2009-12-31

Top 50 tracks in 2009

This was my blogging new year's resolution last year, and I intend to keep it: a top list of my 50 favourite tracks of 2009 (fuck decades!). I've rather sporadically - based on availability of fast internet access - thrown music into a big bin and then whittled it down, so it's really all over the place and skewed towards blogs and the first half of the year and the US. But hey, at least I reveal my biases ahead of time! (Links go to the tubes or whatever where available.)



1. Gracious "Nappa Man" K - Migraine Skank (original pre-release version)
Something about how this is structured with the interlocking rhythms totally blows my mind (I really should have a go at analysing it at some point!), and even though there's (mystifyingly, since I love it) no more Funky on this list, this totally represents that genre's deep genius in bringing rhythm-based music forward. 2009 was Migraine Skank's year.
2. Don Omar - Virtual Diva
Album of the Year: See previous post. Picking just one song off this was super-difficult, but I went for the iconic single in the end.
3. Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling
4. Untamed feat. Mr Marcellus - Fill It Up
5. The Sounds of Arrows - Into The Clouds
I decided I needed to sprinkle in a few token indie entries in here. Wouldn't want to be politically incorrect, the poor underprivileged white middle class need their share.
6. Barikad Crew - Toup Pou Yo (thx Rachel!)
7. Illie - Liquified Dopeness
I really should listen to more Jerk.
8. Tinchy Stryder feat. Amelle - Never Leave You
9. Leila Chicot - Renaissance
10. Medina feat. Allyawan, Palestine & Aida - Så Dom Gör Det (Fiend Version)
11. Ace Hood feat. The-Dream - Mine
12. Hard Kaur - Follow Me
Songwriter of the year: Pritam. Bollywood really got a re-injection of musical quality this year thanks to the writing and production genius of the jovially bearded Bengali. He may have nicked all his tracks from the koreans (bizarrely) but it's hard to miss what a breath of fresh air one composer has brought to the Mumbai film industry. Runner-up: The-Dream.
13. La Roux - In For The Kill (Skream's Let's Get Ravey Mix)
14. Alicia Keys - Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart
15. James Fauntleroy - Te Amo
16. La Factoria - Apartade de ti
17. Freds225 - Instru Logobi 225
18. Dizzee Rascal - Holiday
19. Ce'cile and Live Wire - You Got Me
20. Kenny Margant - T'Oublier
21. Frenchie - It's Ok (Knel Mix)
22. Amerie - Tell Me You Love Me
23. Nina Sky - On Some Bullshit
24. Circlesquare - Dancers (Russ Chimes vs. Anoraak Remix)
25. T.I. - Hell of a Life
If this was 2006 this might well have been a top ten track for me - this culminates the mega-major-key euphoria that made southern hip-hop so wonderful that year.
26. AC Slater - Hello (Ricorb befriends Kim Jong-il remix)
27. Blak Ryno - Pon Di Earth
28. Ray Rich - Know She Cold
29. Mariah Carey - Standing O
30. Willy Northpole feat. B.O.B. - Hood Dreamer
31. Kartier - Ma Pones Mal
32. Tim Benson - Love At First Sight
33. Swine Flu - Starter
34. Dennis Ferrer - Hey Hey
35. Sean Garrett feat. Young Joc - Smooches (Chief Boima Remix)
Global Ghettotech of the year: as in - purpose-made "exotic" music. This remix is lovely and could make anyone reconsider their attitude towards fusion as a concept.
36. Kaysha - Be With You
37. Newkid - Gör Det För
38. Ali Ashabi - Eteraf
39. Discovery - Osaka Loop Line
40. Unlady Like - Bartender
41. Tavrvs - Vharder
42. Tynisha Keli - Rockstar
43. Al Brown - I Don't Know
44. DJ Hans - Akh Da Nishana
45. Joker - Do It
46. Khriz y Angel - Dime
47. Slicer feat. Tazzz, Renegade - Murk Em
48. Young Dro - Clean With It
49. Busy Signal - Black Belt
50. Trae feat. Krayzie Bone & Twista - I Won't Change

Happy new year, everyone!

2009-12-27

Genre of the year: Reggaeton

There have been many great genres this year. We all enjoyed the fresh appearance of logobi, I've totally got into zouk-love, and at some point I've started to really "get" a lot of the previously mysterious trance/hardcore hybrid genres, like hardstyle.

But there's one considerably older style of music I've consistently returned to, which has really made my 2009: Reggaeton. To some people, this is bizarrely the year the genre died, but from my perspective it's never been more vital or more interesting, and it's forged a path quite different and refreshing compared to everything else going on at the moment. Yes, it's connected to the wider movement towards electro and trance-oriented sounds that might actually have peaked already, but even more so it's tapped straight into the source - Reggaeton 2009 has been channelling the eighties, and everything good about them!

Sometimes, it's been very direct. Compare, for instance, the following track...

ZK Feat. Crac MC - Disculpeme Senorita


..with just about any italo disco, most obviously perhaps this Raggio De Luna classic:



It's a fun leap, one I think not many other genres have made this year. Little flourishes of new wave, italo, video game music, hi-nrg and freestyle are evident in many more Reggaeton tracks this year, but for me that's far from the only interesting idea that's been revived from the eighties. For instance, remember earlier in the year I had a little obsession with collecting tracks about robots and sex? Well, the theme has been brought back in a major way in Reggaeton this year!



Which brings me to what must surely be the album of the year, any genre: "Idon" by Don Omar, which brings together all what's been great about Reggaeton beautifully. A super-ambitious science-fiction concept album (when did pop music last produce one of those?), it perfectly encapsulates the complex platonic soul of great music: instinct mingled with intellect, emotional warmth meets calculating coldness. Just like the best eighties music! The sheer, the square and the dirty feed off each other, in a heady/pelvic mixture of body and mind. And it manages to do so in a musical costume where the Caribbean lives side-by-side with everything from Bon Jovi to Jam and Lewis, with tiny bleeps and massive rumbles, industrial, faux-orientalism, just about anything in breathtaking scope.

