Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New nuum?

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.


Anonymous said...

it wouldn't be the first time the architects of a theory had made themselves look a bit desperate trying to absorb new developments in the vain hope that it'd preserve their authority and ultimately validate their 'investigation' as worthwhile...

has the future really become an unmanageable burden? surely FWD is and always has been a dubious currency anyway? a facile justification for self-serving alliances with fading icons of modernity ETC..??


"baby make a speeeeeccchh"

the purity is long gone. the hardcore continuum is just straight up marketeering, the longtail/longnow in full effect. generation next knows this. create the market, own the market. preemptive nostalgia for things that never actually need to happen. and everything that never happens, in all directions, spreading.

out to all the self-appointed guardians of the nu... history is still written by the winners, right?

namhenderson said...

Is it parody re: skank tracks and funky;
"parody Jamaican dancehall dance routines"
Or just imitation. The difference in my mind being irony or lack thereof.

Blackdown said...

dubmug, if you're gonna troll the least you can do is log in.

Lisa Blanning said...


well done yesterday and interesting to see your responses. One correction: k-punk didn't say producers don't know anything about music, he said that they don't necessarily have special insight into music.

Not to say this is true of all artists. I don't know about you, but I've interviewed a high ratio of producers who have very little to say for themselves. It seems it's up to people like yourself to explain what's good about the music or why anyone else should bother listening to it. Right enough. It's not necessarily the artist's job to comment on their own work.

Museum of Techno said...

I'm sure biological metaphors are useful when thinking about UK Bass music: scenes come and go, but their recorded elements - their samples, riffs, rhythms, rituals, language - can be passed on to subsequent scenes. Music/language/writing is an extension of apesong, and scenes are groups of noisy apes.

Insisting on a static set of parameters ("ludic", "based on 4 specific types of musical influence") to define a continuum will mean that you'll perpetuate a fight about the boundaries of the nuum: what's in or out. It will also mean that your theory will shatter at some point: in a biological system, it's up to unknowable destiny which "genes" persist in a lineage, and so with a cultural system, we can't tell which fashions, high-hat samples or irony levels will make it through from generation to generation.

I think a meme-theory study might be interesting here (Kode 9 & Kodwo's "the virology of the funky worm" is an example) because what you might be able to show is an ongoing cultural yarn spun together from threads like "the persistence of the Amen break" or "the persistence of dub basslines". No one thread may run all the way through, but seen this way, the yarn goes on, doesn't suddenly break. Until swine flu kills all club culture.

S said...

I thought your presentation was really solid, honest and easy to grasp without being obvious or lacking insight. Quite refreshing in light of the table Vs micro-organisms controversy. Good stuff.

Joe Muggs said...

It was extremely interesting and I left with more ideas than I came in with, which is always a bonus.

Re the point about "producers don't have any special insight" - of course as Lisa says, a lot of producers can be studio automata, happy to communicate through music and not interested in articulating how it works. HOWEVER my experience says that there are plenty of musicians whose theories are every bit as gripping as either academics' or journalists' - and these tend to be particularly those musos whose careers straddle several scenes (or continua), which I guess is why those who want to protect the integrity of THE 'nuum might want to pre-emptively write off their opinions.

Re Museum Of Techno's point, I couldn't agree more. This is the kind of thing I was trying to get at when I was talking about "dynamic boundaries" and "levels of magnification". A meme can be seen as a "micro continuum", just as something like the Afro-Futurist narrative can be seen as a macro-continuum. To insist on the primacy of one level of magnification as THE way of describing music just seems bloody-minded to me.

But then if one has created a successful brand, I guess it's natural to work hard to protect it ;)

Anonymous said...

@ Joe Muggs.

I don't think saying that producers don't necessarily have special insight into what they are doing is at all the same as saying they are 'studio automata', although perhaps you didn't mean that quite as pejoratively as it comes across. I mean it's a different mode of expression, there's no reason why a writer should necessarily be able to translate words into paintings if you see what I mean. As Mark said, that's often what art is, and attempts at articulating what's going on and the value of that is one function of good criticism.

Also, who is it who is insisting there is only one way to describe music and that there is only one TEH 'nuum? Simon Reynolds has said that what it is is an observation that there is a tradition that runs through these musics from hardcore rave to 2-step garage. I think that's obvious to anyone who has engaged with that music at all and that's the sense in which he and others can claim it to be a fact and not a theory. I mean in many ways it's a very banal observation, but it's got a nice ring to it.

