Tuesday, September 13, 2016

WWWings’s music on the surface seems to tag itself to the nu-grime/experimental dancefloor scene associated with labels like Purple Tape Pedigree, HER, Crazylegs, and Gobstopper. Akin to those peers, WWWings ensnares the violence of power electronic into short staccato bursts and maneuvers the menacing dread of trap music into a neverending transition of varied contortions. To call it dehumanized is to exactly get to the point of it, but to call it inorganic would miss the raw, animalistic ways in which it grazes and attacks. Just as likeminded composers too artsy for the clubs like Arca, Amnesia Scanner, Chino Amobi, and Oneohtrix Point Never piecemeal a distantiated sense of culture from spectacle film trailers, video game segues, and obscure CD-ROM demos, WWWings at their best sounds like a sentient CPU struggling to be, ripping out orifices and snapping on limbs wherever it can. 

-Reviewed the new WWWings full-length 

Was thinking about Adam Harper's piece at 3hd Festival on Beethoven's Ode to Joy and its many uses, including as anthem to the EU and as a kind of metatext to Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, a strange sort of ceremonial changing of the robes to go along with Brexitism/Trumpism as frightful new world order:

The dystopian future that the world has been dreaming of for decades is on the horizon, is already here; the thunderstorm is very loud and very close. The question is: is it exciting? Or is it too close and dangerous? Another way to put this: is it for art and music to play with? Underground music has been sarcastically adopting the warped subjectivity of the dystopian, anti-human citizen for a while now, in lots of different ways. And it's nothing new: UK punk rock did this archetypically when its awful patriotism exploded into the summer of 1976. But the excitement of sarcasm is a consequence of the privilege of safety, the way that experiencing a thunderstorm indoors generates a thrill as long as you're safe from harm. But more and more people are in harm's way. Some — minorities of many kinds — have always been in harm's way, have never lived through anything but the storm.Is sarcastically reproducing the dystopian thrill of the storm just too close to — or ultimately just as good as — voting for it (by 'mistake' or otherwise)?
The name for this I and others have used a lot recently has sometimes been 'accelerationism.' British left-wing figurehead Owen Jones recently used the word on Facebook to describe people who would vote for Trump if they couldn't get Bernie, to make things better by knowingly making things worse. There probably aren't that many people of colour in the US who would do the same. 
Who needs dehumanising machine music when you have Trump, when you have the rise of hatred the world over? 
It doesn't seem quite as cool as it did a few years ago, does it? Although in the bigger picture my own particular breaking point is basically arbitrary, for me it was the week of the shooting in Orlando and the murder of British MP and Remain campaigner Jo Cox by a man who shouted 'Britain First' as he killed her. My increasingly distanced interest in dystopian art and dystopian clubbing turned into something like outright sickness. Other people got to that point long before me (or were always there), and other people have still to get to that point.And yet the future cannot be avoided. Musically or otherwise, we are being constantly dragged into it with kicks and screams. 

I'm a bit disappointed in this stance, saying that dystopian, dehumanized music can't exist under the terms of the current environment.  Harper hits hard at privilege as the source of virtual culture's fascination with empire, but it's exactly from a place a privilege that one can set the terms for this only now not being okay now that the pitchforks have united in ways that threaten neoliberal stability.  The working class, black culture, queer culture, et al. have lived under the auspices of open oppression for some time and the rise of their jailers and persecutors comes as now surprise to them.

WWWings, cast across the pall of the Russian empire, living within the criminal state and choosing to make dystopian music that reflects it nonetheless is aware of the stakes.  Ghe20gothik or NON also fit this model, fluctuating between the distinct alienations that accompany both black and queer bodies at a time when both are being fundamentally undermined by the highest levels of institutional authority.

It in fact cheapens Harper's own sharp  and careful reporting on these disparate virtual scenes to dismiss them as mere sarcasm, cheap irony with nothing of substance behind it (for examples of where cold-shouldered irony truly dominated, throw a dart anywhere at 90s underground culture).  Perhaps, he's digging here at vaporwave, his coinage with a inexplicably postponed expiration date, but it'd be hard to say that vaporwave "sarcastically reproduc(es) the dystopian thrill of the storm" as vaporwave is principally un-thrilling. But per dystopian club music, could Harper have possibly missed that this was largely the appeal of the music, that the storm had already arrived for many of these bodies long ago?

That's not to say that there isn't a creeping dread of the storm getting a whole lot stronger as we brave into a culture slowly acquiescing to the slick appeal of new media totalitarianism.  I've always thought accelerationism was a shit sham, not worthy of the chin-scratching academic cryptography it all seemed to be encoded in, but its tied to dark, envelope-pushing music are thin at best.

I think what Harper describes here more than anything is feeling burnt out, which I can empathize with to a large degree.  I'm not too big to admit that the world stage just depletes me sometimes.  It becomes hard to cope with the degree to which reality seems to be fundamentally aligned against what appears to be the logical, just, and mutually beneficial progression of the future, that humanity seems so cavalier about steering itself towards mass extinction.

Maybe art that engages with this tendency has run its course because there's not much left to teach.  The lessons now are simple when the fight seems centered against open hostility rather than polite neoliberal handwringing (much of which, btw, still going going on in the anti-Corbyn Labour wing and the Clinton caucus). Even if so, it's still valuable as an artifact since ours are short-order, obscure and rarely spotlighted, whereas the tentacles of actually-existing dystopia are potentially endless and brought to you with limited commercial interruptions.

I seriously hope Harper is not so burnt out though as to not approach the weird, wild realms that he wanders into because he's one of the only music journalists left out there doing real field work in the slums of Bandcamp and Soundcloud, where the real action is.  For this, he is an indispensable treasure

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