27 June 2009

A Boner In Brian Eno

My great disappointment in the brief history of this blog so far was the non-response of a commenter on the 'I Hate: Brian Eno' post.

This commenter rather crushingly despatched Eno thus:
I went to the pictures with Brian,when I was at Art School.We saw The Ballard of Joe Hill (my choice).You have to admire how a small,ugly,chain smoking man managed to get it together through sheer ego.He had nothing else going for him.
Could be an impostor / fantasist of course, but the reality effect, the telling detail: the film and who chose it... Sadly no further details (popcorn or Revels, did Brian pay) were forthcoming.

Can't help but imagine the famously priapic Eno suggesting some extraordinarily refined and experimental perversion as a way of rounding off the evening. But what might it have been? 'Burning shame', 'warm jets' or another card plucked from his pornographic deck?*

What I really want to know: somewhere in his cupboard of old unreleased master tapes, is there a Music for Fucking?

The notion of porn film music has always bored me, simply because it's always discussed as part of that sniggering post-Boogie Nights C4 naughty-student discourse... moustaches bad accents such silly scenarios! plumber arrives clothes fall off girl teehee etc. In this context porn music is always sleazy, cheezy library muzak.

But what would Eno's Music for Fucking sound like? You know you want to hear it too.

Pornography is always opposed to 'art' because it seemingly has no transcendental aspirations, it only satisfies basic physical desires. Where art is considered to have failed, its failure is often given the name of porn, it's reclassified as 'mere' porn. Examples: to their critics, Michael Mann or James Cameron make weaponry porn, techno porn; Merchant Ivory is mere landscape or Victoriana porn; Bertolucci is just porn porn. Porn is trivial because it's instrumental, aspiring to nothing more than fulfilling a specific libidinal purpose.**

Instrumental has two meanings relevant here:

Music without vocals (in the context of popular music)

And, number one in the Oxford English Dictionary:
1.a. Of the nature of an instrument (material or subservient); serving as an instrument or means; contributing to the accomplishment of a purpose or result.
Segueing out of his initial post-Roxy persona as a shadow Bowie, Eno's projects of course fit both these descriptions: the Ambient series, Discreet Music, Music for Films (all of which were continuations of the trajectory implied by No Pussyfooting, Evening Star), plus moments on Another Green World and Before and After Science.

So forget the notional Music for Fucking – has Eno been attempting the pornographization of music all along?

Susan Sontag's famous conclusion at the end of 'Against Interpretation' is this: 'In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.' ***

In other words, criticism should abandon the hopeless of aim of explicating the discursive 'content' of art, the assumption that all its significance can be clearly translated into language.

The section that builds to this conclusion is very Eno avant-la-lettre:
Once upon a time (say, for Dante), it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to design works of art so that they might be experienced on several levels. Now it is not. It reinforces the principle of redundancy that is the principal affliction of modern life.

Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there. This cannot be taken for granted, now. Think of the sheer multiplication of works of art available to every one of us, superadded to the conflicting tastes and odors and sights of the urban environment that bombard our senses. Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life - its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness - conjoin to dull our sensory faculties. And it is in the light of the condition of our senses, our capacities (rather than those of another age), that the task of the critic must be assessed.

What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.

Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.
Well, porn is only addressed to one 'level' of experience, as are the palliative Ambient records. What is Discreet Music if not a project designed to take the listener out of a modern world whose plenitude 'dulls our sensory faculties', and by resting the senses, aims to make them 'hear more'? 'Against Interpretation' argues for a libidinal sensory phenomenology to take its rightful place over incidental semantic 'content'. Take Eno's lyrics, which he happily admits are nonsense composed only with an ear for their phonetic, acoustic properties: this is precisely Sontag's plea coming to fruition (oo-er etc).

Category error alert: Eno isn't a critic, he's a musician? Keep up. All art is a form of critique. Every record is a critique of previous records, directly or indirectly. Opposing art and criticism is as false as divorcing form and content. That's not to level down artists or valorize the critic, but the two practices are not as easily separable as popular convention would still have it. Eno's eroticization of sound is also an eroticization of process, of systematization – and of criticism.

Me so horny!

* Afterthought, on Oblique Strategies. This quote from the Chrissie Hynde NME piece: 'It's a burning shame that most people want to keep pornography under cover when it's such a highly developed art form - which is one of the reasons that I started collecting pornographic playing cards.' So forget the I-Ching, Eno clearly came up with the idea of Oblique Strategies while shuffling a deck of pornographic cards in bed, trying to decide what to do next. Conversely, try reading some of the Strategies with your 'larger brain'... 'State the problem in words as clearly as possible'. (Talk dirty). And so on: 'Repetition is a form of change' (Don't stop) – I leave it to the reader to paraphrase these... 'Honor thy error as a hidden intention' – 'What would your closest friend do?' – 'Are there sections? Consider transitions.'

** Of course, there's nothing so deceptively simple and endlessly problematic as desire and the ways in which it's constructed. (For starters, see Dominic Fox here, here and here).

