"More listening will bare out the details,
but the first spin left me questioning what exactly
is 'microhouse' about it, if anything."
said Andy Battaglia a while ago in response to MRI's
All That Glitters album. It's a response
I can sort of understand: I've been loving the album
in MP3 form for a couple of weeks now, but listening
to it on CD for the first time a couple of days
ago left me feeling a tad confused. On the one hand,
it's an absolute joy of a listen, perhaps
the spangliest house album I've heard. At once endlessly
melodic, effervescently textural and lusciously
detailed, it's easily more viscerally compelling
than most of Rhythmogenesis. "Tied To
The 80's" and the title track alone are revelatory
- unabashed disco stompathons that seem to bring
together Chain Reaction and Kylie in a glorious
harmony. "Data Boogie" is an energetic,
shimmering squelch-factory worthy of The Modernist;
"Amethyst Pop Stars" is as warmly comforting
as a floatation tank. Meanwhile, just for a little
diversity, "Sane & Sound" and "Blue"
are both pretty decent and highly enjoyable stabs
at glitch-house-pop, with the latter managing to
be a half-arsed cover of Aaliyah's "Try Again"
the other hand, what struck me last night is how
MRI seem to be moving away from what originally
made them so obviously distinctive. What drew me
in with tracks such as the hypnotically compulsive
"Human Patterns" and the fragile "To
Be Honest" was the sense of humble reverence
they seemed to inspire. On these and especially
on the eerily stark "Relaxation" (all
three are handily included on Hypercity for
your consumption) MRI reimagine house as a world
of ancient glacier-cities: frozen civilisations
holding on tightly to eons-old secrets whose telling
would only mystify us anyway. By no means as abstract
or obtuse as Crane A.K., MRI nonetheless seemed
to revel in a humanity far greater, older than the
one we know.
comparison All That Glitters sounds like
MRI's early work after the spring thaw: the basslines
are not only warmer and more inviting, they're positively
mischievous; the beats don't click and snap so much
as pump and swish. It's more "housey"
definitely, and as a byproduct the "tech"
aspects aren't so much redolent of minimal techno
as they are of the warm grooves of "proper"
tech-house and, occasionaly, the trancey strains
of latter-day prog house AKA that stuff wot I hardly
listen to 'cos it is being uninspired and mulchy
etc. Indeed, the longer "epic" tracks
("Deep Down South" and "Nightclubbing
At Home" especially) have that sort of delayed-release
constant directionless build that Sasha would love.
This isn't meant to be a put-down though - please
don't interpret any of what I'm saying as a diss
on this lovely album, as the music is, clearly,
wonderful (and anyway I somewhat bizarrely have
always found Sasha's own work to be quite enticing).
What becomes urgent and key, however, is answering
the same question All That Glitters inspired
Andy to ask - what exactly is microhouse about,
is the two-part challenge that All The Glitters
presents. MRI, always more interested in the dancefloor
than most of the microhouse heroes, have further
blurred the lines of demarcation, forcing us to
ask: how do we tell the difference between microhouse
and non-microhouse; and, why should we care? Saying
that microhouse is simply more detailed than other
techy strains of house (eg. prog, tech-house) is
a forgivable misconception that ignores how minutely
detailed and intricately programmed all such strains
can be, andthe large dollop of dub all the producers
seem to have consumed doesn't help much either (tellingly,
an early alternative name for prog was "dub
house"). It's tempting to say that if tech-house
is good it's microhouse and leave it at that, but
I suspect that's not going to satisfy anyone.
we just fall back into saying that 'microhouse'
refers to a certain approach, a particular mindset
a producer adopts when setting out to make house
music - all the while ignoring the multiplicity
of approaches and mindsets the terms encompasses?
Perhaps. What I think - what I perhaps have always
thought - is that microhouse is identifiable by
its constant attempts to unite distinct and divergant
source material without merely giving way at the
point of least resistance. What I recognise in most
microhouse is a combination of rightness and dangerousness:
juxtapositions and meldings that work perfectly
but without any prior guarantees, wild risks whose
very unlikeliness are their own reward.
much of All That Glitters (the pop songs
excepted!) I guess these risks are harder to spot,
perhaps because the duo is less keen to spike their
own grooves. For most of this album MRI are attempting
to fold microhouse's science, its quirkiness and
it lush mosaic of details back into house's pleasure-focused
functionalism. It's safer territory maybe, but the
album shouldn't be punished for the risks it does
take: its extroversion, its warmth, its open-heartedness
and, most of all, its sheer beauty.