It's perhaps hard to capture in a single track (get the album!) but luckily there's the awesome cyborg-inflicted musical-conceptual video for The Chosen/Virtual Diva to whet your appetite. Somewhere here I think the best of 2009 might well be located.

2009-12-11

Genre of the Week: Putaria/Funk Putaria

...and what a week it's been - guests, viral infections, moving and not being able to reply to comments due to a bug (sorry Umb, Dave Quam). One good thing though is that I've come across a rather interesting and vibrant strand of the Brazilian funk scene that I've never heard about before, and which seems to be very much alive and kicking - most of the stuff I've found on the net is less than a year old.

Putaria literally means "harlotry", and seems self-descriptive as much as it is pejorative. (Taking pride in negative descriptions is hardly anything new in the music world.) In a genre that already is fairly crude in its lyrical content and simple in its production, this stuff seems to go another step down the ladder - the production is wonky in a semi-amateurish way, the sound decidedly lo-fi, the feel decidedly closer to, say, cumbia villeira or juke than to something ultra-clean in the trance-electro mould. Interestingly, this has the effect of producing some startlingly messy, complex-sounding productions with unexpected musical touching points:



Treble culture, anyone? This dubby, mixtapy, industrial-tinged piece with its pre-distorted drum sounds would fit perfectly blearing out of a mobile phone, it's hardly been cleaned up to a higher standard. (And is all the more wonderful for it, aesthetically!)

Apparently (this is the only English-language source I've got at the moment) putaria, like prohibidão before it, is a function of the most violent and poor neighbourhoods even within the Favelas. Unlike the macho-posturing prohibidão, though, this material is rather porno-dystopian, and among other things happily accepts female performers:




(Video probably NSFW)

Again, I'm struck by the lo-finess and the high amount of distortion on the usually clean tamborzao, and the weird polyrhythmic productions surrounding it. Good percussive stuff here! And this seems to be new as a sonic style as well, most of the material from two years ago and last year is much cleaner. For this year's putaria, there's a very good amount of available on Youtube, especially served by some excellently-compiled playlists. This one and this one have been especially enjoyable.

Finally, one thing I can't keep away from you, though it's only incidentally connected: this guy, I'm assuming a middle-class intermediary, who's uploaded a few putaria videos. Isn't it great that the täbb/pretty boy style has spread to Brazil as well? Look at his videos for more images!

2009-12-07

Break Pong

There's just so much interesting music in the eighties and early nineties that the laughable, essentialist "World Music" managed to miss. Point in hand is the extremely unusual and post-punkishly awkward combination of breakdance drums and faux-traditional jaipong music, break pong, which awesome Indonesian rarity blog Madrotter just introduced me to. Following the link and downloading reveals some damn weird drum machine+pseudogamelan weirdness, straight outta Karawang.

And as this freshly Youtube video reveals, the idea is still (perhaps surprisingly) alive:



Massive stuff. See also the sample-heavy jaipong craziness of Ega Robot, same source.

2009-12-06

Talk on Global Ghettotech


This will be of marginal interest to the vast majority of my readers, but I'm holding a short talk about global ghettotech, it's development, the differences from world music - and of course its problems, here in Helsinki on Tuesday. The talk will be in Swedish at the request of the organisers, pop culture analysis group Chorus.

Venue: Café Aula Bar, Malminrinne 2, Helsinki
Date: Tuesday 8 December
Time: 1900-2100

2009-11-26

Mainstreaming Music 1: How Decreasing Diversity May Be A Good Thing

One of those supposedly unchallengeable truths about the development of music in the past three decades is the idea of fragmentation.

Music, the thinking goes, has undergone a process whereby previously unified groups of people (say: all the consumers in a country) have split up into ever-smaller fragments, listening to localised, community-based music to an increasing degree. Within each faction, in turn, there are myriads of little facets, each with its own named genre, and there's absolutely nothing any more that even vaguely unifies whole countries, let alone the whole world. This is then explained by a bunch of fancy theories involving post-modernism, long tails and so on.

I think it may be time to challenge this view, which I've definitely held myself. Because it seems to me that with the increased production values in so many parts of the world, and with the unified contemporary aesthetic covering all chart pop, we're hitting a time where, indeed, a lot of music is starting to sound pretty much the same. And for me, right now, that's a good thing.







The videos above are from Nigeria, Kenya and Haiti respectively. Different genres and backgrounds, yet they're all pretty much some sort of international pop, produced up to extremely high technical standards and with quality videos that could, for the most part, pass unnoticed on any MTV channel. For the first time, recording technology has progressed to the level where artist from the "third world" can make music that sounds just as good as any "western" pop, and they're taking the opportunity. In droves. And it's super-popular, racking in fans and awards.

Diaspora and minority populations are certainly following suit. Like bhangra? Well, the subcontinental diaspora increasingly favours RnB-soundalike urban desi instead - and so, seemingly, do the rest of us. And if urban desi is indistinguishable from other pop, it's got nothing on how much mainstream "black" and "white" music has melded completely into one genre. The biggest smash hit this year across almost all charts (including the latin one) defiantly crosses all gaps, racial and geographical, in melding what is very clearly one world pop - a multi-ethnic band with hip-hop roots doing a guitar-driven number produced by a French DJ, hitting number one from Brazil to Japan.

And this development is good, I think, in all sorts of ways. One very obvious consequence is that we're less likely to think in terms of us and them if it's all the same. Both traditional world music and global ghettotech has been extremely good at defining what The Other does as something radically different from "the west", but what happens when the music becomes so indistinguishable? Does it signal a chance to see beyond some of the steotypes, and perhaps embrace the diasporas and the rest of the world on more equal terms? That's gotta be good, right? (Next post I thought I'd have a look at global ghettotech's response.)

