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22 April 2016

On Zeitgeist (Sidenote)


Re, today's top story


[...] But ultimately, I guess the problem is me.

It's a matter of perspective, I suppose. That being: I harbor almost no nostalgia for the 1980s whatsoever. As far as it's pop culture and politics went, I regard it in hindsight as a low -- as a thoroughly dismal, insipid, frequently horrifying and depressing (or just plain boring), utterly crap decade. And that perspective tends to taint most of my memories of the era.1

As far as the music is concerned, I think hip-hop and the emergence/influence of Detroit techno are the only things from the '80s I've ever felt any glimmer of nostalgia for, that I felt any excitement about that carried down through the decades that followed. And pretty much to hell with the rest.2

At any rate, pardon my absence, of late. Recently took on a tedious job that’s been taking up the bulk of my bandwidth...both literally and figuratively. Activity to resume shortly.


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Eh. On second thought, maybe I'm just still grumpy about not having gotten laid as much as I would've liked at the time.

Nothing like entering your early adult years just in time for the AIDS epidemic/scare to sweep the culture. Good times!

And Prince made it all sound so easy, so carefree. So dude definitely wasn't helping, in that respect.

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1  Case in point: When it was finally ushered out, it was by way of the Clintons blasting a Fleetwood Mac tune on the White House lawn. How fucking boring is that?

2   I’m speaking in the broadest, most generalized terms, of course. Naturally, there are a good many exceptions. But still, the prevailing aesthetics of the time were pretty much rubbish.

11 March 2016

Coda



And thus ends the bass thing, as far as this contributor is concerned. We now resume usual programming.

Myself, I was hoping that some other contributors would've kicked Mr. Reynolds some good example of classic basswork from the canon of first-gen roots rocker reggae. But alas, no haps in that area, whatsoever.  I might be able to offer a few personal favorites, but they'd be very arbitrary, given my spotty knowledge in that area.

So in lieu of that, let's just leave with the above, a bit of a oceanic "lover's rock" seance, that provides a seductive, head-nodding  rolling bass line that'll tuck this whole topic (and the listener) a proper nighty-night.

10 March 2016

Frequency Range, II




The second, and last, part of my 20-plus years of locale-specific bass musics travelogue. Last time I dealt with my years living in the American south. This time we head to parts north...


Chicago, 1993-4: What's That Sound?




At the time, I had no idea of what it was I was kept hearing -- something I occasionally hear booming from jeeps as they passed through the block. Hilariously uptempo, threaded on very tight loops of sped-up, stuttering vocal phrases, extremely minimal with only incremental shifts and modulations. At one point, I happened across it on local public access TV, some talent-show program with a bunch of southside high-school kids dancing to it -- slow, rolling bodily undulations passing from head to toe and back again, from limb to limb. I didn’t hear the music all that frequently, when I did it was only from a distance, and it seemed to have come and gone within a season of two. In retrospect, I thought maybe I was hearing an example of Baltimore's "dew doo" beat making an inland incursion, but years later (see last entry below) would realize that what I'd been hearing were local "ghetto house" tracks.*



Chicago, 1993-4, Pt. II: Jungle and Drum'n'Bass




U.K. import tangent, number two. Simon's already weighed in on jungle in a pair of posts, so I’ll gladly defer to authority on the matter.

The first time I heard jungle, via a mixtape I'd picked up, I had no idea what I was hearing -- was startled and bemused by the rush and clatter of the accelerated BPMs.** By the third spin, the music had not only clicked with me, but I had decided it was among the most immersively gorgeous music I’d ever come across. The undertow of the bass was what pulled me in, the way it moved at a fraction of the pace of the drums, provoking the sensation of being pulled into a temporal flux.

06 March 2016

Frequency Range, Interlude


At which point Simon delves into early hip-hop. Truth be told, I was planning on passing on that one. But since I spent most of the music’s “mid-school” years totally immerse in the stuff, I naturally have a few things to contribute on the topic...

(Caveat: Since you're listening to this on a computer, a decent set of headphones are recommended.)






What, no mention of Run DMC? The Tougher Than Leather album sported a number of tunes where the Run DMC took a turn away from the stark minimalism of much of their prior material, going with a sound that much fuller and more spacious. I recall a critic at the time saying these two tracks in particular sounded had taken up residency in outer orbit, rapping and mixing while springing off the the space-station walls in zero gravity. An image that has stuck with me over the years (particular when the reverb on the punctuating snare shot darts through the mix of "Run's House). Jam Master Jay was the man, but apparently the bass on the above can be partly attributed to co-producer Davy D..




Simon cites the Beasties. From License to Ill, I remember "Paul Revere" being the cut that dudes used to use to give their woofers a workout. Personally, I had a love/hate relationship with the Beastie Boys in those years, which had taken a dissenting tilt toward the latter by the time Paul's Boutique came out. A friend loaned me his copy, I gave it few spins, and my feeling was that if someone could somehow release an all-instrumental version of the thing, I'd probably be all over it. Thankfully, the production duo that was the Dust Brothers partially obliged me via a couple of 12-inch remixes. The bass bits on their overhaul of "Shake Your Rump" were particularly satisfying.

