The Wire

In Writing

Showing posts from 2008|07

On The Wire

Lisa Blanning

So any regular readers of the magazine will know who Steve Barker is, but anyone who doesn't live in the UK may not be aware of the extent of his coolness. He recently turned 60 and is a grandfather (sorry, Steve, I've outed you!), but is still incredibly enthusiastic about music and wholly involved with it. He was at that infamous Bob Dylan concert (in Manchester's Albert Hall) in '66, he met pre-fame Bowie and he still manages to help get gigs in China for the likes of Kode9 and The Bug.

The reason I bring all this up is because he's been hosting a radio show for BBC Lancashire for nearly a quarter of a century. They regularly get guest mixes in and after Steve provided a brilliant mix of Chinese music for our own Resonance radio show (check it out here), he asked me to return the favour. It aired this past Saturday, but you can listen online here. Tracklisting of my mix (done in three 20 minute segments) as follows:
(segment 1)
Gal Costa - Barato Total - Cantar - Philips
Jay Tees - Buck Town Version - Studio 1 7"
Strategy - Future Rock - Future Rock - Kranky
Out Hud - Jgnxtc - Out Hud/!!! split remix 12" - Zum
Suicide - Che - Suicide - Blast First
(segment 2)
Zomby - Spliff Dub (Rustie remix) - Mu5h - Hyperdub 12"
Henry Flynt - Jumping Wired - Hillbilly Tape Music - Recorded
OCS - Oh No Bloody Nose - 3 (Songs About Death And Dying) - Narnack
MF Doom - Tick Tick (feat. MF Grimm) - Operation Doomsday - Fondle 'Em
Microstoria - Dokumint - Init Ding - Mille Plateaux
Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band - Sunshower - Kid Creole: Going Places, The August Darnell Years - Strut
(segment 3)
Little Howlin Wolf - Sunny Come Early - Stranger Mon' - Beacon 7"
Tsèhaytu Bèraki - Bezay - V/A - Ethiopiques Vol. 5 - Buda Musique
Wasteland - Emerge And See - October - Transparent
Appleblim & Peverelist - Circling - Soundboy's Ashes Get Hacked Up And Spat Out In Disgust EP- Skull Disco 12"
Mint - Phonogram - v/a - Kompakt 1 - Profan


12 hour party people

Mark Fisher

Uber Germanist Owen weighs into the debate on minimal:

It rather pains me to say this, as Berlin - with its healthy contempt for the work ethic, and its still extant left activism - is a far, far saner city than London, and by several leagues more pleasant, more rewarding a place to live. And yet, when - as seems largely to have happened in much of Mitte, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg - an entire chunk of a formerly working city becomes a playground for an international of 'creatives', something odd happens. One often got the sense in Berlin that whatever was happening, it didn't really matter, nothing was at stake: pure pleasure becomes boring after a while, as does the constant low-level tick-tock of a techno designed seemingly for little else than just rolling along. German techno seems fastidious, but not glamorous. An executive music for people who can make a living off DJing or curating here and there is a bizarre phenomenon, as is a futurist cottage industry. The restraint of the music is the effect of a culture with no restraints.

This perhaps makes sense of the link between minimal and hedonism that Philip Sherburne often insists upon. On the face of it, minimal is an extremely unlikely candidate to be considered a pleasure seekers' music. It's worth noting at this juncture, that, as Derek pointed out after my last post, there is very little 'tasteful' about a Villalobos, Luciano or Hawtin set – what appears tasteful at normal volume becomes something different when put through a club PA. Nevertheless, even at high volume, there is a certain restraint at work here – or perhaps it is better construed as an avoidance (of hooks, big riffs etc.) It could be that this avoidance of the hedonic spikes, the pleasure peaks, of music is the libidinal cost of distending pleasure over the course of a twelve hour party.

