Saturday, 1 December 2012

Music of Our Time

[I am posting this while listening to a mixtape I got this morning from a friendly Rouges Foam, Heck, You will hit something that looks like Mount Everest. He also become, for this sake, a cut-and-paste collage master - lovely! - but not really sure what to think of this sport imagination (below) - you must've become very americanised, my friend, during your stay in the US! It made me think though I should post this spiked live review for the Wire, which didnt get the editors' approval, making me think what is it, that I'm possibly getting wrong here? Why I find myself unable to appreciate the new music, at least from certain post-hauntological spectrum, find it boring, uneventful, conjunctural, moribund-without-a -reason. Rouge's mix, which encompasses much more than post-hauntology, shows at least certain interesting creative ricketiness, de rigeur moribundity, sure, but at least soundscapes in which something happens; the more 'happens' in music, the better, in my view; too much is just enough. Recently I was giving a lecture at the Krakow's Unsound festival about the end of personality in music: how lack of authorship, from interesting (from ballardian The Normal and such industry-jokes as Silicon Teens to anonymity of techno & house and then hauntology, Burial and so on) becomes today just a pose, just another element of reversed fashionable identikit. Characteristically, also in terms of sound, of things actually happening in the music, post-hauntology is rather uneventful and hollow, so alienated, so bleak (and so depoliticised). How strange, but also how apt, given this generation was born already to neoliberalism, from the beginning saturated in "there's no alternative"...Anyway, here're my thoughts after going to a gig of some of the hottest artists of the season, trying to at teh same time reflect on a style, of which Tri-angle roster seem most obvious exponent]

[wrote sometime betw. June-July 2012]

Holy Other + Vessel + LIE + Haxan Cloak + Evian Christ
Islington Mill, Salford, UK

There must be a method behind the intense, exhausting boringness of contemporary electronica shows: a group of people stand in complete darkness, listening to hisses and breaks coming from nowhere, while a stroboscope glides over their eyes from time to time. On some level it appeals to me: it helps contemplation. It seems to me musicians are trying to demonstrate the identitylessness of music-making in the times of the disappearance of much bigger things. Or indeed they transmit this identitylessness. Hidden under mysterious monikers and all that, in the darkness, amongst strobes and huge amounts of dry ice, Holy Other, Vessel, Haxan Cloak and Evian Christ, new artists on Brooklyn’s Tri-Angle label, presented themselves recently to the Mancunian public.

The evening at this former working mill, now artists’ residences, seems very much of a piece, a homogenously designed environment. Similar murky moods sweep into each other with no irritating changes. The most interesting of the pack is Holy Other, not for their sampling of soul singers, but because their sound seems to have more substance and physicality. Theirs is an airy, spacey music, like an all-encompassing cloud over which beats, samples and clicks occur, strangely deprived of the sensually charged atmosphere of R&B and hiphop. Evian Christ produce a similarly slowed down, foggy take on dance music using hiphop and R&B cut-ups. Vessel finally provides some opportunities for dancing within this stasis, with more readable beats and breaks. Haxan Cloak’s set has a Lynchian (or Badalamentian) moodiness, with violin and cello parts played from computer, but unfortunately this evokes a cheesy soundtrack to an improvised black mass rather than existential shivers. And as I understand this may be the beginnings of some of those very young artists playing live, and how this may differ from the recorded and mixed material, I can still expect from music to grip me, to take me, transport me with it. I see where they're going: Joseph Beuys on the cover, strong fascination with Joy Division, love for GYBE! And nowhere may be a still interesting place to be,  no doubt, but to me, this is still too uneventful even for a limbo. 

Tri-Angle (and not only, cos those artists now transcended their initial label) initially attempted to achieve a contemporary Gothic a la 4AD, but with various forms of urban music as source material. Its output may be juxtaposed with some of the music only a few years earlier, associated with Hauntology – not necessarily through how they sound, but in the mental climate they evoke. Hauntology has been criticised for empty miserabilism, philosophical vacuousness and occultist nonsense, but artists associated with it, like Rolan Vega or Burial, were at least addressing issues such as the decline of social democracy or the death of rave culture. The music of younger generation represented by Tri-Angle doesn’t match the activity of that same generation on the streets, though. but it’s telling, how much it is a music of the cold late capitalist world: with its energy as if from the start stifled, sucked in. Here, mourning has developed into melancholy and can’t really place its reference anymore. Fascinated by darkness, they make music which evokes depression in form, but seems to suffer from the more general malaise - lacking the potentially activating political claims. They add a different set of nostalgic references, sampling hiphop, crunk, triphop (Vessel’s Sebastian Gainsborough is from Bristol), UK garage or r’n’b, but the result seems purely decorative, very much ‘late internet’, where all those elements collide and mix into a nondescript mass.

There’s something Catholic about the show, but without the dramaturgy, leaving pessimism, eschatological thoughts and, finally, misery. There’s no doubt those musicians are adept at putting music together in a lush, Gothic way, but the paralysis they induce is sometimes unbearable. This is not music to bliss out to, like My Bloody Valentine, nor anything holding a hidden menace, like, say, Basic Channel or Tricky: it is a continuous wallow. A live recording from this gig could be added to Dominic Fox’s Cold World, a book on depression and melancholy, but whereas Fox sees a chance to turn passivity into militant negative euphoria, I can’t see much in this music beyond the contemplation of mental paralysis. There is a huge turnout – Salford is now a newly emerging space for indie culture – but while the gig may have taken place in a post-industrial space, its direct surroundings are a mass of recession dereliction, the ruins of new Great Britain, casting a longer and longer shadow.

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