Saturday, March 20, 2004

Random notes
*I've been annoyed with something Simon wrote about the Kompakt vs. Rephlex night--he had a great time, I did too, we all did, hooray, and while I understand that everyone's entitled to their opinion re: subtlety and whatnot (the specific comment that's under my skin right now regards Kompakt's oversubtlety), I can't help but think, wait a second--doesn't "chug chug chug, and when the climaxes do come, they’re kind of mild" describe, um, the song "Energy Flash," Simon's (and my) favorite-ever techno track? How much does context come into play here? I have to imagine that some kid who's just getting into this stuff isn't going to hear a Mayer track or the Beltram one as being all that dissimilar--barely differentiated beatscapes w/interesting-turned-engrossing coloration/toppings? I have to imagine that what I (and I'm sure Simon) hears in "EF" as seething intensity and what he (and a lot of the time I--sure I love Kompakt overall but let's face it, a lot of it's pretty boring off the floor, though the percentage that moves me when I'm not expecting it to is notably large) finds too fucking subtle for its own good in Kompakt et al doesn't really sound all that different for someone who isn't already an adept in this stuff--and, I suspect, that will increasingly be the case in people who are adepts, the way people who know and care about pop music can hear the Beatles or Dylan or Prince and go, "enh, who cares?" As batshit as that response drives me in re: those particular artists (not to mention the main topic/s I'm broaching here), I recognize that such a response is healthy--slaughtering sacred cows for its own sake is as boring as hoisting them onto the mantel and bringing them up over and over again with the kind of solemnity that makes people hate hate hate Rolling Stone and/or baby boomers or punks, or--ahoy!--Nirvana.

Right now the latter cuts especially close to, cough cough, home, since I live in Seattle now and am watching all manner of media ready-aim-launch their 10th-anniversary-of-Cobain's-death stories this month. By summer's start that'll be mostly finished, thank goodness, but as healthy as it can be to look back this particular one just makes me queasy: it's an overly convenient cap on rock-as-epicenter of pop culture, as rock-as-real-music-maaaan meme, a too-neat end of a story that the more I immerse myself in music and culture and day-to-day living (seriously--the older I get and the more I work the more precious my free time becomes, the more important my interactions with other people are, it's something I treasure even if it is a bit of a wet thing to say), the more I realize that narratives seems just too pat. I like a neat narrative as much as anybody and obviously there's a lot of truth to the idea that Cobain's death gutted a lot of people, including a lot of musicians, who moved away from the kind of unvarnishedness Nirvana stood for and at its best exemplified. Of course it made people rethink things, not least the idea that rock was or is in itself everything, or could/can be. But even when Nirvana was around their music--as well as their presence, their interviews, and the fact that their music reached such a broad audience even though it came from a fairly circumscribed place--seemed innately pluralist, like it had room for everybody--rockers, ravers, hip-hoppers. Maybe it's overly romantic of me to have thought of them that way, but the major betrayal I've felt as a fan has come from the fact that a band that seemed to belong to everyone has become a stick to beat anyone who isn't exactly like the band itself over the head with. And what's especially dispiriting about this all for me is that I fucking LOVE Nirvana unreservedly, they were my favorite band, "Teen Spirit" altered my insides in exactly--no difference, no bullshit--the way it's gone down in history as having done for lots of other people and/or, cough cough, "my generation." That doesn't bother me, I'm not the least bit ashamed about any of that; what does bother me is the idea that everything stood still just because rock seemed to.

Back to Simon. Again from his report: "Someone said to me 'Mayer’s tearing shit up tonight'” and I thought, ‘has the meaning of the words "tearing," "shit," and "up’’ changed w/o my noticing?'" Of course they haven't--but Mayer's set had loads more dynamic range than he professes to have heard, much more than his DJ-mix CDs Immer and Fabric 13 had me guessing he'd pull off. (Ditto his San Francisco appearance last November, which was as good as I thought he'd have to be; NYC was waaay better.) I also have to take issue with the idea that the 1/2 hour of (excellent) SoundMurderer old-school was the best music of the night--as good as it was, it felt a little too contained, less firin' at all angles than going through motions that guaranteed excitement in themselves, as motions, but added comparatively little to what old-school jungle fans know and love about that music. (It's the same thing I feel about Wired For Sound compared to DJ DB's History of Our World Pt. 1, which sounds immediate and fresh and ripe with just-discovered-this-WOW-ness, whereas Wired is brilliant but brittle, less juicy and wide ranging, doesn't bring as much to the table--it's a highlight reel but there's little about its juxtapositions that lead to any kind of new or refreshened knowledge.) What makes Mayer uncanny to my ears (and feet/body--haven't danced that much in years, makes me wanna do lots more) is that his movements between plateaus feel less linear, less inevitable, than Digweed's or someone in that realm--a comparison Simon makes, and not a bad one either, but where Digweed's climbs feel like icy planes, smooth and steep, Mayer's feel jagged, his tracks will plateau for awhile and then take a sudden 70-degree turn upward. Part of it, as Geeta pointed out to me, is that he's extremely technically skillful, which in itself is a big so-what, but in Mayer's case it's important, because the records he plays next to each other don't usually sound very much alike (unless of course you think it all sounds alike, haha). There's nothing weirdo-wacky-eclectic about it--he makes emotionally sound choices, but they aren't necessarily obvious ones.

