Feminist Borderline Query #2: All Night Passion/16@War

I've been tapped to do a DJ set at a Feminist Initiative party on April 4th, to which you're all welcome, by the way. (Spread the word!) Right now I'm going through my record collection in order to figure out what to play, and I keep coming up with the same problem - can this record be played on a feminist night without being offensive?

Last time in this mini-feature I talked about sexual self-objectification as a potential feminist borderline. But of course, even when a female singer expresses a very strong self-oriented sexuality it is often not "their" thoughts that are expressed. A majority of producers and songwriters are male, and they usually have no problems putting seemingly self-assured words into the mouths of female performers.

Still, this is something I have to accept if I want to DJ eighties disco music at all. I'm largely convinced that a female performer is far from necessarily expolited, no matter who writes and produces her songs, and that she's usually in at least some control of her own expression. The rockist image of the non-songwriting female as a tool in the hands of her producers is, as far as I'm concerened, to a significant extent false. (And sexist.)

But what about the children? Won't somebody think of the children?

Alisha, when this track was recorded, was 15 years old. She sings extremely frankly, and somewhat graphically, about sex. Is she being exploited? "Yes," said a couple of friends I was preseting this case to. So over the borderline then?

What about this?

Karina Paisan - 16 @ War

Another child, this time 16-year-old Karina Paisan, singing a song written and produced by men. But this time, it's a deeper social commentary about social exclusion and teenage existentialism. Is she being exploited?

The thing is, I have a huge problem arguing for the first track (which I'd like to play, since it's great) without totally gutting the second one. Because my argument would be along the lines that these are just lyrics. Just as we might be embarassed but not shocked at small children reciting "adult" lyrics, here we can view the lyrics as an instrument, as rhythmic vocalisation, a series of sounds in a composition. Or as fiction. There's absolutely no indication from the video that any of the lyrics are "true", and indeed, the visual presentation seems completely divorced from it. But if we think like that Karina Paisan's poignant lyrics are rendered equally meaningless... Or are they?

What do you think?


Kelly Kiddie Meme

Sabina heard a couple of Indian/subcontinental kids (age circa 4) singing on the commuter train here in Stockholm earlier today. Apparently, they were singing (to the tune of the R Kelly hit) "I believe I can fly/I got shot by the FBI" over and over again.

I was a bit curious so I googled it, and it turns out there are tons of videos like this:

The kids singing it seem to be from all over the world, and I don't see any "official" versions about. Is this a modern nursery rhyme? Has anyone come across it anywhere else? I'm curious.

Update: Here's some folklorist who's apparently collected it in Virginia, corroborated by another one here from a different part of the US.



I've just been accused on an internet forum of being a "class war racist".

The accuser, who happens to be a very good musician with a fairly poor background, thinks that my outspoken preference for the music produced by working class/marginalised people is analogous to a form of racism, in that it is based on group prejudices. Anyway, if that analogy falters, it's probably equally true that I prefer music by marginalised ethnic groups, which by this account would be proper racism.

Does he have a point? I think maybe on some level he does. The bit he's most upset about, that I'd prejudge music based on its origins, is something I recognise as negative in myself and try to combat. Another aspect disturbs me more, though: am I a "class war racist" for believing that there's an audible difference in the music of different groups in the social hierarchy?

Because, with (theoretically uninteresting) exceptions both ways, I'd be perfectly ready to claim that there's a sonic difference between the music of the marginalised and the music of the privileged. Maybe it's a wrong, prejudice-creating belief, but I think I can argue for its existence in various ways.

I think it's not unreasonable to suggest that different social strata have substantially different tastes. Pierre Bourdieu famously does, and his idea is that taste in itself is a way of distancing one social class from others. By displaying different tastes the middle class represents itself as more refined, and the culture of the working class as being "tasteless", "disgusting" or indeed "nonsense". Whatever you think of that particular theory (which I generally find very convincing, especially in Lawler's evidence-laden version) I don't think it's a far stretch to think that people who associate with each other in groups share musical taste with each other; they'll have had shared experiences, not to mention shared records and files.

But I think even if we go beyond this sort of argument there might be things in the actual nature of the different groups that makes a difference. Is it ridiculous to suggest, like a sociologist would, that people from a class believe themselves likely to remain in the same class? (Their expectations are, statistically, most often right.) In other words, don't most young people from the middle class expect (rightly) that the path is open for them to career success, while most kids from the working class both expect and receive a continued life at the bottom of society?

