Wednesday, December 18, 2002

FAVE SINGLES OF 2002

1/ DIZZY RASCAL – “I Love You” (white label)

And this year the criteria are… surprise, surprise, surprise. When the bass-blasts tear through like Rotterdam Terror Corps and the electro claps scythe ‘n’ shear like stressed metal, “I Love You” hits with the force of an aesthetic ambush: this ain’t UK garage as we’ve known it. Then the rap enters--a high-pitched male voice, weirdly poised between distraught and derisive: Roll Deep’s Dizzy Rascal making his solo debut--and you know you’re witnessing the birth of the New Thing; #8 in a series of convulsive renewals with the hardcore/pirate radio continuum. I want to believe this is the real-deal paradigm shift so much that I can’t trust what my ears are telling me: that it is.

Must have heard this about ten times on the pirates before anybody played the actual A-Side, the vocal cut. Increasingly the dubstrumental flipsides of top tunes seem to be preferred, as backing tracks for MC’s freestyling. It’s mostly Dizzy, with a girl cutting in now and then, and even after a score of listens I still don’t quite have a grip on the lyrics, whether there’s a narrative as such. It’s more like a panoramic, fractured overview of modern romance, unified by a consistent harshness of tone that mingles contempt, coldness, callousness, me-I-disconnect-from-you. Meanwhile, the fembot’s lobotomised voice incanting “I-love-U” in speak-and-spell tones seems to be there to parody or puncture the vacuousness of Barbie-style love und romance. Chilling but thrilling.

2/ DJ MARKY & XRS featuring STAMINA MC – “LK (Carolina Carol Bela)” (V Recordings)

After seven years of sweltering humidity Manhattan-style, I actually found summer in London---near-constant rain, the lowest amount of sunshine in a couple of decades---literally refreshing. Wearing a sweater in August: what a buzz! Besides, who needed sunshine with “LK” supplying the summer vibes? Marky Mark & XRS’s drum’n’bossa reworking of a Jorge Benjor & Toquinho tune from 1969 is the first D&B record I’ve paid money for since 1997. And it would hit our rented living room like a bolt of joy, either with the inanely-upful-yet-irresistible MC vocal or as the instrumental version.

Must admit there was a great vibe emanating from the drum’n’bass pirates this summer; the scene seems always to be on the verge of a comeback, but the music never quite makes it for me—good to see vocals and pop sensibility making a reappearance, but the beats are just too linear, still stuck in the one-bar loop rut that Tim Finney @ Skykicking’s identified as drum’n’bass’s post-techstep downfall. Likewise the beats are the least interesting thing about “LK”, supplying propulsiveness but nothing else; what makes it sublime is the plangent and sparkling cat’s cradle that is the pizzicato acoustic guitar figure, the gulf-stream currents of warm bass, and the nape-tingling vocal melody (hard to tell if it’s a straight lift from “Carolina Carol Bela”, or whether vocal science has been been brought to bear in repatterning it). Apparently this tune wiped the floor with Fischerspooner on Top of the Pops, which is just icing on the cake.

3/ MUSICAL MOB—“Pulse X (VIP Mix)” (Inspired Sounds Records)

Backing track of the year. Literally: it’s only raison d’etre is as a launching pad for freestyles. “Pulse X” (just one of a series of mixes: “Y”, “Z” etc) raises the same question as “Grindin’”: is this even music? Strictly speaking, it’s unlistenable on its own, outside the mix, and all the way from beginning to end. It barely has structure, just alternates between three simple, pared-to-the-bone patterns; rhythmic propulsion stripped of all affect, bar an aura of bleak purposiveness. Apparently people on the scene use the term “eight bar” to describe this style of nouveau 4-to-the-floor garage, ‘cos after eight bars it switches. Musical Mob’s own term is “raw for the floor” (the title of another of their tunes, which I yet to hear, at least knowingly). In “Pulse X”’s wake, there’s a whole mini-genre of this stuff, just beats and acrid bass, tunes like Rolldeep's "Creeper": not DJ tools, which is how such minimal and tracky tuneage functions in other genres like techno, but MC tools.

Apart from working as the spartan backdrop for the MC to ride, a beatscape to negotiate, the other main use of “Pulse X” is to be dropped for a minute or less, simply to rachet up the intensity level. When that doom-boom pulsekick pounds, boo! It’s a track that’s designed to be dropped, rewound once, maybe twice, and then mixed out again as swiftly as possibly.

A few months ago I googled to find out whatever I could about Musical Mobb, which turned out to be hardly anything, but it did pull up an old ILM thread from the early summer (the topic was trends in 2002 and whither-next for music). And there was “Pulse X”, mentioned in passing as “UK garage’s nadir”, a death-knell. Hmmm, maybe it is, within UKG's own aesthetic terms. But in creating its own scale of values and desirable qualities (concussive, punitive, flagellant, desexed, joy-stripped: Swans’ Cop meets Schoolly D’s “PSK What Does It Mean” meets Rotterdam Termination Source's "Poing") this track creates its own perverse aesthetic universe. Like “I Love You”, it signals the birth of the New Thing.

4/ LAID BLAK – “Scream & Shout” (Moist)


It’s not all darker-than-thou UK gangsta menace, this garage rap biznizz. All kinds of voices—playful, humorous, downright affable—can seize this moment. There’s room for Busta Rhymes dementia (see Robloe & Kin featuring Nor-T Jack Fever’s “Bounce”, below), for Shaggy-style comic loverman braggadochio, for Barrington Levy-like tender charm. Flitting between the last two modes, here’s Bristol crew Laid Blak and this overlooked gem of a tune, which is about as far from garage rap’s customary skrewface as possible. The bit where a tipsy-sounding Mc Joe Peng mumbles mawkishly “he is a nice and decent fellow, I am a nice and decent fellow, we’re all nice and decent fellows” might be my favorite vocal moment of the year. He’s such an amiable sort he can even get away with a move-on-up positivity sermon without making you cringe: “I don’t mean to make you paro/but what about tomorrow?/If we continue with this way of life we’re heading for pure sorrow/And what about our children?/What future have we gave them?/Enjoy it now ‘cos when it’s gone expect a little mayhem/I’m talking to my brethren/I’m talking to my sistren/It’s time for us to pick up the fight ‘cos we want our children to live right.” The jaunty “Original Vocal Mix” is the one to go for, reminding me slightly of prime Madness, but the more garagey DJ Lewi Dirty Vocal Mix is also good.

5/ GK ALLSTARS – “Garage Feeling” (GK Allstars)

This chart’s fastest riser; a week ago it would have been just crinkling the edge of the Top 20. “Garage feeling, come on ravers, feel what I’m feeling” is the chorus lick, but it doesn’t feel like garage: the ominous glower of suppressed thunder running behind most of this track is more redolent of the blaring noise-riffs on Trace/Nico/Ed Rush/Fierce tunes from ’96 (i.e. the kind of dirgefunk that originally drove the jungle massive into the garage in the first place). A lot of garage rap, it’s like No U Turn if they’d used MCs, and the MCs tried to match the sheer toxicity of the noise with their lyrics. The No U Turn boys talked about wanting to “hurt people” with their beats, of being on a “hurter’s mission”, and that’s what most of the MCing is about: verbal maiming, ego-mangling, rubbing people’s faces in their nobody status. Not this tune, though: “Garage Feeling” is a celebration, albeit one queerly pitched between euphoria and dread: a communal anthem for a scene organized around the dream of leaving behind your community and achieving megastardom. What’s to celebrate? Just the struggle, the determination, the confidence that you will triumph. Shining in the darkness.

6/ STYLES – “Good Times’ (Ruff Ryders)


B-boys on E, slight return. Well, the hip hop/Ecstasy raveolution didn’t quite pan out, but a handful of mersh-rap tunes this year continued the eerie-echoes-of-ardkore syndrome. Most notably this Swizz Beatz/Saint Denson co-production of the first single off the debut solo album by Styles, second-fiddle to Jadakiss in those unloveable Lox. Speeding up and doubletracking old-soul diva Freda Payne into a brace of bliss-giddy hummingbirds, this is pure ’92 business, complete with synth-gurgles out of “Papua New Guinea,” a subliminal stab pattern groove that’s like hardcore running at quarter tempo or even slower, and love-song-subverted-into-drug- song cheekiness (Freda’s swoony “I get high high high high/high on your memory high on your memory”). Except, except, this tune’s not about E, it's about weed. And it’s as harrowing and nihilistic a glimpse into the motivations for some kinds of recreational drug use as any smack or crack confessional. “I get high as a kite/I’m in the zone/All alone/Muthafucka case I’m dying tonight… I’ma smoke ‘til my lungs collapse…. Yeah I smoke like a chimney/Matter fact I smoke like a gun when a killer see his enemy... Shit, I get as high as I could/Cos if you see things/like I see things/I’ma die in the hood.” This ain't Cheech & Chong. With the fade-out's sign-off "I am the ghost/floating" making a chilling link between getting wasted and gangsta's "we already dead" fatalism, the title “Good Times” emerges as bitterly ironic--like Chic’s song of the same name was actually intended to be, as opposed to how it was taken by the disco nation.


7/ PLATINUM 45 featuring MORE FIRE CREW – “Oi!” (Go Beat)

Like “Bound 4 Da Reload” this took me about six hearings before I could get my head round it: so harsh, so rigid (those dead-eyed looped “hey”’s and cold cold claps), and, like “Reload”, so ruthlessly amelodic it initially appears to be completely hookless. But as with “Reload”, repetition proves it to be insanely contagious and something of a landmark release: a real generation divider, bearing the same relation to UKG-as-was that the first Casio-driven dancehall tunes like ‘Sleng Teng’ did vis-à-vis roots reggae. The jabbered words remain largely unintelligible to these ears, though, and I still haven’t worked out how you’d dance to it: the core pulse seems most suited to the pogo, believe it or not.

8/ VITALIC-- “Poney Part One” (International Deejay Gigolo)


Did this even come out in 2002? Heard it on the dancefloor a lot this year, though, and think maybe it got re-released in some form; what the hey. As Tom Ewing observed on NYLPM, this is not a song so much as a sound; in that sense it’s much more techno in spirit than Nu-Wave. It’s as if glamour somehow abandoned its human husks and became a freefloating ectoplasmic entity, a spectral incandescence, a brilliantine trembling and aching of the air itself. “Poney Part One” is the best example of electroclash’s definining irony/liability: for a genre dedicated to bringing back songs and stars, its best tunes are depersonalized instrumentals. If “Poney”’s magnesium-majesty were anything like the norm, the nu electro would fulfil and surpass the hype a hundredfold.

