Friday, January 22, 2010

i suppose the one thing missing in the piece
is that i didn't really advance an idea for why rap's stagnated, beyong vague
sense of running out of ideas. i think genres generally are finite things,
in the sense of having a sort of set of resources that they burn through, a
territory that is ruthelessly exploited and ransacked, and they you get
something like undie rap which is almost like a conservationist movement or
nature preserve, husbanding those resources, "sustainable growth" even. it
goes back to the old ideas and recycles them, or tweaks them.

but this was a surprisingly weak response -- as much in tone as argument, i'd have expected something much more aggressive and bitchily disrespectful.

he's basically saying that hip hop's turning into a kind of indie....
local, do-it-yourself, aesthetically oriented to the already-converted....
fair enough but that's a big fall from where it was in the early years of
this decade as this commercially and culturally dominant force

it does remind me of fanzine types you'd get in the 80s going on about
energy and local bands forming and complaining about lazy music paper
critics not paying attention

thing is, all he's done is sit there in his boxer shorts surfing through
YouTube and downloading the odd mixtape from rap blogs! there's very little virtue to be claimed in energy-expenditure terms

more generally i do find puzzling the morbid attachment on the part of
youngsters to things that have been around for ever and are
fundamentally static... same applies with R&B, in its current form it really goes
back to Teddy Riley and Bobby Brown, end of the 80s, swingbeat... we had Bobby on the cover of Melody Maker in 1989 i think it was, David Stubbs got kept waiting on the set of his video shoot for about 16 hours i believe, then got a 20 minute chat!

update: and here's a piece about rap in 2010 by tom breihan that basically concurs with the rap-as-indie thesis. Conclusion:

"In the end, hip-hop is recalibrating, from a pop sensation back into an underground movement. People are making music for specialized, dedicated audiences, knowing that these audiences probably won't make them rich. Sometimes they're holding down day jobs or figuring out alternate ways of making money. Touring is important. And listeners have to go deeper than the most obvious stuff, digging through various localized underground scenes to find the worthwhile stuff. Sound familiar? From certain angles, rap's current moment doesn't look too different from, say, indie rock circa 1985. That's a good place to be."

Sounds a humiliating place to be, for a former global popculture top dog, to be frank. Plus there was already an undie rap, so now there's another indie-rap, a sort of indie-streetrap/mersh-rap substratum, the submainstream as i call it...
some time ago when i was feeling all patriotic about the British contribution to rock (an effect of living in america where critics are often quite dismissive of UK music after about 1983) it did suddenly strike me that when you look at it, the absolute key figure across at least three decades are second-generation Irish:

Lennon & McCartney

John Lydon

Morrissey & Marr

Not forgetting Kevin Rowland, Ian McCulloch (presumably?), Shaun Ryder (am i right?), Oasis, and many more. Oh yes and My Bloody Valentine.

It's quite remarkable really.
i started this talking about how nuum-zone was one of the things worth believing in during the Noughties. that the music compelled you to work out what it represented , to dig out the buried credo, the unwritten manifesto. the affect of belief came first, caused by the sheer power of the music, and then --if you were of that inclination--it compelled you to attempt to articulate the nature of that power, its implications and resonances.

yet I'd have to say that by the end of the decade I really found myself approaching nuum-not-nuum sounds pretty much as a pleasure-principled agnostic. and in fact no longer looking for the music's concealed articles of faith actually frees me up to enjoy the music more. which is ironic,maybe, but entirely logical. belief often goes hand in hand with excessive expectations, leading to disappointment and frustration.

from hardcore through to grime, it really felt like something was unfolding. now I don't get the same sense of teleology, a destiny manifesting itself. which means i tune into the transmissions and take pleasure where i find it.

and that includes being bemused-amused. for instance, what does it mean that one of the year's most beloved post-dubstep tunes, Darkstar's "Aidy's Girl Is A Computer," sounds like it could be by Crystal Castles? (I like Crystal Castles, a LOT, so no diss there… but they are hardly a group that would ever get respect in dubstep quarters). equally, what should we conclude from "Hyph Mngo" becoming a smash on the Sasha-style progressive scene, i.e. the most consistently boring, anemic dance genre of the last 20 years? Or how about "Future Garage", which isn't really futuristic at all, since rhythmically picks up where Dem 2 left off with "Grunge Dub"?

And here's another: Silkie, not sure if he's "future garage" (someone on youtube called him "Futuristic Step"), i rather like his stuff (this is pretty exciting, the MC's over-the-topness certainly helps, even if he overstates the case rather). "Grunge Dub" again comes to mind... with some Viktor Duplaix "broken r&b"/Giant Step circa 2001 vibes... some liquid funk/logical progression luxe-goo (but the reference points drifted forward a bit from Seventies to Eighties, hence the title "80s Baby")... HOWEVER, while kinda digging this stuff I couldn't help
chuckling at this sequence of comments under another Silkie youtube:


"this tune belongs in 3009 AD"

"Silkie channeled the great George Duke and Billy Cobham on this one... I feel like I'm listening to future jazz fusion everytime I hear this.... :D"

so one dude thinks this is music from the 30th Century, a millenium hence... and another hears George Duke and Billy bloody Cobham on it!

