Monday, March 27, 2006

Reclassifications, and divining significance

It has been a long hard winter in and I realised last week that my soundtrack had been synaptic techno and cold soundscapes (cf: the Aphex post) all season long. So, spring-in-becoming, I looked over at the other boxes and I did it: I played some indie! Not the cool stuff like MBV or The Fall, but early Scream, Charlatans, Doves. All the mediocrities. Don’t worry, I hung myself thoroughly after. What was in the meaning of the songs was irrelevant – in those moments I took from them a certain jouissance, a necessary uplifting of the soul.

Playing the jingle-jangle helped me to arrive at the point my mind had been pondering for a few weeks: Indie-rock is the new folk. It’s the only way to look at it. Indeed, indie is so uncool it can only be folk as-was, and folk is now so cool it can only be indie as-was. The following characteristics make it like folk. The sound is nearly as old as mick jagger himself and that’s more than enough ‘tradition’ to reference/be unable to escape from if you pick up drums, bass and a guitar. Its protagonists place themselves in an approved canon whether they realise it or not. It’s mostly deferring to a quasi-timeless musicality, although it still has some of the music biz trappings of younger-generation playing at rebellious cool (evident in the Arctics’ trying so hard not to be cool). It’s playing to the converted and not affecting the majority of us much at all, although it may claim a message. And because it’s playing to a niche, ie, white middle class adventurers. Do these consumers ever realise that when they get out of their car to buy one of these acts that their choice is a complete reaffirmation of self, not a daring, cool choice at all, as they seem to think.

So let’s try it: “Oasis? - Good folk band”. See. Luckily, folk, with the help of Woebot and co and BBC Digital progs, is finding new niches of its own, so it will be no problem to accommodate the lads and the lasses (indeed, KT Tunstall rose out of a folk scene) and the mountains of baggy jeans, leisure shoes and hooded cagoules at Cambridge, Womad and village pubs where Morris dancers play. All this is applicable of indie rock, in the-searching-for-meaning mode of embrace or feeder. Occasionally you will hear a blast of new guitar pop on something like Zane ‘Zany’ Lowe that’s so infused with manic energy you can only admire it, while reaching for the ‘stay younger’ drugs.

Just as “indie” needs more honest brackets, the ‘sphere has pointed out that in the world of electronica and dance there is also no point in calling latter-day electronic dance acts such as Ladytron or Vive la Fete ‘modern’, we more often say retro-futurist or something more justifiable. Whereas indie is more knowingly recidivist, these ‘retro’ strains can be just as irritating as they still think that they’re part of a nouvelle vague when patently they’re just another act with product and a slightly nuanced sound. This does not mean we accept that modernism as a concept is stone dead, petrified in music’s case somewhere around 1995. Bands like the Junior Boys are keeping the spirit of intelligent innovation alive, while Various Production are defining new shapes too.
R1 jock Z Lowe sits in the middle of this huge marketplace of interesting new music, saying to hell with genres, trivialising meaning (it’s all cause for excitement) and churning them out with a maddening enthusiasm. To people like him it’s just stuff to be added to the iPod (and then listed for the magazines) and the only thing you need is an endless desire to accumulate. I got dinner going the other night with Zane as aural accompaniment. He was doing a “summer’s nearly here” set – mixing old classics with likely new anthems in an infectious way, in many ways the modern archetype surfing the genres without discrimination. The problem with Zane is that for all the eclectic selection he fucks things up with one too many howlers from the indie rock staple. As Ash’s dismal Oh Yeah whines along it’s time to redial to 1Xtra.

Apart from the scene’s prophets with their usual “sounds of the future” epithets, no one has of course yet been willing to cast dubstep as modern, futurist or the next techno breakthrough. Part of this is the obvious consolidating of the music, the ghosts of dub, d&b and garage swirling round in half-life, as well as its patent inability to be seen to carry with it any changes in social attitude or at least to be seen to be saying much about the culture round it (I don’t think “we like weed and feel a bit edgy” is enough – of course, a good proportion of all tech/dance music is not concerned about ‘talking loud and saying something’ and lives in the moment of the tune itself).