the meantime, here's a sample of the absolute binge-load
of essential microhouse tracks I've been listening
to recently. Some old, some new, some banging, some
Superpitcher's productions become more identifiable
the more of them you hear: there's a sort of fuzzy
numbness to all of his work that fits the title
to this track all too well. But Superpitcher's expression
of will-to-oblivion isn't all just hazy wasteland;
his melodies (here a ghostly, faded organ riff)
always seem to combine melancholy with optimism
just so (like, "I can move on from here, though
I don't yet know the way"), the steady beat
speaking of a resistance to finally slipping over
the edge. It's not the hit, but the day after, the
bleary, unfocused blinking into the steady dawn
(see also: the similar hazy reflection of his remix
of Carsten Jost's "You Don't Need A Weatherman",
complete with eerie birdsong).
- Beautiful Day/Awakenings/Everlasting
Somewhere between the endless ripples
of prime MRI and the rainy day wistfulness of Superpitcher
are these unspeakably beautiful instrumental house
tracks, coming the closest of anyone to uniting
Kompakt's house and pop ambient threads. Plus, this
guy has the best melodies ever. Ever.
Musik - You Don't Know Me
The first single from their album After Love
(which I'm eager to hear), You Don't Know
Me is dark and edgy house-pop that exchanges
the reflective meloncholy of the duo's "(1
2 3) No Gravity" with a restless, pacing distrustfulness.
The bruised, plastic bassline pulses balefully,
the rhythm clicks and snaps like a caged animal
and the sly baritone seems at once carefully restrained
and immersed in depravity. Someone's been listening
to too much Depeche Mode - and I mean that in the
best possible sense.
Funke - When Will I Be Famous?
From eighties homage to eighties collage: in light
of the sparkling melodic tech-house that Sascha
Funke is known for, this deconstruction of Bros
is doubly surprising and enjoyable. Within a hair's
breadth of International DJ Gigolos-style nouveau-electro
(brittle electro beats, blaring synths and a bevvy
of sci-fi effects) "When Will I Be Famous"
is still brim-full with house's tactile pleasures,
its synthetic house stomp and siren-like vocal reminding
me of M. Mayer's "Amanda". Like "Amanda",
it doesn't feel like a resurrection of the eighties
as an outsider's investigation into the phenomenon.
Like, if aliens were given the task of producing
the perfect Britney Spears song as a practical exercise
for their "Modern Human Culture" class.
may I finally end with two strong album recommendations:
1) Michael Mayer's Immer mix-cd, whose
wonderfulness deserves its own entry; and 2) Afuken's
forthcoming My Way, which I'm listening
to for the first time right now andbgnutybowled
over. Which leads me to a final question: where
does this genre's wealth of goodness end???
has already acquitted itself well in terms of albums
(Tim's special brand of approval can be found on
The Streets' Original Pirate Material, MRI's
All That Glitters, Herbert's Secondhand
Soundsand Michael Mayer's Immer
mix cd, to name but four) but - admirable efforts
from Tweet and Blue aside - I've yet to hear a pop
song from this year that comes close to matching
Latrelle's "Dirty Girl (Remix)". Yes,
I used "pop" and "remix" together
there, which might seem like a stretch - it's no
longer kosher to just like modern pop for its sounds,
and with good reason.
democratisation of post-Timbaland recording skillz
has brought with it a common misreading of the precedent
he established with the artists he worked with.
Timbaland - like many before him - knew that the
artist's performance could be treated as an instrument
that exists in relation to other components within
the music, affecting and being affected by them.
In contrast, the arrangements in much of the tamer
mid-nineties R&B is the sonic equivalent of
thinning lighting, merely designed to present the
vocal in the best light possible and never stepping
beyond this subservient role (a generalisation that's
not strictly true: see for example Babyface's infrequent
but gorgeous work on TLC's Crazy Sexy Cool).
many artists and producers - not an overwhelming
amount but enough - have done subsequently is to
assume that the vocal/performance has been relegated
in importance (as opposed to being placed within
a positive dialectical context) and thus they become
indifferent to its quality or individuality, assuming
that a good groove will get them through. In a total
and incorrect reversal of the original position,
the vocal and the song itself become little more
than a structure within which the producer can run
amock with their crazy quasi-IDM groovescapes.
