Hardly surprising that sonic asides have taken a back seat as part-time fatherhood and full-time work feature. I could reel off a list of the moods and grooves the little smashers have been listening to, but of course that is purely an extension of parental taste when it’s not the cheap versions of classical music hits on colourful toys. And more extreme readers might reel in horror at the chill out/ambient numbers. But they do seem to like unfussy techno that emphasises the synthesised rhythms and bass rather than the instrumentation, nice grooves that they can lock into. And my screaming boy zoned out nicely to Skream’s 0800 the other day.
Hardly surprising that babies seems to ‘get’ most popular/dance music as the best tunes are often defiantly simplistic, formulaic and, worse, nice
. Like babies, the masses don’t want to hear the experimentation, the theoreticising or the dangerous juxtaposition of disparate ideas, they want a brilliant and meliffluous whole. Bliss, via Clark, rightly points out
that grime has been cut up in the urban jungle by the eternally recurring funky house, because that’s of course what the girls like. Bit obvious this one, the garagey/housey bounce never went away from the raves or the pirates while grime, though deserving of props for refusing to dilute, is not about the funk or the dancefloor and has probably had its place in the sun. Caught between r&b, garage and dancehall (often doing similar things sonically but not afraid of space and uncluttered, well layered production), a lifetime of fetishism by bald white anoraks in The Wire awaits. Meanwhile, dubstep, which lost a major online telegraph when Gutter had to take a back seat, is carving out a sustainable niche out for itself as neo roots music, despite the best efforts of some who emphasise the similarities to techstep, taking it nearer to more functional, danceable breakstep tempos. But remember that the best grime and ‘step often relies on a simple catchy hook. Get that, and the rest of the composition follows naturally.
Of course, it’s not just girls who want a good time and not something too challenging. It’s the normal people with their jeans and iPods and car stereos (has anyone ever heard grime out of an auto system?). It’s a pity then that those getting their top-one/nice-one experiences will be doing it to the sound that is essentially the updated/local variant of the disco/house that has served hedonism for 30 years now, and that they’re being prepared, musically speaking, for the Hed Kandi/Defected school of grown up dancing. But if we are to take the long view of popular music development, rather than look for false year zeroes and revolutions, it seems that there are only a few occasions when the multitude are havin’ it to something sonically inventive (Kool Herc and co in the US block party; late 80s hip-hop and rave; 92-94 hardcore-into-jungle); the rest is consolidation and repetition – let’s go round again.
Moving from Bow to Shoreditch and the West End, electronic house rules. Buoyed by a firm bedrock of European experimentation/sophistication on the fringes, mainstream producers took on the lessons from electroclash, descholocked some of the genre’s outré stylings, the excesses of Tiefschwarz et al and the contiguous punk-funk elements, and now we have regular assaults on the charts. Think spindly top end lines, bouncy electronic bass and occasional interspersions of alien, arpeggiated sounds, all chucked over the ubiquitous 120-bpm four to the floor. Zdarlight, Justice v Simian, Booka Shade, Hot Chip’s Over and Over. Again, this is all about pop simplicity – almost any melody line can be effective if the digital sound is already a warped one. It has similarity with the Trapez/Trentmoeller/Playhouse/Villalobos Europhonic minimal emissions, but resounds in the commercial music biz as potential pop smashes.
Still dancing? Then there’s neo-rave, which the NME has been very excited by, not least because the combination of young hipsters taking drugs and dancing to guitary music markets itself conveniently to their own nationally-franchised Club. Less electronic in flavour than any of the actual dance genres which share most of the above components, it’s important to remember that there is no rave in the new version: it’s just students remembering you don’t have to just drink beer and vodka to have a good time; and the Pavlovian register of the best rave is rendered via an angular post-punk palette that has already been so popular this millennium anyway. But again, someone like the Klaxons realise that a two-note bassline can work well with other well-chosen but basic content to hit home.
The mainstream of indie rock has hit new lows: the Fratellis tried simple but went simpleton with the boorish singalong Chelsea Dagger (couched in a certain level of irony, of course); Razorlight pictured themselves in the even bigger stadia of ‘America’ (where the stuff on the TV ‘doesn’t mean that much’ to Johnny – how much gravitas does UK Vision normally provide you Boznut?); the revelation that Tom Chaplin of Keane is in rehab for coke addiction – never before has the music of supposedly quaint, outsider emotion seemed quite so inconsistent with the top 10, balls-out reality. Never before has the complex poetic soul of the indie auteur been exposed for being so much of a sham. But I liked Kasabian’s retrofuturist Empire, wherein the lads emphasised their 70s glam influences far more than their Britrock ones and came up with an enjoyable stomp with the telling message to UK hedonism – “Stop, we’re all wasting away”…