Too Many Cooks Make Interesting Sangria, or: An Experiment In Crowdsourcing

A couple of weeks ago I started making a little Spotify playlist where I put on somewhat summery songs, mainstays like this or this, stuff to have in the background when sitting on the porch. After adding about ten songs, most with the word "summer" or "sun" in the title, I realised I didn't have time to do it properly so I temporarily gave up.

Then I had the idea to ask some forum friends of mine to add more songs in the same style, so I didn't have to do it all myself. So I opened up the playlist cooperatively, and made a thread asking for people to add more songs to it with a summery feel, matter-of-factly saying anything goes.

Well, I wasn't counting on the Anal Cunt.

The playlist has spiralled into a huge and very interesting monster, because not only do the music styles vary but the level of seriousness - some people are doing a pure pisstake of the pleasant summery concept and dropping in metalcore, christmas tracks or stupid novelties. (And I love it!) Others are earnestly adding sophisticated jazz-rock and electro. I'm fairly sure some people have done both. Someone has spent some time randomly rearranging the list. And so on.

So I thought to continue bringing it to another level I'd post a link here and see what else could turn up. Add or delete anything you like - I want to see what happens with this once the real anonymous crowdsourcing gets started.


Another DJ Night

I've just been called up to do some more DJing at a last minute notice, so I'll be playing a medium-size set at another Feminist Initiative event, so if you want to see me semi-competently stringing together eighties dance music about sex robots, come along to this:

Mother's day bash/fundraiser for Gudrun Schyman's European Parliament election campaign -

(Actress) Kim Andersson, (Writer) Unni Drougge, DJ Pamela, DJ Birdseed, etc. etc. at Restaurant Momma, Stockholm from 7 PM, Sunday 31st of May.


More Videos of Polish hip-hop

The following weeks will see me doing a lot of campaigning (for the Feminist Intitative) and rather less blogging, or at least blogging on easier-to-compile subjects. I've recently posted some more Polish hip-hop and I can't seem to get enough of the stuff, so I'm going to post a few more videos that have recently caught my attention in the hope of attracting interest. This is just the stuff I find interesting, mind you - there seems to be plenty of good-quality material that copies contemporary Southern hip-hop or circa-The Blueprint East Coast sounds, but that's up to you to dig for if it interests you.

This Grime classic from last year, via Prancehall:

FS DAN Braap from fsdan on Vimeo.

Drum & Bass-inspired and brill, though a tad old:

Minimalist beat variants in a "promomix" - my favourite starts at 1:25:

Amazingly, they've managed to make scratching tight and teutonically minimal:

More Mona. Awesome bass rumble on this one:

More Bass line madness:

Finally, to go with this, extremely popular and commercial, yet brilliant in its unique cutaway sound:


Europe's remaining conflicts, as revealed by the Eurovision voting last night

The past decades have seen some fairly severe conflicts in Europe. The wars in the Balkans, from the Croatian independence war to the Kosovo conflict. Wars in various ex-soviet states, from Moldova to Georgia. Old, brewing conflicts like the Northern Ireland troubles. And that's before we start considering that both Lebanon and Israel are EBU members...

In as diverse a competition as Eurovision, these conflicts sometimes threaten to spill over into the contest arena. Sometimes, it happens very openly, with countries withdrawing in a huff. You'd think in the block-voting bonanza that is Eurovision, it would also be made apparent by how countries allocate their points, with former enemies reluctant to vote for each other, but in a lot of places this hasn't been the case at all. Ireland and the UK vote for each other, as do Greece and Turkey. More famously, all the former Yugoslav countries happily exchange votes, as does previously fraught ex-soviet republics and Moscow. Eurovision, by commentators, is often seen as a real harbinger of peace, a first aesthetic step towards solving deeper issues.

That perspective is true, I guess, for the most part, although sometimes minorities and diasporas can mess with the perception of the result. But if you look closely at the voting results from a political perspective, compared to the kind of music the block structure suggests should be the right taste for a region, some of the conflicts seem still seem to be brewing - something I've not seen mentioned in any Eurovision coverage. Here are the three I've noticed:
  • The Cypriot-Turkish conflict seems totally to have spilled over to the contest. Turkey, which generally finishes top ten, last got any points at all from Cyprus when they won in 2003. This year, when the generally taste-analogous Greece gave Turkey 3 points and the entry finished fourth overall, Cyprus yet again didn't vote for Turkey at all.
  • The extended Kosovo conflict also rears its ugly head. This year four out of the six former Yugoslav republics gave Albania high scores, but Serbia gave them nothing - there's apparently a continued antipathy towards ethnic Albanians in the Serbian public sphere.
  • And finally, the Nagorno-Karabakh war seems to be still going on in the minds of the Armenians and Azeris. Last year both countries finished top ten, with neighbours giving them both high points, yet they gave each other nothing. This year again both finished top ten, and Armenia squeezed in a measly 1 for third-place finisher Azerbaijan which wasn't reciprocated.
It's interesting that this sort of nationalist chauvinism isn't talked about nearly as much as the kind where culturally close neighbours vote for each other. Perhaps division isn't nearly as upsetting as unity for formerly successful teams like Ireland and Sweden...


