The Wire

In Writing

Showing posts from 2008|05


Mark Fisher

Simon's response to Mark Wastell's Epiphany in Wire 292, fascinating not because it is a Rashômon-like alternative reading of the same event, but because - contrary to certain prevailing hedonic relativist orthodoxies - it demonstrates that there is something more involved in aesthetic judgments than a mere registering of sensations. The difference between Mark's response and Simon's was not at the level of pleasure; it wasn't that Mark found Parker and Braxton any more agreeable than Simon did. But, in Mark's case, the initially disagreeable sensations induced him to take a leap beyond the pleasure principle: a cognitive act, a commitment, a decision to override the 'anger and confusion' that the music first caused him to feel.(Simon of course has taken such leaps in respect of other scenes, other musics.)

The mantra of hedonic relativism has it that 'everything is subjective', where subjectivity is construed as an arbitrary set of preferences. But Mark's Epiphany vindicates the view that certain encounters - events - produce subjectivities, even as they destitute us, deprive us of old worlds.


August Darnell

Derek Walmsley

Discussion in The Wire office turned the other day to Kid Creole, with the recent release of Going Places: the August Darnell Years 1974-1983. Aside from fronting one of the plain weirdest bands of the early 80s, the tropical gangsters Kid Creole And The Coconuts, I hadn't realised, among his other projects, he'd produced perhaps my favourite ever disco track, Machine's "There But For The Grace Of God Go I", perhaps the most impassioned chronicle of inner city bigotry and white-flight in the entire disco canon. Listening to that track, a mix of gospel guts and pure synthetic pulse, what strikes me is how camp is an essential part of the physical DNA of the track – flamboyance and narcissism is practically built into its outre melodies and assertive, strutting steps. While the primal urge that runs through rock, funk and house - the drive, the motor of so much music, from Black Sabbath to James Brown – has been analysed to death, I wonder if the counter-current of camp, which delights in lateral movements and show-stopping pauses, has been analysed in dance music as much. It's easy to hazard a guess as to why it might not have been – male music journalists would rather talk about unbridled sexual energy than something as supposedly effeminate as camp.

Mostly, though, the compilation makes me wonder what's become of camp in urban music today. RnB and rap videos these days look airbrushed, as if hidden behind a plastic wall, a distancing effect exacerbated by the constant use of slow motion and fast cross-cutting. The big names of urban music are synthetic products of the studio system as much as (arguably more) than Hollywood stars. The overall impression is a fear of people finding out what they're like. This look-but-don't-touch sexual politics is, for me, deeply un-sexy, and it's music's loss.


Bing Tha Ruckus

Derek Walmsley

My recent Invisible Jukebox with Wu-Tang Clan's The RZA (featured in The Wire 292, which has just hit the streets) involved a train spotter's paradise of sample-spotting and internet researching as I looked into the building blocks of the great Wu-Tang albums of the mid-90s. One sample I missed, sadly, was that "Ice Water" from the RZA-produced Raekwon album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx featured a vocal sample from none other than Bing Crosby, singing "White Christmas". The langorous, grandfatherly "I'm...." from the first line is cut off just before the second syllable, leaving only a deep voice and wide vibrato that sounds like it's emanating from the depths of the pyramids. It's one of the most gothic moments in the whole of hiphop, using good ol' Bing's disembodied tones as an unearthly, weirdly non-gendered siren call.

It's odd to think of a sample fiend like The RZA getting a kick out of Bing's voice, but dig deeper and there's a strange kinship between the pair. The RZA recently invested a large amount of his own money in vinyl-to-digital scratch technology; Bing Crosby was instrumental in developing early tape technology, by investing $50,000 in the fledgling Ampex company.