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.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, a lot to respond to here... I'll do my best...

I sort of have mixed feelings about my post... I definitely oversimplified a lot of things, but as an intervention I am ok with it... it's generated some discussion and pointed me in some places that I think are useful, which is a big part of what I was going for.

You've misinterpreted a major point I've made in a couple places though. The reason for being self-reflexive is not only that it's an honest approach, but because I too am skeptical at how much effect Western blogger-Djs have on these scenes. There's a lot of "outside looking in" writing on stuff, but not too much on the actual cosmo-hipster scenes in the West that many of us are more a part of. Maybe that stuff is too boring to write about critically though, I dunno. I for one would be interested to know more about it outside of hyping the latest remixes and gigs or whatever. I get the sense that my experiences at these type of events in Chicago, which have been largely underwhelming, are different in other places, so that's part of what I'm getting at. It's also because I am conscious of post-colonial critiques -- let's look at ourselves in relation to subaltern (and do these Spanish-language pop stars creating commodities for a global market qualify?).

And I take issue with your reading of my critique of newer reggaeton. I don't think you can equate "polished commercial sheen" with "sophistication" as you do, and then to extrapolate some sort of primitivistic urge on my part is way over the line. Really, everything after that part is sort of off the rails. If you are going to bold a word and attribute it to someone else, at least have the decency to define it so we can talk about it, ok? To my ears, the playero tapes are more "sophisticated" in reaching for something new, of opening up possibilities, than Don Omar's latest dour offerings. But maybe we are seeing reggaeton producers with new gear since the boom, and it may take some time for them to master it & do something interesting with it like dudes were doing with turntables and mpcs 10-15 years ago. Anyways, Dem Bow style reggaeton has TONS of 'feminine pressure' -- have you ever been to an event or party playing that stuff? Did you watch the videos in my last post? Girls (and boys (and bois)) listen and dance to it THAT IS ONE OF ITS MAJOR FUNCTIONS, regardless of this gruff/feminine dichotomy (where does cumbia fall, by the way?) you are trying to impose on the music. Again, if you are going to put a gender spin on it, you have to demonstrate it instead of merely affirming it.

Birdseed said...

Yup, I'm also extremely questioning a gender interpretation, if I didn't make it clear enough. I think gender in the caribbean is a whole n'different ballgame to what it is in Europe or even in Africa, and I don't think I'm qualified to analyse it. However, if we're going down that route it's interesting how (euroamerican) Global Ghettotech itself is presented as a concrete entity by almost entirely a male crowd, with fairly trad male trappings, "lazer" etc. Not that different from other popular music, but I do wish we'd see more female DJ-Bloggers (Rachel, Marisol and Nina notwithstanding) and perhaps a "feminine pressure" (bullshit term) form here. At least Rachel consistently presents interesting challenges in the form of Zouk etc. that are outside the orthodoxy.

I think I mean "technical and economic model" sophistication rather than "conceptual" or "innovative", if we're going to talk definitions. Would you disagree that global ghettotech generally prefers music made with primitive synths over the full bang-on studio wizardry? (Although, being a HUGE fan of the latest Don Omar album, my favourite of the year, I'd go ahead and argue that it's contrasting intersection of sensuality/fucking/robotics is hugely sophisticated, a Platonic triad of instinct/emotion/thought for the ages.)

rachel said...

i think yr getting to some truth here, but too cynical. Sometimes its def primitivism, sometimes i think its a less race loaded rockest love of lofi/certain production b/c its certainly a broader trend. Its one that doesnt just contain ghettotech/world musics. I also think ghettotech is more open to globalized music than yr implying here, doesnt ghettotech <3 global hiphop sounds? Its just very particular about whats allowed in and what isnt. I also dont think rupture is the only one who has an open ear for folk/tradish sounds. The aesthetics are more complicated than a wee post can get at, BUT im clearly with you in that ghettotech is often tellingly limited.