Here Are the Votes of the Birdseed Jury in 2009

I'm off to a rather early-starting party for Eurovision, but I thought I'd at least write down my choices for favourite tracks in the Final. Outside the final I'd have to go for Switzerland, which is the only decent track missing frankly, and (just to be a bit controversial) Latvia. Any track that sounds like it should accompany a toy ad from the eighties is fine in my book.

But now we go to Stockholm. Hello Stockholm!

1 Points to Albania
2 Points to Russia
3 Points to Armenia
4 Points to Bosnia-Herzegovina
5 Points to Portugal
6 Points to Azerbaijan
7 Points to France

8 Points goes to... Estonia!

10 Points goes to... Moldova!

12 Points goes to... Norway!

Who do I think will win? Iceland.


Eurovision trends #2: Who's following Dima?

One of the unwritten rules of this nervous marketing experiment that is Eurovision is that each time a country wins the contest a bunch of other countries try to copy it. (I detailed the the past few copycat years in this post last time around.) This makes the 2009 contest a bit of a dilemma, because the trend seems to have been suddenly broken: there are no obvious candidates that are formulaic copies of last year's winner.

If you don't remember Dima Bilan's "Believe", it was a mid-tempo ballad in the Walt Disney vein, underpinned by a rather clever and harmonically driving beat which supposedly Timbaland had laid a hand to. I had it in my top ten. So why hasn't anyone tried to copy the concept straight off? The only vaguely Timbaland thing in the contest is the intro to the Albanian entry, which sounds a lot like a Timbo production circa ten years ago:

Keisi Tola - Carry Me In Your Dreams

Pity it then proceeds to become generic pumping mainstream for the rest of the track. (A short section near the end provides a tantalising glimpse of how great the track could have been if they'd kept it up.) However fun the intro is, though, it's obviously the inspiration isn't anywhere near "Believe".

One thing to consider is that, maybe, the influence lies beyond the mere music. Take the idea of the blue-lit background. "Believe" had it, and this year seemingly every ballad has followed suit: Croatia, Denmark, Lithuania, Estonia, Malta, Iceland, Israel, Cyprus, Poland... That would be a visual connection. Then there's a celebrity connection - last year Dima featured ice skater Evgeni Plushenko, this year Britain is bringing in Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Germany (apparently!) Dita von Teese.

Still, not having any major musical connections at all bugs me, and even casting a wider net only a couple of tracks have similar ambitions, at least. Croatia has a bossa-nova beat behind a traditional ballad that chugs along in a similar way. Russia, which like many previous winners desperately cling to the winning idea, at least bears some similarity in the verses. But if I'm going to pick one successor to the "Believe" sound it's going to have to be Estonia:

Urban Symphony - Rändajad

It's probably wont to annoy tastemakers who've compared this track to both Kate Bush and Björk, but the handclaps are there, the harmonics are relatively stable, and there's a fairly freestyle-ish pickiness to the string section. I can definitely get the sort of perpetually delayed feeling off this track that was vaguely suggested last year and which Timbaland does so well. Perhaps the "trendy indie favourite" label on this track is masking its pop qualities?


Fun With Youtube URL Hacking

I used to regularly find new music through YouTube's video browser. A couple of months ago, though, they removed all the music genres, and there was just a generalised "music" category to search in - which sucks if you're looking for, say, hip-hop.

Well, guess what? All the old categories are still there, as hidden legacy features in the system. I followed an old link I'd set up and there was, still, the most viewed new videos in Hip-hop/Rap!


So just as a reminder of the kind of stuff you can get hold of through this feature, here's a brand new Polish, female take on the whisper snap phenomenon from a few years ago, as interspersed with weird minimal electronica elements:


I'm telling you Poland has Europe's best hip-hop scene.