9/ CLIPSE – “When The Last Time” (Arista)

Does the world really need another Lox? “Obnoxious with the women”, endlessly referencing the powders that made their wealth and laid waste to their community, faces frozen in masks of disdain, leaving a trail of ho’s in their wake like used condoms, the aptly named Malice and Pusha T are not nice fellows. Still, for the Neptunes’ maddening noise-riff (gets me flashing on SMF’s
h-core classik “Rush Stimulator”), for Kelis chick-lost-her-mind vocal loop, and for this killer couplet about a girl stepping into his car--“She know from the beginning/She added to the list of them chicks that I done bin in”—I must confess I find this impossible to resist.

10/ GENIUS KRU – “Course Bruv“ (Kronik)
Like Laid Blak’s “Scream & Shout”, this tune (which came out late in 2001 I believe, but I loved it this year, so…) is loveable because Genius Kru are just so goddamn amiable. They just wanna spread “nuff love” and they’ll even share their drink with you, ye olde rave stylee. The brain-infesting chorus goes:
Male Voice: Can I have a sip of that?
Genius Kru: Course bruv!
Sexy Husky-Voiced Female: Can I have a sip of that?
Genius Kru (going up slightly in pitch): Course luv!!

The whole tune, with its ditzy string-section and bubblebath synth-swirls, is like an endless carousel loop of bonhomie. “Still having fun inside the party/Still got the Rolies and the ladies/Still don’t wanna hurt nobody.” Love it to the bone.

11/ PITMAN – “Phone Pitman/Pitman Sez” (Pitman)

Hip hop is so massive as a cultural influence in Britain now that it has spawned its own micro-genre of parody rap, with an undercurrent (a la Ali G) of genuine anxiety about the (Black) Americanisation of UK youth. But this 7 inch single, purportedly by a rapping Yorkshire miner, wouldn’t be half so hilarious if it didn’t actually have an authentic North-of-England flow that actually works as hip hop: the droning phlegmatic stolidity of the voice, its baleful bulk dragging through the beat. It’s a joke, except it sort of isn’t. As per Terry in The Streets’ “Irony of It All”, the UK has its own thugz, and while they don’t carry Uzi, you’d still do well to cross the road to avoid them. (Won't quote any lyrics, because if I started I'd end up quoting them all, like kids in the schoolyard the day after everyone's favorite sitcom).

12/ HEARTLESS CREW – “The Heartless Theme aka The Superglue Riddim” (Warner)

More positive G-rap: a wonderfully jaunty groove hooked around an insouciant whistling synth (like the kind of chirpy early-bird
milkman who drives you up the wall) while Heartless Crew rap about how their success is all down to years of dedication and honest graft dating back to the early Nineties: “When we go shopping buy the latest design/That that that that that’s mine/Heartless Crew we bought the whole shop/Some people thought that we hit the jackpot/Or if we done a move that was hot/but nah nanana nah we been working hard.” And if you thought their name signified war-of-all-against-all ruthlessness, think again: they’re heartless cos “our hearts are inna the music.” Aaah.

13/ JA RULE feat ASHANTI – “Always On Time” (Murder Inc.)
Ashanti’s golden filtered vocal might be the most gorgeous sliver of melody this year, and Ja Rule remains as loveably ludicrous as ever, from his DMX-to-the-power of 10 honey’n’gravel voice to his dress sense, which in the video for this song makes him look like he’s in Pilot or Sailor or like some superfly version of John Lennon in the early Seventies.

14/ MC GOD’S GIFT versus TEEBONE – “Tribute to 32 MCs” (Solid City)

A testament to the importance of MCs in UK garage, this tune pays homage to thirty-two true originals—from founding fathers like Creed, Kie, Sharky P, Munchie, PSG, Neat, Blakey, Charlie Brown (RIP), right through to nu-skool boys like Neutrino, Wiley, Asher D, Romeo. And what better method than the sincerest form of flattery? Expertly forging their signature licks and trademark catchphrases, God’s Gift crams so much V.I.B.E. into such small space, it’s enough to make your head explode.

15/ THE STREETS – “Let’s Push Things Forward/All Got Our Runnins” (Locked On)

An album artist, obviously, but if you’re going to record an Aesthetic Manifesto/Call-to-Arms you might as well release it as a single. But I’m mentioning this mainly for the B-Side “All Got Our Runnin’s”, one of my favorite tracks on the pre-release version of Original Pirate Material, but at the last minute inexplicably pulled and replaced by “Don’t Mug Yourself”. As well as being very funny and touching in a Madness-in-dejected--but-still-jaunty-vein sort of way, this song is totally radical in UK garage’s flash-yer-cash context: all spend and no thrift, the protagonist is paying for last week's "living for the moment" and struggling to make it ‘til next pay day.

16/ WILEY KAT featuring BREEZE, DANNY ISHANCE & JET LEE– “I Will Not Lose” (Wiley Kat)

In the quasi-orchestral mode of Pay As U Go Kartel’s “Know We” and Wiley & Roll Deep’s “Terrible”, this is a U.K. counterpart to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, the 8 Mile soundtrack megahit about seizing your opportunities ‘cos you may only have one chance to blow. As the idea of collective advancement fades from the U.K.’s popular memory, we seem to be becoming more and more American: suckers for the anyone-can-make-it lie that is the USA’s great ideological sleight of hand. Something about the way Wiley seems to almost choke up on the word “lose” in the chorus “I will not lose/Never, no way, not ever,” while martial tympani boom beneath him and a cello mournfully aches, seems to intimate that deep down he knows he might very well lose; and that winning in itself, within the terms of the game-as-set-up, is a kind of defeat. Because to make it means you have to leave so many behind.

17/ SOMETHING J/DJ MAXXIMUS – “Mercedes Bentley Vs Versace Armani” (Warp)

From the real thing to an IDM parody of 2step (Squarepusher ‘My Red Hot Car’ style). Well, not exactly: the story goes that DJ Scud was visiting these guys in Germany, and at some point tried to explain what UK Garage was about, as a culture, and played them a few tunes. And this track was the guys’ subsequent attempt to fabricate, from hazy memory, their own idea of UKG. Actually, it sounds more as if No U Turn had jumped ship from drum’n’bass in ’97 and really crudely leaped on the speed garage bandwagon. The more fucked-up and lurching “Dub Plate Remix” is the killer version. Like Scud/Errorsmith/I-Sound’s Roots Rock Ravers EP of last year, or the music of Hellfish & Producer, it’s the kind of phantasm-sound that makes you wish there really existed an entire subculture constructed around it.

18/ LUDACRIS – “Move” (Def Jam South)

It’s hard to take Ludacris seriously when he tries “menace”, but the groove itself intimidates with its slow-moving and bullying bulk. I especially like the scrapey drum sounds like a lion’s claws lazily worrying its prey to death.

19/ THE FOO FIGHTERS-- "All My Life" (major label)

I always thought this group were the definition of mediocre, and never understood why one of the great drummers of our time would abandon the kit for the mic’. But hey, he’s got another great drummer behind him, and this is the most dynamic and excitingly structured mainstream rock song I’ve heard in a while.

20/ JURASSIC 5 – “What’s Golden” (Interscope)

Bassline! But in truth I only really like this ‘cos it reminds me of The Stranglers! Seriously – the fuzzy melded keyboard/bass groove could be right off No More Heroes or Black and White, it’s a dead ringer for “Bitchin’” or “Nice “n’Sleazy” or even “Dead Ringer” itself. So domineering is that groove, I’ve yet to pay a second’s attention to the rhymes.

21/ BIG TYMERS– “Oh Yeah” (Cash Money)

What I like about this—apart from the supremely nifty and nubile groove—is its unexpected tone of monogamous affection and tenderness. This song is borderline marital! “No need to use a rubber/I'm your number one stunna/Now look what we done did/Messed around and had kids.” Probably just a calculated ploy to please the ladies, but could it be the Hot Boys have grown up?

22/ BLACK OPS Vol 3– “Howlin (Sublow Pressure)/Theme” (Black Ops)

With its bleep’n’bassy neo-electro sound and titular echo of Unique 3, ‘Theme’—so minimal they couldn’t be bothered to give it a proper title—suggests a Moebius loop of rave history. 1989: B-boys turn into ravers/2002: ravers turn back into rappers. But it’s “Howlin’” that’s the tear-out tune here: faecal blare of acid-bass, lupine whinny of synth, and funky-shuffle breakbeats that sound simultaneously frisky and ponderous, like the drumsticks are made of lead. Black Ops cru: one to watch for 2003.

23/ ROBLOE & KIN featuring NOR-T JACK FEVER---“Bounce” (Locked On)

In the gibbering-loon-on-the-mic tradition of Busta Rhymes, Slarta John and ragga deejays too numerous to list, the preposterously named Nor-T Jack Fever rides a limb-dislocating, wildly bucking robo-rodeo groove somewhere at the intersection of garage, dancehall, and Miami bass. Oddly the overall effect isn’t comic but faintly disturbing.

24/ THE STROKES – “Someday” (RCA)

With this song/video I finally got The Strokes: they’re the American Supergrass, right? The whole thing is all about the pleasures of being young: smoking cigs, drinking too much, staying up late, the odd bit of shagging, having good hair. And then writing incredibly tuneful and endearing (if slightly wet) anthems about it all.

25/ MISSY ELLIOTT – “Work It” (The Gold Mind)

Not nearly as good as last year’s “Get Your Rinse On”: the groove sounds kinda clumpy when heard on a big system, the garbled
vocal hook gets annoying real quick, the verses see Missy blatantly biting Busta Rhymes’s flow, and overall, the whole song seems to be little more than a concatenation of ultimately grating gimmicks and novelty effects. But for the ace video (that little white girl rocks!) and just the way Missy says “get your hair did,” this earns a smidgeon of affection.