And as far as live-group era Beasties are concerned: "Jimmie James" was a tune that rode its smoked-out bass line mighty nicely.




A favorite block-rocker from what could be considered the golden era’s swansong summer that was the summer of '93, when the version that appeared on the b-side of the Masta Ace Inc.'s "Slaughtahouse" 12" became the definitive jeep beats of the season. An ode to the "quad"-pumping lifestyle and incivic disturbance coming from the most unlikely of locales -- the (previously) bass-anemic upper East Coast. Sure, the bass on the thing was dope, but I‘ve always found it deeply funny at the same time -- maybe because it sounds kinda "sick" in both senses of the word.

Speaking of jeep beats...

04 March 2016

Habitat, no. 12




From the looks of it, the architecture in Ben Wheatley’s film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise doesn’t much reflect that of the novel’s Brutalist-era 1970s setting. But in an interview from latest Creative Review, designers Michael Eaton and Felicity Hickson talk about how pulled from a variety of Retro- stylistic sources to give the film a particular type of unified atmosphere in terms of graphics and typography:

CR: What research do you do for a film like this, set in the recent past?

ME: It was a really fun one – from a design point of view, everything just looked so cool from that time. ...We had fonts on the office wall that Ben and Mark Tildesley, the production designer, liked – certain things would have their own font; the high rise itself, the supermarket and everything had a sort of ‘brand’ within the building. So from the start, you were aware of how you could stick to a certain aesthetic.

...We realised when we saw the shelves just how much it would take to fill the space. We looked at references for that – Andreas Gursky’s shots of supermarkets with loads of repeats of the same packaging, that was the starting point. We also looked at old images of phone books, any kind of instructional manual, toy kits.

We looked at covers of things, such as Penguin books and magazines. Also, the buyers on the film would be out buying props and every so often they’d come in with, say, a box of comics, or TV guides from the 70s. So we had all this great stuff lying around the office we could look through.



CR: [The products seen in the supermarket set] have the feel of Sainsbury’s own-brand packaging from the 1960s and 70s.

FH: They’re brilliant, I love the simplicity of the designs, they say a lot about the period and the quality of available printing methods at the time.

CR: Were you asked to reflect some of the more ‘atmospheric’ aspects of the film – its oppressive air etc – or was it more about reflecting a time?

FH: Both really. The ‘oppressiveness’ was in the fact that the products were pretty standard and generic designs that were quite quickly produced. I guess if everyone [in the block] has got the same thing, then that helps the feel of that era – and particularly what Ben was trying to create in that building.

I hadn’t realized that the film’s official site has a splash page meant to look like that of the architecture firm from the novel. And was also unaware that the idea for a film adaptation had been kicked around since shortly after the book’s publication back in 1975, with Nicolas Roeg being the first director in line for the job.

03 March 2016

Frequency Range, I

And the conclusion of my contributions to the extramural Blissblog bass poll/topic, intro...





This brief article, which turned up in an early post from Simon's polling, touches on some transmusical fundamentals. Because -- yes -- as the title of an old Smith & Mighty albums once had it, “Bass is Maternal.” Which may all seem a bit intuitive, a bit too physio-/psychoacoustics 101. Because pulse component aside, those low frequencies (espec when majorly boosted via car stereos or massive club PAs) are also deeply corporeal. They envelope and penetrate; making viscera quake, thick stone walls shake, and I don’t doubt it that it's also the ammo for recent sonic weaponry tech.

All of which also partly explains why -- yes -- there are such a things as deaf raves.

I was a little predisposed to bottom-heavy music. My hearing was always a little “hyper-acute” with high-frequencies. Maybe this had something to do with why I avoided whole genres of music that were too tilted to activity in the high-end registers, and more prone responding to tilted toward the opposite end of the spectrum.*  Over the years I’ve found myself exposed to a number of varieties of “bass music” -- the sorts that could be considered as constituting some kind of (to borrow one of Simon’s terms) a ‘nuum. But aside from being bass-heavy, the peculiar thing about them is that they each seemed to be specific to certain places/cities/regions. If not being the product of some homegrown locals-only restlessness.

The following is more or less a "doof-doof" travelogue, playing out over the course of 25 years of happening to be in certain places at certain times...




I:  1980s: SOUTHERN/MIAMI BASS

Being a teen in the Deep South of the U.S. after hiphop broke was a dicey affair, especially if you were wanting to hear more and more of it. Throughout the first half of the 1980s, most hiphop from the upper east coast didn’t filter down south. I guess much of it proved too “urban” in its perspective to appeal to places that were at best only semi-urban. But electro-funk took in a big way early in the ‘80s, and had a lasting influence in the southeast. Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and “Tour de France” got a lot airplay on the non-white radio stations. Stuff like Twilight 22’s “Electric Kingdom” and  Egyptian Lover went over massively in clubs and on boom boxes. Some of it brought “that boom” that was popular with a certain demographic. But not enough of it. As Dave Tomkins wrote in his “Primer to Miami Bass” piece in The Wire many years ago, the sub-Mason-Dixon response to much of what was coming from up North was that it involved too many guys in spacesuits and not enough boom.