What is important, however, is that it is one of the first sounds to have grown because of the internet, and, in its playing with the zeit and the geist, has the potential to make symbolic reference to its milieu, as Burial finely elucidates with Blackdown, or ask different questions of the music/listener relationship, as Kode 9 explains with some erudition (scroll down this first part of a interview) and i intimated at in my review of D*M*Z. Feel the pressure. And in these areas maybe it’s a much better reflector of reality than all these guitar-bass-drum acts with their hard-riffin’ stories to tell. Maybe the name dubstep, a genre-too-far, is affecting its impact.
Not to forget that this post is an opportunity to plug our Cine CEO’s latest MP3 output: Anger Belly makes inspired use of the usual modern beats and textures, including what seems like a derivative Crazy Frog, to hit home. The enemy of complacency and catchy as hell.
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Monday, March 06, 2006

One love for the one sub-bass

The wait – both the queuing outside and for my chance to go to a large-scale dubstep night – was well worth it. DMZ at Mass/Third Bass was heavy. Mr Cinestatic, Czukay and others went down. Those who had queued for so long walked into the now-deserted original setting – they had started downstairs but numbers forced them to move up – and, not sure where the actual rave was, found their expectation morphing into a borderline hysteria. Got to get to the sound! Into the packed upper floor and it’s scary like an old hardcore do, the industrial rhythms and omnipresent bass pounding, everyone in abeyance to the sound. Straight away I lose everyone, finally catching up with them as Skream starts to drop the big guns. His top ends stand out over the bass and we’re shaking and shifting in the right places, or sometimes just letting the body convulse. Not to feel the music is impossible. To say the records finally make sense on this system is to do a disservice to the top-end elements of the haunted dub and ravey instrumentation – but what they’re doing when playing out is privileging the bass sound over all else so that it becomes an overwhelming singularity – it becomes difficult to pick out tonal/note changes as it’s just there, unchanging, imperious, all the time. So though the night in spirit is part of the rave ‘nuum, attracting that type of crowd (and not all blokes either!), how they’re asking the crowd to react is different; if you want to just stand, be passive and let it take over your body, then that seems fine. That’s what I see/hear anyway. Later I catch up with Soul-Jazz man Jonny, who is rapt that the Mystiks are playing out some of the tunes they’re going to simultaneously release on two 12s (BTW his Capracara outing itself is a tidy piece of Detroit/Chicago emulation). By 3:30-ish, we leave, DMZ have administered the sickness and turned my body inside out, and I was only too happy to let them do so. All of which makes me conclude that Skream’s trademark bird-whistling loop that appeared on one of his mix CDs, the sonic equivalent of the stars circling round dazed cartoon characters, is perhaps the most important signifier of this punchdrunk, unforgiving and powerful sound.
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Friday, March 03, 2006

Diminishing expectations: the most disgraceful sonic acts right now

With iPods and personal playlists never more prevalent, one can really engineer and customise their listening to their own tastes and quirks. If you like Merzbow and Merz you are now more normal than those who like to line up Parashits, A Rush of Cum to the Head and X&Why? next to each other in the CD rack. Even HMV is planning a FOPP-style more niched approach now. So this hate-list arguably may never be less relevant, but this lot by virtue of their tedious but ubiquitous product still go beyond the pale…

FOO FIGHTERS Dave Grohl is the Archpriest of low-expectation chart rock. They turned out to be the antithesis of their actually rasping/highly engaged first single/manifesto: “This is a Call [to our past resignation]". Grohl stains the ghost and cult of Cobain. His grunge is liked by radges like Chris Moyles, who just because the guitars growl here and there and isn’t technically poodle rock like the 80s stuff (just the new version of it off the production line) think that it’s somehow ‘cool’. Then, remembering he was slacker-rock, Grohl will make like he’s not trying in a video, when actually it’s an admission that he knows this stuff is pisspoor. Do yourself a favour, be like Novoselic, acknowledge that the Nirvana moment will never be repeated (at least not by you) and get out of the ‘industry’.

