Friday, April 27, 2007

The 2007 EMP Pop Conference was a blast.

It was great to put faces/voices to long-time online presences--ILM-ers like Ned Raggett, Scott Seward (and his lovely wife Maria) , Alfred Sotos, donut bitch; blogger man dem such as Wayne (& Wax) Marshall, Carl 'Zoilus' Wilson, John 'UtopianTurtleTop' Shaw--and to meet outright new people like (to name just a few) indie anthropologist Wendy Fonarow, disco scholar Tim Laurence (who's got a book coming out soon on Arthur Russell), and David Grubbs the Great Defender (who, when a bunch of us were looking for a restaurant, got stopped in the street by some 16 year old kid who cried out “are you David Grubbs?!?!?! you're, you’re my HERO!”). And of course lovely to catch up with old familiars in an unfamiliar setting such as Stelfox and Sinker. Kudos to Matos for throwing the Saturday night party.

The papers were almost uniformly good-to-stunning. I can only think of maybe one and half duds, and that's a significantly improved ratio c.f. the last EMP I went to which was the first EMP back in I think 2001 (and itself easily the most entertaining/stimulating popcult conference I’d ever attended). As before, the culprits were poncy-but-inane academic jargon and Other People’s Theories standing in for your own language/critique. More generally, you could see the development of an EMP style that fuses the personal/memoiristic/poetic with culture-critique operating in that interzone between the academy and high-powered rockcrit. If there's a downside with that approach is that a few talks were almost too memoiristic and anecdotal, pushing the person delivering them front and center but losing a sense of the Big Picture.

Out of the papers I managed to see (bear in mind that at any given time four different panels containing three to four speakers were going on)... I'm not alone in thinking Scott Seward was the tournament champion with his “Of Wolves & Vibrancy - A Brief Exploration of the Marriage Made In Hell Between Folk Music, Dead Cultures, Myth, and Highly Technical Modern Extreme Metal” ( funny, poetic, personal, genuinely informative, and it made me want to listen the entire works of Ulver). Other highlights: Jonathan Lethem’s keynote (shame he didn't physically illustrate his early talk of his youthful and highly "engaged" dancing though!); Sasha Frere-Jones's “What's the 911?” (hard to paraphrase but basically about how R&B has become America’s dominant pop music but this is problematic because R&B as it is now--and unlike soul in the 1960s and 1970--is constitutionally incapable of registering let alone expressing/catharsis-izing such political traumas as 9/11, Iraq, Katrina; the best bit though was the coda in which he read out a hilarious and hypnotic poem based on running through the titles of each week’s Billboard Number One singles of particular recent years, which--since many of them were number one for 8 or 12 or even 15 weeks--involved all kinds of emotional and dramatic inflections to leaven the monotony) ; Joshua Clover's “1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About” (conversely this was about major political convulsion-- the staggered fall of communist regimes at the end of the eighties--as registered in the pop music of 1989-90, Jesus Jones ‘right here right now’, Scorpions’ "wind of change", et al); Mark Sinker's “"... b-but does it pass the test of SPACE?!!!" Why rotten music-writing creates worse history; how the music that this damages – not to mention the music it doesn't -- suggests ways writers can do something about it (possibly); how we can bring the lost moment back to life without destroying it...” (even though his talk kinda ended up being less about its topic and more like a long preamble to the reiteration of the title at the end with just a minimal flourish of elaboration on test of time versus test of space theorem... plus he didn't castigate the "rotten writing" as hoped but read out stuff he admired); Geeta Dayal's “Examining European fandom of the Detroit, Chicago, and New York Dance Music Mythos” (amusing presentation; also, it had never really struck me before how Detroit-worship for Germans is a form of displaced patriotism/narcissism, it’s as though the original Detroit techno's own Germanophilia allowed them to affirm everything that’s most Germanic about their music and culture but having a black face on it mades that acceptable); Wendy Fonarow's “The Participant Framework of the Indie Gig: The Three Zones and Contemporary Change” (vivaciously performed and I particularly liked her riff about modern kids livingin the future anterior, the "will have been", video-ing gigs on their mobile phones and impatient to upload it to their blogs or myspaces --as opposed to actually being there IN THE NOW in a fully immersive, Dionysian kind of way); Daphne Brooks “Time Out of Mind: TV on the Radio's Diasporic Data Tapes & the ReMixed Code(s) of Cookie Mountain” (poetic) ; Maura Johnston's “The Season Came To An End: Freestyle Brings Loneliness To A Crowded Dance Floor ” (touching talk that rescued a largely forgotten club genre from history's dustbin) ; Mike Powell's “The Pyongyang Hit Parade” (on North Korean pop, enjoyed both the haunting strangeness of the pure Korean folk music he played and the Tomita-meets-Enya-meets-CelineDion shlockadelic pap it became under communist tyranny, why is it that totalitarianism goes hand in hand with kitsch? answers please Mr Hatherley) ; Kembrew McLeod's “The New Market Affair: Scouting the Hills of the Shenandoah Valley for the Next Big Thing” (hilarious tale of how a Spin prank article circa the post-Seattle record biz gold rush sent some hapless A&R men to the tiny town in the rural Virginia where Kembrew was a college student and how he and his mates tried to exacerbate the prank by staging showcase gigs and such like) ; Erik Davis' “Freak Folk and the Analog Ethic” (in the same panel as Scott Seward's and also an interesting talk called “Moths, Moons, and Toothless Hound Dogs: Joanna Newsom's New Rural Aesthetic” by Meghan Drury Askins who amazingly actually went to school with Newsom, this was as intriguing as you'd expect from Erik, but I couldn't resist pointing out when it came to question-and-answer that the Analog-Only Ethic of Newsom, Tower Recordings et al, only goes so far... Newsom might have banned CD players and digital technology from her own home as soul-pollutants and insisted on recording Ys with analog technology all the way through the process BUT… not only did Ys come out on CD as opposed to only on vinyl, but you can get it and Tower Recordings recordings via Emusic, ie. in even more digitized/compressed/dematerialized form. So there's definite limits--market realities, career requirements--on how far the Analog Ethic gets extended!).

