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Showing posts by Mark Fisher from 2008|07

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.


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?


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?