05 November 2010

North[-East London] by Darkstar

Kode 9: How do you find living in London, being from the North?

James Young: It's tougher I think from a day to day view. Things creep up and you almost have to become good at living if that makes sense. It's unforgiving. I think that's what I'm trying to say. Obviously there's huge differences in the cost of things like rent and travel. It all adds up quickly and it took me a while to get on top of simple tasks like paying bills and then making tunes too. It's like scrapping for a time to be creative here, it's meant to be my priority but how often i get sidetracked is frustrating.

It has a huge influence on our sound being in London. I've built my own life and my world now revolves around this city. I've been here eight years now and I'm very much into the moment here. I like how vast the whole city feels. I like the choice and being able to really get hold of anything I need. That can't happen where I'm from. Even Liverpool and Manchester, both seem so much smaller having been here. Culturally and socially London is obviously far more diverse, from an immediate point of view where I live right now is very close to an Hasidic Jewish area. Within that area on Upper Clapton Road, estates and new developments sprawl off towards Stoke Newington and then in the opposite direction towards Walthamstow it's loud and busy. I pick up things from the Turkish shop below me, eat a lahmacun, sit on the roof with a beer in the evening and wish bus's didn't exist. I get cabs from the same Pakistani guy every time and in his side door compartment he has something called a Fanta twist. It's basically a vodka orange on the job. I watch Liverpool in an Arsenal pub and wish I was at home. I go for breakfast at a cafe at the top of Kingsland road where Micheal Watson eats his breakfast. Twice a week I sit two tables away from a guy that was almost killed in a boxing ring. I know the Chinese girl and her sister in Dans' Island on the roundabout. I know the Jamaican girl in Granny's. I know the fat dry cleaner on Lower Clapton road. The Indian builders who work in the yard behind the flat tip Aiden on working out. All these uneventful things in my day are part of me now. It's light years away from the the north.
James Young of Darkstar talking to Kode9 here.

I really wanted to love the Darkstar album. But it's one thing changing your production style, the way you pattern your drums, kick to snare to hi-hat to bass, or the modulation of your synth tones... If you're changing your style to 'songwriting', that's a different order of change - it's a different territory altogether. The mood of North does get to you, the album's bleakness does start to suck some of the light out of the room, like the unexpected early dark of autumn afternoons, but ultimately it's like you end up feeling sorry for Darkstar rather than yourself. It's detached. There's a patina on every sound: the keys and Buttery's vocals are all fractionally distorted, as if they were working on the assumption that that would character, backstory, fallible humanity to the sound. But what about the poignancy of cold machined perfection? They seemed to know what that was before.

I think the quote above in which Young talks about London is more moving than anything on the record. It's the affectless way he builds up the image, a succession of small but weighed details: it gets at the crowded loneliness of scraping a living among nine million other people too harried to make eye contact on public transport, or queue at bus stops. Pulled out of the interview it may not read that way, but it evokes something of living in London for me with Carveresque economy.

02 November 2010


'Galaxe', aired 18 July, 1974

'Cover Me'

Who is reading Bettye Swann correctly here? Duffy or Blissblog?

My first thought, definitely Duffy. Innuendo has a long history in black American music by 1968, whether in blues, r'n'b, soul, or rock'n'roll. Led Zeppelin's 'Lemon Song' in 1969 - 'squeeze... till the juice runs down my leg' - dates back to Robert Johnson, 'Travellin Riverside Blues' (1937). And doesn't covering someone itself bear a strong sexual trace - isn't covering / being covered used as a euphemism in Elizabethan drama? Duffy's 21st century post-porn-boom reading suggests the money shot, which feels anachronistic, but then again, the withdrawal method of contraception didn't disappear overnight with the appearance of the pill.

And who's to say they're Swann's words anyway? Could be a songwriter sneaking something in under the singer's radar. And the sole credited composer is in fact not Swann but Marlin Greene. Greene produced and played guitar for Percy Sledge though – and it turns out that Sledge recorded 'Cover Me' before Swann... in 1967.