The 2007 EMP Pop Conference was a blast, then, but not an unalloyed one. I'd forgotten how taxing these kind of 9 AM to 6 PM seminars can be. Listening to people vocally deliver prose is draining, both because of the sheer concentration required and also because even when speakers have a really engaging conversational manner they're still
transmitting something that should be read. Then there's the physical wear-and-tear--staying sat all day long, never quite managing to stay hydrated or caffeinated enough (my normal daily routine entails several gallons of tea punctuated by flagons of strong coffee), rushing to catch the 9-AM kick-off and skipping breakfast and then wondering why come noon you've got this weird head-achy dizzy feeling. My one big regret was missing Friday's lunchtime Ellen Willis tribute session but starvation meant I had to go eat a proper sit-down meal.

Alloyed too by a certain tinge of melancholy that peeked out here and there. The music critic profession has gotten distinctly more precarious in the last year. All decade in fact the pinch has been felt in terms of shrinking word-counts and monthly music magazines having less ad pages and therefore less editorial space, taking fewer risks. I was half-dreading the final day’s wrap-up colloquy, "The Future of Thinking About Music for a Living", thinking this sure-to-be major handwringing session would end the conference on a bummer note. Actually it turned out to be pretty upbeat and with some constructive ideas aired, although none of the suggested avenues (e.g. talk of the opening up of space within academia in the form of Music Studies increasingly becoming an in-demand option within the humanities, as opposed to within Musicology depts.) can really replace the role of the regular media outlets that once offered paying space to cogitate (alternate weeklies, monthlies like Spin, the old UK weekly music press).

One lone voice broke the consensus, Amy Philips, Pitchfork's news editor, who more or less chided the assembled for thinking like dinosaurs: she invoked a new breed of youth today who want their info RIGHT THIS MINUTE and don’t have time to to read (or write) considered and extended reviews, let alone thinkpieces. Cogitation was a luxury now she said and she urged us to become like be like jungle animals, adapt to the new media ecosystem, write faster... An involuntary cry rose up from the core of my being: “NOOOOO!!! Slow- it - down. Marinate, reflect.” A visceral response that if articulated might have proposed the intellectual equivalent of the Slow Food movement in cuisine. Someone else later angrily insisted on preserving the "right to ruminate". The irony of course is that while Pitchfork news may get updated every nanosecond, its review section is a bastion of the really loooooong review--not all of them but some certainly stretch out for what looks like a thousand words--and long or not-so-long they are always well considered and clearly the product of serious and protracted pondering, etc.

