Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reinforced / 4 Hero

4 HERO
PARALLEL UNIVERSE
Selector/Crammed 
Alternative Press, 1996?


by Simon Reynolds


      Originally released in late '94 by influential UK drum & bass label Reinforced (for whom 4 Hero are house band), 'Parallel Universe' was the first of a spate of single-artist 'armchair jungle' albums (see also Omni Trio, A Guy Called Gerald). Appropriately, "Parallel" illustrates all the possibilities and perils of 'art-core'. With its astrophysical imagery (titles like "Solar Emissions" and "Sunspots"), its cosmic utopianism, its jazzy cadences, this music is basically a digitized update of the early '70s fusion  of Weather Report and Herbie Hancock. The downside is occasional lapses into jazz-funk mellowness, e.g. the cheesy sax solo and creamy garage-diva vocal that mars "Universal Love". The upside is the astonishingly intricate array of multi-tiered breakbeats (processed and pitchshifted so they're textural as much as percussive) and the hall-of-mirrors production, wherein sounds morph as eerily as Salvador Dali's melting clocks. 4 Hero's mutational, maze-like aesthetic is at its most mindwarping on "Terraforming" and "Wrinkles In Time". At its best, "Parallel Universe" is black science-fiction in full effect, Sun Ra's "Disco 3000" meets William Gibson.


                                    



REINFORCED label profile
Spin, 1998

by Simon Reynolds


Reinforced is one of those labels--think SST or Homestead vis-a-vis
proto-grunge--that literally makes  history, even if its releases never
make the Billboard Top 200. Since 1990, the London-based drum 'n' bass
imprint has been building the future, breakbeat by breakbeat. Reinforced
alumni include pioneering producers such as Goldie (operating under his
early alter-ego Rufige Cru) and Doc Scott (a/k/a Nasty Habits), while its
"house band" 4 Hero have crafted arguably the most consummate and
consistently ahead-of-the-game oeuvre in jungle.

Rob Playford--Goldie's erstwhile co-producer and boss of the
similarly seminal drum 'n' bass label Moving Shadow -- once described
Reinforced as the scene's "research lab". Although the label had a couple
of near chart-hits during Britain's early Nineties hardcore rave explosion,
Reinforced have generally operated about a year in advance of their own
genre. Inevitably, more canny and market-conscious labels have reaped the
benefits of Reinforced's innovations.

When euphoric rave tunes still ruled in '92, Reinforced were
already exploring "the darkside": its roster--4 Hero, Rufige Cru, Nasty
Habits, Nebula II, Tek 9, to name just a few--developed a repertoire of
bad-trippy effects, ectoplasmic sample-textures, swarming death-ray riffs,
and convulsive, highly-processed breakbeats that blurred the line between
rhythm and timbre. In 1993 the UK rave scene went dark en masse, using
Reinforced's patented palette of audio-grotesquerie to reflect the paranoid
delirium  caused by long-term Ecstasy abuse. But by this point, Reinforced
were taking the proto-jungle sound in a more "musical" direction infused
with soothing jazz, soul and ambient flavors---a process that peaked in
late '94 with the blissful disorientation of 4 Hero's Parallel Universe,
one of the  first single-artist drum 'n' bass albums. And when that
"intelligent jungle" sound itself became consensual and cosy, Reinforced
moved on yet again, pushing the music into more unsettling experimental
zones.

This  twisting-and-turning trajectory can be traced on Enforcers:
The Beginning of the End  (available in America via Crammed/SSR), a
compilation of highlights from the label's acclaimed Enforcers  series of
multi-artist experimental EPs. Mixed by DJ Stretch, the CD starts with the
present and works backwards to 1992--an unorthodox ruse that enables you to
hear the future emerging out of the past even more effectively than a
conventional chronology. The anthology's first half also serves as a
showcase for some of Reinforced's "new boys"--producers like  Sonar Circle,
Procedure 769, G-Force & Seiji, Vortexion, Arcon 2, Torus,  Nucleus &
Paradox. Resisting  drum 'n' bass's current stagnation--an excess of
"copycat music", as label manager Ian Bardouille puts it, DJs playing safe
and producers hidebound by the reigning formula of stiff two-step beats and
quasi-funky basslines--Reinforced's roster  are intensifying breakbeat
science to new headwreckin' heights of polyrhythmic complexity and
chromatic density.



            
Reinforced's stateside profile is also set to be raised,
indirectly, by the domestic release of 4 Hero's third album in October. Two
Pages  could be 1998's New Forms: it's a double CD, it's on Talkin' Loud
(the same major label affiliate that issued Roni Size's meisterwerk), and
it's staggeringly good. The first disc, Page One, does for orchestral
strings what Reprazent did for jazz horns. Tracks like "Loveless"
(featuring brilliant Philly-based poet-rapper Ursula Rucker), "Escape That"
and  "Star Chasers"  hark back to the Seventies astro-fusion and cosmic
soul of  The Rotary Connection, Donald Byrd, The Isley Brothers and Sun
Ra's Strange Celestial Roads. The basic concept is Afro-Futurist:  space is
the place where the race can escape terrestial oppression --an idea earlier
explored on the exquisite self-titled album by Jacob's Optical Stairway,
one of numerous  4 Hero alter-egos.





If Page One is occasionally a tad too mellifluous  for rock-reared
ears, Page Two's contorted beats and twisted sounds should satisfy
anybody's appetite for brain damage. "When people hear that album drop,
it's gonna blow their heads off," says Bardouille. "It'll be too much for
them to handle,  'cos they won't have experienced black music like that
before."





The arc of decline: compare this (1993)




to this (1998)






from students of the phuture



to studium of a hallowed past



On Talkin' Loud, too... gahhhh



(s)addendum: Broken Beats


VARIOUS ARTISTS
People... Make the World Go Round (People) 
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Co-Operation Vol 1 (Goya) 
NEW SECTOR MOVEMENTS
No Tricks (Virgin) 
JAZZANOVA
The Remixes 1997-2000 (Compost) 
VARIOUS ARTISTS
The Good Good (2000 Black) 
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Compost Community (Compost Records) 

(faves/unfaves 2000 based partly on Uncut review)

by Simon Reynolds

With no massive convulsion likely to renew dance culture any time soon, some 
observers are touting "broken beats" a/ka "the West London Sound" (a/k/a 
"house-not-house", "nu-jazz", "phusion": why can't they just settle on the one 
name?!) as the Next Medium-Sized Thing. Weaving together the jazzier strands of 
drum'n'bass, deep house, and Detroit techno, this new(-ish) style could be 
critiqued from a number of angles: sceptics arguing that it's merely acid jazz 
upgraded with digital tricknology, populists attacking it as a composite of 
cognoscenti-oriented snob musics (fusion, rare groove, acid jazz again) that 
unavoidably conjures the image of some twat sashaying down Portobello Road in 
Jamiroquai-style woolly hat and wafting the stale reek of jazz Woodbines in his 
wake. But, hey, I thought: maybe I should check my bigotries at the door, wipe 
from my mindscreen the incontrovertible subcultural pre-eminence of East London 
(font of greatness from hardcore to jungle to 2step), and give the new contender 
a half-chance. 

