Sunday, December 31, 2006
It’s been on my to-do list all Christmas: visit that subcontinental music shop in Brick Lane. It’s got so many tapes in the window, by artists I couldn’t even read the names of let alone have known who they’re by, that I just had to pay it a visit.
Late yesterday afternoon a mate and I found ourselves down in Brick Lane so we headed towards it. With rain beginning to fall, we passed the Truman Brewery and I looked up to the window where the old Ammunition offices used to be. It occurred to me that was probably the room where the word dubstep was invented.
We headed up to the shop, further up on the right hand side. We stepped in out of the rain and immediately began looking at the amazing collection of tapes.
“Can I help you?” asked the shop assistant, kind of gruffly.
Brick Lane might be famous for its “Indian” curry, but it’s predominantly a Bangladeshi area. From this, and the shop assistant’s appearance, it was fair to guess he was Muslim.
“We’re just looking at the music tapes…” I replied.
“No music tapes,” he replied equally gruffly.
At first I thought he meant there weren’t any tapes, which clearly wasn’t true. Instead he meant they weren’t music tapes. They were devotional tapes and from his tone, I could tell we weren’t welcome to buy them. I left the shop a bit disappointed that I’d not found any new music, but pleased I hadn’t bought something sacred to Muslims which if subsequently sampled or played inappropriately, might cause deep offence.
My mate had another idea. He lives in Tooting and had bought some Indian music for his Sri Lankan parents. We could try again there, so we headed from east to south.
The place where my mate had bought a Lata Mangeshkar compilation for his dad didn’t prove that useful, which is often – when you don’t know what you’re looking for – a function of how friendly the shop owners are. We headed off to another place I’d seen on the other side of the road. It was exactly what we’d been looking for:
Raj Deep Video’s Ltd
Sales & Hire, Audio, Video, DVD, VCD.
124 Upper Tooting Road
0208 682 1120
Ohmydays: Raj Deep Video’s was a veritable treasure trove. My pupils dilated to take in the sheer expanse of new, unknown CDs, DVDs and most amusingly, tapes. Thousands of tapes.
We began to look around, over the counters at the sea of new music in front of us. Although Tooting is a predominantly Muslim area - “Eid is much bigger than Diwali” mentioned my mate – it became quickly apparent that this was a Hindu shop and more specifically, a Bollywood specialist. It also had one other great asset: a friendly and enthusiastic owner who was willing to put up with inane questions from a lanky blogger who didn’t quite know what he was looking for but was enthusiastic all the same.
I started asking general questions, to work out what they had on offer. One wall was Bollywood DVDs only. The other, music, in tape and CD form, mostly from Bollywood films. Some were grouped by artist. I recognised Lata Mangeshkar and her sister, Asha Bhosle, which I mentioned. This seemed to break the ice. “You know Lata has recorded over 70,000 songs,” said the owner.
Suddenly we were getting somewhere. He showed me the older, classical section, which was tucked away at the back. The front had up to date Bollywood stuff, with the odd “DJ remix” collection too. He didn’t seem to have many Qawwali’s. He also assured me that tapes where a dying format, which made me laugh. “I know,” I said to him, “you’re the one with ten thousand tapes behind you!” He laughed back: “yes, but they’re already paid for.”
I was finding it hard what to choose. The selection was overwhelming. But then the owner started to talk about ‘60s Bollywood. “This is the greatest film ever made of all time,” he enthused, pulling out the soundtrack to Mughal-e-Azam. The CD came in a gold box and had “The Biggest Indian Film Ever” written on it. “It would take £200 million pounds to make this film today,” he added. “You can listen to the songs over and over, same with these ones too.” He pulled out the double CD of Yaadon Ki Baaraat and Hum Kisise Kum Naheen, both scored by RD Burman. “He’s the best composer,” explained the shop owner. He also got out another double CD, Kaala Patthar and Doosara Aadmi. I couldn’t help but ask if he had the soundtrack to Sholay, after the dubstep stone cold classic by Goldspot and Benny Ill. Of course, our man did.
I bought them all and some tabla tapes for £2 and left the shop a happy man. The other assistants were happy too – my guide had put on the DVD of Kaala Patthar to impress on us how good it was and how great the live orchestras that they don’t use now-a-days were, and the assistants were watching it again for the umpteenth time.
Leaving the shop left me thinking about two things. Firstly on the importance of recommendation. There were tens if not hundreds of thousands of releases in that shop. But without the owners obvious passion for four or five greats, I might have left empty handed or with some third rate also ran CD.
Secondly I wondered about distribution and the power it has on our listening tastes. As big as Raj Deep Video’s selection was, it could have fitted into one corner of HMV Oxford Street. You cant get half those titles in HMV (HMV have the DVD but not the CD it looks like, but then again this is the most famous Bollywood film apparently…), most probably because they’re not distributed to them. The result is they don’t sell many so they don’t reach a wider audience. Distribution matters. So does going that extra mile for new music.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
I think it’s a function of so many kinds of media around is these days (email, newspapers, radio, TV, blogs, myspace, forums, IM, mobile…) but generally, of late, I find my cravings for good music content are greater than the amount of content I can find to feed it. Magazines and newspapers don’t nearly hit the spot anymore, it’s all about online but recently it’s been a bit barren. Then one day last week I seemed to hit a rich vein of quality. Clearly, it’s time to share...
First of is Wayne and Wax with a quite breathtaking post to accompany his blogariddim mix. Now, magazines/broadsheets often like to think they’re the top boys. Holistic trans-new media posts like these make that claim look utterly laughable. First off you’ve got the mix to download that this post is built around, spanning “crunk and clave, reggaeton and ragtime (!), bhangra and bounce, to name a few.” Yes that’s ragtime!
The mix is built in Ableton which is illustrated in embedded .jpgs within the post. Then there’s the post, which ends in sleeve notes for the mix, breaking down how and why each section exists and hyperlinking it to a wealth of secondary sources. Between them are embedded screenshots demonstrating rhythm patterns in each section, programmed in Fruity Loops and then exported and embedded as audio links (can I get that implementation if I don’t use Wordpress?). Add to on the layer of knowledge Wayne’s dropping as to the origins and types of music here and this is the mother of all blog posts.
It’s music, new media and cutting edge knowledge in perfect harmony. Frankly I’m blown away.
OK so if you don’t think online is utterly victorious in any new music media v old struggle, check what Woebot’s been up to. Yes it’s Woebot TV and a Blissblogger points out, its next level.
In essence Woebot has, with one sweep, upped the blog ante. If Wayne and Wax is a master in synergising many existing media, Woebot.tv is deploying one new one to great effect.
And it’s not like he’s just doing on-camera interviews, like Chantelle has been recently. That’s comparatively easy to do: this is proper web-documentary. With his background of moving animations and himself in the foreground, he’s seemingly developed his own identifiable format: the name of the game in this medium surely.
Deploying a monitor screen over his head in a Daft Punk mask approach is a hilarious masterstroke, but it works as you’re quickly drawn into the presenting and narrative. It also bypasses any issues about ego when casting yourself as your own documentary’s presenter. But the way Woe moves about the screen casually and the strength of the animations shows a kind of video professionalism that can’t be easily reproduced by other would be web docu-bloggers.
If Blogger, Wordpress, Moveable Type et al put the power of self publishing in the hands of the people, how can Woebot.TV be democratised? I suspect, given his various hints at his day job, that he’s using his work background to make this happen. Great for Woebot.TV. Unscaleable and useless for precipitating a revolution in blogging.
I’d speculate (correct me if I’m wrong anyone) that Woebot.TV requires the following to produce: a decent digital video camera, some video editing software, the ability to encode the final program in flash and then some web software to build and publish the site. The difficult step in that chain looks to me like the video editing software. Final Cut Pro ain’t cheap. Jumpcut’s technology bodes well, but I’m not sure it’s a full solution. Can all this be bundled (bar the camera hardware) into one easy, for-the-people software package? It will be interesting to see.
It will be interesting to see because if it can, committed, talented enthusiasts can really begin to challenge TV for audience share. YouTube’s breakthrough this year has no doubt eroded TV’s dominance, but for the large part users look for recent football goals, jokes/bloopers, music videos and porn. That’s three out of four that are “head content” (pun not intended) from mass media rather than “tail/user generated content.” If software like this did become cheap and mass market, then we could really see bloggers challenging the major players on their own terms, producing lengthy, professional content to rival that on TV yet with an editorial agenda free from the constraints of narrow minded, advertising-obsessed gatekeepers.
Unless this kind of software is already available, I’d suggest a more likely outcome is that someone like Channel 4 buys up Woebot.TV. That in itself would be quite a victory for any new music media v old struggle.
(Footnote: does anyone see the amusement factor of using such cutting edge media to document prog!? And is it me or do the illustrations have a hint of Terry Gilliam's Python work about them? In a good way...)
DotAlt have been busy recently. I first clocked them as mates of Infinite’s but as her involvement in the scene has tailed off, Dan and Alex’s efforts have come into their own right. What with Gutta quarantining himself, it’s nice to have someone else pushing onwards alongside myself and Paul Autonomic. I also feel a grime kinship with Dan and Alex DotAlt. People gave up on 2step circa 2001 and pissed off elsewhere. Then came grime...
Dan and Alex interview Logan in the current post. His Kiss show has been essential listening for me this year, the way the Roll Deep show used to be. I’ve had Logan on my “to interview” list for most of this year. I probably would have asked quite a few different questions but it’s great to see Logan getting the in depth treatment he deserves.
It almost bores me to mention it again, but in case you didn’t notice, recently there was some hype around a misguided Guardian blog post about dubstep. As an ex GU employee and someone who doesn’t tend to pitch to magazines/newspapers much at the moment (it’s a mugs game… sorry thankless task), the whole thing’s kinda irritating. Thankfully the Dot.Alt crew were around to chat some sense.