Berlin has in many ways become a capital of deterritorialized culture, a base for DJs and curators whose jetsetting lifestyle is indeed a "bizarre phenomenon". If hauntology depends upon the way that very specific places – Burial's South London Boroughs, for instance – are stained with particular times, then the affect that underlies minimal might be characterised as nomadalgia: a lack of sense of place, a drift through club or salon spaces that, like franchise coffee bars, could be anywhere.


paid in full

Derek Walmsley

The big news Grime-wise in London this month concerns Rinse FM's 14th Birthday party at The End in London on 22nd August – the Pay As U Go Cartel of Slimzee, Wiley, Gods Gift et al, some of Rinse's earliest stars, are reforming for the event. Anyone who witnessed Wiley's performance at one of these events a few months ago will know what to expect in terms of lyrical intensity. But it's especially heartening to see Slimzee out on the scene (the DJ who at one point was banned by an ASBO from being on the higher floors of tall housing blocks). Slimzee's DJ sets were key to the transition between Garage to Grime proper. His abrasive dubplates were as cold and tough as concrete streets – they called out for some human presence, if only to leaven the feeling of sheer loneliness. It was on these kind of tracks that London MCs first began to find their voice, and his Sidewinder sets with Dizzee Rascal are justly revered (they circulate in various forms, but you can get a taste of them on You Tube

On a similar tip, DJ Rupture's excellent WFMU show Mudd Up had a special show recently with Bok Bok and Manara, where they play tons of tracks from this limbo zone between garage and grime – you can listen here. Lots of memories for me here, including all but forgotten tracks by Alias, whose indefatigable toughness almost recalls Belgian Nu Beat.


Return to the fairground

Mark Fisher

"Minimal, of course, was the straw that overflowed the glass of Red Bull," writes Philip Sherburne in his jeremiad on the state of electronic dance music.

Scapegoat or no, in the last 18 months, the ubiquitous and yet strangely ephemeral genre has become a lightning rod for every conceivable critique. It's too soulless. It all sounds the same. It's lost touch with the roots of "real" dance music. It might not be surprising to hear a DJ like Diplo tell Pitchfork, "I go to a club in Berlin and I want to kill myself." But even within the scene, everyone complains about minimal, leveling complaints that often seem indicative of a much wider unease.

But the problem doesn't really lie with minimal itself. (One difficulty, though, is defining what minimal "itself" is; and it's questionable whether everything now labeled 'minimal' can now usefully be defined as belonging to one genre or sensibility.) As Simon Hampson argued in The Wire 293, it is the position that 'minimal' occupies in dance music, rather than any properties of the music itself, that is the issue:

[M]inimalism and austerity in dance music work best as counterpoints to more ebullient fare - a short, salty shock to set the scene for the climax to come, or to open up space for you mind to go wandering. But now minimal Techno rarely plays off against anything else; it is the main event.

There's a direct analogy with dubstep - more than an analogy, actually, since dubstep and the empire of minimal are converging, what with Villalobos and Shackleton remixing each other, the 2562 record, etc. What is needed is the confident reassertion of a dance music mainstream. That's related to Simon Reynolds's comments in Philip's piece:

Whenever, as a producer, you feel yourself flinching a bit from using an idea or a sound or an effect, hesitating on the grounds that it's maybe a wee bit cheesy, then I would say just to push right past that feeling and go for it. Do it twice over, even. There can never be enough monster riffs or cheap tricks in dance music; there can definitely be a surfeit of just-so subtleties.

Could minimal be defined as 'devoid of cheese'? Maybe so - but it would be a mistake to equate cheese with a retreat from innovation, just as it would be an error to align tasteful restraint and austerity with experimentalism. Hearing XL's rerelease of The Prodigy's first LP recently, with its its vertiginous jump cuts and bizarre angles, brought this home with E-flashback ultravividness. The barrel organ-like cartoon euphoria of Experience has always sounded like fairground music, and indeed it was at home pounding out from a fairground as it was at a rave. Wandering around a fairground in Kent recently, I kept being drawn back to the ride that was pumping out Bassline House, the genre whose hectic animatronic ebullience is at home in the fairground environment as rave once was. Is it time to forget the austere appartments that minimalism is so often reminiscent of, and return to the fairground?


