28 April 2010

feeling and really feeling

I'm doing that fingersnap thing in acknowledgement of Simon Reynolds' hitherto-unknown MCing skills

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I think he's absolutely right to point out all those forerunners of what I'll (for the moment, reluctantly) call emotive dance music. And it is a little bonkers of Rouge's Foam to talk about the 'coldness of most jungle, garage and old dubstep'.

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But Simon knows, I'm sure, that it's not an imminent upsurge in Cure-style feet-planted, arm-swinging inna dance that Ikonika or Darkstar are on about. It's the good old trusty sublime. And aiming for it via the tearducts rather than delirious happiness is not only a long-established move (people were writing songs about it years ago), it can be the opposite of avant, and shamelessly commercial. And isn't it an equally long-established paradox that the coldest, iciest, most rigorously 'affectless' music can be all the more moving for having precisely an excess of those qualities? Haven't we all heard Kraftwerk by now?

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'Emotion, in the sense of stuff that comes from your life, does not honestly strike me as this music's strong suit.'

This is where it gets messy for me. First of all, 'stuff that comes from your life'... 'my son's DS'... A lot of the problem is right there. I have no time for the Reynolds-has-lost-it argument, it seems to mostly come from generational defensiveness in response to nothing crueller than faint praise, but the fact is, just as in much of hypnagogic pop, a particular set of references is being deployed in a lot of this New Music which, temps perdu style, will evoke in 18-30s an emotional response that it never could for Simon. Games console sonics, yacht rock from 80s films seen as a child: of course they have little emotional baggage for someone who didn't have them as a part of their childhood's fabric. This *is* stuff that comes from Ikonika's life: 'Abdel-Hamid says she grew up with games in one ear and garage in the other...' [link].

This works both ways though of course. Simon, Woebot et al are entirely within their rights to point out that this limits the music's address and isn't the most aggressively forward-thinking move. (I'm generalizing here, please don't swamp me with endless examples of how Demdike Stare or whoever has nothing to do with 80s films.)

Isn't there a sense in which the moment 'emotion' is deployed like this - ie as an element that can be quantified, and music judged according to the quantity found, and whether by Ikonika, Rouge's Foam, or Simon, actual discussion or debate effectively stops? It's almost a moment of aporia, an unresolvable tangle, except that I'm not sure it pays to keep tweaking and worrying at it... maybe it's more like a ne plus ultra. 'Emotion' is effectively working here as an assertion, one that need not be articulated and cannot be argued with. An attachment or engagement or understanding of the music that has become axiomatic. To put it another way, when someone says 'But it has so much emotion' of a record, they are implicitly saying 'I fucking love this... I get it. This is my thing.'

So discussion founders and the shouting begins: no-one wants to hear a bad word said about something they love, nor can they generally be argued out of it (at least not without fucking hating you for it afterwards).

It also stops because it doesn't tell us anything, it all but gives up on any kind of critical duty and defaults to basic fandom. It reminds me of when people say of, eg, Swells or Peel, 'He had so much passion'. But it's not the passion you actually valued! Passion's a fucking given. Try telling the average X Factor contestant or Camden toilet band they have no passion. Fundamentalists have passion. Passion alone neither redeems nor justifies anything. Any number of idiots like [...brief Google check...] Mark Beaumont can knock off a Swells-style rant which would register highly on some kind of notional Passionometer: intemperate, sweary, tick, tick, tick. But they're junk because they lack Swells' mastery of language, the inventiveness of his ranting. What people are almost invariably praising when they praise someone's passion, is their technique, their ability to deliver that passion.

NB This is not an anti-passion, kick-emotion-out-of-music argument. I'm strictly talking about how we talk about music.

3 comments:

Victor said...

'Anyone who actually experienced that nineties surge is going to be spiritually scarred for life.' (506, Energy Flash)

If you want to understand Reynold's position, all you have to do is read his book(s). He's never pretended, especially with dance music, to a be an impartial critic- this is partly what makes his 'not fully baked' generalisations at blissblog seem unfair (the other part is his distance from the scene itself). For Reynolds, the hardcore continuum at its height (really at its origin) was the surging totality of music, drugs, machines, etc. but most importantly, people, loads and loads of people- when the 'emotional' content was inextricably bound up with its having been experienced collectively- with all of its utopian political implications. It is very much a generational thing then. It always is. Simon is a nineties person. But in no way does that undermine the uniqueness of his e-motional experience, with all of its utopian political implications, or his right to still pine after that even if it distorts his judgements of the present proliferation of scenes. It's an experience, he argues rather convincingly, worth pining after.

And it's the collective dimension that's missing in sonic references the solitary experience of video gaming- sitting rapt in front of a screen. We can all imagine that, quite easily, yes, especially these days, it's kind of banal isn't it, it's what we all do. No big revelation there. And for Simon, electronic dance music is alllllll about big revelations and the possibilities felt, he felt, to be inherent in them. Ego loss and all that. Boundary dissolution. I'm an '80's kid- these days I'm more ashamed of how much time I spent comatose in front of Tetris and all the rest of it to have 8bit beats conjure any kind of lasting emotional response beyond an 'oh that sounds like…' chuckle. To my mind, the biggest question 'new music' makers need to ask themselves is why they have this compulsion to sublimate these childhood consumer experiences into their music, to relive them so readily. Not that that's inherently bad or anything. It's just an interesting question to ask…

We know exactly what Simon means if we've read his stuff. He doesn't really get explicit these days, but I think he means, simply: politics. Collective Fervour. Futurist Massives. Actually Popular culture. All stuff that should indeed be articulated and argued about. A solitary sublime experience is so much different that a collective one. So few live to have the latter that its often denigrated as pure myth, naive retrospection. This is why Reynolds hasn't lost it (completely)- cause he had it, that. And he teases us with it, all the time. And you're right- we get defensive. But we should probably just be thinking of new ways of making that kind of thing happen again.

Mike Beggs said...

Hey, nicely said Victor.

ZoneStyxTravelcard said...

Victor, I think that's the most eloquent single defense of Reynolds' position I've yet read. I might even cut & paste it as a 'guest' post...

I should make clear that my post wasn't intended to contribute to that debate really, it just came up on the way to making the emotion point... and I don't think either side is more or less culpable in this tangle abt emotion as a discursive dead-end.

So true about the worth of actually reading the SR books, something I'm not sure his critics have always done, certainly not with any care.

To go back to Blissed Out though, interesting in this context to look up Prodigy in the index and read the pages on toytown hardcore, which was all about drug-induced reveries of childhood ads/cartoons/tv etc... which itself is an echo of mid-60s psych.