Friday, November 20, 2009

i never go up to celebrities but i thought i'd "do a Woebot" so i went up and had a chat with Malcolm McLaren last night.

what a loon he is. this was after the talk he gave which was priceless

the whole event was some government trade and industry organised aperitif for South by South West, this huge alternative music festival in Austin, Texas this weekend. The Brits fly into New York for a bit and then on to Austin.

i entered the penthouse suite where it was taking place and it was like the entire population of Hoxton had been transplanted there -- wall to wall Brit meeja/music industry/managers promoters etc, all networking frantically

some Blair apparatnik for Trade and Industry prefaced Malcolm by talking about the government's concern to raise the percentage of UK sales in the US market, noting that Coldplay had had the biggest selling album in the world, how we needed to exploit "our native spirit of eccentricity and flair" or some such bullshit

and then Malcolm takes the mic

suffice to say it was not industry boosterism not one whit, ...

it started in 1946 with his grandma telling him "never talk to a policemen", how the post-war london was run by gangsters, spivs who operated the black market

about 45 minutes later and we'd only got to 1964 and his art teacher at st martin's telling him that the goal was to "fail--be a magnificent failure"

some really bizarre stuff i'd never heard before about his move into couture

he had a whole section on the irrelevance of music today, how video games and computers and such like had taken over with the kids, not exactly fresh, cutting-edge observations to be honest... and he also had some weird creepy stuff about teenage girls and moms going to the beauty salon to get brazilian waxes together!

anyway distinctly uneasy laughter in the audience throughout the proceedings and a really grim fixed half smile on the british consul's queasy pale face

yeah so afterwards i buttonholed Malcy and told him I used to love reading his interviews in the music press and got such a buzz of all the ideas buzzing around in them (cos the funny thing is, I give him a right roughing up in Rip It Up but it was him and John Rotten that were the two Pistols -- and McLaren was the fifth Pistol -- that I followed, avidly, afterwards -- well I certainly had no interest in the Professionals did I!)-- and then I picked up on something he'd said in the talk during the whole music-is-irrelevant-nowadays section, I said, "so you've never really rated music much AT ALL--music in itself,for its own sake -- have you? it's always just been a vehicle, secondary to the really interesting stuff? That's been a constant all the way through what you've done, right?". I think I had some other vaguely taking-issue type response, like about games all being made by big corporations so what was that really challenging. he looked at me warily, munching on some sushi --like who's this geezer -- and then launched into his whole "music doesn't matter, fashion and ideas do" riff, as honed in decades worth of interviews and lectures
the funny thing is i'm a big fan of disco music!

You're not the only one to say this by the way, i've read people say the "big forbidden thing in simon's nuum theory is disco" -- which

A/ i don't get or think is correct


B/ see why that's a big "ha! gotcha" point to make, like if it were the case (which it's not) that the theory then would crumble...

But what's really funnier still is I was into disco when disco was actually happening -- things like Donna Summer, Chic and Sister Sledge, Michael Jackson, earth wind and fire, Heatwave, etc. It was on Top of the Pops and Radio One when i was a teenager first getting into music and who could not love that stuff? And naturally you had your PiLs and Talking Heads and Gang of Four assimilating the rhythm and praising disco in their interviews. But I mean, my fourth or fifth single was Tom Browne's "Funkin' For Jamaica"!

Actually my very first album was a disco record, effectively -- Ian Dury and the Blockheads's Do It Yourself. It was co-written, arranged and produced by Chas Jankel, whose solo song "Ai No Corrida" was covered by Quincy Jones!
this was #1 in the UK
and this is even more disco-y

That said, people may have got this me-as-anti-disco idea cos a couple of times I've intimated that I don't think there was anything revolutionary about disco as a culture, that it's escapist. And I think that's true: it's clearly not an underground in the sense that rave things like jungle or gabba was, or hip hop before it really crossed over.

Of course I'm talking about mainstream post-Saturday Night Fever disco here, after it left its gay underground origins. But even there i'm not sure it was really an underground in the countercultural sense, so much as a haven

one thing i've found, doing my postpunk researches, is that i can begin to understand and even sympathise with discophobia in its original context -- not the Legs McNeil crypto-racist version, but more from people who'd lived through the whole
Sixties experience and then were confronted by this culture that seemed very plastic and escapist nd conveyor-belt. very much part of the whole Big Sleep seventies
syndrome. of course ironically theoriginal underground disco culture of new york had a fair bit in common with late Sixties counterculture -- trippy lights, hypnotic music, "Love is theMessage"/post-civil rights and gay liberation type values. some of the key people were 'heads'. but themainstream disco had none ofthat element and you can see why it would be repugnant to ex-Sixties types

that said listening to the Bee Gees today they are so fabulous and if you watch Saturday Night Fever, it is practically Ken Loach style social realism, quite a dark view of working class life.

one of the things about the mainstream disco versus the underground stuff (the stuff would then feed the whole disco-house tradition) is that the 70s crossover stuff is, on the whole, superior on every level to the stuff that stayed underground. i'd say i'm a huge fan of the original disco and less of a fan (while not unappreciative) of the stuff that came after that made a cult of underground disco. it's just the same as rockabilly cultists who think Charlie Feathers and Esquerita and Hasil Adkins are the real-deal. No, you're wrong, Eddie Cochran and Little Richard and Gene Vincent were just better.

there's no doubt that disco-house is one long rich tradition of music, a veritable continuum. i don't have a problem with it at all, but for me the militancy and the modernism factor -- the renegade buzz that i get off the jungle or grime moments, (or for that matter gabba) isn't there. but also the cheekiness and the cheesiness too. in a funny sort of way house is not serious enough and yet also too serious for me. weird that. i mean it's great music but in terms of me attaching my identity to it, if you get me.
Further thoughts on S.O.A.C.A aka self-organising autonomous cultural activity

i dont' have any kind of fully worked out theory on it, the blog is sort of
a work in progress, a series of semi connected riffs. but i would almost say
'underground' is determined by perception -- by the people involved in the
scene feeling they're underground

re "self-organising autonomous cultural activities"

i guess was gesturing at the idea of horizontal culture as opposed to
top-down pop music -- people making their own entertainment. all the
underground scenes have a much higher rate of participants to
non-participants -- a lot of people making music, or DJing, or being fanzine
writers/editors, or running a label.

"self-organising" as slightly different from "autonomous" was me throwing in a
bit of chaos theory and cybernetics -- with a lot of dance scenes, there's almost a kind of evolutionary logic to the way the music develops, as though the scene/sound
is generating its own aesthetic path forward, as opposed to any specific
Auteur- Geniuses. so it evolves incrementally, people pushing a style of
beat or production a little bit further, someone else very quickly picking
up on that slight shift and pushing it further still. It's like the
scene/sound knows where it wants to go. hence "scenius", Eno's formulation,
as opposed to "genius"

yeah the underground-er than thou thing is a perennial problem with
undergrounds and marginal scenes, hence their tendency to split into smaller
fragments. bit like the Left in politics! if you're not careful with music,
you could end up with doing pressings of 50 and playing to an audience of 10
comprised only of other musicians. That's why i think purity as such is an
over-rated virtue

i'm trying to find a third way i suppose between the Pop-ist, manna-from-chart-heaven approach and the Keenan ultra-obscurist thing -- imagining a form of collectivity that is actually real, as opposed to the quasi-populism of the pop audience. hence the Grime massive, the jungle massive, the dancehall massive, and so forth.

obviously there's good music, great music often, made on the overground,and
conversely a lot of undergroundist stuff is mediocre -- generic grime,
generic free folk. the Pop-ist contingent would argue that the scene-based
stuff is more conservative than the mainstream cos it has to service a community.
unpublished Spin feature, 1992?

