Thursday, April 05, 2007

Uh oh, Woebot's trying a ting

“Bun down funky house! Bun down funky house! Make some music from your heart …”

Grime’s MC Purple

First rule of urban music: don’t call out people’s names. I guess Woebot didn’t get the email because, in a random outburst, it looks like he’s decided to try it. OK, OK fine, let’s bring it: Dubstep v commercial, sorry, funky house. And if it turns up for the ruck, we’re having grime on our side too thanks, because it’s not like he’s repped for grime in the last two years neither.

Of his article, calling out my name is the funniest. I’ve only written about funky house once, in Pitchfork last August, so I’m assuming that’s where Woebot thinks I “made great play of it being geographically rootless.” Now sure, I’ve written regularly about dubstep and its sonic relation to, and adsorption of, local geographical influences, but I’d really like Matt to point out where I call house “despicable” for being global?

My main paragraph against commercial house in my Pitchfork piece last August was this:

“[Funky house is the] soundtrack to hundreds of sterile trendy wine bars, ‘avin it in Ibiza, eight years of “Stardust”-clones, commercial compilations production lines like Defected, Ministry of Sound cynically buying up the Salsoul back catalogue so they can factory-farm radio-friendly chart house “hits” with slappers in bikini’s in the videos. We’re taking an endless stream of one-hit wonder acts (two DJ/producer nerds, one bolt-on token busty diva for the camera) who can have the biggest “choon” at the Miami music conference and licence it to umpteen “Now That’s What I Call Limp Coffee Table House Vol 217” but can’t get an album in the top 40 and get dropped after the second single. It’s all the bland DJ culture the grime MCs worked so hard to bypass…”

Now don’t get me wrong, feed me a few beers and I’ll skank around to Daft Punk ft Romanthony and I do love a bit of dirty Theo Parrish, but feed me enough seamlessly mixed “funky” in some plastic West End bar with the soundsystem EQed on the tinnitus setting and I’ll start to choke. It’s not just musically either, the whole industry machine of mainstream dance music, with PRs and marketing managers sending out hundreds of meaningless promos, made me choke so much I headed off into urban London (circa 1999/2000) to investigate UK garage. With force fed PR fodder, it basically boils down to the fact that if I’d wanted to eat foie gras, I’d have signed up for some gavage. Instead I fled. Funny thing is I had some food with Woebot (plus Stelfox, Marcus@Warp and a few other Dissensians) in Dalston recently. We had some Turkish mixed grill including, oddly, quail and he was saying the same thing about choking on PR fodder – as you’d expect from a blogger. And you know what? He didn’t mention funky house once…

Martin Clark for instance has made great play of it being geographically rootless, and this has been widely picked up by just about every other commentator. But hang on a minute, we're supposed to applaud Dubstep when it hails from Canada or New Zealand or somewhere else notionally "Global", but that very same quality in Funky House makes it despicable? Come on!

Woebot’s clumsy point about global music hides a distinction though. Dubstep has experienced massive expansion in the last two years, a delocalisation from being a tiny, local niche community to a global underground movement, a pattern which mirrors house’s growth from Chicago in the late 1980s. The distinction is that commercial house is now a truly global organisation, farmed out by PRs, marketers and radio pluggers worldwide so that when someone does a remix of Pink Floyd with a disco beat, it’s a simultaneous hit in 25 “territories” and gets played at 25 identical clubs. It’s corporate globalisation masquerading as youth culture.

Instead of following house’s pattern, my hopes for dubstep - a grass roots, collaborative, DIY movement - are that it’s less “global” more “glocal”, and if people follow the example (and not just the production styles) of the scene’s current top boys then this is entirely possible, with local scenes taking on some general dubstep ideas (bass, tempo, edge, but not necessarily all three…), mutating them with regional influences and finding their own sound. So when Woebot calls dubstep “notionally” global, I disagree. In interview with Loefah this January he talked about how he enjoyed seeing New York DJs drop Pinch’s “Qawaali”, an anthem to their crowds. He enjoyed it because it was dubstep on NYC’s terms – “Qawaali” while appreciated, was never an “anthem” on dancefloors in the UK. This was local pressure.