Duffy's reading is obviously available whatever the author's intentions, the text is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it. The song belongs to the public. Et cetera. One day I'll post my reading of Meat Loaf's 'I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)' and the unspeakable sexual practice to which it refers.

But I think we can be fairly sure the Duffy Interpretation *wasn't* the one uppermost in Percy Sledge's mind as he recorded it. Was it?

note: has to be the worst Youtube visual of all time? it's the directional flashing lights that clinch it. only vid I could find of the 1967 version though.

postscript - 'Umbrella' ?

06 October 2010

The Apprentice: Unionize!

I'm looking forward to the return of The Apprentice for its sixth series tonight, as I'm confident that this will be the year everything changes.

2010: the year a Tory-led government declared its intentions to lay off thousands of public sector workers, made war on the welfare state, and committed itself to cuts in spending that will hardly boost private sector employment. The year Boris Johnson proposed amending union legislation in such a way that, as he crowed to Jeremy Paxman, 'would stop nearly all strikes' from happening. Yes, 2010 will be the year in which the sixteen contestants smarten up and realize there is only one way to beat the system: unionize.

Picture the scene: the two teams are in the boardroom, and Sir Alan is beginning his inquest, inviting the team-leaders to point fingers and pin blame. But no! 'We believe in collective responsibility, Sir Alan,' comes the reply. And also collective bargaining. The contestants reveal their demands: the weekly redundancy round is to be scrapped, or everyone walks in Week 1 and there's no show. The full complement will progress through each week's task, and the prize at the end re-adjusted, so that instead of one uber-Apprentice earning £100,000 a year, instead four roles paying £25,000 a year will be created, each filled by four job-sharing Red Apprentices. That's not a proper job some might grumble, but the job-share leaves all the contestants with ample free time to pursue their real dream: turning their TV appearances into a full-time media career, with the prospect of a job on Channel 5 hovering luminescently before their eyes.

It'll never happen of course. Partly because by its very nature, The Apprentice attracts (and the producers select) not genuine entrepreneurial talent but a particular kind of sociopath and narcissist who, if they're not after that Channel 5 job, aspires instead to the safety-roped glamour of a massive corporate cocoon. Rather than embark on a genuine project of wealth-creating capitalism, they're after nothing more than a comfy perch in a huge managerial nexus.

But also because to take The Apprentice at face value, as the self-styled 'toughest job interview in the world' is mistaken. Sure, it looks like it's packed with all kinds of didactic tips not just for would-be Sugars but any feckless job-seeker. It looks like it's aimed at the upwardly-mobile aspirational go-getter.

But it's not. It's a series of object lessons for the modern neo-liberal employer. For a start, the contestants are not out of work: they're on The Apprentice. They're given food, lodging, and jobs to do, for weeks on end. They don't get told their application was unsuccessful: they get Fired.

They exist instead in that strange precarious purgatory which will be familiar to millions for whom the concept of job security has become a joke. They are the temps, aware that they can be referred back to their agency at any time on the slightest whim, personal or professional. They are the contract workers, constantly aware that a clock is ticking down towards joblessness. They are the young graduates told they have to undertake, and be grateful for, a three-month unpaid internship to even dream of a career in journalism or TV. They are - even - the architects told that yes they should spend most of their time working towards competitions which only one practice can win, because 'Have you ever taken a run to prepare for a race? Was that also not fun? Thought can atrophy if you’re not careful.'

