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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