But I also think it can be good creatively. By my reckoning what we're seeing in terms of coming together right now is perhaps most comparable to the so-called rock'n'roll era of the 50s, where all over the world people of different ethnicities made similar-sounding music. Was that a bad thing? Not at all! The 50s are considered one of the most explosively creative periods of all time, when "black" and "white" completely came together and kept churning out great material. What's to say we won't see the same now?

Music trends move and waver back and forth. Every time and style has its own greatness and worthy moments. Yesterday may have belonged to local genres, while today even the subcultures are defiantly cosmopolitan. Perhaps, for those stuck in the metaphorical hood, it is time to think about what we can all accomplish together?

2009-11-25

What a monster bass line!

Ever since Boima clued me onto the importance of the low end in zouk love music a couple of months ago, I have been obsessively collecting the stuff. Of course there are low ends...

...and there are low ends.



The breakdown especially, from about 2:10, rivals even the most depth-digging Dubstep.

2009-11-23

Tikitech the EP

Yes, it's bloody Radioclit again. And Douster. Etc. Via Discobelle.


"For this first episode of a series of mini-compilations curated by Mental Groove’s most cherished artists, trend defying duo Radioclit pick their favorite youngster producers and let them paint their own picture of Africa. The Fader-favorite Douster, über-productive Frenchy Lazy Flow and Myd deliver a collection of dancefloor anthem and the perfect balance between African funk and heat-inducing house. Radioclit, still burning hot from producing the monumental The Very Best album, add a bomb ass bonus. C’est l’aventure, it’s Saga Africa!

Already supported by support by Sinden, Mumdance, Riva Starr, Brodinski, Crookers, Duke Dumont and many more."
"Paint their own picture of Africa" indeed. And if that wasn't enough, here's the release party flyer:

"Curse of the Voodoo" is an especially charming epithet when talking about African music, too. Well done guys. (Party, of course, at "Le Zoo".)

2009-11-18

2009 is the best year in the charts, ever

Apparently, there are more singles sold now in Britain than at any time in history. I bet there are lots of fancy explanations for this from market analysts and academics, but for me there's another totally overwhelming reason: commerical pop music right now is just amazingly good. In fact:

There's never been a year in history where the most commercially successful pop music has been as good as this.

I'm trying to make good on an unfortunate promise from last year and pick the best music of 2009 for a feature on this blog, and as a dutiful anti-rockist reader of Freaky Trigger's Popular one obvious place to start looking is on top of the British charts. Looking at the list of all the UK number ones this year, I count three, I say three tracks that are more or less crap - a charity single, and two retro boy band tracks. But the rest are all good tracks, ranging from the more-than-decent to absolutely brilliant. That has never happened before. Not in the mid-sixties, not in the late seventies, certainly not for the past twenty-five years.

There are some amazing tracks on here, too, some of the finest ever to grace the charts. All the wonderful features of 00s music that makes the last decade the best there's ever been have born fruit at the commercial end. Love that rising, energy-injecting soar of the Ying Yang Twins' finest crunk hour? Or that beautifully chiming 3+3+2 riff in an otherwise dull indie track? Here they are, combined with a massively beautiful house diva vocal and an explosive dancefloor thump! Fantastic!

The finest artists in electro, hip-hop and grime are all up there, there are gay icons and indie darlings. Even the stuff that should be dreadful has generally been completely enjoyable: the talent show contestants have been sharp, intelligent and stylish. The retro artists have struck a perfect balance with modernity. And the once so annoying Black Eyed Peas have been BRILLIANT. There's no pathetic pop-rock, no has-beens (!), no novelty (except said charity single). Nothing cheesy. All the very finest grade of commercial pop, all with edges and production touches that marks out the classic from the merely well-crafted.

Fuck, just listen to this latest track that has made it up there. Those screw-autotune-distorted vocals, the noise, the ridiculously amazing chord sequence in the chorus and the perfectly attuned new wave references. The charts of 2009 are, quite simply, ART.

2009-11-10

In front of

"Malcolm X was bisexual. Get over it" says the Guardian headline, via Boingboing. The article behind the headline impassionedly argues for greater recognition for LGBT people within the African-American and black British community, and accuses Black History Month of "straight-washing" black history. It's not an uninteresting argument.

In fact, there's only one thing wrong with the article - that it's written by Peter Tatchell. Many fans of Jamaican music will know who Tatchell is, as the man who initiated the campaign against "Boom Bye Bye" - an outspoken and highly radical British gay rights activist. The most neutral thing one can say about Peter Tatchell is that he tends to be rather divisive, forming highly impassioned camps for and against his statements. Right now a minor internet brouhaha is under way about Tatchell suing an academic publication in a rather overbearing manner, and he's previously had tussles with other radical activists over Islam, pop music and (perhaps most relevant to this blog) African gay rights activism. I'm absolutely not sure if the allegations in the last link are true, but in any case his response (as featured in the comments) is clumsy and inflammatory in a very unfortunate manner. He's not Mr. Nice Guy.

But I'm not sure all that matters. What's problematic about the article is that Mr. Tatchell is a cultural middle class white man. And you know what? So am I.

DJ Umb is a recent frequent commenter on this blog, and one of his blog comments back when he was slightly more mad at me stuck me as having a lot of truth to it. "Let the colonized peoples speak for themselves," he said. "They don't need white, middle-class, westerners doing it for them. Cause that happened far too often in the past and actually led to colonization in many instances."

Fuck it if he isn't right. Extrapolating, what bothers me about Tatchell's article is that this is a message that ought to have been delivered by a black LGBT activist, not a white one. I'm retreading fairly obvious ground here, but an article that defends the right to be seen of a particular group of people is a touch hypocritical when it's a person from a more privildged group standing in front of them talking. And yet, here I am doing pretty much the same thing, right?