There are movies that warm the cockles of your heart and get you sobbing into your popcorn. You stumble out the theater teary-eyed and blinking, with a freshly restored faith in human values: the resilience of the human spirit, the power of communication, standing up for what you believe in, etc. These films have morals not even a simpleton could miss. They might leave you feeling manipulated and manhandled, but they sure do give your emotional centers a vigorous work-out. Examples: any film starring Robin Williams ("Dead Poets Society", "Awakenings") or Kevin Costner ("Field Of Dreams", "Dances With Wolves"); anything directed by Alan Parker ("Mississippi Burning", "Come See The Paradise"); virtually any picture that gets Oscar nominations ("Rain Man", "Avalon," "Postcards From The Edge", "The Accused", "Terms Of Endearment", ad nauseam).

These films are UNCOOL. That's not a value judgement so much as a temperature reading. At the opposite extreme from these hot and wet liberal outpourings, there's a new kind of movie that's altogether more refrigerated in tone. COOL cinema isn't upflifting - it's about vertigo. You leave the movie complex feeling dizzy, displaced, slightly nauseous, distinctly unreal. COOL movies don't move the heart so much as ravish the gaze. You don't identify with the characters because every beautifully lit and mounted shot frames you in the position of a voyeur. Morally clouded and perturbing, or simply blank and amoral, these films portray a world where aesthetics and ethics seldom coincide. Supreme exponents: David Lynch ("Blue Velvet," "Wild At Heart," "Twin Peaks"), Jim Jarmusch ("Stranger Than Paradise," "Down By Law," "Mystery Train"). Close behind: Pedro Almodovar ("Law Of Desire," "Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown," "Tie Me Up Tie Me Down") and Peter Greenaway ("Drowning By Numbers," "The Cook, The Thief His Wife and Her Lover"). Precursors: David Byrne's "True Stories", Jonathan Demme's "Something Wild", Scorsese's "After Hours". [IF I'D WRITTEN THESE A FEW YEARS LATER, WOULD HAVE ADDED THE COEN BROTHERS TO THE LIST, OBVIOUSLY].[AND A FEW YEARS AFTER THAT: QUENTIN TARANTINO]. And bringing up the rear: the rash of imitators (e.g. "The Unbelievable Truth") who all get tagged "reminiscent of the warped imagination of David Lynch".

UNCOOL CINEMA is coherent. Motivations dovetail with deeds; conflicts between characters are ultimately resolved; harmony is restored. Structurally and psychologically, these films are seamless, tightly woven, with no loose ends or contradictions: they're easy to "read". The soundtrack intervenes punctually, underscoring the events and letting you know what to feel and when. You step off the emotional rollercoaster shaken but in one piece.

COOL CINEMA is incoherent. COOL directors like to play games with consistency (of character, narrative etc). Characters make inexplicable departures from their norm. Synchronicity and the supernatural intervene to fill in cracks in the plot, while events unfold according to dream logic. Unity of tone and atmosphere shatters. David Lynch's work typifies COOL with its jumpcuts between different movie genres and moods: film noir, trash B-movie, soap opera, Gothic, "The Wizard Of Oz", Dada, fairy tale, "Hardy Boys" mystery and boho art flick. Gushing sentiment that's way too corny to move you is juxtaposed abruptly with macabre violence that's way too garish and nicely shot to truly alarm. Even in the "suspenseful" "Blue Velvet", the plot is merely a frame in which Lynch slots his fantastical tableaux (Frank Booth's decadent gang at play, the climactic murder scene) which all have the composition and uncanny colouration of a Surrealist painting. But with "Wild At Heart", Lynch throws aside the figleaf pretext of a plot, and opts instead for a picaresque narrative: his wanderering runaways pass through an unconnected series of bizarre situations and meaningless interludes, randomly colliding with crackpots and deviants. Or there's Jarmusch's "Mystery Train", which was acclaimed by gullible critics for its radical experimentation with narrative, but was in fact an empty conundrum: four subplots connected by coincidence and contingency, visual echoes and musical motifs. COOL CINEMA doesn't want us to suspend our belief so much as want to make belief a dead issue.

"The world comes before [him] with heightened intensity, bearing a mysterious and oppressive charge of affect, glowing with hallucinatory energy." Postmodern theorist Fredric Jameson is describing how the world looks through the eyes of a schizophrenic, but his account fits just about any scene in a David Lynch movie. According to Jameson, the schizophrenic's predicament is that he's condemned to live in the present tense, because he lacks a sense of his own identity through time. "Isolated, that present [moment] suddenly engulfs the subject with undescribable vividness." If COOL CINEMA tends to be poorly plotted, it's perhaps because it's not organised in time, but as a discontinuous series of effects (without causes) and ultra-vivid images. After a David Lynch movie, you don't evaluate it in terms of its having a good story or believable, 3D characters, you say: "there were some cool scenes... the bit with the dwarf was cool..."

It could be that our culture is heading inexorably towards a state where schizophrenia is the norm. The cluster of effects generally lumped together under the heading of "postmodernism" -- media overload, the withering of attention span (for instance, the widely held sentiment that the war was beginning to "drag on" when it hadn't been won after a week), the waning of historical awareness, "retro-nuevo" art that pick-and-mixes fragments from different eras (in rock: Prince, Madonna, Deee-Lite, Pixies, Sonic Youth etc) -- all this is stranding us in the schizo's perpetual present tense.

At the opposite end of the COOL/UNCOOL spectrum from David Lynch there's the defiantly unhip and oldfashioned Alan Parker, who claims that with films like "Mississippi Burning" and "Come See The Paradise" he's deliberately renovating a Hollywood tradition of middlebrow, message-oriented, populist moviemaking. He says he's not ashamed to manipulate the audience, let them know where their sympathies ought to lie. UNCOOL movie directors like Parker still imagine they can straightforwardly represent an only slightly airbrushed outside world, or reconstruct history as it was. UNCOOL doesn't want us to forget historically momentous happenings like the civil rights struggles, or the iniquitous treatment of Japanese Americans during World War Two, that shaped the world we live in today.

But COOL CINEMA knows that films about the past tell us more about our myths and fantasies of those periods than what "it was really like". David Lynch's films take place in a period you can't place, an eerie merger of Fifties, Sixties and Nineties. In "Wild At Heart" the Fifties rebel hero and heroine get down to Eighties hardcore and speedmetal. "Blue Velvet" is set in the mythical, picture postcard small town of the Fifties, but under the idyllic surface lies like the rotten core of a subterranean drug culture (Sixties swingers turned decrepit and decadent, with a sour note of Eighties S&M to boot). Jarmusch's "Mystery Train" was basically an essay on the Fifties and how our dreams of transgression and self-reinvention are still tied to the primal rock'n'roll rebel.