But why would GU get it so wrong? Actually, given how much they care about underground music, it’s not that surprising. The bigger question is why do we care about GU/arts? I can only answer from my perspective, but it is because I take so much pleasure in their international news coverage and tolerant left wing views (amid a sea of tabloids and nasty right wing hate) that I refuse to abandon hope of better or at least broader from their arts coverage. If the site can act as an “early adopter” with new media technology (RSS feeds, MyWeb integration, tag clouds etc…) why not with arts coverage? Anyway getting your facts right isn’t a new media requirements, it’s firmly traditional journalism. Fix up.
Just for kicks
interviewed here to great effect. Am loving this quote: “Baltimore ... I’m unofficially the mayor of the city.”
His latest radio show is online and again he’s smacked it. It’s great to hear that Random Trio beat, with the interplay between the hits on the second and fourth and the snare on the third, like he switching the crossfader between the past roots and the present dubplates of dubstep, and a track that made Cyrus’ recent DMZ set both so danceable and enjoyable. It’s also more proof, if more were needed, that Mala’s on fire right now. “Jah Power Dub’s” a personal fave, the rolling beat and deadly deep subs so reminiscent of mid 90s jungle, yet sounding so fresh today.
Another Mala dub that Joe doesn’t drop this time, but is clearly part of my dubstep top 5 this year, is “Bury the Bwoy.” I’ve written about why this tune is so incredible here but I’m also willing to speculate how it’s going to be influential too. Just as Loefah’s reductionist “Horror Show” ushered in the halfstep era, “Bury the Bwoy,” with it’s galloping kicks, seems to return dubstep to polyrhythm. Interestingly, listening Joe drop “Changes” you can see how Mala’s been on a multi-kick mission for ages; literally years. But perhaps only now, as halfstep edges towards the default, the impact of these tracks emerge.
The emphasis of polyrhythm through kicks, and not say snares, diverts the rhythmic possibilities away from the post-jungle/funk breakbeats/Toasty Boy direction and instead towards a possible dark house and techno direction. Mala’s always been on the former (see “Left Leg Out”) but there now seems evidence of others too.
Take Appleblim v Headhunter’s recent triumph on the decks at FWD>>, a joy of dark understated rhythm rather than an assault of “lets ‘ave it” energy. I enquired about one Basic Channel-esque track during the set and got two answers from Appleblim. It was either “The Grind” by Peverelist (aka Tom from Bristol’s Rooted Records), forthcoming on Punch Drunk. Or Moog Dub by 2562.
The Basic Channel approach in dubstep is a bit of a no-brainer. BC are one of the great cannons of 90s dance music and their sound has not suffered with age. It’s dubby, techy, delay meets decay, it’s music with space: just like dubstep. I even tried it myself about two years ago, not with the poly-kicks approach, but an attempt to get some dubby BC space into dubstep. The thing is Maurizio and co not only really know what they’re doing production wise but they’ve made their sound their own, so that it’s very hard to deploy without sounding like imitating. And it’s sonically very, very hard to imitate well, with all the crackles and analogue warmth, as well as them.
Alongside the interest in the overlap between Pinch’s Pointillist sound and microhouse and the anticipation of the microhouse mixes of Shackleton, the BC influence in dubstep is a welcome one. My only concern is how it’s so “inner.” You can often divide urban music from dance music along inner/outer lines. Much of dance music is introspective “inner” escapism, drug fuelled trance, saccharine warm house, innermind futurist techno and navel gazing electronica. Much of urban music is “outer”, human-to-human vocal dialog of hip hop and r&b, grime as an angry response to it’s environment, the raised voice reflecting off society’s outer walls, dubstep as a reverbed reflection of dark dirty streets. Lots of techy, Basic Channel-esque stuff does get a bit “inner” but… whatever, in the spirit of diversity it’s very much welcome, mostly because of how it’s deployed rhythmically.
Any response to halfstep that just slaps on a 4-to-the-floor kick would be inane. Total stupidity, given the 19 years of straight dance music since ’88 and all that. But wonky 4/4, now you’re talking. You’ve got “Bury the Bwoy,” “Changes” and while we’re talking mad kicks, Kano & Vybz Kartel’s amazing “Bus It Up” 7”. Peverelist’s “The Grind” fits nicely into this: just check the bouncing off/wonky 4/4 on it and get ready to shake a leg. All hail the rhythmic risk takers. Speaking of which...
On the above Joe Nice show, Mala’s “Jah Power Dub” gets mixed out of a quite remarkable Shackleton riddim, "The Stopper". It’s not new but given the car test recently on a foggy damp night, where the lights on the cold motorway took on new levels of eerie spectral luminescence, rows of downward facing street lamps making sine waves of pitch black night in the skies, it took on new levels of brilliance. Built around a Cutty Ranks accapella, the tune begins with Shackleton’s trademark wonky percussive style, rolling the listener along. Then, right in the middle the arrangement has the audacity to simply implode, as if dropping the listener down a pit trap in a Wiley “Devil Mix” or Kode 9 “Sign of the Dub/Sine” style. The vocals disappear for what seems like an age, like hope of ever being found evaporating, and a deep resonant synth booms, as if echoing back up the pit trap’s high side walls.
Shackleton soon throws the listener a life line and hauls them out, but such arrangements are an act of glorious production bravery. In an era of dubstep where venue capacities have increased five fold in a year and big room anthems are increasingly prioritised, it’s key that the sound retains the balls to perform such blatant risk taking if it’s to avoid the blinkered attitudes of constrained scenes like new school d&b (amongst others).
Great soundsystems help this. I know Simon’s talked about how limited value he sees in the “you have to hear it loud” mantra and perhaps that’s fair enough if you take it simply as an academic concept to be assessed, but in practice great soundsystems facilitate other implications. Without a system that can not just handle such deep bass but allow it to be a fundamental part of the experience then this kind of risk taking becomes impossible, and producers can not be liberated from the constraints of propulsive percussion to find new ways to produce a powerful emotional impact.
As one aside to both the wonky techno phenomenon and the power of great blogging, I’ve clocked several pieces on a new sound called Kuduro aka “African rave Techno”. I need to investigate more fully but Fatplanet, Ghetto Bass Quake and Crucial Systems ably demonstrate the power of bloggers to surface a new sound quickly.
Concluding an excursion into kicks, I can’t not blog about “96 Bars of JME” from JME’s Derkhead Edition 3 CD. While the accompanying funky house CD “Tropical Edition 4” grabs more headlines for its implications (grime goes funky...), just like when Horsepower released tracks on a No U Turn offshoot: the symbolism is stronger than the music. The real quality, in what is one of the strongest grime mixtapes around, lies on “Derkhead.”
As I’ve written already this year, grime’s exclusive obsession with war and hyper aggression has been counterproductive to its goals, namely generating a large audience and making p’s (pounds). JME’s had an immense year not only because he was organised enough to release a slew of mix CDs (rather than just talking about it) but because the content of his bars often escaped the war trap.
“96 Bars of JME” starts with three and a half bars of 4/4 kicks, before filtering into an off-3-step pattern (essentially kick-kick-kick-snare, like say Search & Destroy’s “Candy Floss”). Produced by grime newcomer the Grime Reaper, it’s good to see the scene embracing the comedy puns (see also Griminal from NASTY) that are usually forced upon them by journalists (see also “Grime doesn’t pay,” “Grime wave”, “Grime watch” oh and look, "Grime Scene Investigation"). I like a good pun more than the next man, but the undertone of grime = crime coming from journalists is ugly, as the Dot.Alt crew will no doubt agree.
The beat then drops into a lush, analogue bassline straight out of Mr Fingers’ keyboard collection before lush off kilter pads hover and shimmer. Then in comes JME...
“See I’ve got bare labels phoning me but,
Cashpoint ain’t showing me no love.
Everyone’s got my tunes on their phone,
And the CD in the PC at home,
Is packed with all the tunes that I’ve done,
But my wallet, ain’t saying one.
You think I’m making mad p,
You’re right: my money is angry with me.”
Straight truth from JME: frankly it’s very welcome amidst all the “I’m rich” boasting from other MCs. I mean, who’s British who boasts if they’re actually rich? You don’t get Mick Hucknall, Elton John or Jay Kay saying “actually: I’m loaded”, when they are multi-millionaires.
It also speaks of the tragedy of grime MCs, when they can get everyone in their ends and globally online to be fans of theirs, with JMEs MySpace getting hundreds of thousands of hits, yet they can’t generate income nor build infrastructures. That’s again why JME’s been so refreshing this year, he’s avoided the war and got down to business.
“It took five years to get five A-Cs but,
But in five days I get ten ACs,
Somebody out there please tell me,
What I’ma do with my uni degree?
I don’t want a job, blud, I swear down.
I just wanna be a big MC,
Or something along them lines.
I swear on my life music means so much to me,
Getting a degree is like a plan b,
I will mean so much to my family,
But understand me:
“Boy Betta Know dot com
Mashup the whole dancehall dot org
Forward slash gash love JME
Mashup the whole http
Colon double forward slash
Mashup the whole bandwidth of the page
Download MP3 click here
Mashup the whole PC sick brehr”
Anyone well versed in poetry care to make a suitable comparison?
Anyway, I for one am just happy JME’s happy to chat about his uni degree in his music. Anyone remember when Wiley was warring with Sharkey Major (circa his XL deal 2003/4) and cussed him for even having GCSEs (i.e. “A-Cs…”)?
Nonetheless JME’s still not fully convinced about his investment in education. His heart burns for music. Now this isn’t an exclusively grime thing - mine does too - but the tragedy of grime is that while so many MCs do it, so few ever truly succeed on a national or international scale. He continues on “96 Bars of JME:”
“I know [my degree] will come in handy,
I stick with it even when I get angry.
And I’m not on my own,
I’ve got a brother in this music game like Brandy.
He knows how much music means to me,
We’re just trying to make money legally.
I know guys who’ll go in your house,
Creep upstairs and steal a g.
That sounds like quick p to me,
But still I travel on C2C,
And WAGN and Silverlink.
Everything’s not what it seems to be.