Being an ally is fucking difficult. I don't think anyone will go around saying there should be no male feminists, straight gay rights advocates and so on, people using their relative position of power and their access to an audience to push forward an agenda that benefits someone else... yet it's a super-precarious path to thread since people like me and Peter de facto don't share the relevant experiences, and need to listen to an enormous extent instead of just following instinct. I'm running for the Stockholm city council next fall as a member of a feminist party (announcement! details forthcoming), and not a day goes by when I don't question my own role in the greater power scheme of things. The price of alliance, just as with freedom, is eternal vigilance.

One example. One thing Peter Tatchell does, which I continuously try my best never to engage in, is criticise other marginal groups. In the piece above he attacks the black community in Britain from outside, and his attacks on Jamaican reggae artists, Muslims and those African gay rights groups all have the effect of decreasing the power of an already marginalised grouping. In a classic intersectional scenario, the gain for gay rights is offset by the clambering over other identities to get there. I think that offers a significant clue as to why he's so reviled in large circles on the left.

Other definite principles I hope to follow is to direct attacks to my own in-group, try to help people discover how to find actual artists, and if at all possible link to actual voices and sources. Please - if you find me breaking any of this shit, call me out on it.

2009-11-05

Big Budget Tikitech

Me (on Google Reader): *slaps forehead*

Boima Tucker: Ha!

Rachel: sigh. oh radioclit. explorers pwnt by the natives? vid was wack even before the kalashnikovs, cannibalism.

Wayne:
DJ livingstone, i presume?

Me: I think I should just put it up, really. Oh dear.


2009-11-03

Triple Threat Tikitech

It's great sometimes not to have to find anything by yourself, I get new tikitech entries sent to me continuously. DJ Umb, whose reading-posting-commenting workrate is incredibly impressive, sent me some absolute gems for futher inclusion.

Grabbing randomly out of the bag, there's this mixtape, which is both fairly tikitech in itself - mainly European-and-Argentine produced, chanty "tribal" - and boasts the full-on jungle theme in image and title:

[Mixtape artwork from Globalibre]

The idea of "Dschungel-Jazz" is especially charming, as "jungle music" of course was one of the most common racists epithets against Jazz in the first place. When Louis Armstrong first played Sweden in 1933 contemporary reviewers described him as a "clean-shaven hippopotamus" and a "gorilla".

Next up, from the same site, is this party flier:

[Flier for Club LeGrande in Dortmund from Globalibre]

Again this is South America rather than Africa, but the jungle theme is super-clear, and it could almost be from the same clipart series as this Swedish example from last year.

More South American jungle next:

[Mixtape artwork for Efrita from Cooliado]

Which is followed immediately the next post down by this:

[Blog post illustration for El Diario Secreto de MIA mashup on Cooliado]

Now, the sheer mass of bananas could indicate a semiotic critique of colonialism... But even though I don't read Spanish, I'm fairly sure the subsequent text talking about "monkey" and old kitsch-explorer cliché "the interior of the congo" indicates otherwise.

2009-11-02

A Small Balkan Pop Primer For The Uninitiated

What is it with the continual association of the Balkans with brass bands, klezmer and "gypsy" breakbeats? For the past 20 years, the Balkans have been the site of an almost Caribbean-like explosion of different styles in the wake of the fall of communism, and for those of you who're not really into this stuff I thought it'd be worth it to put together a very brief primer, a few sentences per genre and one or two Youtube vids. The social context is super-interesting too but I'll leave that for another time.

Generally, all the genres of Balkan pop exist in a continuum where they're more or less synth-driven, more or less associated with the Roma or other ethnic minorities and more or less take their musical cues from what happens in Istanbul. Other influences felt across the board are Arabic and Indian music, commercial pop, European dance music, hip-hop and, to a surprising extent, reggaeton.

Here's some of the major genres developed in the past 20 years, roughly in a sweep from the south-west to the north-east:

Turbo-Folk
The occasionally controversial pop music of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia used to have less Eastern influence than the rest (and still does in Slovenia to horrendous result) but now it's right there on Istanbul's heels as well, or sometimes up in space. Often, this stuff is touted as what should eventually heal the old enmities of the former Yugoslavia.

The brassiest thing you'll see on here today:



Tallava
Tallava is music from Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia, to varying degrees the music of the Roma, the Albanians themselves and of the Ashkali. It values weird synth equilibrism and has this drone-like quality which lends well to being mixed with dub and psychedelic sounds. At another end it's got a whole hip-hop remix culture set up, and can be some of the more funky music of the Balkans.

Endless, rambling tracks like this one are de rigeur, don't miss the invitation to "dansu reggu" near the end:



Oh, and in case you're missing the Dembow, it's alive and kicking in Macedonia:



Skyládiko
Greece has more continuity to its music scene than the former communist countries, and more connection to the west, so the Balkan pop scene here tends to be a tad ill-kempt (Skyládiko means "doghouse"). On the other hand it's close enough to the very commercial and very successful greek pop scene that it sometimes hard to tell the difference.

I mean, stuff like this is good but more Eurovision than dancefloor:



Chalga
I posted a whole mix-tape's worth of Bulgarian music a year ago, which I could re-upload if anyone wants it. In any case, Chalga, or Popfolk, is probably the most commercially successful and well-balanced music of the lot and very much mainstream music in Bulgaria. At its best it's totally at the level of quality commercial hip-hop, and well worth listening to.

It's also unusually house-club-remix friendly:



Kyuchek

As it's used today in Bulgaria, this is Chalga's low-production-value Turk-Bulgarian cousin. Cheezy synth and/or clarinets set to belly dance rhythms by various funnily-named Orkestars, this can be topical, silly or dancey and is certainly more fun than some of its straight-laced cousins.

