Monday, January 03, 2011


quantum ripples in chaos

"Lisa Blanning has some on-the-money comments about the post-dubstep interzone noting that with operatives like Night Slugs et al there's been the emergence of "a real 'wot do you call it' sound... but part of the reason this sound doesn't have a name is because it doesn't have any defining characteristics. It's a mixture, instead of a synthesis, of so many existing club forms. While it doesn't lack energy, the pursuit of the next mutation is audibly uncertain, and it probably won't come from this quarter."

"This chimed with the feeling I got reading Martin Clark's Pitchfork survey of the year in dubstep/grime/funky/dubbage/road rap... the sense of a congested space, a frenetic criss-crossing of DJs and producers akin to a crowded concourse at a railway junction... a bustling profusion of genres blurring into each other... Yet house and garage and funky and 2step aren't that far apart really, the distances between them aren't large enough for the movements to-and-fro across that space to register as a soundclash or transgressive passage through border control... Blackdown's survey forms a book-end to 2010 with his behold-the-plenty column from the start of the year... which was one of the things that first got me musing towards the concept of hyperstasis."

-- Blissblog, December 15th.

I wanted to add a few comment to these quotes by Simon Reynolds and Lisa Blanning, because something really doesn’t sit well with me, between the analysis above and for me the musical strength of 2010.

Now I know everyone - critics, producers, DJs and fans alike - enjoys being swept off their feet by a romance with an entirely new musical scene. Part of the intoxicating effect is that you suddenly don’t know where you are for a second (but you like it) and I’ve loved that feeling as much as anyone.

The problem is, in the absence of a new, inebriating new movement that reveals itself in those familiar “disorientating” patterns, I’m not sure it’s fair as a consequence to write off the rest, the delocalised “interzone” as Simon calls it. Why? Because the interzone has made some startlingly amazing individual records this year and collectively they sum to a vintage year, well, for me at least. The problem is this new, delocalised structure doesn’t fit with previous patterns of tight, focused scenes. So if you went looking for that and that only, you probably didn’t find it.

You could ask why the hardcore continuum hasn’t delivered a new singularity this year, but to answer that you’ve got to look at the direction two of the key loci went in 2010. Lots of the grassroots road support shifted from grime to road rap, and from funky to house & dubbage – and what do these shifts both have in common? They’re the agents of the nuum re-connecting back into the “dark matter” in the nuum galaxy: the two vast established international scenes rap and house. And while I’m confident in time road rap and dubbage will evolve into startlingly original, free standing movements, for now there’s an inherent conservatism inbuilt in plugging yourself back into the formulas of house or rap that makes it hard to simultaneously deliver the wot-do-u-call-it? intoxication.

But away from why there was no seismic shift in 2010, and back to why the 130 space shouldn’t be written off. Lisa says its parts has no “defining characteristics.” Simon that it’s parts “aren't that far apart.”

Yes maybe this space has no defining characteristics but that’s its strength not its weakness. If people are looking for the next “wow” moment, a long line in singular “wow” moments, isn’t the biggest wow of them all that this one hasn’t come packaged as before? That in a hyperconnected, delocalised world of fast musical idea-exchange that the new singularity wouldn’t come packaged as before? That it’s not even a singularity at all, but a plurality?

It sort of stands to reason. If you look at how exciting scenes evolved before – before internet ubiquity that is - basically a small cluster of pioneers would break off from large established scenes and differentiate themselves. This would usually involve a degree of shunning from their parent scene, a loss of some or all of their accompanying audience and hence relative isolation. In the pre-internet era – which for the UK is some point between 2000-2003 depending on if you count dial up in this – older critics are always at pains to point out how hard it was to access subcultures you were not already in or geographically co-located with. This meant that small scenes could had longer to incubate and hence to develop new ideas.

Now in a mass market broadband and smart phone era, ideas propagate very quickly, differences even out. There’s very little incubation time, little isolation if you’re onto something. In fact the only way to hide it seems in 2010/11, is to bury yourself into the dark matter of bigger scenes, as the early UK funky DJs or road rap acts did. Yes you could have found proto-UK funky DJ in 2004 but given they were mostly playing US house, they’d have been indistinguishable against the darkness of the vast house galaxy. So if new ideas propagate quickly and differences are evened out, what you get is instead of one dense pocket of invention, the singular “wow” moment people have seen before, you get a broad, delocalised field of inter-exchange of ideas, meta-scenius if you like. And only when you view it as a whole do you see its total merits.

Now I’m not saying, even in a nuum context, that we won’t ever see a new seismic shift, the “wot do u call it?” wow moment again – in fact I certainly hope we will – but I do think it’s quite possible that as the cost and friction of propagating ideas tends to zero, that we’ll see new structures to the landscape of how new music evolves around us.

