Sunday, August 18, 2019


"down with the scene"
Ipecac Recordings
Village Voice,2000

by Simon Reynolds

If anything deserves a  punk-style kick in the ass, it's IDM, short for "intelligent dance music. " Not so much a genre as a mode of appreciation, IDM was (in)famously defined by ambient guru Mixmaster Morris as "the opposite of stupid hardcore"--a snobby distinction between mindfood and rave fodder that most IDM-ers still adhere to. Right now, a lot of smart money is on kid606--real name Michael Depredo--as IDM's very own punk rock. This San Diego teenager understands that IDM, over-civilized and effete like the Roman Empire, needs to revitalize itself with barbarian blood. So he brings the noise from, where else, Stupid Dance Music--hardcore styles like gabba, jungle (in its pre-gentrification, ragga-sampling form circa 1994), Miami bass, dancehall.  On his latest album "Down With the Scene" (his first for Ipecac, the label co-founded by Faith No More's Mike Patton and former Alternative Tentacles boss Greg Werkman), Depredo even signposts his revolutionary intent with titles like "Punkshit", "Hardcore", and "Luke Vibert Can Kiss My Indie-Punk Whiteboy Ass."
The last of these is a half-flippant, half-earnest gauntlet thrown down to the first-wave IDM luminary whose 1995 EPs as Plug pioneered what subsequently came to be called "drill 'n' bass"--a mini-genre based around the appropriation and intensification-through-caricature of jungle's breakbeat-splicing techniques. Drill'n'bass is roughly one-third of what kid606 is about, so the jibe at Vibert represents both anxiety-of-influence and upstart cockiness. It's also very punk, its "move over, grandad, there's a new kid in town" disrespect redolent of The Clash's famous line about "no more Beatles Stones etc". On tracks like "Buffalo 606--the morning after"  606 does to Vibert what Vibert did to jungle --exaggerate drill'n'bass's already absurdly convoluted and convulsive polyrhythms. Bringing new meaning to the jungle superlative "tearing", Depredo shreds the fabric of beat itself, honing   splinters of what was once human, hand's on funk into precision-tooled flechettes whose micro-syncopations and hyper-flams snag your limbs and pull you everywhichway.  His savage EQ-ing and treatment of drum sounds conjures a timbral fantasia-- ride-cymbals that weep, miaow,  or hiss like sulphuric in your face;  snares that bleat or silversplash like knitting needles in a pool of mercury. "Kidrush" is like a tumbleweed of barbed wire, or a classic jungle tune played at 78 rpm through the world's shittiest stylus.
The other two-thirds of the kid606 sound-spectrum are even noisier: the distorto-blare riffs and stampeding kick drums of gabba, and the hums, crackles, 'n' tics of "glitch" (electronic dronescapes built from the sounds of malfunctioning equipment, vandalized CDs etc).  As hybrids go, it sounds horrible on paper, but kid606's saving grace is what I can only describe as (not very punk, this) "musicality"--a feel for the sensuousness of different kinds of distortion, an oddly refined approach to the excruciation of sound. It's a subtle frenzy---recent developments in audio software allow producers to tweak the parameters of every separate beat in every single bar (a level of micro-processing that results either in music of inexhaustible listenability or a self-sabotaging fiddliness---it's in the ear of the beholder, natch). Subscribing too often to the puerile equation of speed with intensity, kid606 is actually most absorbing when he slows down. "GQ on the EQ" is like an Eighties electro "drum solo" composed from the sounds of a  wasp in a jam jar, sizzling bacon, a wah-wahed bedspring, and so forth. "Secrets 4 Sale" is glitch-funk, a Prince-meets-Oval mosaic of twitches and hiccups. "Dame Nature" is house built from gastric rumblings and stomach sonar.
Attitude-wise, kid606 makes me think of  Digital Hardcore with a broader sonic canvas, or  Huggy Bear if they'd been ravers rather than Pastels fans--the same  petulancy and obstreperousness,  the split impulses between expressive urgency and hermetic encryption, the exaltation of youth  (Depredo being the real thing, whereas Huggy sloganeered about Kid's Lib Guerrilas but turned out to be the oldest teenagers in London town).  There's also an ethos of autonomous cultural production that is very Riot Grrl, very Huggy Nation. Kid606 is just one node in an international network of home-studio do-it-yourselfers and laptop improvisers---hyperproductive, multi-aliased artists like V/VM, Speedranch Jansky, Fennesz, Matmos, labels like Irritant, Mego, FatCat, Skam--who release split singles (like the EP Depredo shared with Christoph De Babalon on FatCat earlier this year), collaborate on one-off projects, jam together on tour, and trade remixes.  (The recent kid606 and friends Vol.1 collates remixes of and by Depredo, and is highly recommended).  With many records released in editions of 500 or less, it could be that this scene (IDM's New Wave) has more producers than consumers--which either fulfils punk's Situationist utopia of a culture where the gap between engaged artist or passive spectator is abolished, or just makes this whole zone a cultural backwater. (What's the point of having a revolution if nobody  notices?)
Punk was a spasm within the same cultural formation that included progressive rock, it was younger brothers revolting their older brother's wisdom. Johnny Rotten owned a Pink Floyd T-shirt before he scrawled "I Hate" on it, and lots of punks had Gentle Giant record secreted in back of their collections. (Bizarrely kid606  has remixed Gentle Giant, or so his website discography claims).  Inevitably, kid606 and his fellow insurgents share some familial traits with IDM.  Such as IDM's founding and fallacious dichotomy between listening and dancing (bollox, of course--dancers listen very closely, with every sinew and muscle and nerve in their bodies). Another IDM notion that Depredo appears to share is the idea of scenes as creative shackles on the artist (that's how I read the ambiguous title  "Down With The Scene", anyway). Again, bollox--nine times out of ten in the history of dance music, it's the populist hardcore scenes that come up with the really big, really new ideas, which the fringe experimentalists merely tweak or addle with nuances.
Drill'n'bass is the obvious recent example of this parasitism, so it's worth contrasting a track by Squarepusher, the genre's most famous exponent, with a superficially similar one by kid606. The 'Pusher man's "Come On  My Selector" is a sneering parody of jungle, its facetious title tweaking and enfeebling a jump-up catchphrase that has huge historical weight behind it, and that in its context of actual usage represents the power of the crowd over the DJ (becoming part of the crowd being IDM's mortal terror).

Turning jungle into a joke is probably the only way an IDM artist like Squarepusher can deal with the humiliation of his debts to SDM. "Catstep/My Kitten/Catnap Vatstep Dsp Remix" (a Hrvatski remix of Depredo track that's on both Down With the Scene and Kid 606 and Friends) is no less daft than "Come On My Selector", and it shares the hallmark of IDM forays into hardcore terrain (a sort of danger-less mayhem,  stemming from the lack of real "social energy" invested in the music). But there's something palpably loving about its pastiche of jungalistic cliches (a Sleng-Teng Casio bassline, tumbling Amen breakbeats, a vocoder-ragga voice chanting buzzphrases like "mash it up", "dubplate pressure", and "ruffneck soldier" like a cross between Stephen Hawking and Beenie Man), and an explosive topsy-turvy energy that recalls jungle at its most rinsed out circa '93-94.
Left-field artists often expect applause for combining several Really Big, Really New ideas that originated elsewhere. And the harshest thing you could say about kid606 is that he's really just offering an entertainingly executed composite of  established extremisms. I'd rather give him the benefit of the doubt, and hear his music as the omnivorous, insatiable frenzy of a restless musical spirit. If he hasn't yet reached the absolute novelty he aspires to, you can catch the scent of its imminence.

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