Indeed on the EMP-dedicated ILM thread a few days ago, P-Fork editor Scott Plagenhoef--
contextualizing Philips’ remarks as not gloating but just grimly realistic--was overtaken by a fit of despair, writing:

"… to an emerging generation of kids, music criticism is 24-hour news and leaks and mp3s and ratings and getting to things first. It's not about digesting music and it's not having meaningful conversations about it or reading someone else's ideas about it. Indeed, it's barely having conversations about it all. The democratization of music crit-- on mssg boards, mp3 blogs, etc.-- seems to not be resulting in ppl sharing more ideas with one another, but falling over another just to plant flags. And now many (specifically indie) fans seem actively suspicious of anyone who talks at length about music. P4k's very act of printing longform reviews and attempting to share ideas about music is, quite oddly, resented and seen to many as us cramming our opinions down someone's throat or inherently self-indulgent because ppl don't look to music writers for ideas, merely for suggestions on what to download. It's resented and kicked against because music crit is, to many of them, seemingly merely used as a tipsheet and now they can just 'listen to an mp3 and make up their own mind.' And I fear that with mp3s giving people v. little tangible to grasp onto (no album art, liner notes, photos-- no product), the internet eliminating the need to hunt for info or sounds about/from an artist (let alone make choices about who to literally invest in), the rise of DVDs and video games as products that kids cherish, collect, and participate in w/o other distractions, and music almost exclusively something you do while you're doing something else (a background/lifestyle item) that there is little myth-making or magic in pop music these days, and as a result fewer ideas and conversations and arguments. In short, the future of writing about music, or whatever Amy's panel was called, is pretty grim because the future of getting people to invest their thoughts in music seems grim, too…. "

He added:

"Put it another way: P4k and its peers and contemporaries could be the first and last eZines. If the future of music crit is online, then the old print mag format-- followed by P4k, Stylus, Dusted, Drowned in Sound, CMG, etc.-- is almost N/A. Maybe I'm off but I can't recall a new eZine starting in the past few years. It's all blogs, and lately all that means is posting music or videos. The energy and ideas that departed the Voice, for example, seem to primarily have gone to writing for retail (eMusic), MTV Urge, or writing about single tracks (the very good PTW). I don't blame anyone-- you'd be foolish to start an eZine now-- but what does that say about sustaining lengthy word counts, which was the very thing the internet and the first wave of blogs got right, let alone expressing and communicating ideas?”

This was the kind of talk I feared "The Future of Thinking about Music for A Living" would be full of and thank God it wasn't and post-conference jollity set the tone, but ooer what Scott says does have the horrible ring of truth about it, don't it? It chimes with some of the stuff that came up in the K-Punk/Fact dialogue and corroborates my talk of a general dis-intensification with what I'm sure in Scott's case is much more frontlines experience of these attitude changes. Most "youth of today" I have encounters with are perhaps inevitably ones who have a similarly inflated--and therefore archaic--sense of what Music Criticism should be as myself.... Perhaps this inflated conception zone was always a minority thing , a subset of specialised demand within the broader market for music magazines; it used to be able to subsist as a space within publications that were probably bought by the majority of readers for other reasons (news, gig guide, basic consumer guidance reviewage), almost like a parasite in a host organism...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fascinatingly in-depth interview with Todd-Is-God Edwards by Michaelangelo Matos

As if to celebrate the imminent(ish) publication of Marooned with its Matos-penned appreciation of History of Our World Part 1: Breakbeat and Jungle Ultramix By DJ DB, there is an old skool party called History of Our World, Pt 1 happening in NYC this Friday, April 27 -- it's at Love, 179 MacDougal Street (at 8th Street), tax on the door is $5 before 11, $10 before 1 AM -- it's "tag team mayhem": DB spinning with Dara, Jason Jinx, Riff Raff Crew, Monkey Allen, Madchester Set -- there's a showing of 24 Hour Party People at 9 PM and the music starts at 11 PM and then goes to 6-AM. Which is when Tasmin has been waking up lately... but while I won't be lasting til the breakadawn, I am going to try make this one -- if I can shake off this post-EMP cold, that is.