You think I’m stupid: move on.
Stereotype me and I’ll prove you wrong.
Ask anyone that knew me ages ago:
They’ll say I had my head screwed on.”
I’m loving the London transportation namecheck. Public transport is so part of the LDN experience and referencing it is so much more realistic than some of the inflated and unrealistic expensive car clichés that get dropped. The above bars also reflect the difficult choices MCs have, when they see guys in their ends making quick money from crime and the long term benefits of work and uni aren’t immediately apparent in modern culture that demands instant gratification.
“My pockets are still filled with shrapnel,
Only difference is some of its Euros.
I’ve been travelling: capital to capital.
I’ve been nuff countries I swear.
One day I’ma write them all down.
If you turned the clock back two years,
I don’t think I’d have even have left town.”
Finally JME drops these gems, explaining how music has lead him to see far, far beyond his traditional cultural boundaries. I always used to chuckle when interviewing MCs. I’d ask “have you played up north” and they’d reply “yeah, we went to Watford”. (For those unfamiliar with London geography, Watford is a city inside London’s circular ring road the M25).
Why the “Euro’s” reference is so special is perhaps also because of the beat it sits over. With its cyclical pads, it could be a descendant of Krafwerk’s “Tour De France” or “Trans Europe Express”. From Kraftwerk to hip hop to grime... mmm perfect.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Blackdown: For those who don’t know your history, can you explain a little about how Skull Disco the label and the parties came about?
Shackleton: Well, I was making tunes on the computer at pretty much any bpm. Some just noise and experimental style, others ongy-bongy style and I gave a CDr to Ian Hicks of Mordant music. He really liked a tune called Stalker and he decided to put it out on Mordant Music. Anyway, that got picked up on by Rough Trade and they decided to put it on their Best of 2004 CD. I was really amazed that someone liked it, but it gave me confidence to start my own label. Around the same time we'd started going down to FWD. To be honest, I didn't like everything that was being played there, but I really liked some of what Hatcha and Youngsta were playing, especially the more interesting percussive stuff. I suppose that I just started keeping some of my stuff within the 140-147bpm range at that point. So anyway, I thought about starting a label and I had the confidence from the Rough Trade thing and seeing that people were making interesting bass music. I mean I remember when Horror Show and Conference dropped and thought that that was the stuff I was aiming to do.
Anyway, so I had loads of tunes on that sort of tip, but not as accomplished to be honest, and wanted to put them out. Now my idea of a party is one where people let themselves go and are bang into the music, and I was reading this book at the time about a tribe from Cameroon who dug up their ancestors remains so as they could enjoy watching the festivities while the living members of the tribe played music, danced and got pissed. I thought 'that's the spirit!' So I decided to call the label Skull Disco.
Anyhow, I went over to Bath one night where Laurie Appleblim was putting on a night (I think, but my memory's a bit frazzled these days). After the night we went back to his place and he played this tune he'd made, “Mystikal Warrior.” It sounded great, so I decided to put it out as a double A-side with my own tune, “I Am Animal.” Going back to the book I'd been reading, I knew a bloke from my home town who used to do brilliant cartoons and who I'd used when I was doing a punk fanzine back in... well, a long time ago! I told him the idea of skeletons dancing, making music and pulling their ancestors out of the ground and he came up with the amazing sleeve for Skull 01.
As for the parties, I knew that no-one was going to come and book me so I decided to do it myself. I knew someone who ran a semi-legal venue nearby and I knew this squatter guy who had a massive bass rig for reasonable rent. It all came together nicely. It was great actually, but the local police got wind of things, actually I think they just had a general clamp-down (probably someone hadn't been paid somewhere along the line, it's Stoke Newington you see - notorious for dodgy coppers) and I couldn't carry on. So, I went looking for a new venue, knowing I was on a hiding to nothing, found the Red Star in Camberwell, nearly bankrupted myself and thought 'balls to this game.' They were/are good parties though. Especially the first one. Apologies if this isn't totally chronological. My memory is pretty ropey.
B: What was the name of the artist who you found for your sleeve work?
His name's Zeke Clough. He's an old friend from my home town. I knew he was great because he did a bit of art for a fanzine I used to do, but the sleeves are even better than I could have expected. I give him a basic idea and he takes it well beyond what I could have imagined. He's a lovely bloke as well. He's not into self-promotion at all, but I think he get his stuff on display somewhere.
B: During the early days of the Mystikz, 2004/5 I guess, I can just remember you, Engine Room, Appleblim and George Infinite just going for it at the front of FWD>> and DMZ, like you were the original official skankers. What do you remember of those times?
S: Remember? I was out of it a lot of the time! Ha! Only joking (well, half joking). They were really exciting times. You see, the only reason you remember that is because, at that time, it wasn't really a lively crowd. It was a strange mix of people and I think there were a lot of self-consciousness on the dancefloor. I remember though once reading an article of yours when you were saying something to the effect that urban crowds aren't as likely to shake a leg. Is that right? For our lot, we didn't really care what people thought, but none of our lot are originally from London, so maybe that's why, but, to be honest, I'm not sure that's really the reason why. I mean, you've got to think that we'd come into this place with an amazing sound and were getting belters like “Horror Show,” “What?,” “Conference,” “Roll That Shit!” and others dropping on us. I mean, if we were going to be shocking out to anything, it'd be that stuff.
You know what though? We loved that Mystiks stuff so much. I reckon all of us, Engine Room, Necta Selecta, Appleblim, and myself just felt really at home with what they were doing (are still doing). We'd go to places like Bath and Bristol to see them, just because it was going to be great music and a good laugh, even if there was next to no-one there. That said, I remember that Subloaded one in Bristol. It was packed and heavy as anything I'd been to in London. Great stuff!
B: After you’d decided to put music out together, how did things work between you and Appleblim?
S: Things have pretty much fallen into place easily. Appleblim's a good friend and we get on well. Basically, I've financed the label and nights while Appleblim's done the promotional stuff. It's just come about naturally as he's very good at talking to people and has a broader knowledge of 'the industry' and actually enjoys that side of things whereas I just don't have the enthusiasm for it. You know, we never actually allocated each other roles or anything, it's been an organic thing.
B: Can you tell me why you've decided to end the Skull Disco nights and label?
S: There are lots of reasons for this. The nights because they lose a lot of money, involve a lot of work and are pretty much a thankless task! I was putting them on at a venue in Stoke Newington which was ideal, but then it had to stop due to police interference, after that it was always going to be an uphill struggle.
As for the label, there are reasons that I don't want to go into. That said I'm not ruling anything out. If I'm not happy with entering into a contract with somebody, then it's a possibility that I could still do Skull Disco, but I just hope that people won't be annoyed if I don't make 140bpm bangers all the time.
I don't know, I've had a really strange year. A lot of it has been horrible to be honest. I just feel like starting again. I had time this summer when I was away to think about what I wanted to do and I just thought that I wanted to get on top of my beats. I spend ages on the drum programming and chopping up, so I really need the time for that. I'm not a natural music maker. I love it, but I can't bang out tunes like that, also I'm in my early thirties and just take more time to work things out than I used to, that and the fact that I've spent a time destroying my brain cells one way or another. If a label backs me then I'll work on the beats like a beast! I'll probably still go ahead with Imminent Apocalypse though.
B: Could you also explain when and how you started to produce?
I've always been into making music, be it with a four-track when I was in my teens, or messing around on the computer like these days, but I started to make the stuff you're more familiar with when my 'dancehall' combo, Evil MAstermind' broke up due to my partner in musical crime, MC Great Emancipator, now known as Tenfold Vengeance, decided to go the other side of the world and convert to Islam. We were using a Zoom drum machine with this weird wobbly bass effect. After he went I didn't really want to do a one-man Karaoke act, so I decided to get a computer.
B: What originally attracted you to dubstep?
What really attracted me to dubstep was that at that time it wasn't a known genre and it was just creative people making interesting and idiosyncratic bass music and that going to Forward was an event where I could get trashed with my friends and enjoy proper music rather than listen to some formulaic toss in a rip-off club with a poxy sound system surrounded by hooligans and over-eager bouncers.
To be honest, I'm not a big fan of all dubstep, just like any genre it's got music I like and music I'm not as into. I said that hearing “Conference” and “Horror Show” amongst other things really made me appreciate certain producers, but I feel dishonest claiming a place on the dubstep train.
But it's probably fair to say that sub-consciously I started to narrow my parameters a bit so that DJs might play my tunes, I mean it needs to be able to fit within the pitch range of DJs and I really couldn't see anyone else playing my stuff outside of the dubstep guys, but, to be honest, I'm not as reliant on that as I used to be. I mean no-one played my stuff anyway!
Nevertheless, I think it still holds true that there are people making really creative stuff within the genre. I'm thinking especially of Mala, Loefah, Kode 9, Burial and probably others that I'm just not so familiar with at the moment, but I just think that the vitality is kept up by the diversity. So, in a sense, the strength of the genre is the fluidity of it too, which almost defeats the point of having a genre in the first place! Christ, I don't know. I just like music and want to make music that other people can like. Call it dubstep if you like.
B: You say the “vitality [of dubstep] is kept up by the diversity” and it concerns me that dubstep might be narrowing in its diversity as people rush “to be dubstep” and imitate rather than find their own style. I’ve always respected you and Appleblim for going your own way, stylistically and musically – is this a conscious decision or does it come naturally? Was it important to be independent or were the links you built with the scene important too?
S: This is going to be a lengthy answer with a lot of tangents, but I think that there's no way to be simplistic about this. First off, I can't speak for Appleblim, he's his own person and we've never discussed the music in terms of its style or meaning. I would say that for both of us that we're both old enough to have heard a lot of music and have both been involved in making lots of different kinds of music, so there's going to be a broad range of influences. Right then, here goes the next part and it's strictly my opinion and not Appleblim's.