Well that's what I did and I'm still on the fence. The People double-CD has some 
magic moments, especially when this dude I.G. Culture is involved--particularly 
his Likwid Biskit alter-ego, rather than New Sector Movements. The latter's 
Virgin debut EP has some good sounds'n'rhythms but they're ruined by a Big-Voice 
Female Singer doing this Afrodelic mystical positivity thing a la Rotary 
Connection or the vocalists on Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston records. 

Co-Operation Vol 1---named after this micro-scene's principal club, the Co-Op---shines when 
Reinforced's side label for broken beats, 2000 Black, is involved: Seiji & 
G-Force's "Chase De Ace" and Nu Era & Pavel Dego Kostiuk's "Nana Nomura" take 
off from the 70s-into-90s nu-fusion developed by on Parallel Universe /disc one 
of Two Pages /Jacob's Optical Stairway and soar to virgin outerzones of 
drum'n'space. The twinkling keyboards and crisply textured percussion exude the 
cosmic utopianism of Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith. There's a particular 
Moog-tastic synth-sound--sort of spangly and squelchy at once---that's all over 
the Reinforced posse's productions and I can't get enough of it. Surprisingly, 
though, 2000 Black's own comp The Good Good (out on Planet E in the USA--and 
Innerzone Orchestra is a good reference point actually) is a bit blah, on the 
whole. 

4 Hero have the first track on Jazzanova's double CD collection of their 
celebrated remixes. Part of the Compost family (the German chapter of "broken 
beats" movement), Jazzanova are feted for their flair at digitally simulating 
the "feel" and "swing" of real live drumming, and for their facility for 
complicated time-signatures. Like their West London allies, Jazzanova fetishize 
analog and acoustic timbres, the sort of "warm", fuzzy sounds that get
DJ/producers digging through crates of old vinyl in search of undiscovered 
sample-sources from the 1970s. They also exemplify the broken beats scene's 
hallmark infatuation with Brazil, home of musical hybridity and polyrhythmic 
percussion. Remix clients here include Brazilian fusion outfit Azymuth, and 
there's a pervasive bossa nova influence. 

The Brazilian fetish also results in some truly puke-provoking Portuguese-sounding names--Modaji, Misa Negra, Domu, Da Lata (apparently a reference to some folkloric tale about marijuana first 
arriving on Brazilian shores in a tin---pass the sick bucket, please). 

Jazzanova's own name is enough to make me vom into my lap each time my eyes make 
contact with it. And as I've said before in these pages, you can tell a 
lot--maybe everything--from the names of bands and titles of records.

Still, if you ever dug the jazzual, easy-glistening side of drum'n'bass--Alex 
Reece's "Jazz Master", Roni Size's Roy Ayers/RAMP sampling "Daylight" , Adam F's 
"Circles": and those are all undeniable, certified bomb tunes in my book--you'll 
find thrills here and there within the West London output and on the Compost 
compilation especially. 

Unavoidably, though, there is that Gilles Peterson/Mo 
Wax/Bar Rhumba/Blue Note/Straight No Chaser sort of stench round 
the whole thing---and the lack of any interesting "social energy" behind the 
scene is a big minus for me. 

Not sure if West London/broken even counts as a 
genre as such, it's more like an aggregation of oneupmanship strategies---a 
tapestry of music styles that have all historically been rallied to as 
connoiseurial bulwarks of taste and musicality against the plebeian rave horde. 



Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ROOTS 'N FUTURE
published as 'Chant Down Babylon', The Wire, 2000

by Simon Reynolds

Where better to open a meditation on the white romance with Jamaican music than with a record guaranteed to induce cringing from a higher percentage of reggae connoisseurs (and probably a hefty proportion of the Wire readership too) than any other? I'm talking about "White Man In Hammersmith Palais". Whatever you think of its rabble-rousing punky-reggae, The Clash's 1977 single is interesting because lyrically it's actually about the projections and misrecognitions that inevitably occur when white folks "engage" with black music (as opposed to simply consuming it). Joe Strummer attends an All Nighter featuring such "first time from Jamaica" stars as Dillinger and Delroy Wilson. But the performances--"showbizzy, very Vegas," Strummer recalled years later--frustrate his expectations: instead of "roots rock rebel" fighting talk, "it was Four Tops all night/with encores from stage right". The transracial identification felt by punk rockers towards roots rockers---captured earlier in "White Riot", with its admiration and envy towards the black rioters at 1976's over-policed Notting Hill Carnival--collides with a different reality of Jamaican pop culture, leaving Strummer demoralised and confused.

Roots reggae is now almost exclusively valued for dub's legacy of disorientating studio techniques. Which makes it disorientating in itself to go back to the mid-Seventies roots heyday and discover that reggae fans, black and white, actually looked to the music for "a solid foundation" (as The Congos sang it), for certainty and truth, for militancy and motivation. "Roots rock rebel" neatly condenses how Jamaican music was seen both by rock and by reggae itself. Reggae was anti-imperialist: Rasta's Pan-Africanism connected with the period's post-colonial struggles, from the communist MPLA in Angola resisting a South African invasion that was covertly backed by the USA, to the Patriotic Front liberation forces in white-controlled Rhodesia (Bob Marley later headlined Zimbabwe's 1980 Independence Celebrations). Reggae was anti-capitalist: Rasta's rhetoric of downpressed sufferers and judgement day for Babylon's plutocrats  was co-opted by Michael Manley's socialist government, whose warm relations with neighbouring Cuba led the USA to try to destabilize Jamaica via an IMF money-squeeze and other dirty tricks. And reggae was anti-fascist, providing the between-band soundtrack to Rock Against Racism concerts and bringing radical chic to a thousand student bedrooms with its poster iconography: Pete Tosh, a Che Guevera with natty dreads and black beret;  Medusa-headed spiritual warriors Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, and Culture; Steel Pulse preaching about "Handsworth Revolution".

