Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Wonk Policy

I was once utterly obsessed with pop music, and my flatmate likes to wind me up by implying I don't care about it anymore, and am gradually devolving into a one-album-a-year type. The last time I really cared about a New Music rather than listening to burnt CDs of old Isaac Hayes, Wu-Tang and Cabaret Voltaire albums was Grime and to a slightly lesser extent Cologne Techno, about five years ago in each case. My attention has been briefly grabbed since, by the Northern bass-noise-pop of bassline house for a time, but never, ever, with the token exception of Burial's second album, have I cared a jot for Dubstep. Not because it's full of people like me - personally I prefer not to have a pall of menace around where I spend an evening, I had enough of that as a teenager, thanks - but because it's so fucking dull. It suggested drum and bass if it had only ever been the music it had turned into by 1998, a ponderous stonerstep for slovenly, unshaven UCL science students in expensive rainwear. I thought it was boring when Slimzee started playing it on Rinse FM in 2003, I thought it was boring when Rephlex jumped the gun with the nomenclature, and I thought it was dull when I went to FWD for the first and last time in 2004; why listen to this when you could have instead the sonic imagination, the futurist melodrama of Ruff Sqwad?.

So my attention was not attracted by that-which-we-cannot-call-wonky, early on, as I assumed it was another facet of this wholly uninteresting scene. Further investigation made clear that while some was predictable pomo stuff some of it was rather exciting, a bizarre lolloping G-Funk made up of bright, wilfully tasteless synth squiggles. You could actually imagine dancing to it. Another Joker track, 'Digidesign' (above) got me even more excited, sounding like a vision of Asian megacities rising out of dubstep's Brixton squats, of the signifiers of the urban moody being rejected in favour of the urban sublime. So after raving about this elsewhere I was very kindly sent a link by the blogosphere's favourite buffoon empiricist Dan Hancox to a recent mix by Guido, and after managing to put down my hackles - the producer is called Guido, for God's sake, an unshaven Tolkein-referencing Bristolian - there are fine things there, albeit amidst some tracks which evoke a straining for drama reminiscent of incidental music to SNES games. The best things here sound like they're picking up from the luridly synthesised Sinophile grime of 2003 - Jammer, Terror Danjah - with gunplay removed and funk transfused: Guido, Aarya and Ruthless's 'Beautiful Complication' (also above) is a particular joy, a teen-pop melodrama in garishly artificial synth and genetically modified R&B vocals. It's a bit sad that it's been mainly the preserve of those hostile to theory or writing about music rather than scene politics - if this music takes off from the dynamism and drama of the tracks above and leaves its torpid roots behind, there could be something here truly worth overheated prose and grandiose theorisation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same tired criticisms and generalisations peppered with obvious references and name drops in an attempt to ensure credibility

I don't believe you've ever been to a grime night in your life

Pay more attention

4:09 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Steady on, I freely admitted to not paying attention - that was the point of the post! My finger is in no way on the pulse. And I haven't been to a grime night in my life, nor did I claim to. There aren't many grime nights in London, as you should know, as police aren't very keen on them. I did go to stuff like Dirty Canvas and whatnot, but I assume that doesn't count as a 'proper' grime night. And I don't go out much anyway. Why so aggressive, eh? Is it a crime to find dubstep extremely tedious?

4:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point seemed to me more about elevating yourself above those who have paid attention, blithely writing off a huge amount of music (and its audience) based on the three or four tunes Slimzee cut five years ago.

That post about Wu Tang and the decline of hip hip was an expression of disappointment but it generated an interesting discussion - it was obvious that you had invested a lot of time in the music, and that you once cared deeply for it.

When you write about music you've written off so quickly, there isn't much to say without resorting to cliché.

4:50 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

OK, I take some of these points, though I didn't intend to elevate myself above anyone. I did care deeply about grime and resent the assumption that I know nothing about it, hell, I'll write a miserable and pessimistic post about the decline of the members of Nasty Crew if you want me to prove it - but certainly didn't care passionately about dubstep, so I'm sure there's an attendant lack of nuance. I'm aware also that the point about stoners and studentiness was cliched, but it described aptly my experience of a couple of dubstep nights (the aforementioned FWD, another at Corsica Studios). Perhaps I went to the wrong ones. But the point of this post really was that after being unexcited for a while (not just by Slimzee tracks from 2003 and a few more recent mixtapes, but even the much-vaunted anthems like 'Midnight Request Line' and 'Night' did little for me) something actually was exciting me, and hopefully I'll write about it again in future in a more informed manner...