ESC Trends #1: Balkanisation

Wow. I just watched the first semi-final of this year's Eurovision Song Contest and I was really drawn back into it all. What an amazing stage set up! I'm starting to regret not spending several months analysing every single entry like I did last year.

Because there's plenty to analyse I think. Some of the things happening are quite fascinating, and some even have real-world impact. I'm thinking, for instance, of the balkanisation of Romania.

No, not that kind of balkanisation. I'm talking about how Romania has finally succumbed to using imagery, music and lyrics reflecting its place in the Balkans, something they've never done in Eurovision before.

This may not sound like much, but it runs totally anathema to what for many years was Romania's national image. Romania used to be occupied by the Ottoman empire, and its nationalist movement was very clear in emphasising its Western, romance heritage, in strong contrast with anything vaguely Turkish. The Balkan, eastern aspect of its culture was relegated to an "other" - the culture of gypsies, the poor, immigrants. That's part of the explanation why manele music is so despised in Romania.

Similar stories can be found in just about every country whose modernism stands in contrast to the Ottoman empire. But in the past decades, the hate for all things Balkan-sounding has slowly seeped out of Eurovision in most countries. Greece and Turkey let up early, and in recent years even Slavic stalwart Bulgaria has gone nearly full-on Balkanic. But this year must be some kind of record. From Azerbaijan to Spain to Moldova, the pop and folk sounds of the Balkans have spread everywhere, and obviously that now includes Romania. In a rather weak and slightly R&B-inspired way, but still.

What does this mean? Is Romania losing its antipathy to manele, and by extension the Roma? Is Balkan pop softening and becoming mainstream like rock'n'roll once did? Well, I'm waiting for the full-on manele entry to arrive first before I'm totally convinced. But it's an interesting trend nonetheless.

PS. As a fan and staunch supporter of minorities, it's fascinating to me that Elena Gheoghe is Arumanian, one of the most oppressed minorities in Greece and Albania.

I found a Romanian blog post which suggests manele can be seen as nationally distinctive music, something that's immediately hacked down on by commenters.


Blackface, Part 2: Drag

I have to admit that my blog entry from last week about extending the blackface concept to other power relations wasn't entirely my own idea. It builds, at least in part, on this article by Renee at Womanist Musings, whose extreme positions on another part of the marginalised-group-imitation matrix intrigues me:
"What is up with the black male fascination of playing black women? We are told that this is done in homage to our great strength. In actuality these women are ridiculous caricatures of black women."
Her argument is persuasive. Yet me and just about everyone I know readily accept drag, the way we wouldn't accept a blackface or yellowface performer. Perhaps, as was suggested to me on twitter, the difference is history, or perhaps it's intent: surely there's a difference between the varied depictions of women in a video like this Eurovision parody?

Sure, there's some extremely positive and loving diva portrayals. But the parody of Kikki Danielsson as overweight and barely able to move is vicious, and hits deeply into some rather nasty intersectional issues, where gay men (like Alexander Bard in this swedish-language video) project body-image hate on women with certain body types, in a patriarchal reversal of oppression.

In general, though, if the intent is positive, Renee's position can appear extreme. For most feminists, drag is not necessarily a bad thing, a performative play with the dichotomy of gender roles. By adapting stereotypically "feminine" characteristics, the drag queen is undermining the idea of a definite, essentialist masculinity. And that's before we get to drag kings!

But there's another group whose perspective on drag artists tends to be much more negative, and that's transpeople. In one way, I guess, it's possible to view drag not as making fun of women, but of male-to-female transsexuals. What's a huge life-changing position for them is reduced to a bit of fun, where cisgendered privilidged males get to play around the imagery of a real sexual reassignment. Transsexuals regularly condemn drag shows and have a strong antipathy towards drag queens...

I guess part of the problem is that transsexual activists and other feminists have conflicting interests when it comes to understanding gender identity. For many transsexual activists, the idea is essential (ha ha) that there are distinct and different "male" and "female" brains and that you can be born into a biologically "wrong" body for your mind. The more fluid sexual identities and socially constructed genders of feminism in general and queer feminism in particular have to be rejected, lest conflicting gender identities be reduced to "just a choice". Drag can be provocative because it introduces precisely the type of fluidity which undermines the essentialism.

What the idea of a "gender blackface" exposes in this case is that there can never be a unified perspective, one ideology that will cover all radical viewpoints in one. I guess that's where the need for diversity comes in. Even in radicalism we've got the archipelagos.