Returning to Woebot’s piece, there’s definitely a kind of musical category error as to what he means about “funky house,” or at least a large degree of imprecision as to culturally who it refers to. Even Simon Reynolds agrees:

trouble with invoking "funky house", Matt, is that people think you're referring to this kind of thing (Louie Latino on bongos!) ie. a sort of default-option vaguely classy soundtrack to a dressy crowd into getting expensively drunk and chatting up the opposite sex.

House, as Woebot points out, is very fragmented. Instead though, he tries to lump all the strands together:

Funky House is interesting in this context because it's quite self-consciously an umbrella term to draw together a mongrel coalition of Electro-Techno-Disco-House whose sole shared agenda which is to drive the dance-floor.

Is it though? In the mid 90s, funky house meant house with a filtered disco influence, think Cajmere, Daft Punk and Pete Heller. This isn’t a new musical sound, it’s the best part of 15 years old. Now there’s the techno-house-electro axis that’s the bastion of the mainstream Dance Music Inc DJs like Pete Tong n co, and the more electro-y you go, the further you head into Shoreditch. And there’s all the minimal/micro stuff, and more interesting people like Theo Parrish but the reality is they are vastly outnumbered.

“Funky ‘ouse”, as a new urban, post-grime phenomena, has some broken beat but no electro nor techno in its recent DNA, as far as I can hear. It seems to be the odd situation where house’s audience has migrated from “dance” to “urban” but without the music mutating, a point that Dave Stelfox calls a “reclamation” on Dissensus. Personally I’m more interested when the reclaimed music gets mutated, rather than the existing commercial house simply being played in places like Nappa or Sheffield’s Niche club, but that remains to be seen and isn’t what Woebot is referencing. Nonetheless the fact that DJs like Roll Deep’s Target and the 1Xtra playlist team will even touch it does suggest some kind of sea change in urban music culture, as I suggested last August. Here are the house tunes Target’s been play most of recently, while talking about Sheffield’s bassline/Niche scene a lot:

Enur / Natasha – Calabria
Sounds raw and urban, but given I heard it while on a French Alps ski lift recently, hardly Niche...

Hollis P Monroe – Lonely
Wasn’t this released in 1997?

TNT – Funk Patrol
Is this produced by Target’s old jungle partner, Trend?

Groove Armarda / Lady Stu$h / Red Rat – Get Down
Groove “corporate festival in Capham-r-us” Armarda?!

Fish Go Deep Feat Tracey K – The Cure & The Cause
Anthem from Irish deep house producers on Defected aka House's Microsoft…

I don’t see many of them on Woebot’s list. So which funky house is he listening to? But then… I’m not sure which dubstep he’s listening to either.


“I couldn't argue an aesthetic case for 90% of Funky House, but even that faintly crap 90% … is about, ooh, lets say 1000 times more interesting than most Dubstep just by merit of having a pulse, by aiming to be entertaining… you can't imagine people losing control or getting sweaty”

I don’t know if Woebot’s made it down to Forward>> or DMZ recently… or ever… but I can’t see how he’s arguing from a position of informed accuracy here. The more he talks about dubstep, the less he seems to know or actually have witness himself, rather than having read about it online and reacted angrily. If he had actually witnessed a Skream, N Type or Hatcha set recently, he might change his mind on this point. Sure during the 2005 halfstep era, when Youngsta was experimenting with frighteningly sub freezing rhythmic temperatures, he could have been forgiven for saying, like everyone else did, that it left him cold. But now when raves like DMZ happen, it goes off! It’s chaos, girls screaming, rudeboys shocking, hands in the air, sweat dripping down the walls: the lot. For example, here's a video of N Type at that Dubstep After Hours squat party on Friday. If Woebot can find the cocktail stick in it, I’ll poke it in my eyeball and then swallow it sideways.

