21 February 2012

Retromania: in/out of fashion etc

Fashion emerges as a real bete noire in Retromania: the industry is characterized as retromaniac all the way down at one point, and music's current doldrums are summed up as essentially the consequence of its 'fashionization'. I haven't thought this through entirely, but it intuitively feels... rockist and harsh to me. Tilting towards a probelmatically literal-minded assertion that fashion is simply style over substance, form and no content. Style and content are not strictly co-terminous but they do overlap inextricably, fused like conjoined twins. Fashion's cycles are like a hyper-acceleration of the dialectic engine that turns over movements and scenes in music/literature/film. Trouser widths widen, widen, then suddenly go superskinny; rock expands, goes progs, bloats, then savagely cuts its own hair into a punk birds-nest. Plus the absolute intertwining of fashion (as clothes) with music, passim. Fashion is a key part of the holistic depth you get in all retromania. Adam Harper has a tendency to discuss retromania musicologically, as a formalist, in terms of certain melodic/harmonic echoes/revivals. But it's not just that Oasis pinched that bit of Imagine's piano, it's the John Lennon glasses, the Beatles duffles; ditto with The Strokes and their skinny jeans. Retro invokes the context of the cultural text, bringing with it a web of other artefacts.

Fashion at times seem to be doing two things very intently, while insisting it only does one: it's committed to formalism, but really, more perhaps than any other field/activity, it goes about the business of Bourdieu's distinction, drawing up complex aesthetic cartographies that allow people to socially (and economically) orientate themselves. Clothes are a marker of class to a far more reliable extent than musical taste. I'm not suggesting fashion and music sit on a flat plane of equivalence, but I would rather brand the instrumentalization of music that SR complains about the 'lifestyling' of music than the 'fashionizing'

EDIT 22/2
couple of things via twitter. From Dan Barrow:

Adorno's 'Aesthetic Theory' on fashion: fashion as the seizing of a zeitgeist that "goes deep into artworks & does not just manipulate them"; cf Baudelaire: fashion as the dialectical partner of the eternal

and Bat disagrees on class/clothes; fair enough, I'm not sure I agree with myself on skimming back, but I've realized I'll never post anything on here if I don't remember that it can work as a notebook for provisional/essayistic (in the experimental sense) thoughts. A clearer version might run something like this. By 'orientate themselves' I've made it a lot more autonomous than it often is; all too often other people do the orientating for you. And maybe I shouldn't have invoked Bourdieu's weighty apparatus so blithely, but 'Bourdieu' is like a private shorthand for me, a 'file under...' for the bleaker thoughts I'm prone to having about much discussion about music/books/aesthetics generally, those discussions in which you hear people - hear yourself - referring strictly to what you think are the formal properties of the work, and their wider significance, and that underneath this is a different series of discursive negotiations, social adjustments, not necessarily 'vertically' within a class hierarchy, but 'horizontally' (I am like you; I am not like you & you like this, ergo I refuse to like this) and that at times this might even be the most useful or predominant function people find in music etc.


Grime and dubstep don't get much attention do they? They feature in passing, presented essentially as blips, promising but limited. Presumably because the whole nuum debate exhausted the subject?

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