Of course beyond that it does start to go er, wonky, and become more problematic and I think Martin has identified the problem with that and what I suspect is the source of your own objections very well here, especially in his last sentence.

But still, I don't think that saying something is 'not 'nuum' is necessarily intended as a criticism or a proscription, it's more a part of continuing to think about the tradition and where it is going. I'd agree that this probably isn't very constructive any more though.


Anonymous said...

please kill the term wonky.

Blackdown said...

sadly once a virus is released into the wild, there's no known "recall" mechanism...

Birdseed said...

The nuum thing has taught me a lot about British music, but I'm still uncertain whether it's the correct level of grouping to be interesting. It seems to me that the geographical field is too limited - I mean, the nineties and onwards has exploded with similarly translocal, hard, urban styles all over the world - baile funk, kwaito, kuduro, electronic soca, post-bogle digital dancehall, reggaeton, US bounce, bass, ghettotech, crunk, etc. etc. etc.

There seems to have been a moment in the early nineties where this sort of thing suddenly appeared everywhere, not just in Britain by a long shot, and started cross-influencing across borders. Reynolds dismisses this larger picture because, he says, Dizzee Rascal never directly competed with Lil Jon, but that's kind of the nature of these styles, distinct, localised scenes with lots of outside influence but no desire to mix. Dizzee wasn't competing with 4hero either...

sdukdj said...

was good day...but
did anyone catch what the list of 'toxic colors' that steve and kodwo were talking about?

Blackdown said...

that part of the talk seemed to be more like creative writing to me than a framework, though ending with 'purple wow' was a touch.

Anonymous said...

great afternoon>>yesh to all logisticians>>
respect/thanks to blackdown>>top posts and presentations.
sunset over dlr-->
euphoric recall-->
bukem/horizons + rosie at the drum.

Anonymous said...

@ blackdown. wood/trees.

@ dubmug. no idea who you are but you're not me.

@ joe muggs. re producers..
producers do achieve insight as soon as legitimacy tropes emerge. the paradox of a 'continuum' that has innovation (let's push things FWD>>>) as its defining currency is that the individual is required to sacrifice or undermine their own capacity for innovation as soon as they engage with these tropes. kode9, for one, seems determined to underscore a ruse that he's the determined amateur, messing around with sound, doing it the only way he can, as if that hints at some kind of purity of expression and/or innovation..

@ museum of techno
so, a continuum of continua?

A. Troll

STL said...

I'm turning off my PC and going out to score goat curry n dumpling, followed by a tin of SB and handful of pills - I then plan to dance until the sun rises...I suggest you do the same - this ain't rock music. Peace.

pollywog said...

^^^uhhh yeah i know you're not me... dont mind slackdown, he's obsessed with me, some what paranoid and totally insecure

but for all that. i did like his piece... for wonky. Its just more cliquety incestuous journo cockslapping over nothing really

jokers all good, gemmy not so good, zomby not even good and kode 9 couldnt produce a fart worth listening to...

...musically speaking that is

re: the nuum. I'm all for writing your own...

Blackdown said...


Anonymous said...

How does the 'nuum account for Scouse House? It has to be in there somewhere, or is the nuum just for music that is deemed to be cool south of Watford?

Anonymous said...

Not that I'm an expert on Scouse House but I don't think there's very much hip-hop or reggae in the mix, if any at all. I mean whatever the discussion those really are fundamental elements of the Hardcore Continuum. Scouse House is some of the whitest 'house' music going.


Anonymous said...

er perhaps scouse house is part of a parallel continuum then?!

then again, isn't a donk just a ska or dancehall offbeat skank funneled through a hyperdrive of fast, aggy drugs and 'roids'?!

Anonymous said...

"Its just more cliquety incestuous journo cockslapping over nothing really"

Couldn't agree more.

Gabriel Heatwave said...

Interesting stuff. Did Simon Reynolds really dismiss any dancehall influence in funky? That seems incredibly short sighted...

I see numerous very clear references to and influences from Jamaica in funky - rhythms, samples, vocalists, dance moves etc. What's even more interesting is that funky is now crossing the Atlantic and starting to do things in Jamaica:

Anonymous said... dont mind slackdown, he's obsessed with me, some what paranoid and totally insecureSays the man who uses several sockpuppets to promote his own blog: MrDubalina on Dissensus,
Beetlejuice on DubstepForum,
Dubmugga somewhere else IIRC...

And who pops up "whack-a-mole" style every time someone mentions "breakstep" to bemoan the fact that dubstep took a direction he didn't like...

Anonymous said...

Well there is a distinct dance music culture in England, at its core must be something like the continuum, these central themes that have had a massive influence on a lot of UK styles and genres.

However, everything on the tiny island interacts with everything else.

The way Mr Nut talks in this article about his influences is more demonstrative of how i think the uk scene works.

Thank you for your time.

pollywog said... dont mind slackdown, he's obsessed with me, some what paranoid and totally insecureSays the man who uses several sockpuppets to promote his own blog: MrDubalina on Dissensus,
Beetlejuice on DubstepForum,
Dubmugga somewhere else IIRC...

And who pops up "whack-a-mole" style every time someone mentions "breakstep" to bemoan the fact that dubstep took a direction he didn't like...
youre forgetting hell science dept, the undisputed truth, epithet, ringokid, busta nuttz, dorian gHey, frank einstein, pollywog, whitebait, the list goes on...

...but like the age old argument about music format. its not the blog(record) thats important, it's what's on it and all the shit ive said, discussions i've prompted, thoughts i've inspired all the while (hopefully) protecting my anonymity

and its pretty much unanimous, even blackdown and kode9 acknowledge the fact that dubstep has taken a mainstream direction nobody really likes...

...meanwhile breakstep and a resurgent 2step influence is the only thing saving dubstep from total irrelevence

forget blackdowns wank genre cos if he and kode9 could produce breakbeat based music worthy of inclusion in the nuum they would, instead of talking about it and making sub standard crap...

Blackdown said...

LMFAO, why would I want to produce breakstep?

pollywog said...

to prove you can...

...the thing is, why not produce a breaks based tune that truly rocks the crowd

that shit you're pimping at the mo sucks big balls eh...

...dont you want my respect ?


Tranquera said...

Nice post Martin! Really good reading...

Shonx said...

"STL said...

I'm turning off my PC and going out to score goat curry n dumpling, followed by a tin of SB and handful of pills - I then plan to dance until the sun rises...I suggest you do the same - this ain't rock music. Peace"

Can't help but agree with this to a degree, some very intellectual stuff being written about some mostly dumb (in a good way) music.

In terms of wonky, if we look at the riddims rather than the chiptune stuff (which is also pretty dated), a lot of this was going on in rnb and hip hop quite a long time before (the original release of Brandy's "What about us" in 2001 wasn't exactly underground), there's definitely quite a few old El-b tunes that are a little "out there" rhythmically (Back 2 U remix springs to mind).

I'd also argue that breakcore and gabba have the hip hop and reggae (mostly dancehall) influences but seem to have been written out of the theory. This could be because a lot of it sucks, but it has its roots in the early raves and free parties far more than most of the noughties equivalents. I imagine its "not from London" status might have something to do with it.

Also in terms of what-the-fuckness, bass and cheese a lot of the fidget house hits the same buttons as rave. Too much of what's come since sounds respectful and too concerned with tastefulness, which of course was never what 'ardkore was about.

Anonymous said...

The problem that i have with "wonky" is that it sounds really immature, when you say it but also naming a sytle of music based on how the drums aren't quantised (Are joker's drums even unquantised?)

carlybag said...

I’m joining this debate 18 months on, and I find the discussions here fascinating. The lecture itself was really interesting, and I wish I could have been there to throw in a tuppence or two….

The only problem I have with Reynolds’ “Hardcore Continuum” is the name. I mostly agree with the theory, I certainly appreciate his viewpoint, and I’m probably wading in to argue over semantics here… but I feel he's let his personal tastes and personal experiences somewhat blinker his judgment (confirmed by his own admission of omitting certain musical styles).

The distinction "UK Bass music"- a phrase that is increasingly being thrown about - seems to be much more encompassing and enveloping of British rave culture than the term "Hardcore Continuum". Although dance music culture continues to subscribe to the raving rituals of yesteryear, having "hardcore" as a descriptive of the theory puts the genre on a pedestal that perhaps it doesn't necessarily deserve?

Through defining a theory of cultural soundscape development primarily through the homage to one particular epoch in British music, Reynolds is omitting the very multiculturalism that defines urban Britain and its resources of influence. In characterising the ‘ritual of UK rave’ through genre specifics, Reynolds’ is pigeonholing over 20 years of British dance music culture, one that has now been created and developed by generations of ravers.

Reynolds needs to let go of his romanticism surrounding his ‘golden era’ of cultural creation, have a word with the raver inside, and embrace “UK Bass Music”.