The reason UNCOOL cinema belongs to yesteryear ultimately has to do with the fact that it invites us to see through it: to the story, the meaning. But with COOL cinema, the image is all. As Black Francis from The Pixies says,
explaining why he admires David Lynch's method and imitates it in his songwriting: "it's about going with whatever looks and sounds good, and not worrying what it means". COOL cinema turns us all into voyeurs, like Jeffrey Beaumont in "Blue Velvet" spying through the wardrobe slats as Frank abuses Dorothy Vallence. In COOL cinema, not even death evades the obligation to look good. What COOL directors like Lynch and Jarmusch, Almodovar and Greenaway, are obsessed with is the stylization of passion and violence. Which is why Chris Isaak and Julee Cruise are so right for the Lynch aesthetic, with their evocations of an age when even agony was elegant, when the brokenhearted died inside, but did it in style. The obsession with the Fifties is partly explained by the fact that this era saw THE BIRTH OF THE COOL: for the first time, teenagers, influenced by Brando and Dean, began to walk around as though continually under the camera's gaze, as though they were living in a movie.

Being "cool" means concealing your feelings, giving the impression you're not affected, refusing to let the volcanic eruption of mirth or tears break the surface of your face. "Cool" means being inscrutable, depthless, two-dimensional, picture perfect. COOL CINEMA teems with casualties of the idea of cool birthed in the Fifties, like the Japanese boy in "Mystery Train, a pilgrim come to Memphis to worship at the shrine of Elvis, with his slicked back hair, cigarette lighting tricks, and death-mask impassivity. Or Nicholas Cage in "Wild At Heart" with his snakeskin jacket that "expresses mah belief in self-expression and individuality". One thing COOL CINEMA seems to "say" is that every form of transgression is destined to become cliche or cartoon. Fetishized by the camera's gaze, the living gesture turns to stone.

UNCOOL, with its "feel good" ethos and confidence in human values, is the cinema of the past. COOL, with its "look good" aesthetic and its replacement of involvement with fascination, is the cinema of the future. But, you might well ask, what kind of future, and will there be any humans there?
"Obsessed with roots but founded on uprooting, America has always been characterized by restless internal migration: people are always leaving home to find a better, truer home. In It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the American Music, Amanda Petrusich hits the road too, looking to crack the conundrum of the culture that produced Robert Johnson, Lead Belly and Hank Williams but also Cracker Barrel, Graceland, and Clear Channel. Talking and listening and eating her way across an American landscape as earthy as grits 'n' gravy yet as ethereal as the wraith-like plaint of pedal steel, she finds that the mystery doesn't so much resolve as grow more vivid. In this sharply observed, intensely felt audio-travelogue, "Americana" emerges as not so much a sound or musical genre as an imaginary country, a dream land superimposed over the real U.S.A. Above all it's a fantasy of the South spun by people mostly not from there, a salve for that feeling of hollowness that haunts modern urban existence, a remedy for our aching sense that real life is elsewhere."
-- Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pink Floyd's "Paintbox" (B-side of "Apples and Oranges", 1967)

it's written and sung by Rick Wright, like 'remember a day' on Saucerful of Secrets,
which song is very shaped by Barrett's vision

but 'paintbox' is more original

it's got this slightly fey passivity and wistful despondency to it, a guy drifting through life, buffeted by events

'paintbox' starts with the character talking about how he's at a trendy bar or
party and joining in all the chatter and showing off, but secretly "feeling
rather empty" (sung with this wonderful crestfallen quality), it must have
been written at the height of Swingin' London, summer of 67, but this
character's already disillusioned, sees the hollowness

then in the next verse, he's being phoned by some girlfriend who demands to
go to a show and he can't think of an excuse and submits, again in this very
passive drifting through life way. he arrives late in his taxi and she's
there looking very angry, "as cross as she can be"

the chorus is mysterious, "i open the door to an empty room/then i forget",
like he's off in a reverie, absconding from everything

i think it's remarkable, "Paintbox", the whole of Dark Side of the Moon and that long song "Echoes" on Meddle is right there, already, in 67

but more than that, the whole vibe of the song reminds me of all those Eno songs on Another
Green World
and Before and After Science about characters with no energy or
drive, marooned standing on beaches, or sitting in the corner with a spider
watching the evening fade away ... washed up characters and washed-out music, sonic watercolours

i wonder if Rick Wright's solo album's any cop...
i suppose what i'd say is:

* it's okay to say that you and your generation don't care about the question of futurism/innovation

* and it's okay also to say that it's not a particularly relevant consideration within electronic dance music today. and it's even okay to argue that fixating on that might blind one to other virtues the music has


* don't then retroactively try to make out it was never that crucial, downplay its role in the past. cos man, i was there, i read all those dance mags, interviewed loads of musicians, and the rhetoric was all "we are the future", "this is future music", "living for the future" etc. To a comic and shlocky degree at times. It was the central plank of the manifesto! i mean, cmon, the whole thing kicks off with "Acid Tracks" by a group called Phuture. And then all the Detroit guys, they were all mad fiends for Alvin Toffler of Future Shock and 'techno rebels' fame. And all the science fiction, outer space imagery...

it's true Philip Sherburne's piece isn't that gloomy but i thought it was interesting that he has the straight-up declaration that "the futurist impulse has gone, totally stalled", because it's all very well for me, as a fairly remote onlooker, saying such things based on the handful of things i hear. but when Phil the fiend, who's totally immersed in the music and deejays it on a weekly basis, when he concludes that, then, it's definitive, surely?

But yeah, you're right, that's my role you see: the Ghost of Future(ism) Passed. This baleful specter who won't shut up!

Actually it doesn't cause me anguish particularly anymore, at least compared with five years ago. I don't think dance music should be given more stick about its non-moving-forwardness than anything else. Whereas i did used to think it deserved to be chastised for it precisely BECAUSE of how it used to go on and on and on about about Da Phuture and make these massive claims for its own innovativeness.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

the hit (Mary's Prayer?) is catchy enough I suppose

but generally with all those groups at that time -- danny wilson, kane gang, wet wet wet, loads more -- YuKK! that glutinous glossed up sound, the over-imploring vocals. what's to like?

i did love Prefab Sprout and Blue Nile a lot though, i see them as quite different

the Mondeo Pop thread was interesting cos it chimed this idea i had that, in the game of hip, the only frontier left is middlebrow. the Poptimists have used up "i like vacant thrill-powered pop", there's no edge to that taste stance... so what's left? Middlebrow music -- the mildly intelligent, well-made, well-meant stuff. Or once-edgy-stuff-gone-tame--Jesus and Mary Chain maybe.

Not understanding the semiotics of cars (i don't drive) Mondeo is a bit lost on me but i understand how the Beautiful South is one strand of middlebrow

Others would be Coldplay-type music, or Q's version of the best albums of all time, or Steve Lamacq. Or disc 4 of the Rhino Brit Box set.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tim Finney came up with an intriguing comment on an ILM thread, describing a certain contingent at Dissensus in the following terms (the comment coming out of a discussion of MIA and the debates here about popism):

"When one of them finally and openly says "I love this piece of music but objectively speaking I shouldn't and therefore won't love it any longer", we will know that they take their own nu-rockist anti-enjoyment crusade seriously."

It sounds so puritanical and unpleasant doesn't it, the way he puts it!

But on reflection, I thought of plenty of instances such pleasure-denying might actually be an appropriate thing to do.