Even before punk, rock culture had seized on reggae as the "rebel beat" of the Seventies, a much needed dose of authenticity at a time of post-countercultural burn-out: critics like Greil Marcus lionized Bob Marley  as a Caribbean Dylan and the Wailers as Jamaica's own Rolling Stones ("Street Fighting Men," but this time for real). Punk itself has been interpreted (by subcultural theorist Dick Hebdige) as partly based in the yearning for a "white ethnicity" equivalent to Rastafarianism: U.K. punks as exiles on every High Street, stranded in a Babylon burning with boredom. During the half-decade from 1977-81, reggae vied for supremacy with funk as the musical template for progressive post-punk groups. After the Pistols's break-up, Richard Branson wooed Lydon by flying him to Jamaica as A&R consultant for Virgin reggae imprint The Front Line, whose logo (black power fist clenched around barbed wire) conflated militancy and martyrdom; PiL's own dread vision rode the basslines of a blue-eyed Londoner who'd reinvented himself as Jah Wobble. In Scritti Politti's early Gramsci-influenced DIY phase, "Skank Bloc Bologna" linked the Notting Hill riots with Italy's 1977 anarcho-syndicalist uprisings; even after Green lost his Marxist faith and went post-structuralist, his deconstructions of the lover's discourse ("The 'Sweetest Girl'" et al) swayed to a lover's rock lilt. Pop Group and The Slits worked with UK dubmeister Dennis 'Blackbeard' Bovell; Ari Up eventually became a full-blown Rasta. The Specials fused social realism with the sulphate-twitchy rhythms of ska, and the mixed-race UB40 hymned the integrationist Martin Luther King (rather than separatist Marcus Garvey) over dole queue skank. And always, always, The Clash: getting Lee Perry to produce "Complete Control", covering "Armagideon Time" and "Police and Thieves," pulling off a convincing roots facsimile with "Bankrobber" (Mikey Dread at the controls). Former colony Jamaica responded to all this sincere flattery from the British Empire's bastard children with songs like Marley's "Punky Reggae Party": "The Wailers will be there/the Slits, the Feelgoods and the Clash." Not quite sure why pub rockers Lee Brilleaux and Wilko Johnson's were on Bob's guest list, but clearly it was a time of strange alliances.

The cultural studies/Rock Against Racism approach to reggae didn't ignore dub totally, but it was never really able to integrate dub's topsy-turvy sonic overturnings with its get-up-stand-up conception of reggae's political dissidence. In neo-Marxist academia and SWP activist circles alike, there's a certain uneasiness about drugs (ganja is barely mentioned in Hebdige's 1987 sound system culture book Cut 'N Mix), partly because of an anti-psychedelic premium on clear-minded rationality, and partly because linking black subcultures with drug use was felt to be dodgy, even crypto-racist. But the real stumbling block in the post-punk engagement with reggae was the religiosity of roots culture. It's possible to translate Rastafarian beliefs into Marxist terms, or treat them as allegory, mythic narratives of dispossession and deliverance. Just don't do it in front of a true Rasta believer--when ethnologist John W. Pulis attempted such a dialogue, his Western liberal relativism was swiftly dispatched: "Only one reality.... na views.... I-and-I no deal with kon-sciousness, I deal wit' truth."

Today, a totally different white hip discourse frames reggae, emphasising elements downplayed in the late Seventies but (inevitably) suppressing others. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to shorthand this cluster of ideas as the Afro-Futurist discourse, but it actually has multiple facets: dub as deconstruction (of the song, of the metaphysics of musical presence); the producer as mad scientist, dark magus, shaman, trickster; the Macro Dub Infection notions of dub as postgeographical virus and of dub's sonic instability as an education in "insecurity". The sonic praxis of these notions encompasses New York's illbient scene (We, Sub Dub, DJ Spooky) and Brooklyn's Wordsound massive, Bill Laswell's numerous dub initiatives, post rock outfits like Tortoise, Labradford, Rome, and Him, and quite a few others. Theoretically, the ideas have been largely developed by people associated with the Wire, from John Corbett's seminal essay on the "madness" of Lee Perry (and fellow Afro-Futurists Sun Ra and George Clinton) through David Toop's probing of the origins of modern remixology in reggae's versioning, to Ian Penman's classic meditation on Tricky and "the smoky logic of dub."

What all these strands of dub theory share is the exaltation of producers and engineers over singers and players, and the idea that studio effects and processing are more crucial than the original vocal or instrumental performances. Which is why thousands of words have been spilled on the wizardry of Perry or Tubby, but very little on reggae vocalisation or the role of drummers, bassists, rhythm guitarists et al in building kinaesthetic mood-scapes (a/k/a grooves). The mystery of "skank" has failed to provoke a downpour of eloquence--the way different ridims pull you into their flow, entrain your limbs in their gait, tune your cells into their vibration. This is understandable, given the difficulty of writing about rhythm with any specificity (mind you, it's just as tough to go beyond generalities and talk about a specific auteur-producer's signature, to isolate exactly what it is that gives one dub engineer, breakbeat scientist or 303-tweaker his singularity and superior rank).

The really distorting side effect of the Afro-Futurist privileging of the producer, though, is that the fact that reggae actually involved people saying stuff about stuff has almost totally been forgotten. Lyrically, most Seventies roots reggae is as plainspoken and bluntly demagogic as Tom Robinson Band. This is not to say that the shift in how reggae has been conceptualized---from "the sound of politics" in the Seventies to "the politics of sound" today--hasn't opened up exciting ways of thinking about the music; indeed, it was originally a necessary corrective to the exhausted post-punk over-emphasis on messages and meaning. But it has also de-politicized and de-spiritualized a music that was originally "part journalism, part prophecy" (James A. Winders).  At the extreme, Jamaica is effectively erased in all its materiality and knotty cultural contradictions. So Calvin Johnson, founder of Olympia, Washington's K Records and frontman of Dub Narcotic Sound System, can blithely declare: "I never saw dub as a type of music, but as a process. The fact that it originated in reggae is inconsequential."

The totem, touchstone, and discursive bulwark for the Afro-Futurist take on reggae is Lee 'Scratch' Perry. I'm going to take two tacks here: firstly, contesting the reduction of roots culture to this single smoke-wizened figure, and secondly , suggesting that the mad scientist version of Scratch is itself reductive. As the Afro-Futurist consensus about dub has solidified over the last decade, the apotheosis of Perry at the expense of his less flamboyant yet more consistent peers (Tubby, Keith Hudson, Augustus Pablo, Tommy Cowan, Joe Gibbs, Scientist, etc) has intensified.

