EVERYTHING'S GONE WRONG
Somehow letting rip and being clever have become divorced, even to the point
where some music defines itself by that divorce.
The various components of music need to acknowledge each other. Too often
the different lines of music and/or rhythm programming just run in parallel.
They hardly ever interlock or talk to each other, or counteract each other,
or set each other off.
Music is hardly ever constructed as whole structured pieces any more. Although
the tired old verse-chorus orthodoxy has rightfully been buried, another
one has taken its place whereby the open-ended groove is just tweaked here
and there to stop boredom setting in. People just aren't opening up to what
the music's trying to tell them. Everything's running on rails, with channels
just muted or unmuted in different permutations on playback.
There are too many breakdowns. Laziness over shaping the music is behind
the current ridiculous over-dependence on breakdowns as a means of creating
tension. At the moment too many tunes are littered with irritatingly long-winded
beat-free passages, all massively overlong and badly placed. This leads
inevitably to maddeningly busy mixing while DJs try to avoid these wretched
dissipations of energy. This utterly boring stylistic mannerism reduces
the possibility of really letting the music affect your mind, as it breaks
up the hypnotic buildup necessary to do this. The people making records
at the moment should compare how often breakdowns are heard on the floor
to how often they're thoughtlessly knocking out otherwise good tunes with
hopelessly misjudged full-off fritterings. There are so many other things
you can do, like making breakdowns very short, obliquely changing the groove
and gradually bringing it back to the original, completely changing the
music, suddenly thinning it out but keeping the essentials there, etc etc.
This leads on to the next point . . .
Dance works best on all levels (body-moving, emotional, analytical) if it
transcends the complexity/simplicity paradox. We get the impression a lot
of people know this, but they're not actually really listening to what they're
doing when they've got these ideas in mind. The equation ei = -1 is a powerful
meditational tool. e here is not energy, but the natural log constant, an
irrational number like , but with a value approaching 2.7182818... i is
the square root of minus , and is therefore an imaginary number. The maths
involved in proving this beautiful and simple equation is complex, requiring
a good knowledge of trigonometrical functions, but the end result is compact
and powerful, with many applications in technology and pure maths. The equation
could be said to somehow contain within itself all the complex trigonometrical
maths needed to prove it. The intelligentisa knock out footling pretentious
piffle (like the aural equivalent of nouvelle cuisine), the hedonists bang
out Ford Cortinas of tunes (plebby and get you where you want in no real
style). The one is all complexity for complexity's sake, as a signifier
of "maturity" and intellectual responsibility, the other is a
hell of a lot more intense, but emotionally adolescent. Where to next? Trans'Pact
had an answer, an incredible answer, but they've gone now.
Beyond the simplicity/complexity paradox, and even more important, lies
the hard/soft dualism. It needs not to be compromised, but transcended.
THE GREATEST STRENGTH COMES FROM INTENSITY NOT HARDNESS. Too much hardness,
like too much softness, leads to weakness. Music needs to flow and hit home
in equal measure. Intensity contains both hardness and softness and is greater
than either on its own.
We need to concentrate more, not less, on making out-and-out dance music.
"Dance" is music that is so psychologically powerful that it also
involves the body. It's back-to-front thinking, therefore, to say that "there's
only so far you can go with dancefloor tunes". This oft-heard criticism
is like complaining that the tea ceremony has been using the same boring
old leaves and implements for thousands of years. At the moment so many
people are trying so hard to be different that dance is getting irritatingly
unfocused. One of the central mysterious paradoxes of creativity is that
in order to create something original and powerful you have refer to what's
gone before, in order for anybody to realise that it's original. If you
don't, your creation comes out shallow. This leads on to the next point
. . .
Stop regarding eclecticism as somehow automatically good. Often it's a cancerous
growth on something that's beautiful in its own right. It doesn't automatically
make dance music more mature, more inventive or more effective by cluttering
it up with cross-cultural noise from cultures barely understood in the first
place. We urgently need purists - they're the ones who create the strong-
tasting ingredients you use in your eclectic cookbook. Too often `trendy'
cultures are just skinned - i.e. only the surface is used. The tyranny of
eclecticism prevents any obsessive, deep knowledge of a musical style -
how can this be a good thing? Wholesale inclusion of genres that have been
skinned (especially jazz and blues) makes dance music eerily insipid, lacking
in any genuine emotional content, pretentious, self-watching, hesitant and
just generally creepily fake, like a pissed middle-aged businessman who's
turned up to an underground dance party because he's heard there's a lot
of "babes" there. And about parties . . .
Stop being stone-faced. We've all had out-of-it mouthy gurners complaining
at us for not smiling, dancing etc. They're fools, but they're a minority.