In real life there are myriad such either/or choices (coveting thy best friend's wife; priest struggling with the urge to fondle choir boy etc etc), and while you might say culture is a whole other domain from life, i'm not sure.

for instance, you can imagine someone who loved dancehall but decided to deny themselves that pleasure on account of the batty-boy-bashing. (Actually, I can think of an example where I've done precisely that-- that big TOK tune about we bun the chi chi man, before i knew what chi chi man meant that was my favorite dancehall track of the year, i loved it, but when i found out, simultaneously with finding out the name of the artist, i just couldn't bring myself to buy the CD. But i haven't go so far as to say, stop enjoying 'big it up' by buju on account of his other records or statements). Or another example: i don't rate whitehouse's music at all, but i can easily imagine a scenario of loving it to death but refusing myself that delight on acocunt of finding the serial killer/nazi commandant eulogizin' element offensive (even more offensive, actually, if it's all a giant put-on).

of course Tim is talking more about theories about music and what matters etc becoming so rigid that you close yourself down to avenues of pleasure

what interests me about this line of thinking is that it's either based in, or ends up with, a kind of moralism of pleasure -- in other words, the essence of popism is that it brooks no laws or prohibitions EXCEPT
thou shalt never deny yourself any pleasure. no principle , or set of ideas, could possibly be worth denying yourself a specific source of enjoyment -- open-ness as a value in itself

pleasure is the first and the final arbiter

but pleasure alone has never been enough as either spur or subject matter for critical discourse. There's always been an X(-tra)-factor. melded with pleasure. Kpunk, borrowing a lick from Zizek, has argued, “there is no emancipatory potential in pleasure”. It is these X(-tra)-factors that adds the element of emancipation. At various points in pop history, fun/pleasure/desire/jouissance/ecstasy has been allied with other forces (rebellion, expression, aesthetic shock, innovation, dissidence, quest, etc). This combination has time and time again “made of joy a crime against the state” (Barney Hoskyns). That statement should be understood figuratively most of the time--'state' as socio-cultural stasis--and over time as music has become more self-reflexive, it's degenerated into intra-aesthetic taste games (the transgression buzz of liking something kitsch, moving into forbidden zones of music). But "joy as a crime against the state" has been literal too, at various points--most recently, rave. (In Utah, a few months ago they sent armed troopers in to shut down a rave).

There are also plenty of things i enjoy musically but would never be stirred to write about particularly, in the absence of these X(-tra)-factors.

On another tack, i would say that a lot of my own choices are based in a kind of aesthetic morality of finitude. In other words, life is short, so why waste it on lesser pleasures?


Proposition: any argument in favour of any kind of music that attributes to it “edge” or “worth” = rockist (regardless of whether the music in question is made with electric guitars).

The reductio ad absurdum of rockism is the artist or genre that is all edge and no entertainment (power electronics--sorry Infinite!), or all worth and no entertainment (an early Eighties Jackson Browne 'socially conscious' album maybe)

Personally, something that is devoid of entertainment has no appeal to me. My choices are all in the grey fuzzy area where entertainment and Something Xtra are mixed up. There might be a record, for instance, that is entertaining but not so exceptionally entertaining that I’d want to overlook or put up with other aspects that I find distasteful or irritating. Especially given there’s an unlimited number of fish in the pleasure sea.

(In addition to, and closely related to, the Aesthetic Morality of Finitude is the Aesthetic Morality of Over-Abundance. So many pleasures, which to pick? And what justifies the decision to reject something?)


The X(-tra) factors that refer to something beyond pleasure generally come either from the discourse of Art or the discourse of Folk. Rockism’s arguments are mostly all Art-derived (innovation, avant-garde type talk of shock and formal advance; Lit-crit type lyric-based stuff about imagination-activating, soul-enlargening, making us more sensitive, imparting life-wisdom) or they’re Folk-Based (the social/political, solidarity, resistance, community, voice of the people/the streets, social realism, etc). Rockism tends to oscillate back and forth between these sets of arguments (Dylan in that sense is foundational, shifting from community-based protest to individual artistic expression); you can see them going on in the punk and postpunk era (TRB and Sham versus the more existensialist side of postpunk-as-artrock-reborn).

These are both discourses of truth. The X(-tra) factor therefore is always a species of truth. As in, unfortunately, the Manic Street Preachers, “this is my truth tell me yours”.

(The exception to this is formal innovation, which isn't "truth" in that simple sense of the word, although didn't someone once say that form is sedimented content).

The greatest, most provocative, artists are perhaps those who operate in some undecidable zone between the political and the personal. “Dissident” might be the best word that captures the mixture of political, cultural, existential/shamanic/outside-of-everything. I’ll concede Dylan although I don’t feel it owing to some quirk of my growing up; Lennon, Lydon, Morrissey, Mark E. Smith, and so on, loads more examples. Where “protest against society” meets and becomes indistinguishable from “protest against life”.


Q: Isn’t pleasure emancipatory in itself?

A: Maybe once, long ago, claiming the right to pleasure was emancipatory, a movement across a limit. The 1950s, for sure, and the 1960s, for certain kinds of pleasure, certain kinds of fun. But the victory of pop, its success, means that fun is lfar ess proscribed today than it is prescribed. That victory was more or less established by the early Seventies, when rock became, give or take some residual art-talk, “just entertainment, mere showbiz”. Punk was the restoration of the idea that there was more to music than just entertainment. So when the Sex Pistols sang their version of “No Fun” it wasn’t just a complaint; it was interdiction, threat, promise.


An account of a piece of music purely and entirely in terms of the pleasure it gives the listener would have not much interest for me. At bottom I couldn’t really understand what would motivate someone to pick up pen or keyboard and issue such a piece of writing. Why not “enjoy in silence”?

Such a piece of writing would be as useful to me as a munch by munch account of a meal. (I love food but I rarely read restaurant criticism. I did once cut out and keep a piece on steak houses in New York by a famous food critic whose name i forget, because it’s voluptuous, slightly fey imagery reminded me of Chris Roberts).


A lot of talk on the blogs, forums, etc, involves trading information, pointing out pleasures, the mutual burble of delight. It’s in the spirit of Everett True’s remark “I don’t need to know why something is good, I just need to be told what is good and where it is ” (I quote from faded memory). And that is totally fine, a useful activity for fans who share tastes and assumptions; I engage in it myself. I would call it sub-critical, not as a diss but as an accurate description. But the stuff that really excites me is the stuff that questions the terms, enlarges the frame of reference, sets a little fire in your brain. There’s a symmetry there, in so far as I’m looking for similar things from the music: pleasure, yes, but also that it spur me to new thoughts. This year my interest in grime has started to wane a bit because it feels like it isn’t moving fast enough and therefore is failing to generate new thoughts in me. I might be mistaken there, it could be a failing of my own rather than the genre; but I doubt it. (By contrast, I lost interest in drum’n’bass when its entertainment quotient started to go into steep decline; for all I know it might have generated a steady stream of new thoughts--in fact it did, in the sense of repeatedly coming back to the subject of “why did D&B turn crap?”--but the hedonic factor had dropped away completely).