see this reflected in a lot of the critical responses
of R&B johnny-come-latelys like myself: a writer
in the local magazine I write for spent the entirety
of his review of Brandy's Full Moon discussing
Rodney Jerkins' production (which amounts to all
of about four tracks, mind you), with only one line
at the end spared for Brandy herself. Admittedly
I'm a bit wary of many people's occasional kneejerk
use of this very argument to dismiss both artists
and appreciative critics; I've had it levelled against
me for liking Mya and Britney's "I'm A Slave
4 U", where in fact in both cases it's the
vocals and persona of the artist that grab me rather
than the music. Still, it's undeniable that relying
on production skillz alone is insufficient, and
that R&B cannot work through the inevitable
impasse - running out of sonic tricks - without
a renewed concentration on performative innovation.
positive flipside to this argument is that, well,
R&B is already doing this. Survivor was
patchy, but the best parts of the record were all
about the triumph of persona over production
- "Survivor" itself is sonically unremarkable,
but as a pop song it's a kick in the teeth. Songs
like "Hit 'Em Up Style" and "Oops
(Oh My)" sound great, but first and foremost
you notice the inventiveness and sharpness of their
storytelling, the vocalists' careful blending of
trained melisma and inherent character. Most notable
however is the growing trend of R&B remixes
that change not just the arrangement or the beat,
but the vocals, the lyrics, the character of the
performance and the very fabric of the song.
instead of better-tailoring the song for the dancefloor,
this style of remix goes the other way: already
electronic, dance-friendly R&B tracks are sent
through the remix wringer, coming out the other
side more organic sounding, more flowing, more "songful".
So J Lo's "I'm Real" is transformed from
an irritatingly perky dance track into a beautiful
mid-tempo flutter, the jittery pulse of Toya's "I
Do" unfolds itself to reveal a gloriously warm
southern-fried piano jam, and now the compulsively
spartan groove of Latrelle's Neptunes-produced "Dirty
Girl" becomes a huge soul-belter.
to the other remixes mentioned, "Dirty Girl
(Remix)" adheres to the original quite faithfully:
the narrative is still a "Nasty Girl"-type
diss on skanky hos making it hard for Latrelle to
be clean, and the basic integrity of the song's
verses and choruses are left intact. Instead of
an overhaul, this remix is an implausible expansion,
a reimagining of the original on a thoroughly epic
scale. This is despite the fact that the remix's
"trick" is quite simple: Latrelle simply
bolsters the whole thing onto the arrangement from
Bowie's "Fame" (that huge bass! The disco
and glam guitars! The horn blasts! Latrelle even
sings "TELL LIES!" over the "FAAAAME"
sections!) for a cocaine-smeared super-jam.
As pseudo-bootlegs go, this one pretty much leaves
Pink's Eurythmics remix dead in the water. It's
not that the latter is bad (it's great), but the
use of "Sweet Dreams" was only sonically
thrilling, being really better suited to Redman
than it was to Pink. The sampling/interpolation
of "Fame" meanwhile is a thoroughly inspired
choice. More than just providing a monstrous groove,
"Fame" fits "Dirty Girl" so
well that it's hard to tell where one stops and
the other begins. Most importantly, the original
versions of both tracks are sneeringly superior,
but in crucially different ways. For such a great
song, "Dirty Girl" was surprisingly difficult
to like straight off - like "Nasty Girl",
its attempt to distinguish between sluttishness
and sexiness seemed a bit defensive and unclear,
and the basis for its smirk (ultimately, "I've
got the guy and you don't") seemed a bit petty
and shallow. It's not that Bowie's ponderings are
necessarily any more meaningful and convincing,
but rather that everything about "Fame"
suggests that Bowie doesn't care. Like Jay-Z, he
sounds as though he's ascended to a level where
invincibility seeps from every pore.
that's what Latrelle steals from Bowie - his invincibility.
Nothing changes about her story to make it more
impressive... it's just that this time she sings
it like she really means it, in the process becoming
something like the R&B equivalent of Jay-Z.
Latrelle, already quite a rootsy diva, could demolish
Tina Turner at her best with the sheer abandon of
her half-sung, half-shrieked performance. Complete
with call-and-response funk breakdowns and pseudo-scat
moments of delerium, Latrelle's vocal flights are
so captivating you feel like prostrating yourself
before her towering form. "Bet you know that
bitch over there!" she screams, "OHHHH!
