Friday, April 30, 2010

Things We Were Due to Forget: Coldwave and Minimal Wave

Things We Were Due to Forget: The Cold Undertow of Minimal Waves

My Difference Engine column at PopMatters is now hot off the (virtual) press on PopMatters.

Upon reading this article, I realize that the reason I mentioned tape fidelity with regards to Hauntology and Chillwave was because I had intended to mention that this kind of physical medium fidelity was not common to coldwave. As far as I know, none of the reissues or even the new stuff has come out on cassette, but rather mostly vinyl and CD. What’s more, Vasicka performs her own remastering, making the whole physicality of the releases a non-issue since the grain and crackle is suctioned out and erased from the recording. This obviously brings up its own issues with minimal wave/coldwave’s dimensions of revisionist history, commodity fetishism, etc.

Also, as per it relates to the literature surrounding some of the revivalist bands (and it should be pointed out that 20JFG is perhaps one of the biggest current advocates for this scene- even their own mini-genre “drag” seems to be somewhat of a coldwave offshoot), the question remains as to whether a DIY revival of any genre is relevant in a time when any one can do it themselves. Minimal wave was DIY, but also invested in brand new technology. I’d agree with Xeno and Oaklander’s Sean McBride when he says that we skim through machinery now and don’t maximize its resources, but instrumentation austerity also seems to be an excuse to not engage with the present (it should also be pointed out that some revival bands like Further Studies and Figure Study do not even sound analogue…maybe they are, but if so what’s the point of the distinction?).

Engaging with the present also brings up the uncomfortable topic of race. I purposely avoided the issue in my piece because it would perhaps require a separate essay equal in length (and it may be something I touch on in a later piece). However, for coldwave/minimal wave (the new stuff) to engage with today’s zeitgeist (dubstep, funky house, wonky) would seem to require an engagement with black rhythm, which would probably also defeat the purpose of coldwave’s mechanical pulses. Austere rhythm is such a central component to the music that it makes it a hard music to translate to other styles, which may be one reason I’m a bit pessimistic about coldwave’s potential as a profound shifter of cultural temperatures.

This, of course, brings up a host of other issues about rhythm itself. It’s often assumed that a lack of rhythmical complexity or “soul” makes a music white (tell this to Robert Hood or Jeff Mills), but this too comes from a rockist notion that upon closer inspection seems to actually carry a Eurocentric notion. The assumption is that not-black or, perhaps not-Other, is white, making whiteness the blank slate on which to base everything off of, the default state which qualified when the limited criterion for otherness does not apply. Recent months have seen a number of new popular studies on whiteness gaining press (countered by a divestment of ethnic studies in public schools in Arizona) that make whiteness seem at best a nebulous distinction, so classifying anything as “white” is pretty specious (Anglo, Euro, Teutonic, yes. White, no). Unhuman electronic sounds and simple beats are commonly thought to be the territory of white people despite the multiplicity of dark faces involved in its origins and creation, but in truth they are beyond race/postracial. It’s certainly hard in our multiculturalist society to think of anything as not having a racial dimension, but it’s particularly electronic music’s anti-humanism that seems to make it perhaps the prime candidate in the arts for a complete dissociation with race. With race as a human social identity construct, electronic music (dance music particular) has little use for it. Electronic music has little use for notions of identity in general. It is anti-star, anti-ego, and anti-organic (generalizing here, of course, there are exceptions).

Specifically, minimal wave seems to have no cultural identity because so little is known about it. Any notions of sexual or racial identity must be assumed or taken from a blurry picture.

Interesting that coinciding with the election of Obama comes the adoption of electropop by black culture, with its simplified rhythms and un-bluesy, un-soul, un-sampledelic electronic instrumentation and all. It seems that black culture is not condemned after all to revisiting the same styles spawned as a result of the Black Atlantic Diaspora (although those may be more interesting than a mere black take on white/blank pop art forms). Black folk forms like blues, hip-hop, jazz, and gospel were often thought to more “pure” because at one time they were not yet coopted by the corrosive hands of white Capital (still soaked in the blood of slave trade). At this point though, it’d be foolish to think that any of those form weren’t completely absorbed into the hegemonic superstructure, so what exactly really can be authentic “black music” these days if it’s not black futurism?

The One Way Internet

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ariel Pink Has a Posse

Think Ariel Pink is not some kind of maverick? Try this on for size.

"What do you think about being classified in terms of hauntology or hypnagogic pop?"

“I love it, I love it. It beats lo-fi!"

After 10 million interviews of people trying to disown the scenes they've been attached to, it's refreshing to see somebody embrace genre and not trying to be a b(r)and apart.

