Monday, February 22, 2010

Christgau, sane and sharp, on vampire weekend

silliest of the several silly anti-VW memes going around still (despite all of them having already been refuted with the 1st LP) is the drummer-is-duff meme

He's able if unorthodox but used very effectively, especially on the second lp

This whole notion that VW have weak rhythms/don't groove!

1/ Contra is one of the most rhythmically dynamic and rhythmically diverse records to come down the indie-not-indie pike in many many a moon

2/ there are other kinds of rhythm than "groove" you know… rhythms that make you jump or frisk or just rev you up in different ways than "shake that ass"…

3/ It's also the case that rhythm action is not the sole property of the rhythm section, it pertains (in VW's case) to every aspect of the arrangement, what the voice doing and how it moves in relation to all the vivacious (and themselves rhythmically agile) orchestrally bits, and the guitars guitars guitars

Naysayers are silent about the bassist, the other 50 percent of the rhythm section, on account of the fact that ears cannot deny that he is exceedingly inventive and dynamic in terms of the way this music moves


Contra is the wedge that should split apart the poptimist axis, if any of them have honest ears that is

As it is, last year's the indie-goes-pop, rap/R&B-goes-indie turnabout (what kind of a boast for an R&B act is "i keep the blogs on fire"... )is producing bizarre statements from leading poptimists such as this:

"i'm sad about these songs not crossing over - not because it makes them any less brilliant in the slightest, but because it makes the charts less brilliant. the blame is entirely on the charts, the gatekeepers involved there, the public who don't get these tunes - it makes one feel curmudgeonly to be dismissive and snobbish about the charts but there's no other option, really."

as a philosophical statement that is pure indie, indie to the core

so yeah indie-not-indie is taking over the charts (Vampire #1 in Billboard)... indie is becoming dance-ified (the xx, vampire weekend, hot chip oh yeah if you look at their genealogy as a band they started indie)

it's all fluxed up

Monday, February 15, 2010

first draft and notes for what was printed as this

Manifesto: A Century of Isms
edited by Mary Ann Caws
Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press, pp 713, $????

If writing is a pharmacopia (and why else read, if not to alter, intensify, expand one's perceptions, enter into states of consciousness other than the everyday?), then the genre of manifesto corresponds to amphetamine. Imbibe, and the world becomes crisp and clearly divided, you feel both a hunger and a readiness for action. Committed speedfreaks, the intravenous sort, typically experience sensations of gnosis and eureka!, become flooded with will-to-belief. The manifesto fiend can reach this state of grandiosity through word-magic alone. Pardon the pun, but maybe they should really be called mania-festos: the fiercest, purest manifesto-mongers achieve something close to madness, for only the un-sane are ever this certain about anything.

By far the most thrilling exemplars of the genre (if you're the least bit susceptible to this sort of stuff, thing, that is) are the Futurist manifestos---pure crystal meth next to the adultered sulphates and trucker's speed of other, lesser manifestos. A recovering addict (consumer and producer, but let's not go there...) I've got to admit that as the second my gaze alights upon Marinetti & Co's febrile paeans to velocity and technology, I'm powerless to resist. The obvious and proven proto-fascist leanings, the anti-Futurist jeremiads of melancholy Catholic Paul Virilio (critic par excellence of speed culture)... nothing can dissuade me from succumbing to these texts's almighty rush.

If you think my amphetamine analogy a tad stretch, check this: the first words of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's 1909 screed The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism are "we had stayed up all night" [P. 187]. Anyone who's written to the end of the night and beyond with deadline breathing down their neck knows that there's an eerie switchpoint that occurs roundabout dawn's first glimmer, when the brain, finally accepting that it's not hitting the pillow any time soon, starts pumping these weird triumphalist chemicals through your nervous system. The Futurist Manifestos all seem to be written from that grandiose mind-state: it's almost like they became hooked on the body's own amphetamines. There's a persistent thread of imagery throughout the Futurist discourse that exalts "a feverish insomnia" [p. 187] (Marinetti actually wrote an essay called 'The Caffeine of Europe'), Sleep is equated with death, effeminacy, the supine drowsy bliss induced by bosomy Mother Nature. Rejecting pastoralism, the Futurists created a kind of Romanticism of the man-made. Their rabid neophilia was targetted the nostalgia/necrophilia of "the passeists", denizens of "musems: cemetries" [p188]. Along with the past, Marinetti spurned pasta: the stolid soulfood of Italian traditional cuisine, which he proposed replacing with more rigorous dishes such as perfumed sand. Who says fanatics are always humorless?