I'd think if we accepted that, the stretch to the idea that this might manifest itself in music is not a large one. Almost all of the music we think of as pretentious has been produced by people with a privileged background, simply because they feel it's their right to succeed, to make that masterpiece. They expect quality and and feel entitled to quality, and thus lack the humility that would prevent them from excess. Meanwhile, working class people don't feel that they automatically are allowed to succeed, and thus tend to produce music which is more functional, less personal, more professional (link in Swedish).

Another way of thinking about it is that a lot of middle-class people automatically have access to publicity in a different way from the working class. They know journalists, hang in media circles, post to each others hip music blogs. Thus it is easier for the consciously "different" musicians from the middle class to be able to reach listeners, while the working class's own systems of transmission (clubs, small studios, pirate radio etc.) tends to encourage more distinct scenes and distinct, communal sounds. These, not the individual musicians' creativity, is often what eventually finds its way to the media if it does at all. You'd never see a Micachu grow up on a council estate, or if she did she'd never "make it".

Those are at least some the reasons I think that class matters in deciding how music is formed. Sometimes, though I know its unlikely, I think it would be nice if the middle-class could pop out of its prole-hating bubble, show some humility and take Blackout Crew's lead to put a donk on it. There's even a web site now to automatically help them.


DJ Mix: Robot Sex

I'm sorry. DJing is hardly my forte. But I'm a bit over-excited at the prospect of doing a set for the first time in a couple of years so I've been playing around a lot in Virtual DJ, and just today I decided to record a short effort.

I've been gravitating recently towards music that deals with the seemingly inexhaustible theme of sex robots. There's something about antropomorphic sex toys that seemingly fired up all sorts of imaginations back in the late seventies and early eighties (when all of this material was recorded), and the combination of tenderness and steel that ensues is just the kind of contrast that makes music interesting.

Robot Sex (39 Mins, 53.5 Mb, Mediafire)


1. Midnight Star - Freak-a-zoid
2. Sharon Redd - Activate
3. Dee Dee Jackson - Automatic Lover
4. Annie Anner - Robotman
5. Claudja Barry - Love Machine
6. Yapoos - Barbara Sexanoid
7. James Brown & FOE - Sex Machine


Feminist Borderline Query #1: Freak-a-zoid/Barbara Sexeroid

I've been tapped to do a DJ set at a Feminist Initiative party on April 4th, to which you're all welcome, by the way. (Spread the word!) Right now I'm going through my record collection in order to figure out what to play, and I keep coming up with the same problem - can this record be played on a feminist night without being offensive?

Obviously I'll be focusing on female artists, and preferably female songwriters and producers as well. On top of this I'm trying to figure out what messages might be considered inappropriate. For instance, I'm a bit leery of most songs of straightforward, romantic love, with their connotations of traditional relationships and heteronormativity.

However, sex is obviously all right. A woman taking charge of her own sexuality is a classic feminist theme and there's plenty of songs dealing with the theme. Even in male-produced, male-written tracks the woman who sings has power through being the subject, and having a voice. I'm a bit obsessed with robots in music, and I've amassed several tracks of women who desire sex with robots - definitely all right, I mean what feminist objects to sex toys?

It's when you turn it on its head it can become problematic.

Midnight Star - Freak-a-zoid

Yapoos - Barbara Sexeroid

Two classic tracks with classic videos. Here, though, the female subjects are themselves sex robots. In other words, even though the women are subjects, they're also objects. Can I conceivably play these at a feminist party? Does it matter that Midnight Star's Belinda Lipscomb actively desires to be a submissive object? Or that Jun Togawa in the Yapoos (as I've come to understand it) sings uneasily about being a sex robot, which in the course of the album eventually loses its mind?

What do you guys think?


The Second Hip-Hop President

There's been a lot of reporting in the past few days about the coup and/or revolution that's been rocking Madagascar. (There's some interesting background info summarised here.) One piece of information that is of particular interest to this blog is the fact that the new leader of the county used to be a DJ, but no-one has bothered to post the really crucial piece of information: what kind of music did he used to DJ?

If we don't know, how are we supposed to know whether he's a good or a bad politician? In any case, I've yet to find out anywhere (see below), but his political movement seems surrounded by hip-hop. This sort of pro-TGV protest video with a rap soundtrack seems to be fairly common. His radio station (whose website is still down after it was taken down by the army) seems to have played a fair bit of the stuff, and of course hip-hop is wildly popular on Madagascar.

I've seen the claims and counter-claims by both sides and can't honestly tell who's right and who's wrong. But musically, the hip-hop produced on the island is of unusual quality. I'll keep following the information coming from Antananarivo with interest, but in the meantime here's a wonderful video of choppy, rock-hard, pared-down hip-hop/dancehall, which surely must be some of the best material I've heard all year once it gets started. Let's hope for a peaceful resolution so they can keep producing music this good.