*** Sontag's essay can be read in full here.

26 June 2009

Link-death served four ways

Here are four...

of the most frustrating...

things you can read...

on the net.

Link-death is one of the main reasons why I actually want to keep YouTube embeds down to a minimum. A post built around YouTube is at the whim of copyright claims and fickle uploaders.

[Request: does anyone have archives of Heronbone? And where did Aloof From Inspiration go?]

25 June 2009

The New Dance Show

So this is The New Dance Show, the subject of discussion in yesterday's screenshot trailer. Basically Soul Train for local Detroit TV, it ran late '80s to mid '90s. I stumbled over it while digging for doomcore stuff on YouTube. One of Marc Arcadipane's many aliases was Cyborg Unknown, and his Year 2001 sounds amazing here (wait for the shift at 3:30).

Cyborg Unknown – Year 2001

Guy Called Gerald – Blow Your House

Again, the lo-res digital transfer seems to suit the track. A Guy Called Gerald all the way from Manchester to the home of his beloved Juan Atkins and Derrick May. Great anecdote in the comments from someone who must have been a runner or something at the time:
It's weird how this mix came about. Jesse wasn't in the studio that day and we had to come up with some music to play on the show. I had a CASSETTE in my car and gave it to the producer to play so we could have some music. I mixed these 2 songs together in my basement! No Bull.

Dan Bell – Elextric Shock

Detroit local and old Richie Hawtin connection through Plus 8 Records...

Channel X – Yeah, I'm Freaky

Some ridiculous booty music.

What I like about these videos is the sense of almost archaeological distance. These are relics from another epistemology, an era before the moving image and recorded sound became uber-digitized and endlessly distributable and reiterable. It feels like there's a naivety, a lack of self-consciousness, a willing jokiness to the dancers which seems so... enviable somehow. It's not that they thought no-one was watching – obviously the whole thing was an exercise in display. It's more that, despite the intense futurism of the music, the idea of the internet, let alone YouTube, is so unimagined, unimaginable, to the people you're watching. So while there was an audience present in the dancers' heads, the fact that for them it only extended to Detroit and the not-too-distant vicinity is rendered almost antique, vintage, by its appearance on YouTube, available to millions in dozens of countries.

24 June 2009

next up

21 June 2009

One Year Nothing Made Sense

'The Light' is pretty much the only Common tune I've ever cared for and such was my antipathy for the rapper that for a long while I considered the track a kind of sample-delivery machine: you wait patiently through the verses for the gorgeous, glistening [sampled] chorus...
Simon Reynolds over here in a blog about J-Dilla.

Fingers twitching spasmodically while reading... Dilla important to backpackers but never a backpacker... RZA was 'unquantized' well before Dilla... other... pedantic... unnecessary... observations... [swallow – gasp]

But as the first in a series of shameless fanboy 'I Love _____' posts, I want to make a case for Common, justify his existence a little bit, after Simon’s critical-beatdown-in-passing. Specifically, I want to make the case for his ’97 album One Day It'll All Make Sense.

This record came out in the autumn of that year – a year that hardly compares release-wise to the riches of '92-'94, but is properly significant in hiphop history. Consider the following three records.

Late spring, Puff Daddy's ‘I'll Be Missing You’. The inauguration of hiphop as commercially supreme musical force. Took a hiphop subgenre which was already tragically prevalent – the elegy to a fallen friend – and Hallmarked it, made even the funerary oration an excuse for the prominent display of superbikes, and a messianic all-white dress code. Sold itself to a massive crossover audience using a sample of The Police: a black impresario (Coombs) re-digesting a band which was already a re-digestion by three white guys of black Jamaican culture. The logical product of this kind of no-added-value cannibalism was the career of Jennifer Lopez (Sean Coombs’ later girlfriend), in which classic hiphop beats (Craig Mack's ‘Flava in Ya Ear’, The Beatnuts' ‘Watch Out Now’), already works of sampling, were sampled again, double-filtered for maximum pop slick. I could go on.

Late summer: The anti Puff Daddy, Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus. An album full of dazzlingly horrible ideas; beats like bruises, rhymes bipolarized into hyperactive thought and catatonic depression. Difficult, malevolent, serrated, a record as fiercely anti corporate culture as anything by Ian Mackaye or Steve Albini. But one that, as good as it was, had a pernicious effect: it validated an entire subsequent anti-mainstream subculture, indie hiphop, art hiphop, that succumbed to the logic of the purist’s ghetto, in which miniscule sales became a proof of quality / credibility. An example of the classic as uncopyable, a cul-de-sac.

Late summer: Wu Forever, the record which, if you believed the RZA’s hype, would be the Rosetta Stone for music’s next millennia, the blueprint for its past, present and future – don’t you see the letters RZA in Mozart? he would ask interviewers at the time – a bringing together of the arcing solo-career vectors of Meth, ODB, the GZA, RZA, Ghost, Rae et al into something that would transcend even the sum of those colossal parts. Turns out, like a bad marriage ‘forever’ meant '93-'97... Well, I do think there's a good single album struggling to get out of Forever's labyrinthine immensity. And Supreme Clientele and N**** Please were still to come. But still, as Owen observes, from this point on the Wu were in decline.