I know you see her!" and then later
"You see she can't get a man unless she opens
wide, ya better RECOGNISE!"
this she is unlike Jay-Z, in that her overwhelming
persona mostly resides within her voice. Perhaps
then she is here the Mystikal of R&B, which
strikes me as a fitting analogy for two reasons:
1) like Mystikal, she's one of the few performers
in black pop who can make vocal allusions to old-skool
struggle-with-the-devil blues, without coming across
as naff or boring me to death; and 2) "Dirty
Girl (Remix)" is similar to "Bouncin'
Back" in that it sounds like an attempt to
resurrect or invent an entire genre (perhaps the
same genre) all by itself.
sheer force of will, Latrelle manages to change
the meaning of her song: she's no longer the embattled
girlfriend trying to maintain her purity, but the
sex goddess pouring scorn on the ho because she
can't enslave men without baring flesh; the irresistible
catch who can afford to dangle other, less demanding
girls in front of her guy because she knows he's
putty in her hands. It's a herculean achievement:
a monumental rereading of her own work that discovers
hidden vistas so vast that it's unbelievable their
secret existence didn't leap out at the listener
when listening to the tamer original, or even the
original "Fame". As with her guy, Latrelle
leaves me feeling exhausted, exhilirated, and once
again ecstatic about the state of pop music.
never, to my knowledge, discussed Mogwai's Rock
Action here, even though I love it to bits.
More than anything this is because I've never really
had anything particularly interesting to say about
it. Rock Action appeals to me, inspires emotional
reactions in me, and that's about it.
maybe that's exactly it. For me Rock Action
is a bit like comfort food: it's an album that felt
terribly familiar the first time I played it, and
resembled an old friend by the third spin. This
is not, however, due to any particular love of Mogwai.
I enjoyed the pyrotechnics of Young Team quite
a bit, but Come On Die Young was just sort
of pleasant (or occasionally pleasantly forboding),
its repetitive structures succeeding only in the
sense that they didn't bore me. The Mogwai EP
was the turning point though, striking me as
a project that took the "slow build" approach
of Come On Die Young and gave it targets.
Slower, grander and more resonant than its predecessors,
the EP's slowly resolving (as opposed to permanently
unresolved) melodies benefited from the band's newfound
love of sepia tones (shimmering strings and horns
etc.) to achieve an unparalleled sense of wistfulness.
Boards of Canada, Mogwai had begun to revel in memory,
but whereas Boards of Canada seem (according to
everyone else's reactions at least) to evoke the
listener's memory of childhood, Mogwai's wistfulness
is rooted as much in history and geography. "Stanley
Kubrik" suggests the eternal vigilance of mountains,
standing impassive over the ant-like activity of
humanity with only the sapping of their own pre-eminence
as an effective timekeeper. Christmas Songs'
dolcet piano chords imagines a pre-human race of
intelligent creatures at play on a river bank, the
image weighed down with awareness of its ultimately
illusory nature. Above all, "Burn Girl Prom
Queen" seems like an ode to the passage of
time itself, the melancholy horn section a gentle
reminder that everything that was has passed, and
everything that is passes.
Boards of Canada comparison may be useful: the other
point of contrast is their positions within their
respective genres. Both post-rock and Warp-style
IDM are self-consciously progressive strains of
larger genres (rock and dance, obviously) that in
the last few years have struggled to maintain or
justify their progressiveness. What both Boards
of Canada and Mogwai have done is remove the need
for this; by emphasising the styles' latent capacity
for evocativeness, for emotiveness, they've essentially
moved (or removed) the parameters defining what
this sort of music should aim for. Both are still
concerned with texture, but not so much in its formal
innovativeness so much as its expressiveness, and
while this had already been explored prior, in neither
genre had it ever been the primary - almost exclusive
- concern, existing at best in a symbiotic relationship
Boards of Canada however, Mogwai evidence a great
deal of personal progression from album to
album. This development bears full fruit on Rock
Action, which takes this wistfulness, these
open displays of emotion, and marries them to song
structures. A lot of the crit I've read on Mogwai
argues that the lack of songs gives (or gave) them
a lot of freedom, but I always found it to be a
bit limiting over the course of an album, with the
same ideas played out quite a few times over. On
Rock Action the band not only allow themselves
to explore quite a few different ideas, but do so
in the course of a single track. You realise how
effective the verse-chorus structure is in allowing
a complexity and multiplicity of emotional content
when said structure is not a guaranteed fixture.