Mpi'vendrana ft L Saphira - Deuxieme round

Edit: Andry Rajoelina, according to fellow blogger Tahina commenting below, used to be a dance DJ. I'm not sure if that means electronic dance or the kind of african popular dance you'd see over in East Africa, but in any case I'd like to hear some.

Edit 2: Tahina's blogging colleague (or alias?) r1lita commenting below informs me it was indeed electronic dance music Rajoelina used to DJ.


Specularis: National Offense

(Okay, I'm gonna lay off the mock Latin after this post.) As an interesting mirror to my last post where I looked at people's fascination with being gawked at, here's a bunch who obviously aren't quite as happy to be observed. The Eurovision song contest this year is being held in Moscow, and the Swedish national finals included a intermission segment in which a pair of comedians did a "Russian" version of a (made up) dansband song which has been a running gag in the semifinals. It's absolutely bursting with bad clichés and stereotypes, which is probably the point: there are Balalaikas, pumping techno, the Red Army choir, nesting dolls, women who look like prostitutes, gangsters, a bear, even Tetris. See it minus accompanying sketch from the 4:25 point below:

The Russian embassy is not happy. Not happy at all. The choice quote is probably:
“We do not react to eccentricity by some lunatics whose Russophobia should place them in an asylum rather than on Globen’s stage.”
Which leads me to reiterate my point about various reactions available to touristic attention.

I'm considering the idea that it's an issue of power dynamics somehow, but while something like the Entropa squat toilet controversy can be put down to a national inferiority complex, it's hard to imagine Russia feeling inferior to Sweden. Generally, this kind of humour (and it was a riff at Russia, whatever Schlager Ronnie says in the article above) is acceptable between equals, but gets uncomfortable when the butt of the joke is oppressed. Imagine the above joke with the English, and no-one would mind. Imagine it with Arabs, and it starts to feel decidedly less funny. But surely Russia is big enough to take it lightly? Perhaps it represents an insecurity or feeling of offense from an earlier era in which slavs where indeed considered inferior.

(But I'm just speculationg here. There's obviously a cultural difference going on. Another possible factor I think might be included is insularity - many of the governments I can see being insulted by this tend to be rather inward-looking.)

What do you guys think? Is Russia right in being offended? In that case, are those that aren't offended by this sort of thing wrong?


Quis custodiet ipsos turistes?

India's very first mass tourism movement in the sixties and seventies was south to Goa. But the middle-class Indians who went down there didn't go for the pristine beaches, the strange Portuguese-creole culture or the seafood. They went to gawk at the western tourists. They thought it fascinating to see these strange people, wearing indecent clothing, doing unusual things.

The market price for Turkish-themed Regency and Empire-style furniture has skyrocketed in recent years. Who's buying? Why, it's rich Turkish people. The gravely orientalist representations of turks and turkesses amuse today's Turks, and they feel it's part of their heritage.

Who watches the tourists? They don't exist in a vacuum. And the responses to another group's interest in your own varies greatly and can be very revealing.

Wayne posted an interesting article about the diaspora and how it influences music scenes back in the original country. But then he immediately goes on to talk (on my prompting, in one of the comments) about how little the Afro-British diaspora has influenced Jamaica, compared to the reggae-influenced (but hardly equally diasporadic) music scenes in the US, Germany and Japan. The "tourists" have had a greater influence than the "children". People sometimes seem to have a huge interest in who's watching them, and not just for economical reasons.

But that's not a complete rule either, as Wayne illustrates with the lack of any Reggaeton interest in Jamaica. Looking at something like French-speaking West Africa will yield a wide range of responses to outside interest - from pure diasporadic influences (zouk, developed in Paris), to influences from reggae (which has only slight cultural history connections to Africa but a huge spiritual one), to completely ignoring other "african-inspired" music. It's certainly not a simple matter of a definite pattern.

But the idea that people are interested in watching them and change, quantum-like, from the very act of being watched yields some fascinating results. For instance, Eartha Kitt's Uska Dara is a piece of orientalist kitch, but it became a hit in Turkey, just as the (genuinely repulsively racist) Dr. Bombay is generally appreciated by Indians. (Check the Youtube comments!) A lot of people don't mind being watched at all, it seems, even to the point of distortion. Seemingly far from any real hegemony, this impulse is perhaps genuine curiosity... or pride?

In any case, looking at tourism this way shifts the attention towards agency and people's actual experiences. As long as we're still mindful of the power structures in the world, that can sure only be a good thing.