non-urban field place

Derek Walmsley

A puff-piece on Radio 4 recently marvelled over the rise of popular music festivals in the UK and beyond. Admittedly, it's nice that festivals like Green Man are taking advantage of outdoor settings for staging music, and certainly the feeling of a return to nature, of reclaiming the land, is a powerful one. However for me it's hard not to see the rise of outdoor music festivals in the UK as a corollary of the decline of urban music venues and the rise in property and rent prices everywhere. As cities grow, urban space becomes prohibitively expensive, and the only leisure spaces are at the peripheries, in temporary zones a day trip away from the city. Promoters turn to the greenbelt to host their events, and music festivals pile the acts high to keep prices relatively cheap. The performers appearing become ever more bland, as promoters focus on providing an undemanding soundtrack to the brief moments of summer reverie we get in the UK. Like out of town shopping centres, we end up with lots of choice in outdoor music festivals, but no real quality.

It's not the only example of live-flight in London music. Grime and garage events almost never happen in the city anymore – the police, assuming a role of 'advising' music venues, create a de facto ban on all but the most selective of these events happening in the city.

When in Blackpool recently, it struck me how much of the economy of modern life these days is predicated on punters paying money just to move around. Large tourist attractions make a lot of their money from meals and drinks, ie the subsistence costs people pay to sustain themselves in these other-places. It's why coffee places thrive in city centres – cities are so unwelcoming and psychologically stressful, you need to pay to go somewhere to chill out, and there's a feedback loop where the less publicly accessible places there are in cities, the more you need these refreshment waypoints and the more they make. Festivals are largely the same – you get sponsorship from a drinks company, and they mop up the refreshment tab. Like a lot of things in modern life, increasingly you don't pay for the actual products you want – ie music – but the delivery systems for those products.


Ridicule Is Nothing To Be Scared Of (Slight Return)

Mark Fisher

Like David Stubbs, I'm of course delighted to have been shopped to the commissars of commonsense who compile Private Eye's Pseud's Corner. It's always bracing to be middlebrow-beaten; a pleasure I can expect to enjoy fairly regularly from now on, since, if the section from the Mark Stewart feature that they selected is considered fair game, then they might as well open up a permanent spot for me.

It's difficult to know what the alleged problem is: the conjoining of politics and music? Well, it's hardly stretching a point to argue that a record such as For How Much Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? might, y'know, have had some connection with geopolitical developments at the end of the 70s. Would the same objection be made to linkages between politics and other areas of culture? But of course what is objected to is as much a question of tone as of content. The default expectation in British media is that writers perform a homely matiness: writing must be light, upbeat and irreverent, never taking itself or anything else too seriously.

The function of Pseud's Corner – to punish writing that in some way overreaches itself, that gets ideas above its station or gets carried away – has now been taken up by online discussion boards and comments facilities everywhere. The effect on any writer who internalises the critique is to be intimidated into colourless mediocrity. But the problem with most published writing today is not that it is 'pretentious', it is that is unreflective PR hackwork. David Stubbs is right to invoke a certain Orwell as the patron of bluff, plain speaking John Bull prose - but the Orwell of "Politics And The English Language" also attacked the mechanical circulation of dull, dead language. If only that Orwell were more heeded. "Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print," he demanded, optimistically hoping that "if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs." Over sixty years later, such "verbal refuse" continues to circulate with impunity, and is supplemented by a whole inventory of PR commonplaces and consumer-affect babble (journeys, rollercoaster rides). Surely any amount of 'pretentiousness' is preferable to these soporific linguistic screensavers?


Dave Tompkins on air

Derek Walmsley

For those missing their regular fix of The Wire hiphop columnist Dave Tompkins, he did a great radio show last week, as part of the Finer Things programme in Poughkeepsie, hosted by another contributor, Hua Hsu. Great stuff which is heavy on the electro and vocoder flavours, and every bit as indefatigable and crate-diggerly as you'd expect from Dave's contributions to the mag:

Part One is here
Part Two is here

If you're still not sated, I'd recommend checking out the mammoth Miami Bass throwdown he did on WFMU from back in the day. You can access the archives here.