But… but… but… Simon… I’m sure you’ve written many pieces that are just purely about the pleasure and surface delight of a record

Well, you might be right. I’d be surprised if there were many that were devoid of any reference to the X-factor. But I daresay when writing a column of jungle 12 inch reviews or 2step or whatever, they might be almost entirely about the sensation-al and formal delights of the music. But then it would be taken for granted that the X-factor aspects had already been established; that understood-and-more-or-less-agreed set of values and claims would be the context for this second-tier form of consumer-guidance writing. Also it would probably have a tone of urgency about it that would in spirit echo the larger project.
on funk

oh yes there's an ambivalence or vacillation there, something unresolved -- sometimes i think da funk is all i ever want from a music, the supreme value is groove -- other times i remember all the other forms of rhythmic compulsion (eg motorik, gabba, punk, meta, reggael) or the fact that the Byrds were great but hardly funky.

i think my beef with funk is when it becomes a kind of ideology, and then an ideological closure -- a sort of a stopping point for thought. so that when you read a review of a record, all it boils down is that the record is funky -- or at least the writer finds it funky. these days, with all the 70s sample-sources so readily available, it's very easy to be convincingly funky. and a lot of music that announces itself as funky is often quite tepid -- all that detroit influenced techno from the last five years or so; acid jazz; etc etc -- have you heard any of that nu skool breaks stuff? it's whole banner is we-are-funky-as-fuck, we love the bass... i can't feel it myself

i guess i'm looking for funk with a twist, a hint of phuture -- some of the twostep stuff is so funky but a lot of funkateers wouldn't be able to recognise it as such. People on the scene don't use the word funk much, it's all 'bumpin'' -- maybe it's actually a giveaway when people use the word 'funk', a sign that it's going to be a pale copy of a past form of funk, rather than a reinventoin of it. maybe funk is to be found in the unlikeliest places -- the Chain Reaction/Maurizio stuff can be fearfully funky without any grit or sexuality. Trance can be funky in its frictionless, clinical way.

that book on Funk by Ricky Vincent -- it's quite well done but because the guy has defined funk for himself as the smokin' interaction of a live band, (or hip hoppers sampling the same), he's immediately closed off whole avenues for himself -- he has a typical AfroAmerican funkateers diatribe against disco, so that he can't take on the funkiness of house music or any all-electronic music -- the best he can come up for exemplars of da- funk-lives-on is Red hot chilli peppers and their like! That's a typical example of funk-as-ideology leading to a dead end.
interview with Space Age Bachelor Pad fanzine

***1 - Can you further expand on the concept of -audio
hallucinations ? Are these common, and what exactly are they like?
Are whole tracks totally recalled? It s a fascinating concept that
I d never heard of before.

Audio hallucinations are just auditory hallucinations -- we tend to think of hallucinations as visual delusions, but there are audio ones as well -- people tripping, or schizophrenics,can hear voices, uncanny sounds, foreboding hums etc. Certain drugs seem to expand the auditory threshold at both ends of the frequency spectrum,--ie bass and treble-- and heightening perceptual acuity means that you get the aural equivalent of catching things out of the corner of your eye. All this can feed into outright audio hallucinations-- sonic phantoms.

***2 - I can t remember where exactly, but I know that you ve used the
concept of Potlatch to describe the goings-on of the hardcore raver.
Could you elaborate on what Potlatch is, and how you think it relates
to rave behaviour?

I think it was in the last interview I did with you re. The Sex Revolts. Potlatch refers to rituals of ruinous gift-giving in tribal societies where one's rank is determined by how much wealth and resources one can waste, give away etc etc. It's related to the idea of sacrifice, where you're getting rid of precious resources (food, livestock, human life etc) to appease/please the God. Georges Bataille was very interested in potlatch --which is where rival chieftains or potentates would engage in gift-giving battles that escalated sometimes to the point of total ruination. He theorised that there was an innate, aristocratic drive in
human beings towards extravagance, a sort of will to expenditure-without-return (ie the opposite of Protestant bourgeois ethics of investment, prudence, thrift, providence etc). The Situationists were also interested in potlach and other acts of exorbitant generosity because they broke with the exchange and commodity relations of capitalism.

The link with rave culture is slightly farfetched, but i think there is something
striking about how much money people waste on getting wasted --the number of pills
people consume in a night is staggering, as is all the other substances on top --coke, weed, booze. With certain drugs, not only are you spending a lot of your income on them (plus all the soft drinks and ancillary expenditiures of going to a rave/club), but the drugs are also spending your energy --- I comment in the book on how Ecstasy depletes the brain's reserves of serotonin and dopamine, so that overdoing E is like going on a spending spree with one's future happiness -- you'll feel depressed for days, weeks, in some cases months afterwards. I'm sure there's an etymological connection between the idea of getting wasted and ideas of waste -- wasting your time, your energy, your youth etc -- all the things that
bourgeois society thinks should be productively invested in meaningful activity (career, family, politics, education, social/charity work etc). The current UK concept of larging it -- or having it, having it large, having it major -- also might have some link to largesse or the idea of extravagance -- a polydrug (and drink) riot of consumption, flash clothes, living like a playa (rather than a worker).

In a sense, raving is totally unproductive activity, all this energy is expended with
no goal apart from celebration. You have this culture organised around ritual festivity, orgiastic celebration, a Bacchanalian explosion -- all of which harks back to tribal, pagan folkways which were organised around sacrifice, extravagance. Rave culture is riddled with tribal imagery.

3 - From football hooligans to ravers, do you think there s a
barminess that is uniquely English, and how can you explain it?

Well, American fratboys can behave pretty boorishly, so I'm not sure about this. But
certainly, compared with Europeans, the English -- or rather the British, as the
Scottish/Welsh/etc also do this -- do tend to push it a bit further. Maybe cos we're more repressed/inhibited/reserved, so when this stuff finds an outlet (football, raving etc) it's really explosive.

***4 - What proportion of tracks in Energy Flash do you think were
actually recorded on drugs? What are the most noteworthy examples?

I've no idea. I don't think the creators necessarily need to be off their tits while working, but if you're living a hardcore lifestyle, in the thick of the rave experience, and going out partying your socks off at the weekend, then for the rest of the week you're still under the influence, in a sense -- the E-memories are very accessible cos they're fresh, you can trigger them by playing music, it's quite easy to flash back into that mode. The midweek comedown phase is quite close to being high, in so far as you're over-sensitized to stuff. So i remember hardcore producers like Acen telling me how back in the day they would spend all weekend raving and the experience would give them ideas for tracks -- through being in the crowd, seeing what sounds and riffs sent the crowd berserk, what noises gave you a rush when you were E'd up -- and then during the week they'd implement the ideas into tracks which they might have on dubplate by the weekend and give out to DJs, so they could actually hear if the track worked on the dancefloor. When they're in the thick of the
scene, hardcore producers are really only thinking a weekend or two ahead -- the next track, the next rave -- rather than long term careers and artistic development. And in a sense they're off their tits all the time.

But who knows, maybe a lot of them did take E while producing. I know that Goldie did E's while mixing down the final version of "Terminator", one of his trippiest
and most radical early tunes, a track that helped pioneer the darkside jungle sound. He told an interviewer that he took the E's cos you hear different things when high, your perceptual limits are expanded, "you hear things that aren't there" is how i think he put it -- feeding back to that idea of audio hallucinations. I know that most of the No U Turn tracks are made in a chronic state of being stoned on really strong weed. But I suspect most producers on the scene make music while stoned, as pot smoking is a really normal, banal thing in the UK for a certain generation, like drinking coffee.

***5 - What role does the evolution of weed play in the evolution of
the book, and how important is it to styles like darkcore and the
paranoid inflections of US hip-hop? (As far as I can tell, weed isn t
the same drug now as it was then -- it s a much heavier drug now,
while few seem to recognize it as such.)

