Yes, as a matter of fact you should adapt your music for Europe

Long time no blog post. Were we talking authenticity...?

I've done another stint at the Gagnef festival, which still is an immensely interesting place to be. For once, though, I was really made to think by an artist instead of the audience.

DJ Edgar is an old Rio funk DJ, doing stints with the legendary Furacão 2000 way before the funk we know even existed. For the past several years he's been touring Europe instead, doing well-crafted sets with good-quality MPC work. The thing is, though, he's pretty much stopped playing straight-ahead funk entirely, a fact which he readily acknowledges by calling his music "pós-funk" or "funk na Europa" – funk remade for Europe. Essentially, he plays some sort of tamborzão bmore, chopped up remixes of tracks well-known to his audience. This would include stuff his specific fans would be familiar with – Calabria, of course, and the emerging global ghettotech canon with tracks like Township Funk and Wegue Wegue (h/t Vamanos via Boima for the idents). He also plays the season's inevitable jacko tracks, as well as a whole bunch of classic european hits from Das Boot to The Power.

However, except for prohibidão classic Rap das Armas (which totally doesn't count, since it's bizarrely #1 on the Swedish singles chart at the moment) he didn't play any Brazilian tracks at all. And I'm going to go ahead and say that it's a good thing.

It's really facile to want to see artists from the third world as some sort of ethnographic artefacts, living field recordings of untainted culture. Perhaps this sort of attitude is more associated with the traditional view of "world music" (although god knows they went in and tainted it whenever they got the opportunity), but I think it's fairly prevalent in the hip-hop/global ghettotech generation, too. The (tourist) desire to experience and describe precisely the real thing, whatever that is, is still a feature of most Eurocentric relations with marginal culture.

Of course, you're never going to experience music the "right" way anyway. You're always going to be the outsider, no matter how much you familiarise yourselves with the codes. In music as relational as funk (or just about any DJ music, for that matter) it's always going to be central how the audience feels for the material being played, and each and every dancer's instinctive feelings towards the tracks they hear, deeply imprinted in their cultural backbones. The DJ, too, works completely in relation to the audience, gauging their reactions and moulding her set accordingly. Straightfowardly transposing a DJ set which works for an audience intensely familiar with twenty years of Brazilian radio and television and charts is never going to work in that context.

Perhaps its a matter of staying true to the DJ as an artist and a craftsman, too. A "living stereo system" playing a field-recorded mixtape is far from the full extent of what a DJ can and should do. I would definitely acknowledge some adaptation can be fairly appaling (I'm particularly allergic to warping music to be more "conscious" or "wise") but at some point its worth seeing it from the artist's viewpoint, and consider the motivations as much as the results. DJ Edgar, I think, seems fairly far from losing himself.

Obviously its not all clear-cut and it's always worth it to consider how he ended up in Europe in the first place, at whose behest, and if his being here is part of a discursive agenda. I'm not going to blame him for coming here, any more than I can blame any other diaspora, but there's plenty of examples (since Leadbelly and beyond) of artists being misrepresented for social or monetary gain. I don't get that sense at all here, but I'd definitely like to find out more.


Lie To Me, MC

One aspect of analysing global ghettotech writing I didn't really go into in my article a little while ago was the fairly central idea of authenticity, which still seems to loom large over the way we think about music from outside or own environment. Happily, Rachel came along a little bit later with a piece of critique which uses precisely one form of authenticity concept to counteract another, illustrating both the usefulness and the perils of thinking about some music as more "real" than other.

In a well-constructed blog post against an article on Haitian music, Rachel criticises a group of New York music critics for not grasping the actual nature of Haiti's music history. To the article writers, music is properly Haitian in so far as it's got spiritual and political ("revolutionary") depth, alternatively if its traditional and connected to some sort of imagined history. The superficial and the ahistorical is constructed as exceedingly suspicious. Rachel on her part is happy to accept these qualities because the music that embodies them is "popular", while another strand of music is okay because "Haitians" "use" it. Two notions of authenticity are presented and contrasted (if not in so many words), one based on tradition/depth and another on usage in contemporary local culture.

But at no point is the idea that music can be real at all questioned. There's an underlying idea of "the real Haitian music" that's very hard to shake off – I frequently think like this myself.

