. This rude’n’cheesy quality is something you can find across the hardcore discontinuum. But cheese is something that Arular never risks. Is crossing the portals of an art school the moment at which "cheesy" ceases to be a possibility?

6/ “all the fader peeps” c.f. the grime lyric I heard recently where the guy references being on the cover of The Face in his fantasy-scenario of making it big, unaware that the Face went out of business a couple of years ago.

7/ Of course if you want to be a stickler, yeah sure Arular comes from somewhere. We can situate it somewhere at the intersection of West Acton, St Martin’s College, Justin Frischmann’s basement, etc etc.

8/ When I first thought of writing about M.I.A., I’d heard ‘Galang’, like the Dean wasn’t that overwhelmed, but was intrigued by the buzz and by Sasha’s story, finally heard the mix-CD and liked it quite a bit. Initially, I thought my angle would be to examine the syndrome of British-Asian (meaning, in the UK, people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc, not Chinese, Korean, etc as “Asian” means in the USA) youth projecting towards black music. It’s a definite phenomenon--Apache Indian, Bally Sagoo, certain Indian friends I’ve known who were obsessive junglists and cleaved to the hardest, most ragga end of the music, 2step’s large South Asian following, desi with its debts to R&B and blingy rap. It’s similar in some ways to the way white Brits (such as myself) project towards black music, but it has a slightly different valence, you sense that they’re looking for a kind of racial identity-based militancy they can’t find in their own culture. At any rate, when I found the whole M.I.A. assemblage wasn’t adding up for me, I ended up writing something totally different. But hearing anecdotes about M.I.A. going to LA and chasing gangsta rappers, including son-of-a-Black-Panther Tupac (parallels, parallels) or reading about the impact of Public Enemy on her as a teenager, it reminded me of this story-that-was-never-written.

9/ Just because one is generally pro-hybridity, mixing it up, it doesn’t therefore follow that all instances of hybridization are equally valid or equally arresting. Some of the most weak-ass music on the planet is hybrid. Some hybridization processes take place on unequal terms. In certain cases, purism is a valid stance, an aesthetically productive path. All this is explored in much great depth in this essay Pure Fusion: Multiculture versus Monoculture .

10/ Now here’s something funny I haven’t mentioned, mainly, cos it’s, like, totally irrelevant really. My dad grew up in Sri Lanka. He’s ¾ Indian but (complicated story) was adopted and grew up in the then-Ceylon in a Sinhalese but Anglicized family--Methodist minister father. He emigrated to England well before the whole Tamil/Sri Lanka thing blew up (unfortunate expression). So I have no insight into the situation, apart from having gleaned indirectly that (some) Sinhalese are capable of being pretty racist towards Tamils. I heard so much about “Ceylon” growing up that I feel some vague connection to the island, although it’s all based around the 1940s and 1950s. I’d never got the impression, though, that the Tamils were favored by the British or somehow had control of the reins before independence.

11/ Despite being 37 percent Indian myself and a product of postcolonialist diaspora, culturally speaking I might as well be pureblooded Anglo-Saxon stretching back before the Domesday Book. Looking basically English, I’ve never encountered racism, apart from the kind of Limeyphobia you might find on, say, an internet forum. Still, growing up with mixrace-ness in my environment and on the table, as it were, it’s given me certain advantages; certain kinds of standard-issue English racism were less available, if you get me. The idea of miscegenation and hybridity as positives was introduced so early on as to be almost pre-political. Perhaps that’s also why I don’t have to clutch onto them as articles of faith and spurs to sanctimony.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Talking about cultural slumming, here's a missus-masterminded elegy-for-the-Bowery package: her piece, Christgau's musical history, and another chap's thing on flophouses.