The runners up:

Kevin Blechdom, I Love Presets EP and Your Butt EP; Clipse, “Grindin’”; K2 Family, "Danger"; 50 Cent, “Wanksta”; Purple Haze Crew, “Messy”; Dem Lott, "Dem Lott's Ere Now"; Adult., “Me and My Rhythm Box” [aka Adult’s “CompuRhythm Version” remix of Soul Oddity’s remix of Phoenicia’s “Odd Jobs”, on the Odd Jobs: Discrimination EP]; Eminem, “Lose Yourself”; Saftey Scissors Versus Kit Clayton, Ping Pong EP; Nas, “Made You Look”; Ultrasound feat. Elizabeth Troy and Specialist Moss, "Heavyweight"; The Rapture, “ House of Jealous Lovers”; Ashanti, “Foolish”; Groove Chronicles, "Riddim Killa"; Tiga & Zyntherius, “Sunglasses At Night”.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Fave Singles of 2002 should be up by week's end...
A typically interesting and elegantly written piece by Momus on what he calls “Sound Dust”, aka laptoptronica. Two things somewhat disconcerting here, though. First, as several people have pointed out on an ILM thread (which Momus links to at the end of his piece), for an “I have seen the future” declaration, it’s kinda tardy: this has been going on for a good half-decade, was theorized/manifesto-ed in the Wire and elsewhere (Mille Plateau sleevenotes etc) way back, and indeed many of its original advocates have succumbed to doubts and/or ennui, as the problems with the approach have emerged (the peculiar generic-ness and homogeneity of the glitch/click genre--for a supposed infinite universe of sound it sure sounds kinda samey and hidebound by its own conventions; also the sheer tear-your-hair-out tedium of seeing laptop stuff done as live performance). The other aspect, which Momus glides by with a “this doesn’t worry me” although pour moi it’s the most worrisome thing, is the extent to which this globe-spanning rhizome of sound-pulverisers is in bed with Official Culture: museums, art galleries, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, academic symposia, etc. It seems that this area of sound design/glitchtronica is being consciously developed as the junior wing of High Culture. And for me that’s quite problematic. It’s not exactly Deleuzian, being reliant on institutional support and governmental subsidy. Anything connected with museums tends to reek of sterility: keep your voice down respectfulness, edification, the absence of social energy. History would suggest that the Jamaican model of Social Darwinist cultural production (fierce grass-roots competition to achieve economic power and aesthetic triumph, resulting in an endless quest for “fresh”: both to lure consumers and to win innovator-kudos among your producer peers), generates better results than the French model of top-down patronage. The Jamaican model underpins not just dub and dancehall, but hip hop and the entire UK hardcore (rave>jungle>garage) continuum; the French model produced IRCAM. Nuff said.
Well and truly talking out my ass. The "dearth of lovely electronica" thesis lies in tatters, as barely a week goes by without someone else chipping in with a “hang on a minute, what about this?” comments. Rephlex artiste Global Goon (comin’ on like Aphex circa 1985-92 according to Jonathan Proctor); Mego artist Tujiko Noriko (“the Japanese Bjork” says Spanish journalist Javier Blanquez, who also recommends Joseph Nothing (for its BOC-style “forest-like appeal”) and points out the glaring absence of Mum from my picture (dead right, and that group is also probably the reference point for the Pulseprogramming album). And a couple of folks pointed out that the entire output of Morr somehow skipped my mind when making the rash pronouncement. Particularly striking about that label is its ardour for early Nineties shoegazer/dreampop: they’ve released covers of Slowdive songs! and have the group Guitar, whose Sunkissed is getting bigged up majorly (see this month’s Uncut, with David Stubbs wheeling out such hallowed icons of halycon as A.R. Kane and My Bloody Valentine as co-ordinates for this album’s “brainbath” of “see-sawing guitar frottage”).

Talking of dreampop, I also forgot to mention the lovely-leaning first two releases by a mate of mine from Germany, Heiko Hoffman, who’s started his own label Mobile: the gorgeous accordion-and-melodica infused electronica comp The Asthmatic Worm (pick hit: Gotan Project’s "El Capitalismo Foraneo", which is good enough to belong on Soon Over Babaluma) and the Yuletide comp Seasonal Greetings, which comes in an absolutely darling pocket-sized hardback-style cover and features tracks by such doyens of lovelytronica like St. Etienne, Opiate, Hood, and the aforementioned Mum. Oops, lost my drift there: we were talking about dreampop. Yes, Heiko’s next project for Mobile is a compilation of shoegazer music, working title Feedback to the Future, with tracks by everyone from Pale Saints to Ride to Moose. Not sure if I’m ready to go “there” yet, meaning back to the 69/Isn’t Anything/Heaven’s End/Daydream Nation mindset. Some of the records from that era I really hesitate to relisten to, lest they fail to live up to my memories (and hype). Plus, the category of “bliss” or “rapture” doesn’t really cover even a fraction of what I look for from music these days. Come to think of it, I’m not really sure why this blog is called Blissblog (except for consistency with the website’s original, spur-of-the-moment-1996 url). Most of the music I’m really feeling seems to be more about pleasurable tension of varying sorts than ecstatic release or swoony oblivion. I have a mini-thesis brewing on this subject, actually : pop-culture fashions in emotions, phenomenological states, modes of perception, sensibility… But later—much later-- for this.




Speak of the devil… A care package of pirate tapes arrives, courtesy of Luke, four of ‘em, hot off the airwaves, new-ish crews he rates like Nasty Crew; some Wiley and God’s Gift (BTW, you must hear the latter's awesome “Tribute to 32 MCs”: sign of this culture reaching the point of self-consciousness, pride in its own legacy). On first hearing: the amazing ferment of ideas sonic and rhymeological continues, amid a lot of tracks that sound like broken machinery, work-in-progress, experimental prototypes thrown out on the marketplace willy-nilly. Full report to follow.

PS if anybody London-based wants to get into a trade pact thing (one obvious transaction --pirates present for pirates past] get in touch.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Luke's Epistle. There's this chap I’ve been corresponding with for a while, a young Londoner called Luke, who knows a huge amount about the MC tradition in jungle and UKG (and wrote an amazing prose-poem tract on this subject, most of which has been mislaid). A few weeks ago he sent an email, not exactly taking issue with my gutter-garridge as rave-punk spiel as taking off from it. At 23, Luke already feels too “geriatric” and “sensible” to go to clubs anymore: garage is kids music, he says, and “why
the fuck should kids have any interest in, let alone fill their music with, maturity, subtlety, elegance, responsibilty, good manners or any of the other things adults have tried to drum into them?
”But even though he’s from “the RIGHT side of the tracks”, he’s so deep into this music he can articulate what it’s about. Very well indeed:

It's like Bill Hicks said, 'life just breaks you, man'--but garage is for those who haven't been broken yet, who still believe it might work out, that anger and pride, a refusal to conform and obey, the putting of fun before responsibilty, the now before the future, are valid responses to life, that we deserve to have what we want... Young people still have pride and that pride is being constantly affronted, what's more, they still have hope and that hope is constantly being brought into question. So obviously the music should sound hurt, bitter, angry, wayward, but it's joyful too, that mad exuberence, the energy, the playfulness... You say let's hear someone talking about normal stuff, reality, but really, who cares, that’s boring, I know ‘normal’, I try and manage 'normal' every day I go to work, I hate it, I feel I got a plastic bag wrapped round my face. Normal human beings, anyone with a bit of spirit left can't deal with that world, I can't work full time or I just go loops, flip out and get sacked, there has to be a way to escape, and yeah, crime, or fame are not really answers, not ones i'm happy with but at least it's something-- anything, any ludicris fantasy, is better than capitulation”.

All of which is eloquent, impassioned, moving, and then you have to do a headswerve and say, hang on a minute, this is UK garage he’s talking about, 2step– slinky, sexy, bottle of Moet. Since when did it became the voice of disaffected, disenfranchised youth, the soundtrack for defiance and frustration? You could take Luke's words and teleport them verbatim back to 1977 and they’d fit punk perfectly (or at least one version of punk, the Clash/Jam/Tony Parsons version). Which is possibly the
most depressing thing about gutter-garage (or whatever it’s going to actually end up being called) --- the way that the sociocultural context that's shaped and prompted it is virtually unchanged since punk. The only difference between Blair Inc. and the fatally compromised and thwarted Labour government that backdropped punk is that Callaghan & Co were notionally socialist (in ’76 they were still nationalising the odd industry, like British Leyland). After 23 years of unbroken postsocialism, Thatcher-Major-Blair stylee, it’s easy to see why the underclass might feel like waste(d) youth, the effluent of an uncaring shitstem; from the Pistols' “flowers in the dustbin” to today’s MCs boasting about coming “straight from the sewer” or being "dutty, stinkin’, grimy", plus ca change. There’s crucial differences, of course. Punk was white, this movement is black (well, there's lots of white kids involved but the sonix and attitudes are black-determined). There’s no art school element, and unlike with punk there is almost no sympathetic analysis from the media, either newspapers or the music press. Gutter is even more of an outcast tribe.

You could also take Luke’s words and drop ‘em smack dab into the middle of Teenage Wasteland, Donna Gaines’ brilliant 1990 book about metalheads and burn-outs in New Jersey (a subcultural continuum that runs from Sabbath through Metallica to Staind). And when Luke talks about how “threatening music doesn't make me feel threatened it makes me become the threat, and I doubt I'm alone in that; I'm not saying it makes me feel violent but it does make me feel sort of powerful, bigger and more important than I usually feel”, and then explains this maniacal self-aggrandisement in terms of a desperate response to narrowed opportunities, blocked dreams and the youthphobic attitudes and policies of the authorities and populace at large… well, it’s exactly the sort of interpretation/justification I’ve made for gabber: as a power trip for the powerless, darknoise for white niggas with bad attitude from Brooklyn to Glasgow to Rotterdam...

At this point it’s worth taking a quick look at the strange journey taken by this word "garage", track the drift of a signifier across the currents of culture. In the beginning (the tail end of the Eighties) it meant “music like Larry used to play at the Paradise Garage”, but of course this NYC/New Jersey sound rapidly codified itself as a genre and soon sounded nothing like as open-ended and quirky as Levan’s playlist; basically, it referred to a New York deep house sound, full of warm, organic textures that harked back to the “real” instrumental playing and lush orchestrations of Seventies disco and soul. As a scene, it was largely gay and largely black/Hispanic. In the UK, "garage" lost this racial and sexual designation to a large extent, appealing more broadly as quality music for cognoscenti and purists; its aura was adult, affluent, tasteful. This was real “musicality” for grown-ups, not rave fodder for drug-crazed teens. In other words, garage originally meant the sort of Gilles Peterson/Norman Jay subtlety-riddled snob stuff that Luke derides above! Speed garage circa 1997 ruffed up the sound a bit with junglizm and bashment vibes, but essentially the appeal was the same: a sexy, mature, monied sound. VIP biznis, seen. This carried on through 2step until 2000, when the kids staged their putsch: teenage boys bringing the darkness, the aggression, the brock-out energy, the apoplectic and apocalyptic emceeing--i.e. all the things that were never part of it before. Today, musically, there's almost nothing left to connect UKG 2002 to the house continuum, just the odd hi-hat twitch and ghost-trace of the bump’n’flex pulse.

From Kerri Chandler’s “A Basement, A Red Light and A Feeling” to GK Allstars’s “Garage Feeling”, a vast distance--sonic, cultural, geographical--has been traversed. The form of invocation is the same (an appeal to an untranscribeable yet visceral vibe, the gut-gnosis of the true believer), but the actual feelings in question could hardly be further apart.

Funny thing, culture, innit.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Still reeling from the Greensleeves launch party for Elephant Man’s third album Higher Level, probably the closest I’ll ever get to attending a proper bashment. What a strange-looking gentleman the self-styled “energy god” is—as my companion Sci-Fi Paul remarked, with his bright yellow tendrils of hair and homely face Elepant looks uncannily like Harpo Marx. And what gives with the bizarre patchwork corduroy suit in shades of brown, beige and white?