So, the end of a good era, the start of a bad, and a subnarrative that looked like a new beginning but was really more of a culmination.

This is the scene into which One Day It’ll All Makes Sense issues, so it’s not surprising if it got lost a little in the fuss. But it’s a record that reflects those growing pain convulsions, all the eddying tensions of cash, cool, credibility, cartoon violence or complexity; it amounts to an argument over what hiphop is, should or can be. There are tracks that just thump with that offhand steadiness of peak-era Evil Dee, Premier or ATCQ: ‘Invocation’, ‘Real Nigga Quotes’, ‘Hungry’, ‘Stolen Moments Pt II’. But there are also moments where Common tries to push things forward, ask messy existential questions in a way that could lead him into (potentially) tediously ‘mature’ pastures. This is an album that addresses something Matt Ingram used to write about, the opposition between beatnik and avant-yob. Common is trying to find a position where he’s not mindlessly commercial (Puffy), not creating a falsely criminal self narrative (Biggie), but nor is he disappearing into coffee-shop radical-chic irrelevance. The Stakes are High, and the album is in part a continuation of De La’s debate on that album; the aim is the rendering of reality in all its strange sepias, instead of the bare monochromes of Sin City caricature. The crises pile up: religion on ‘G.O.D.’… city life on ‘My City’ (a Malik Yusuf guest rap*)… And ‘Real Nigga Quotes’ is quickly over and into the agonized walk-through of an abortion on ‘Retrospect for Life’.

‘Retrospect for Life’ sums up what Common wants to do on this record: the re-enchantment of the everyday and its difficulties, or at least the de-mystification of the gangsta pathology. It’s practically Shakespearean in its dramatization of thought: what first promises to be an anti-abortion screed becomes a finely nuanced stream of agonized argument in which Common, almost from line to line, sways between regret and bullish pro-choice radicalism.
I'm sorry for takin your first breath, first step, and first cry
But I wasn't prepared mentally nor financially
Havin a child shouldn't have to bring out the man in me
Plus I wanted you to be raised within a family
I don't wanna, go through the drama of havin a baby's momma
Weekend visits and buyin j's ain't gonna make me a father
The whole thing is soaked in human fallibility; but it's never a question of preaching:
Happy deep down but not joyed enough to have it
But even that's a lie in less than two weeks, we was back at it
The track was produced by James Poyser: Poyser was part of the Soulquarians (as was Erykah Badu who appears on 'All Night Long'), and it was this connection that brought Common to work subsequently with another Soulquarian, Jay Dee (as Dilla was then known), and it's this wider web of collaborations that keeps both Dilla and Common away from the backpacker wastes. The Soulquarians were essentially soul futurists, and even if they didn't make all that many great records in the end, you can't tar them as curatorial classicists.

Not sold? Try this then: Kanye West's College Dropout is patterned on One Day. Common's album gave Kanye if not the entire architecture of his debut, then definitely the blueprint.

Kanye's mentor as a producer was No ID, who made most of One Day’s tracks, and Kanye's first studio time was spent working on this album (though he's uncredited and was probably just the one sent out for Chinese). Look at some of the formal features of the two records. One Day features a track in which Common (with Cee-Lo Green) confronts his anxieties and doubts over religious belief. College Drop-out has ‘Jesus Walks’, in which Kanye (with Rhymefest) confronts his anxieties and doubts over religious belief. College Dropout ends with ‘Late Call’, not a track but an outro: a musical bed over which Kanye rambles in conversational prose. One Day ends the same way, though the genial reminiscences come from Common's father rather than the star himself. Kanye doesn’t have a troubled meditation on abortion and incipient fatherhood, but tracks like 'Through the Wire' and 'All Fall Down' (with its famous line 'Couldn't afford a car so she named her daughter Alexus') do a similar thing in daring to talk about the quotidian, and – crucially – exposing some of the false consciousness in the rap-star model. Both Kanye and Common stage the same ideological battle, wavering between hiphop's tough guy stance and something less theatrical: many-sided, conflicted, something that understands the distance between appearance and reality.

Plus, look at the cover of One Day again, the colour, the image, and compare it to:

OK, so Kanye a) has a giant bear mascot head on and b) is wearing a blazer, but these are the twists he’s putting on a convention, a basic pattern, represented by Common. Take the head (Kanye’s pop-surrealist chipmunk choruses) and the blazer (his deliberate anti-gangsta provocation as middle-class student) away and you’re left with what? Another commemorative image: one for the family album, like Common with his mother at a Jamaican airport, Nas’s ghostly passport photo, Shyheim’s portait with its stock-school-photo background… These four covers amount to a mini-genre of their own. They're all about that disparity between bravado and honesty, and that's a narrative that's crucial to rap history. History may not record One Day It'll All Make Sense as epochal, even if it was released into an epochal year, but someone took it as a ruff draft, and made good on the promise in that title.