So right--they're subtle, maybe too subtle. Maybe that's true. But if it is then why don't I hear them that way--especially when the thing that's always frustrated me about, let's say, mid-'90s heroin house and Plastikman, is that their stuff was subtle to the point of nonexistence? Kompakt is subtle, but it's also pop, and I suspect Simon thinks that if it's going to go pop it should go all the fucking way (whereas my opinion of Gas and Consumed has always essentially been that if you're going to be subtle to the point of nonexistence, why fucking bother existing, heh heh?). That's a fair split (even if it's wrong--I'm purely guessing what Simon thinks here.) To me the best Kompakt stuff is really a medium between the pop and avant schools--more like the latter making gestures toward the former, but when the gestures are as fond as something like Richard Davis's "Bring Me Closer" or the better parts of Superpitcher's album I can't see what there is to complain about. Well, plenty--there's always plenty to complain about in everything, god knows. And Simon's one of the best around at it, and in the main he's pretty dead-on (good but could've been better, yes; microhouse needs to put on weight, double yes, and while I think that's happening I don't think Kompakt is what's doing it--I wanna hear the trackier stuff get meatier, and from what Sherburne's been writing that's been happening with Areal, though what I really truly want is for Perlon, my very fave label--well at least the 2CD Superlongevity is my very fave comp--to eat a bucket of KFC washed down with Mountain Dew), but what can I say? The disjunct between his and my takes on one aspect of what was for everyone involved a damn good night bothers me, and after all these wasted keystrokes I don't think I'm any closer to figuring out why.

Or maybe it's this: There's a distinct difference in how English reviewers and American ones hear pop. I've touched on this when I mocked Simon for hating on 1984, my long-held Favorite Pop Year Ever (though frankly '98-'02 are closing in--best epoch ever?) but it's coming closer and closer to home lately because of, well, Prince. As I've mentioned here before, I recently wrote a book on Sign 'O' the Times (which is apparently for sale now, though I haven't seen a real copy yet--the advance I have technically belongs to the books editor). As it turns out, the timing of the book is very good--Prince was just inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and I was quoted in a recent piece Keith Harris wrote about it for the t. Paul daily paper. The Minneapolis paper didn't do too badly itself with a mammoth oral history, which I finally read tonight. The thing is, Prince's music has been feeling more and more like my lifeblood over the past couple months--call it received nostalgia, or a delayed reaction to writing the book, or overexcitement about that book's issue, or being a year away from 30 and taking stock, or any number of other things, but as a consequence of my refound Prince mania I've been listening a lot to a handful of mid-'80s radio-hit type things, songs from my childhood: Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," Robert Palmer's Jam-Lewis produced "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On," John Waite's "Missing You," songs that are easy to sneer at as Patrick Bateman music but that have a pretty profound connection for me and that I think are great records period (just in case you've mistaken me for some kind of irony merchant). (Insert Jane Austen joke here.) I'll take 'em over the friggin' Associates for goddamned sure, to say the least. Which makes me also think one reason I'm cleaving to them is as a reaction to all the recent early '80s Brit-centric postpunk-etc. revivalism; if there's anything that music opposed it's the kind of digital-meat-and-potatoes-ness of songs like those, art school vs. vo-tech, or pancake [makeup] vs. corndogs, if you like, and if you don't mind the fact that Tears For Fears are as dreadfully English as any '80s band.

So yeah--weird, unmoored nostalgia pangs, brought on in large part by the Prince stuff. One thing I love about that Strib oral history is that it treats him like a hometown boy made good, which resonates with me greatly right now. Sometimes I think I need to move back to Minneapolis one and for all; sometimes I think my head is up my ass for even considering such a thing. Two things for sure: Minneapolis is a pretty ineradicable part of me that I'm glad is there, and I need to explore Seattle a lot more than I have been doing before I go anywhere else permanently. I went to Luomo the other night and had a blast; saw a few people there I know and like. After a weekend in NYC where I did a lot of complaining and soul-searching about my current residence, I knew I needed a new perspective on this place, and I think I've got it. Now to put it in action.