Elephant is probably the biggest dancehall deejay of the last few years, at least inside Jamaica itself, and offhand I can’t think of an event where I’ve witnessed such audience love: the front six rows were a forest of mini-cameras and camcorders, a panorama of adulatory faces and frank female lust. The first half-hour of the show was one of the most intense performances I’ve ever experienced, in impact terms on a par with Swans and Diamanda Galas. Perhaps the most exciting and thought-provoking aspect was the collectivity: it was meant to be Elephant’s show, but apart from a bizarre, extremely long and mostly (to me) incomprehensible-owing-to-patois speech right at the start of the performance, he mostly let his retinue of crew members and guests shine. Hardly any songs got played for more than a minute, and some got cut off after about 20 seconds; it was a chaos of MC freestyles and singers crooning lover’s rock and R&B in delirious falsetto (one chap actually sounding like a soprano, so womanly it was almost disturbing). And even though the event started to flag a bit about two-thirds through, owing to the excessive number of people onstage and the incessant swapping around of the mic, I’d still say this was way more entertaining than any hip hop show I’ve ever seen.

Which may explain the looks of sheer delight on people’s faces. After years of going to moody jungle and UKG events, it was a surprise, and refreshing, to witness such full-on enjoyment and joyousness. In a really interesting way, dancehall stars seem to simultaneously be treated as gods and yet have a representative-of-the-people quality that makes them accessible and down-to-earth. Maybe this is related to the way that dancehall’s turnover is so intense that most star deejays return to the street real quick. But while they’re in the spotlight, boy do they revel in it. Elephant, the bastard, made us wait two hours, basking in the VIP room as TV crews (presumably from JA) jostled for his attention, and members of his entourage seized their moment in front of the camera, firing off their mammoth “big-up” namecheck lists and performing their trademark vocal licks.

And along with the sense of fun and release, my god, the style of the audience: with the men, it was sometimes so exquisite, it verged on (and this is damn weird all things considered) gay. The whole experience did make me sympathise with wigga types who just decide ‘"nah, white culture can’t compete with this’"and dedicate their whole lives to the pre-doomed fraudulence and pathos of trying to pass for black. There were a handful of white wannabes at this event, looking distinctly awkward. And of course there was ginger-haired Bobby Konders of Massive B/Hot 97 fame. (Talking of your white custodian/Steve Barrow-Barker types, I was given a flyer for a David Rodigan event: have you ever seen a picture of this guy, he looks like Alan Partridge gone totally bald!).

And the album? It’s great—my favorite track at this moment is “Tall Up Tall Up”, with its Yuletide dancehall versioning of “Joy To the World”, complete with string quartet. At a certain point I realized I was never going to be more than a dancehall dilettante, ‘cos to really keep on top of it is a full-time activity, entailing many hours in record-store basements whose walls are covered with 7 inch singles. But I look forward with renewed eagerness to the dilettante's annual ritual: buying the Greensleeves and VP
"anthems of the year" comps.
Another thought-provoking Needledrops column from Philip Sherburne, this one entitled Ever the Optimist and noteworthy for its honest gloom about the year's musical output, and for its candour about how professional anxiety plays into this despondency: the difficulty of selling stories about a genre (electronic music) that A/ seems to have been bypassed by History, and B/ is splintering into ever more miniscule sub-generic fragments and micro-cultures whose significance simply does not resonate unless you are a total 24/7 insider. 2002 was a year when even a Next Medium-Sized Thing would have been a boon. The inverse corollary of what Sherburne is describing is the syndrome where writers semi-consciously adopt a forced tone of optimism and excitability, because it gets them more work and longer word-counts. There's never been too much of a market for curmudgeons in pop writing.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Idyllitronica #3. As is so often the way (maybe I should just rename this blog “Not Fully Baked” and be done with it) almost immediately after I’d remarked herein some weeks ago that there’d been a dearth of sheer loveliness in electronic music, it was like, open the floodgates: a deluge of pure electronic loveliness. Slight exaggeration: three albums doesn't quite make for a flood, but it's certainly enough to make a paper doily out of yer thesis. Kaito’s Special Life (Kompact), recommended to me by a number of "hang on a minute, mate" correspondents, is just gorgeous. What’s sorta uncanny about this release is that it comes from the microhouse zone but its sound is only a hair’s breadth from full-on trance, all fluffy ripples of cumulus-cirrus sound and spangly acoustic guitars sourced in Jam & Spoon's '92 proto-trance classic “Stella” . The album sounds a bit like if the Chain Reaction boys, on some aberrant whim or out-of-character impulse, elected to go to Ibiza one year, where they did an E or three, heard Energy 52’s “Cafe Del Mar” , and promptly decided: “Detroit can eat a dick--this stuff is the shit! Fuck being so somber all the time! ”. Talking of which, the second of the three return-of-lovely albums is Scion’s arrange and process basic channel tracks on Tresor, which consists of exactly what it says on the wrapping: Chain Reaction's Scion isolating fragments from across the 18 sides of the nine original Basic Channel 12 inches and weaving them into new compositions. Suggesting infinite possibilities within the finitude of that BC 1-9 series, it fulfils the fan’s core craving for more-of-the-same-only-different. Almost too minimal and subtle for the blatant lush-ciousness of true lovely, arrange and process nonetheless qualifies thanks to its gossamer-delicate traceries of flicker-riffs and shimmer-pulses. Talking of pulse-programming, bait your breath for Tulsa For One Second by Pulseprogramming, forthcoming early in 2003 on the Aesthetics label. Exquisitely packaged in grey-streaked cardboard, this sounds something like an IDM take on Young Marble Giants' Colossal Youth, with maybe a bit of The Blue Nile in there too. Luvverly.
A biter confesses. I just plain forgot (honest, guv!) that CCRU’s Mark Fisher (now trading as Mark De'Rosario) had made the “punk garage” argument a year or more ago in this Hyperdub piece on Oxide & Neutrino, which opens by comparing “Up Middle Finger” to "Anarchy in the U.K." as epochal singles bringing rage and aggression back to their respective cultural moments. Massive props to Mark for his prescience.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

"Four bucks gets you in. 10 til 4. That's 67 cents an hour, man. Cor, you're gonna be sorted." The NYC massive shouldn't miss Sorted: the Relick, which takes place this Thursday (December 5th) at Bar 13 on University Place/corner of 13th Street. The first one (scroll down to the 'Memor-E Lane' item) was absolutely killer, and now DB and Dara are offering another chance for one and all to wallow unreservedly in the old skool time travel trip. The concept is "Music from London, Manchester & Chicago, 1988 - 1992" but don't expect too much acieed or baggy beat: last time, it was like rave’s own internal logic of intensification kept pulling the deejays towards 1991/92 and holding them there ('cos how could you go back down a notch in intensity?). 'There' being that explosive brink where hip hop met Italo-house met techno met Jamaica in the supercollider of mass MDMA madness. I intend to be one of the last men standing come 4'o clock in the morning, so chances are that drunk guy doing increasingly erratic finger-patterns in the air is going to be me.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

It’s a swizz, bruv! A dissenting Londoner's eye view from Matthew Ingram. “For your info the tempo of the pirates has dropped right down. It’s all crappy Swizz Beatz remakes with bad rapping." Heard a few tracks like this coming through this summer—torpid tempo tunes with doomy fanfare riffs like the theme from Rocky. For some reason, the cheap’n’nasty production values that work with UK garage (and jungle/hardcore before), giving the music it’s ruff-and-ready, made-in-two-minutes charm, only make British rap and R&B efforts sound thin and weedy next to the megabuck phatness of US hip hop (the sheer size of sound in Ludacris's "Move", say). One reason UKG kids have picked up on Swizz and Ludacris must be that elements on those records—certain stab patterns and techno-y sounds—feel ravey. Those down-swooping drones in “Southern Hospitality”, the way “What’s Your Fantasy” actually sounds like a hardcore tune at 16 rpm.

Matthew further avers there's a large hole in my “punk garage” thesis: “hardly anyone is listening to it. HMV on Oxford Street has quartered their Garage bin. ‘There's just no demand for it’ one employee told me”. Well, yeah, 2step’s pop heyday is long gone. But I bet the basement of Blackmarket, or the little UKG specialist shops all over the East End or down Croydon way, are doing as brisk a trade as ever. Wall to wall white labels, of course, the titles written in black marker pen. It does seem like the scene’s gone way WAY underground again: pre-releases that never get properly released, whites that stick around for a few weeks and then that’s it, gone forever. Pirates making their own plates and not letting anybody else have the tunes, just like the reggae sound systems back in the day. If you want to hear it you got to stay locked. Make a tape.

More than anything, this moment--all those So Solid soundalikes with superfast sinuous rapping and warbly male R&B vox coming in at the chorus (very like punk with its glut of Sex Pistols xeroxes), all the abject B-line trax with "detuned churning lower frequencies" that Matthew says make him feel like puking--reminds me of ten years ago, the tail end of ’92. Hardcore, which had been top of the pops all summer, now untouchable, the lowest of the low. A market glutted with white labels, an awful lot of the music pure shite (but also weird one-offs that you hear once and never again, dubplates whose perpetrators suddenly pulled them off the market). Retrospectively, as old skool fiends, we can pick through the dung-stack and find the gems, and even the second-rate and third-rate stuff from '92/93 has appeal---nostalgic charm, historicity, plus we know with hindsight where this was all heading; you can listen to Goldie’s Phil Collins-sampling and truly lousy debut effort and track the lines that connect it to the Darkrider EP or “Terminator.” At the time, though, the output of pirate radio often did sound like an avalanche of garbage, the febrile entropy of a culture devolving. But you could dimly sense that this roiling soupy protoplasm might just be the primordial swamp out of which new life-forms would coalesce. I’d like to the imagine that the cruddy 88 percent of gutter-garridge is actually working like compost, fermenting the new. Shit music as cultural manure! So big up the sewage crews. It's a dirty job but somebody's gotta do it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


Youth of the nation. Check out the riotous code-flow of the text-mess massive. (Link courtesy of Sci-Fi Paul). Seems like literally thousands of crews are springing up across the land, a swarm of ravenous-to-make-it MCs. Dizzy Ras, Rolldeep and Wiley run t'ings this season; "heavyyyyy" and "grimy" and "going on terrible" are all jolly fine things to be or do. And I wonder if this "Demonbass" tune that one chap keeps shamelessly plugging is any cop or not.
Re. the name game, I forgot the obvious option: "punk garage", as coined by Basement Jaxx. Which also makes a neat conceptual contrast with all the nouveau garage punk: real insurrection versus pseudo-rebellion, the genuinely new versus the merely trendy. Vines and Stripes made the covers of Rolling Stone and Spin, but for roughly eight million reasons it'll never happen to So Solid or Pay As U Go.
My mate Paul "Sci-Fi Soul" Kennedy tells me there actually is a garage rap outfit called Sewage Cru.... Can't get much more underground than that!