In the Afro-Futurist discourse, Lee Perry and Bob Marley are conceptual twins, linked but opposed. Interestingly, two critics who've contrasted Marley-ism (reggae as text/truth/roots) with Perry-ology (dub as texture/play/deracination) also use the same metaphor to reject the former and big-up the later. Ian Penman, in his Tricky meditation (Wire 133, also in the essay collection Vital Signs) mocks Bob as "an olde worlde flat-earth icon".  Kodwo Eshun, in his brief Perry chapter in More Brilliant Than The Sun, praises Scratch's location "far from Rastafari's flat-earth metaphysics". Apart from the ethnocentrism of the Rasta as flat earth theory analogy (odd, given the Afro-Futurist tendency to valorize voodoo, alchemy, Gnosticism, and other superstitions), it's misleading to imply that dub and roots reggae can be understood separately from that strange Jamaican religion. For starters, Rasta's sacred burru drums--bass, funde, repeater--are embedded deep in reggae's rhythmic matrix. Perry himself is a devout Rasta. He produced and often had an instigating conceptual role in scores of songs with titles like "Psalms 20", "Zion's Blood", "Dread Lion", "Sodom and Gomorrow", "Feast of Passover", plus numerous topical social comment tunes like Max Romeo's "War In A Babylon". Even a seemingly whimsical Perry lyric like "Roast Fish and Cornbread" is actually about ital, the dietary guidelines that are crucial to righteous Rasta living.

Lee Perry's antic personality is enormously enjoyable (even if enjoyed, surprisingly, by people who usually profess contempt for pop's cult of personality), his sonic achievements mighty (if strewn amid much bad-TV-left-on-in-the-background flimsy fare, and tarnished by a post-peak trail of underachieving disgrace as long as George Clinton's. And that gig he did at Dingwalls in 1987 was fucking atrocious). Still, towering if erratic dub genius aside, I can't help suspecting some dubious ulterior factors behind the privileging of Perry. One is his fertility as a text for exegesis: Perry's syncretic cosmology of  superstitions, science fiction, and pulp movies, his is-it-schizophrenia-or-performance-art-that-never-stops eccentricity, his Sun Ra-like wordgames and encryptions, will support a micro-industry of dissertations and seminars for decades to come. The other reason for the Perry Cult is, I reckon, because the tomfoolery and quirked-out levity of  much of his output offers a blessed repreive from the sheer earnestness of roots reggae, which is often literally sermonising, all parables and chapter-and-verse.

Time to probe the peculiarities of Rastafarianism a little deeper. Dub's tricknology is sometimes linked to the trickster gods of West African animism (spirit-worship). But Rasta itself is not pagan. It has little in common with Haitian voodoo, Cuban santeria, or the other Africanized remixes of Catholicism. Instead of a panoply of spirits disguised as Catholic saints, Rasta has just the one God, the stern patriarch of the Old Testament---not someone with whom you can cut deals, as you can with voodoo's loa. If anything, Rasta is Afro-Protestant, sharing with mainland America's fundamentalists an emphasis on close reading of the Scriptures and a millenarian belief in an End of Time whereupon the righteous get transported to the promised land. Rasta resembles some of the revolutionary heresies of the Middle Ages documented in Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millenium. The belief in Haile Selassie, His Imperial Majesty of Ethiopia, as the Messiah recalls those Medieval sects whose utopian hopes involved the resurrection of a king or Emperor who would be saviour of the poor and scourge of the corrupt (false kings, the clergy).  Historically, as much revolutionary energy has been mobilized by the idea of going back as going forward. Rastafarianism also owes a lot to Judaism---the kosher-like ital laws, the taboos about menstruation, and above all the Exodus saga of a people uprooted and enslaved (first by the Egyptians, then by the Babylonians) but struggling to return to their homeland. (Rasta's own version of racial envy goes: "Black Zion! We want a Zion of our own"). Transmitted via reggae, this mythic narrative resonates with dispossessed peoples across the world, from aboriginal Australians to Native Americans (roots reggae is hugely popular on the reservations, and rivaled only by death metal!).

Because of its anti-institutional bias and trust-in-Jah fatalism, Rasta has never had the will-to-power to actually create the theocratic society it basically proposes. To grasp how weird it is that such an anti-modern creed has been so influential over Western youth culture, imagine the following alternative history scenario:  the parallel universe where post-revolutionary Iran generated a form of popular music so globally inspirational it spawns its own Ayatollah-friendly Polices, UB40s, Ace of Bases. Both Rasta and Islamic fundamentalism are anti-imperalist, anti-America, and opposed to ungodly Western liberalism--from women's reproductive rights (Rasta decries birth control and abortion) to homosexuality.

Which brings me to what prompted this piece in the first place: the gap between my intense pleasure in and (for want of a better word) "identification" with roots reggae, and the glaring fact that my experiential framework and worldview are utterly remote from the Rastafarian's. For instance, one of my absolute favorite pieces of dubbed-out roots vocalisation is Linval Thompson on the King Tubby mixed "Straight To Babylon Boy's Head" (compiled on King Tubby's Special 1973-1976). Thompson sings: "From I was born in this world/My mama always tell me/That Babylon is a-wicked... Babylon drink rum/Babylon eat pork/Ride on dreadlocks... If you don't believe me, just look in the Bible... Babylon have to face/the Judgement Day." Now, I had a bit of bacon only the other day, and although I think "Babylon" is a handy nickname for the multi-tentacled malevolence of globalizing capital, the Good Book is just another book for me, not God's truth. Listening, rapt and swoony to roots songs like this one, I feel a bit like Morrissey: twisting the words of "Panic" slightly, "The music that I constantly play/Says nothing to me about my life"--yet I love it to death anyway. How can it happen, such violent cathexis, this flooding intimacy of pleasure, this beckoning? It's surely mediated by all the cross-cultural baggage of projections and preconceptions, but it doesn't feel like it --- it feels like an instantaneous spark of connection, almost pre-cognitive. It's tempting to woffle about inarticulate speech of the heart, about pure spirit cutting across all barriers. Morrissey, who once declared "all reggae is vile," actually provides my only clue. There's an uncanny vocal resemblance between Thompson and the Smiths frontman--the fey flutter and lambent grain, the mixture of rejoicing in the fallen-ness of the world and confidence in the singer's elect righteousness. Mozzer sang about his Mum a lot too.

