Friday, September 30, 2005

Derek at Pop Life emails to say that the rap kid's T-shirt must be derived from a Mobb Deep lyric on The Infamous:

"It's not where you at kid,
It's where you from,
'Cause where I'm from,
Niggas carry nothing but the big guns"

And a whole bunch of people emailed to point out that "Ian Brown's maxim" actually comes from Rakim, in "I Know You Got Soul":

Now if your from Uptown, Brooklyn- bound
The Bronx, Queens, or Long Island Sound,
Even other states come right and exact,
It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at

According to Steve Kiviat, it also appears in "In the Ghetto" (Thrifty Rakim! And why not, a good line's worth recycling), viz :

Going for self wit a long way to go
So much to say but I still flow slow
I come correct and I won't look back
'Cause it ain't where you're from, it's where you're at

and several other points in the track

So evidently Mobb Deep are playing on that hip hop quotable, it seems fairly unlikely they're massive Stone Roses fans.

If memory serves, Ian Brown said it at the press conference before Spike Island, someone was asking him about the Manchester scene, and he says "it's not where you from, it's where you're at, man". Or maybe he said it onstage during that ill-starred concert.

At the time I thought this was a cool remark as I was opposed to the whole idea of scenes and the mystique of certain cities (specifically Manchester, when really there was only the Roses and the Mondays carrying the whole baggy movement). Well of course since then I've revised my thoughts on the subject quite a bit.

"Where you're at" and "where you're from" both seem to have things in their favour, though. And it's also the case that whatever "at" you're, er, at, will always carry traces of the "from" that was your departure point. C.f. Puff Diddy as sampled by Roll Deep: "sometimes I don’t think you motherfuckers understand where I’m coming from, where I’m trying to get to.” Bryan Ferry with the traces of Geordie accent lingering in his croon. David Sylvian growing up in Catford, his real name David Batt. Sun Ra's belief that he's from Saturn inseparable from the alien-ation of being in born in Birmingham, Alabama.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Slogan spotted on a rap kid's T-shirt:

"It's Not Where You're At, It's Where You're From"

Seeing that on the subway gave me a rush.

(Then almost immediately thought of the acrimonious debates earlier this year about a certain mud-hut dwelling young lady whose publicity shots invariably depict her crouching on a jungle tree branch; that bizarre net-spectacle of folks who disdain the concept of authenticity engaged in frantic authentication!)

I wonder if the T-Shirt creator actually had Ian Brown's famous "it's not where you're from, it's where you're at" catchphrase in mind as something to be refuted?

Either way, the slogan beautifully captures the rockism at the core of hip hop.

Don't ask me to say which of the two statements I agree with though; I take things strictly on a case-by-case basis. Both propositions have their merits, their utopian/counter-hegemonic/libertatory potential, depending on context. Pop-rock-whatever is a tissue of realness and fantasy, of roots 'n' future, of the earthy and the outerspatial. Wood and plastic*. Where you're from and where you're at.

*a micro-critique of Morley's Words and Music, which exalts plastic and demeans the importance/allure of "wood"/woodsy etc in the history of poprocketc. But why do we have to choose between The Band's "Whispering Pines" and Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights"?
big big round of applause for Langdon Winner for his having identifed, in 1975 believe it or not, the essence and mechanism of Rockism (in the bad sense we all agree on), in his review of Born To Run in the Real Paper, which bore the witty title "Bruce Springsteen's Nobel Prize Bid," and noted how Brucie "has gone to the finest pop schools. He respects his elders. He bears the finest credentials and upholds the highest standards. Like all dutiful epigones, he threatens to become the consummate bore..... [Born to Run is] the complete monument to rock and roll orthodoxy."
VH1Classic-sponsored Thought For the Day #2

When Richard Hell married Patti Smyth of Scandal, was it, like, an error? Did he really mean to marry Patti Smith, but get them, like, jumbled up or something?
VH1Classic-sponsored Thought For the Day

"Good Vibration", by Marky Mark, is basically a hardcore rave track. Check those piano vamps, that massive kick drum boom. Came out 1991 too.
lecture + soundclips on the history of a breakbeat
(link courtesy of Peter Maplestone down under)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

here's that music overload piece from '95 i did for pulse, doesn't converge too much with nick southall's piece except for weird coincidence of allusion to Astral Weeks, his inert response to which kinda disproves my claim to its time-defying eminence


The other day, I decided to finally clear the backlog. As a rock critic, music floods through my doors; some 100 + CD's had accrued over the course of a year, items I'd never had a chance to play, but had held onto because they looked intriguing. I thought it would be easy to whizz through, sample a few tracks from each and cast the bulk of 'em out; I think of myself as pretty merciless when it comes to aesthetic adjudication. Five hours later, with throbbing ears and aching back, and with two-thirds of the pile still unplayed, I was dismayed by how much stuff seemed 'good', how little was capable of being instantly dismissed. Glumly, I came to a conclusion that'sbeen lurking at the back of my mind for five or six years: that there is simply too much 'valid' music being made for the world to handle. We're drowning, deluged by pernicious adequacy, and as we go under we experience a peculiar new emotion--the boredom of sheer abundance.