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

The truth is only known by guttersnipes. As a name, gabba-gangsta-garage ain’t really happening, let’s be honest. Somewhat facetiously, my friend Matthew Ingram suggests “spunk”: speed garage + punk. Well, it would certainly fit with the sexual, er, politics of a scene that has given us anthems like "Ho’s Don’t Mean Shit To Me“ and "Swallow” (“it’s not my fault that I spray like Mace/it’s not my fault that I cum in your face”). (For the Americans out there: spunk doesn't mean "chutzpah" in the U.K., it means man-juice. So be careful the next time you're over there and feel like praising some girl as a "real spunky chick"). For a twist on the rave-punk subtext, I kinda like “crunk rock”, ‘cos it plays on the Dirty South influence and general brock-out raucousness of the music. I have a feeling “shady garage” might actually achieve some currency, initially as a pejorative used by outsiders, then embraced and revalorized by the scene itself. But if actual frequency of use was the process by which words attach themselves to genres and become their names, then the smart money would be on “gutter” to be the ultimate victor. It actually sounds a bit like “gabba”, especially the expectorant way it’s pronounced: “GUT-TAH!!!”. And it’s perfect conceptually, because it signifies one level lower than the streets, and what could be more "real" than that? Well, there is the sewer….

Monday, November 25, 2002

Interesting piece on UK pirate radio, which is apparently bigger than ever. Indeed, so congested are the London airwaves, stations are spreading deep into the suburbs and beyond. Especially noteworthy in this piece is the distinction made by Essex station Stealth FM between “happy garage” and “shady garage”. The latter is exactly the gabba-gangsta-garage strain I’ve been talking about as rave's very own punk. Even if it’s just a rumor, an urban myth, the story related about a “shady” pirate whose base of operations is located inside a crack den, is deeply revealing about the waves of apprehension and revulsion this music is already creating. There used to be the exact same (crypto-racist) rumours about darkcore and ragga-jungle, of course---that it was “crack music”, that only fiends and rock-smokers could keep up with the insane tempo. ( Mind you, it could be true, for all I know: cocaine being 2step’s drug of choice, and the drug having its own infernal logic of escalation). When the Stealth FM deejay talks about how "happy garage" (presumably meaning early 2step and pop-crossover UKG) attracts "uplifting people who want to be uplifted" as opposed to the moody rude-boys into the shady stuff, I started flashing on Vibes, Slipmatt, Dougal and Hixxy. Hardcore was pop music that suddenly plummeted from the charts and plunged into the shadows, leaving bereft a vast national audience who didn't want to follow the darkside path pursued by the London massive. It's easy to imagine a nationwide network of “happy garage” raves developing just like happened with happy hardcore: people who wish it could stay 1999—2step at its peak of buoyancy and effervescence—FOREVER. And who could blame them, really?

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Rave-Punk: Two Years Old Already? Like the original punk, any rave-punk contender worth its salt would have to work as both a return and a reversal; as simultaneously the resurrection/renewal/intensification of rave-as-musical-style, and the total jettisoning or inversion of all its values. Gabba-gangsta-garage fits the bill. Sonically, it’s full of hardcore echoes (the Belgian tekkno bombast, the caustic acieed bass, the death-ray riffs that hark back to “Dominator”, Reinforced, even PCP). In every other respect, the subculture is anti-rave. Empathogen-enhanced tenderness is replaced by coke-numbed callousness; open minds and hearts give way to the barricaded self-as-fortress (there’s actually an MC called Armor!). This music is “fuckin’ hostile”, to borrow the title of a gabber classic---not loved-up but hated-up.

In terms of sexual politics, rave’s angelic asexuality/androgyny has been swapped for a starkly gender-polarized universe of lechery mixed with misogyny (pirate anthem “Swallow”, about girls who do, gives the Hot Boys a run for their Cash Money when it comes to sheer horny malice), spiced with rampant homophobia (so much for garage’s roots in gay disco culture). The “feminine pressure” aspect that was so refreshing and striking in 2step (its lover’s rock sweet melodiousness, the ladies-first deference) has been totally reversed, with a drastic remasculinization of every aspect of the music and culture. The bump’n’flex, the sexy swing, has stiffened into the phallomorphic rigor mortis of beats that are inspired by, or unwittingly resemble, electro and gabba. Treble frequencies are purged to revel in a bass-too-dark undertow as viscose and lethal as that oil slick off the coast of Portugal. Lyrically too, gabba-garage is alpha-male predatory to the most gloating and vindictive degree. Just check lyrics like these from a Horra Squad freestyle: “Every weekend I got your girlfriend freaking…. Creeps back to you later that evening/Kiss her on the lips and you’re tasting my semen.” Not that there aren’t girls who spar with the rude boys, like Horra’s foulmouthed and cruel-tongued Tough Chick. And the he-said/she-said verses in Dizzy Rascal’s “I Love You” present an evenly matched war-of-the-sexes when it comes to sourness and derision.

Horra Squad are the resident MC collective on Horra FM, one of the most hip hop-aligned UKG pirate stations in London (they even have station idents from American rappers like Jadakiss). The Squad have this little catch phrase which seems acutely resonant. “Horra FM: keepin’ it separate”, Tough Chick boasts at the end of one of the station’s jingles. Or MCs will just declare “Separate!” as a sort of freefloating praise-word or expression of triumph. “Separate” suggests being both apart and above. This is rap’s defining superiority complex, its fantasy of absolute distinction, utter uniqueness (my style identical to none), and total unapproachability. “Separate” as ethos couldn’t be further from rave’s “only connect” spirit. Instead of rave’s “communism of the emotions”, the egalitarianism of its anonymous collectivity, what it proposes is a thugged-out aristocracy of the streets, lording it over the small-fry horde of haters and nonentities. Community and communion shrink to at best the feral solidarity of the gang.

None of that rave-era “crowd-as-star” crap; everybody wants to shine in the spotlight, make it to the top. All those MCs nursing identical cookie-cutter fantasies of transmedia success, launching their own Jay-Z style dynasties, bringing up their crew behind ‘em like Eminem and Nelly did (or tried to). Each proclaiming his uniqueness and distinction in that totally generic dibby-dibby first-syllable stutter-style of UKG rhyming.

Perhaps the truest mark of gabba-gangsta-garage’s break with rave-as-was is the return of the MC to the forefront and focal position, and the new dominance of WORDS over SONIX. In rave, the MC—crawling from the wreckage of the acieeed-eclipsed Britrap scene of the late Eighties—survived the Nineties by taking on a subservient role, praising the DJ and hyping the crowd. Ever so slowly the MC shed this menial, accessory function and clawed his way back to the dominant position. (No wonder the old-school speed garage superstar DJs like Dreem Teem were so threatened by Oxide & Neutrino: they could see it was going to cut into their earnings one day). Rave music has a tendency towards the wordless, favoring instrumentals over songs and using the human voice as an instrument (orgasmic texture-riffs of abstracted diva). If there are words, rave (and house) tends to go for inane chants and catchphrases. Compare and contrast with the rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth wordiness of “garage rap”. On the pirate shows especially, there’s a sort of virulent verbosity, the music almost drowned out by the prolix gabble of metaphor and simile. You really get a vivid sense of the expression “spitting”—there’s a compulsive expectorant quality to the freestyles, like the MCs are discharging truly toxic stuff, feelings from the sewer of the soul. And there’s that quality of desperation too, as with So Solid’s “21 Seconds”; ambition squeezing through a tiny aperture of opportunity. The pinched mean-ness of the MC’s flow is very English—mean both in its lyrical content, and in the delivery: a meagre-ness of grain, an inhibited tightness of delivery (so much less expansive and regal than American MC-ing), like their very throats have narrowed like slitted skrewface eyes.

Like punk and hip hop before it, gabba-gangsta-garage revels in linguistic inversions: its current lexicon of praise words and superlatives includes “gutter”, “messy”, “horrible”, “disgusting”, “stinking’”. When Wiley & Roll Deep boast about being “terrible”, they don’t mean they’re performing poorly but terrible as in Ivan. Just check the Vicious and Rotten-like names of the groups: Heartless Crew, Nasty Crew, Slew Dem. As if in a nod to DMX, the matey greeting “bruv” has turned to “blood” -- as in "it's messy, blood!" or "ya get me, blood?"-- the word spelling out the sanguinary fraternity of gangsta culture, the bonds of shedding other’s and being prepared to shed your own.

Oh, there’s lots of neat crit-pleasing historical parallels; So Solid Crew as Sex Pistols (complete with violence-riddled gigs and banned tours); droll yarn-spinning Mike Skinner as Ian Dury, loved by everyone outside the scene but not rated by the real punks; feisty-turned-worthy Ms. Dynamite as Tom Robinson Band. And what could be more UK punk-like than this music’s manifest destiny of abject commercial failure in America (despite being highly influenced by gangsta rap, as UK punk was by New York punk). Except it’s worse today: Never Mind the Bollocks dented the Billboard Top 200, but So Solid can’t even get a fuckin’ deal in the States. Another nifty parallel: where punk identified with roots reggae and dub, gabba-gangsta-garage has dancehall to draw on as a reliable reservoir of new rhythmic tricks and fresh slanguage for its homophobic tendency.

Of course, a crucial point to make that this is not the Next Thing, it’s the Right Now/Already Well Underway thing. I’d say we’re already approaching the end of “1977”, the year of both the explosion and the (temporary) bubble-burst. So Solid feel like they’ve dropped off a tiny bit (puff pieces for the solo stars in the colour supplements), just like the Pistols did. The hits aren’t quite as big. There’s a sense of the sound going back into the underground to an extent, and festering there.

I’d break it down like this: 2000 was ‘75, with breakstep as pub rock, a briefly exciting, ultimately backward-looking Non-Direction (Deekline as Dr Feelgood, Stanton Warriors as...er... Ducks Deluxe?). 2001 was ‘76: So Solid as the Pistols, and a handful of hits from the Damneds and Stranglers of the scene, like Pay As U Go Kartel. 2002 was ’77: the revolution in full effect, hundreds of bands following the New Wave template, but surprisingly scanty chart action (the real 1977 was the year of Bee-Gees, Abba, Boney M and such).