I feel a similar inexplicable soul-bond with The Congos shimmering falsetto harmonies as they beseech "open up the Gates of Zion," plead "send us another Moses", and promise "repatriation is at hand." Probably the pinnacle of the roots era in terms of vocal groups, Heart of the Congos is prime evidence for the case that Lee Perry's best work was his productions of superlative singers rather than his own talkover dub. On the Congos's album, there's none of the mixing-board buffoonery that sometimes makes Perry resemble Jamaica's own Gong; even his favorite sonic effect, the moo-ing cow, can't deflate the devotional trance of "Children Crying." Instead, the famous Black Ark 4-track sound--a numinous haze of will-o'-the-wispy susurration that actually stems from the "degradation effect" (Steve Barrow) caused by Perry's having to dump multiple tracks onto one track to free them for further overdubbing----enshrouds the Congos's harmonies like the nimbus of light around God's head.

John Peel once described the sound of Misty In Roots, his favorite UK reggae group, as "Medieval". Rasta's liberation theology is a disconcerting weave of revolutionary and reactionary, and its paradoxes are intrinsic to dub's own double-feel of pre-modern and postmodern. Could it be that dub only works because it is simultaneously about "a solid foundation," absolute bedrock certainty, and yet offers an adventure playground for the perceptions?   It is Jamaican psychedelia, but it is also Jamaican gospel. Therein resides this music's abiding mystery: the intermingling, the warp'n'weft co-existence, of two different modes of consciousness. Because reggae has penetrated British culture so deeply and feels so familiar, it's easy to forget that Jamaica is still part of the undeveloped Third World. Reggae is a membrane between pre-industrial antiquity and hi-tech futurism. Hence Perry's own magick-meets-sci-fi imagery of "vampires" and "bionic rats."

There's another gap that inspired this piece--between the Afro-Futurist version of dub as headwrecking delirium and my personal pleasure in the music, which is less a sensation of being hurled into an alien, chaotic soundscape and more like coming home, being returned to my true element. The notion of dub as apocalypse, ambush, assault course, seems more like a response to a non-Jamaican lineage (a continuum that runs from On U Sound and Mark Stewart through Massive and Tricky, and many others) that sensed and amplified a potential for mindfuck in Seventies reggae.  Listening to the original roots era dubs, though, there seems be different stuff going on.  There's a kind of impressionistic pictorialism, like Ethiopianist program music--the golden horizons and mirage shimmer of an Abyssinia of the stoned mind's eye; patient processional rhythms suggesting freedom trains, the stoic trek of exodus and homecoming. The other aspect is an erotics of sound: dub's teasing drop-outs, its dapplings and tingles, flickers and fluctuations, correspond to Roland Barthes's notion of eroticism as "intermittance", as glimpses "where the garment gapes."  Dub's polymorphous perversity is why its techniques migrated so well into disco's endless foreplay, its caresses without climax.

The trajectory of dub & roots after its late Seventies peak corresponds to a familiar syndrome: the black popular music (social, designed for dancing) that gradually turns into highbrow art, its past cherished and conserved by white curators and archivists, its present sustained by a mostly white vanguard who rarify the music and place it firmly on the cerebral side of the mind/body dualism it once so successfully dissolved. You can see this syndrome recurring through the histories of jazz, soul, funk, old skool hip hop. Often running in parallel to the avant-garde abstraction option, there's a purely antiquarian approach--the pointless fidelity of trad jazz or digi-dub.

The first casualty of the bohemianisation of dub wasn't the usual one (danceablity), it was the voice. Dub and dub-influenced music in the Nineties almost always consists of instrumentals. At best, you got love songs to dub reggae, rather than love songs to Jah. At worst, you got a music that is all effects and no affect.  The symbiosis and synergy between roots and dub, it's a bit like Swiss Cheese. Without the holes, the cheese is less eye-grabbing but it still works on a basic nutritional and flava level. But the holes, on their own (i.e. tricknology abstracted and decontextualized) are nearly nothing. For sure, Tubby's dubs of singers like Linval Thompson are more thrilling than the originals: hole-some is better than wholesome. But Tubbs needed material to go dub crazy with in the first place. The same applies to more recent tricknologies like breakbeat science---the science needs something to manifest itself through, the flesh and sweat and "feel" of the "Amen" or "Think" break.

The present moment is an odd time to be re-thinking dub. Its profile on the Hipster Influences Shares Index peaked around 1995-96, when you could hear its spectral presence everywhere from Tricky to Chain Reaction to Tortoise to Spooky. But with the roots reissue programmes of labels like Blood & Fire increasingly scraping barrel-bottoms and left-field music culture's attention drifting to other exoticisms (like Tropicalia) there seems to be a certain exhaustion of interest in dub. Things like the Grand Royal issue devoted to Lee Perry's every last curry-goat fart seal the sense of overdocumentation, of terra cognita. 

It would be easy, and not especially illuminating, to trace the permeation of dub's techniques through UK dance culture in the last twelve years. Instead I'm going to sketch another path of diffusion, taken by what was originally the raw material that got dubbed up: the roots vocal. From the start, British rave culture has been defined by a compulsion to fuse house with reggae and hip hop: the bass pressure and Yard allusions of bleep outfits like Ital Rockers and Unique 3, Meat Beat Manifesto's "Radio Babylon," Moody Boys's Journey Into Dubland EP with its Hugh Mundell "just got to be free" clarion, the Ragga Twins's fusion of dancehall jabber and hardcore blare. Even the terms "raver" and "rave" were originally Jamaican slang. As breakbeat hardcore evolved into jungle, vocal samples from roots singers and dancehall chatters like Dr. Alimantado, Leroy Sibbles, Eek-A-Mouse, Snaggapuss, Barrington Levy, Cutty Ranks, Anthony Red Rose, Reggie Stepper, Topcat, and many more, became endemic. The Prodigy even got Max Romeo into the charts with their 1992 hit "Out of Space." Imported "yard tapes" of Kingston soundclashes provided a wealth of catchphrases from unidentified MCs--"get ready for dis, for dis, for dis", "special request", "come with it my man", "get mash up," "champion sound a-way"--which were endlessly re-sampled and still crop up in today's underground garage and 2-step, vibe power undiminished.

There's a vast volume of discourse on the role of DJs and producers in dance culture, but hardly any discussion of the MC's crucial role in the hardcore/jungle/garage continuum: the way the mic' controller operates as a kind of membrane or integument between the expressive and the rhythmatic, the social and the technological. The MC vocalizes the intensities of machine-rhythm by transforming himself into a supplement to the drum kit, while simultaneously relaying the massive's will back to the DJ (rewind selecta!). The MC is the most stubbornly ineradicable Jamaican trace persisting in UK rave, permeating the music both as samples from ragga records and as live partner to the DJ. And the MC reveals that the influence of contemporary Jamaican music, dancehall ragga, on UK dance culture is the untold counterpart to the over-told story of dub's  legacy.