People rushing "to be dubstep". What does it mean? I mean if you have an idea then you can communicate that idea regardless of the genre. Some people are saying now that drum and bass is no good and dubstep is great. For me that's ridiculous. Bass heavy music with a broken beat running at 160-180 bpm is no good, but bass heavy music running at 140 bpm is great. I mean it's really stupid and annoying. I like good music. The only reason I've been running at the bpm I have is because someone might be able to beatmatch it. Is that dubstep? In terms of the atmosphere and sounds that I want to create I'm using the likes of Metal Box era PIL and Savage Republic as my benchmark if anyone.
So you ask if I made a conscious decision to go my own way. I never thought about it. I just made the tunes that I wanted to hear. Now, when I first went to FWD>> I'm not going to pretend I was blown away. I liked some stuff and wasn't as keen on other stuff. I remember really liking the Hatcha sets, but thinking it's not quite what I want to do myself. And I remember just being mildly disappointed that the sounds that I liked weren't being assembled in the way I'd have liked them. Then stuff like “Horrow Show” dropped and I was blown away. I didn't think though "oh let's be into dubstep then", I thought "here's this fucking tune with a massive personality smashing you in the guts, that's proper music". Well, I probably didn't say that at all as I was probably off my head and jumping on top of the speaker or something! In fact it's all a bit simplified to make easier reading and to illustrate the point.
But anyway, the point I'm making is that the tune has got a massive personality and stands alone. As do loads of tunes. I won't bore you with a list, but it's pretty much the DMZ axis for me. They're good because they're good, not because they run at 140bpm or whatever.
As for links to the scene and their importance. It's a double-edged sword. There's no doubt that I wouldn't be selling the amount of stuff I do if dubstep hadn't broke through the way it did after Mary Anne Hobbes' show in January. Likewise, people like Loefah and Mala Mystik have always been really supportive of what we've done. They showed up to the first Skull Disco night and that meant a lot to us. By the same token, I seem to get interest and sales from people outside of the dubstep thing and played by DJs from different genres. So I feel like a bit of an outsider to 'the scene'. It's a double-edged sword then because I really respect the quality producers and I love the fact that there's little of the overtly commercial vibe, but that I feel uncomfortable with the dubstep tag. Although I totally recognise that without 'the scene' Skull Disco wouldn't have got any exposure, or, in fact, wouldn't even exist.
You say it concerns you that dubstep may be narrowing its diversity as people rush to "be dubstep" and imitate rather than find their own style. It should concern you! But that's not something that can be applied to just dubstep, that applies to anything. What's the point in trying to do someone else's thing? I did enough of that when I was at school. It's balls.
B: One of your early track contains the vocal sample “when I see the towers fall…” I’m guessing this isn’t a Tolkien reference, instead a Twin Towers reference. Can you elaborate about this lyric?
S: Right, I'm crediting you with enough intelligence that I don't need to start with meaningless platitudes so as not to offend your sensibilities. The same applies to your readers.
I make music. That music is an expression of some part of me. As has been said before and you can rephrase it to be appropriate "do you think guitars and microphones are just fucking toys?" I'm into what I do, I mean it, and I'm not going to censor myself to make things easier for myself or other people. Music is in the sacred realm. I can't do something I don't like or don't want to do in the music. I have to do enough of that in the everyday. So, it goes that if I've got a lyric like that and it fits with the track, I'm going to use it.
This is going to be another lengthy one I'm afraid. First of all, yes, it is a reference to the World Trade buildings. So, I'll briefly describe my feelings about the event itself, then place it in context of the track.
I remember seeing it on TV at the time. I don't think I appreciated the full immensity as to what had happened. My immediate reaction was, "oh balls, here's a great excuse for another military adventure in an Arab country and kill loads of innocent people". Well, over the next couple of days I started to realise its significance. I even borrowed a television to watch the coverage (I gave it back though after I started watching Neighbours again after a 14 year break). Anyway, so I thought that it was like a story from the bible. That's how I think it will be thought of in time. Here's these buildings and all they represent seemingly indestructible, then all of a sudden they're nothing more than dust. All that's solid melts to air if you will. So that's the general idea I was trying to communicate. The lyrics are:
“When I see the towers fall,
It cannot be denied that,
As a spectacle,
It is a realisation of the mind.
You see, I'm standing on a mountain top
And letting out a scream,
It's the language of the earth,
It is the language of the beasts.
There's no point to look behind us,
We left the corpse behind,
Because flesh is weak and forms break down.
They cannot last forever."
-- “Blood on my Hands” by Shackleton
Then the sample is from a reading of Paradise Lost. "The mind and spirit remain invincible." Does this make sense now? I can't really break it down more. I'm really proud of the lyric and if I pull it apart it loses its meaning.
B: You also have a track name called “Hamas Rule.” Are you never concerned about addressing political issues in track names? (The word “rule” for example could be interpreted in two ways, “they rule!” and “are ruling”).
S: Yes, I think that can be taken both ways. When I made the track I was listening to Radio 4 and the news was about Hamas winning the election in Palestine. The sample I used was Lebanese (I think, you see the CD I've got has a strange mix up with the track listing). Anyway, when I finished the tune later I think that Israeli forces were in Lebanon. I think the idea was that Palestinian resistance were using Lebanon as a base. This had all gone on within a few weeks and seemed to be running in synchronicity with the tune. So the name stuck. I probably should have called it Hizbullah Rule, but it's not true in reality, so then that would have meant that "they rule!", which is not what I wanted to say! To be honest, I did think about changing the name of the track because of that possibility of misinterpretation, but, in the end I felt the title fitted well and would have felt like I was censoring myself. Essentially, it's an instrumental piece and as such is pretty abstract.
I'm not saying that I won't ever do but I'm not really into addressing political issues too much, especially one's like the complicated politics of the Middle-East, in fact, I'd prefer not to, I'm not well-enough informed. Obviously though, these are pretty desperate times for many people in the world and I have sympathy for anyone suffering. Being realistic though, no-one's going to smash the state because they heard a Shackleton tune, they might smash the record though!
B: Re "Hamas Rule", its interesting that the name came about because of the backdrop of political events at the time, but when new listeners encounter this track they might see it not as a reflection of what you were being presented with on the news, but as what you're presenting to them, i.e. the intent of meaning comes from you. What I'm trying to clarify is what your intent is by invoking powerful political issues in your title? To reflect? To make a statement? Because I worry when I write track names, that being ambiguous with such a heated issue might leave me open to critism or open me up to a debate I'm not trying to get into. Don’t these issues concern you?
Yes, they do concern me and with hindsight I probably wouldn't have called it “Hamas Rule.” I know this sounds naive, but I didn't think about people who don't have English as a first language taking it to mean "they rule OK", which is not what I intended but something I've seen on a website.
Just to turn it around a moment though, if I had a tune called “Tory Rule,” would people be thinking I meant I like Maggie Thatcher? It is a heated issue though, you're right, and, even though I'm not into sanitising something to make it more comfortable, I probably shouldn't be allowing myself to get dragged into a debate I don't want to be in. As I said, I would have felt like a coward censoring myself and hoped that people would take the adjective - noun version, rather than the noun - verb version.
I tell you what does concern me now I come to think of it. The fact that it might be construed as cheap. I wouldn't want someone to think that I'd rip something off for a bit of controversy so I could sell a few records, or that I'd try to associate myself with something I'm not a part of because it gives me credibility. I'll just turn the thing on it's head again though as I seem to be making a habit of doing. How many tunes use lyric samples of violent imagery or that reinforce negative racial stereotyping? I mean fucking Scarface must have been used to death by now. Or think about how The Krays are always spoken of fondly these days. If you were getting tied up with barbed wire and whipped by them you wouldn't think they were lovable rogues. It seems to me that there is an admiration of violence and machismo that is accepted by, at best, or, at worst, supported by some sections of modern society. Why is that not controversial?
Now, I totally understand what you're talking about and I does worry me a little bit that people would think I'm supporting Hamas, but, by the same token, it's an instrumental piece. If I had a sample in there that said "let's drive the Jews into the sea", then I'd say that I've put myself on dodgy ground, but that's not something I believe anyway. As it goes, I do hope for a better life for the Palestinian people, but I also hope that a solution can be found so that Israel can live in peace with its neighbours. I'm not an authority on the situation though and so I concede that, with hindsight, I probably should have chosen a less ambiguous title.
B: Can you tell me about your Japanese trip recently? What did you feel/learn/like/dislike about Japanese culture?
S: My wife's Japanese and so I had the opportunity to experience Japan from the inside. I mean we stayed with her parents and then some of her friends who had children of their own, so it was not a tourist's view of Japan. It was really interesting. I felt totally safe wherever I went and really enjoyed it. I found Japanese people to be very considerate and sensitive to other people's feelings. That was a beautiful thing.
[On one occasion] I went to a coffee shop/drinking den under a subway where everyone was gambling. I realised pretty quickly that I was in the equivalent of The Blind Beggar or something, surrounded by, at best, the local rough boys, at worst, a load of Yakuza. Anyway, I thought I'd just sit it out as I was curious and also I didn't want to look a prick walking out!
So I ordered an iced-coffee and sat down. That was my first mistake. I'd sat in the big boy's chair. Anyway, the waiter relocated me. No big deal. Then, mistaking the clear syrup in the jug for water, I filled my class with sugar syrup. As I was about to drink it. A bloke with a speech impediment started to try to speak to me. Naturally, I told him cheers, clinked his glass and took a big mouthful. Of course, everyone saw me making a complete dick of myself. I was so surprised by drinking 12 tablespoons worth of sugar that I knocked over my full glass of coffee over. As in right over the table and all over the racing page of one of the old boys!
You know what? Nobody said a word. In fact, the waiter brought me a new coffee and everybody pretended not to notice. Well, all I'm saying is that you can draw your own conclusions as to how that would contrast with the equivalent place in Britain. And maybe that's the point. There is no equivalent. I never once felt I had a grip on it and how it worked. It was brilliant. Really brilliant. I never once got bored. But I really did feel like a voyeur in someone else's show!
