07 March 2012

Critical Beats

Hot off the presses of lived reality! Two week old thoughts on Critical Beats at Stratford Circus with Joe Muggs, Lisa Blanning, Simon Reynolds, and moderator Steve Goodman!

My question, which I didn't manage to ask - would have been about negativity in music. The panel discussed positivity/negativity in music-writing a lot, but I wanted to hear their thoughts on negativity in music.

Negativity in two senses, one being the destructive impulse to trash and render obsolete your forebears (classic example being punk vs prog, but also to be found in the Dance Continuum in its broadest sense, with grime's hoods & trainers turning out the lights on UKG's champage & smart shoes aesthetic, or with less of a scorched-earth animus, in hiphop/jungle passim, with the urge to outdo & supersede competitors... is it possible you just don't get moments of opposition/irruption as abrupt as punk because of how structurally & formally wedded dance music and (almost all) its subgenres are to continuity: they depend on the Mix, and this programmes in continuity (or Continuumosity (oh god) if you like)

The other kind of negativity I had in mind was that of formal absence: the way a genre is defined as much by what it's not as what it *is*. Take footwork - which came up repeatedly as an example of the New. This did come up via a different Q, as SR talked about its narrow formal range and the way in which its isolation, as a scene largely unto itself, ticking along under the radar of international appreciation networks for so long, had allowed it to blossom.

There was a question from the balcony approximately a paragraph in length which baffled many. I think it boiled down to this: there's a discussion regarding innovation in dance music which should acknowledge that it's coming from a particular group - a predominantly white middle-class group - and that this discourse should therefore be carefully scrutinized. *If* that was the question, it was a fair one: think of the tradition in the indie music press to valorize a certain kind of 'conscious' rapper for 'avoiding gangsta cliches' about 'drugs, guns and hoes'. You should check your privilege and then check it again just to make sure. But it felt as though the inflection of the original very long question was towards the idea that the blinkers of race/class had perhaps misidentified where 'innovation' lay, and I'm less convinced by that. I think those blinkers have their effects elsewhere. This issues also came to mind listening to Joe Muggs. It was great listening to someone so devoted to being a reporter: absorbing 100s of tracks a month, crunching through international scenes and trends, getting out in the field. But: although I wouldn't go so far as to say he's the dubstep Pangloss, it did feel as though JM's view left a fair bit out through a reliance on the utopian metaphor of the Melting Pot: the club as melting point (all races, classes, creeds etc) and music as melting point (chuck it all in, stir it round). Depending on your position you could say this evades or suppresses or simply passes over for others some fairly important discussions. Like the profiles of eg the American dubstep audience or the UK grime audience. Or more technically/formally, the fact that footwork only exists as this startling outcrop of ideas because it *doesn't* fold in as many genres as it possibly can, and that its hungry absorption (gentrification) by other scenes will inevitably alter it, normalize it, flatten it.


Joe Muggs said...

*ahem* I don't avoid specificities: quite the opposite, I'm all about them... my starting point for these discussions is not that "everything blends together", but that there are a million and one points of intersection, interaction, culture clash, destruction and remaking - and that these are worth examining in fine detail rather than assimilating them into Big Theories about why Movement X is more authentic than Movement Y.

n.b. footworking IS a radically mongrel genre, even if it does have its own hyper specific ruleset. There's heavy use of reggae and various parts of the electro diaspora from crunk to ghettotech, as well as, of course, house - plus a magpie approach to 'radio pop' from Madonna to Evanescence!

Zone Styx Travelcard said...

Joe - meant to alert you to this via twitter or something but wrote & scheduled it ages ago so completely forgot.

I wasn't saying you start from there, rather that a couple of times at CB it seemed like a way of *ending* a line of enquiry - I can't recall the precise questions now, but it felt a couple of times like you stressed the Melting Pot line rather too than get into a messier, more awkward discussion of race/class or making many judgement calls. And I'm not going round beating anything with any Rockist Authenticity Stick.

Can't agree with you on footwork: of course it didn't pop into the world ex nihilo, everything comes from somewhere, every genre has poles beyond itself which exert gravitational pull on its fabric... But eg those sample stabs, the scraps of raw sonic material, whether Madonna/Evanescence/whatever, they may be eclectically sourced, but they're all put within a consistently reiterated framework. The frame repeats, the way use of X/Y/Z scrap is notably consistent. You're never in any doubt you're listening to footwork. It never tries to liquefy / elude / render ambiguous genre boundaries. Hiphop sampled voraciously, but you don't listen to JayZ thinking wow, is this rap... or a musical about a redheaded orphan.

Omnivorous fact-gathering & documentation, fieldwork, all that is great. I've just never understood why it must be opposed to any broader speculations / synthetic thinking. The latter should be based on the former. It's also the case that the former hugely outweighs the latter as a journalistic form, it's easier to attempt (though deceptively hard to do brilliantly) and at times its predominance is just boring. So I guess I don't see the need for scare-caps on Big Theory. I'd just like to hear any big theories you've got as well as your big interviews.