* Digression: there's a convention which (I think) is unique to hiphop whereby an artist might have song on his album on which he doesn't feature at all. In other words, a guest rapper delivers an entire track, with the rapper to whom the record is credited not appearing at all. Off the top of my head: 'Wisdom Body' by Ghostface on Raekwon's Only Built for Cuban Linx... 'The Faster Blade' (all Raekwon) on Ghostface's Ironman, 'BIBLE' by Killah Priest on GZA's Liquid Swords...

** Some circumstantial connections: Common appears on The College Dropout, No ID has just produced ‘Death of Autotune’ for Jay Z and Malik Yusuf has just had a Kanye-produced record out on an imprint run by the producer.

18 June 2009

More gloom and doom

At the end of this post in my round-up of apocalyptic/millenarian popular music, I completely forgot about dubstep's hazier edges. The first Burial album of course: London flooded by global warming. Shackleton's stuff is absolutely soaked in future-dread, and Villalobos's remix of his 'Blood on my Hands' was subtitled 'Apocalypso Now'. I think Sam has cited DMZ & Loefah's 'Horror Show' as the track that got him into dubstep. Worth checking its very doomcore klaxon-squeal and background shrieks. entschwindet und vergeht reckons this stuff needs a name of its own: 'What to call it? "Despondant-Techno"? "Mournful Minimal"?, perhaps it should be known as "Haunted House" (arf arf!)' ... Doomstep surely!

Simon Reynolds also linked to an article of his on doomcore/gloomcore over at Blissblog. Faaaar more historical background and detail than my effort and some great descriptions:
PCP's punisher-beats are cunningly inflected, alternating between saturated intensity and stripped-down severity. Above all, creativity comes into play with the timbral density of the kick itself: how thick, how wide, how voluptuously concussive each cranium-denting impact can be.
Voluptuously concussive! These quotes from The Mover also grabbed me:
'Mover is dark because it's set in the phuture of mankind. I can't possibly justify seeing a happy end to this stupid human drama. Darkness is not mystical, it's your everyday reality.'

'Imagine surveying earth after nuclear destruction and enjoying what you see, that's how it feels when you listen to it.'
...Because they sound like Malefic from Xasthur interviewed here:
Genocide is the ultimate goal, the ultimate dream as is the most fair and deserving thing to solve all the problems and hypocrisies of this world. We are all asking for it, whether we know it or not! This is one way that you might consider it to be subliminal. Behavior is contagious, death is contagious, suicide is contagious, therefore genocide is contagious-- if you really open your eyes and take notice. Destructiveness and negativity is hidden in all of our words, actions (or lack there of), thoughts, and sentences. We help each other fail, none of us are doing anything to rehabilitate this planet, so therefore we are shaping its end. We are all fulfilling a prophecy, once again, whether we know it or not! Hopelessness is the key to the domino effect and it begins here, going beyond good or evil. There is only chaos.
Finally, does anyone know of black / death / doom metallers who have listened to gloomcore – and vice versa? Does the Mover dig Burzum?

17 June 2009

The minimal workshop

There's a great piece by Louis Menand in the latest New Yorker, a review of The Program Era by Mark McGurl. The Program Era examines the rise of the creative writing programme in American universities and its effect on the literature of the past few decades. It's interesting enough as it is, but I think a couple of the points made are relevant to minimal – minimal techno, microhouse etc – that it perhaps locates an anxiety buried deep in the form...

The creative writing programme, Menand explains, is premissed on the idea that the production of literary fiction can be taught, and its main tool is the workshop. In the workshop, a group of students share and discuss each other's work, led by a tutor (ie a published author), with the theoretical result being that submitting to this group-crit will improve each writer's work. (There's a longer explanatory quote at the end of the post).

Example: Raymond Carver is a product of these workshops. His career, Menand writes, 'constitutes a virtual tour d’horizon of the creative-writing scene.' (See end quote 2).

Did the workshops have an effect on Carver's writing? Yes, says Menand, and McGurl's argument in The Program Era is that Carver's writing can be understood not as something 'honed' in a generalized way by group-crit, but... as a style specifically tailored to survive the scene of the workshop. Menand:
The form of a Carver short story—ostentatiously brief, emotionally hyper-defended—expresses something. McGurl thinks that the style represents the “aestheticization of shame, a mode of self-retraction.” Literary minimalism like Carver’s—McGurl calls it “lower-middle-class modernism”—is a means of reducing the risk of embarrassing oneself, and is one way that students from working-class backgrounds, like Carver (he was from Oregon, where his father was a sawmill worker), deal with the highbrow world of the academy.
So Carver's minimalism was an evasion strategy as much as anything. As a response to the workshop experience and its pack of benign pedants, misreaders, projectionists, Carver develops a style which offers the smallest possible target for his fellow workshoppers. (Of course what looks like an absence of style or an 'anti-'style is no less a style itself, but this is something people often find hard to grasp... the idea that style and content are separable has a limpet-like tenacity, 'style' continues to be characterized as excess and so Carver, by stealth, could slip through the net of nitpicking methodological critique).