Weed is definitely shitloads stronger now than it was in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. I can remember the first times I tried pot -- this would have been the early Eighties -- and I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. It seemed as much placebo effect as anything, giggling neo-hippies following the ritual, behaving as they thought they should under the influence. But the weed growers have bred stronger breeds and the THC content is several times higher today than it was back then. When I re-encountered weed in the mid-Nineties I finally saw the point of it, but I was also struck by how often as not you got a really paranoid buzz off it -- racing thoughts, uncomfortably fast heartbeat, unpleasantly enhanced peripheral vision. Not Bob Marley mellow vibes, but a real edgy and sometimes foreboding experience not unlike a mild version of a bad acid trip. Even when it's fun, the
enhancement of the senses, particularly sound, can be really intense -- mildly
hallucinogenic . For the life of me I cannot imagine how people can smoke this stuff
every day, all day -- as a lot of people in the jungle, trip hop, etc scenes do. No wonder the likes of the Wu Tang have an apocalyptic worldview. You can hear that stoned mindstate in the sound of the music -- the emphasis on timbre and texture, the loops that go nowhere, the subliminal Fx and details designed to catch the stoner's peripheral hearing.

In terms of music, one noticeable thing was the shift from hardcore rave music into
jungle and drum 'n' bass -- all the manic riffs and tingly textures in hardcore were designed to trigger the E-rush. But when people started having bad experiences on too many pills, they switched to smoking spliff -- gradually the bass became more prominent to please stoned ears, and the B-lines started to run at half-speed, reggae tempo, under the fast breakbeats, so that those who weren't hyped up on E-nergy could dance to the skanking B-line. Other people just dropped out of the rave scene and got into ambient and dub-influenced 'listening techno', which was more suitable to getting stoned -- more textures and space, less dance energy. The hardcore people incorporated the dub element within the hectic rave music, as an internal component; the 'intelligent' people just opted wholesale
for a Nineties dub sound.

6 - Rocketing -- The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers are marketed in a
rock way. Bob Marley was marketed in a rock way (I-Threes replacing
the Wailers, guitar put forward in the mix). How did rock marketing
gain such a hegemony in America, and has electronic music had a
genuine success in the music?

Don't really have an answer for this one except to allude to the hegemony of radio programmers and the way US radio stations all compete for the middle ground rather than spreading across a wide spectrum of diversity. Obviously Prodigy had to come with songs and a videogenic frontman and guitar-like riffs to succeed here, but let's not underestimate their achievement: the beats on 'Firestarter' and 'Breathe' are jungle breakbeats in essence. I think those two songs are two of the most radical pop productions of the decade, and remind me oddly of The Young Gods, sampler-wielding punks from the late Eigthies.

***7 - I like the concept of -music as forcefield that you use to
write about Beltram s Energy Flash. It s the same sort of way I
feel about Phil Spector tracks like Be My Baby. But I ve had
trouble explaining this forcefield concept recently. What do you
think is going on in these tracks that makes them such
subjectivity-losing feelings?

In Spector and Beltram and similar things, I think there's a miasmic effect going on,
through distortion and saturated tones and overloaded frequencies -- it's like there's a loss of distinction between figure and ground (to use a metaphor from painting), so that the normal sense of aural perspective that allows you to think of the music as over there, at a safe remote distance, is diminished. With the Beltram stuff it's like the sound is swarming out, and you're going to be subsumed in the swarm -- which can be a blissful sensation or threatening (hence my over use of metaphors of marauding clouds of poison gas, killer bees etc!). With Spector, the figure (the vocalist) is lost or almost lost in the ground (the wall of sound) and whether through the listener's identification with the singer, or just through the overspill of sound coming out of the speakers, the listener also feels on the
verge of disappearing in the sonic deluge.

There's probably a sense in which all music is a forcefield -- unlike when we look
at a visual work of art, we are always 'inside' the music because the sound waves travel out, penetrate our bodies, surround us, reflect off the walls. Acoustic phenomenon are much more intimate and visceral than optical ones -- probably closer to touch and smell than sight; acoustic phenomema are also less under our control, we don't have earlids we can close, we can't direct our ear's gaze in a specific direction or turn away. We're much more vulnerable to sound, hence music's proximity to sensations of rapture, ravishment, being engulfed, overwhelmed. Whereas the eye is much more related to feelings of mastery and being in command. The eye is phallic, the ear vulvic (?).

That said, certain kinds of music -- those with high definition in the production,
precise borders in the mix between the instruments, 'naturalistic' production with drum kit here, the guitar there, the voice in the middle -- diminish the sense of music swarming out and surrounding you. They recreate the feeling of watching/listening to a band on stage, of the listener's detachment as a spectator. Other styles of production --- from My Bloody Valentine neo-psych blur to Eno's spatial ambience to dub's oceanic mesh-space to No U Turn's Gothic/industrial neo-Spector blare -- heighten the sense of the listener's immersion,
in different ways. Then there's that drum'n'bass style of cinematic production where you're in the environment (usually Blade Runner/noir sci-fi-esque) but the music somehow creates the sensation that you're the stalker within it, that you can direct your hearing like a rifle's crosshairs and aurally focus on whatever you're surveilling. Paranoid or panopticon hearing.

8 - Do you think there could be a dichotomy set up between the
concepts of -scenius and -genius that follows something like:
etcetera? (I mostly ask this question to find my own place in this
music -- I ve always been into the axis that connects records from Sly
Stone s There s A Riot to Maxinquaye to Keith Hudson s Pick A Dub --
music not to lose yourself in a crowd to, but music in which you lose
the crowd altogether.)

Yeah, that is pretty much the dichotomy I had in mind. Eno's idea of "scenius" really
appealed to me because it provided a way of understanding how rave music evolved
without the traditional music historian's reflex of fixating on specific individuals who changed the course of the music and precise places where the turning points occurred. So in dance music histories, specifically jungle, people will harp on endlesslly about Goldie, Fabio & Grooverider, the club Rage. The more hyperbolic acounts of jungle history will attribute the invention of breakbeat-driven hardcore/jungle/drum & bass to Fabio & Grooverider. In fact the idea of speeding up the breaks and chopping them up etc was occurring independently and simultaneously across the UK and in other countries too all through the period; breakbeat science evolved in tiny increments on a month by month basis; there were key people who made breakthroughs but no solitary geniuses who singlehandedly opened up a whole new frontier; on the DJ level, it wasn't just F&G at Rage but scores of dJs at dozens of clubs across London, the South East, the Midlands who were pushing the sound. A good example of scenius in action is how 4 Hero, Doc Scott, Goldie and others sampled and resampled off each other's records the Mentasm sound originally created by Joey Beltram -- a game of ping pong, as Goldie put it, that actually mutated the sound and intensified it over a period of several months. When they went back to the original record to sample it after these several months, it actually sounded
weak -- it wasn't as dirty and raw and evil as the sound they had collectively evolved through the back-and-forth sampling off each other. These guys were friends all affiliated to the Reinforced label, but this kind of traffic was going on across the entire scene, across the nation, between strangers -- there were producers who were more innovative than others, but even the cloners and copyists played their part in mutating the sound and coming up with new twists.