B: You have an original percussive style, both in timbre and arrangements. How did this come about?
S: Hard work. I love it, but it's really hard to chop-up and program the beats and then get them to flow so they sound organic. I'm reasonably pleased with the results so far. Bass is important, but, for me, there has to be more going on than just that. There's a guy called Chronomad that has got it going on like I want it, but I think he's actually playing the percussion and looping in. Mostly I'll get individual hits of a drum, then I'll feed them into different inputs, knock the tone off on some, add reverb on another, time-stretch another etc, so that I'm left with a range of different sounds that a single drum could produce. Then I normally loop a bassline and follow the bassline with the drum until I'm happy with the progress of that particular drum, then I'll do the same with some other percussion.
Now during the course of that, the impact of additional sounds will affect the initial dynamics, so that I'll have to go back and alter that, which in turn impacts on the rest. It's a long and laborious process and I can never remember what the tune sounds like because I'm not listening to it, I'm so caught up in looking at the tree that I can't see the forest!
So then I sit back and listen to the whole tune and start again. I know when the tune's finished when I can follow it all the way through and the progression of it doesn't jar with me instinctively. I know when the tune's good when I can go under the influence of it and it starts to give me a physical reaction or I end up looking at the speaker quizzically! I'm sure it's the same for all kinds of music. I see it as getting to grips with a language. You learn one aspect of the grammar, then you have to undo all that when you learn the next aspect. I'm still at the level of a toddler though, but I want to get better at it. Or do you mean for what reason do I make it as opposed to the nuts and bolts of it? There's never been a conscious thing to make it. I just like what I do, it rocks my boat.
B: You said you're working with a percussionist, can you tell me more about this?
I saw him by chance with a band at a festival in Wood Green. He was wicked and I asked him if he'd like to do a bit of something with me. At the time I was trying to pitch some tunes for a documentary. I won't elaborate because I'll be really disappointed if they don't get used. Anyway, we started working together and it was great, but I realised that the two media don't quite work together, at least not for me, so I still ended up chopping the stuff and dubbing it!
We'll work together in the future, I'm sure, but it needs to be a different project. Probably be looser, more ambient, and prose type vocals. The apocalyptic theme will be in there too, along with some interviews with old people about the weather they remember as children.
[The percussionist is] South African and I saw him in a band with an oud player and a flute player. They were making some kind of decent racket. Actually, it was him that I really liked. He would go off on these really intricate tangents. The music had a very strong middle-eastern influence, but he actually plays a West African drum called an udu (the specific type is called an atilogu). You see, I've always liked the high end percussion to be doing all the movement in the tune, but it's really hard to get that falling-out-of-time-to-the-point-of-almost-collapse type of thing going with a machine, so I'd been thinking about it for a while. It's great though. It didn't work out exactly how I expected, it's needed chopping a lot, but at the minimum I've got a decent sample bank and it's given me good ideas.
We filled his drum full of water so that we could cut down on the resonance, after that, I put it through a filter. I'm a bit of a Luddite with sound theory, but I worked out how to get the sound I wanted eventually! He's been in a few bands, he's even made a living from drumming a one time. One of his bands is called Stark Raving Sane. I'm not so into that, but his playing really shines through. He's a lovely bloke.
B: Do you have any album plans?
S: At the moment I'm not signing anything and am just weighing up what's the best thing to do. I really appreciate the faith people are showing in the music, but it's a very precious thing to me and I want to make sure it's the right thing to do.
B: A lot of dubstep fans are also micro house fans and your tracks seem to have attracted interest from Villalobos amongst others. Are you a fan of or inspired by micro house? What do you think of any overlap between micro house and dubstep?
S: I don't know the first thing about it and I'd never heard of Ricardo Villalobos! I've got a couple of CDs since and think they're wicked, but I don't really have a great understanding of different musical genres, especially not electronic music, so it's hard for me to comment. I just like the beats I like. That's why I'm not keen to say all dubstep is good and all other genres of music aren't. If someone's got interesting tunes, then I'll give it a go.
It's a funny thing, because since I heard the Villalobos stuff, I realised I've got some things that he might like, but I think I must have got there by a completely different path.
B: You’ve mentioned they’re thinking about booking you to play house clubs, is this still the case and how do you think they’ll respond to your sound?
S: Martin, you said the magic word, "booking!" It's a word I haven't heard too often! How does anyone respond? I'm not re-inventing the wheel. I've played at a friend's 40th birthday party where everyone went mental, all the old punks and that, then I've played at dubstep dances and got little reaction. I'm not a snob about who'll like it or not. I reckon that I'll bomb completely at some places and get a good reaction at others. As I say though, I haven't signed anything yet, so I'm not counting my chickens.
B: You mention you’re originally from a small mill town in Lancashire. How important an influence on your music is where you’re from, compared to places you’ve since found yourself in or ideas you’ve subsequently (to your upbringing) exposed yourself to?
S: Well, I know a lot of pub jukebox classics like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Tell Laura I love Her!” I don't know whether that's been a big influence though. But where you come from is going to influence your outlook and, in some way, music is related to that. I mean, it's funny, but when I was an 18-20 year old in my home town I thought that Kraftwerk's “Man Machine” album was the best record ever. How does that tie in with where I come from?
Outside of the tedium of everyday life that is where I come from though, there's great countryside if you walk a while, really dramatic and not-at-all picture postcard. Maybe that's influenced what I make too.
Some things that I was never exposed to though were proper jungle and dancehall. Well, basically, music with Jamaican influences. I mean, I've always been a big fan of the classic dub producers, like King Tubby, but outside that, nothing. So, being here has been great. That said, I've lived in a few different countries too, including Turkey and Hungary, so, as a friend of mine used to say "it's all flavours to the musical pie."
For a taste of the Shackleton sound download DubSTa’s mix.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Dubstep = backroom business
Friday night was Hospitality @ Heaven. First pleasure of the night was meeting Reza in the pub outside. Yes, contrary to how it might have looked, he’s actually not dead, and promises he’s back on the beats after a barren (musical) year dominated by increased pressures on his time in other departments. Know the feeling bruv.
Hospital records have a surprisingly long history of involvement with dubstep. Landslide, percussionist for London Elektricity and broken beat specialist, was one of the original Forward>> residents and, alongside Zed Bias and Jay Da Flex, pushed the broken beat-dubstep fusion for quite some time. (The pinnacle of this “brukstep” style, is the amazing Bugz in the Attic Fabric mix CD which includes Artwork’s “Red” pitched down so low it’s seemingly screwed-and-chopped).
Hospital records were often seen on the Plastic People dancefloor at Forward>> in the 2002-4 era and put out Zed Bias’ landmark Phuturistix album. (They’ve also held in the vaults three FWD>> remixes of Hospital artists – by Horsepower, Lombardo and Plastician – but I suspect we’ll never see them released. I have asked several times!).
Despite all this history it’s still a pretty large moment when Hospital choose to put dubstep in one of their backrooms. Because make no bones about it, Hospital might put out good music, but they’re no financial mugs. Phuturistix, those FWD>> remixes and Landslide weren’t all dropped from Hospital because their productions weren’t good enough, they were dropped because dubstep didn’t sell. But now it does - hence FWD>> in the back room. With the influx of d&b producers earlier this year, it also seems the fans have followed too. I clocked Brian Belle-Fortune (author of seminal jungle tome “All Crews”) leaving the FWD>> room and overheard a classic conversation in the guest list queue:
D&b souljah: “You see they got dubstep in the back room.”
D&b souljah’s bird: “Yeah”
D&b souljah: “I love that.”
D&b souljah’s bird: “Yeah”
D&b souljah: “Dubstep’s PHAT mate. You heard any?”
D&b souljah’s bird: “Yeah.”
D&b souljah: “PHAT mate…”
Going into Heaven, it couldn’t be staggeringly clearer how far Hospital have come from being a margins liquid imprint to a mainstream d&b player. This isn’t a monthly at Herbal: Hospitality is bigger than Fabric. You’ve got four rooms (two d&b, one FWD>>, one funk/eclectic etc), Andy C headlining one room, Doc Scott the other. You’ve got lasers, strobes, gangs of dealers, gaggles of girls in formation bikini’s and glowsticks, geezer-goons with fluorescent workmen’s jackets gurning on the dancefloor.
The Fabric comparison doesn’t end there. The one thing that mars most of my Fabric nights is overcrowding. You can’t stand or skank anywhere without people crashing through you from about eight directions: Heaven was no different.
Andy C in the main room was a sensory onslaught. OK so it wasn’t dangerously overcrowded, but it was irritatingly ramjam on the dancefloor. Raving goons flailed about, oblivious to how they were shoving you in the back. Strobes beat down like it was Helter Skelter @ the Sanctuary (RIP). And way, way up a DJ on a pedestal.
Watching Andy C mix is kinda creepy. For what seemed like minutes, his face bathed in pale white strobe, he’d jerk back and forward at 175bpm, as in some kind of d&b convulsion. From close to the stage his eyes seemed to be locked on some distant horizon point, or glazed over all together. It looked robotic, kinda soulless. Andy C: the mix machine playing drum & base… not drum & bass.
I can’t help but make comparisons to DMZ. With a few simple, yet profound choices, Digital Mystikz and Loefah have made their night everything d&b superclubbing isn’t. There’s the decks within arms reach of the skankers, promoting a sense of unity not lofty, inaccessible DJ worship. Then there’s the lack of strobes or fancy lighting. When I see strobes I think rave, ecstasy, “take me away”, escapist “dance music”. Whereas clubs without them are grounded, real, alert, music-focused, in control… urban.
standing bass-waves on a drink at DMZ
Finally there’s the soundsytem. Now I hate to sound like a soundsystem purist (a similar breed perhaps to an audiophile, ah well so be it…), but if there’s one thing that dubstep has brought the fore, it’s that decent soundsystems are a must. At DMZ the bass could break your rib. At Heaven the mid range could leave you permanently deaf.