This is a long set-up.

So if that's one way of understanding Carver's minimalism, isn't it possible that minimal techno and microhouse might not reflect a similar pressure... Filesharing, MP3 blogs, blog aggregators, a subgenre called 'bloghouse'... I listen to this stuff as a refuge from the 21C sensory overload of signs, sounds, texts, images, but given the intensity, speed and bandwidth at which critical response and feedback can be exchanged in the utopian uplands of Web 2.0, is someone like Villalobos (or whoever), even if only subconsciously, producing tracks engineered, like a car in a windtunnel, to be streamlined enough to slide past the critical listener?

end quote 1:
Creative-writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers. People who take creative-writing workshops get course credit and can, ultimately, receive an academic degree in the subject; but a workshop is not a course in the normal sense—a scene of instruction in which some body of knowledge is transmitted by means of a curricular script. The workshop is a process, an unscripted performance space, a regime for forcing people to do two things that are fundamentally contrary to human nature: actually write stuff (as opposed to planning to write stuff very, very soon), and then sit there while strangers tear it apart. There is one person in the room, the instructor, who has (usually) published a poem. But workshop protocol requires the instructor to shepherd the discussion, not to lead it, and in any case the instructor is either a product of the same process—a person with an academic degree in creative writing—or a successful writer who has had no training as a teacher of anything, and who is probably grimly or jovially skeptical of the premise on which the whole enterprise is based: that creative writing is something that can be taught.
end quote 2:
[Carver's] career constitutes a virtual tour d’horizon of the creative-writing scene. Carver started as a correspondence student in an outfit known as the Palmer Institute of Authorship. He took classes at Chico State, in California, with the novelist John Gardner; at Humboldt State College, with the short-story writer Richard Cortez Day; at Sacramento State College, with the poet Dennis Schmitz; and at Stanford, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow; and he taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with John Cheever. His second marriage was to another creative-writing professional, the poet Tess Gallagher, and he ended up as a professor at Oates’s alma mater, Syracuse, where Jay McInerney was his student.

14 June 2009

Bosch Bosch Bosch Bosch

Reign Fucking Evil Gates of Hell Apocalypse Astral Demons Last Dawn Burning Universe Slaves Dark Forces Inferno Spheres of Light Symphonies of Steel Living Death Doomed Immortal Skeletons Witch Trial Legion

Party time. The above looks like a cut-up of a random selection of black metal or doom metal but it's in fact all taken from various techno 12s from the late-90s doomcore / terrorcore scenes. Black metal, or at least, the idea of black metal has acquired such a heavy importance now, I've ended trawling through this stuff again, trying to work out what, if anything to make of its overlapping obsession with the terminal points of the hellish apocalyptic sublime.

I find it more interesting than black metal, because there's such a weird tension between its maximalized nihilative death-drive, right up in your face, while in the background are its roots in Acid culture and its ecstatic spaces, shared utopia. I guess it's a logical unfolding of a very ancient theory of hedonism: the Dionysian or Bacchic frenzy in which unhinged orgiastic revelry ends in the madness of the Maenads tearing victims limb from limb. Plus a dose of the good old Gothic sublime, the pain-pleasure nub/rub, from the Summer of Love to the God of Hellfire, souls writhing in the abyss, The Dance of Death, four-to-the-floor conceived as Hieronymous Bosch-Bosch-Bosch-Bosch.

But that makes these records sound figuratively 'hotter' than they are. They're cold sounds for a post-human cybernetic world: arctic reverbs, icy hi-hats, riffs that are like blocks of binary bled dry of any of r'n'b's libidinal pentatonic juice. This chimes with the Arctic atmospheres of Xasthur, KTL or Burial Hex, just as those holocaust synth sweeps, dredged-up, stygian basslines, and, at the higher end of the tempos, the pummeling kick-drums, as flattening as tank treads, start to recall the flattened blur of extreme metal's blast beats.* [see footnotes at end of post]

The difference, very broadly, is the direction the two face culturally. Black metal is all about unspeakable mythopoeic atavisms. It looks back into legend for its vision of the world and its end. Doomcore faces forwards into dystopia, to death-by-machine. It's the music for a Cyberdyne staff party, the music that would play in a bombed-out warehouse shell, carpeted with human skulls for ten thousand stripped-steel Terminators on R&R to get off their CPUs to.

[Above: Let's Dance]

Dominic Fox's excellent discussion of misanthropy and modernism is relevant here:
Here we find the means to distinguish between two modernisms. The first, which is avant-gardist, seeks a new body beyond the law and assembles its cadre according to a novel and enigmatic chording of affinities. The second, which is aristocratic and reactionary, wishes to “affirm the hierarchies”, to maintain (or recover from obscurity) an eternal principle of separation between the values of the elite and those of the levelling, democratic “mass” culture.
I would say doomcore tends to the former, black metal to the latter. There is a lot more to be said about the politics of this stuff, but for now...