Until 3 years or so ago i'd probably have shared your interest, at least in terms of
my overt ideology, in the individuals that stand out, who don't make their music to serve the crowd. but gradually i realised my fix wasn't just to do with records in isolation, heard at home on your lonesome onesome, it was the whole subcultural matrix -- music + crowd interaction + ritualised behavior + discourse. There a lot of records that work brilliantly as components of the DJ's mix, and with MC-ing over the top, but sound flat when heard in isolation. These days I'm more interested in how records feed into and sustain "vibe" (which i guessed i'd define as the forcefield where tribal energy/identity meets music, technology and drugs to create a collective mood in specific social spaces and geographic locales), and less interested in art as a quasi-autonomous realm that's supposedly separate
from the social, that's supposedly timeless and placeless. But there is a diagonal that may actually be the most interesting one to follow -- a line where there's a tension between the experimental/musical impulses of the auteur and the demands of the DJ/dancefloor. Some of my favorite stuff is created on that line -- hardcore/jungle 1992-94, dub and roots reggae in the Seventies, hip hop as it begins to move beyond party-rocking beats and gets adventurous-but-not-pretentious. Stuff that's either side of that diagonal line is either too homogenous (scenius) or too quirkily non-functional (genius).

***9 - Do you think Ecstacy manifests a uniquely deep sense of loss?
(Not having taken it, the descriptions of the comedown strike me as
heartbreak without even being left a memory of love to cling to.)

That's a very good description of what the E comedown is like -- and it figures into the book's idea of the essence of E/raving as intransitive -- there's no object to the verb "rave", there's no love object for the state of being loved-up. That's not totally true --people sort of fall in love with the scene, the experience, the culture -- and specifically with the gang of people they go raving with. The posse, the crew. That's where you get all that tight incestuous we-are-family type stuff amongst certain cliques in jungle, like the Metalheadz/Goldie/Kemistry&Storm/Fabio&Grooverider click -- it's all E bonds. Then it becomes a sort of quasi-military cameraderie thing, people waxing nostalgic about 'missions' they went on (really drug-binges and prolonged periods without sleep!). That song 'Let Be Your Fantasy' is classic example of rave-and-E as being in love with nothing -- the lyrics are one long paean to the state of being loved-up which is incarnated as this
fantasy-woman beseeching 'come and feel my energy, i've got what it takes to make you

***10 - Can you envisage anything like a deep conspiracy theory that
directly connects the brewing industry to the rave industry? (My take
on it is that whevever there s money spiralling up, there s going to
be someone at the top squeezing to get more. Isn t it possible that
spiked drugs could have begun as a brewing industry ploy?) When I
think of the fact that the vast majority of pubs in England, which
pose as charming locals, are actually owned by huge companies, and
when I think of the marketing of English football, where away jerseys
change every year, forcing supporters to make purchase after purchase,
and the marketing of SkyTV -- well anyway, what I m getting at it is
that it seems the tastes of England s lower and middle classes are
expertly exploited to the hilt, and I have a hard time imagining that
the commercial elites haven t made a helluva lot of money off of rave.
Can you think of anything that would feed this notion?

I think they've made, or have recently come up with ways to make, lots of money out of it NOW. The clubbing and dance record industries are hugely organised, professionalized things now. But conspiracy theories aren't really required to explain how this came about.

11 - How much credit can the instruments (Roland 303, as the most
obvious example) themselves take for the production of the tracks?
Would it be useful to see sampledelia (whether it s sampling your own
records or someone else s) as opening up a more genuine mode of
artistic expression in electronic music, since it s not using an
engineer s presets, and since sounds can be morphed to such a higher

Well the Roland 303 is only a tool, to get anything out of it you have to play a pattern of notes into and jiggle the knobs around to tweak all the parameters. There's no presets, there's a basic sound (like there's a basic timbre to a piano, but all these notes, pedals, ways you can plays it) --similarly with the 303 there's a huge range of ways you can tweak it. I'd say the 303 is somewhere between an effects pedal like the wah wah and a proper instrument. A lot of 'real' musicians prefer the 303 to a sampler cos of its hands-on nature. Where I sort of agree with you is that the creativity of sampling is sometimes undervalued by these analog synth bores who think that playing keyboard patterns manually is more 'musical' than chopping up samples and feeding then through-Fx on a screen using a mouse. Sampling has developed to such a microscopic and intensive level, with tiny fragments being used and things being fed through so many warping processes/filters/FX, that it's almost irrelevant that the original sound comes from someone else's record. In some ways it's gone too far and the idiomatic 'quote machine' nature of the
sampler's been lost -- they might as well be using a synth, cos all the original 'aura' and 'grain' of the sample-source has gone, it's a totally denatured, synthetic sound.

***12 - Do you think there s a structural difference to the record
industry in America that makes scenes harder to develop? (I ve heard
about situations in England, where a record will come out one week,
and be sampled by someone else the next. But in North America, it
seems to me that the industry moves so slowly that -response records
become impossible.)

It's not structural to the record industry but related to the sheer size of the country -- organic scenes seem to take much longer to build -- what can explode within months in the UK cos of the hothouse atmosphere of the music press/industry, seems to take years, even decades, to reach critical mass in the USA. The record industry seems fairly responsive in terms of signing stuff up -- there's been not one but *two* waves of US major labels going crazy for UK rave music -- the first was in late 91-early 92 (the first time The Prodigy got signed -- then to Elektra) in response to the spate of UK hardcore tunes hitting the Top Ten in England -- acts like N-Joi, Bizarrre Inc, Eon, Quadrophonia, Shamen, T99, all had records out on US majors -- but the majors didn't know how to market the groups -- the
second wave of mass signing of course was 97's electronica frenzy, with some groups
signed (Prodigy for the second time, to Maverick -- although it's actually the third time if you count Mute as a major) and majors also trying to make alliances with indie dance labels or form their own boutique electronica sub-labels -- that too foundered on the problem of radio and MTV"s rapid retreat from dance music. In both cases the record industry was ahead of public taste -- the youth were way behind the A&R guys (who are usually quite hip). A similar thing happened in the late Eighties when bands like Dinosaur Jr, Husker Du, Throwing Muses, Pixies all got signed to majors but failed in the market place -- it was three or four years too soon, and it was only with grunge that the public, MTV and radio were ready for those kind of sounds/emotions/anti-fashion images. So the real question is why does it take so long for the demand to build up on a popular level? Why is the British youth market more volatile and hungry for the new and prepared to switch allegiances where the American youth seem more inertia-bound and slow-moving? Loyalty to styles, bands etc seems a bigger deal here.

***13 - When you introduce the concept of minor language in the
context of the pirate DJ s, somehow it brought theatrics to mind. Are
subcultures more than anything else a place for youth to reinvent
themselves, or moreover to outright get out of themselves?

There's an element of that I think in the way MCs and DJs invent personae for themselves to hide behind -- Easy E, Man Like Liam, A guy Called Gerald, Dominator, etc... But the minor language concept is really about tribal identity -- dissident folkways within the larger culture. Maybe soon there will no longer be a mainstream culture, just a profusion of specialised knowledges, tribal identities, idiolects and subcultures. (Marshall McLuhan had a big riff about the resurgence of tribalism in the age of mass media, regarding tribal consciousness as our natural state). A lot of the rhetoric in the pirate culture is to do with knowing the score, knowing the code -- to do with initiation, or fending off the uninitiated. -- and tribes function through rituals, initiation ceremonies etc

14 - Where do you see the state of drum n bass/jungle in 1998/99? I
keep seeing hype-in-the-press about so-and-so, who s going to break
drum n bass -- like the press on the recent Grooverider LP, or else
Lady Miss Kier s upcoming jungle album. It seems to me by this
juncture, it s all over. It can get consigned to its one night of the
week at the local club, just like all the other sub-genres. But
people cling to it so heavily that I almost get the impression they
need it to be big for their own sense of validation.