Even the tracks that aren't strictly songs, like
"2 Right Make 1 Wrong", demonstrate a
massively increased emotional and stylistic palette
by allowing themselevs to be more tightly structured.
have a special fondness, however, for the vocal
tracks, which have a sort of faded grandeur, a sense
of small gestures that desire to be big gestures.
Especially on "Take Me Somewhere Nice",
the contrast between the bouyant strings and the
gorgeous yet still somehow rooted twangy
guitar arrangement which seems to surround the singer
suggests to me a man lost in regret, dreaming of
an alternate path that is just beyond reach. Likewise
the shadowy, quietly tortured singing in "Dial:
Revenge" and the soft resignation of "Secret
Pint" throw the music's fragile beauty into
sharp relief. Ironically the song structures render
this music less stable, its character as
mediated through the singer more hallucinatory and
more powerful - not still lifes or short films but
vague memories, colours sent forth from the refraction
of human recollection.
aren't forging new paths; the vocal tracks on Rock
Action remind me heavily of Bark Psychosis -
and I'm sure a hundred other bands that I'm not
aware of. But Bark Psychosis, whether evoking flux
(much of Hex) or temporary stasis ("I
Know", "Nothing Feels") were keenly
interested in emotion as a present, lived experience.
There's a lightweight/lightheaded restlessness -
or, at least, consciousness - to their music that
speaks of grappling with existence as it hits you.
Mogwai are the butterfly collectors of emotion,
trapping it under glass and allowing dust to coat
the surface in the belief that emotions only grow
richer with time. Also sharper perhaps, and often
more painful, but who says you can't have vintage
years of regret?
viewed the return of 4/4 'speed garage' within the
UK garage scene with a mixture of trepidation and
curiosity. Trepidation because it feels like such
an obvious step backwards, a retreat into straightforwardness
that seems opposed to much of what is good about
garage in its 2-step formation; curiosity because,
well, with the way the scene currently is it seems
implausible that producers would simply bring back
4/4 without some ulterior motive, some 'twist' to
make it worthwhile.
there are quite a few 4/4 tracks that provide this
twist: Oxide & Neutrino's coldly thrilling "Foot
To Da Floor" (a highlight of their patchy but
brilliant-in-places album) is speed garage with
an impossibly broadened hermeneutic horizon, a project
of interpretation seeking to combine and conflate
the best moments of ten years of dance music. The
new El-Tuff mix of Ladies First's "I Can't
Wait" takes all the advances 2-step has made
over the last few years and reinjects them back
into a 4/4 vocal track: the kickdrum pounds steadily,
but over the top the snares and hi-hats spasm and
convulse with a neurotic ugliness, the vocals cut-up
into a thick web of interconnected wail-bleeps.
It's not really that much farther along than New
Horizons' "Find The Path" - arguably speed
garage's finest moment - but the New Horizons aesthestic
was insufficiently explored once 2-step arrived,
so maybe this partial return is a good thing. And
of course the fact that so many of the current 4/4
tracks follow a hip hop and not house-based song
format (MC crews rather than divas) changes the
feel of the music completely.
that however, my current favourite 'nu' speed garage
track is Soulo & Steve Feelgood's "True",
a no-nonsense vocal track that lays a saucy R&B-inspired
vocal over a pumping beat and flashing metallic
snares that sound like interlocking scythes. "Tell
all ya friends I had ya!" Angel Blue declares
with the sort of sexual imperiousness that's now
de rigeur for the scene, but the subsequent drop
into "Rip Groove" style bass is pure '97.
"True" is harder, more remorseless than
the original wave of speed garage, but otherwise
there's very little to distinguish it... except,
perhaps, a feeling. What's new about "True"
is not the result but the motivation; rather than
retreating to the house beat as a source of dancefloor
stablity (and thus fun), what current producers
are recognising is its capacity to be high-impact,
to hit you like a brick in the face.
than anything else, "True" sounds like
impatient, relentless pop, a track so desperate
to go out and mess heads that it's hardly going
to waste time programming complex beats for itself.
I hope it does really well - not because it's excellent
(which it perhaps is but if so only by a whisker),
but because it's the sort of song that needs popular
support to be validated.
Stylistically the ripple "True" makes
is so small, so small indeed that unless you're
an obsessive like me it passes beneath the radar.