Key turning points for the new sound’s emergence were Oxide & Neutrino’s “Bound for Da Reload” and So Solid’s pre-fame pirate smash “Dilemma”: UK garage in only the most nominal sense, owing nothing to house ’n’ garage either rhythmically or attitudinally. Steeped in electro, those tunes instantly erected a massive generation gap; most older UKG fans were baffled, affronted, massively turned off. Like punk, this is a kids sound. My spies tell me the 16 year olds get well rowdy on the floor when Dizzy Rascal or Musical Mobb drop, damn near trashing the joint. “Hooligan house” is one correspondent’s nickname for it. Now where have I heard that phrase that before?

Seeing More Fire Crew on Top of the Pops earlier this year (hooray for BBC America!!!) doing their AWOL-style-jump-up-junglizsm-turned-into-Britrap-Y2K-stylee anthem “Oi!” was as alien and uproarious as seeing The Angelic Upstarts play “Teenage Warning” live on TOTP. And “Oi!” as song title: how perfect is that? Big catchphrase on the ‘ardkore scene too.

The next wave of groups, I wager, are going to make right-now-incredibly-exciting outfits like K2 Family, GK Allstars and Highly Inflammable seem as tame as Eddie & the Hot Rods and The Vibrators did by 1978.

Just like punk rock, gabba-gangsta-garage is telling us some very ugly things about life in the UK, and like punk (especially the Oi! strand) it defends itself using the timehonoured “reality” clause: “we’re just showing what it’s like out there on the streets. We’re not glamorizing it, honest”. Yeah, right. So “big shout to the violent crew” and lyrics like “say anything and your face gets opened” (and that's Tough Chick! ) are just social realism.

Perhaps I haven’t made it sound very appealing. But then if I’d lived through the hippie era like I partook of the rave dream-and-lie, I’d probably have had some serious ambivalences about punk. And I recall that, however much the liberal media establishment (Guardian, New Society, BBC etc) eventually came around to punk as a legimitate expression of working class frustration blah blah, at the time a huge part of punk’s appeal (to suburban 15 year olds like myself at any rate) was the idea of it as sheer wanton evil: the monstrousness of Sid Vicious; Rotten’s “I wanna destroy”; McLaren’s amoral mischief-making and “cash from chaos”. Punk as terrorism and tyranny.

The last two are what the 3 G Sound (gabba-gangsta-garage) are all about.

So yes, this is the antithesis of rave. And yet the music raves, it’s raving mad.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Interesting take by Philip Sherburne on the Missy Elliott album. Interesting partly because he seems to be the only person I know who isn’t hugely disappointed by the record (quite the opposite in fact, which makes me keen again to hear it). And partly for his Carducci-like critique of our trend-obsolescing obsession with novelty (as opposed to consolidation/continuity/tradition-maintenance). My favorite line, on the “hazy pall” in the cultural sky: “if the color were a Crayola it would be called Who Cares Gray, or Over It Dun”.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Microstep versus gabba-garage. Pipped to the post by that fucker Jess Harvell (scroll down to Friday Nov 15) with his OTM comments re. Horsepower Productions’s debut album In Fine Style. I must admit I was secretly hoping to be unimpressed by the record, but no such luck: the production could be a bit beefier, but it’s very very listenable, one of the year’s best. As Jess says, it’s basically headphone garage: like microhouse, all about lustrous textures, exquisite details, and that non-localised aura of warmth and finesse that househeads of all stripes love. The drum’n’bass parallel that occurred to me wasn’t Optical, though, but another Metalheadz affiliate, Hidden Agenda—the same cinematic feel (Horsepower’s blacksploitation track “Pimp Flavors” is a chip off the exact same block as Hidden Agenda’s “Is It Love?”). Horsepower’s rhythmic richness recalls that prime period in drum'n'bass's life cycle, the season of Source Direct, Dillinja, V & Full Cycle, et al, when the breakbeat science was needlepoint intricate, but had yet to get so complex and involuted that the groove was totally lost. Likewise, Horsepower seem to be carrying on where Dem 2 and Groove Chronicles left off circa “Bad Funk”, “Black Puppet”, “Masterplan”, “Grunge Dub”: late 1999, 2step at its absolute zenith of aesthetic maturity.

So it’s a great record. Still, I can’t help but find somewhat depressing the way a kind of class-based determinism in UK dance culture made “intelligent 2step” such a predictable upshot. It was just inevitable that some folk would pull the Bukem/Photek/Speed move, refining out all the bits (R&B and ragga) that A/ weren’t applicable to their own lives and B/ were likely to draw an "undesirable" crowd. Without ever having gone to a club that specializes in this dubstep strand, I can just tell that what you’d get is a night of supreme taste and zero vibe. Not an anthem in earshot, just endless subtleties.

I’m more of a crudities man, myself, of course. In yer face, blatant, bombastic---all good terms in my lexicon. Which brings me back to the reason I was sorta kinda hoping to dislike Horsepower's record. See, I think the people championing this microstep/dubstep sound are backing the wrong horse. Because the gabba-garage stuff can’t be beat for sheer raw excitement, and it has all the trouble-some elements of vibe and social energy and extra-musical resonance that purist/minimalist offshoot styles always banish, consciously or unconsciously. Now Jess could be right, and gabba-garage could just be the No U Turn of UK garage, a dead end (remember the exhilaration of No U tunes in '96, though, how it didn’t feel like a dead end at the time). But I reckon the role of MC-ing in this music is the crucial X Factor that could make this sound a Real New Direction.

Because really this is a three way collision: garage/gabba/gangsta. Southern rap (Cash Money, No Limit, Ludacris--the latter’s tunes often get played right in mid-flow of a UK garage pirate set, despite the tempo difference) seems an especially strong influence. Pirate MCs have even repurposed the phrase “Dutty South” to refer to South London! Along with gabba’s distorted kickdrums and heavy claps, there’s also often an electro feel to the nu-garage beats–-dry and dead-sounding, all coldness and rigour--that seems to simultaneously refer sideways across space to bounce and booty and ghettotech, and backwards across time to the UK’s own electro track-lines (Northern bleep’n’bass in the early Nineties, the Street Sounds electro compilations). Hyperdub coined its own term to capture this Eighties retro-vibe flavor in gabba-garage, “electrobashment”. Cute, but if they’d compressed it further they’d have got something even neater and more apt: “electrobash”. The real Eighties reference point I sense behind it all, though, is the Original Gangsta himself, Schooly D: those skullcrusher beats in “P.S.K.,” that cold cold worldview.

In the new Gabba-Garage, the MC-ing is as sick as the twisted Mentazm-noize: a relentless battery of boasts and threats that weave together to create a vision of life that is absolutely bleak in its war-of-all-against-all Social Darwinism and war-of-the-sexes lovelessness. It’s horrible, it’s compelling, it's impossible to either fully affirm or totally reject.

Basically, what I’d like to believe is happening is the arrival, finally, of the Rave-Punk I’ve been banging on about for ages. More on this later this week…

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Voice versus Vice. The missus gives them Vice boys the critical beatdown they so richly deserve. Having said that, and offered up a hearty “hear hear!” to each and every point she makes, I must however ‘fess up to enjoying the magazine, or parts of it. Vice is my little vice.

Like a lot of folks it was the fashion Do’s and Don’ts that first hooked me. The early Do’s especially were almost poetic in their compression, in 80 words or so imagining scenarios or even a whole life embodied in someone’s look. The Don’ts were just brutal. (Although in a weird way I see the Don’t’s victims as the true heroes—unwitting renegades against style culture and the branding consciousness of today’s youth. You know the way you’ll see someone on the street and their look is just so wrong – really thin and really tall Emo Philips type guy with three-sizes too small tracksuit bottom that ends four inches above the ankle and clings unappetisingly snug around the loins, psychedelic trance T-shirt, frizzed-out white-Afro/Nugent-circa-77 hair, a goddamn Stetson–and it’s not even that they don’t give a fuck, it’s that they’re not even aware there’s anything aberrant about the way they look. Or the middle-aged Jamaican gents who’ll wear, like a three-piece suit in a really vivid shade of mustard, and who really think they’re the shit?).

The trouble with hatin’ on Vice is that when all’s said and done, when every misdemeanour is tabulated, it can still be pretty darn funny, and some of is very well written (the Gavin McInnes bits mostly, unfortunately given that he’s the main offender). So it becomes a question of to what extent do you make allowances? It’s worth noting that a hefty proportion of humour—or rather, comedy (not quite the same time thing)--is rooted in the reactionary. Apart from stuff that is just surreal or silly (Monty Python-style absurdism), comedy is largely motored by loathing (of self or Other) or by mockery/deflation (of pretensions, affectations, fashions, trends, but also of all creeds based around the illusion of perfectibility, from Christianity to Communism to Californianism). The very quaintness of the namesake concept "Vice" is suggestive of this idea of cutting everyone down to size: man as essentially fallen, fallible, prone to ludicrous and lowly lusts. Give it up and give in to your basest, most shameful impulses seems to be the magazines’s “message”. Marvel at the daft things people do to get off.

More often than not, satire seems to come from a right-of-centre place. Especially in England: from Swift to Punch, from Waughs Evelyn and Auberon to those bilious Boulting Brothers comedies of the 1950s, right through to Private Eye and Mr. Agreeable, fogies and curmudgeons and cynics and out-right misanthropes seem to have an overwhelming advantage when it comes to mirth-generation. There’s a sort of cut-the-crap impulse towards cant and pious hokum that is a good weapon for fighting those who would boss our lives or "improve" us. At the same time satire’s tendency towards agnosticism and anti-idealism ultimately leads to
apolitical resignation, alcohol-soaked fatalism. “Humour” has also long been the great weapon of English anti-intellectual humanism , in the sense that the first accusation against fanatics and believers, from feminists to fascists, is that they haven’t got a sense of H. Amis pere et fils are obsessed with this idea of the humourless as someone not fully human. And one of the big motor-ideas of the whole “politically incorrect” backlash was reclaiming laughter-targets that had been placed out of bounds by the prigs and prudes: give us back our yuk-yuks you meanies.

It’s worth wondering just who are the great left-wing or progressive comedians. Possibly there is more of a tradition of this—radical or counterculture comedy—in America (Lenny Bruce, Firesign Theater, Devo, that fat chap whose name escapes me just this minute who did the film about Flint, Michigan and makes good fun of corporations on TV). But in Britain, it’s hard to think of any one who successfully puts the commie into comedy. Don’t say Alexei Sayle (he just shouts a lot) or Ben Elton (the Young Ones worked in part through the travesty of three of the great youth-cult idealisms of all time – hippie, punk, and --in Rik--post-punk/Rock Against Racism types–-the character always reminded me of the sanctimonious boy in my sixth form class who had TRB badges and ANL slogans written all over his notebooks). But maybe I’m missing some obvious exceptions here: disprove me please!