I wore professionally made earplugs at Heaven: my ears still rang. Friends of mine had their ears ringing two days later. I’ve not heard such vicious, caustic and frankly dangerous over driven mid range sound in a club in quite some time. Not just in the main room either, but in each of the four.
I did have a funny Skream convergence moment. In the main room High Contrast dropped what must have been the Zinc mix of “Deep Concentration.” As it faded out we headed upstairs to the FWD>> room to find Geneus dropping the original, pitched up.
If that had been my first experience of dubstep, I’m not sure I would have known what the fuss was all about. The fourth room in Heaven is an odd place. People wander in and out various exits and stand on different levels. The bar takes up 50% of the room, though you can approach it from 360 degrees. The sound, well, it wasn’t as bad as the other three rooms, but it seemed at best uninspiring. The lesson here is see dubstep at Forward>>, DMZ, Dubloaded, Transmission or Dub War… or don’t bother.
Dubstep = supporting act
So there was the Junior Boys gig @ Cargo the other week. I first heard about them through Kode9’s now, *sniff sniff*, sadly defunct Hyperdub site, so it was fitting that he was the supporting DJ for them.
DJing before and after a live band must be a thankless task, even before you factor in dubstep. Beforehand you have a crowd who don’t really care what you play, but they’re standing still. Then afterwards you have a crowd who don’t really care what you play, they’re off.
Kode seemed to enjoy it though, perhaps it was liberating. He seems to have several new post-LP instrumental productions by himself I shall try and look out for, all technoid and sour spot melodics, as you might expect, but kinda darker too. (He played in Russia on the weekend and now is off to China. That’s just stupidly over-large.)
I’d been warned about Junior Boys from the reviews of their recent gigs online, so the “live” drummer wasn’t too much of a shock. What was far more surprising was how light and fey they seemed live, perhaps shorn of lots of the stop-start Timbaland drum programming the first LP deployed.
Equally amusing was the crowd. Maybe I spend to much time in urban, dance or general bar/pub type venues, but I’d not seen lads dance that, well, fey. There’s an inherent masculinity in much of urban music that immediately appeals. Seeing skinny indie lads doing this kind of odd, limp wristed, dance was comical. Ah well, gender boundaries were never my field of interest.
Dubstep = need not apply ;-)
A couple of weeks ago I went to Shanty House, the manifesto of which is below. Held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the format was a few tunes from the DJs, a film, more DJ tunes and then a live set. The highlight, bar Stelfox’s comedy flat cap (where’s your whippet mate?) and hearing Woebot drop Specialist and Tru Skool (I asked him for a rewind, he smiled nodded and then didn’t. I got air!), was the film Resistencia, a documentary of Columbia’s grass roots hip hop.
The film left me with two overwhelming feelings.
Firstly that hip hop is such an amusingly exportable package. Here you were, looking at Columbian ghetto kids that you’d never seen or met before, yet their moves, their mannerisms, their clothes were just so familiar. Baseball cap: tick. Keep it real hand gestures: tick. Spouting about the four pillars of hip hop (yawn…): tick. They could have been French. They could have been American. They could have been Algerian, Finnish or Peruvian. They’d have still looked familiar. They were “keeping it real” and it didn’t matter what the US government was or wasn’t doing to/with the war in their country, they still bought into globalised US hip hop culture as their way out, as an expression of their own personal identities. The film outlined how so few of them are signed, and how the Columbian majors don’t want to touch it with a barge pole. But you always hear about how Spanish is going to take over at some point as the most-spoken language in the US (29.7m of the 300m people in the US currently speak Spanish according to wikipedia) . Surely then that will open the floodgates to the US market for Spanish-language hip hop? It’s light at the end of the tunnel I guess, a light that French, Algerian or Finnish MCs perhaps won’t see.
The second feeling the documentary left me with is, was that far more interesting than their music was how the film provided a window into their world and how hip hop (like grime for me in the UK) allowed a shared platform from which commonality could be found and from which a further understanding of their world could be gained. The documentary’s killer shot was its opening sequence, where kids leap off rusty, ships that have run aground. If this is hip hop, it’s a far, far galaxy away from where Puffy & co. Crazy how it was bling hip hop, of all genres, that let us in.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Shanty House - Friday 3rd November 2006, Whitechapel Art Gallery, from 8.00pm
Shanty House brings a range of global urban music to the Whitechapel – from Baile Funk emanating from Brazilian favelas, to Kwaito the house-influenced sounds of South African townships and Desi, fusing traditional Indian music with Bhangra, hip hop, garage and reggae; from the Hip-Hop of the Deep South Crunk, to Jamaica’s dancehall and London’s Grime.
The opening night will include a performances from Tetine, a Soul Jazz signed Brazilian duo fusing baile funk with electroclash. DJs Woebot, Stelfox, Bun-u playing the best in crunk, grime, desi, baile funk, reggaeton, dancehall and hyphy. The night will kick off with a special screening of Resistencia: Hip Hop in Colombia, followed by a Q&A with Director Tom Feiling.
Resistencia: Hip-Hop in Colombia Director: Tom Feiling, 51 min, UK, 2002
Resistencia offers a rare look at the Hip-Hop street subculture in civil war-torn Colombia, while at the same time exploring how traditional Latino music is being infiltrated by rap. Following a summer in the lives of some of Colombia's finest rappers, DJs and break-dancers, the film explores how young Colombians feel about the crisis afflicting their country and the impact it has on their lives. Caught between left wing guerillas and right wing paramilitaries, these youths turn to rap as a way to express their points of view on the realities forced upon them by long-running violence, cultural crisis and the global cocaine trade. Youthful and entertaining, but also angry and enlightening, Resistencia bears witness to how the Hip-Hop culture has a major impact far from the "bling bling" of the U.S. music industry.
Eliete Mejorado and Bruno Verner, both native Brazilians who have since relocated to London, created Tetine in São Paulo in 1995 by combining various cultural and artistic currents. Lying at the intersection of performance art, video, and dirty electronica, a Tetine concert comes off as a Latin American version of Fischerspooner, with the raw sounds of baile funk infusing the squelchy beats.
Tetine has also increasingly incorporated the aggressive beats of baile funk into their own more rock-oriented music, which Verner dubs "punk carioca" ... Tetine's forthcoming album, L.I.C.K My Favela (on Slum Dunk Records), draws even more heavily from baile.
DJs Woebot, Stelfox and Bun-U. www.myspace.com/shantyhouse1. "Got any dubstep lads..?" ;-)
Monday, October 30, 2006
“I’m from a place where, there’s only t’ugs
Machines get bussed
Rapid gets classic mournful PAUG bars out of Maxwell D for Ruff Sqwad’s latest Detroity-stringy-grime anthem (as heard on Logan’s show).
Mantis: out now on Keysound.
Post-Diwali, a friend bringing along a kilo of jalebi sweets to eat to make me feel sick. What fiendish culture devised sweets that are pure, sticky, deep fried sugar?!!
Trunk monkey and Riding Dirty.
Jason Burke on the rise of the Taliban . My favourite journalist on the planet.
Hilarious “fuckiit” phone conversations with Kode9. Laughing is good for the soul.
Paul Autonomic’s blog. Much welcomed hub for his writing. God I wish more people wrote (well) about dubstep regularly.
“The Cure and the Cause” – as heard twice in one Friday evening. I headed out to WasteLondon (shudder) only to hear Spoony (!!) drop it in the V&A foyer and DJBoringHouseDJ play it in some DJ bar. Urban and posh London united?
New Dizzee LP. Not heard it yet. I want to though.
FWD>> weeklys: I’m not sure. Mala, needless to say, was fucking sublime the other week. “Learn,” “Bury the Bwoy,” “Crays Cray” remix, “Jah Power Dub,” “City Cycle”. Need I go on?
Dubsta’s Shackleton mix. I can never think of one Skull Disco tune to exchange a relative for, but yet collectively they seem to have generated a body of work too distinctive to ignore. Different, right now, is good.
Other bloggers not blogging much anymore. Magazines going shit/irrelevant/indie I can take, but the blogging massive… please no!
Plastician’s LP: 44.7 minutes long. Less is more!
Dot Alt link Ruff Sqwad. Am feeling Dirty Danger's "Back and Forth" - pure Diz circa 03... i miss them days... *sniff*
Zumpi Hunter by Terror Danjah popping in my inbox. Iliiiiikeit. Just where did Terror go of late?
Amusingly named footballers. First there were the footballers with two first names or surnames, i.e. John Terry and Barrington Belgrave. Frank Lamp-hard is amusingly Ronseal. Then there was of course Dean Windass and Danny Dichoff. Now Watford have a player called Shittu!
Pinch. New day, new IM message from Pinch, “did I send you this one yet?” The boy’s ondisting right now! “One Blood” and “Rise and Fall” get my vote.
Reams and reams of so-so, half baked, unmixed, copycat cloned, ooh-look-I’m-so-fucking-dark-and-hard-and-angry-me-
-what’s-that-mum?-yes-I-know-its-past-my-bedtime halfstep “dubs.” I don’t know whether to shout or cry.
Female vocals. Mary J Blige’s “Be Without You”, Hindi gems by Yeh Kya Hau, Cassie. I need some soaring vocals to purge all the above child’s play.
Female r&b vocals, mournful dubstep (Forensix’ “1st Dynasty”), Hindi Bollywood Gems, Mercston & Ghetto’s “Good Old Days” and Punjabi floorshakers emptying the floor at parties. “Yes the bloke playing 80s cheese will be back, grrr….”
Crunk, Hyphy, Snap. Raw suddenly means mean more.