Crazy Trumpet Fun

The tiny world of Swedish musicology has been abuzz (in so far as that's even possible, Maria Ljungdahl's link list notwithstanding) over an opinion piece written by famously anti-feminist maths researcher and shit-stirrer Tanja Bergkvist. She's upset over the fact that the Swedish Research Council has issued a 700 000 kr reasearch grant to study "The Trumpet as a Gender Symbol".

Her reaction to the idea can be summed up as "this is ridiculous".

My reaction to reading about the same idea is "this is so cool".

I'm not sure both can't be true. In fact, I think maybe a bit of ridiculousness is a prerequisite for interesting research to be going on in the first place.

I was discussing the issue with one of my fellow Feminist Intiative members, who worried that seemingly silly research would undermine the credibility of gender studies as an academic discipline. On the one hand, those fears are probably unfounded because the research at a detail level seems eminently sensible - it's all about what tonal ranges on the trumpet were considered "masculine" and "feminine" and how that influenced their use in composition, as filtered through the historical military/male function of the instrument. Perfectly regular musicological stuff.

On the other hand, though, I can't see why we shouldn't welcome research with a bit of a crazy bite to it. "The Trumpet as a Gender Symbol", as a title, is a beautiful juxtaposition of the extremes of basic instrument research and post-structural analysis, and just observing how the researcher is going to manage to bring it all together definitely has the potential to be more interesting than just using gender studies to research, I dunno, male violence or something. Again.

I might be biased on this because I'm a journalist and an old philosophy student, but a good, unexpected angle is killer. In journalism, whatever Mr. Bourdieu says, finding a story with a difference will often be promoted. And in philosophy, they practically love their extremes. Would Berkeley, however good he was at writing, still be remembered today if he hadn't held the frankly kooky position that there's no external world? Would Alain Badiou be a star if he didn't deny the existence of objects?

The result or viewpoint might not be true, as such, but does it really matter? It'll spur others to break out of their established routs and re-examine their own life. Sometimes, like with any good writing, that should be the aim of the research in the first place, above any claims to knowledge.

Research should sometimes be as concentrated and sublime as a great piece of art.

Research should sometimes have the snappiness and punch of a good joke.

And maybe that, in the end, is the research that will matter most of all.


If I Was A Catholic, I'd Consider This A Miracle

I wonder what the Madonna is doing manifesting herself as a stain on the wall of a subway station in Stockholm?


Bemused, Insular Meta-Worship

Northern soul is a strange beast of a genre. By definition, it's non-productive. It actively pursues and treasures the least successful music it can find. And at the same time, as Simon Frith has pointed out, there are few subcultures that are more centred around actual knowledge of music - what would be considered expertise in any other genre barely scratches Northern soul's surface.

But actually, there's one related genre that's even stranger: Northern soul revival. I spent Saturday night dancing to it, invited by my ex, Sabina, for a weekender in Gothenburg. The night in question was about a third modern soul, which is rather more to my taste even though it's definition is also a bit unusual. (It's defined by the fact that you can dance to it the way you do to northern soul. Yet another beat-defined genre then, like surf, disco or beach.) But for most of the evening they played what I'm fairly confident is the ultimate meta-genre.

Genres that are conciously defining themselves in terms of other music are fairly common in, especially, rock music. The chain of ska revivals or the ludicrous derivativeness of various garage rocks jumping back and forth across the Atlantic, for instance. But the revival of nothern soul is unusual in that what it's reviving is not the music itself (which already exists) but the attitudes around the music. They're not copying soul singers but English soul fans, and they do everything they can to dress, dance, discuss like they were working class kids from the north of england in the mid-seventies. The music is at once at the extreme centre and just another identity attribute.

And at the centre of the worship stand, bemused, the original worshippers. At every party of note like this there's a clique of straddling middle-aged englishmen who travel around the world to all-nighters and weekenders still. And just as they once brought back old soul stars to perform for them, now they're the ones being brought back in return. The stars of the revival are the DJs, sure, but even the fans get their share of adulation - they were there, although not actually there, you understand, but when they first revived this music in the seventies...


Bringing together two of my favourite blog subjects in glorious combination

Eurovision meets "nu-whirl music" as represented here by meren-ton (vaguely). The result? A sixth-place finish and non-advancement from one of the national pre-selection semis, but it's a start, it's a start!

Also, the other caribbean-tinged entry this year, finally free of the non-re-broadcast rules. Good show, Sweden!

That one still has a chanceto go through, though the raging queer in me is hoping over-the-top opera diva Malena Ernman wins.