Instead The Apprentice is an extended lecture course for employers in keeping overheads down by maintaining a minimal, quiescent workforce. Lesson 1: divide and rule. The teams compete ferociously against each other. They are encouraged to turn on each other in the boardroom autopsy. They are repeatedly broken up and re-organized to prevent bonds of friendship and understanding developing. Lesson 2: outsource supervision. The effect of the constant division and competition means the apprentices regard each other as the enemy at all times, they become a weirdly self-policing cult of mutual hatred, a kind of private-sector Stasi, desperate to note, recall and regurgitate each others' petty errors and fibs. Lesson 3: prizes are the opium of the apprentice. Days at the races, massages, cocktail-mixing classes for winning a task? Yes, you too can distract your workforce easily by throwing them treats. They look generous: company outings! Christmas meals! Drinks on Friday! But they cost a pittance relative to little HR issues like pay-rises in line with inflation. Or proper benefits. Or not telling two people in the same job they will both have to re-interview as one role is being scrapped.

Because that is what you see in The Apprentice. Not the world's longest or toughest job interview, but a long, slow, horribly diverting process by which a department of sixteen is hoodwinked by redundancy rounds into becoming a department of one.

hauntological harbinger

Michael Mayer talks about five records of personal significance here, one being Tipsy, and their 1997 record Triptease. A quick Youtube search brought up this:

Now, maybe I was slightly predisposed to think this by Position Normal featuring earlier on the list (1999's Goodly Time), but that sounds surprisingly Ghost-Boxy and hauntological to me. The rest of the album, from what I can make out, is closer to the spaceport departure lounge vibe that some Stereolab evokes: that impression of cosmonauts drinking cocktails by curved swimming pools with bossa nova on in the background. But even then it suggests a loop back through Broadcast, and Rojj's percussive touches... And it came out on Asphodel, same label as turntablists the X-ecutioners: the geist of found vinyl scraps.

29 September 2010

This Flying V ukelele is available in the kids department of Habitat.

It has no frets and the tuning pegs are for show. For some reason it makes me think of David and Samantha Cameron.

27 September 2010

Buddy Holly and indie

Long-time rock fans have always been bitterly divided about him. He wasn't a hardcore rocker, being too gentle and melodic, and this eccentricity can be construed either as backsliding or as progression.
Holly's breakthrough, in fact, was that he opened up alternatives to all-out hysteria. Not many white kids had the lungs or sheer hunger to copy Little Richard but Holly was easy. All you needed was tonsils. The beat was lukewarm, the range minimal – no acrobatics or rage or effort required. You just stood up straight and mumbled.
In this way, Buddy Holly was the patron saint of all the thousands of no-talent kids who ever tried to make a million dollars. He was the founder of a noble tradition.
Nik Cohn, Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom (1969), pp. 42–3
Yes, and though Nik Cohn couldn't know it writing in 1969, that tradition turned out to be indie.

24 September 2010

The Honeycombs

The sound of a caffeine overdose.

22 September 2010

BYG Actuel on a budget

As XTRA is to Folkways, so Affinity is to BYG Actuel and its heavyweight run of classic free jazz. That is to say, surprisingly unloved and affordable licensed represses. BYG Actuel, set up by Jean-Luc Young, Jean Georgakarakos and Ferand Buros, was short-lived. Affinity was an imprint of Charly, the reissue label which Young subsequently ran. Comparing the two labels to see which BYG releases Young went back for is intriguing; was he trying to rescue things he thought especially deserved re-release, or what he thought was commercially salvageable?

Again to a Record Collector reader the paltry sums these records have cost me are probably just list price, but a) the original pressings really aren't cheap, b) the more recent vinyl reissues feel a bit too much like buying fake antiques and c) I like the peculiar typography. The layout is, I guess, meant to be stark and austere. The rule goes:

given name
[pic] surname
album title

...and I can imagine the designer being vaguely pissed off that 'Lacy' was going to mess with the usual pattern.

There's also the mild buzz of finding entries from this list in charity shops – a list which on publication way back in prehistory seemed impossibly unobtainable, but can now all be downloaded from a single site.

Although this is my favourite Affinity find, with its not-exactly-common atonal twin harmonica attack (!) and some absolutely scything spoken word by Jeanne Lee. (Video below).

