Monday, November 10, 2014

jungle tekno versus ethnotechno / record collection rock versus ardkore

(Wax Trax/TVT)
The Wire, early 1994

by Simon Reynolds

"Ethnotechno" is a post-rave update of Byrne & Eno's "My Life In The Bush
Of Ghosts" aesthetic, and as such resurrects all the attendant ethical
dilemmas. Is it demeaning to use world musics as exotic threads in an otherwise
Western sound-tapestry, in the process divorcing these musics from the cultural
fabric that gives them meaning? Is this just a cheap holiday in other people's
ethnicity, or is all the world's music a sound-library ripe for the borrowing?

Frankly, I dunno, but I will say that the 'sample dis, sample DAT'
approach of the various intelligent-technoheads on this compilation sounds and
feels more enjoyable than, say, the pan-global virtuosi studio jams convened by
Bill Laswell, even if the latter are a more reciprocal meeting between West and
non-West. In fact, the more deracinated the samples the better, as with the
Burmese drumming that adds just a tint of otherness to High Lonesome Sound
System's shimmering electronica, or the way Juno Reactor's "Alash (When I Graze
My Beautiful Sheep)" turns gutteral Siberian throat singing into a gurgling aciiied
bassline. Other highpoints include "Limbo" by Sandoz (a.k.a.  Richard Kirk), a lush
lattice of polyrhythms around a Yoruba chant, and Steel Porn Rhino's "AKA Electric",
in which Pygmy plainsong figures as rippling, water-spashy sound-surface.

Of course, techno is itself the new world music, in so far as it's boys
tinkering with the same hi-tech toys, speaking the same non-verbal Esperanto,
whether they're in San Francisco, Sheffield, Frankfurt or Tokyo.  Techno
inhabits Jon Hassell's Fourth World, where all musics are equally de-rooted
and thus equally up for grabs as they float by through the virtual ether.

At the opposite extreme--totally local, UK-specific--another post-rave
subgenre, 'ardkore jungle, offers its own kind of ersatz ethnicity, cobbled
together out of pop-cult detritus: shards of soul or reggae vocals,
Nth-generation breakbeats, video-nasty soundbites. For its increasingly
multiracial, underclass audience, jungle offers a tribal identity: it's the
residue of class consciousness left after the withering away of the organised
Labourite proletariat.  If junglist kids inhabit the UK's internal
colonies--inner city ghettos and suburban estates--then jungle is a kind of
postmodern dub reggae: several times faster of course, in keeping with the pace
of hyper-reality, but with the same sensi-seismic bass, and the same aura of
spiritual exile, sufferation and survivalism. Instead of Zion, though, utopia
is getting off your face at the weekend, and instead of the brotherhood of
I-and-I, there's paranonia and disconnection.  Jungle is for those who don't
just survive but thrive in the concrete jungle; similarly, calling yourself
'dark' (1993's dominant ardkore style and buzzword) means 'don't fuck with me'.

Once pioneers of the 'dark' sound, the Reinforced roster are now presiding
over hardcore's shift to a new sophistication, taking on elements from jazz,
quiet storm, garage and ambient. This compilation captures the label midway
between 'dark' and the New Thing, making a music at once morbid and mellow: a
phantasmic swarm-swirl of soul-diva whimpers, strings, jazz-inflected chords,
Cabaret Voltaire synth-slime, and off-kilter death-funk rhythms that recall
Material circa "Ciguri". This is the fitful, fever-dream sound of British
culture falling apart and struggling to re-integrate itself.

Right now, jungle is the tribal music of a generation who grew up after the death
of 'community'. But labels like Reinforced and Moving Shadow are pushing
hardcore forward to the point where it could blossom into a real culture: Britain's
very own equivalent to (as opposed to imitation of) hip hop. This noise is its birth-pangs.

Column in the series "The Knowledge"
iD, late 1993

by Simon Reynolds

Brian Eno has argued that the old model of the Artist, as a
Romantic figure gushing forth inspiration, is obsolete.  Instead,
today's artist isn't a creator but a curator: someone who rearranges
elements from the archives, forming striking new configurations.
Such scholarly pick'n'mix is certainly the name of the game in
Nineties music. I call it 'record collection rock'. At best, it can
mean a homage to the lost mythic immensity of rock'n'roll (Primal
Scream, Teenage Fan Club) or a sepia-tinted invocation of pop's
bygone grandeur (Saint Etienne, Denim).  At worst, it can mean the
clumsy, corny chameleonism of The Black Crowes and light-fingered
Lenny Kravitz.