The Futurist manifestos exemplify a crucial aspect of the manifesto, something spelled out only too clearly by the word's first three letters, MAN. With a few notable exception (Valerie Solanas, Guerrilla Girls, certain Riot Grrls), the manifesto is a supremely masculine form of discourse. The Futurists, as you might expect, took this to the limit, both in the substance of their ideology (their infamous "scorn for woman" [p.187], opposition to feminism, and militarism) and their language, which is riddled with erectile and ejaculatory imagery. The Futurist exaltation of "the dynamic of the male vertical" is a barely concealed figure for a sort of priapism of the spirit. And the Founding and Manifesto of Futurism climaxes, twice in short succession, with a trope of cosmic onanism: "Erect on the summit of the world, once again we hurl our defiance to the stars" [p189]. Word-as-seed, heedlessly spilled: Marinetti, uncontrollably prolific penner of manifestos and arguably something of a wanker, left a sticky trail across Europe.

Your latterday French feminists would tag this kind of thing "phallogocentrism", and would probably go on to diagnose manifestos as a byproduct of generational struggle within the patriarchy (prodigal sons attempting to usurp the Lawmaker role of their fathers). Then again, if poets are unacknowledged legislators of the world, perhaps the manifesto--as an attempt to lay down laws or identify their natural equivalents, is an unacknowledged genre of poetry: at their utmost, "a poem in heightened prose" as Mary Ann Caw nicely puts it in the introduction to this massive compendium of manifestos. The bulk of them comes from Caw calls the Manifesto Moment, 1909--1919, which, no coincidence, also happens to be the high water mark of modernism. Along with the usual suspects (Cubism, Dadaism, Expressionism and Fauvism, Vorticism, Bauhaus), there's a fine crop of lesser-knowns: the face-painting Rayonists, the witty Nunists (and their kindred spirits the Presentists), and the Primitivists, whose Polish chapter is represented here by a little gem of an address to the world penned by Stanislaw Przybyszewski, who calls for "streetfights with the beethovenists" and beseeches readers to open their eyes " then swine will seem more enchanting to us than a nightingale."

The language of the archetypal manifesto lies somewhere on the continuum between the aphorism and the slogan, and some of Caw's inclusions lack the imperious or rallying tone: Gary Snyder's 1967 Poetry and the Primitive, for instance, seems more like a brilliant essay than a proper manifesto. Others, like French Cubists Blaise Cendrars and Guillaume Apollinaire, are so imagistic and abstract they enter the terrain of prose poetry: they seem more like embodiments or enactments of the aesthetics principles in question, rather than their declaration. Not that the classic style of manifesto, with its numbered or bulletted points, BAM BAM BAM--is the only format available. One important sub-genre is the fake dialogue in which a fictitious interlocutor has the role of sceptic. A classic example, not included here, is the postscript to the Archaelogy of Knowledge, with Foucault eventually vanquishing a tenacious humanist adversary. And in the Nunist Pierre Albert-Birot's Z and A in Front of of Modern Paintings.

There's hard to avoid a certain sepia-tinted melancholy as peruse the pages of Manifesto: the book is like a mausoleum of expired and outmoded revolutionary enthusiasms. As Caw notes, the manifesto's essence is now-ness and new-ness. These calls to seize the time and demands for total transvaluations stir nostalgia for a time when performances and exhibitions could actually triggers riots in the audience, when the bourgeoisie was still epate-able. The text's fervor and commitment seem to speak from across an unbridgeable divide, which could be dated to approximately 1950. The chronological chart at the book's starts shows that 32 of the movements documented within got started before 1919; of the remaining nineteen, there's only five from the second half of the 20th Century. It's hard to imagine a Pop Art manifesto, after all, and although John Cage is included here with the ultra-brief piece Bang Fist, his sensibility seems too Zen-passive: hashish rather than speed.