I mean, look at the dude ass-dancing in this video:



Manele

Okay, this is my favourite genre in the area and it's going to be the topic of my master's thesis, so you'll hear lots more about this in the winter and spring. Nevertheless, Romania's contribution to the spectrum is the most compelling to me - it's super-diverse, it's got the most wide-reaching influence set, the most heart-felt vocals and just the right mix between rough-hewn and interesting. Some songs are achingly beautiful, some are about butts and feature a reggaeton rapper or something. How can you not love this stuff?

Here's both a dancehall toaster and diva tragedy in one package:



RnBesk
The only reason I'm including this is because it appears on Wikipedia's bare-bones Balkan Pop page. That and the great portmanteau name. It's Balkan in the sense that it's Turkish-influenced European music, but the origin of the genre is Germany, which I admit is a bit of a stretch. Still, it's fairly cool as a decidedly lo-fi example of how interesting diasporadic music can be.

Apparently this guy is a huge star:



Well, there you go. Diversity, depth and more involvement is just around the corner if you do some digging!

2009-10-31

Too tikitech to keep up

Well, the tikitech meme certainly seems to have caught on, considering the amount of submissions readers send me. So I'm bunging together a few in the same thread. First, here's one from Wayne which I think requires no explanation:

[Blog post illustration from Dancing Cheetah about Gazelle's track "Chic Afrique"]

This might have just hit the safari-oriented tikitech motherload: Besides the gif, from the band's myspace, we've got the band name (!) and the blog name (!!). Disappointing lack of jungle sounds in the actual tracks though, only the usual cod-Jamaican toasting.

Next up, Canalh again spots this gem that quite simply switches continents but keeps the animal theme running from the same European vantage point:

[Soundcloud artwork for Max Le Daron's Rave Mundial vol. 1 mixtape]

Finally, DJ Umb submitted the poster of this club night, which I think makes for an interesting border case. There's no immediate association here between the African (as a concept) and the animal/safari/jungle thematic - it's a house night, apparently. Hasn't that kind of cheap, kitschy exotica always existed, outside of any trend and without connection to anything actually from Africa? Maybe you can correct me if I'm wrong, and I'll put it up.

2009-10-29

Carling Music

Carling is a dreadfully bad lager beer served in second-rate pubs and rock nightclubs all over England. It has an unpleasant, chemical taste, made with cheap ingredients in as cheap a manner as possible, and sold at a premium.

And yet a lot of people drink Carling. Whatmore, for a lot of people Carling (and similar overpriced "brand" lager) is the only beer they have ever drunk. What always makes me scratch my head, though, is that these are the same people who claim to not really like beer. Now, if I honestly don't like something, and yet would want to learn to like it, I would absolutely not start with what the real fans think is disgusting! I don't much like coffee, never have, but if I'm forced to drink it I obviously try a cup of freshly made cappuccino over some old perculator gunk (just like the experts claim I should) - and yet most coffee drinkers start from the bad end and work themselves up to the cappuccino.

It's an eternal mystery of human pyschology that I think can't adequately be explained away by marketing and gullible consumers, nor by price. The most plausible theory I've heard involves the fact that the drinkers think they're making a compromise. If I don't like beer, they argue, the people who like beer must be wrong; therefore if I pick the stuff they hate, it must be the closest to non-beer - and thus acceptable. It's wrong, of course, but not the most stupid conclusion to make.

And so there grows up an industry of deliberately non-good-beer-like beer, your Budweisers and Heinekens and Carlings. And of course, there's plenty of music that somehow tries to emulate it.

One of my favourite Swedish language music bloggers at the moment is Inanna, who writes the uncomfortably personal and insightful You Care Because I Do. In a retrospective review of M.I.A's "Galang", she notes that music magazines when picking their "best of the year" lists will fall for what she calls "consensus pop", music that appeals both to the indie faction and the hip-hop faction as they vie for power in the magazine newsroom. Her examples are stuff like Gnarls Barkley, NERD, latter-day Outkast, The Avalanches or Hot Chip, and of course M.I.A herself. And yet this sort of middle-ground music is often just not very good - at least when compared to the stuff either faction would actually have liked to put in there.

I think this is certainly a kind of Carling music. The people involved think they're compromising, yet what they end up with is just mostly bad. And, just like Carling drinkers, it's so surprisingly predictable what a person who doesn't really like hip-hop (or whatever) will listen to in a given genre. I had dinner with an record collecting friend in the summer and I could almost have used my Derren Brown-like telepathic powers beforehand to deduce what kind of hip-hop he likes, which came up in our conversation: Dead Prez. The Roots. "Dirty detroit stuff" like Immortal Technique. Him and seemingly literally every other Swede.

Dude is only 21. It's not an age thing. But he's got his musical background in indie, and so he listens for stuff that's present in indie, "live-sounding" breakbeats, "grit" (whatever that is), political sensitivity. And he believes that the hip-hop as present in the working class he doesn't trust is its literal opposite, thus making this particular universally-selected subset of groups acceptable. In short, he's a musical Carling drinker.

I think this would kinda be my answer to Sasha Frere Jones, too. I realise the guy has a background in funk and thus likes hip-hop insofar as it sounds like funk, what he sees ahistorically as "blues-based swing". And then he notices that hip-hop has shot off in this entirely other direction, sounding swish and effervescent and harmonically complex, and he doesn't like it at all. A smart listener, at this point, would go down the cappuccino route: pick the most extreme music of the new generation, the stuff that the young kids make and like, perhaps even the stuff with the most extreme qualities other than what you previously liked. Try to force yourself to listen to it and like it, and notice the sheer quick-moving dynamism of a style hurtling off in a totally unexpected direction.

Instead what we get is Carling music. SFJ somewhat pathetically champions dull boom-bapper Freddie Gibbs, who is totally a cop-out to the "blues-based swing" and steadfastly sitting in that old Tupac-shaped hole and not moving anywhere. It's not counter-edgy or a compromise, it's just bad.

Perhaps if you don't like beer, dude, you should stick to alcopops.