Primal Scream have been arch-exponents of record collection
rock since their earliest days: back in 1986, Bobby Gillespie
compared rock to a library whose shelves were stacked with timeless
classics that you could dip into at will. Primal Scream's music has
evolved (and improved) as Gillespie's record collection has
expanded, from their early incarnation as Velvets/Byrds/Love
fetishists to 1991's "Screamadelica", which layered a smorgasbord of
unimpeachable taste (from Tim Buckley to Augustus Pablo to P-Funk to
Brian Wilson to Coltrane) over contemporary rave rhythms .

But the ultra-hip approach of bands like Primal Scream can seem
a bit oppressively tasteful, and so there's a counter-reaction: the
rehabilitation of the unhip and maligned pop tack of previous eras.
And so Saint Etienne, Denim, Pulp etc have lambasted the official
canon of rock visionaries, and erected their own pantheon of the
inauthentic and synthetic: a constellation of kitsch-adelic
extremists like David Essex, Glitter, The Sweet, Sparks, Joe Meek
etc.  The Saint Etienne/Denim approach offers much delight
(personally I adore "So Tough" and "Back In Denim") but 'delight' is
the word, with all the limitations it implies.  This is music that
offers titillation (the frisson of breaking rules of taste, of
staying ahead of the middlebrow consensus about 'good music'). But
it fails to provide the passionate involvement, the urgent
connection with life and desire, that pop has always been about. In
the end, it's just as trainspotter as the indie snobbery it defines
itself against: a kind of inverted snobbery ('we're too cool to fall
for the authenticity con', 'the more plastic, the better').

In recent years, some bands have tried an even more cunning
maneouvre, in an attempt to leap outside the game of hipster
oneupmanship altogether: they've pledged allegiance to only the
least esoteric of influences. The Stone Roses were first, citing
only The Beatles, Sex Pistols, Hendrix, with the heavy implication
that they too belonged in that class of world-historical band. The
Manic Street Preachers were next, aligning themselves with the
Pistols, Public Enemy, Guns N' Roses as a way of elevating
themselves above indie small fry. Most recently, Suede have rejected
hipster obscurantism and deliberately paid homage to embarassingly
obvious influences like The Smiths and David Bowie. But you have to
wonder whether Suede have really escaped the insidious,
all-pervading knowingness of record collection rock. Were Bowie and
Bolan ever as boned-up in pop iconography as Brett Anderson?

Meanwhile, the rehabilitation game continues, as bands push back
the taste barriers erected by punk (this month, Can and Faust are
hip, next it could be Mountain, Van Der Graaf Generator, The Enid).
And the frissons get milder as taste buds get jaded. Too often, new
bands invite responses like "it reminds me of...." or "they're like
a cross between X and Y" - reactions that have nothing to do with
the possessed, all-consuming HERE-AND-NOW-IS-ALL-THAT-COUNTS of the
true pop experience. Whither, you might well wail, the innocence?

The closest thing that I can find to a haven of 'innocence' in
Nineties pop is the hardcore techno scene.  'Ardkore is "unknowing",
not least because the vast majority of its members are either dim or
have stupefied themselves with drugs. But what really makes hardcore
refreshing is that its creators aren't steeped in rock history,
aren't inhibited by discernment.  The cult of groovy braindeath via
E, spliff, and BASS, has emptied a lot of heads, leaving them
totally open to ideas, some of which just happen to be avant-garde.

'Ardkore youth have no preconceptions and no discrimination when it
comes to making music: if a noise or riff can be made to work in a
track they'll nick it.  Ardkore is record collection pop in the
crudest sense (I imagine these hyped-up hooligans rifling through
their elder brothers' albums looking for samples) but the
subculture's general impulse towards disorientation means that
initially recognisable soundbites are gradually warped, distorted,
debased, rendered alien.  The commonest, but still highly effective
method, is to speed up voices into a cartoon chipmunk babble,
Martian doo-wop.  The tawdry and corny can be rendered sublime, as
with that track that reinvents the Korgis' soppy ballad "Everybody's
Got To Learn Sometime", or another track which turned the
'Eastenders' theme into something resembling a John Cage percussion
piece.  Elsewhere the most incongrous sources - folk-rock maidens
like June Tabor, Guns N' Roses riffs, Led Zep moans - are
revitalised by being shoved into an inappropriate context. Sparks
fly as incompatible sound-sources are forced to rub shoulders.

Junglist 'ardkore's version of 'postmodernism' has
a vulgar exuberance that's infinitely preferable to the wan
reverence of the record collection rockers, with their ill-concealed
nostalgia for a lost golden age when pop was somehow more POPTASTIC.
Hardcore returns us to the "unknowingness" of a time when pop lived
in the present tense, rather than being a dwindling series of
footnotes to its own history. Thank God, the nutters have taken over
the academy! Ignorance is bliss!

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