15 April 2013

The Wrong Side of History, I

A throwback jawn, yeah. One that's been nagging me, lately.

Returning to the previously-mentioned matter of affixing a record’s feet to "the floor of a certain era." At one point in the 1990s, talk of the future had to be consigned to the past. So often was it invoked or attached to this e-music thing or another that it quickly became a snigger-inducing cliché – as if the most trite thing you could do was to describe something as "future music" or, worse still, the “future sound of.” A hackneyed marketing slogan, that’s all it was. And yes, it seemed kind of silly because the music in question had been around for almost a decade, had been developing on the margins, already had a history behind it. Meaning that, for anyone who had had their ears turned in that direction during those years, it was really more the music of the Present -- the Now Sound or whatever.*

For instance, the tune above which had come along in 1997. By which point talk of the future had ceased. There wasn’t much of anything futuristic about techno, and – in an unrelatedly ironic sense – it was already pretty clear that Detroit didn’t have any sort of big future ahead of it. Which is maybe why I liked the (quite lovely) video for the song, with its more traditional film-like effects, and the fact that a peripherally urban mass transit platform on a blustery winters day -- particular one where you’re bracing yourself against the wind sweeping in off of one of the Great Lakes – was something that was immediately recognizable to me at the time.

Only complaint being that the video version radically compresses the tune, editing it down to roughly half its original length. In doing so it skips the song’s gradual build – the wash of languidly aching tones that swell over the beat -- and slams straight to where the bass line has kicked in, to the tune in full swing. It’s that missing portion of the track that might remind the listener of how Craig -- like a number of early Detroit techno pioneers -- often aimed beyond the mere floor-functionality or waist-down imperatives of the rhythm, expanding the sonic vocabulary of the music into something that sometimes moodily ambivalent or complex. And in the process sometimes getting all emo as hell on a track in his early days.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Doing a radio show back around the turn of the prior decade/new millennium, playing a track by Kid606. Which prompted the station’s engineer rang up the booth to inform me, "You need to check your levels on the board, dude. I don’t know what you did, but things are coming out really distorted." I told him it was supposed to sound that way.

I saw Kid606 a number of times over the years. The last time I went to one of his shows, the pay-off was catching the act above act, Eats Tapes, on the opening bill -- a man and a woman bobbing over the their sequencers and gear like a couple of children giddily raiding a toybox. They made me think of a noisier version of Mouse on Mars, if Mouse on Mars had gone in for lower-end, home-modified equipment, and had a affinity for banging out sounds that drew from the squelchy, early "acid" days of house and techno and bought their gear at Radio Shack.**  They were cute, and their set was the best thing that evening. You couldn't help but be taken in by the noise and the fun they enjoyed making it, and their set was a sort of infectious idiot glee for everyone in the room.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Anyway, all of these stray thoughts and recently-reminded-of enthusiasms connecting with a few things that have turned up elsewhere lately:
  • On joining the future: Here's Aaron at ATTT with a little bit about today vs. yesterday, about (for lack of a better term) timelessness and how something can really strike you when it first emerges and stay fresh for you years thereafter.
  • With some degree of overlap: Loki at Idiot's Guide to Dreaming talking about the possibilities of aesthetic wormholing -- on looking back and looking forward, covering tunes that other artists haven't written yet, and imagining various futures "leaking through." Not sure where he's going with it, either -- inspiration by way of speculative anticipation, as opposed to mining the past? It's a little murky, but still intriguing. The idea hinges on Loki's own IX Tab project.
  • Somewhat further afield but still connected: Simon's thoughts on a recent piece by Andrew Nosnitsky at P4K about the fate of sonic ugliness and the roughly-hewn in today's music-making environment.
Nosnitsky’s article hits close to home, as it puts its finger on something that differing sonic sensibilities. And to how mine often differ from others, especially to friends and music enthusiasts I’ve known in recent years who were much younger than myself. Effectively, just about every form of modern music that has ever made or left an indelible impression on me (if not warped me for life) was the product of the deliberate misuse, abuse, or deliberant corruption of something or other – of an existent musical form, but most often from the supposedly mishandling of the technological means at hand. Either that, or resulted from some inventive stop-gap solution to a context-specific problem. The first-gen manifestations of punk, hip-hop, industrial, house and techno and much what they birthed…hell, even jazz and dub, for that matter. All of it coming from people who “got it wrong” somehow, or used some instrument or gadgetry (i.e., to some end for which it wasn’t intended), or just generally didn’t care about certain do’s and don’t. Perhaps that’s on account of having come of age at a particular time, when circumstances and access to technology and certain means of production was a much different situation, leading to different results in how some aspiring artists had to go about doing things.***

And core to Nosnitsky’s piece is that that mode of DIY, cruddy-sounding production has been nullified by the post-ProTools democratization of the process, which has in turn has to a flattening-out and standardized sound in many cases. Used to be that the shitty-sounding syndrome was because you didn’t have access to upscale gear or you didn’t quite know what you were doing. Whereas now – as demonstrated by Tyler The Creator – it’s a lot harder to sound like shit, even if that’s the effect you’re going for.

All of which has to do with why I always thought that “You Really Got Me” was the most pointless cover tune ever. Why? Because what made the original so incredible wasn’t the tune itself, or even its main guitar riff, but rather how that riff sounded – so gloriously loud, so mind-blowingly noisy -- in the opening moments of the initial recording. Which is one thing about that can’t be easily replicated.

But anyway: The graphic above comes from the recent NME bit that circulated widely. One thing I discovered is that a number of the quotes come from the same interview, one that was published in The Wire back in 1996. As does, fittingly, this bit about why he hates recording:

"I can't stand [musicians], and being stuck in a studio with them. I think that's my strength: I can hear what they can't.

Say you get together with the group, and we're all trying to be friends with each other, they'll all put like Pavement, Sebadoh, REM on. I'll put bloody Bo Diddley on, or an old rockabilly track that is completely out of tune. They go: 'It's out of tune' 'So fucking what? Chuck Berry is out of tune. And if Chuck Berry didn't do that, you wouldn't be in a job.' This is how far I go. But musicians don't actually see that. Not out of malice or sloth, they really don't see it. They don't have an objective eye. All they see is that Pavement have sold a million records in America. Their heads are in a different dimension."

I suspect all of this is something that doesn’t need explaining. Anyway, I might have more to say about this in a folIow-up post. (As it is, I probably shouldn't be posting the above, seeing how sleep-deprived I am/was at the time of writing; making this one a bit poorly-focused, if not a horrid trainwreck in most respects. So hopefully some properly-rested lucidly next time around.)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

*  Case in point: The outfit Future Sounds of London, who eventually shortened their name to FSOL. And then ironically would change their moniker yet again, because they realized that the future sound they most wanted to make involved a wholesale return to a particular past.
**  Or as a friend of mine wrote their demo, they "sound[ed] like Take Your Kids to Work Day at the Throbbing Gristle studio.”
***  None of which, btw, has anything to do with MP3s. That's all "post-production" and peripheral to the recording process -- an issue that concerns the delivery system, distro, and the receiver, having nothing to do with the initial creative effort itself.

No comments:

  © Blogger template 'Solitude' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP