Wednesday, April 29, 2009
So I went along to the Hardcore Continuum talk in the post below, and it was pretty fun. First up was a journey through east, always a joy. I have to confess I haven’t been through Hackney Wick, where I used to work, in daylight for ages and bwoy, I've seen the pictures in Time Out, but the Olympic building site is staggering. All that weird, post-industrial hinterland east of the Wick is now a hive of activity, skeletal metal shapes making incredible sky rhythms that will soon be stadia. But really I was on the way to witness the construction of other great structures.
The UEL Docklands Campus is odd too, not a part of London I know well - perched on the river by the City airport. Hard to put a finger on but seemed to be an surreal mix of the shiny new and dirty old architecture around there.
The seminars themselves seemed to go well, props to Jeremy and 9 for organising them. I think transcripts or audio of the talks will go up so I wont spoil them all. But the began with K Punks defence of the nuum which provided several of the most contentious points of the day, including the line "producers dont know anything about music" and the assertion that we live in creativity-deprived decade, relative to the '90s. I couldn’t help clocking that in nuum terms the 90s had given us rave, jungle and garage, while this decade had given us dubstep, grime, funky, wonky and bassline. That's 5-3 to the '00s by my reckoning, so who you calling deprived Mr Punk? ;)
(Oh and Photek is a certified badman, made some of the greatest **music** of the '90s bar none, texturally and rhythmically. If your theoretical framework tells you he's crap, then your framework is completely broken!)
Alex Splintering Bone Ashes read a great piece about the naming of genres, including quite a bit on wonky-as-a-process, "wonkification" if you will. In fact I was pretty amazed how much the wonkword came up time and time again during the five hours. I took the opportunity to take the piss of 9 on his allergy to it, reminding him of the irony that it was he who took the piss of me for never inventing genre descriptors.
Joe and Dan made their cases and i think everyone in the room bar K Punk seemed to accept some kind of progress needs to be made. But it was left to Kojo and 9 to provide a dazzling afrofuturism framework, that stretched from Joker to Prince, used deliciously rich language while going to extraordinary lengths not to say the words funky or wonky. Kode kicked over the dictaphone while heading for his iPod, blanking the audio recording, so you'll just have to read the transcript if it goes up.
Overall the day was very enjoyable, even if a little too much time was spent claiming jungle is the be all and end all, Australia isn’t a thing and producers don’t know anything about music. Trivialising reductions aside, I thought I'd share my talk here.
Where now for the Nuum?
My position on the hardcore continuum is the following: it works great at the macroscopic level but breaks down at the microscopic level. It’s this breakdown that has brought us all together today. Because if you have to throw away all your exceptions to make the rule, what value does the rule give?
For many years the nuum had it good: it evolved as an essentially linear progression, from hardcore to jungle, speed garage to 2step. Some musical aspects branched off but essentially culturally eliminated themselves from the continuum, like say drum & bass in 97 or broken beat in 2000, preserving the linearity of the continuum as the offshoots removed themselves from the nuums cultural heartland.
The nuum also had time on its side. Ravers who had it large in ’88, went to jungle mecca AWOL in 94 could then join the mature ravers at Twice as Nice in 2000. Continuity was preserved.
But the implosion of garage in 2001/2 presented the continuum with an unprecedented challenge: no longer was the progression linear. Garage fragmented into three parts: grime, dubstep and house. Could it still be a continuum if it had broken into three, one part of which had temporarily – let’s say 2002 to 2006 - migrated off to join another continuum, ie the global house one?
By the very nature of fragmentation comes dilution, and this is where the nuum begins to be challenged. In the divorce from garage, each of the three offspring took different parts: in general terms, grime the role of the MC, dubstep the focus on bass and house... the girls.
On his blog yesterday simon says a fallacy about the nuum is that it is prescriptive.
“The misconception here is a mental image of a bouncer standing in front of a door barring admittance. How it actually works: new sounds emerge from the area of sound/culture/demographic under consideration, they have links to what came before, and what's interesting is to work out how strong the continuity is and what are the significant differences. Sometimes the links start to seem tenuous to the point where it feels like the music has branched off in another direction, perhaps ultimately to merge with other traditions/continuums. But this is descriptive as opposed to prescriptive.”
But right now I would begin to challenge its ability to even be descriptive. In his talk in Liverpool recently, Simon reduces the musical side of the continuum to the confluence of four factors: house, techno, hip hop and reggae dancehall, which works great for hardcore, jungle and garage. Yet as you increasingly migrate further from hardcore, elements of these become less influential, as new ones rise to the fore. So with grime you could reduce it to: jungle + garage + hip hop + dancehall. With dubstep: garage + jungle + dub reggae.