Monday, April 23, 2007

me on the analogue synth gods in OMM *

plus Q & A with Jean Michel Jarre

also, check it out -- my piece on the music documentary boom in the May issue of Sight and Sound

* German-speakers ahoy: there is a much longer -- twice, maybe more -- version of this piece running in two instalments in electronic dance culture magazine Groove, the first part came out a month ago and the second half should be out anyday now

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

K-punk interviews me for Fact magazine about the imminent Bring the Noise, a comprehensive and copious dialogue addressing nu-rockism and New Pop-ism, the deadlocking of hip hop and alt-rock, jouissance versus significance, and much much more...
Tomorrow I head off to Seattle for the EMP Pop conference which takes place this (long) weekend. On Friday afternoon I'm doing a talk entitled Just 4 U London: Place and Race in UK Dance Culture from Rave to Grime (actually it extends all the way up to dubstep.... gonna play some fun London themed records from the length and breadth of the nuum). I went to the first EMP in 2001 was it and this year's looks to be just as fantastic as that one. So many fascinating-looking talks and panels (often clashing with each other causing much anguish--most frustratingly the panel I'm on is the same time slot as the one with Stelfox & friend discussing chopped-and-screwed music/culture AND another panel which includes Matos talking about students with their Bob Marley posters, two of the talks I'd most wanted to witness*). So if you live in Seattle and read this blog and are somehow unaware of EMP (inconceivable, surely) do come along, I think the conference is actually free this year.

BUT annoyingly it means I'm going to miss this event in New York, curated by Sukhdev Sandhu, a whole bunch of films and discussions relating to UK multiculture and specifically the Asian side of it, there's a "film essay" by Kodwo Eshun**'s Otolith Group, there's MUTINY: Asians Storm British Music, followed by a panel discussion including Vivien Goldman... loads of good stuff. Bummer.

* actually looking at the Friday afternoon time-slot again there's a third panel that clashes and it includes ex-Hugo Largo man Tim Sommer on “Anticipating The Re-Emergence of The Pre-Temperate Aboriginal Drone Form as The Root And Dominant Figure In Rock Music” and David Grubbs on Sound Art, both of which I'd wanted to hear, while the Matos-including panel also has Wayne & Wax's Wayne Marshall's on “Follow Me Now: The Zig-Zagging Zunguzung Meme”, ditto. This is painful! But perhaps there will be podcasts or something....

** talking of Kodwo I had a weird almost ghost-like experience the other day when I finally played the first Pitman album having downloaded it from Emusic (not sure why i never got it at the time, being a mega fan of that first single), I'm playing the intro track which is this sort of sound collage with found voices kind of thing, and suddenly this eerily familiar voice appears -- that eager and erudite tone--and stone me but it's Kodwo, talking about Pitman as authentic UK equivalent to a gangsta thug, someone you'd probably cross the street if you saw them marauding up the high street around closing time. Wonder if Pitman sampled that from some TV or radio programme or actually got K into a studio...

Monday, April 16, 2007

the fucking cops are fucking keen
to fucking keep it fucking clean
the fucking chief's a fucking swine
who fucking draws a fucking line
at fucking fun and fucking games
the fucking kids he fucking blames
are nowehere to be fucking found
anywhere in chicken town
the fucking scene is fucking sad
the fucking news is fucking bad
the fucking weed is fucking turf
the fucking speed is fucking surf
the fucking folks are fucking daft
don't make me fucking laugh
it fucking hurts to look around
everywhere in chicken town
the fucking train is fucking late
you fucking wait you fucking wait
you're fucking lost and fucking found
stuck in fucking chicken town
the fucking view is fucking vile
for fucking miles and fucking miles
the fucking babies fucking cry
the fucking flowers fucking die
the fucking food is fucking muck
the fucking drains are fucking fucked
the colour scheme is fucking brown
everywhere in chicken town
the fucking pubs are fucking dull
the fucking clubs are fucking full
of fucking girls and fucking guys
with fucking murder in their eyes
a fucking bloke is fucking stabbed
waiting for a fucking cab
you fucking stay at fucking home
the fucking neighbors fucking moan
keep the fucking racket down
this is fucking chicken town
the fucking train is fucking late
you fucking wait you fucking wait
you're fucking lost and fucking found
stuck in fucking chicken town
the fucking pies are fucking old
the fucking chips are fucking cold
the fucking beer is fucking flat
the fucking flats have fucking rats
the fucking clocks are fucking wrong
the fucking days are fucking long
it fucking gets you fucking down

evidently chicken town

Thrilling, marrow-chilling use of John Cooper Clarke's "Evidently Chicken Town" (from Snap Crackle & Bop) in the closing sequence of The Sopranos last night....