I would concur here -- people routinely give respectful reviews to the latest double-or- triple album by such-and-such a drum & bass innovator, but these major label records -- 4 Hero, Grooverider, Peshay and Dillinja next year -- are just glum relics of the year-before- last's A&R frenzy. There's few things sadder than watching these records, bloated and overproduced, limp into the public eye long after the moment has passed. The vibe element of jungle has long since migrated into London speed garage and two-step garage scene; what's left is a grim bunch of pseudo-experimentalists who are now servicing a totally different audience to the one they started with -- now their following is largelly white middle class students. Drum and bass has become the new techno; and as you say, techno long ago went through this shift where one minute (1991-92) it was the word people used to describe the whole culture, the next it was this specific purist genre within
the culture, and an increasingly unpopular genre at that. The same thing's happened to jungle -- it's just one of the genres rather than the leading edge.

15 - Now that movies like Modulations amongst other smaller ones have
come out, and magazines like Wire and Urb have entrenched themselves
over the last few years -- how do we stop the discourse of electronica
from becoming as overbearing as the History of Rock n Roll? It s grown
so tiring to have all these people from Luigi Russolo, to Stockhausen,
to Pierre Henri, to Kraftwerk shoved at me, as if I m supposed to
revere them. No magazine or movie is specifically at fault for this,
but still I can t help thinking that once history is written, it seems
that the present and the future shrink. Do you think Energy Flash did
anything to try to navigate this problem, to keep discourse open, to
write about the music without killing it?

You're right, that whole history of electronic explorers thing has gotten pretty terra cognita in the last few years -- and an aura of dull'n'worthy has gathered around some of those figures, undeservedly in most cases -- usually as a result of the pious way they're written about.

I tried to navigate this problem by avoiding the 'experimental' as a category as
much as possible -- in Energy Flash/Generation Ecstasy, that sort of Modulations/The
Wire type music takes only a couple of chapters (the one on Ambient echno/Intelligent Techno', and the one on the post-rave art-techno fringe of Oval, Squarepusher, Spooky etc). I decided to focus on the dancefloor, on that tension between experimental/ auteurist impulses and the imperatives of danceability/populism/functionalism. It's not that I don't like a lot of experimental electronic music, but I realised that what really excited me was when those ideas impacted society -- that interaction and friction between experimental/futuristic stuff and socio-political reality (class, race, gender, economics) is what created the most interesting cultural phenomena. It also created the most 'vibe' -- it's
where the fun and the intensity was. 'Ardkore and jungle remain the model for me of this kind of interface between avant-gardism and populism. I realised that the experimental-ness of jungle was only one of the things I loved about it, and only one of the things that made it 'work' -- as a music and as a culture. I loved it cos it was danceable, druggable, an amazing subculture with weird rituals, because it was multicultural and prophetic of a new British identity that mixed up black and white. Because it was fun, because it was dangerous, because it gave me a rush. The experimentalism and futurism of breakbeat science was maybe 20 percent of why i liked it, the bit that appealed to the intellect.

Any cultural phenomenon is going to be a mix of what Raymond Williams called
'residual' and 'emergent' -- ie. tradition and progressive, or in jungle lingo "roots 'n' phuture". The "emergent", avant-garde elements in jungle wouldn't have worked without the "residual" stuff: a specific example is that to have breakbeat science, you need to have breakbeats (sweaty, human musicians playing live funk) in the first place. In the book i tried to avoid a lot of the vague phuturistic rhetoric and discourse that surrounds techno culture -- instead my interest is really in the now as the point where the future rubs against the past, and sparks fly.
preamble to a panel discussion on music criticism at the New School in 1999

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture"--this famous dismissal of pop criticism is often attributed to Elvis Costello (one of rock journalism's greatest beneficiaries I would have thought) but I believe it was originally a quip made by Thelonious Monk. At any rate, it now has almost proverbial status--deployed whenever it's felt necessary to point out the futility and fatuity of writing about music.

There's a number of ripostes to the "dancing about architecture" jibe. The philosopher Friedrich Von Schelling once declared: "Architecture is frozen music". Which would mean that music is fluid architecture, and thus something it makes perfect sense to dance to. Indeed, music does operate as a kind of space you inhabit, an architecture of emotion that you dwell inside and that colors your moods.

Anyway, I've always thought that dancing to architecture might be kind of cool--in a sort of absurdist performance art street theater happening Fluxus kind of way.

This is just playing with the wording of the claim "writing about music is like dancing about architecture," rather dealing with its intent--the accusation that writing about music is pointless, parasitic, an always already doomed act of hubris. And there is a sense in which the very stuff of music, what makes it work and what makes it magical, does elude capture in words--no matter how diligent or determined the writer, there is a sense in which what goes on in a piece of music criticism is an elaborate writing around the unspeakable nature of musical
pleasure--the mystery of melody, the compulsion of rhythm, the grain and aura of a particular voice. You could probably say the same thing about other forms of art criticism, though. Nor does an intrinsic near-impossibility of writing about music constitute any reason not to keep trying -- for there's always the possibility that words might fail, interestingly or suggestively.

There is an idea spinning off the "dancing about architecture" put-down that I'd like to see our panellists address, though -- an idea related to a perceived ineffectual-ness of writing about music at this historical juncture. What I'm talking about is the inheritance that anyone who becomes a rock critic buys into, and which is both promise and burden--the twin idea that writing can make a difference to the music, and that the music can make a difference to the world. In rock, both these ideas--which began in the late Sixties counterculture, flagged a
bit, and then were recharged by punk-- seem shaky and far from self-evident in 1999. With hip hop, it's probably still a vital part of the discourse that music has weight, can challenge, subvert or represent some kind of effective cultural dissidence. Even if this power is thought of as diminished with the commercialisation of rap, it's still felt as a recent loss, something that can be regained by an effort of will. As for rave and electronic dance music, many of these scenes subscribe to counterculture and punk-derived ideas of an underground or
resistance, although in half-articulated fashion, but mostly they are more about retreating from consensus reality into their own artificial paradises, rather than changing the world.

There was a time when rock artists were regarded as seers with an oracular power to reflect the Zeitgeist in their songwriting; the job of the critic was the exegesis and interpretation of these tablets from on high. Nowadays, with rock culture splintered into a welter of micro-cultures and niche markets, the assumptions that could once be made that everybody is interested in what a Dylan, Springsteen, Costello, Clash, Stipe, Cobain, Vedder, or similar figure--has to say to us, are no longer tenable; it's not clear that anybody is even pining for figures who represent a focus for a unity of alienation or aspiration. In the face of this, I sense two responses on the part of writers: Some have reconceived their role--instead of trying to mobilise their readership to invest its belief in a particular visionary
artist or rock statesman, they're attempting to understand what's already popular, to discover why a particular band or sound resonates with its audience, and to hopefully detect submerged currents of resistance or progressive values. Others have embraced irony--a non-partisan, omnivorous approach that treats all values and allegiances as provisional. But both these strategies face a struggle, I think, when it comes to preserving the notion of rock as more than just another facet of today's entertainment culture.