21 September 2010

random Eno album generator

I'm not entirely sure the new Brian Eno album isn't a hoax. Just read him talking about it here, it's hard to imagine a more predictably Eno Eno album. The evocative possibilities of the soundtrack, imagining a soundtrack to an unmade film. Reference to the olfactory – 'lingering perfume'. Use of improvisation (open to chance, derailing the standard model of songwriting etc). Investigation of 'place' and 'space'. Playing with background and foreground. Title that sounds like it could be a sexual euphemism you've never heard of.

15 September 2010


Finally remembered who this Ultrasound band are that Dan Hancox has been tweeting about.

If I remember correctly – and I'd long since stopped reading the NME regularly by this stage (circa 1999?) – Ultrasound were generally written about through the lens of its frontman, Tiny. And as I recall, the tenor of even the most positive of the write-ups veered into a discourse in which you didn't so much enjoy the band directly as enjoy it mediated through the unlikely success of someone with such an unlikely pop body. That is, the triumph of Ultrasound was to be experienced almost Avatar-style, by placing oneself in Tiny's shoes and vicariously feeling the victory of the underdog.

There must be an article/essay/paper/MA thesis to be written here – essentially on how fat people in pop are written about – a kind of discourse analysis, perhaps in four parts, comparing features on Ultrasound with those on Beth Ditto, and outside indie, on Michelle McManus and Rik Waller. Maybe Adele too... I don't think anyone ever raises Ceee-Lo's weight in profiles or interviews.

But this all hangs on that initial IIRC. And maybe I Don't Recall Correctly.

09 September 2010

Genres of the Future 2: Chillwave Metal

The shoegaze aesthetic has returned as chillwave/glo-fi etc. Shoegaze metal has been around for a while – e.g. Justin Broadrick's Jesu. Logically therefore, we can expect chillwave metal to appear sooner or later.

In a way I can't believe it hasn't happened already: the requisite 80s signifiers are there in abundance, not to mention the arpeggios. It's just a question of looping, time-stretching, reverbing, delaying etc guitar shredders instead of synths.

18 June 2010


Rob Young has started up a blog for Electric Eden, his forthcoming book on folk (and the visionary/esoteric in its 20C English tradition) for Faber – check it out. He mentions Dazzling Stranger, Colin Harper's book on Bert Jansch, in passing, which reminded me of one of its footnotes...

A random pull-out of some Folkways records:

Folkways can be expensive, particularly the folk-blues fountainhead bubbling away at the catalogue's heart. Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Willie Johnson, Leadbelly et al. The more self-consciously ethnographic, proto-'world' music stuff – largely recorded on the spot by a man with a mic (a man I always imagine wearing a short sleeved shirt and tie) – seems to come cheaper.

This one comes with a long essay booklet by Samuel Charters recounting his time on the islands, and his difficulties in tracking down (and recording) one of the islands' best singers of the traditional laments sung at wakes, an itinerant alcoholic called Frederick McQueen.

This one is just packed with crazy rhythms and textures. Side one is all solo demonstrations of local instruments, the shitende, the shivelan, the timbila. Side two is a 20-minute orchestral blast of the whole lot. And 5mins of zora drumming (booklet quote: 'The most popular Zora dancers tend to be very plump ladies who create a spectacular effect with rapid upper-torso gyrations in tempo to the drumming' - a more National Geographic sentence it's hard to imagine). For some reason I've never chanced on vols 1 or 2.

The other thing about Folkways is the sheer desirability of the objects: thick card sleeves generally, with wrap-around labels (see above, not very clear pic of spines). And Folkways' design, which was largely done by Ronald Clyne, is amazing – up there with the now wearily over-exposed Blue Note or Penguin catalogues. Clyne designed the two Guthries and the Bahamas above, Irwin Rosenhouse the Leadbelly. Part of me wonders why you don't see Folkways mugs and tote bags and deckchairs on sale. Part of me is too frightened to check the Folkways website in case they are. Will post more on Clyne when this book on him arrives through the post. Interesting to note he was once called a 'folk modernist'. Possible to imagine an American counterpart to the Ghost Box aesthetic which would begin with that socialist utopian vision of the early 60s, the pre-electric-Dylan-at-Newport and extrapolate it forward as a counterfactual, with Clyne's designs as a visual template.