A note

After the hip-house post, I don't want this blog to become a YouTube lens, but I've done it again with this one, not only so that anyone unfamiliar can check some of this stuff easily, but because having a whole stack of tunes turns the post into a kind of aleatory make-your-own-Merzbow machine. Set any number of them playing in any combination and you get an un-Holy mess that's equal parts power-electronics : techno : metal. I'd submit that it provides a soundtrack to Splintering Bone Ashes' recent posts, a soundtrack which one commenter there requested.**

Biochip C - Fucking Evil

The quote at the start is from Hellraiser III: 'There is a secret song at the centre of the world, and its sound is like razors through flesh. Oh come, you can hear its faint echo right now. I'm here to turn up the volume. To press the stinking face of humanity into the dark blood of its own secret heart.' Which I guess is the keynote for all doomcore from this track on Force Inc in 1993, though the track itself is full of a juicy acid squelch later doomcore would strip out.

Mescalinum Utd - Symphonies of Steel 1

The clang of the future! On Planet Core Productions in 1993,

Mover and Rave Creator - Astral Demons

From 1994 on Cold Rush, probably the most important label along with PCP.

Freez-E-Style - Enter The Gates Of Darkness (Stay Strong, Raise The Flag And Spread The Spheres Of Light)

Also on Cold Rush in 1994. That title: pure doom. Were they listening to early Earth?

Negative Burn - Gates of Hell

Renegade Legion - Dark Forces

Both on Dance Ecstasy from 1996.

Reign - Skeletons March

Searching for Reign on YouTube threw up Slayer (Skeletons of Society) which just goes to show...

Pilldriver - Apocalypse Never

One of history's great kickdrums? Cold Rush again, 1997.

Auteur section:

Zekt - Nuclear Indicator - 1994

Zekt - Sound & Vision - 1997

Not a Bowie cover in case you were wondering.

Zekt - Last Dawn

On Drop Bass Network in 1995. This track features the Lord of Darkness on the mic: "I require the solace of the shadows and the dark of the night!"... from Legend, a film from my childhood which only seems to get weirder as I get older. The involvement of Bryan Ferry... Tim Curry's big red phallic chin... Tom Cruise in a miniskirt, touching a unicorn's horn...

The Horrorist -- Flesh is the Fever - 1997

Terrorcore made the metal aesthetic of doomcore rather thunkingly explicit, through actual interpolations of metal sonics

Jack Lucifer -- I am Living Death -- Kotzaak 1995

Kotzaak was the big label for this stuff. Something very straight-to-video about it for me.

If nothing else, this stuff should make you hear Justice differently.

No doubt original doomcore types scoff at this stuff the way blacker-than-black metallers deride Sunn O))) as latte metal. Well, DANCE is unforgiveable, but the doom-electro of Waters of Nazareth has definitely got something.


* The obsession with apocalypse, the end of history... it crops up in techno and metal, but also in roots reggae, and you get some millennial moments in hiphop: Wu Tang Forever, Nastradamus and especially on the eschatological Killah Priest album. (Of course in roots & hiphop it comes from rasta and Baptist pre-occupations with Revelation Time, rather than the atavistic return of modernism's will-to-decimate described above.) Then there's apocalyptic folk: the millenarian visions collated by Harry Smith, Greenwich Village Armageddon blues, and later Current 93 and Coil. Postpunk scorched Earths like The Pop Group. My Life in The Bush of Ghosts as 'millenarian manifesto'. Not to forget Time Zone's World Destruction. And what you could call Apopalypse: moments in Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, REM...

** Not convinced by the vision put forward by Alex in these two posts at all. The second advocates (and references) a position which Dominic, here, is only describing:
'Pure misanthropy…not self-pity”: in order to be pure, misanthropy must be purified of any attachment to the human self that would fall within its remit. A world of the dead that despises and rejects that of the living: such is the allegiance of the misanthropist without reserve.'
... But the politics of black metal, the spectre of politics as applied black metal, are another post altogether. K-Punk's latest prose-poem meanwhile is as scorched-earth as ever, and in its devious re-casting of critical response as Troll-like or Vampirical, leaves no room for any but the most intemperate dissent. It can only logically be replied to with the (k)punker-than-punk move of an 'I Hate... K-Punk' post. (Not Mark of course, just K-Punk). But I'd rather suggest that (since Alex regards the 'I Hate...' posts as exercises in bad faith) Mark's rallying cry for all fans to gloriously own up to their fandom be answered. Time for a round of 'I Love...' posts I think...

'Noise is over'

Or at least, 'Noise, as a creatively accelerated period of flux, is pretty much over'. That's David Keenan's verdict on the latest No Fun Fest, as he perfectly skewers the recent tedium of all too much of the Noise scene, especially for its reliance on certain entrenched techniques and 'trangressions'. A sort of avant-conservatism, similar to that outlined in K-Punk's recent posts.