Still, there's something about the idea of any music being realer than another in this way that makes me wary. The leap doesn't seem to be that long to an essentialist idea of national character, in either discourse. Compas is the music Haitians listen to can easily turn into real Haitians listen to compas, subtly shifting the power from the dynamic users (or their tradition) to the cultural constant. And at least from my European cultural horizon, people who claim to be "real Swedes" or preserve "real Hungarian values" are extremely scary people indeed.

In contrast, there are the fakes. In the recent US presidential elections, the idea of an "unreal American" gained a lot of leverage among feminists, left-wing minorities and others who felt left out by the patriotic definitions. Here in Sweden the leader of the (tiny) Christian Democratic Party made a speech in which he argued for "reality's people" (verklighetens folk) over the supposed left-wing cultural elite, whereupon a facebook group by the name of "unreality's people" (Overklighetens folk) immediately drew a lot of members. I certainly joined. Somehow, it feels slightly paradoxical that we "fakeys" are basically the same cultured middle-class that fights to have our version of Haitian music (or whatever) declared the most real.

This, I think, hits at one of the biggest problems with a lot of our attitude towards the subalterns (to talk poco for a while). A lot of energy is spent busting (as fake) the discourses about the Other of our compatriots. Instead, we offer up a reality based on what we are told by the othered people, never reflecting on the equally "fake"/discursive nature of their world view. In effect, the Haitians are made to be "realer" than us, their music "truer", merely by virtue of their relative global marginalisation. Again, this is true no matter what authenticity criterion is used.

This is especially important, I think, when it comes to music, because music is (at least to my mind) conclusively fake. If, like the musicological discipline of musical hermeneutics claims, music is a language that can be completely interpreted, the "writings" of music can't possibly be considered anything other than fiction, and its emotions, ideas and thoughts are inevitably make-believe. Musicians have always revelled in made-up worlds and baseless boasts, and periodically in conscious "syntheticity", making any consideration of realness in musical expression extremely questionable. Especially, I think, when quality gets so explicitly connected to the real. If the only good music is real music, then there's probably no good music at all.

Of course, the music world itself has happily gone along and produced its own authenticity discourses anyway. From the rockist "selling out" to 80s metal's "poser" accusations, to hip-hop's "keeping it real". Like any self-inconsistent dichotomies, though, these tend to pop/deconstruct themselves as time goes along. I don't think I'm wrong in saying the "tight pants" electro fad in hip-hop has gone a ways to destroy the dour "reality" stuff, together with the obviously exaggerated claims of southern rappers (eh, officer Ross?). And I love it. I don't mind being lied to, and no your women obviously don't actually behave that way.

In any case there are signs that the constant borrowing across genres is somehow destroying the "authentic genre" in any cultural-homogenous sense, too...


How does news events influence your listening habits?

Quick question, awaiting a better-working blogging computer next week or so.

How much do current events shape the way music is used and heard by its listeners? I don't just mean facile stuff like Michael Jackson resurfacing as a commercially viable artist in the wake of his death and the umpteen related tributes, but subtler shifts in the allowed terrain.

Take Iran. When I posted about Iranian music in March I couldn't claim to be part of any trend (although as usual Rachel was ahead of the curve), but after the election and the resistance I've seen posts of Iranian music everywhere, from Jace's Mudd Up! to Mad Decent. But also, in addition, I think there might be a generalised shift towards interest in the whole middle east, an area that's usually underrepresented in blog music. It may just be a coincidence, but the current global ghettotech blogging hotspot Generation Bass has posted an awful lot of arabic and persian vibes recently...

Cound resistance in Iran shift the centre of the music-blogging world eastward? It's hardly unprecedented, but it's interesting that the music thus discovered isn't just directly political or revolutionary. Definitely a product of our times – the news as an Esoteric Research Method, coincidence providing an opportunity to focus in on a spot in the endless information flow; politics as being seen on the internet no matter the message.


Global Ghettotech as a Genre of Literature

"[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.


What's the best new music in the past two months?

I'm resetting my RSS feed reader. And I need your help.

I've spent two months doing just about everything possible except blog, from holidays to political campaigning. I'm now ready to resume full-speed blogging, but there's just too much tuff to listen up – I've got thousands and thousands of RSS posts lined up, the vast majority containing audio I ought to at least glance at. Especially after making that promise to make a list of "best songs" for the end of the year.

Well, bugger that. I'm going to ask for you guys help, and giving up on May and June. What are the best songs to come out in the past few months? Suggestions on a post card, in the comments field or @birdseeding via twitter.