Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pop jungle

It’s the late nineties/early noughties, the rave decade ebbing away. As drum and bass’s form and function disappeared into a cul-de-sac of this very controlling scene’s own making, there was often a debate about how to make the sound more popular without it all going too bland to bother with. We often talked about the junglist virus, but now it was only harming itself. Parasite. Disco flavours infected it for a year or so, John B tried trancing it up (worthy but not quite right), but these were sounds being brought in rather than the key junglist building blocks being brought out. Someone had to U-turn from this dulling impasse.

Then mid-noughties Pendulum started bringing it out of the ghetto, though obviously the taste was too rockist for some (the snares began to sound like rock drums; the tear-outs there but toned down). But it was a key moment, as was Tinnie Tempah going all junglish in the outro of his anthemic Pass Out.

We have had ‘junglist’ sounds in modern pop-dance for four or five years now – that surging breakdown then the release of the amen riff now is as much for thing for Top Man boy and Top Shop girl on the exhiliri-piss in Magaluf as much as the steppers in grimey ex-industrial spaces of the main British cities. Some of this clearly soars – only generic sonic scrooges would deny the rush of DJ Fresh ft Rita Ora’s Hot Right Now or Fresh ft Ms Dynamite’s Gold Dust (Fresh a former member of cartoon dark junglists Bad Company).

Since Rudimental ft John Newman’s Feel the Love (the guest vocalist has become key to new pop), its use even extends into the stock-in-trade of much current pop: melodramatic but vague emotional unloadings such as Jacob Banks' Alive (produced by ravepop torchbearers Chase & Status) – the amen tear-out making not complete sense as the singer avails us of his ‘journey’ – tie in with the vogue for depressive hedonism, though typically it’s not always clear which emotions are to the fore and why. John Newman’s solo and guest output is full of little breakbeat stylings underpinning the high energy emoting. Even Emeli Sandé is involved.

Other uses, such as Wilkinson’s Afterglow, tack the beat onto less demanding tales (you’ve been to some sort of rave, had a good communal experience, now it’s afterparty time) but still need to say ‘we have been here, we have done something’ that is generated by a generation not being sure why it has to hedonise de trop without any purpose (I’ll tell you, marketing). All in all, we have come a long way from a situation where playing such purist (for that is what it was) ‘rhythm science’ in the house made no sense to your parents (and therefore worried them) to one where mum can now happily tap her feet along to a poppy number whose beats are similar to the ones we knew in all those seminal tunes (Dad’s still not sure tbf though everyone loves that Newman). Few of the producers themselves makes just this strain of poppy drum and bass.

Nowadays many in the scene seem not to worry too much about the commercialisation and regard it as churlish not to embrace it – it’s here; amen breaks and riffs are just another tool in the festival DJ’s fuck-off sonic armoury. Like any genre that has been appropriated by producers with eyes on big unit sales, what is striking is how easily it all fits into the pop mix with the other trance / hip-hop / house influences. Apparently, post-EDM America is now getting it too (*shudders*).

Drum and bass had kept going so far forward it was lost. It had to change, and eventually it did. I’m not sure whether this had been enough to regenerate the purist ‘underground’ (like this matters, nearly 20 years on) scene – but it’s notable that many of the acts that are talked about as drum and bass are not making that music at all (indeed the key seems to be just merely for it to have been a formative influence) but are making a techno or footwork influenced sound – the former Instra:mental, DBridge (fellow Bad Company alumnus), Machinedrum, Om Unit. Others, such as Demdike Stare on their Test Pressings, or Lee Gamble, use it as base for far more interesting sonic drift; still more are happy to churn out retro – but still decent – gear in the style of the HATE project of Andy Stott, Miles Whittaker and Gary Howell (seminal retro!).

That still more make pop music with it shouldn’t be a matter for recrimination like it used to be.

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Payday and Full Moon = Clacton Chaos

The latest C4 series of #bouncers at the tail-end of last year was good for shining a light on the English Youth At Play. I only caught the bits focusing on Colchester and Clacton, but they held my attention as my father in law is from the latter faded seaside resort (as faded as the wooden signs hanging round his house that his Dad used to make) and my wife spent much of her youth living in Colchester. The problems for the bouncers were as you expect – Liquid Lounge’s cameras caught a particularly vicious fight between two groups that moved outside still at full pelt. Silk Road in Colchester generated problems that were mostly played out beyond its doors in what they liken to ‘suicide alley’ down the road, where scores of people loiter past closing time leading to the inevitable argy-bargy with police trying to move them on.

What has stayed me ever since is the Clacton bouncers talking – with complete sincerity – about the occasional confluence of payday and Full Moon being their worst night for trouble. Payday, obviously enough because people have more money in their pocket (therefore invariably wraps of chalky crap too), but Full Moon?! Are they seriously trying to suggest planetary movements stir deranged havoc in the minds of Essex’s animalistic youth, leaving them howling? Liquid Lounge the conductor of the ensuing magick? Well I suppose it’s Orientalist to say such fanciful chaos reigns only in the likes of Ko Pha Ngan.

This has nothing to do with the influx of charged up out-of-towners with money to burn (as in Thailand), nothing at all. Threaten them with walking off the end of the pier.

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Indie iconography: 1980s vs twentytens

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