5:08 pm  
Blogger Iván said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:31 pm  
Anonymous Iván said...

If you haven't read it yet, you're going to love this text on wonky, or at least it's going to make you think

11:34 pm  
Blogger dan hancox said...

Ah, thanks for all this, just catching up on missed blog posts. Couple of things: dubstep is very much suburban, not urban; it's more Croydon than Brixton - both literally, in terms of its origins, but also in terms of the physical space it suggests. I've not been much more of a fan of dubstep than you on the whole - I fell in love with FWD>> for a while in 2005 because suddenly grime and dubstep (urban and suburban, if you like) were melding together wonderfully, for a brief moment. But irrespective of the music's (plummeting) value of late, its ability to describe London's fringes in 04-06 - and the not-quite-suburbs like Crystal Palace, Thornton Heath, Norwood, etc, with those big parks, the hills, the rare sense of physical perspective over the city below - has always been one of the music's most interesting aspects. I feel like you can tell that the originators come from that part of London, for e.g. some of the stuff Loefah was putting out in 2004-5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhRjuShRF_U

Saying all this, the Bristol lot are from the city not the burbs – and the glowing futurism of Asian megacities is definitely an idea that I think would appeal to them, as well as one that resonates with all those shimmering synths.

I also just wanted to say for the record once again that I'm not anti-theory, anti-intellectual, or anything of the sort (not that you suggest this per se, but it bears repeating). At the start of this year I was frustrated that the critical gatekeepers of this music – people I both like and like the writing of – were continuing to peddle one particular outdated theory, and, in my humble opinion, doing so largely through their ignorance of the club music zeitgeist (in other words, if they went to more clubs and listened to more new club music, they would realise themselves it was outdated). I felt keenly that the debate needed to move on to new discourses, argued this case for a while - and eventually everyone, said gatekeepers included, seemed to agree, to a greater or lesser extent. I concede I haven't thrown up any grand narratives to 'replace' the hardcore continuum, but I genuinely hope that others do. Steve Goodman and Kodwo Eshun had a decent bash at it at the UeL debate, it's a shame it wasn’t recorded.

Buffoon empiricism is partly about the dangerously over-exposed, increasingly 'spectacular' way that club music is consumed, but it's also partly a joke: http://dot-alt.blogspot.com/2009/05/buffoon-empiricist-manifesto.html

And yes, definitely check out the rougesfoam 'wonky' post. Just make sure to make a cup of tea first, as suggested.

Sorry for writing a comment the size of a blog post :-|

1:24 am  
Anonymous namhenderson said...

Personally i am a fan of this, http://blackdownsoundboy.blogspot.com/
especially right now. Black and Dusk.
Check it out.

But i have been loving me some of that Bristol Purple Wow.

3:22 am  
Anonymous namhenderson said...

Oh, and please let's not get into a discussion of "nuum"

3:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seconding the previous commenter: watch this

11:08 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

...yes I don't want to reopen that can of worms, especially as I'm a very armchair observer of this stuff - but I do think Simon's self-defence series has been the best writing about music I've read in years, and I've not seen anything as extraordinary from the anti-nuum contingent. Regardless, wonky/purple/whatever strikes me as certainly being as interesting as bassline (no more or no less, though). And that Rouge's Foam post is...quite something...

It is very interesting, that stretch of London, and its vistas. If there is a sound of Dawson's Heights in Forest Hill I'd be very keen to hear it.

5:27 pm  
Anonymous namhenderson said...

Agreed, on both counts..

8:38 pm  
Blogger Eben Marks said...

I downloaded a Guido mix* earlier and have at number of points stared in disbelief and wonder at my speakers. Thanks for the pointer.

*this one - http://www.highriseclothing.com/store/Default.aspx?tabid=242&EntryID=36

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