09 June 2009

Credit and Credibility

Fascinated to read about Ian Svenonius' theory about the similarity between the role of DJ and the role of stockbroker, via And You May Find Yourself...:
The DJ-as-artist echoes the new role of the bourgeois as stockbroker/trader; designator of worth and handler of commodities. With the exportation of industrialism the third world and the new role of the imperialist as loan shark/investor, the grooming of the DJ as high priest/star-artist of the culture is a necessary part of ensuring the culture's aggrandization of the broker and the subsequent denigration of the actual manufacturer.
Got The Psychic Soviet on order now. It makes perfect sense: both DJ and broker as tastemaker, their acts of selection creating a kind of cachet, desirability, credibility, value, even when there's little of worth (be it a viable longterm business model or a decent track). The flaw in market economics has always been that it takes insufficient account of consciousness: if people were atoms unconscious of those around them, the market would work reliably, but because they're the opposite, hyper-conscious agents, the markets will always be fundamentally irrational. Brokers will lump in on stocks simply because other brokers are doing so, and offload them simply because other brokers are, producing exaggerated yo-yos in market worth that destroy businesses and economic stability. In this sense, the movement of the market is essentially a register of cool, with brokers gnawing fingernails about whether what they're buying is the hip thing or not. The digger-DJ, the kind who trawls crates and bins to find that unexpected, counter-intuitive, notionally uncool gem, knowing that in the right context, its very uncoolness will provide him with the maximum pay-off of crowd appreciation, is essentially playing the same game as those brokers who seek out apparently dud stocks that they reckon to be simply under-priced.

Svenonius effectively compares the music producer's lot to that of outsourced sweatshop labour in EPZs, which is a little off, even if not many producers make the same money as a Tiesto. Don't know about that use of the word 'necessary' either... It implies that the god-like status of the broker in the system of finance has required the DJ's rise as a kind of prop and propaganda... I don't think there's a causal chain, nor that the DJ-as-artist is essential to the hypnologic of broker-as-god. But there are a world of echoes...

04 June 2009

Hip House postscript

Further proof of my last post's lateness. Sasha Frere Jones discusses hip-house and its resurgence in passing here, linking to this great piece in the Chicago Reader, which features this fascinating portrait of a hip-house scene confidently expecting a blow up that never comes:

Struck me also that Ghostface's Cherchez La Ghost from 2000 could be considered a kind of curdled hip-house; the disco sample, diva vocal, the walking bassline... It's a strange track, the raps being almost a secondary element in terms of track-time, the refrain lifted from Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band sung into a kind of echo-chamber over a kick drum and little else; the sound is scooped out, the effect ghostly. The video does everything it can to reverse this disembodied atmosphere, to create a kind of orgiastic embodiedness through spectacularly lecherous slo-mo... Andrea Dworkin, do not press play:

03 June 2009

Un Hip House

Last summer there was a debate over what to call Wiley's Wearing My Rolex and some of the records that followed (Rolex Sweep, Tinchy Stryder's tranced-out effort etc). They were all unusual in that grime MCs were rhyming over what was basically a four-to-the-floor beat. 'Electro-grime' won the vote I suppose, but for me that didn't really do justice to what was going on. It didn't convey what was significant about the rhythms these MCs were using, the fact they sounded more like house than anything from the grime spectrum, or from hiphop, the obvious first stop for a grime MC looking to branch out.

It all sounded, to me, deep down, like a 2008 resurrection of hip-house. If I'd had a blog then I would have said as much, but I didn't, and now that I do... I'm far too late! Because I was reminded of this by Simon Reynolds' blog-post over at The Guardian where he makes the same point in passing. And there's also a great Top 20 of Hip House in Fact from last month, put together by Alex Waldron from Greco-Roman.

And while rappers from the UK grime scene are migrating towards these beats, a kind of housing of hiphop is also taking place. A-Trak's recent mixes are as much electro, disco, go-go and house as they are hiphop; Kanye West is flirting with house. Why are rappers gravitating towards this rhythm? Boredom with hiphop's current state of atrophy / entropy? Boredom with what feels like its complete disappearance, which has been brought about (in the US) by its total commercial ubiquity?

The Re-Press of the Repressed

All of the above I'd say, but I think there's also a huge transgressive pleasure in play, a thrill at breaking a taboo. Hip-house's return is like the return of the repressed. Hip-house has a strange kind of shame attached to it, a perversity even. Last summer at the very moment that it topped the charts, it was the genre that could not speak its name... this stuff was not allowed to be identified as hip-house.

Because hip-house has been uncool for nearly 20 years: as two genres closely related by birth, hiphop and house, developed and became fully-formed adult identities, a point was reached where to bring the two together was almost like an act of incestuous union: they were related, sure, but that only meant that never the 'twain should meet, that they could not procreate. And this state of affairs didn't happen in spite of its popularity, its popularity only made it less cool. That is, with two 'fully-grown' genres, the purists within each movement formed a kind of ideological team which policed the borders of each.

There was a point in the late 80s when hip-house had a possible future ahead, with records like Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock:

and, of course, the Jungle Bros' I'll House You, the one hiphouse record everyone remembers, as Alex Waldron rather ruefully points out in his Top 20

By 1991, there's a very different view from the Native Tongues. De La's 'Kicked Out The House' is introduced with 'In no way are we trying to disrespect any sort of house or club music, but we're just glad that we're not doing it...' The verse/chorus goes roughly:
Kicked out the house, you got
Kicked out the house, hip house
Kicked out the house for good
(I can't be your lover)

(With your wrinkled pussy)
(I can't be your lover)
(With your wrinkled oh, oh oh)
(I can't be your lover)
As you can see, no disrespect there at all.

So what we have is a case of a 'lost future'. Why? I'd guess because, as argued above, the two genres have grown away from their common ancestry (one example: think about how massive Kraftwerk were for Afrika Bambaataa and other early hiphoppers...). Partly it must be to due to the fondness of Eurocheese club producers for a rap: 2Unlimited, Snap. 'The Power' is an interesting case study. Initially it was put together as a track with an a cappella laid over the top from Chill Rob G's 'Let The Words Flow'. Chill Rob G made was responsible for some of Wild Pitch's finest moments – my favourite being 'Court is Now in Session':

The lines that always stuck out for me being:
It's a pity the way the city treats the poor
I got congressmen, councilmen, tell me what are they for?
I write letters, or better, I even give them a call
But they kick back, cool out in my City Hall
...It's the fact that he remembers it's *his* City Hall that I've always liked.

Now, Chill Rob G's album already featured this hiphouse excursion before Snap appeared on the scene:

...But Snap, when it came to release the single, ended up using not Chill Rob but an unknown rapper called Turbo B (presumably to economize & avoid paying Chill Rob). Another curious historical detail: Nomad's I Wanna Give You Devotion, another hip-house hit from '91, was based on a sax riff sampled from the original instrumental of 'Let The Words Flow'...

Chill Rob digression over.

Release Yo 'Delf?

So around the turn of the 90s hiphop and house were sundered, although their mutant offspring manages to hide in plain sight in the charts, in tracks like Jason Nevins' remix of Run DMC's 'It's Like That' (is this the purest hip-house record of all time? And if Daft Punk had been the remixers what would have happened next?)

The main point of division though I think is this... House is predicated on a sensual logic which demands surrender, release, ecstacy, Ecstacy, rapture. Now hiphop is about many things, and is capable of its own kind of sublime, but one thing it is definitely is about keeping one's cool. A glance at the trad canon of rap greatness shows you that the great rappers either had a past as a drug dealer or pretended they did, or pretended they still were (Biggie, 50 Cent, Jay Z). The blatantly drug-damaged rapper is a rare thing indeed... There's ODB. RA the Rugged Man? Other than that the extent of it tends to be heavy smokers/snorters... Until that brief burst around '01 when Missy and P Diddy were dropping pills. But I think that's the crux: chemically-induced or otherwise, hiphop culture was too reluctant to lose its cool; too hip for hip-house. It's all part of hiphop's long resistance to lysergic culture (with some exceptions). I think there's a lot to be said about psychedelic hiphop, or the problems with such an idea, a kind of survey of the many attempts to get it off the ground as a direction...

That's it. A Bit Patchy I know (does the provenance of the sample alone practically make this hip-house, rap or no rap?). Most of the above applies to US hiphop in relation to house, whereas in the UK, as much as it may bother the NME-reading section of Dizzee's fanbase, the grime MC has always been closer to the rave than their US counterparts (grime having grown out the trusty old hardcore 'nuum). And probably there's a Woebot dissertation on hiphouse floating around which will show these disconnected ramblings up badly. But there it is.

02 June 2009

Yorkshire dégueulade

I'd like to be able to attend the David Peace symposium taking place at the University of Brighton tomorrow (3 June), but I can't. In fact, noting that Dr Daniel Lea was still 'tbc', I even considered submitting a proposal of my own, just in case...

My proposal wouldn't have resembled Dr Lea's at all, but his title – 'David Peace and Yorkshire Masculinity' – relates to something that struck me often in reading the Red Riding Quartet.

If you think of the rhetoric of the Quartet, its style, its tone, in all its compulsive, hysterical mania, its shrill banshee-wailing, its death-driven lyricism, its delirious need to disclose... If you think of that extraordinary dégueuelade of BJ's at the end of 1983... (a dégueulade is a stomach-emptying vomit)... If you think of 1983 as the process by which John Pigott arrives at a point at which he can disclose a crucial element of his past to the reader... If you think of Nietzsche: 'Only the bravest of us only rarely has the courage for what he actually knows...' And if you think of Peace himself, getting into fight after fight as an adolescent punk (who dressed like a punk) in Leeds pubs...

Then think of the stereotypical laconic-going-on-taciturn-going-on-monosyllabic Yorkshireman. Think of the deadening sarcasm, the emotional autism of machismo, the ruthless way in which a particular blunt commonsense exerts itself to cut down and exterminate any kind of deviation or departure from its own monoculture... You know the type: only comfortable thinking as a pack, only capable of speaking to mock what someone else says.

Peace's entire style can be understood as a protest against the deadening silence of this kind of masculinity.

What I can't decide is whether that leaves Peace vulnerable to a certain kind of bathos.