"[R]eggaeton (if you can call it that)" - Gavin, Updates from Chicago's Puerto Rican Festival"Can We Talk About The Reggaeton Crash" by one of my favourite bloggers, Gavin, is clearly an important contribution to global ghettotech. You can tell by the number of comments, and the amount of links. Plus even Wayne has responded to it. That must count for something.
This sort of article tends to pop up from time to time. Not necessarily exactly with this particular content, but with a language, a set of assumptions and a way of looking at music that is deeply shared. I've increasingly come to think of global ghettotech as not really a genre of music at all, or even a broader categorisation of music, but a way to approach an understanding of music, even a literary genre. Within these countless blog posts, long and short, the meat of the style is formed.
So I'm going to have a go at a brief analysis of Gavin's article. It's a very good article, one I wish I could have written myself. But it's still useful to take on a reflexive outsider's eye, to examine others and thus examine yourself. That, too, of course, is actively part of the genre.
Global ghettotech, the literary genre, takes the form of a self-critical appraisal of the way we listen to music, that claims to challenge certain values while at the same time actively affirming them. Gavin's article fits neatly into this formula. His aim is to discuss how we abandon genres after they've stopped being trendy, yet he himself talks about how he's stopped liking Reggaeton. As I'm sure is perfectly possible to do with this article as well, teasing out the threads of criticism only affirms their relevance to the article's values themselves.
One simple example is that of novelty (not, in this case, novelty). Gavin is clearly (self-)critical of the "jump[ing] on the bandwagon early and promot[ing] a new exciting musical genre" approach to music writing – global ghettotech is all about finding new (untainted?) music and angles, not unlike the more ethnographic groupings it challenges. Yet at the same time he's happy to claim that his own approach is "largely ignored" by everyone else, in effect claiming novelty for his own angle. (BTW, I'm fairly sure I've read lots of "reggaeton decline analysis" material.)
More subtle is the interplay between the voices of the genre itself and the outsider voices of the global ghettotech community. Gavin dislikes the "boom and bust" structure of the interest of "nu-whirled DJ-bloggers", but also clearly places himself in the same category – he's disinterested in reggaeton as it stands now, how ever much he claims the opposite elsewhere ("I still enjoy all [nu-whirled genres]"). Reggaeton, "if you can call it that", now embodies values that place it outside the global ghettotech field of interest. In order to defend that field, reggaeton must be defined away as something that's no longer part of it.
There's a mirror effect here, where the sins of new reggaeton perfectly expose the restrictive field of global ghettotech. First, there's traditionalism, Gavin's claim that reggaeton contains "bachatas, some mambo tracks". The relentless modernist surge of global ghettotech actively discourages any connection with the past, or at least other generations. Then there's the staunch (folk-like) attachment to the small locality and community, the scene, and its local values – mirrored in the critique of cosmopolitanism, reggaeton being problematic when it's "r&b" or "digital-dancehall" i.e. non-Puerto Rican.
Finally, there's the great sin of sophistication. Gavin deeply questions reggaeton's "polished commercial sheen", which indeed has appeared in reggaeton as it has in a lot of other music. (I guess you could put a gender spin on this, a Reynoldsian "feminine pressure" vs. the gruff testosterone-praising world of global ghettotech. But I'm not sure the "sophisticated -> female" formula applies to the Caribbean, especially not when it's about male sex fantasies with robots.) Today's third-world producers use the same techniques, largely, as commercial ones in the Eurocentric world, and (as Rachel deftly has pointed out) "something about seeing global pop present itself outside of grainy video changes perspective a bit". Global ghettotech actively clings to primitivity, and like Gavin's post it refuses to accept this particular perspective change.
Increased sophistication on the part of global pop producers places them, increasingly, on equal footing with us. Maintain the socially constructed illusion of primitives making simple-but-hard music, and you gain the advantage of being able to form the discourse around the music. Gavin (like many of us) artificially inflates the importance of our club nights and blogs, but what would happen if we no longer could be the explorers and curators, but were sidelined in the transmission of music from the third world to the eurocentric one? When global pop is indistinguishable, both technically and in terms of social position, from American pop?
Global ghettotech, as a genre of literature, would surely cease to exist. And perhaps that is part of why it defends, yet also critisises itself so schizophrenically. Post-colonial theory has some very interesting perspectives on this – Bhabha talks about how the colonial discourse is ambivalent between wanting to bring about equality and mainitaining Orientalist distance, and Spivak discusses how the voices of the subalterns are destroyed in our discourse about them. I think it's definitely worth it to continue analysing global ghettotech writing, and I'll try to weave in more of the serious theory in subsequent posts. That reflexiveness makes me, and this article, fairly typical of global ghettotech too.