With each iteration of the nuum the founding pillars become shakier, and with justifiable reason. Not only did fragmentation post-garage cause dilution of the common pillars but the collective memory of those pillars began to fade amongst its creators. Ravers who had it large in ’88, went to jungle mecca AWOL in 94 could then join the mature ravers at Twice as Nice in 2000. But what tangible influence do those bastions have now compared to the wealth of current music , when you consider MOBO winning grime MC chipmunk was ten years old when Twice as Nice was at its peak or unborn when rave began?
The question then is can we re-define a new set of continuity elements? Because with these the continuum would regain more value, and begin to better describe its current key movements. To do this I’d like to look at two cases: funky and wonky, both of which Simon has raised questionable concerns to as their validity as part of the continuum. Those concerns in term throw light on the limitations and the improper use of the theory.
For better or worse, I coined the term wonky in a piece in Pitchfork Media last year, to describe a common thread I saw running through multiple genres as disparate as instrumental hip hop, crunk, chip tunes, grime and dubstep. Unfortunately it has since been latched onto as a genre, something I still refute. But for the purpose of this talk, I’d like to talk about a specifically group of producers i mentioned in the Pitchfork piece: Joker, Zomby and Gemmy.
While there’s no point claiming these three are fully “running the roads” right now, surely the gold standard test for nuum or not-nuum, in an attempt to preserve the theory’s integrity simon takes the opposite position on this moot point.
“Wonky has the same relation to Ruff Squad as Squarepusher had to Remarc” he wrote on his blog.
Yet Joker came from grime, got advice from Wiley back in the day, lives in one of the nuums second cities – Bristol – is black and working class. Last year he was voted in the top 5 vinyl releases by the grime forum, alongside Rudekid, Logan Sama’s new label, Silencer and... Ruff Squad.
In the same piece, Simon wrote on wonky, “I can’t imagine real bodies moving in real space to this music.” He wouldn’t have needed to imagine if it he’d been at the Rinse FM rave last year to see Boy Betta Know’s Maximum drop Joker tunes in a grime set.
Gemmy shares similarities with Joker in this regard and Zomby grew up hanging out with DJ SS and lived through both midlands rave and bassline scenes, as well as later attending seminal dubstep parties in London.
These three acts share many of the continuity aspects that are so key to the strength of the nuum, yet simon uses the nuum to reject them because they don’t fit its original core tenants.
Indeed if you are to reject Zomby, Joker and Gemmy as part of the continuum, so should you reject dubstep as a whole. And while Simon was very sceptical of dubstep for most of this decade, perhaps out of loyalty to garage, he now accepts it as part of the continuum, ironically as it finds itself as far from its London roots as it ever has been.
Similarly we move to the current iteration of the continuum, funky. If you applied the litmus test to funky – is it big on road? – you’d get a resounding ‘yes’ but confusingly for the continuum, unlike d&b/garage in 1997, the urban popularity vote is currently split, between grime and funky. Either way simon’s not sure.
You can forgive a musical theorem for being unable to cope with the scenario that unfolded in 2002 -06, where post garage’s implosion, an entire section of the UKG massive silently migrated from grime to the existing global house continuum. It was only when DJs like Supa D and Marcus Nasty reclaimed UK ownership of a strand of the international house megacorp that it began to fit back into the continuum, incorporating influence from another of its rejected progeny, broken beat to form a near mirror image of grime. But overall a scenarios like this in 2002, where everything except the music stays nuum, displays the limitations of the continuum.
So despite funky’s perfect credentials, Simon seems unsure of its place in the canon. The reasons for this are twofold: he seems to have misread the signs and again is holding the 2009 genre to account to ’89 continuity pillars, perhaps for his own reasons.
“Funky has an overall deficit of rude + cheesy” he claims without investigating “Sirens” by Hard House Banton or “Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes” by KIG Family, both respectively rude and cheesy and two of the genre’s biggest tracks. He also dismisses any dancehall influence in funky, despite the prevelance of skank tracks like the “Migrane Skank” that directly parody Jamaican dancehall dance routines.
So between dubstep’s inclusion, wonky’s exclusion and funky’s limbo status, we find the central crisis that undermines the hardcore continuum in 2009: not that it has broken or is invalid, because it describes accurately in many cases the musical heart that beats in urban London and other UK urban multicultural centres. But its inflexibility in the face of edge cases and fragmentation, is causing it to be presented as fact but actually be used as a theory to make value judgments in order to preserve its own existence.