But it's not a new thing so much as part of a broader
pattern, a pattern of relentless dance-pop that's
bigger than its genre borders. "True"
is playing out on a much smaller scale what the
Basement Jaxx remix of Missy's "4 My People"
accomplishes so gloriously in the charts, sweeping
away all challengers with its invincible stomp.
Songs like these need audiences, need runners-up,
and ultimately need the charts as much as the charts
for the lack of updates. Basically my computer died
and I had to reformat my hard drive. You can imagine
the joy I felt. Anyway, we're (ie. I'm) back and
fully functioning once again.
now, some rambling thoughts on International
said elsewhere that I'm baffled by the amount of
times people appear to excessively identify (if
not conflate) Miss Kittin with the entire newfangled
electro-pop movement. Of course they have a point
in that she's appeared on a number of crucial records,
and her detached-but-filthy glamour-obsessed monologues
seem to say a great deal about the scene's concept
of itself. Otherwise though this tendency to fixate
on the personalities of the scene reminds me of
various past instances, specifically people conflating
jungle with General Levy and 2-step with Craig David.
In both cases you had a character who immediately
drew attention to themselves through their charisma,
and thus seemed like a convenient spokespersons
for the genres whose tracks they appeared on, and
yet ultimately proved to be little more than attractive
sirens, charismatic mouthpieces through which the
real stars - the producers - could reach
true of all of them is the gradual realisation that
their coherence as characters was inessential
and disposable: General Levy was only as good as
the number of ragga cliches he could string together,
and these could be sampled from any number of different
sources; Craig David's vocals frequently sounded
better when cut to pieces and reassembled on remixes,
where his generation (se)x narratives and loverman
persona were reduced to meaningless (and ultimately
anonymous) vocal ticks.
is a selective rule, of course. I don't think of
rappers or R&B divas, for example, as mere mouthpieces,
basically because what they add is crucial to our
very understanding of the styles they work within.
The same applies to So Solid Crew, whose rapping
styles and persona touch the core of our
relationship to their music in a manner that Craig
David (at least wearing his garage hat) could not
achieve (in the final instance, the decision to
use a persona-clad vocalist or more anonymous and
heavily treated - even cut-up - vocals (eg. Sweet
Female Attitude) has little impact on our relationship
to a pop-garage track). With this pop-aligned strain
of nu-electro, it would be easy to assume that personas
were similarly important, if only because there
seems to be a preponderance of both vocal tracks
and "characters" relative to other styles.
Too, the consistent reproduction of that virulent
strain of disaffected quasi-robotic vocals (nasal
affectations, monotone drones, emphases on repetition
versus narrative development) suggests that the
artists consider it to be a crucial and integral
wouldn't deny that, but I wonder if maybe in this
case what we're really seeing is not the return
of the personality to dance music, but rather a
fetishisation of the trappings of personality-driven
dance music. On American Gigolo, the best
moments are the big pop numbers like Linda Lamb's
"Hot Room", Tiga & Zyntherius's "Sunglasses
At Night" and Miss Kittin & The Hacker's
"Frank Sinatra", but not because they
have "stars". Instead, it's because they
combine the general sound's best aspects: catchy
choruses, stomping (the more 4/4 the better) beats
and outrageously hooky synth riffs and basslines.
And when I look at that list, I think "well,
if you replaced 'stomping' with 'jittering' you'd
have 2-step." And really the appeals of the
two styles are similar, albeit featuring juxtaposing
cultural obsessions (electro fetishising Europe
and 2-step fetishising the US). As with 2-step -
and microhouse, Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx etc. -
IDG-style electro understands that pop has a currency
value beyond its own pop-ness. The truth is, choruses
are a totally effective and efficient weapon in
dance music's arsenal that you can file alongside
amen breaks and Moroder riffs. IDG focuses in on
a particular expression of pop - the sorta-but-not-entirely-eighties
disaffected-robot performance - because it fits
the music hand in glove; its a choice with a similar
level of obviousness to it as 2-step bootlegging
some ways this choice is both limiting and misguided;
on Hell's Fuse Presents Hell mix cd one
of the most thrilling moments comes in the form
of a remix of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two
Tribes (appropriately titled the "Annihilation
Mix" - very heavy on apocalyptic nuclear winter
imagery), wherein the combination of chill'n'shrill
pseudo-electro with the vocalist's overblown sense
of drama actually makes the music more futuristic.