So the locals started making it for themselves, tweaking the music to their own tastes. And sure, originally the southern booty-bass sound did hail from Miami and parts thereabouts at first; but within a few years it was also coming out of Atlanta and Houston and elsewhere in the SE region. I can remember numerous nights of driving around on a Friday or Saturday night, punching across the radio dial until I found a program where a DJ was playing a weekend party set. Track after track of punchy bass that had my ass careening in the driver’s seat while I steered down thinly-travelled roads in the darkness. At some point me figuring I was listening to the 181st (then 182nd, & etc.) remake of “Planet Rock”, which I was just fine with.**






It was so prevalent, that one could be excused for thinking that that was what most of the hip-hop universe consisted of. So many years later I was a bit thrown when James Lavelle put together a compilation of early tracks by DJ Magic Mike, and I read reviewers writing things to the effect of: “Arrrrgh!! Why am I only now hearing this stuff?” Considering that it was so inescapable to me once-upon-a, I couldn't help being befuddled by finding out that the music was such a marginal & provincial thing.


EARLY '90s, PT. 1 - BLEEP & BASS:

Still a victim of geography at this point. A lot of early U.K. House/early Rave music didn’t make it my part of the country. College kids were I was at the time were in the thrall of lots of northern European “industrial dance”drek. What little early rave fare trickled my way seemed alright enough, because I welcomed the energy. Functional for the dance floor, but didn’t strike me as the sort of stuff I’d want to much time with outside of a club setting. Until a number of tracks popped up that really caught my attention, seemed to be going in a direction that really appealed to me. More bass, and a distinctive use thereof. And, just generally, electronic music starting to move in the direction of kicking its made-upcsounds every which way around inside the listeners head. Years later I would learn that all of these records had something in common; that being that they hailed from city of Sheffield and its surrounding area, and could be filed under the category of the “Bleeps and Bass” subgenre.







EARLY '90s, PT. 2 - HIT THE BREAKS

Around the same time, I was moslty immersing myself in what's not looked backed on as "midskool" hiphop. I also stumbled across a few tunes that excited me tremendously, because they signaled the entry of breakbeats into the rave-culture mix. But at the tim had no idea about “‘ardkore” being a thing, let alone a very divisive, scene-splitting thing across the water. Only that it sounded like something I’d been eagerly waiting for.

But we need to talk about a couple of Atlanta joints. First off...



True, Rob Base & E-Z Rock had had a big big hit using the Lyn Collins "Think" break on their mega-hit "It Takes Two" in 1988; and over the next several years a number of tunes by high-profile acts milked further hits with the same break. But this Atlanta act pitch-shifted it into higher, more punchier bpm territory in a way that must've given a lot of people ideas. The title of the track is sampled from a 2 Live Crew number, and shortly thereafter Luther Campbell & crew in down in Miami responded to 2 Hyped Bros's jawn by doing their own version of the above, speeding it up even more and adding heaps of club-flattening bass.

And then there's this...




B-side wins again, by way of Mantronix-style editing being flipped into full warpspeed. This time via a reissue of Atlanta's Success-N-Effect debut track "Roll It Up N___a", this time with a instrumental remix that had been outsourced to Miami DJs Charlie Solana and Felix Sama, who gave in a Mantronix-in-warpdrive overhaul, using a chopped-up sample of the Winstons' "Amen" break for the benefit of maximum punchiness. If Frankie's Bones's account is to be taken as vaguely factual, then he heard it at the time and started playing it in NYC, and from the audience reaction decided it was worth flipping to Carl Cox, who then took it to overseas connections, where it helped inspire the beginnings of UK breakbeat 'ardkore. Perhaps partly true, or maybe total bullshit, but most likely doesn't matter (except for those that might be looking to get all chauvanistically "nativist" about such stuff).

And admittedly, here's where things get tricky. Because it's the point at which the the symbiosis of bass and kick drum comes in, which could argue consists slippage or cheating on my part. But since the 808 was what got this particular nuum rolling, it totally counts by my (and plenty others') reckoning.

Whatever the case, both the "dew doo" [sic] and "amen" breaks will factor heavily in second (more Northern) part of this thing. But for now, that's the end of Part I.

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*  This is not bullshit. My wife thought it was, until she became an audiologist and put me into a testing booth. Not to gloat or brag, but -- even after years of my abusing my eardrums night after night spent blasting music through headphones, or a fair number of nights spent in clubs with the shittiest acoustics -- in the end my claims were fully vindicated by the test results.

**  NOT ENTIRELY TRUE. Lyrics were another matter. Here there are some problems. Not the least of which was the annoying habit of the vocals consistently being placed far too high/frontally in the mix.


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