Making beats. The only thing that can stop me sleeping at night.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Saturday, September 30, 2006
A: Dusk “Mantis (Blackdown remix)” [Keysound Recordings]
B: Blackdown “Mantis (VI3 mix) [Keysound Recordings]
(Buy a promo or listen to clips: here)
Throughout the early part of this decade, a single repeated message emerged out of the background noise and hum of daily data. China was growing. Very, very rapidly. While this decade has been dominated by the US’s interaction with the Middle East, few people have daily contact with the region. By contrast, over a period of several years, disproportionate number of friends or contacts began mentioning China. An architect described vast contracts for whole chunks of cities. A new media journalist highlighted the growing Chinese online market. A distance learning expert described the building of tens if not a hundred world class academic institutions. Anyone who followed politics mentioned the possibility that China could grow to superpower status, a welcome counterbalance to American unilateralism. As this decade unfolded the background noise grew into a hum: it was the noise of China growing.
The message wasn’t restricted to academic, mainstream media or architectural routes. It also began appearing through the hardcore continuum too. My passion for Wiley and Jammer’s “Sinogrime” (© Kode 9) experiments, Horsepower and Kode 9’s “Sinodub” excursions, documented here (scroll down to the post 'Fukkaz'), coincided with a time when there was a strong sense to me, as 2step collapsed and drum & base rotted, of the need for new sonic avenues. Around 2003 I suddenly saw a perfect yet lesser trodden path wandering between Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On,” Timbaland’s “Indian Flute,” Photek’s “Ni Ten Ichi Ru,” the Jammer/NASTY mix CD for Deuce, Loefah’s “Monsoon remix,” Kode 9’s “Fukkaz,” Wiley’s “Shanghai,” Horsepower’s “Sholay” up to Plasticians "Japan" (actually made from Chinese samples) and Forensix’s recent “1st Dynasty” [NB: the “Sino-” prefix was always clumbsily inaccurate, referring to anywhere “East-ish,” be it India, China, Japan, Thailand or more - just no nations bordering the Black Atlantic]
People perceive dubstep as having drifted out of 2step garage, in comparison to grime’s shift, but in those days around the turn of the millennium there was a definite feeling that rejection was as powerful a tool as inclusion, in order to move on. This manifested itself to me a rejection of lots of the sonic clichés surrounding genres persisted with: drum & bass’s Amen tear outs and sickly Rhodes chords, house’s fake warmth and hip hop’s reliance on tired funk/jazz/soul loops. That feeling, of the need to seek out new sonic cornerstones with which to build from, persists to this day.
I was lucky enough, while working at Deuce, to come by a CD of Chinese instrument samples. Loefah once mentioned a sample CD that he and the Mystikz went thirds on that produced a large number of their early classics, “Conference” included. This Chinese sample CD has been similarly central to Dusk and I.
Normally a track by us gets written, by us together, in a fairly similar linear fashion:
But we’d long talked about writing music in non-linear ways. About two years ago now, possibly more, Dusk played me a loop he couldn’t finish. It had a great bassline with this sweet Chinese melody. He’d called it “Mantis.” Last summer, while spending time on California’s Pacific rim, I revisited that loop. I added more Chinese instrumentation and darker gongs – and a track began to emerge, but without the original melody. It’s my mix of Mantis, a remix of a track that doesn’t exist, started because of a perfect melody I didn’t even use.
At the beginning of this year Dusk and I sat down and deleted the entire track. Left only with the sounds, we began writing a completely new one together. Out of a remix of a track that didn’t exist came a new collaboration by both of us, “Mantis VIP” (available on my 4Bristol mix, and a track that I do hope to put out properly someday). Then, determined to use that perfect melody, I returned solo to “Mantis VIP,” again deleted the track and began again. The result was “Mantis VI3” – the Sino-signature sound appears at the end. So far removed from Dusk’s original loop, we couldn’t really call it remix. The meandering pathway taken to get there seem somehow pleasing.
Dusk “Mantis (Blackdown remix)” >> Dusk + Blackdown “Mantis VIP” >> Blackdown “Mantis VI3”
The first and last part of the Mantis trilogy will now make up the third release on Keysound. Following on from the first two releases, the artwork (keysights) will reflect our London surroundings, just like the looped keysounds that each of our tracks sit emerged in. A recent digital camera disaster that killed my own camera so, unable to take the artwork shots myself, I recently set off with a friend Simon into the most Chinese part of our surroundings, London’s China Town, for visual inspiration. The following gallery was the result:
"GREATER CHINA" - LDN STYLE
MANTIS: BUG OR BODYBLOW?
It’s also interesting that, long before it was finished, Dusk chose the name “Mantis” for the tune(s). By co-incidence, it turns out there is a Chinese mantis, (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) and two styles of Chinese martial arts.
Insect: Chinese Mantis
The following is quoted from the Wikipedia entry for the Chinese mantis:
“The Chinese mantis looks like a long and slender praying mantis, with different shades of brown. The adult has a green lateral line down its wing. It is typically larger than most other mantises, growing up to 15 cm (6 inches) in length. Their diet consists of caterpillars, butterflies, wasps, bees, crickets and moths. Like other mantids, they are known to be cannibalistic.”
Martial Arts: Northern Praying Mantis
The following is quoted from the Wikipedia entry for Northern Praying Mantis
“Northern Praying Mantis is a style of Chinese martial arts, sometimes called Shandong Praying Mantis after its province of origin. It was created by Wang Lang and was named after the praying mantis, an insect, the aggressiveness of which inspired the style. Shaolin records document that Wang Lang was one of the 18 masters gathered by the Shaolin Abbot Fu Yu (1203-1275), which dates him and Northern Praying Mantis to the Song Dynasty (960–1279).”
“The mantis is a long and narrow predatory insect. While heavily armoured, it is not built to withstand forces from perpendicular directions. Consequently, its fighting style involves makes use of whip-like/circular motions to deflect direct attacks, which it follows up with precise attacks to the opponent's vital spots. These traits have been subsumed into the Northern Praying Mantis style, under the rubric of "removing something" (blocking to create a gap) and "adding something" (rapid attack).”
“One of the most distinctive features of Northern Praying Mantis is the "praying mantis hook": a hook made of one to three fingers directing force in a whip-like manner. The hook may be used to divert force (blocking) or to attack critical spots (eyes, face, acupuncture points). These are particularly useful in combination, for example using the force imparted from a block to power an attack. So if the enemy punches with the right hand, a Northern Praying Mantis practitioner might hook outwards with the left hand (shifting the body to the left) and use the turning force to attack the enemy's neck with a right hook. Alternately, she might divert downwards with the left hook and rebound with the left wrist stump to jaw/nose/throat.”
There are many styles of Northern Praying Mantis some hard, some soft, some rare, some common, including Seven Star Praying Mantis Boxing and Secret Gate Praying Mantis Boxing. For more information: check Wikipedia.
Martial Arts: Southern Praying Mantis
The following is quoted from the Wikipedia entry.
“Despite its name, the Southern Praying Mantis style of Chinese martial arts is unrelated to the Northern Praying Mantis style. Southern Praying Mantis is instead related most closely to fellow Hakka styles such as Dragon and more distantly to the Fujian family of styles that includes Fujian White Crane, Five Ancestors, and Wing Chun.”
“Southern Praying Mantis is a close range fighting system that places much emphasis on short power techniques and has aspects of both the soft and internal as well as the hard and external. As in other southern styles, the arms are the main weapon, with kicks usually limited to the hip and under.”
“Like Wing Chun and Xingyiquan—other styles created as pure fighting arts—Southern Praying Mantis has relatively no aesthetic value, unlike its northern counterpart and many other styles. Southern Praying Mantis is informed by traditional Chinese medicine.”
“Though the origins of Southern Praying Mantis may be contested, what is indisputable is its association with the Hakka people of inland eastern Guangdong. The traditions … maintain that their respective founders Chow Ah-Nam and Som Dot created their styles after witnessing a praying mantis fight and defeat a bird.”
“However, the traditions of the Chu family branch contend that the name "Southern Praying Mantis" was chosen to conceal from Qing forces its political affiliations by pretending that this esoteric style of Ming loyalists was in fact a regional variant of the popular and widespread Praying Mantis style from Shandong.”
STEVE BARKER’S GUIDE TO THE ENTRY POINTS OF CHINESE MUSIC
A long time supporter of dub and now dubstep, broadcaster/journalist Steve Barker now lives in China. Several months ago, during an email exchange, he recommended an essential compilation The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music. As a music fan, there’s little more satisfying than a recommendation of an entry point into an unknown and exciting field, like say Buzz’ Relics compilation is to Detroit Techno or Metalheadz’ first collection is to drum & bass. So while I wait for Amazon US to deliver my copy of The Hugo Masters, I asked Steve if he’d share a little of what he’s learned about the music of the PRC. This is Steve Barker’s guide to the entry points of Chinese music…
Steve Barker: “A few clues can be offered up to the naïve foreigner about to explore the world of Chinese music which, for pure convenience here, we can split up into traditional, modern interesting stuff and pop. Let's forget the pop which makes up around about 99.8% of what is easily accessible, most of this is 'cantopop', a syrupy Chinese derivative of Western pop originating largely in Hong Kong but now transplanted just about everywhere in Asia. Approaching traditional music the first stumbling block is Peking Opera, usually served up for the tourists, this is culturally dense and totally impenetrable, swerve around it.”
“For the virtually inclined a trip to the excellent site of Hugo records in Hong Kong will yield a stunning treasure house of exotic delights http://www.hugocd.com – I find I can't get this from Beijing at the moment but Amazon stocks plenty of their material. For an overview there are some nice sets but to dive right in go for the historical recordings of ancient Qin music, particularly the stuff from Sichuan. The GuQin (pronounced GooChin) is seven-stringed zither without bridges, the most classical Chinese instrument with over 3000 years of history. It is literally called Qin yet commonly known as "GuQin" where "gu" stands for ancient. Confucius was a master of this instrument.”
“When I first heard this sound I was struck by the similarity to slide guitar from Texas and Mississippi. There's a whole bunch other instruments that can be found described on the many websites covering traditional Chinese music, my only other advice would be go for the solo albums then the sonics can be better appreciated, then move on to group playing.”