Or maybe to be more specific, the music feels like
it's rubbing up against the future the wrong way.
Particularly in its remixed form "Two Tribes"
to me sounds like an unwitting site of convergence
of various stray impulses formed throughout the
early eighties (grand gestures, paranoia, gleaming
syntheticism, the return of pop, charisma-in-service-to-itself),
with the vocal performance as not a signifier
but a manifestation of these impulses.
As such, it captures a sense of urgency that I don't
thnk people tend to associate with the eighties
in retrospect... or if they do, they dismiss it
with a weak laugh about how foolishly self-obsessed
everyone was. But "Two Tribes" doesn't
sound foolish to me. In spite of the verging-on-crudeness
of its execution, it actually sounds utterly serious.
been thinking of making a C90 of all the great eighties
apocalypse-pop - Kate Bush's "Breathing",
Depeche Mode's "Flies On The Windscreen"
etc. - as a sort of instructional tool for the imaginary
artists who I might pose as svengali for. I sort
of wish this stuff would return, though more in
terms of that mixture of pomp and paranoia rather
than pop bands specifically commenting on current
events (hip hop being the exception). In contrast,
a lot of these nu-electro artists have a rather
blase approach to their own sense of futurism, sounding
more reconciled and resigned to the present than
they perhaps need to be. I quite enjoy the boredom
and affected-ness that seems to drip from the vocalists'
mouths, but I don't think it sounds particularly
futuristic; the over-the-top melisma of Destiny's
Child's "Bugaboo" sounds more futuristic
to me, really.
short explanation is: duh, this is retro-futurism,
what do you expect? The longer answer is perhaps
that so far this resurrection of eighties synthetic
pop is still referential in the most basic sense.
In fact what it's referring to is something like
a collective hallucination of the eighties that
was only really borne out on certain tracks eg.
Visage's "Fade To Grey", so in a sense
it is a couple of steps beyond mere homage, but
I think that we need to start seeing a more ruthlessly
subversive approach to the source material, where
eighties pop is not respectfully pillaged but brutally
assaulted. A glitteringly perfect slice of dark
synth pop, the only problem with "Sunglasses
At Night" is that it can be so easily encapsulated
as exactly that; there's so little else that needs
to be said about it (cf. Green Velvet, who has long
plundered from the eighties but twists it deliciously
to his own ends).
having established (for myself, at least) that the
vocals, the choruses, the personas etc. are
tools of signification on a level with sonic
tools like the funk break or the diva's sigh,
I guess what I'm waiting for is an innovative application
of those tools that brings with it true futurism,
as opposed to a twenty year old idea of futurism.
Nearly twenty years on, "Two Tribes" sounds
forward-looking because it is a record that grapples
with itself. As jungle turned the funk break into
something else, what I want is for this nu-electro
to embark upon a resurrection of the eighties that
automatically and instantly twists itself into something
new, something not-eighties. It's already doing
this to some extent, but can it do it more?
Can it achieve that rush of recognition-meets-disorientation
you get when you hear well-known ethereal or soulful
female vox became woobly banshees on hardcore records?
Some might argue that Miss Kittin represents that
subversive trend, but since her whole (highly enjoyable)
schtick is an endless signifier of subversion, I
almost feel as though she's barred from achieving
a sense (to come full circle) where nu-electro currently
differs from 2-step (its vocal-friendly peer) is
that it has yet to discover it own way to destroy
what it references. The vocal cut-up in 2-step is
a deceptively pleasant act of mutilation performed
against the music's songfulness, and it has precedents
in house's vivisections, hardcore's helium vocals,
jungle's timestretching (a case could be made for
a dance style's successes being predicated on its
ability to mutilate what it draws on). I don't yet
hear any vocal science in nu-electro - vocoders
don't count - but it would be wrong to think that
this is the problem; in fact the relative straightforwardness
and popcentric-ness of nu-electro's vocals might
be a good thing. Instead, I'd use the idea of sampling
vocals and then mutilating them as an analogy for
what this stuff should be doing conceptually, which
is sampling the eighties as an idea and then
true that as a dance scene, IDG-style electro is
as much about concepts as it is about the music
at hand. So far it's proven that a conceptual trick
(in this case, "the eighties") is as potent
as a sonic trick in making people dance; whether
the producers can go beyond this and twists the
concepts as they once twisted the sounds remains
to be seen, I guess.