Hipsters lost interest in Jamaica during the Eighties, partly because roots fell into a platitudinous rut, but mainly because of dancehall's replacement of Rasta spirituality with slack talk about sex/guns/money and a faithlessness verging on nihilism ("Africa nah go mek me bullet-proof", as one rude boy put it). The white reggae audience withered away, alienated by dancehall's hieroglyphic opacity (its harshly exaggerated patois and Jamaica-specific references) and its jarring machine beats (actually more African than reggae, a digitalized reversion to pre-ska rural folk rhythms like etu, pocomani, and kumina). With Reagan-stooge Edward Seaga ruling the country, Jamaican pop culture looked away from Africa to Black America (gangsta rap) and to Hollywood bad-boy mythologies (cowboy and Mafia movies). Cheap cocaine defined dancehall's brash and braggart vibe, rather than Rasta's meditational sacrament "herb". Even when dancehall underwent its own mid-Nineties "cultural" revival with Rasta singers like Sizzla, Luciano, Anthony B., and bad boys turned conscious like Buju Banton, white hipsters didn't recover their interest in Jamaica.

Meanwhile, though, dancehall was infiltrating UK pop culture via second-and-third generation Caribbean Britons and the white working class youth who'd grown up with them. Intriguingly, that influence is largely on the level of vocals and language rather than rhythm or production. Although jungle's MC element was gradually purged from drum 'n' bass as part of its realignment with techno, it resurfaced in UK underground garage, from the raucous patois boasts of speed garage anthems like Gant's "Sound Bwoy Burial" to the current wave of MC-driven 2-step tunes from artists like M-Dubs, Corrupted Crew, Master Stepz, and DJ Luck & MC Neat (who scored a Top Ten hit early in 2000 with "A Little Bit of A Luck"). From the gruff, burly-chested boom of chatters like Neat to the serpentile ladies man drawl of Richie Dan, garage MCs provide the yang to the 2step divas's yin. But the ghettocentric grain of the patois voice also works as a kind of ideological/textural counterweight to garage's aspirational VIP gloss. Sampled from dancehall tracks or live-and-direct on the mic', the MC voice is a residual trace of non-assimilated Jamaican otherness; it's some "this is where we came from" grit to offset garage's "this is where we're going" slickness. It's roots 'n future, to borrow the title of a '93 hardcore rave anthem by Phuture Assassins.

It's not just dancehall, though, that lives large in UK underground garage: dub and roots have a more vital presence here than almost anywhere else in contemporary music, bar the new Pole album. Dub ideas originally infiltrated Eighties postdisco music via the B-side remixes of tracks on New York labels like Prelude, West End, and Sleeping Bag, and then blossomed with the spatiality of Strictly Rhythm's early garage tracks and productions by Mood II Swing. Over the last few years UK garage outfit New Horizons have picked up on the latent Jamaican element in New York house imports with their B-side dubs, and developed a strange and wondrous micro-genre of reggaematic house---the churchical organ vamps and Gregory Isaacs-on-helium falsetto froth of "Find The Path", the bassbin-crushing low-end and "slam down ya body gal" slackness of their "Scrap Iron Dubs EP," the skanking dips and afterbeats woven into the four-to-the-floor pump of "Cool Tha Menta". Even stranger hybridity came with last year's spate of R&B bootlegs like Large Joints "Dubplate" and the perpetrator-unknown illegal remix of  smash ballad "Swing My Way"---both bootlegs set the diva's gaseously timestretched vocal adrift in a dubby echo-chamber, over a groove built from a rootical organ vamp and a chugging house beat. Abducting unsuspecting R&B goddesses into a Jamaican soundworld, these tracks offer typical only-in-London recontextualizations of  non-UK sources.

2-step garage is really a four-way collision between gay American house, homophobic Jamaican ragga, Hackney council estate junglism and uptown New York R&B. It's the sonic embodiment of a British identity in flux, under the  triple attrition of American pop culture, European unity, and colonial chickens coming home to roost. Hence the "reverse assimilation" effect caused by the Caribbean population in the UK; diasporic peoples unsettle wherever they settle. Fulfilling the promise of Smiley Culture's "Cockney Translation", reggae patois has other-ized the "true" Britons, seducing the young into speaking a creole tongue and making them unfamiliar and alarming to the parent generation. Hence such anxiety symptoms as Ali G.'s popularity and the articles last year in the quality newspapers arguing that rap radio DJ/bishop's son Tim Westwood deserved to get shot because he speaks with a Jamaican accent. (Which he doesn't--it's Bronx B-boys he strives to be down with, not yardies). The subtext is pernicious, though: not so much "to your own self be true" authenticity but "stick with your own kind" apartheid.


In this undeclared kulturkampf, UK garage fights back with ridim and song. Artful Dodger's "Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say 'Bo! Selector')" took dancehall slanguage to Number 2 in the Pop Charts. On the recent "Warm Up" EP, MCs Shy Cookie, Sweetie Irie and Spee reinvent the Englishness of canonical literature and period drama in the form of "Millenium Twist"---Dickensian dancehall starring an updated Fagin from the musical Oliver! instructing modern urchins how to duck 'n' dive Y2K stylee. The chorus goes "L.O.N.D.O.N, London Town/That's where we're coming from". The paradox of London dance culture is the way it combines a fierce sense of local identity with total open-ness to external influence: the one-way, amazingly still unreciprocated alliance with American R&B; the enduring ties with Jamaica; the import culture around US house 'n' garage. London's endless permutational flux also illustrates something that offers a partial solution to my quandary about how I could possibly love Rastafarian roots reggae so much. Somehow music, even when targeted at a very specific community and tailored to a precise and rather inflexible worldview, drifts out of the hands of those who "own" it and gets under the skin of those it was not intended for and whose world it does not "describe". It still may not "belong" to you, but strangely you can belong to it.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Electronica "triumphs" in TV commercials and as interstitial music, 1999

ELECTRONICA GOES STRAIGHT TO UBIQUITY

New York Times, June 6th, 1999

by Simon Reynolds

The usual trajectory for  a new form of pop music is a journey from underground sound  to mainstream omnipresence, followed by ignominious banalization as the style filters into television commercials and background music. That's what happened with grunge--in 1991, after a decade brewing in the indie-rock margins, the sound exploded into the pop charts with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Within a year, grunge's fuzzed-up guitars were soundtracking TV commercials like the Subaru Impresa advertisement  that featured a scruffy  slacker hailing  the car as "just like punk rock."