2009-10-25

Yet more tikitech - and sexism

As if it needed proving that tikitech themes and signals go beyond just the visual presentation, Chief Boima sent me a link to this mixtape via Facebook. The intro, especially, is very tiki - the recorded "jungle animal" sounds are textbook exotica, as well as neatly connecting to the Safari theme. Boima writes:

"[T]he Intro is so Tikitech it's not funny. I don't know Croatian, but check "Dobro Jutro is Afrike Intro," with the loop of Wyclef talking in Haitian Kreyol. I'm not sure but assume they are taking a vocal sample unintelligible to them, and putting it in a "tropical", or more specifically African context, to create the nonsensical "tribal" chant thing common to these types of productions. What stood out for me is that the sample they use to me is very recognizable and so in the wrong context. I mean big up these girls for trying something new out in New Zealand, but it's just an example of what you were looking for in my book."



Just as interesting however, which Boima also points out, is the reaction that the mixtape at global ghettotech high castle Mad Decent. It's hardly surprising, but disturbing nonetheless, how much casual sexism the DJs face because they're female - commentary about their appearance, that they are only posted because they're female, and a bunch of negative commentary you rarely see connected with male DJs. I think there's a couple of posts worth of material, at least, to be made around the construction of gender in global ghettotech, and I hope to return to the issue soon.

(Meanwhile, perhaps it's worth considering why a "summer mix" with "cheesy" elements doesn't fit into the supposedly inclusive global ghettotech archetype...)

2009-10-22

Meanwhile, back at the tikitech...

Canalh alerted me to another instance of the pervasive safari-meets-global ghettotech stereotype, which I almost missed because the artists concerned (Crookers) are only marginally part of the scene. Then, of course, I saw the track listing...

(Post illustration from Crookers' own blog for a mixtape.)

More than two tribes

More observation that's in line with the previous post today, and perhaps with this.

The label "tribal", that's been used in electronic music for almost twenty years, is seeping back into daily usage in the blogosphere. Rather than refer to vaguely afro-exotic percussive house or (at the extreme end) dark, meth-fueled "pots and pans", this is apparently the word de jour to use to describe the end of global ghettotech that's arrived from European electronic music. Examples include Douster being described as "tribal electro-house" here, double whammy "tribal and tropical" here, DJs adding "a tropical fruit basket of electronic flourishes that elevate the track into a genuine electro-tribal banger" here and, inevitably, Secousse described as a "tribal riot" here.

I seem to remember having had discussions about the appropriateness of the term a few times in long-lost commentary threads, but again it's not hard to see why someone would vaguely object. The association to exotica, ruralism, "world music", new age cluelessness is very strong.


Which is why it comes as a fun surprise to hear of the genre that's known in Mexico as "tribal", which Soundgoods has put up a mixtape of. Apparently, this hard, slightly cumbia-inflicted music has been paraded around under a series of different banners in the music blogs, but the local casette merchants only knew it as "tribal". And it totally is! It's full of the same kind of chanting-tribesman clichés as tikitech and tribal house. Urban kids with computers latching onto rurality and (fake) tradition, while deeply immersed in their modernity - at some level it has to be slightly culture-awesome.

Suomibhangra - the good brownface?

In an attempt to further muddy some conceptual waters, I present you this finnish music video:



Shava are probably the only representatives so far of the genre of Suomibhangra, a Finnish take on the South Asian diaspora dance genre, bhangra. One one level there's a lot to be critical of here, perhaps - the wilful exoticism, the fake Indian dancers, the almost-brownface of someone like the "Finnjabi bad boy" in the video.

On the other hand, though, which I think is perhaps more interesting, there's the reaction in the bhangra community. I actually found the track on a bhangra blog, it's been reposted and become popular on a bhangra youtube channel where it's generated positive comments, the band has toured to desi audiences in Canada and it's played on several bhangra radio stations... The bhangra community is not offended at all, they rather like it. (For as they say: Imitation is...)

So who's right? Us radical critics or the people we think we're defending? Perhaps it's worth thinking about.

2009-10-18

Hey hey, my my, tikitech will never die

I'm thinking of making a series out of this, like Ted Swedenburg's kufiyaspotting. Hopefully it won't last as long, but here's more safari kitch in connection with global ghettotech music, again with the caveat that the music totally demands it, especially the artist's name. What they're called, you ask?

Why, Monkey Safari.

This post illustration, this time probably taken from the artists themselves, is on leading Hungarian global ghettotech blog Ghetto Bazaar. Monkey Safari's music is described as "roppant szórakosztató, söt, lökött ghettotech" ("cracking entertaining, even crazy ghettotech" - I'm sure the inhabitants of detroit are forever grateful to you for passing on their genre name, Wayne). A little further down they're described as doing a remix in the "now fashionable tribal tech-house style".

And there's a mixtape. The mixtape contains what seems like a fake zulu choir. This shit really has gone full circle. Bonus: another mixtape.

2009-10-13

Genre of the Week: Logobi

Wow. Something is really brewing, again, on the streets of Paris.



Sometimes you find about new music from strange sources. The video above was posted today, not by one of my usual sources, but by Momus. Consequently I know nothing more about the genre than I can find by googling, which isn't much.

The dance above is called logobi or logobie or logoobie, and it's pretty much entirely new, with no references existing prior to 2007 and exploding in content and popularity this year. It seems to have derived to a certain extent from coupé-decalé, though it's considerably stiffer, jumpier and has almost tektonik-style arm movements. The practitioners seem fairly uniformly to be very young, black french kids, though rarely as young as this:



Socially, these kids all seem to have god-awful, mid-nineties-looking blogs on social networking site skyrock. It's a good place to search for tracks of the associated music, which annoyingly often is anonymous and untitled, appearing under the heading "logobi instru", just "instru" or sometimes "coupé decalé instru". The latter ought to give some indication into the origin of the genre, as homegrown instrumental versions of coupé decalé, and indeed the very earliest material seems to be just that. Dancers then chant stuff over them.