As for the question of good writing being enough of an excuse for noxious opinions… well, maybe it’s through being in the trade myself, but I can’t help responding to someone who is a natural, who has ‘it’, regardless of what the content is. I'd rather read a great stylist even if they’re saying something I disagree with or find objectionable, than a verve-less one saying something eminently sensible or worthwhile. You only have to think of Nietzche, the Futurist Manifestos, Celine, Wyndham Lewis, the early Julie Burchill even, and you can see how saying the unsayable and breaking with consensus can liberate enormous energy, a tremendous exuberance of language and style. Of course, sociopaths can be exuberant too, entertaining up to a certain point. There are bits of Vice that recall Answer Me!, a fanzine I queasily enjoyed up to a certain point (the line I wouldn’t cross was the Rape issue; for some reason the Murder and Suicide issues didn’t seem so offensive). Not so much Jim ‘Redneck Manifesto’ Goad as his then-wife Debbie, author of such staggering tirades as ‘I Hate Being A Jew’ and ‘You Turn Me Off’. The latter, an anti-sex rant, is especially powerful as sheer writing, throbbing with an aversion to the slimy colloidal facts of biological life that’s worthy of Celine: “rancid protein”, “scrotal imperatives”, “genetic sewage”, “musty trysts”. Again it shows how disgust is a powerful resource for humour.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Idyllictronica #2. Or is it proto-idyllictronica? I'm talking about Ultramarine’s beyond-classic Every Man and Woman Is A Star, which those lovely (and loveliness-loving) people at Darla have made available once more. Must have first heard and reviewed this album when it originally came out on Brainiak in late 1991, but for some reason, like “Papua New Guinea” it always makes me think of the following summer: the midsummer night season of Spiral Tribes raves. It was re-launched in ’92, if I remember correctly, on a different label (Rough Trade?), with a couple of extra tracks tacked on (taken from one of those limited edition 7 inch singles that Rough Trade was doing at the time). This expanded version is what Darla have reissued. One of those bonus tracks, “Saratoga”, is right up there with the best stuff Ultramarine ever did (sadly, almost all of it is on this album). The tune’s got the airy, breezy vibe of Freez’s 1981 jazz-funk hit “Southern Freez” (and wipe from your mind Freez’s later, perfectly horrible “I.O.U.”—electro at its most speech impediment aggravating—‘cos this Freez sounds almost like a totally different group). “Saratoga” doesn’t have “Southern Freez”’s bitter-sweet hint of sadness curled inside the insouciance; it’s purely care-free, sublimely buoyant. As is most of the rest of the record: it’s hard to think of an album that so successfully evokes happiness, contentment, spiritual satiety, without ever being soppy or smug, or hopelessly mellow and enervated. For some reason the music’s aura of sun-baked, tawny abundance always makes me think of Harvest Festivals, church altars strewn with ripened produce, rich autumnal hues. Or it makes me think of that dozy, dazy point in the summer when the blackberries are plump, the haystacks appear, and the heat makes you feel like you’re asleep even when you’re wide awake in the middle of the day. Of course there’s a tune here called “British Summertime”. The rustic beatitude comes across more subtly, though, on this album than on ‘93’s too overtly folk-referencing United Kingdoms. Every Man and Woman has samples of Robert Wyatt (and his former Soft Machine bandmate Kevin Ayers) while United Kingdoms actually features cameos from Wyatt singing some ancient English peasant protest ballads.

Every Man and Woman Is A Star was way ahead of the curve in terms of the recent renaissance of interest in all things Albion and folky (Julian Cope and his standing stones, Current 93/Coil, the apotheosis of Shirley Collins etc). (Indeed there was an Ultramarine album before Every Man and Woman called Folk, which I never heard, which would make them even more incredibly prescient). Every Man and Woman’s reference points, though, are less Fairport Convention, June Tabor, Incredible String Band, Roy Harper, and more country tinged soft-rock and the non-R&B influenced, pure-voiced end of English AOR. Case in point, album highlight “Honey,” with its samples from America and Judie Tzuke. Talking of which, I could swear on this reissue they’ve pulled the Tzuke vocals (did Judie get wise, get mad, say ‘no’?) and recruited some similarly fragrant and dulcet toned female vocalist to croon a very close facsimile. It might just be the remastering, which also threw me for a loop until I checked the press-release and saw it had been remastered: initially, the record sounded almost disconcertingly vivid. At any rate, Every Man and Woman Is A Star: a stone classic that now sounds even better than ever.
Idyllictronica #1. Apart from Geogaddi and the BoC reissues (Two-ism, and Hi-Scores), it’s been a thin year for idyllictronica. But courtesy of Carpark (New York’s ever dependable Home of Halcyon) here comes a late entry: Casino Versus Japan’s Whole Numbers Play the Basics, already shaping up as one of my ab fav’s for the Year 2002. Swimming with textures like rain-rivulets-down-a-windowpane or eyes-brimful-of-tears, tingling with dinky-yet-cosmic melodies (the Wurlitzer at the Pearly Gates), this album gets me flashing on Aphex Twin back when he still knew how to be “wet” . (His last half-decade’s output is dry and itchy and flaking, the sonic equivalent of dermatitis. Come to think of it, DSP sounds like an STD). Indeed something about Whole Numbers recalls that all-too-brief age d’or that was first-wave chill-out: as well as Selected Ambient Works 1985-92, think Global Communciations’s gorgeously dewy-eyed and poignant “Ob-Selon Minos”. Some Casino Versus Japan’s tunes even have a teeny hint of The Orb about them---that slowly gyrating space-station grace, that Zero-G-funk. Early ‘90s technostalgia already?! Then again, why not? One of the problems, or deficiencies, of electronic music in the last seven years or so is the phobia or hang-up it has developed about making music that is purely lovely.

Friday, November 08, 2002

Schadenfreude time. Hip hip hooray! Following close on recent news about Cream being forced to go monthly 'cos of dwindling attendance and Ministry of Sound’s South London club being in similar trouble and possibly having to be sold off, the announcement that MoS’s abysmal superclub glossy Ministry is closing owing to plummeting circulation should have all true believers jumping for joy. And apparently Mixmag overstated (owing to “procedural error”--yeah, right!) its circulation for the last half-year audit period (claiming 100 thousand, whereas the truth is 75 thousand). It’s over!. At last, the massive is voluntarily switching off the life-support system that has sustained post-rave dance culture in its dismal stasis quo of living death these past six-seven years, and is turning away in droves to... other stuff, I guess. Another indication is the precipitious deterioration of Ecstasy’s status as magic pill: it would seem its (sub)cultural life in the UK is finished, signaled by the fact that in some parts of the country the dealer-to-punter unit price has dropped to as low as one pound. This means that it is now even more lowly and commonplace than a pint of lager, and perhaps only slightly more elevated than sniffing glue, inhaling lighter-fluid or stealing your Gran's medication (ie. not subcultural but pre-cultural or anti-cultural buzzes).

Meanwhile, the rat swarm of vibe-killin' exploiters and opportunists are hastening to leave the ship they sank: Ministry will apparently be shortly relaunching as a magazine “about global youth culture as opposed to taking pills in a nightclub in the north of England.” Maybe Ibiza will be, like, supernaturally deserted next summer! Maybe Digweed really will have to go work in a bank! Maybe, just maybe, this is rave’s 1975, with some kind of unimaginable-'til-we-actually-get-it regeneration/mutation in the offing (something has to take up the slack, sociocultural energy-wise). Maybe “rave-punk” has already started (got some ideas on this, actually---watch this space). (If the rumors about the UK sales performance of Fischerspooner---Ministry of Sound’s big signing/gamble/clutching-at-straws-for-the-Next-Big-Money-Spinning-Zeitgeist-Definer---are true, though, it sure as hell won’t be electroclash). Maybe nothing will happen at all. But for now we can all rejoice in the fact that hard times could not have hit a more deserving bunch of people.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Final thoughts re SR vs KD. Got a rather testy missive from the man, refrained from making a doily out of it, 'cos
I wanna take this back to a Higher Plane. See, it’s not about his music: I’ve heard bits 'n' bobs-- not my bag, really, it may well have merit. (The wannabe/purist approach doesn’t infallibly lead to crap---Georgie Fame was ace! AWB’s “Pick Up the Pieces”… er… --- although by definition it never leads to groundbreaking music, as its motor-idea is that black people have broken all the ground already and white folks can only humbly follow the trails they’ve blazed). Nor is it about him as a person (might have a heart of gold for all I know, be best friends with David Gedge and Laibach). Even the soulboy thing is a red herring (as I wrote in the original rant, he’s closer to a jazz curator or Steve Barrow-style dub archivist) but hey, we all have our self-protective stereotypes (c.f. Kirk’s ravers and dance journos who only listened to The Cure until they did their first E). Nope, it’s all about the ideas. Ideas he consistently voices in public
(eloquently and forcefully, I might add), ideas I find both historically suspect and, above all else, tending to deplete the world of excitement.

The attitude is best encapsulated in this remark quoted in Muzik from 1997: “I never saw techno as anything else but a continuation of black music. I didn’t think of it as any new kind of music.” What’s wrong with this statement, apart from its historical innacuracy (where’s Moroder, Kraftwerk, Telex, etc in this picture)? First, I simply can’t understand the impulse to over-emphasise continuity and downplay breaks. It’s such a dreary, dulling way of looking at music history: no revolutions, no fissures, no swerves. Second, it’s anti-hybridity: the implication is that black music is so self-sufficient that it couldn’t possibly get anything invigorating from outside itself. Third, it’s self-effacing, implying that white musicians can only contribute via the sincerest form of flattery. And fourth, it’s inadequate epistemologically (if that’s the right word). The gap in Degiorgio’s theory of how music works is that there’s no way of accounting for change. Everybody knows house comes from disco, but why did the music stop sounding exactly like disco at a certain point? Everybody knows Detroit Techno owes a lot to Parliament-Funkadelic, but what is the X-Factor that made it cease to sound exactly like P-Funk after a while? The answer in both cases is varying mixtures of technology, drugs, and influences from Europe. In Chicago, less European influences, but more drugs; in Detroit, hardly any drugs, but a lot more in the way of European influences.

As anybody reading this will surely know, I’m firmly in the camp that prefers to amplify the sense of upheaval and schism, indeed I regard this almost as an ethical imperative. Maybe “the truth” lies somewhere in between. But what does “truth” have to do with culture anyway? Nobody is practicing a form of science here; it’s all about different myths in competition. As Degiorgio with his MA in Medieval History should know, it’s all about the stories we tell ourselves, all self-serving to varying degrees. Ultimately my contention is that the particular mythic narrative to which I subscribe is above all else effective: it consistently stimulates more innovation (if you believe mutation and revolution are possible, you at least have the possibility of achieving that) and it creates a more volatile music culture. What would you rather be – prone to over-excitement, or permanently unsurprised? In this respect, I think finally of Kirk’s comment on E culture, how it was no great shock to him ‘cos he’d seen geezers hugging on dancefloors at soul’n’jazzfunk events in the mid-Eighties. Maze fans giving their burly buddies a hug-and-a-pound really isn’t equivalent to the neuro-cultural forcefield of electric energy that occurred when rooms full of total strangers all got synched up on the same MDMA-meets-music buzz. If you don’t think Ecstasy culture wrought a major transformation in "Britishness" (and mutated music in incredibly exciting ways) then I would venture you’ve had your head stuck in the sand ---or between a stack of Cymande and Norman Connors albums---for the last 15 years.