Two years ago, electronica--a media and record industry buzzword
for a disparate array of  electronic dance music genres--was hyped as the new grunge. Despite the success of The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers, it never quite became the next big thing. Instead, electronica has done something unprecedented--it's skipped the pop hegemony stage and gone straight from underground noise to ubiquitous mood music. Radio and MTV generally shun electronica, but you can hear its clattery beats and screeching synth-riffs in countless TV commercials for products as non-subcultural as Mastercard, BMW, Call AT&T, LA Looks hairgel, Smint breath-fresheners, Skechers sneakers, GMC Sonoma, and even the US Army. You can hear it in TV trailers for Hollywood movies or used to get the viewer's pulse racing on the Bravo channel and programs like ABC News.

Sounds associated with an underground subculture and linked to the recreational use of  drugs like Ecstasy and LSD are diffusing into the mainstream of American life in the form of "quotidian music"--a term some cultural studies academics use to describe music that you hear but don't consciously listen to. All of which begs the question: if advertising agencies and their clients aren't worried about alienating their target audience with this abrasively unfamiliar and weirdly abstract music, why are radio and MTV so nervous about programming electronica?

 If your only window to the pop world was TV commercials, you might think
Fatboy Slim is as big as the Beatles. In the real world, this English DJ/producer's sleeper album You've Come A Long Way, Baby has finally edged into the Billboard Top Forty after a seven month long, agonisingly slow build. But in TV-land,  Fatboy Slim--real name, Norman Cook--is King. Six tracks from You've Come A Long Way and two from  its predecessor Better Living Through Chemistry are featured in TV commercials for brand names like Nike Air Jordan, Surge, Adidas, and Oldsmobile, or in TV trailers for Hollywood movies like Cruel Intentions, Office Space, and
Ten Things I Hate About You. The song "Gangster Tripping" appears on the soundtrack of Go, while "The Rockafeller Skank" was the backdrop for a crucial scene in the
smash hit She's All That. New commercials featuring Fatboy music seem
to be airing every week--a recent addition is the Gap.Kids ad that uses Norman Cook's
remix of Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha".



        
It's hard to think of  another musician who's so relatively unknown and yet so sonically ubiquitous. In addition, countless commercials imitate the Fatboy Slim sound, a blend of uptempo hip hop breakbeats and squelchy techno riffs that Mr. Cook pioneered alongside The Chemical Brothers. Sometimes the imitators are actual artists whose music has been licensed,  like The Crystal Method (whose single "Busy Child" was used in a Gap commercial over a year ago). And sometimes the Fatboy soundalike tracks are commissioned from companies that specialise in composing  for
commercials.



 Hired to rejuvenate the public image of Oldsmobile, the agency Leo Burnett procured an original slice of electronica from the music house Ash Spencer to use in its spot for the Allero car. But the agency secured the rights to use Fatboy Slim's "Right Here, Right Now" for its Superbowl commercials promoting the entire Oldsmobile line


Compared with many other styles of electronica, big beat is relatively accessible--it's peppy,  crammed with hooks, and its riffs often have a rock'n'roll feel. But you can hear full-on underground rave sounds in TV commercials too--the twisting, convulsive rhythms of jungle, the futuristic burbles of acid techno. One of the most sonically adventurous spots of  recent months is the Philips recordable CD player commercial created  by the agency Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer. The spot is set in a rave environment, with clubbers dancing to formulaic techno, until an individualist called Leon  plays his own music (U.K. dance producer
Talvin Singh's hybrid of jungle and Indian bhangra) and does a weird-but-graceful dance, which the crowd immediately imitates.


Commercials like the Philips CD player spot show that, despite its
failure to conquer the mainstream, electronica has won an ideological victory. The youth of America may actually be moshing to funk-metal bands like Korn or dancing to ska and swing revivalists, but rave culture has somehow managed to establish itself as
*the* signifier of "youth today".  Yet electronica in commercials is less a generational marker like hip hop and grunge were in their day, and more a reflection of the tastes of the advertising industry, which contains a high quotient of hipsters and is largely based in cities where club culture has a strong presence, such as New York, Los Angeles, and London. "In the advertising world, creative teams are afforded a tremendous amount of leeway," says "So the music ideas tend to come from the ground up."

There are also technical reasons why electronica is increasingly the creative director's first choice. "The pacing of ads today is so frantic that techno works really well with it",  says Anthony Vagnoni, editor-at-large of trade mag Advertising Age. "The composited images, saturated colors, bizarre camera angles, and scrolling of text down the screen--that kind of imagery overload lends itself to a futuristic music treatment like electronica."  Modern dance music works for video editors
for precisely the same reason it works for DJs--the tracks are designed for cut and mix. "The density of rhythmic activity and the highly nuanced sonic layers provide wonderful cut-points for video editors," says Rick Lyon, a composer who's scored commercials for some of America's major agencies. .

Although Sixties and Seventies classic rock and Nineties alternative are still used in commercials, electronica has advantages over rock. It's energetic  yet usually devoid of  the distracting sonic foreground of a lead singer. "If you compare a band like Korn with Fatboy Slim, both are very  youth-orientated," says Robert Kaplan, the Messner music supervisor responsible for the Philips CD-player commercial. "But Korn comes with a lot of  baggage -- it's very angry, sonically, vocally and lyrically. Whereas Fatboy Slim doesn't stand for anything." In this view, it's the meaningless-ness of dance music (or at least, the absence of an overt meaning intentionally inserted by its creator) that lends itself to background usages of all kinds.
      
Yet for radio and MTV, it's precisely this impersonality--the absence of a charismatic persona--that makes electronica tracks problematic. "Modern rock" radio stations have generally found that only the most rock-flavored electronic tracks--those featuring song-like structures or vocal hooks--seem to prosper. Listeners connect with a voice and a lyric. In 1997, MTV was briefly enthused by electronica's "next big thing" candidacy--the channel programed videos by The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Orbital and Underworld, and started Amp, a late night show dedicated to more experimental electronic music. But last year MTV abruptly ceased its flirtation with techno. Today, electronica videos are almost never played, while Amp has been relegated to a graveyard slot on Sunday nights between 2-AM and 4-AM.    MTV's reluctance to play electronica videos is offset by the channel's paradoxical partiality for using techno, drum 'n' bass, and big beat in the background, as the soundtrack to docu-drama soap operas like Road Rules and The Real World, and as "interstitital music"--the sonic element of the  graphically bold interludes and animated logos that act as punctuation between shows. 



