While I may discuss negative reviews here more than I find myself writing them, when running a hobbyist music site on your own time and dime, the general rule of thumb is to write whatever you feel passionate about (even if it's anything but beatitude). One of my sincerest passions is something the kids are calling 'archive fever.' As a history buff and music fanatic, I am constantly trying to both learn more about the musics, scenes, and sounds that continue to inspire me while finding new ones that enhance my grasp of music history. Whenever I find some belated (to me) pocket of art that's been left out of most white, western, and male cultural histories, you can catch me in the library and online going simply HAM on all the primary and secondary sources I can get my hands on.
For those unfamiliar with academic-speak--and since these words will prove central to our critique--a primary source is the OG. For instance, Plato's godawful Republic is a primary philosophical text that's fueled a cottage industry of analysis and commentary, also known as secondary sources. Or to use a musical example, a compilation is a secondary source collecting a curated selection of songs removed from the context of their primary sources, be they albums or singles. In the case of ethnographic records in which musical anthropologists record indigenous musics, ideally with little to no mediation on their part, the secondary text of the compilation is also a primary text in the sense that it's the only physical manifestation of a primary musical source that exists outside of the western recording industry.
As the above examples hopefully illustrate, the line between an original work of art and its secondary form--be it in a curated collection or cynically reappropriated by western musicians--can be rather nebulous. Or when a culture's music is removed of its singular character to fit into the ever-problematic category of world music. It's in such cases that the notion of primary and secondary become insufficient concepts with which to identify the original object from its copy. For you Matrix fans out there--a copy of this book is on Neo's shelf in the opening scenes of the first film--this might be starting to sound reminiscent of the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard's concept of the simulacrum or a copy of a copy as articulated in "Simulacra and Simulation" from Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings . Where once ethnographic music captured by the likes of Harry Smith or Folkways served as an aural map to largely unknown societies and cultures (both within American and outside it), late capitalism and globalism helped encourage the adoption of a musical map known as 'world music.' Local styles are instantly disseminated via YouTube and Soundcloud and then emulated by others with no direct connection to the musical culture they're recreating (or appropriating).
The replacement of the map for the real is what Baudrillard refers to as the precession of the real (not procession), which precedes our apprehension of a non-mediated simulation through which all meaning is filtered and interpreted for us. There is no "authentic me," only an imitation of a copy foisted upon us from the moment of birth (and you thought I mentioned The Matrix just to be cheeky. You don't know me, bitch;).
Charting a three-step historical assembly line, in the first order (the Medieval period) the image was seen as a stand-in for the real. Whereas in the second order of the simulacrum that occurred during the industrial revolution, the mass production of art objects chipped away at the real. It is in the third order of the current (or recently past) postmodern era that we see the precession of the simulacrum close the gap between reality and representation so that "the territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory—precession of simulacra—that engenders the territory."
Writing in 1981, Baudrillard identified a number of "present-day simulators"--including the way that digital media structured our private selves and the abstraction of money into ones and zeros--as producers of the "hyperreal" distancing ourselves from truth and the real
But what is the sound of simulacra? Looking to audio examples, the eighties saw the rise of the world music genre in which indigenous musics in their most palpable (re: western) form were heavily marketed/commercialized and played in shopping malls and sold on television. In 1986, this growing industry saw a serious boost with the massive success of Paul Simon’s Graceland (in which he famously broke the cultural embargo on South African apartheid, demonstrating the often fraught geo-political realities that such musical exchanges exist againgst).
In the article “World Music: Deterritorializing Place and Identity” John Connell and Chris Gibson describe the post-Graceland world music boom as such:
Strategic inauthenticity', romanticization and the fetishization of marginality were central to the search for and marketing of purity and novelty: simplistic celebrations of geographical diversity and remoteness. The formal arrival of world music in 1987 was as a marketing category with commerce and culture entangled and inseparable, in a form of appropriation for western, cosmopolitan audiences.
Here we have a perfect example of simulacra’s precession as these ‘aural maps’ to other countries musical cultures were already inscribed within a western capitalist framework. In their analysis, world music becomes a "selective commercial category" that elides its real roots in regional cultures and becomes a tool for presenting cultural identities and the places that inform those identities as a commercial construction. World music is like a postcard from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil with a hot thang in a speedo, pushing the favelas and any sincere cultural expression out of the picture.
Having grown up in a house that loved Talking Heads and Graceland (SO MUCH), world music was a genre term that got bandied about a lot in the late 80s and early 90s. As the writers note at the outset of their essay, it's surprising that "no previous work has explored the significance and meaning of 'world music’" given the period's "interdependence and intermingling of global, distant and local logics, resulting in the greater hybridization and perforation of social, economic and political life."In today's Web 2.0-aided reissue culture, we have greater access to local musics and scenes from throughout history. These lost or overlooked or forgotten records are often repressed in a faithful manner, often simply keeping the original art (losing it when it looks a bit too out of time). World music was never interested in the original product, but rather in making cultural music into a product primed for a western audience.