Read the interview with K-Punk here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Go(a)ne Today, Here Tomorrow

Interesting that I should come across this article several days after finishing and a few days before publishing a massive new Difference Engine column on coldwave and memory (not that I needed more material to work from). It turns out the rudiments of what eventually came to be Goa's psy-trance movement started in the burgeoning electronic dance music scene, much of which (from the list detailed on that page) carries crossover classifications with coldwave and minimal wave (Borghesia, A Split Second, Neon Judgement, Front 242, et al.). Idiot's Guide to Dreaming, upon suggesting a new future for trance (that assumedly erases Judge Jules, Infected Mushroom, and company from the equation), brings up the concept of uchronia, which seems perfect to apply to coldwave as it basically involves an alternate reality that bridges time and space. Coldwave artists notably came from separate scenes,had little interaction with each other, and recorded over a roughly decade-long span. Pretty hard to imagine coldwave being enjoyed at the beach though. Even more fittingly, the concept of uchronia seams to have its roots in the steampunk scene from which The Difference Engine gets its name.

Most interestingly though perhaps from the article are the facts that:

1. DJ Laurent spliced the vocals out of tracks where they might prove distracting, thus anticipating techno's forced exile from disco/diva Chicago House. Notably, he left in darker,colder, and presumably less emotive vocals.

2. DJ Laurent mixed his sets on cassettes, tying us yet again back to the common means of distribution for minimal wave

Monday, April 26, 2010

Zizek on Avatar

As always, Zizek offers an article which remains impossible to not get frustrated at, but some interesting critique therein as well:

"In a typical Hollywood product, everything, from the fate of the Knights of the Round Table to asteroids hitting the earth, is transposed into an Oedipal narrative"

"The film teaches us that the only choice the aborigines have is to be saved by the human beings or to be destroyed by them. In other words, they can choose either to be the victim of imperialist reality, or to play their allotted role in the white man's fantasy."

A little late to be posting about Avatar, maybe? Maybe it's me, but it already feels like people will be destined to forget this film in a couples years time. I found myself having trouble remembering anything when coming out of the theater save for being visually assaulted for several hours. For me, the reconciliation of violent oppression and exploitation with...violent aggression left me completely sour. My wife, on the other hand, was convinced it was a Ferngully remake, and I guess others on the internet have made the same connection.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Peripheral Views of BMSR

My review of The Seven Fields of Aphelion's beautiful Periphery is now over at the newly redesigned (and way more reader-friendly) PopMatters

Thursday, April 15, 2010

RIP Pete Steele

The ultimate black light band. I have to admit I didn't quite go gaga over Type O Negative in my teenage years as some of my peers did (October Rust was the only album I could get through), but their doom/gothic slowcore did seem to have some kind of lasting influence though, didn't it? Not that they were the only ones doing it at the time, but having a mainstream band that pitched down surely maybe facilitated the whole Sunn/Xasthur/Jesu axis, no? No? Okay, maybe not...but maybe.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

From the Archives: Ian Penman on Tricky

A fantastic article from The Wire archives

Life in LA

A review of the first season DVD of Party Down

What a Rotten Fucker: RIP Malcolm McLaren

Svengali, Cosmic-level exploiter, faux-Situationist, Spectacle producer, Art terrorist, et al. McLaren was one of the first to openly use mass media as a weapon against itself. He didn't really care who he used in the process or how they suffered for his vision. He was more than happy to be a villian, and music has perhaps seen none as pernicious as McLaren. Yet, music is far more interesting place because of him.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


"If losing face is a self-imposed loss of respect, then stealing one’s face would appear to be what happens when someone perpetrates the same kind of indignity on someone else (something with which many can surely relate in these times of financial/spiritual crisis). Those who’ve had their faces stolen may feel that the body is the only thing that’s left to engage with"

My review of Mi Ami's latest is up at PopMatters

RIP David Mills

Undercover black man, writer and contributor for The Wire, Homicide, The Corner, Treme, et. al and the author of two infamous articles which caused much fear of a black planet (one with PE's Professor Griff and other with Sister Souljah)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Everything Merges With the Night Before

Kiran Sande has another brilliant column at Fact about techno creeping in from the corners and electronic music's cozy relationship with the past, siding with the position of Rogue's Foam from a few posts back:

"There’s an undeniable sense that electronic dance music is no longer plausibly ‘futurist’ – the idea that every successive techno or house record is a giant leap forward for sound/music is no longer a credible one, if it ever was. Genuinely new sounds seem increasingly hard to come by. It seems that more and more, the most interesting records in the electronic music realm are those that enter into conceptual dialogue with dance music past. I think not just of Russom and Giffoni but, say, Atom TM’s Liedgut LP; the most adventurous artists around right now seem to be consciously and formally invoking the past. Er, right?"

Also, some erudite words from Gavin Russom, whom I've yet to check out but will surely be doing so.