Is this use of electronica as aural wallpaper by MTV and other channels like Bravo contributing to the banalisation of this once alien music? Maybe. Are advertisers expropriating and debasing an underground sound that matters deeply to its cult audience? For sure. But it's also possible that by subliminally infiltrating this music into people's living rooms and lives, and in the process familiarizing listeners to strange new timbres and rhythmic idioms, advertisers are actually preparing the ground for a future pop breakthrough of electronic music. In the mean time, the commercials are helping to sell the music as well as the intended products. "I get listeners phoning in and saying 'can you play the song in that Volkswagen commercial?'", says Aaron Axelson, music director of San Francisco's electronica-friendly modern rock station KITS. So in addition to the fee that the group in question--The Orb--were paid for the use of their track "Little Fluffy Clouds" in the TV spot, the band can thank Volkswagen for some extra sales. Maybe the commercial-ization of electronica isn't such a bad thing after all.....

Sunday, April 26, 2015

DANCE MUSIC OVERLOAD:  Sonicnet column #1 
Sonicnet, 2000

by Simon Reynolds

There's a  record store in downtown Manhattan that always strikes me as some kind of metaphor for the state of dance music. The store is choked with vinyl, chock-a-block. The wall-racks are so densely layered with 12 inch singles, the records overlap so  you can only see a narrow strip of each sleeve's right side---the artist name and track titles are concealed,  you can't just scan the walls to find what you want, you have to peer up close at the price label, where the store has helpfully printed the information in tiny type. The record bins are so tightly crammed you can barely extract the discs from their sections, sleeves are torn and vinyl scuffed. Underneath the shelves, there's an overflow of back stock extending so far out into the aisles that customers have to put a foot up on top of the vinyl sprawl just to get near the bins or the listening decks. And at every deck, there's a tense-looking, sweaty kid in headphones with a fat stack of new tunes, skipping through the tracks with the stylus and trying to make judgement calls based on four seconds of intro/four seconds of groove/four seconds of breakdown, all in the desperate attempt to keep up with dance culture's Niagaran torrent of product.

This record  store is just about the only one  left in New York that still tries to stock every kind of
dance-floor oriented music, all the myriad subgenres of house, techno, trance, drum and bass, and breakbeat. (Its one concession to sanity: skimping on experimental electronica and CDs). Others Manhattan stores have narrowed their focus to just hard techno, or just deep house, or just jungle. But precisely because of  this particular store's  valiant attempt to encompass all the tributaries of the post-rave delta, it's getting harder to use the place, so overcrowded is it with records and customers trying to get at them. And that's where the metaphor bit comes in, because this mirrors the increasingly challenging nature of  attempting to navigate the electronic dance music universe, with its bewildering profusion of styles and its hyper-productivity.

Ten years ago, when rave first started to take off in North America, it was still physically possible to monitor the best output of every subgenre--a full time job, sure, but do-able if you were dedicated and determined. There weren't that many scenes to check, after all--everything was under the umbrella of house music back then, even techno. Today, it would take  all your time and energy to stay on top of  drum & bass, or minimal techno,  or garage, or any single genre---such is the high turnover of releases,  the vast number of independent labels and self-released records. This double whammy of stylistic splintering combined with ever-increasing volume of releases is the reason why people increasingly get on a  narrowcast track and become obsessed with just one kind of  music. Take trance, for instance.  Until a few years ago I'd always thought it was a homogenous and basically unified genre, but  all of sudden, that same Manhattan store  had an entire wall of trance divided up into a myriad micro-genres. Then I met this English psychedelic trance DJ and, curious whether she checked out stuff outside the psy-trance ghetto, asked what she thought of  hardtrance warrior Commander Tom, progressive trance god Paul Oakenfold, and others. She just looked blank.  Clearly, to be on top of your shit as a psy-trance DJ, you have to have tunnel vision focus.

Diagnosing the dance vinyl glut, it's tempting to bandy around phrases like "cultural overproduction" or "excess of access." But it's not like the do-it-yourself boom  is generating mountains of mediocrity that are snowcapped with one percent brilliance. No, the problem is there's too much good stuff out there-- well-made, intelligently conceived, tastefully executed, and pretty deserving of your attention. The same cheap music-making technology that causes the do-it-yourself phenomenon to  keep on mushrooming  is also allowing people to make studio-quality records at home.  An unexpected side effect of all this abundance, though, is a sort of optical illusion--the landmark records don't stand out so starkly against the plains of lameness. It also means it's harder for producers to make money, with average sales of a good (i.e. not a huge anthem) 12 inch in most genres hovering between 1000 and 2000 (and that's globally). Many producers only make tracks to boost their profile as DJs (which is where you can actually make some dough).
               
As  demanding as it is for consumers faced with dance music overload, there's no turning back the clock -- the DIY genie is out of the bottle.  Ultimately, do-it-yourself/release-it-yourself, both as  ideal  and as practice, has been fantastic for music. It just means that you have to abandon the notion of keeping tabs on all the good stuff from across the genrescape, accept that you're going to miss great records. One aspect of the DJ's job--and almost a justification for the fat fees these guys charge-- is their processing function: sifting through the pretty-decent stuff and finding the nuggets of genius, stringing the pearls together as a stellar set or slamming mix-CD. Well, that's how it's supposed to work anyway.


Meanwhile, the last time I went to that store, the over-stuffed-racks were almost falling of the walls. I'm waiting to read about the first record retail catastrophe: Aspiring Disc Jockey Crushed By Vinyl. 


[inspired by this oral history of Liquid Sky, NYC techno record store / rave-wear boutique, and sudden fit of nostalgia for the dance record stores I frequented in the 90s and early 2000s - Breakbeat Science, Sonic Groove, Satellite, and one on 14th between 3rd and 2nd whose name escapes me (Drop?).

The scene was so healthy that it could afford to specialise and fragment - there was even on dedicated just to psychedelic trance, run by a couple of Israeli expatriates

What was interesting to me about these stores was that they were cultural hubs - not just places to buy music, but to pick up flyers for raves and clubs, to buy clothing (especially early on most of the store also had a boutique section to ensure sufficient revenue stream), or just hang out. 

Satellite was the overcrowded store described in this piece - and funnily enough about a year after I wrote it, it moved to much larger premises further down Bowery, on the other side of Houston, where all the catering business equipment stores used to be. The new premises were dimly lit, roomy, great wide aisles, and lots and lots of turntables. Clearly the owners had realised it was at the point of utter dsyfunction in the old poky premises. Unfortunately the bottom fell out of the dance vinyl business, and they had closed down by the mid-2000s. But not before winning an "award" from Village Voice -

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