However, more recent instru has evolved in a completely different direction - it's been totally infused by european dance music, and to a certain extent kuduro and hip-hop, while retaining a basic coupé decalé beat. The influence is not, as expected these days, primarily from commercial trance and electro house; instead the genre contains copious amounts of dubstep (like here) and hard trancey techno, like jumpstyle (e.g. here). Some of the best material fucks around with the beat as well, like this track.

It's fairly exciting music all round - there's a huge variety of percussive sounds (including timpani, orchestral hits, cymbals and snaps), it's varied, rich and polyrhythmic in interesting ways. None of it has settled to form yet, and all the artists creating seem to be around 14, which is definitely a plus.

Now please, all those of you with a finger in the francophone-African air, can you compliment this picture with some history and connections?

2009-10-12

Where's all this relentless experiencing coming from?

What's the deeeal with experience? In southern Sweden, one of the regional newspapers has done a brilliantly-conceived survey of all the members of parliament, asking them about their cultural preferences. I love that sort of thing - there's plenty of material to be analysed and indeed articles have done so already. I'm probably going to give it a go at some point myself.

Meanwhile, though, I have a huge gripe about the survey, or rather one of the questions asked. The parliamentarians are asked to provide their favourite movie and book, but when it comes to stage performance, art and (for the purposes of this blog most obviously) music, the question is modified to "what is your greatest experience of...?" But, I mean, who cares? The question tells nothing about the people involved but only of their past selves. Personally, my greatest musical experience is undoubtedly Neil Young at Roskilde in 2001. But I've heard and taken part of much better music since then, just not experienced it so unequivocally and intensely, and my tastes have changed almost entirely.

I don't much like the sort of vulgar phenomenalism that these questions entail either. Music as something to be "experienced" in and of itself smacks of 19th-century darkened concert halls and direct communication, while I've been enjoying music mainly in a functional setting for the past few years of my life, on the dancefloor on both sides of the deck or in a radio studio. Or just listening to it at home or watching videos or whatever. It's always been mixed up with other stuff (great dancing experiences, for instance), and it's not really active, reflective experiencing as such.

What do you think? Do you primarily like music because you experience it? What relationship does your favourite music have to your greatest musical experiences?

2009-10-05

Glitchhall

Jamaican music has long been a contributor to the European avant garde and you'd be hard pressed to find a contemporary highbrow genre in the nebulous art-popular field that doesn't reference or relate to (at least) dub in some way. Glitch, for instance, definitely counts dub among its chief influences, as Jamaicans were among the first to create music on a larger scale by consistently misusing technical equipment to create strange noises.

Well, in autumn 2009 this influence seems to have gone full circle. Listen to these two recent tracks by major Jamaican dancehall artists:

Black Ryno - Pon di Earth (produced by Demented)


Busy Signal - Black Belt (produced by Kirkledove and Jukeboxx)


The riddim (Arrhythmia) of the first track has a second "snare drum" totally done in glitch style with some sort of noisy digital cut thing, whereas the "metronome" in the second track seems to be made up of skip-around clicks. Brilliant! I'm not going to claim it's a conscious connection, but some people in Jamaica are obviously fucking around with their machinery... AGAIN.

2009-10-04

While on the UK Funky note...

I'm totally chuffed at the way mzansi house number Turn Me On by Black Coffee has become a huge hit in garage circles in Britain. Not only is the exchange aspect marvellous, but the tune is great as well, a really sophisticated, slightly trippy number with deep house jazz chords and nicely soft-padding percussion. This is emphatically not the type of music lifted by "global ghettotech", and it's great that it can transverse the continents without a Galliano-style explorer attached.

2009-10-02

African Music's Fictional "Africa"?

Quick question. A lot of people, including me, seem to think Argentinian producer Douster's track "King of Africa", for all it's hipster irony, perpetuates some incredibly old and tired stereotypes of what "Africa" stands for. The video hardly seems to make matters better...



Besides the animals and the crazy-dancin' tribesmen (full respect to the dancers, I'm thinking from the video-makers perspective), there's the whole reduction of Africa, one of the world's most diverse continents, into a single unified exotic whole.

I don't seem to recall a similar outcry, though, when funky used a similarly hackneyed idea of what "Africa" means during its African tribal craze last year. I mean, Donaeo, an "African warrior" with his stick in his hand?



Is it, pardon me for asking, different when black people have a shallow, unitary, hackneyed idea of what "Africa" is? Is "Africa" as Hollywood extravaganza really that different from, say, "Africa" as supreme, wise spiritual homeland? Obviously there's a line somewhere, I draw it too, but what, ultimately, should we think of actual, you know, Africans who have a hackneyed, unified idea of what Africa is?





Or whatever. Are we to take this as a more "genuine" idea of what Africa means, and therefore deny third world musicians the ability and agency to be stuck in precisely the same shitty paradigmatic discourses we have (or construct equally stereotype-laden ones of their own)?

2009-09-28

The Middle Section of a Hardstyle Song

I'm usually a person who happily dismisses music on listening to the first thirty seconds of a song. This means, however, that I've been having huge problems with hardstyle.

I've been downloading a bit of the genre recently in a random, newest-torrent search on some vaguely illegal sites - I'd make that a proper esoteric research method if I thought I could get away with it. And what's surprised me is how intricate and interesting the melodies are, how well-crafted the harmonic progressions, how dynamic and hook-filled the songwriting. It's, quite simply, good pop.

But, interestingly, not all of it. Only a bit in the middle.

Here's a fairly extreme example:


Activator - Activator [Youtube link with download option]

There's absolutely nothing resembling melody at all, only rumbling kickdrum surrounded by percussion and spoken commands, until about 3:19 in.