ORDINARY BOYS Boys will be boys = "Cun£s will be Cun£s". The faux-ska white love-in/I love 1979 is bad enough but there’s a lot more than the classic posturing of prepubescent ladness that mid-20something male adults indulge in. It comes across like a middle-class tourist midget sails in a retro vessel, which is of course completely consistent with the PR campaign and the subsequent relationship with the Ilford Dunce, which his outlook might have once turned him against... See also Hard-Fi.

PETE TONG, 60, AND GENERAL RADIO 1 ‘DANCE’ Even though most people have stopped listening and started to take control of their own rave/narcotic experiences, the repetitive beat keeps turning by these shameless weekend programmers/dictators. The smart licencepayers money is not on career djs like Tong or Westwood but Ann-Hobbs or those via DAB on 1Xtra.

OASIS Yes a good comp could be knocked up of their early stuff and b-sides but Joyeux Noel himself would acknowledge that he had a few months of inspiration and the rest is dreck. Their stadium gigs are virtually national front rallies these days. Still able to inspire a welter of noisy rock laddishness.

PHARRELL/SNOOP and co. Drop it like it’s sh!t. Applicable to any number of ‘urban’ self pornographers, it’s high time to disconnect from this MTV stream of rabid r&b. Never was their ‘reality’ part of the solution.

JACK JOHNSON (US), JAMES BLUNT (UK) and the new chart-faced singer-songwriter/MOR/folk. Jus’ me and m’coustic, strumming it like it is. These artists bring real-life experience to their work. Indeed, Blunt is happy to have Kosovo footage exploited in his videos. Downhome, naturalist prostitutes, get their music court martialled. Bore of duty, etc.

BLACK-EYED PEAS It’s been said before on blogs whose identities escape me but their forced multicultural popist take on r&b is extremely grating. This elite squad of chart arrivistes are fearlessly capable of appropriating the latest modes and releasing new virii within weeks. A pain in the humps, all told.

GORILLAZ (oh alright then, maybe the strength of the tunes just about outweighs the crapness of the postmodern concepts, it is annoying how they have taken the craze of 80s-flecked electro dance and bettered it).

SNOW PATROL If Keane’s loser-prock (pop rock) can occasionally reach a good emotive melody and the ‘Play once reached a reasonable sonic plateau (then stayed there forever), then the Snow are a blizzard of blunt-edge ‘indie’ flakes, very much like Feeder or any of those quiet/loud four-square acts. Music that sells enough to get these guys their dream hideaway In Highgate or Crouch End.

U2 Slogans and logos where the words mean nothing, loud-not-loud music – only Edge can make a big riff seem so neutered – the papist stance of Bongo, Adam Clayton, the self-appointed guardians of the rock flame, etc. The reasons for despising this band are endless. Their quasi industrial rock which was introduced in Joshua and became their trademark from Zoo Station onwards is just so lame to any reasonably educated ears. Please confine yourself to campaigning (in doing so getting out of our faces like Thom Yorke).

JOOLS HOLLAND [Hand extended out in presentation mode] “Stephen Polliakoff! Sings the songs of Eddie Cochrane! – Get hot new acts, world acts and novelty shit on, ask obvious questions. Let them play next to The Sure. Get a bunch of bourgeois consumers in comfortable shoe-trainers as a controlled audience, as well as a few ‘famous’ faces who are effectively the same people but allowed to sit down, to dole out the apprecipence. Cheapen the value of their work. Beautiful.

ROLLING STONES “You got to go and see the Stones once in your life man. What a show!” Only the same sort of disability wheelchair that Jaggered and Rich-hards came in would get me there. Thanks for the tunes and epoch eventing guys, but please enter Dignitysville whence you came.
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