One example out of countless: Paths, Prints is one of my favourite albums, but I swear that fucker Jan Garbarek releases some new solo LP or collaborationon ECM every three months. How much piercing, plangent, dawn-rising-over-the-fjords beauty can one human being absorb?

Faced with the MUSIC OVERLOAD, you can respond in two ways: by struggling to keep up with all the diversity on offer, or by narrowing youraural horizons, focussing on one obsession. You can either be a generalist or (to coin a ghastly word) a genre-ist.

Generalists tend to be populists, they believe that the music that matters is the stuff that leaves the ghetto of a particular style and commands the commonground. Genre-ists, by comparison, have come to terms with the postmodern idea that we live in a culture of margins orbiting a collapsed centre. In rock terms, this means that the era of Big Figures who allegedly Speak For Us All, i.e the Dylans, Lennons, Springsteens etc, is over and dead; that this is the age of genres--thrash-metal, industrial, ambient techno, lo-fi, G-funk, swingbeat,trip hop, ad infinitum--styles that speak only to their own. Moreover,genre shave an innate tendency to fragment still further (there's already at least three sub-genres of thrash, four sub-styles of jungle, and so on), with the result that the "we" that each style/scene addresses gets smaller and smaller.

These days, rock that purports to speak for Everybody--bands like U2,REM, Pearl Jam--is just a genre itself, one among many. Call it 'classic rock', in sofar as it's steeped in the same late '60s and early '70s values as the music played on classic rock radio, and because when classic rock stations addcontemporary bands to their playlists it's always only Bands Who SaySomething (like Pearl Jam, U2, REM etc). If you're a genre-ist, though, you don't care a fig for some bygone and probably mythical Unity that rock bands were once supposed to marshal into being.You like the specificity, the genre-icity, of the style you're into (the lo-fi-ness of lo-fi, the junglism of jungle), not its potential to transcend its local audience and reach out to the mass. You dig the fact that it speaks an idiolect (a specialist language, a tribal slang). Artists from a particular scenewho attempt to translate its idiom into mass-speak--Moby with techno, Trent Reznor with industrial--are therefore treated with suspicion by thegenre-ists. By definition, they're not cutting edge, because the edge is what's always pushing the style further out from universality.

Personally, I'm in an odd, unenviable predicament: I believe that the most interesting music is usually made by genre-extremists as opposed to crossover artists. But I can see the point of too many genres, I want to cream off the best each has to offer. Then there's the universe of musicoutside rock and dance..., jazz, classical, Javanese Gamelan, Mongolian throat-singing, musique concrete, space age bachelor pad music-- a legion of genres seem to glare at me reproachfully, beseeching: 'check me out, I've got something to give!' These days, I feel a weird relief when I discover a genre that I simply can't see the point of, like thrash-metal or the New Country. In the age of cultural overload, the invention of new prejudices ,the erection of boundaries and barriers, is vital to one's mental health.

But such bigotries offer only slight relief, because the wealth of the past is beckoning, thanks to the CD reissue explosion, and its knock-on effect, the glut of used vinyl. So many eras, so many styles to check out: Southern boogie, Krautrock, mid-70s dub, Sixties garage punk, British folk-rock....Each could easily absorb a lifetime's worth of obsessiveness. Which brings me to another realisation: how I'd hate to be 16 now and getting into music for the first time. Not only would you have the contemporary deluge to filter, you'd have to catch up with the past. Let's say that approximately the same amount of great music is produced each year (averaging out the fluctuations within specific genres);that means that each new year's harvest of brilliance must compete with thepast's ever more mountainous heap of greatness. How many records released in 1995 are gonna be as worthwhile an acquisition, for that hypothetical 16 yearold, as Van Morrison's Astral Weeks?

For a rock critic, the problem of TOO MUCH MUSIC is an occupational hazard. But sometimes I wonder if it'd would actually be much different if I wasn't a professional fan (an interesting oxymoron). I vaguely remember thatI was verging on my current predicament even before I started getting paid to listen to music. Ten years ago, I was buying records thatonly got listened to once; I was taping albums off friends and acquaintances, or from libraries, for future reference, or "just in case"; there's a few acquisitions that I still haven't gotten round to removingfrom the shrinkwrap. Thank the Lord that I've never been able to see the point of bootlegs.

Sometimes I wonder what psychic hole I'm filling with this neuroticstockpiling of sound. But my real concern is the way that stockpiling and skimming affect the depth of my listening experience. It's the old opposition of quantity versus quality. Inundated with music, how is it possible to have a relationship with a record? There are albums from when I was 16, when my collection was still in single figures, that I know inside out; records like The Slits' Cut, whose every rhythm guitar tic andpunky-dread inflection is engraved on my heart, albums like PiL's Metal Box or (a bit later) The Smiths that I lived inside for months. Music overload destroys the conditions that allow music to weave itself in andaround the fabric of your life, to MEAN something.