Then suddenly there's this flowering of hooks, synth instruments vying for attention, dramatic buildups, symphonic stabs, trance-bleeps meeting the highest level of R&B euphoria, a huge hi-nrg winddown, all changing, swirling, supported by well-crafted percussion programming. Then at 6:00 it all stops and returns, absurdly, to just the beat. Wow.

This shit obviously cries out for a re-edit of some sort.

2009-09-25

Tiki the Subculture - and Tikitech

Everyone reasonably immersed in American popular culture knows about tiki. Primarily a theme for bars and restaurants with a supposedly Polynesian flavour, it was born in the thirties, blossomed immensely in the fifties and died, more or less, with the counterculture of the late sixties. Besides a style of interior decoration and a set of drink recipes, a notable aspect was the music, with the theme being closely related to classic 50s-style exotica.

But did you know there is a tiki revival subculture? Starting (according to this great article, which is one of my main sources here) with a tiki-styled camp at the Burning Man festival in the mid-nineties, it soon blossomed out with zines, clubs, festivals, a music scene... and it has reached Scandinavia. My friend Simon down in Malmö showed me the shelf in his local record store where they kept tiki records, and claimed that it had grown fairly big over here in the past few years. Somehow, there's a resonance across the decades and countries, and the style that was prevalent in the United States fifty years ago has found a home in southern Sweden today.

Of course, the fifties are not the noughties. What was considered acceptable then is not necessarily so now. But while there are obviously problematic differences, there are also significant enough similarities across the ages, not just with the revival but with other contemporary music as well, not least with global ghettotech...

There can be a very thin line indeed between subtle irony and utter seriousness, but one of the remarkable features of the tiki revival is that it doesn't see it all as a big joke. Contrast it (and contrast they do) with what would seem a natural neighbour - lounge revival - and the whole distant camp aspect seems completely absent, a playful humour, sure, but no self-conscious sarcasm. Tiki affectionados are as likely to talk about intricate arrangements, design craftsmanship and zones of relaxation as anything kitchy. In fact, a more natural neighbour than lounge seems to be rockabilly revival, with an equal focus on serious dressing up, forming cultural bonds and listening to a certain subset of bands.

In a lot of ways, then, the whole "revival" aspect of tiki seems wilfully perverse, since there was no subculture to begin with. Tiki, once seen as a clear precursor to architectural postmodernism in is playfulness, has been recast as an ultimate primitivistic modernism in the footsteps of Stravinsky and Picasso. It's been imbued with earnestness and nostalgia that was never present the first time around, just like the world modern seems to have shifted firmly from an indicator of the future to a conservationist clinging to the past. The "modern primitive" theme used in some previous events here carries a double meaning: self-chosen "primitivism" both contemporary and harking back to a bygone modern era...

This earnestness, of course, makes it all the more problematic from a historical standpoint.

Accusations of racism are obviously not new to tiki, as the interviewees in the 1996 article indicate. One of the people involved is trying to "be sensitive" to actual Polynesian culture, but for the most part it straightforwardly passes on the mixed-up fantasy of the 50s. Again, there can be a very thin line indeed between detached academic obsessions and underhanded participation. Besides all the more obvious ideas about distortion, social orders and domination one aspects stands out for me: the depopulation. In both the old tiki world and the new, there seems to be no context to the exotic images, and the items are eerily divorced for their creators, like an old colonial fantasy in the Robinson Crusoe tradition where the colonised subjects are faded, like ghosts, into traces.

Which brings me back into global ghettotech.

[Album cover by The Very Best]

[Post illustration from Generation Bass about Edo Rinaldi and his track "Safari"]

[Club poster for Secousse, previously discussed here]


Once, what seems to be an awful many years ago now, the scene was about "exploring" the self-made music of ex-colonial subjects and bringing it up to western attention, in contrast with the exoticising old world music. Then the DJ's involved starting making their own music which imitated or referenced the music they'd previously transmitted, sometimes in "collaboration" with third-world artists. At the lowest end of this there are offensive caricatures, like the ones Rachel so eloquently criticise in this post, but even then the people involved try to put themselves on the same level as the people involved - they're (sarcastically, perhaps, I guess) trying to be colonised subjects.

But now, it seems, the path is open for the colonised subjects to disappear completely, like they have in tiki revival. (The word "tikitech" is from a Reader comment by Wayne.) Rather than reference some cultural manifestation from the third world, they reference a kitchy european or american fantasy of third world culture, or often not even that, merely an empty paradise, exotica for exotica's sake. Tiki revival has its ancient, mystical statues, and global ghettotech has its safari imagery - the Lion King, Madagascar, lion costumes. Animals abound but there are absolutely no people. This, of course, happily mirrors the simultaneous decrease of third world musicians in the actual music. The issue lies deeper than just some pictures.

For me, as I stated in my comment to Rachel's post, the self-consciously colonial imagery is a lot worse than the clumsy caricatures. As the tiki example shows, seriousness is but a small step away, and though it may be (in Rachel's words) "snarky / cheeky / hitorical / self-referencial" now it's still being used, and somehow appreciated by the creators and listeners. To take up a recurring theme in this post again: there's a very thin line indeed between being privileged and self-referentially pretending to have a colonial mindset, and actually having one in the midst of that privilege.

2009-09-19

2009-09-05

I'm in teh Finland

Listening to ur tango



There are many reason's for August's frankly shameful post tally, but the most interesting one by far is that I've moved to Helsinki. Here I'll do an exchange term in a faculty of musicology which specialises in the semiotics of music (awesome?) while immersing myself thoroughly in Finnish culture and (potentially) frozen lakes.

For the purposes of this blog, though, I'll be hunting for Finnish music as well. I've not really got into anything at a deeper level so far except the marvellous Finnish tango, old and new, which I'll be following up on with a big post in the near future.

Any readers from here want to meet up or anyone with general Finland/Helsinki tips, feel free to contact me.