I rest my case. It’s been fun, food for thought, but as me old mum always says, enough is as good as a feast.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Old Skool Nostalgia, Part 2. Michaelangelo Matos gets misty-eyed about the most over-the-top rave bust ever. Repression just ain't what it used to be.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Wallowing Shamelessly in Technostalgia.
In mitigation, the night did trigger a few thoughts. For instance (much as I’m sceptical about cyclical, every-ten-year theories of pop culture) it did occur to me that the history of rave could be periodized in half-decade chunks (rave moving twice as fast as rock, naturally). 1988>>92 (the golden age from which DB & Dara cherrypicked their relentless onslaught of classics), is rave’s Sixties: the music glows with the starry-eyed, virginal euphoria of a culture’s extreme youth. 1992>>1997 would be its Seventies: fragmentation, darkness, aesthetic bloating (Timeless as Tales from Topographic Oceans) versus strategies of renewal-through-reduction (minimal techno). 1998>>2002 is clearly the Eighties: irony, self-reflexiveness, revivals galore.

Rave nostalgia--all those different old skool revivals---is a fascinating phenomenon: the irony of such an intensely future-fixated subculture being so prey to looking back, fetishising its own hallowed origins and lost moments. It really puzzled me until I realised, well, it’s just like me: I’m always decrying nostalgia and retro, but I’m also highly susceptible to that emotion. I can remember being five and looking back wistfully to how great things were when I was four! In terms of rave, I can feel a separate and distinct pang for each stage of the hardcore/jungle continuum: the nutt-E madness of ’92, darkcore’s shadow falling across the dancefloor in ’93, ’94 and the unparalleled bounty of ragga-jungle versus artcore, ’95 and the Speed versus AWOL schism, ’96 the year of No U Turn… Sigh, sigh, sigh, sigh, and sigh.

Maybe rave’s weakness for nostalgia is somehow integral to the future-mania, different facets of an acute sense of temporality?

I thought it was bizarre enough when you started to get Back to ’97 speed garage nights (mind you, that was five years ago, which would sorta fit the half-decade theory). But I know a few people who already feel wistful for the golden days of 2step: '98, '99, the moment just before it went mainstream. (As objectively as I can manage, the tunes from that moment do sound better: more exciting perhaps because the genre hadn’t yet fully arrived at itself, the tunes sounding incomplete but full of potential).

There’s another aspect to all this, what you could call anticipatory nostalgia: when you’re in a Moment, and suddenly think "will I remember this fondly one day?". With music, I’ve found that this question never raises itself when you actually are living through a period that turns out later to be regarded as a Golden Era. During post-punk, or late Eighties bliss-rock, or hardcore/jungle, I never thought about posterity: I was too fully immersed in the here-and-now, it felt like this Moment would extend itself in perpetuity. But when you’re actually ambivalent about a contemporary pop phenomenon, not wholly convinced or seduced (see: electroclash), I find the question becomes irresistible: you can't imagine who could possibly look back on this one day and feel an ounce of nostalgia.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare. How many holes? Just the one, very large hole. The whole is a hole. Kirk Degiorgio acts all offended when I lump him in with the soulboy snobs, and then offers up a defense that confirms the prosecution’s case, a text that’s doctrinaire soulboy through and through. From his Zelig-like presence at all the right-time right-place clubs he lists, to the feeble protestations of open-mindedness (Joni ‘Mingus’ Mitchell and Steely ‘Smooth’n’Jazzy’ Dan don’t exactly stretch the Degiorgio value-system, it’s not like he confessed to a secret penchant for Black Sabbath or the Fall!), what we have here is the profile of a soulboy purist: someone dedicated to loving black music so well, so meticulously, so exhaustively, so exhaustingly, that it makes up for the failure to have been born black in the first place.

What else but inverted racism and a loopy aspiration to ownership-through-total-knowledge could motivate someone to embark upon a website dedicated to documenting every single Black American music recording of the 1970s? I mean, there’s a number of “white” genres I love, but I couldn’t imagine building an equivalent shrine of data devoted to “white music of the Seventies”.

Kirk is what you could call SC: sonically correct. Also SC, as in Stuart Cosgrove, as in the era of NME when the paper was riven by factional warfare between the Cosgrove-led soulboy soulcialists (who wanted the paper to be a cross between The Face, City Limits and New Society) and the indiepop supporters (who wanted it to be a fanzine). (Both factions equally ridiculous to me over at MM, who never saw any problem with championing Dinosaur Jr and Mantronix in the same breath). I’m sure Kirk was so SC he’s never once picked up NME in his entire life (just Echoes and Blues & Soul, ‘course). But when he tells us how as a youngster he liked “disco, soul, jazz funk, rap, electro” and didn’t like “punk, ska, new wave or indie”, he does remind me of the soulcialist creed that only black music was valid (plus a smattering of music made by whites in utter obeisance to “black” values). But if Carl Craig, an honest-to-goodness genuwine black man, could be touched by The Smiths, why not Kirk? If at root it’s because of that typical soulboy “studentphobia”, an antipathy to the “kind of people” who like indie-rock, how sad is that?

I stand by my argument that there is a massive overcompensation within soulboy discourse whereby it becomes impossible to admit that Europeans have contributed anything to music. (In the early days of The Style Council, Paul Weller, with the raging, risible zeal of the recently converted, actually declared of black people, “they’re the only people making any good music, like they’ve always been”!). The idea of Derrick May exaggerating his fondness for Frankie Goes To Hollywood and New Order in order to please white journalists is hilarious. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, he’s a forthright, somewhat grandiloquent chap, with a highly developed sense of his own mythic stature. It wasn’t like someone was holding a gun to his head when he volunteered the opinion in some feature on ZTT a few years back, that Frankie’s records “set standards that have yet to be surpassed”. The opinion is all the more striking given that Frankie get left out of most histories of dance music. (Not sure what his liking of Gypsy Kings has got to do with this---is Degiorgio implying that he’s got dodgy taste and therefore we shouldn't take his Frankiephilia seriously? But maybe Gypsy Kings are good (I couldn’t tell you)).

Seems to me like Derrick May always goes on about P-Funk in the same breath as Kraftwerk etc (he did in the Energy Flash interview I did with him). Surely everybody knows the importance of Parliament-Funkadelic to the Belleville 3? The D. May line about “P-Funk and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator with a sequencer” is oft-repeated to the point of cliche.

And wait a minute, folks, here’s one Derrick May from the sleevenotes to Conform To Deform, the recent box set of Cabaret Voltaire’s Virgin and EMI crossover years. “Back when electronic music was simply electronic music, Cabaret Voltaire represented a real level of prestige and excellence that definitely doesn’t exist today…. For people like myself groups like Cabaret Voltaire really set a high mark of excellence, you know, a high mark of standards that I wish we had today from young artists coming up making music. I tip my hat to them ten times. I’m glad to have been young when they were making music, and on the dancefloor, and be able to appreciate from that aspect…. Everybody from Frankie Knuckles to Ron Hardy to young black DJs in Detroit, to Richie Hawtin loved Cabaret Voltaire.” The actual quote is much longer and even more fulsome. I think we’d have to assume that this is actually Derrick May’s unforced, from-the-heart opinion. I can’t think of any reason why he’d exaggerate it. I would certainly trust May's perceptions about the role of English and European avant-funk/industrial in the prehistory of techno, before those of Kirk Degiorgio.

Rather than because it makes them somehow comfortable, I think white journalists get excited by the influence of Eurodisco and Anglo synthpop on Detroit ‘cos it STILL seems really weird that, say, the Visage B-side “Frequency 7” was a massive tune in the 313 area. (Especially as Visage don’t get much props even from people who liked early Eighties synthpop). (Weirder still, “Frequency 7” actually turns out to be pretty darn good!). (But again, just the idea that there was a subculture where people actually bothered to check the B-Side of Visage 12 inches for hidden gems, is downright weird!!). Detroit’s Europhilia is a strange historical phenomenon. Listen to the John Foxx-like vocals on Cybotron tunes. As Adam Lee Miller from Adult argues, what some cite as the first techno record, Cybotron’s "Alleys of your Mind”, was basically a black New Wave record, uncannily similar to “Mr. X” by Ultravox.

I also think Detroit artists know that this odd mix of influences is part of the city’s distinction and historical uniqueness. There was genuine unfeigned delight--and civic pride in Detroit openmindedness--evident when some of the Energy Flash interviewees remarked about how it was only in Detroit that you could imagine black folks dancing to, say, the B-52s.

It is enduringly fascinating how “the whitest shit” can, by peculiar processes of migration and mutation, turn into “the blackest shit”. A telling example is the music that came out of Belgium in 1990-91. Not only did Underground Resistance make records that sounded a lot like Meng Syndicate and 80 Aum, they clearly recognised the kinship (why else would they record a homage titled ’Belgian Resistance”?). Whether UR were actually influenced to get harder-faster-noisier by Belgcore tekno, is a matter for debate (judging by their earliest releases, I’d say “yes”). But there was indisputably some shared ancestry there; both Mills and the Belgian groups had been into Euro Body Music. The Reinforced crew loved that early R&S sound (Manix did the tribute “Never Been to Belgium”); so did Roni Size & Krust (they’ve talked about how “Dominator” blew their minds). Black musicians, generally speaking, seem to be able to appreciate sick noise and mad-fuck aggression; it’s only your white connoisseur-custodian types, with their velvet-glove approach of fidelity and sickly reverence, who have hang-ups about brutalism and “bastardisation”.

Right now, the mentasm noises and distorted kick drums are coming back full-strength on London’s garage pirates (it’s like some kind of hardcore continuum “race memory” is asserting itself). A lot of it sounds literally like gabba-garage. Which is weird ‘cos garage—demographically, and with the hip hop MC-ing and dancehall influences--has arguably never been “blacker”. Some ‘97-era speed garage heads bemoan this new style (spearheaded by Musical Mobb and Dizzy Rascal) as UKG’s nadir. But as history shows time and time again, one man’s nadir is another’s bright new dawn.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Kirk Degiorgio gets in a right tizzy with me for saying he's a bit of a soulboy snob (but what really rankles is the suggestion that he's not that dapper). See how many holes you can spot in his argument. Riposte to follow, if it's not too much like shooting fish in a barrel.

Monday, October 07, 2002