All this suggests that in the postmodern era, the amphetamine emotions--certainty, belief, militancy--have faded away; that ambivalence, doubt, disengagement, mixed emotions, what Fredric Jameson identified as "blank irony", have all disabled the manifesto impulse. If selection alone is argument, that seems to be the case presented by Caw's collection. Yet it only takes a web-search to reveal that recent years have seen an new boom for manifesto-mongering. Digital culture has played a big part in this. On a practical level, the web allows anybody to nail their broadsheets to the virtual wall for all to see. And on a more
more tangentially, cyberculture has created a neophiliac, I-have-grokked-the-future sensiblity that lends itself to manifesto: Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto, VNS-Matrix's A Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, Robert Pepperell's Posthuman Manifesto, renegade cybertheorists like Orphan Drift and CCRU and Matthew Fuller Cypherpunk, the Hacker's Manifesto, the Extropians.

You'll find none of this in Manifesto. Another area that's curiously neglected is an entire realm of post-Situationist writing, , prankster and absurdist and anarcho-surrealist, International Association of Astronomical Artists, Luther Blissett,
the Critical Arts Ensemble's Tongue Spasms, The End of Music, Hakim Bey's Chaos: The Broadsheets of Ontological Anarchism, The Temporary Autonomous Zone, and other communiques of "immediatism"

and just as extreme but to the far right, there's Unabomber, the anti-feminist MANifesto, the Emperor of America's within music writing, and in music itself, there's a whole mini-tradition of screeds and aesthetic manifestos, most notably recenlty the intro to More Brilliant Than The Sun -- the ravings of Huggy Bear

it depends how far you want to stretch it: Malcolm McLaren's script for The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle is essentially a retroactive manifesto, an attempt to spin the recent past and make it look like a masterplan

see also the KLF's How To Have A Number #1

there's even a manifesto of avant-garde librarianship

problems with Manifestos include a lack of contextualisation -- some of the references, being topical, are lost -- Oscar Wilde's disses of unnamed contemporaraneous poets in his 1887 The Poets and the People -- generally, you'd like to know more about this strange men who wrote them, and what became of them -- but, then of course, the book would become a vast and unmanageable miasma of annotations and footnotes

Monday, February 8, 2010

nietzche contra popism / generalism

on the dangers of historical consciousness /creeping impartialism / liking everything, mildly:

"Anything which compels a person no longer to love unconditionally cuts away the roots of his power. He must wither up, that is, become dishonest.... only when history takes it upon itself to turn itself into an art work and thus to become a purely artistic picture can it perhaps maintain the instincts or even arouse them"

on the dangers of eclecticism /excessive cultural intake

"Constantly losing more of this feeling of surprise and dislike, becoming excessively astonished no longer, or finally allowing oneself to enjoy everything—people really call that the historical sense, historical education."

of course Nietzche is just preaching basic good-sense "home economics of the libido" here: you spread the love around, you spread yourself too thin, nothing has the same depth of impact... a sort of weakly attached generalised cathexis to "pop" or "music" replaces the obsessive fixation on a particular instance or area of pop or music...
funny thing is the bulk of my writing about hardcore/darkside/jungle was done after I moved to New York. I got married in August 1992 and from then on I was pretty much based in NYC. During 1993 I still had a place I shared in London and went back to the UK a few times, adding up to a total of about three months. And in early 1994 we moved to London and spent most of the year there, partly because I wanted to be back to witness jungle blowing up. But in actual fact all but one of the Nuum pieces at the Wire’s online archive were written from New York. That’s why I have to chuckle a bit when people say “what’s a guy who doesn’t live in the UK/London commenting on grime/funky for?”. Cos that was always the case, pretty much.

basically all through the Nineties I would be going back to London maybe three times a year, a week here a fortnight there, throwing myself very intensively into the scene, doing interviews, taping the pirates like mad. And friends in London would be sending me pirate tapes. There was also a very strong NYC jungle scene from early 1995 onwards and increasingly the name UK deejays would be coming over; we had great local jungle DJs like DB (actually British expatriate) and Dara (Irish, from Dublin I believe) and I’d be down the record store every week checking the latest imports. DB would soon co-found Breakbeat Science, which I think was America’s first drum’n'bass specialist store. So it was pretty easy to stay on top of things.