Returning to the issue of abandon in dubstep, the irony is to me the pendulum has swung so far from the halfstep era it concerns me for the opposite reasons, namely that DJs might get too used to it “going off” and might no longer find the balls to take the breathtaking risk taking that has given us Kode9’s “Sign of the Dub” or Shackleton’s “The Stopper refix”.

It’s also ironic that Woebot creates such a divide between house and dubstep at a time when they’ve never been closer, with Mala’s pursuit of the crazy kickdrum and euphoric “broken dub house” anthems like “Lean Forward,” “Blue Notes,” “Anti War Dub,” “Forgive” and “Changes”. But then Woebot was the one who’d famously dismissed the whole of dubstep before he’d informed his decision with any of the ten or so awesome DMZ releases, so that’s not surprising. £77 quid for “Horror Show” on eBay… ouch! So Woebot, wanna buy my entire Ghost collection? At these prices, only £2310 for the lot…

Dubstep’s also never been closer to dubby Main Street style house either, with Pinch, Peverelist, 2562 and Martyn working on dubstep/Basic Channel mutations. Lets not forget Villalobos’ mixes of Shackleton.

“And there's none of that twatting around with the lower frequencies either,”

OK so Woebot can’t handle his bass, fair enough, each to their own, I admit it can all be a bit much and, when the bass is pressing on your vocal chords, a bit scary. Dubstep’s bass has a tempered, edgy, masculine physicality to it, it’s tangible like the concrete walls in the urban margins that spawned it, but if that’s all a bit too much for some people, a cup of cha, a sit down and a nice slice of funky it is then. More tea vicar?

“Funky House at its best makes a complete mockery of the portentous riddimic theorising of Dubstep or Micro-House by actually out-stepping it in practice without resorting to drawing the listener into a state of emotional torpor.”

Um. Right. Torpor eh?

Dear Mr Woebot,

Please meet me at 3am next DMZ (Mala v Loefah set). Please bring your “torpor” quote written on edible paper, you might feel a bit peckish,

Blackdown ;)


WOEBOT said...


we love a natter us bloggers

re: the dmz 12" oof. ha ha. i was waiting for that one. i do very much like the dmz stuff, and have made no attempt to disguise my admiration. i do think its a shame theyve gone off the boil though.

i have been to fwd and also a straight dubstep night at bash. im afraid i did think it was very boring. i thought the crowd's reaction to the music was extremely theatrical. not remotely unhinged like i remember old raves in the past (zimmer frame creaking)

in my spiel i did say "I couldn't argue an aesthetic case for 90% of Funky House" and i did mean that.

a random single Dubstep 12" has probably many more "reasons" to like it or "signifiers" which would allow one to enjoy it, the history oozing out of every pore, but i'm afraid the ideas and energy just aren't there. on the other hand i'd have to search really quite hard to find a bit of house music i liked, but that one hting i discovered would, i'm afraid, appeal to me much more.

I suppose the things i liked could probably be called electro-house but really subtracting them from the phenomenon is just pointless.

i do respect your choices martin, and i'm really sorry if i've upset you, i suppose i'm just reacting to what i feel is a stifling consensus about dubstep, like it's the miracle cure-all music. i'm afraid i just don't hear it.

one more thing. i ought to mention that i also like shackleton's things. there you go fuel for your argument! ha ha ha. but i did think that the villalobos/shackleton mix came at a very interesting moment. these two scenes holding hands.

Blackdown said...

DMZ off the boil? Mala's on fiya right now!!!

Alex Bok Bok said...


like Woebot says i admire funky house for making the effort to be uplifting and well, FUNKY. If its one kind of emotional autism over another i prefer something that strives to be happy than something that strives to be moody. What grates about dubstep for me nowadays is how premeditated its expressions are - really its a bit adolescent isnt it?
That said dubstep's really come around for me recently and I'm enjoying it again after last year's wobblebass overkill totally drained it of any pleasure for me...

Woebot, i think like us at Spasm you're being a bit reactionary about dubstep, which is understandable.

yeah... Maybe i should have just stuck with "lol"

N.E. said...