2008-03-28

Living with Critical Estrangement?

This summer I'm going to be 27 years old. And I'm starting to worry. One of my big interests in life is popular music, and inexorably approaching towards 30 means there's the chance (borne out by oh-so-many precedents) that it'll stop being on top of my agenda. Thirty is the age critics usually start to falter, dismissing new music off-hand as crap and derivative and then slowly creeping towards irrelevance.

This all wouldn't scare me very much (since I hope to bypass it) if it wasn't for the fact that otherwise cool blogs have started to feature new music I don't particularly like. And that it might be the start of a trend I will have a hard time not feeling excluded from.


The first blog-hyped genre I don't get is the entire cumbia nueva thing. I wasn't very fond of cumbia in the first place (it being a rather broad, safe, geographically detached lower-middle-class music) and most of this new stuff has retained all those questionable virtues. It's very much latino (rather than musica negra), it's not properly locally grounded anywhere, it's too reverent to an earlier, fairly dull generation. This all means the obvious analogy is to "rock" in the western world, which is not exactly a glowing endorsement coming from me.

Another aspect is that even the most digital stuff is very samplerrific and shying away from the synthesiser extremes of the past few years. That's something it has very much in common with the other new genre I don't "get", funky. It's kinda softish house-beated, mid-tempo garage with an (almost universal) afro-carribean 3+3+2 latched onto mild house diva or r&b vocals, and it's apparently huge in the london clubs. To me it has all the fairly staind qualities of recent zouk and I just don't see the fun (or the supposed connection to soca).

Still, if indeed we're seeing a trend away from the extreme bassline-oriented electro-styled music of the past few years then I'll have to adjust or be passed off into uselessness, won't I? To me, accepting (and correctly appraising) music I feel totally indifferent to is a huge problem, and a much bigger one than the opposite one that has been discussed a lot recently. How on earth are you meant to critically engage with a subject matter that you don't like or hate but that just bores you?

When critical distance passes off into critical indifference, that's when you really have to start to worry.

9 comments:

w&w said...

Interesting thoughts, Birdseed. A couple things, tho: nueva cumbia may be more latino than black in its significations (to you?), but it's important to remember that cumbia is afro-colombian music, sin duda; and as for funky, it seems to me that one of the great things it has retained from dubstep, grime, etc., is precisely it's bassline-drivenness.

Still, I do like the idea of grappling with critical indifference. What's funny about that is that it's the relationship to your subject matter that most academics think you're supposed to have. For the most part, I think that's a farce: we study what we're interested in; but pretensions to objectivity still sway us toward pretending we're not passionate.

Birdseed said...

I guess I have a background in a field (philosophy) where almost everyone who has had an interesting idea has had a fairly extreme opinion about something. I'm generally more challenged by an analysis of a passionate lover or hater than by someone with no interest at all.

johnnn said...

hey Johan, I've been working on the 27 thing since December, I think I definitely may be creeping insensibly towards codgerliness - maybe I'll be a bit more wary now, thanks! that said, I think that hating on stuff, especially when it's articulate and interesting hating, is an important part of being an honest blogger, and it is generally becoming a rarer and more precious thing in the increasingly uncritical world of internet music bloggery, which in so many cases has become more or less indistinguishable from PR. I haven't really been stirred to listen to much cumbia so don't have a strong opinion either way, but you just gotta hate on what you hate on

Birdseed said...

Oh yeah definitely. Problem is I don't hate cumbia either, in fact I've pretty much stopped hating entire genres altogether. And that also worries me - when I was a kid I'd be hating all sorts of things musically (and loving others passionately) but now it's like all the corners have been shaved off. Is being a relativist a step on the way towards losing your edge or an alternative strategy to rabidly hanging onto your old favourites?

Caro said...

Guess what? Life is not over at 30. I do sympathize with feeling desensitized to the new -- it happened to me in the late 90s when I'd already been writing abt music for 10 years (you can do the math). What that meant for me is that I retreated from writing about music AS WORK for a few years, which left me free to follow the sounds, whether it was re-discovering older music, indulging the taste for the familiar (i.e. lots of post-punk sounding bands), or, surprise, finding I actually liked some newer things, not because I had to write about them, but because they sounded GOOD to me and gave me pleasure. You don't have to turn into a crotchety reviewer who doesn't like anything new. Maybe you just need a break, or a good research project that'll keep you out of the loop for a while.

rupture said...

B- what do you mean by the 'entire nueva cumbia thing'? That´s a horrible blanket statement! Contemporary cumbia is alive at a distinctly local level in several countries and dozens of cities right now. and it is quite different in each one.

your dismissal of 'new cumbia' flattens and homogenizes a varied & various sound which is doing radically different things everywhere it springs up. Cumbia is not like 'funky' ie confined mostly to a single city, London. Even the term 'new cumbia' is not a sub-genre or microgenre like those of London dance music, its as a wide a category as 'reggae' or 'rock'

To do it any critical service (apathy included) i think it's important to talk about exactly what & where the sound you are discussing is going on.
especially if you want to credibly oppose 'latin' music and 'black' music -- a risky binary under the best of circumstances -- as if those are the primary identity categories through which we should view cumbia.

bloggy mixes that push together cumbia styles don't reflect the social reality around cumbia. Like much local pop worldwide, Cumbia is more of an 'offline' culture than an 'online' one, so Google wont help for now.

Even Zizek´s digital eclecticism is just one facet of Buenos Aires cumbia, and not the most popular, despite their web2.0 presence.

that said - why is it important that you don't "get" certain styles of new music? especially in the mp3blog world, there is far far far too much to listen to or absorb. why should there be any value in liking everything that other bloggers like?

Birdseed said...

I just feel a pressing need to keep up. I've invested huge amounts of my spare time into the "project" of understanding, historically linking and appreciating popular music and it feels like such a waste of my life to let it sink away, get "out of the loop" and lose my overall view. Maybe I'm just being vain.

On the other hand, I dunno, maybe I should really, earnestly give a go at understanding it? That's what I'm trying to do with emo, where I've actually found a couple of things I quite enjoy.

ripley said...

heh. coming from economics and law, critical indifference is a hallmark and prerequisite of mainstream success. Of course, coming also from social history and labor history, quite the reverse. in neither case does either attitude lead to things necessarily being interesting..


I've got more able to enjoy certain kinds of pop after 30, in case that cheers you up.

btw nice blog! haven't commented before I think.

Birdseed said...

Thanks, but oh-lonrd, that's another horrifying aspect. I'm going to start listening to chicago bar blues aren't I? *sweats* :)