“If you are in Beijing then there are two easy options. Don't go to the nearest record store unless you need bootleg Beyonce. Go to Wanfujing, the main shopping street – there's a subway stop there, where you will find the English Language Bookstore, three or four floors up there's an excellent selection of traditional music. Better still is the shop by the gate of the Beijing Music Conservatory, down by the South Second Ring Road, nearest subway stop Fuxingmen.”
“Without spending too much time on modern stuff there a couple of great portals into China, first up is from Laurence Li who's based in Shenzhen near HK, he runs Global Noise Online with lots of links into other sites in-country and its all in English - http://www.chinesenewear.com/gno/ . The other contact is Yan Jun in Beijing who runs an improvisatory music night at the Dos Kolegas Bar in Beijing every Tuesday without fail; it's called Kwanyin Waterland – after the female Buddha. Yan Jun runs the Sub Jam label and you can find him at http://www.subjam.org/ - he's also producer, poet, fixer, journalist and all round good egg - an essential top man.”
“Perhaps the most remarkable purchase I have made whilst in Beijing is a collection of 8 CDs by Sichuan folk music archivist and musician Huan Qing who is currently living in Dali, Yunnan. Compiled by Huan over several years there's Yangtze River Workers' Folk Songs, Ancient Songs of the Hani People, Sichuan Folk Artists, Yunnan Nu and Wa Minority, Yunnan Lisu, Yunnan Naxi Bamboo Flute, Yunnan Yi People, and Tibet Street Musicians. This last one was recorded by Zhang Jian of fm3 and put out on Sublime frequencies http://www.fm3buddhamachine.com. You pay around 15 quid for this stunning selection from the Sugar Jar Workstation in
Dashanzi-798 Art District. Good luck!"
Steve Barker - BBC/On The Wire (www.onthewire.uk.com) and the Wire (dub column).
CHINA: FRIEND OR FOE?
“China has a population of 1.3 billion people: one quarter of humankind is Chinese.”
-- Hugo De Burgh, “China: Friend or Foe?” (Icon). Buy it here.
The final piece in the confluence of Sino-influences in my life came with the impulse buy of Hugo De Burgh’s primer “China: Friend or Foe.” The fact was, despite all this hype about China, I knew very little about the vast country and have little opportunity to visit it in the foreseeable future. De Burgh’s book was a revelation, so I’d like to share selected quotes from it:
“Chinese provinces are as large as European countries, often with larger populations, and with histories and languages distinct from their neighbours’. Canton Province (Guangdong, adjoining Hong Kong) has 79 million people, Xinjiang is the size of Western Europe with a population of 19 million, and Sichuan has 87 million.”
“China is recognised as a rising power. It is establishing itself as an important factor for most countries. Yet this does not amount to a challenge to US dominance, because it is constrained by its poverty, domestic discontent, geopolitical vulnerability, dependence on foreign resources, and its leaders’ beliefs about China’s history and its relations with foreign powers over the last 150 years. How the world reacts to China’s rise may do more to determine its influence than China’s rise itself.”
“While the written language can be used by all Chinese, the spoken languages can vary as greatly as do European languages. Over 70 per cent of the population, living north of the Yangtze and in certain north-western parts of southern provinces, speak a form of Mandarin (Putonghua), albeit with local dialects. By contrast, the languages of South China are mutually incomprehensible. They include the Wu languages of Shanghai, Xiang in central and southern Hunan, Gan in Jiangxi, Northern and Southern Min in Fujian, Yue (including Cantonese) in Canton Province and part of Guangxi, and Hakka, the language of various people scattered in various parts of China. Standard Putonghua (Mandarin) … is always that of administration.”
“The Chinese written language unites all Chinese; until recently, it was used in common with linguistically quite different Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese too, since it is ideographic rather than alphabetic. What that means for practical purposes is that even when people cannot understand each other’s speech, they can communicate in writing, writing which each will pronounce completely differently. In theory, any spoken language such as English might be written in Chinese, though, as with Japanese, it would need to acquire grammatical particles and the ideographs would be given an English sound.”
“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has frontiers 136,700 miles long, and its coastline measures 111,850 miles. The PRC is contiguous with fourteen countries, with three of which – India, Vietnam and USSR – it has had military clashes with in the last 50 years… Western military experts believe that, not withstanding [recent] advances, China probably does not have the capability to succeed in an attack on Taiwan [the Republic of China], let alone challenge the USA… The USA spends nearly eight times [on defence] what China does.”
“People are still subject to an approach to human beings learned from the Soviet Union in the 1930s by a Party which, in its pursuit of total power, abandoned all civilised values.”
“Conventional media can be divided into three types: first, the core Party and government organs, such as the People’s Daily or New China News Agency; second, those still closely controlled by the Party and State, but not the core, such as the China Economic Times; and finally, those that are technically ‘fringe’ and completely dependent upon the market, yet may – as with the influential Caijing, a bi-weekly journal, or the Xin Jing Bao – be leading media. The fringe media are not as closely watched as their counterparts in the other categories of media and therefore have more leeway. Government organs still retain ultimate ownership of probably all media operations and can shut them down at will.”
“Foreign observers of government have often been convinced either that China is about to disintegrate because the centre cannot control the desire of the localities to do their own thing, or that China’s economic growth is making the Chinese State so powerful that it poses a mighty threat to the rest of the world. The first fails to take account of the centre’s ability both to hold on to key powers and to renew its institutions such that it could keep authority over the regions, while the second diminishes or ignores the problems with which the centre has to contend, and which lessen its ability to exert central power.”
“By tradition, China thought of itself as the centre of world civilisation; thus, defeat by foreign powers [including England] in the 19th century, and subjection to their rules and demands for territory or resources, were seen as humiliating violations. As awareness of China’s relative under-development grew, pride in Confucian civilisation gave way to an angry resentment against both that civilisation and against ‘the West’ (including Japan).”
“Until foreigners challenged, defeated and humiliated their country, most Chinese believed that China was the only civilisation. Today it is common to find people that consider China surrounded by enemies, selectively interpreting the history of the past 200 years in order to present their country as unique, not so much as civilisation but as victim. Observers argue that this is a very important component of modern Chinese identity, of nationalism, and a political factor of great power.”
“[China] is an economy of peasants freed from their chains…[and they] work crazily. With their labour and much ingenuity, China has become a leading force in many sectors from nothing… It has the fastest-growing economy and is expected to have surpassed Japan by 2020, re-establishing the centrality of China in Asia, and to have surpassed the USA by 2039.”
“The cumulative results of these [economic] changes have included and overall improvement in living standards; it is generally thought that 400 million people have been lifted out of poverty”
“Fifty thousand miles of three-lane highway were under construction in 2005, the size of the entire US interstate network; whereas these works too 40 years in the US, China plans their completion in five. Twenty-six Chinese cities are installing underground railways. There are 30 nuclear power stations on order.”
“Everywhere in China you come across pockets of the diverse and immensely rich culture – of music, the plastic arts, calligraphy, theatre, shadow puppetry, story-telling or whatever – that the foreign travellers used to dilate upon in wonder when they visited in the early years of the 20th century. But today there are, it seems, but pockets.
“Young students that sell xun [a kind of traditional flute that the author has encountered being sold] prove that culture is not just for the old, but to be honest, their contemporaries are more likely to be in a club sweating … to the sound of the electronic production of some dance music company in Los Angeles. The Cultural Revolution ripped traditional culture out of the lives of several generations; the government has been too preoccupied to shore it up, and commercial interests have provided globalised substitutes for mass consumption. In clothing, music and appreciation of the arts, things Chinese are for the elite.”
“The government is proud of the greater freedom afforded to religion since the 1980s, and points to Article 36 of the Constitution, which stipulates: ‘Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.’ There are thought to be about 250 million Taoists, 100 million Buddhists and around 30 million Christians.”
“On 25 April 1999, the government began to persecute a then little-known ‘way’ called Falungong, when 10,000 of its followers assembled to protest against a dismissive press article. This movement of practitioners of exercises traditionally associated with Taoism and of believers in a mixture of ideas both Christian and Buddhist, had until then been tolerated to the extent that many people in responsible positions had been happy to be associated with it, even though its leader was based in the USA. It was the demonstration that Falungong could mobilise so many people, without the security services being aware of its operations, that shocked the government into repression.”
“Transnational corporations claim that they are ‘glocal’ rather than local, that they respond to, and fit in with, local cultures. Nevertheless, to observers they are engaged in attempting a cultural transformation of China, deploying ‘a worldwide system of image-saturated information technologies to attract customers, including children.’ Among the results is the prevalence of commercially marketed celebrations … [that] all provide opportunities for spending and diminish the specialness of traditional Chinese festivals. Whereas in rural Cantonese society, celebrations of longevity were important features of family life, they are now being superseded by celebrations of youth.”
“Marketisation [has reduced] government interference in many ways: traditional markets have re-emerged, prices have been largely deregulated, and peasants will not in future be required to produce crops as stipulated by the government in its attempt at food self-sufficiency. Most of China’s peasants had been producing crops which are much more successfully produced in land-rich countries, such as the UK and USA with their large farms and fewer farmers. Where China has the advantage over them is in the production of people-intensive crops such as fruit and vegetables, flowers and plants… The corollary of this is that China now imports huge quantities of grains, particularly from the USA, which it must pay for in the export of people-intensive products, particularly to South East Asia. While these policies are showing signs of working, the gap between the urban and rural areas has continued to widen (in 2003, average urban income was over three times rural), causing dissatisfaction.”
Rural China/Urban China
“Even after the colossal changes which have turned China into the world’s workshop, over 60 per cent of its people still live in the countryside… That is around 900 million people. Although Deng Xiaoping’s first reforms helped improve conditions greatly, the limitations of the initial privatisation have become apparent. Local officials have begun to act like the wicked landlords of communist fiction, expropriating peasant land and leasing it or selling it to benefit themselves. At the same time, these ‘landlords’ exploit the peasantry with innumerable different local taxes, or demand unpaid labour in lieu of tax. Revolts have become common…”
© Hugo De Burgh 2006