Anyway. XTRA records generally aren't expensive. Here's a couple of mine:

XTRA was an imprint of Nat Joseph's Transatlantic Records (Jansch, Renbourn, Pentangle et al) which pressed Folkways albums for the UK market. I've bought these in charity shops, R&TE, always for peanuts. No doubt to a real collector those prices are right, they're not the Folkways originals. But I have a soft spot for the XTRA layouts even though they're often not-quite-right takes on Clyne's aesthetic. And in one sense, though cheap and unloved, they have a kind of curio value. According to Colin Harper (in that footnote I mentioned), Folkways has only ever licensed its recordings to be pressed and sold by another label once – to XTRA.

14 June 2010

Minus the Shooting

Together with k-punk, Giovanni Tiso, Graham Harman and Admiral Greyscale of Mordant Music (aka Gary Mills) and some other big names still tba, I will be keeping all World Cup thoughts off this blog, and over here. The name is obviously a reference to Orwell's famous essay on international football (readable here), though Orwell is by no means to be taken as the blog's patron saint... in fact I might give the essay a gentle fisking if I find the time over the month. So at some point it may be retitled as Vuvuzela Drone, or The Vuvuzela Syndicate as a nod to its Tony Conrad-ian soundtrack. But the url will remain, like Jamie Carragher, perfectly static; immobile.

02 June 2010

blue sky thinking

EDIT: Seb points out one I should've remembered:

26 May 2010

written in the dark

and then and then and then and then

24 May 2010

ideas i'm never going to use, 1

There was a rumour a while ago that Technics were about to cease production of the 1200 and 1210 - a rumour that seemed all too plausible at the time, even if it was subsequently proved false.

It reminded me of an idea I had years ago, and might as well admit to myself that I'm never going to carry out.

The idea was: produce two records in a gatefold sleeve, the content of which was to be designed to be played simultaneously on two turntables through a mixer.

The tones, the tempos, all would be based on the ratios inherent to the technology: the ratios of 33'/3 to 45 rpm, the facility for pitching playback speed up or down 8%. The listener would have four sides of music, giving the following combinations: side A with side C or D, and side B with C or D. Within those permutations would lie and endless field of adjustments that could be made according to the listeners whim by using different start points, different speeds, etc. Everything about the two discs' content would be made with the possibilities created by identity / contrast in mind.

I never quite worked out the question of difference vs doubling. ie, with two records, each having two sides, should sides A and C be sonically identical, enabling all the strange phasing effects that arise from minute variations of speed? Or should the doubling be limited to patches on each side? Or should side A, B, C, and D all be completely different? What about using locked grooves?

I also never resolved the major difficulty: that it would only have appealed (or at least been readily available as an experience) to those with two decks and a mixer... so essentially amateur/hobbyist/would-be/poseur DJs upwards. If anyone wants to actually do this, please send me a copy when it's done.

20 May 2010

hiphop in the cold world

This isn't so much a post as a home for a comment that kept getting swallowed by the form over at Poetix, where Dominic posted Cannibal Ox's 'Iron Galaxy', noting the 'cold world' sample.

Imagining a hiphop appendix to Cold World, you would have to start with the GZA. And there are innumerable references to ice as diamonds in the millennial burst of bling. But those, like Raekwon's 'Glaciers of Ice' and 'Ice Water', have nothing to do with the cold world as Dom discusses it. MOP are getting there. The first Company Flow album is Can Ox's obvious precursor, both produced by El-P, both radiating toxic coldness, sensibilities profoundly disturbed, not just out of tune, but at war with, mainstream normativity. The first two Mobb Deep albums have a brutalized sociopathic chill to them. I can sort of imagine Ulrike Meinhof nodding her head to them, despite the get-money mindset. And more recently (ish), two Clipse tracks have especially cold veins. Ride Around Shining:

...there's a highly synaesthetic (to me) overlap between the coin-scraped-over-piano-innards sample, 'ice' in the lyrics and the affectless chill of the delivery. It's about a certain joy, a certain exultation in success, but it articulates that pleasure through a sonic lip-curl: no fanfares, no choruses, no excess, just that refrigerated skeletal production. And equally, Mr Me Too I think screams materialist anhedonia and disenchantment:

17 May 2010

The hauntological footballer

Just found the time to digest Radon Brainstorm's 3000-word-plus cri de coeur on the subject of Joe Cole. One to add to BDR in the limited category of music-football crossover blogger. RB might not thank me for this, but you could argue that Joe Cole represents a kind of footballing hauntological: as a prodigy who's never been reckoned to have fulfilled his potential (lost futures!) but also in that the quality of his talent takes the average viewer back to their childhood. That is, his talent is the kind first recognized and most valued by the collective wisdom of the school playground: the sleight of foot, the jink that looks like an optical illusion. So to continue in this specialized path of dribbling and close control is unconsciously perceived by pundits/coaches to be a refusal to grow up, to mature into a cover-and-tackle drone (even when this might represent a neutering of talent and a weakening of the collective).

01 May 2010

riffs, hooks, loops

I wasn't going to get involved in this riff-off going on between Carl, Simon, Matt, Seb et al. The general 70s hairiness of its first few rounds was interesting though. I was trying to decide whether this was because of some kind of implicit set of rules which could never be spoken aloud or even acknowledged, like Mornington Crescent or something. If so, I propose that Rule 2 for this and any future outbreaks of Riff Swap should be that anyone using one of Led Zeppelin's is automatically disqualified.

Sticking to the hairy and pre-punk, I would nominate Creedence Clearwater Revival. I think Suzie Q is a pretty pure example of the form, simply because of the way the first three notes set up and demand the subsequent pay-off of the notes which follow. Born on the Bayou is just gloriously economical, the riff stripped down to these three notes hanging in a laconic lip-curl over the rest of the sound.


Carl mentions hiphop here in the context of rap-rock crossovers. I'd been thinking about hiphop during an earlier round, because isn't it the case that hiphop, at least while sampling ruled the roost, was deeply implicated in the Riff economy? What else is a classic loop than the recognition, cutting and pasting of, a riff (on guitars or otherwise). I know this is stretching the term, a lot, but it's probably worth admitting that really the Riff is essentially just the Hook, renamed for the rockist palate. Acknowledging the close relationship between the Riff and hiphop fits with Matt's developing project on Dissensus and Cybore (in which he is becoming the Northrop Frye of music writing), as it allows hiphop to slot happily into the Rock genus. [I've got more to say about Matt's set of master genres when I get the time.]

Note also that hiphop is capable of maximizing the latent Riff potential in the flute, which, as noted in Simon's bit on Kraftwerk's Ruckzuck for The Wire's Riffs feature, is not easily Riffed upon.

You'd expect some flute within the backpack tendency, it does tend to connote mellow/jazzy/tasteful/yawn etc:

But you also find it at harsher grades:

Souls of Mischief (from 0:23)


Pace Won

Big L

And there's a whole strain of hiphop flute which is just pure filth.


Dre & Knocturnal

DJ Quik & Kurupt

P0rn flute! What's going on here? Something like the pimp logic of deploying 'effeminate' signifiers as an assertion of super alpha maledom perhaps.

28 April 2010

feeling and really feeling

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


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'.


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?


'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.