Yeah so the long and the short of it is: nuum-not-nuum proving to be fertile in fine sounds but also fecund in bullshit

the more serious ah philosophical doubt i have about nuum-not-nuum is the same as ever, and mild, in the sense that it doesn't exactly trouble me but more i find it disconcerting to hear people talking the same "there's no rules anymore/the walls are down" talk last heard in the mid-90s... don't they realise that when a genre can assimilate everything, it ceases to be anything in particular?

in such circumstances you couldn't really expect there to be a buried credo for extracting. a credo implies rules, and the new rules of the game are "anything goes"-- an anti-credo perhaps, not so much nu-IDM as nu-illbient. the post-post-rave equivalent of Fukuyama's "The End of History". belief wouldn't come into it, then. and certainly when you read the people who follow all the nuum-not-nuum shifts very closely, they describe them in this detailed way, but they never ascribe anything to them.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

on whether this was just to irritate the dance fans

well yeah, but i wouldn't say it if i didn't believe it. i listen to most electronic things i get sent and a lot of hotly touted mixes on FACT and all over the place, check most things people are talking about. but even the things i really like, pantha du prince or whoever, seem like they are reworking a set of established sonic tropes and tones, stretching them interestingly maybe but.... it's same with all the post-Nuum/nuum-not-nuum stuff, in the main. That is my history so I enjoy it, and sometimes a lot. But the point of my polemic is that it's no different, fundamentally, from the way indie bands operate, reworking this established vocabulary.

It seems to me that a lot of the pride and confidence that hip hop fans or electronic dance fans have in their area being intrinsically more cutting edge or advanced or superior, it's not substantiated by what's actually going on in the music these days, it's like a partisan attachment. A habitually maintained mindset, based on stuff that happened a long time ago, in the same way that indie groups in the 80s lived off the Velvet Underground having once been groundbreaking.

i read something a rap nerd posted on his tumbler, saying the innovation critique re. rap was irrelevant because innovation was all about lyrics in the last five years and there'd been astounding advances. but from that i drew a/ so he basically agrees with me b/ he's just trying to make out it doesn't matter. which is like shifting the goalposts i think, suddenly hip hop's not about the pursuit of the fresh beat anymore?

it reminded me a bit of what someone who was anti-indie would have said of a group like the Go Betweens in the 80s (who i liked), a fan of rap or early house might say it's just carrying on this tradition that started with Velvets, Modern Lovers, Talking Heads etc, and the Go Betweens fan would say ah but it's all about Robert Forster's lyrics and how creatively oblique they are. Or someone could have said the same about Steve Malkmus in Pavement, the music is a pastiche of krautrock, the fall, swell maps, but the lyrics are doing this John Ashberry stuff.
second unfinished half of this

Indie in the shit sense obviously is still something of a force in the world. There's still plenty of people out there who believe in precepts like not singing well or with any kind of in-your-face presence and personality/making obviously defective-sounding music/ playing with exaggerated sloppiness or partially covering your songs in distortion and dirt = opposition to the mainstream's "sterile" perfection. Store is still being set by some in writing your own songs/ having idiosyncratically personal or quirkily clever lyrics as superior to professionally written pop product. And there's plenty of indie-meaning-bad music out there on both sides of the Atlantic: wimpy wistful stuff in the post-Neutral Milk Hotel strain, perpetuations of the traditions of lo-fi, skronk/pigfuck, etc. Indie's been around such a long time it can even have its own internal sectors of retro-indie, groups harking back to C86 twee (the Pains of Being Pure At Heart).

But the fact that "indie" could refer to any of these but also the more experimental stuff in the Animal Collective/Vampire Weekend/Micachu vein suggest that the word had been stretched too far.

What does give the term any kind of residual coherence is its audience. By and large that's collegiate: students, and those who had once been students, and those still at school but on the track towards being students. Not everyone in/heading towards higher education is into indie obviously but I bet you most of the people into indie fit that stereotype. The hostility towards "indie" is at least in part a hostility to the class itself. And some of the fiercest hate comes from a segment within that class who despise their peers for having sheep-like taste or unthought-through assumptions (assumptions they might have had, quite recently, too -- so this is your classic indie guilt syndrome).

This syndrome-- a hipper minority who define themselves the middlebrow herd by embracing either manufactured plastic pop or realer-than-thou ghetto musics--is somewhat disheartening when you consider that it has been recurring for decades, reconstituting itself within each generation just as indie/student taste reconstitutes itself. It points to a profound degree of social stasis. Your anti-indie hipsters are trying to escape from it by embracing music that people like them (i.e. middle class, quasi-discerning) aren't supposed to like. But they too are a structural fixture of a social field organized and divided by taste.