In their constant allusions to the idea of deterritorialization--an idea popularized by Deleuze and Guattari but also used by anthropologists to refer to the weakening and displacement of certain cultural subject and objects from a particular spatio-temporal location--they are attempting to demonstrate how some cultural practices can easily transcend boundary lines, negotiating between one's native culture and that of their new home. Through migration from poor to wealthier countries becoming an essential aspect of globalism, music became increasingly estranged from "bounded, fixed or essentialized identities" and a certain 'citizen of the world' mentality can arise, one that can produce meaningful syntheses between disparate musical traditions. Taking the example of Bhangra--a musical tradition used by Missy Elliot in her hit "Get Ur Freak On--as an instance in which a music is made up of 'multiple diasporas,' they illustrate the double bind of cultural exchange and appropriation, which offers both a platform for genune musical innovation while reinscribing the artists "within hegemonic constructions of identity, culture, and community."
As the internet has further empowered the "modern mass-mediated transcultural communication," change through hybridizations of different cultural styles and musics--with the authors using the early 90s exchange of ideas between Jamiacan reggae dynamic duo Steely and Cleevie and Bronx producer Massive B who would add hip-hop 'flava.' In a matter of days, that cross-exchange of ideas and approaches "is booming down the fences at the weekly 'sound clash' between Metromedia Hi-Fi and the mighty Stone Love Sound System somewhere in a crowded field in West Kingston. Or in a community center in Brixton."
Despite the fact these innovations would often find themselves reterritorialized within the broader global commercial culture, producers like Nitin Sawhney sought out the real "by incorporating a diversity of beats, sounds and emotions into track that escaped ethnic or place categorization, and where families and communities were divided by the extent of assimilation and change." She added the stinging closing observation that using "the cultural forms of diaspora" constitutes a naive or even opportunistic artistic practice.
The idea of strategic authenticity is a powerful one in my mind as it succinctly captures the fraught nature of our valorization of that quality in music scenes and pockets of 'authentic' culture. As I'll discuss at further length in my HCC essay, authenticity has become something inherently fabricated, something to be imitated where once performers were the creators of musical culture instead of vessels of commodification and created "something 'qualititatively new, with its own dynamics, rather than just a dilution or corruption of something formerly authentic'...artists resented being categorized as 'world music', separate from a wider body of popular music. This results in what Sawhney describes as "world music as a form of apartheid" as 'world music' CDs are quickly ghettoized within record stores, resisting the fetishization of the other that is the backbone of world music marketing.
While this was certainly a bit of a detour, it helps to give a concrete example of how late capitalism and society is able to, in many ways, not just hide the real but deny its very sovereignty. And looking beyond just this review--a review of an act that trades in the type of rave fetishization that borders on the parodic--the case of world music is an early example of the drive towards genre's erasure. Genres have always been a product of 'local identification' that not only helps to foster a homegrown musical language, but also extra-musical infrastructures like distribution and concert spaces. Multinational cultural products do not always displace local ones but are instead repurposed and given a new significance. But in concluding, the authors tend to see these cases as the exception--though a study conducted today might turn up different results (or not).
Rather than eliminating specificity and creating homogeneity, capitalism absorbs and works through difference, resulting in multiple capitalisms and multiple modernities, though centered in the west. Societies can no longer be seen as 'self-contained, authentic, meaning-making communities; rather most communities are derivative and mutually entangled, enmeshed in the complex power-laden relations between local worlds and larger systems' (Lockard, 1998: 266).
One concept I've intentionally skirted around is authenticity, though I find it very significant that such a piece would so acutely diagnose the strategic quality of it all. Authenticity is something that can be packaged and marketed to just about every demographic for its a value we cherish in the west, although it too is essentially a map that replaces the real or sincere. After all, going back to the imperialist French embracing of Japonisme or the "carefully constructed exotica, these are early example of how "World music, like some forms of dance music, allows 'white folk to rub shoulders with a carefully constructed exotica and for the perpetuation of a myth of multiculture.'"
Yet strategic inauthenticity, alongside the convergence –often accidental –of different musical genres, brought an emerging sense of ‘commodified otherness, blurred boundaries between exotic and familiar, the local and the global in transnational popular culture’(Feld, 1991: 134). World music ultimately labeled its places of origin as exotic and ‘third world’, with its aura of inferiority, while attributing virtues to their musical traditions.