Wishing for a New Jack Swing Revival

Last month I downloaded an album by Bow Wow with the extremely promising title "New Jack City II". Well, turns out he obviously did it for the search hits. I was hoping it would be signalling a nascent interest from the hip-hop community in plundering the wonderful R&B era circa 1990, but the album is not very good and has sold badly, plus the actual connection to New Jack Swing is a series of rather old-fashioned Jermaine Dupri productions:

Feel a bit sorry for the tumbling career of a fading rapper who has to release extreme low-budget videos. I guess to be charitable there's a bit of new jack swing in there with the bassline and some of the harmonies, but it's no "Poison".

But maybe there's still a scent in the air that signals new jack swing's return. Especially, it seems, in the metaphorical Baltimore. This track, rather literally, is "Poison" (via):

Bell Biv DeVoe - Poison (Alvaro ft DJ Punish Baltimore Club Edit)

There's something about the natural choppiness of swingbeat, especially when like here combined with that Jam & Lewis sensibility, that lends itself particularly well to Bmore's cut-and-paste techniques. Sure, the breakbeat is an awkward fit here, and the whole thing does gel more Bmore than it does swing, but there's definitely possibilities here.

One novelty reworking does not make a revival, but there's another album coming out this spring with New Jack in the title, also in the Bmore/Brick City fold: DJ Sega's New Jack Philly. I realise after dissing Mad Decent rather badly last post I shouldn't be hyping one of their releases, but this is looking rather good and based on the sample track offered there are definite new jack swing touching points (via):

DJ Sega - Sega's Theme

It needs a few more orchestral hits and a bit more harmony and we'll be there. Here's hoping.


Blackface, part 1: Jamaica

In general Jamaicans are friendly, outgoing and very proud of their nation. [...] Jamaicans keep a positive and care-free attitude toward life, answering many questions or inquiries with a "No Problem Mon" or an "Irie" - believing that it's all going to work out and everything is OK!

-- from an online travel brochure about Jamaica

Most minstrels projected a greatly romanticized and exaggerated image of black life with cheerful, simple slaves always ready to sing and dance and to please their masters.

-- Wikipedia article on minstrelsy

The picture I posted on Wednesday depicts two men dressed as stereotypical Jamaicans. They're selling a commodity (pineapple) whose association with Jamaica is a largely colonial one - it's where the fruit is grown for global north consumption. They're largely dehumanised, wearing a generalised-exotic lava-lava in lieu of anything specifically Jamaican. The music is pastoral and rich-world-oriented "roots" reggae, in a fake plastic version... And their proscribed behaviour is carefree and laid back, much like the fake Maori in the last set of Fanta commercials (here, appropriately, in Estonian), and indeed much like both the stereotypes above.

And yet, it seems to still be okay. And I'm kind of wondering why, and discovering the wider implication of various angles on the blackface phenomenon are disturbingly plentiful.

I've nicked the illustration above from an online costume site, where it's advertised as "Rasta Mon Costume. This costume represents the carefree life-style of the Carribean Islands Mon!". I've looked through the site, and although there are plenty of costumes with some sort of parody intent directed at the hip-hop lifestyle, there are none that directly portray African Americans as an ethnic group in this way. Because that, of course, would be blackface.

I realise the historical and activistically racist context to this discrepancy. But surely, at the base of it, the problem is exactly the same. The blackface performer perpetuates an extremely simplified stereotype with strong negative or servile implications. He pretends to be an oppressed person in order to mock. The oppressed people are denied the custody of their own culture and the voice, they are spoken for by a grossly simplified parody of themselves, often for bigoted purposes.

And yet, dressing as a "Jamaican" in this way seems perfectly okay with most people. I've got enough issues, lord knows, with trustafarianism and middle-class white rappers as well, but at least they're trying to be something, not ironically mocking subalterns from a position of privilege. I cringe when I see stuff like this:

(via) What are Diplo and Switch thinking? Seriously? Having Andy Milonakis come in and do a perfectly ridiculous number in a faux-Demarco manner, cynically ridiculing the current style of dancehall and some sort of mystical, generalised-exotic voodoo bullshit? Exaggerating all the negative aspects, the violence and the drugs? Blabbing on about "pussy" in a manner which in the class/racial context comes accross as sexist in the extreme?

I can understand a desire (however warped it is) to want to be Jamaican or to want to act authentically so. But that isn't the case here at all. For me, when it comes to putting down Jamaicans by imitating them stereotypically - whether in costume or in music - there's really only one word for it.

In the next post I'll look at the idea of blackface as extended beyond ethnicity altogether - what happens when people imitate genders and classes, and how does that fit in?