The genuine irritation they cause shouldn't spill over into frozen paranoid
fear of being seen to be having a good time. Nobody can go to a dance party,
take chemicals (or not take chemicals) and be cool anyway, so stop trying.
We're getting really worried about the upsurge of coldness, restraint, hardness,
guardedness, smug know-it-allness. Superciliousness is not sexy. So . .
Stop being ironic all the time. Basing your culture on irony is the mental
equivalent of only ever eating pot noodles. There may be a certain insipid
bolt of kinky pleasure when you eat one, but if you do it all the time you'll
end up like, well, a Pot-Noodle Eater. So . . .
Stop being cheesy. All genres, including the genre-busting genres, are becoming
overrun with tired, insipid "good time" fakeness. That original
discovery was of something different, something obvious yet intangible,
changeable and mysterious, and it's more than enough. It's a universe in
itself. (Because we said so, OK?). It is gilding the lily, putting legs
on a snake, therefore, to try to add aural gimmickry to it. All that cheese
gets in the way, obscures the sheer tantric power and overwhelming strength
of the central discovery. Between them, cheesiness and pretentious overseriousness
are strangling music. These twin demons are a result of making music primarily
to impress your friends, primarily to show off, instead of facing up to
your real self. If you haven't got the courage or the heart to put some
real passion in your music, don't bother making it. There's enough camp,
wry, shallow, egotistic throwaway crap around to last for the rest of the
history of the human race. However long that is . . . Anyway . . .
Stop trying to be cool. Coolness is hypothermia of the soul. Apart from
anything else, that sort of coolness is often just a stage-managed rebellion
for those on the conveyor belt of consumerdom. It's being let off the leash
a little before you buckle under and get your job and kids and mortgage.
"Coolness" as you understand it is mere manipulation of surface
grammar as a shortcut to ficitious, easily-appropriated pseudo-depth. It's
a reaction against cheese that is even more shallow than cheese - at least
cheese is enthused. Cheese may be false, but pretention is falser. There
is real cool, but it's more to do with enthusiasm than your puritanical,
po-faced, self-righteous, emotionally constipated restraint. First there
was innocent, playful, somewhat childish music then suddenly people looked
up and saw they were being watched by their Elders, those in the Industry
who make things look respectable by making lots of copies of them and selling
them to lots of people. So then there was adolescence - fear of looking
uncool, fear of looking immature, fear of letting the guard drop, a simultaneous
resentment and knee-jerk respect for those in power. And the usual arrogance
and attempts to look deeper than your emotional experience would actually
suggest. So far the next stage has hardly been reached - real adulthood.
Perhaps one day we will finally reach that point in development when you
are free again to be playful, with experience behind you and a real, full
character. To provide a concrete example: If you look at old R&S records,
ghastly cheese nestles side by side with really cool full-on techno that
sounds like it was discovered by accident. But somewhere along the line
they realised that they were a cool label, and had to "grow up",
so they began turning out intensely cerebral art-wank which is just a reaction
- "look at us, we do ironic, jazzy, jungly, tin-can scrapy electronica
now, we're adults".
Stop lazily referring to the classical electroacoustic avant-garde as if
there was some kind of link. There isn't really a link. The classical avant-garde
is terminally hung up on the idea that making music less repetitive, less
regular and more rhythmically complex means that it can convey more musicality,
more information. It hates repetition, and feels that, as John Cage said,
arrhythmicity is superior as it can include rhythmicity. In fact, dance
suggests it's the other way round. By making music rigid, a new perspective
is gradually created whereby slight irregularities can have a much stronger
effect. There's a vague, unexamined idea that because the avant-garde and
dance both use weird noises then they have something to do with each other.
This is just surface grammar thinking, thinking only of appearances, thinking
only of what's "cool". Of course music is made which does borrow
heavily from both genres, but there is a price to be paid. We don't think
it's worth it, as the end result is usually more like easy listening or
avant-garde lite. And about "lite" music . . .
Stop turning the volume down and confusing that with "spirituality".
Spirituality should be to do with existence, which (along with nonexistence)
is about as intense as anything can ever get. There is a wealth of subtlety
in even the strongest emotions, the strongest states of mind. The inner
life of even the most seemingly "average" human being is capable
of being dramatically intense, so to the extent that spirituality has anything
to do with this inner life, it is wrong to automatically make it an issue
of fluffiness and gently wandering introversion. Spirituality must be redefined.
SPIRITUALITY IS NOT FLUFFINESS. It is not an escape. It is not contained
in the symbols connected with the hobby of spirituality. And please don't
unthinkingly spout the usual rote- learned drivel about how spirituality
isn't even there. Just as being against politics is a spiritual act, being
against metaphysics is a metaphysical act. To talk about spirituality in
terms of what it's not can be very thought-provoking and worthwhile, but
you can't actually get rid of it.
Don't say you weren't warned . . .
the Stranger Tractor