If you have any kind of class-based take on music, the eternal recurrence, the changeless same, is slightly depressing. You can map out so much of the taste map in terms of social divisions (there is a space in UK music culture for instance that still corresponds to "mod", it has shifted in some respects because it's 40 years on, but fundamentally the same space… just as emo occupies the same space as Goth while chav is an evolution of casual which was an evolution of skin). I think that indie-hate as well as being an aversion to the music is at some unconscious level a frustration with this underlying social stasis and deadlock. That explains why people feel motivated to use the word "indie" almost like a racist insult. "Indie" becomes this contaminating taint, spoiling even good genres, so you have the Streets dissed as indie garage, Hot Chip as indie R&B, Justice as indie-house, "Stillness is the Move" as indiefied R&B.

What's curious now is that being into indie-type music is not just something determined by your class background, it is increasingly likely, for today's young, to be the continuation of your parent's taste. In the Nineties, the Dad rock phenomenon saw parents and their kids uniting around Sixties-type musical values. (Fleet Foxes are a variant of this syndrome, forming their sound around records they found in their parents's collection). But now we must be getting bands being formed by the children of people who grew up on the Smiths and the Stone Roses and Sonic Youth and Pixies (or who actually were in indie bands themselves, like Rufus in Gossip Girl, who gets Sonic Youth to play at his wedding).

Perhaps that's why, especially in America, the new breed of indie-ish bands seem so in line with their parents's values. There isn't even that sense you had with Eighties bands like the Replacements or Dinosaur Jnr of the slacker using sloppiness and apathy to define themselves against their aspirational if liberal backgrounds, the paradox of making an artistic career out of unmaking the most of yourself (in terms of qualifications, the career ladder). The way that bands like Vampire Weekend and Dirty Projectors comport themselves seems to be totally in keeping with their background, which is cosmopolitan, tolerant, bookish, well-organised. Indie could well become the trans-generational music of the liberal upper middle class. Music for those who come from affluent but socially conscious backgrounds, who graduate from Ivy League universities and liberal arts colleges to careers in the same kinds of areas their parents worked: zones of the economy that don't involve making stuff (industry) or making money out of money (finance, real estate), but areas like the arts, media, publishing, design, academia, non-profit organizations and public services, and various professions. And of course in between college and such work are the inevitable internships (we recently saw a Vampire Weekend "Cribs" segment on the cable TV indie show New York Noise, Ezra Koenig showing the camera crew around his small, non-blingy Brooklyn pad--at the time of recording it wasn't long after he'd done a year teaching at a state school--and my wife exclaimed "he looks he could be one of my interns!").

If indie is the music of the liberal so-called elite, then it stands to reason that it's the absolute opposite of the music that the heartland is into, whether it's country (for the well-adjusted) or metal (for the maladjusted). Which is why alternative country and Americana (all that bearded stuff) has absolutely nothing in common with new country (which is brash, cleanly produced, really rather rockin', AutoTuned and ProTooled, not the least bit rural sounding really). New country is much closer to urban music, meaning R&B, than it is to American indie's various versions of American roots music.

A short hand term for this "alternative" culture that some people use is NPR and PBS, National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service. Nowhere near as funded or historically important as the BBC, PBS produces worthwhile but rather dowdy-looking programmes, which it pads out with British costume dramas, sit coms, and mystery series (stuff that in the UK would be considered middlebrow and staid but in the US seems "quality"). This is the stuff that gets used in the regular fund-raising drives to guilt-trip viewers to pledge money and keep the underfunded PBS alive. How interesting that American indie kids have a similar deference to Englishness as their PBS-watching parents! Vampire Weekend are total Anglophiles, or I should say Scottophiles (Momus and Orange Juice). There is even a cinema for this demographic now, e.g. 500 Days of Summer, about an architecture student who ends up in a dead end job composing uplifting messages at a Hallmark-type greeting cards and--influenced by the "sorrowful British music" he listened to as a teenager--falls head over heels into a doomed amour with a Smiths-loving girl played by Zoey Deschanel).

The classic attitude of indie fans towards pop is a bit like the attitude that some middle class families used to have in Britain towards television--that it was okay to watch BBC but you never watched ITV, the commercial station. But your Vampire Weekends and Dirty Projectors and Micachu types are sharper than that:they actually have more in common with the indiephobes who only listen to music of the streets or to plastic pop, they do pay attention to the pop charts, to rap and reggaeton and all that. The new Vampire album Contra even has AutoTune on several tracks! These indie-vanguard types are actually more open-minded and wide-listening than people in R&B and rap or dance are these days. Their consciousness is in the same magpie place as Timbaland and Neptunes were at the start of the Noughties.