And ooooh that Hannett drum sound...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

interesting post on Haunted Folk by Neil @ the ever excellent History Is Made At Night

nice point about the original meaning of "fey" being closer to eldritch than twee/mimsy

Friday, April 06, 2007

Check it out -- in celebration of the release -- finally! -- of the fabulous new album by The Focus Group, We Are All Pan's People, two morsels of ghostificatory data:

1/ I knew that Morton Subotnik by the late Seventies was exploring a compositional technique he called "ghost electronics" but only just stumbled on the fact that he actually built a machine called the "ghost box"! Viz,

"The next step in Subotnick's use of control voltages was the development of the "ghost" box. This is a fairly simple electronic device, consisting of a pitch and envelope follower for a live signal, and the following voltage controlled units: an amplifier, a frequency shifter, and a ring modulator. The control voltages for the ghost box were originally stored on a tape, updated now to E-PROM. A performer, whose miced signal is sent into the ghost box, can then be processed by playing back the pre-recorded tape of E-PROM, containing the control voltages. As neither the tape nor E-PROM produce sound, Subotnick refers to their sound modification as a "ghost score". By providing the performer with exact timings, coordination between performer and the ghost score is controlled. "
[quoted from here]

No, I don't really understand it either to be honest. This below is a better description of how it worked musically:

"The "ghost" electronics make no sound on their own, but alter the amplitude, frequency, and location of any sounds produced as the electronic score is playing. In his works for this technology, Subotnick explored the effects of these manipulations on a variety of instrumental combinations, from single instruments to chamber ensembles. The rather simple electronic manipulations in the "ghost" electronics nevertheless produce an interesting range of timbres, depending on the tone color of the instruments being manipulated. "

[quoted from here, where you can actually download some of the music produced by these methods]

2/ Tasmin, my youngest, is at that age-- she just turned one--where she likes to pull stuff out of where it's kept. Books, CDs, DVDS.... strangely the vinyl has remained largely unscathed for some reason, although there was a hairy moment the other week when she started rummaging with the 2step shelf: I couldn't give a shit about the Brasstooth 12 inch she hurled across the floor but when her paws clasped the Doolally I let out an ungodly shriek. The promo DVDs and advance videos, residues of Joy's stint as a TV critic, seem particularly alluring: every bloody evening I have to scoop them up off the rug, where they're densely layered like shale on a beach or slates on a cottage roof, and shove them back onto the shelves. Anyway, one day recently Tasmin had dug particularly deep into the recesses and her excavations exposed, lurking way in the back... but, well wouldya believe it, a promo video cassette containing the entire first series of Look Around You, which I'd completely missed. I loved the second one, styled something like a cross between Tomorrow's World and How, but the first series is much more in Ghost Box territory, being modelled on morning TV for Schools and Colleges and Open University programming and having that creaky pedagogical air, badly lit and queerly cropped footage of experiments, curt instructions from the presenter to "write that in your copy book", that kind of thing... Even the series logo, as seen on the front of the course textbook, looks kinda Ghostboxy/J. Housy. And what do you know, one of the eipisodes, or rather "modules", is about ghosts -- you can actually watch it here, along with all the other modules. Better still one of the experiments in it is titled "The Haunted Laboratory". Check out also the ghost quiz at the offical Look Around You site.
check it out -- in the new GQ Style, whose theme of the season is London, my article on the Bromley Contingent/Blitz/Leigh Bowery/BoomBox nuum: London as Glam City.
check it out -- Vivien Goldman column for BBC America's website, the Punk Professor
check it out -- an interesting looking theoretical study of extreme metal by a British academic