Of course, as you grow older, you find it harder to get fixated, anyway; you have less dead time on your hands, you don't tend to have the same emotional voids to fill. Nonetheless, I still feel that the adolescent mode of engaging with music, i.e. obsession, is the "true" way. Strangely enough, in amongst my hyper-eclectic attempts to keep up with the gamut of modern musics, I have also developed an obsession, whose adolescent urgency I cherish: jungle, a UK-specific post-rave mutant that deliriously blends hiphop's rhythm-science with techno's futuristic textures.

Like any obsession, jungle is literally an addiction. I want that buzz that even a mediocre jungle track gives me, and that eclipses the appeal ofalmost everything but the very best from other genres. 'Cos if you're a genre-ist, it's the sound (the distinctive production aura of ECM, the groove of '70s dub, and so on), that you're after, not 'songs'. Obsession destroys perspective. To a non-convert, it all sounds the same; that's how I feel about styles that donothing for me, like thrash--to me, an undifferentiated blur of flagellatingchords, tempo gear-changes and vomitous vocals. But the thrash partisan listens from a different vantage point, can track the microscopicpermutations and evolutions of the genre. As a junglist, I too thrill tothe play of sameness and difference, the way that the style bends and contorts as it absorbs external influences yet still remain JUNGLE. Ifyou're obsessed, there's no such thing as overload: too much is never enough.

As a music journalist, I'm in the frontlines of what may be a crisis for the post-industrial West in the 21st Century: cultural overproduction. For it's not just music, it's the entire mediascape that (with the cable revolution, on-line, desk-top publishing etc) is afflicted by an excess ofaccess. There's gonna be too many creators, not enough consumers. I can imaginea future World Government doing something similar to what the European Community, faced by surplus 'food mountains', does when it subsidises farmers to leave their fields fallow, i.e. pay people to be uncreative.

The punk ethos of anyone-can-do-it lives large in music, from lo-fi indie to home-made techno, and that's fine. But when you move from amateur music-making to putting out a record, you're staking a claim on people's time. So my message to music-makers is: think hard before you put it on disc and out into themarketplace. And to music-lovers:: if you're lucky enough to get obsessed with something, go with flow, forget about the rest. Music should be precious, not something you channel-surf through.

Monday, September 19, 2005

a pained and highly personal account of the dangers of overconsumption (by nick southall over at stylus) that will strike chords with more than a few folk i'm sure... certainly downloading culture has created for the many a predicament hitherto the preserve of a tiny few (music journalists and others inundated with freebies)... only thing i'd disagree with nick about is his contention that the DIY ethos/home studio folderol has created a tidal wave of "unmitigated shite", well it has, surely, but that's not the real problem: the tidal wave of pretty-good-to-almost-excellent stuff, that's the problem, all this deserving stuff competing for your attention... plus the riches of the past, the well-known treasures are copious enough, but then what about the unjustly neglected, the unearthed revelations... the out-takes and alternate versions .. all those deluxe two-CD jobs... i'm starting to feel dizzy... come to think of it i wrote a thingfor Pulse on a similar subject nine or ten years ago 'music overload', all about stockpiling and skimming, being a generalist versus being a genre-ist... maybe i'll dig it out

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"I feel that the questions really amount to Mark Sinker writing an obscure poem that pertains to his inner life more than to my life as a critic"--Frank Kogan, towards the end of this, and quite. I wonder why so few people replied to the questionaire? Music critics love nothing more than pontificating about the art/state/point/pitfalls etc etc of music criticism. The only people who love that self-reflexive self-aggrandising self-justificatory why do we this/whither next for the genre thing even more is another field of discourse with disputed and precarious status--science fiction writers. Maybe not so much nowadays (i couldn't tell you) but when I was an s.f. fiend in my mid-teens (s.f. not sci-fi--crucial semantic distinction for those-who-know, and i never went near a convention, ever, i'll have you know), which was the late Seventies, s.f. writers were constantly writing essays defending the genre (even issuing the odd paperback essay collection volume consisting of nothing but s.f. criticism), they were constantly debating canons and what was the cutting edge, they'd be attending writers workshops, and the like. As with rockwrite, a real combination of over-weening and messianic collective sense of purpose and destiny (s.f. as the only truly contemporary fiction with anything relevant or revelatory to say) combined with terrible feeling of insecurity and marginality and why-don't-they-take-us-seriously. But maybe all this self-reflexivity, that was the tail end of the New Wave of s.f., before the Stars Wars re-pulpification process really hit. For all I know, though, there's a whole other blogmos of s.f. discourse out there on the web, a serious one i mean as opposed to a space fantasy nerdiverse of fan prattle, and it's full of writing on a par with kpunk's fascinating riffs on k.w. jeter, a writer i only ever heard about before through a forced exposure interview from ooh must be at least 15 years back.
another new node
two fun exercises:

(i) on his livejournal Experiment Horse, Tom Ewing resurrects his Top 100 Singles of the 90s from six years back, makes retrospective notes (not all "what was I thinking?!?") and invites other people's comments

(ii) WFMU's Beware of the Blog's inspired idea of gathering together mp3s of those really-really-hard-to-find bands in the famous list Stapleton collated on Nurse with Wound's Chance Meeting. Part one here, part two there. (Link courtesy of An Idiot's Guide to Dreaming)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005