That carried on with speed garage and 2step but it got a bit harder because the junglists here were very anti it for a long, long while, and the NYC house people weren’t having it either, so a few records would seep into stores almost accidentally. This was an era when I’d have to swoop into London and buy like crazy and have this scary wodge of white label vinyl in my overhead locker. And tape the pirates like mad.

There did get to be a 2step scene in New York and it looked really promising, but then it petered out when the very early grime came along. Then there was a gap before the webbification of nuum took hold when it was very very hard to get the records outside London -- you had to mail order -- and there was nothing yet on the web in terms of pirate netradio or uploaded dj sets or Youtubed tracks or artist Myspaces. this was the 2001-2004 period. that has all completely changed obviously and in fact it's almost too easy to stay on top of dubstep/grime/funky/wonky/what-have-you, the nuum-not-nuum sprawl, what with all the uploaded pirate sets, pirates streaming through the net, giveaway mixes at FACT and elsewhere, tracks on Youtube, you can be anywhere on the globe and hear almost everything, without spending a penny... it's actually taken a bit of the romance and virtuous effort out of it in fact
boston, "more than a feeling"

been meaning to write about this: the Sistine Chapel of 70s arena rock

they show this great video of it from the time on VH1 Classic -- the colors in it and this vaseline-on-the-lens effect bring out the sublime qualities of the song.

and the drummer's wearing this bizarre coat made of fur pelts, he looks like
a refugee from the Flintstones

boredom is different nowadays -- it's not the boredom of total emptiness that people used to have .... these huge gaping gulfs of time with nothing to do... in the UK there were only 3 TV channels when i grew up, hardly any radio, no videos dvds blogs etc etc... it was almost spiritual, the sensation of absolute gut gnawing boredom! i don't know maybe kids in small towns still feel like that a lot but they still have a lot more options in terms of culture that can be siphoned straight into their

boredom now -- it's a super-saturated, overloaded boredom i think. e,g, this
very evening i am rather bored but it's not cos i lack for options -- could
surf the web, check out 1000 channels of TV (slight exaggeration), or the TV
programmes saved on our equivalent to Tivo... or listen to the 3000 albums in my
hard drive that i've aquired and not listened to yet, watch any number of
DVDs that have accumulated, netradio, youtube, etc etc... there's countless
possibilities for distraction and amusement... BUT i guess they are all passive
forms, ultimately.... plus having too many possibilities kills your appetite

wyatting versus sodcasting

difficult one isn't it -- on one level it is pure obnoxiousness, anti-social-ness, a la Carl's girl throwing garbage on the ground

but there is that other element to it

for instance if you asked me what was more anti-social, the cars that go by late at night with booming systems that shake our building to the foundation (we're right near the traffic lights so sometimes get a good chunk of a song when they're stopped), or people lost in their ipod mobile womb in the street or subway, i'd always say the latter. the booming system guys are anti-social but at least are kinda saying 'society exists and you can't get away from me and my music'.

i was going to say the difference between Wyatting and sodcasting is like the difference between whitecollar crime and ones involving violence -- the sodcasters are putting themselves on the line more, physically. but then again i daresay Wyatters are fairly easily identifiable as most likely perpetrators. i'm surprised that most accounts of wyatting usually note the surprising tolerance of pub goers to 4 hours of Merzbow, you'd have think there'd be some reprisals, affray of some sort...
surprised by the huge flap over Pazz & Jop and the Pitchfork effect. Pazz never was a very effective way of gauging what's important in music at any given point, it's always had an indie/middlebrow bias, it's just that middlebrow's improved a LOT since the days the new costello was a shoe-in for #6. from my point of view the pazz top 10 this year was the best in a while but i guess that must i live in the ivory tower/bubble-world/echo-chamber right. but yeah if Pitchfork has indirectly created a new improved middlebrow than I'm all for it.