08 April 2010

getting warmer

Another great post on It's Her Factory, this time reading Hot Chip's 'Over and Over' through Lee Edelman's idea of the sinthomosexual. Briefly, politics for Edelman assumes a reproductive norm, a future predicated on the child, to which homosexuality presents a troubling and unassimilable negation: an apparent dead end. The sinthomosexual is the figure he believes queers (not necessarily to be understood in a strict sense of biological desire) should embrace and work to become, in place of ongoing attempts to falsely assimilate with heteronormativity: marriage, adoption, etc. IHF focusses in particular on Edelman's identification of 'stupid enjoyment', 'repetitive insistence', 'senseless compulsion', and a joy in machinic (machinic because inhuman, inorganic) repetition as aspects of the sinthomosexual aesthetic. (More detail in the post of course, and there's also a superb reading of Edelman to be found at Poetix.)

There's one interesting flaw in IHF's argument for me, when she argues that 'Over and Over'
rejects the humanist preference for musical authenticity, be it in “warmth” of sound, the use of “real people” playing “real instruments,” and humanism’s general tendency to equate electronic sounds with alienation (indeed, the “live video” takes place in a digital editing environment, as the close of the video makes explicitly clear);
The warm/cool binary in discussion of music is at once indispensible and completely unstable. Most people, even if they refuse to grasp the concept of synaesthesia, let alone its spelling, will acknowledge this axis of differentiation. Mapping it onto the human/inhuman and the analogue/digital, it becomes ever shakier, more contingent, schematic, but still a useful code through which to discuss the emotional resonance of timbre.

In the case of 'Over and Over', I just don't hear this rejection of warmth, of live instruments, of the fallibility (because minutely off-grid or off-key) of the recorded human body. The synths sound 'warm' to me, especially the clotted honk of bass in the refrain. The tinkling chimes at the start, the overdubbed cowbell and handclaps, all a little off, if not wonky then knocked off the milli-second accurate maps of a ProTools or Logic grid. The organ in the section IHF calls A1 (third time round), and the (fuzzy, warm) guitar line which comes in at C; these are obviously live overdubs, not machine-cut, sequenced, processed loops.

It also occurs to me that the video's play with green-screen performance, digital sound, the 'real', could be read from the other direction. Is it alienating the pop consumer's warm and fuzzy response (see Devo) or effecting a very different kind of alienation, something like Brecht's foregrounding of staging, so that the CGI rendering of the pop body into a hyperreal avatar is demystified?

This is not to say that IHF's use of Edelman is wrong. I just wonder if forcing it through a cold (wave) electro framework doesn't distort the original song. Presumably a very similar argument could instead be made using disco - warm, wet, embodied, yet surely as sinthomosexual as any music ever made. Not only delirious with repetition, but the source of endless repetitions and reiterations in sampling.

Could you extend this to argue for arch-hetero James Brown as sinthomosexual? To what extent has contraception, as the enabler of non-productive sex, made sinthomosexuals - at least in the site of popular music - of us all?

07 April 2010

uh oh

26 March 2010

23 February 2010

11 February 2010

electroacoustic prose

The subject was not exactly changed by anyone, but it drifted off to something else. Lilly remembered that she had brought an electronic record for them to hear. They played it while they had coffee. Eric chuckled and made comments. The few words, said in German by a female voice, were interspersed by eerie, owl-like moaning and screeching. Clarence's thoughts drifted. He saw a garden of metal flowers, then a dark tunnel, an airless hell in which anything could happen, or spring out. It was an unknown world, yet completely known, as one knew one's own dreams, and yet did not know them -- because one could not completely interpret them, but not because one did not know them and their peculiar atmosphere.

Patricia Highsmith, A Dog's Ransom (1972)

I love depictions like this, made in passing, of the avant garde. The more marginal they are, the more unguarded and interesting they become. This one is quite finely nuanced; one character resists, but the central character responds -- and sympathetically, despite the hellish atmosphere evoked. The record's modernity is not an issue, though it is described in a vocabulary which is doubly atavistic: it speaks to Clarence's violent subconscious, and itself reanimates a fin-de-siecle lyricism: flowers of evil, seasons in hell. What was the original of this fictionalized record? Maybe some scholar of Highsmith and/or Stockhausen can tell me.