This isn’t a prediction by the way, it’s an analysis of the here and now. I look at records like Trim “Confidence Boost (Harmonimix)” (aka James Blake), Addison Groove "Footcrab", True Tiger & P Money “Slang Like This,” Spooky “Spartan,” SX v Ramadanman “Woo Glut,” Bass Boy & Marcus Nasty Ft Marcus Nasty “Shitta,”Jam City "Ecstasy refix", Darkstar "Two Chords", Actress “Splazsh,” Salem “King Night,” Mount Kimbie “Crooks + Lovers” and countless others and think how can you not see both the collective quality and the interconnectivity here?

Just consider this sequence of tracks in a loop:

• Darkstar "Two Chords" [synthy, almost devil mix-y, post dubstep pop]
• Trim “Confidence Boost (Harmonimix)” (aka James Blake) [post-dubstepper remixes grime don]
• Spooky “Spartan” [grime banger]
• True Tiger & P Money “Slang Like This” [dubstep-influenced grime banger]
• SX v Ramadanman “Woo Glut,” [synthy grime x dubstep mashup]
• Darkstar "Two Chords" [return to start to find synthy, almost devil mix-y, post dubstep pop]

Lisa says “The next mutation ... probably won't come from this quarter.”

Really? I think it already did.


Oliver said...

I recall the late Derek Bailey telling an interviewer from the Wire that new music only retains its power whilst in its explorative, experimental, unformulaic, and perhaps unnamed phase. Obviously he wasn't thinking about the same kind of music, but I remember thinking how true that was, to a certain degree at least, of many kinds of music. Everyone can see what happened to Rock, Hip Hop, Broken Beat and "dubstep", once a formula was in place. So to my mind, I agree that we should celebrate any period of experimentation that takes place before someone names some new strain of music and everyone else falls over themselves to define its limits or copy it over and over again.
On a related note, I have to support your encouragement for producers to step out of their bpm safety zones - at the very least, it adds the the variety in the dance - one tempo all night is such a bore, and it'll hopefully encourage DJs to experiment more.
Rant over. Good piece Martin!

Anonymous said...

Falty said...

Doesn't it say something, that I can release music in the UK to the world from my home in brooklyn? I stay clued in through my internet and my iPhone etc. like you said.

I agree, I think this fast moving, "wow moment of incredible prolificacy" has been around for a little while. I wouldn't have a career at all if it were not moving this fast and in so many directions. The producers that stay in the public eye, or popular if you will, can afford to carve their own niche and make what they feel, not just what they hear. Thats fucking brilliant!

drew/falty X

bok said...

Reynolds' and Blanning's framework doesnt provide them with the software to process what makes our current situation so vital and interesting, so they reject it


no name said...

as soon as it's gotta name it's over...2010 was a very good year

pollywog said...

what bok said...tastemakers and music critics have lost all credibility

no one gives a shit what some journo thinks about a scene or the 'nuum or the 'wot do you call it' moment or what they would like a sub-genre to be called

you hear a tune you either like it or you don't. you don't need a plugged in hipster blognoscenti to tell you why you should and how it fits into the cosmology of EDM

get stupid fresh and fuck the rest

James said...

I think the idea that Reynolds really doesn't care about the music coming out of the scene or that he doesn't like it or that he's out of touch is just wrong, he's still obviously pretty obsessive and enjoys a lot of it.

The whole interconnectivity point doesn't ring true to me because there's interconnectivity throughout the whole of the history of UK Dance music, you could probably take 5 records from different scenes and times within the last ten years and do a similar join-the-dots mix, in fact you probably already have done at some point.

I don't think the points that it'll be a while for the next proper scene to pop up or that kineticism isn't necessarily a good thing are particularly disagreeable. Though I do think his undervaluing of UK Funky as something new or defined irksome, Funky isn't far enough away from house for it to be transgressive, it is house, right? What about 2step then?

Skanky said...

It's no wonder journos & critics are struggling to come up with anything to write about the breakthroughs that are happening within dubstep! It had no definition to begin with, it is a gigantic ever-changing melting pot of a genre like none before! It's versatility of influence & undefinable nature is it's greatest power as it keeps the music immortal yet ever-changing. Who knows what will happen :)

merch said...

Most people I know who are into music understand intuitively what is going on, it's a great time for music, the barriers are down. Nobody needs self-appointed critics to name things and put things in boxes - this is not related to creativity. Leave the jaded analysis to others; analyses like this are so far away from the act of musical creation and enjoyment, it's paralysing to the creative brain.

Nickel said...

I read the article on Pitchfork website about this "new" genre. They couldn't define it because there aren't (apparently) any defining keys of this sound. Obviously this isn't dubstep, though you can hear similarities in the beat. the beat pattern of a song is essential to be able to define it's genre, but not everything for that matter. I also hear elements of house, Hip Hop, repetitive synths, chipmunk like vocal loops, electronica, etc. This is what I call mashup music, a melting pot. "Fuse" if you prefer.
While all the known genres on this earth are actually subgenres, they do have distinct characteristics that are their own. This sound, "Fuse", has the characteristic of being a somewhat undefinable mix that people will like anyway, possibly to give birth to a movement in the near future.