Speaking to world music's loss of reference in a "postmodern global culture," that other long-time PoMo buzzword 'pastiche' comes into the picture as a means to effectively analyze world music's free-floating and meaningless authenticity. Much like simulacra, 'pastiche' is another watchword of postmodern theory that is so often used to dismiss uninspired and imitative musics while also being a celebrated artistic strategy (as it was arguably used in such artworks as "American Gothic" or much of Pop Art as well as within literature). Unlike most preceding intellectual movements in which there was often a shared set of beliefs or values, postmodern has remained one of those overused words few people actually understand fully because it doesn’t designate a unified position or outlook. Much like the linearity inherent in its name, postmodernism refers to a loose collection of ideas that came into popularity as modernism’s grand narrative of progress and celebration of the new above all else was mired by the milk of human cruelty (see all the wars).
As Frederic Jameson assessed as a primary characteristic of the postmodern era the eradication of telos, of the end of history or capitalism. Namely, postmodernism is an effective tool with which to critique the narrative quality of much professional history. And while in the 90s and 00s, films like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill wore their pastiche cred on their sleeves, yet managed to say something that transcended the countless influences informing either movie. Where the theory of simulacra is used to diagnose our descent into the 'desert of the real,' pastiche often inadvertently lionizes the products of capitalism--be it music, commercials, products steeped in nostalgia--while increasingly failing to say anything of import about the current moment. Jameson, in his essay "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" puts it far better than I could:
That is the moment at which pastiche appears and parody has become impossible. Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique style, the wearing of a stylistic mask, speech in a dead language: but it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without parody's ulterior motive, without the satirical impulse, without laughter, without that still latent feeling that there exists something normal compared to which what is being imitated is rather comic. Pastiche is blank parody, parody that has lost its sense of humor: pastiche is to parody what that curious thing, the modern practice of a kind of blank irony, is to what Wayne Booth calls the stable and comic ironies of, say, the 18th century.
In some of my earlier writings for this site, I discussed how the experimental computer musician Carl Stone developed many of the ideas often associated with hip hop on the other side of the county, in tandem but not in conversation with one another. Taking the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss's idea of bricolage as a guiding concept--"construction or creation from a diverse range of available things." In my interview with the collage artist Dan Houghland who used images from his Instagram feed to make photographic-like art pieces that, to me, represented a type of bricollage. The idea is a fraught one, however, as using what one has at their disposal means that they will often be confined within the strata of society in which they inhabit, potentially eradicating new combinations and hybrids in favor of mindlessly imitating existing sound.
It's this less-than-favorable presentation of bricollage that came to mind when encountering the latest project of computer music hooligans EVOL, consisting of the duo of Roc Jiménez de Cisneros and Stephen Sharp. Released a few weeks back, their latest record Ideal Acid is 303 snippets of classic acid tunes sequenced in rapid succession in a way that subverts the very hypnotic and repetitive nature of acid houe. Now, EVOL 100% deserves the credit for falling down rave's self-historicizing rabbit hole as early as the late 90s, when dance music as a whole seemed to be assessing what it had accomplished (and didn't) over just a single decade (and change). Long before Lorenzo Senni helped popularize a beatless form of melodic dance-not-dance music that figures like Ricardo Donoso were already exploring, EVOL utilized computer technology to isolate the textual-melodic moments within rave music, creating weightless compositions that as can be heard on the A side of Flapper, manage to transform severe repetition into a hallucinatory listening experience, filter passes and rhythms instantly evoking a moment on the dancefloor from over twenty-five years ago before the worm-like pulsation veers to the left and then to the right again (and again).
Listening to Evol is like listening to a distillation of dance music to the rhythmic-melodic atoms whose endless variations can be found across rave's history. It's not pastiched in that they are not imitating any readily-recognizable forms of rave music and it's not rave's own simulacrum (that honor would go to the like of Zomby). They approach their concepts with a historian's rigor as seen in their 2012 breakthrough Wormhole Shubz. The press release for the album contained a succinct description of their overarching project, presenting the album as "a new step forward in the ongoing audio research/frenzy that Sharp and Jiménez de Cisneros call Rave Synthesis — a deconstruction of rave culture icons under radically different compositional strategies.” Described as a "renewed morphology"--the study of the shapes and form of things--that took the sounds typically associated with rave's second wave and exaggerated their otherworldly sonic qualities to mutate them into 'rave slime,' which might smell like rave, but certainly doesn't taste like it. The album came with an eight-page booklet which contained an interview with Eric Persing, the inventor of the 'hoover sound' via the 'What the?' patch created for the Roland Alpha Juno Synth hat transformed Joey Beltram's Second Phase-produced game-changer "Mentasm" into one of the preeminent audio viruses of rave's second wave (and expanding well beyond it into breakbeat hardcore and early jungle amongst other emergent genre). Described by Jiménez de Cisneros as "the golden era of European rave and hardcore" that existed "around 1990, 1991 and 1992," their Fact mix from 2012 continued their studies of the 'What the?' patch by editing together 105 tracks that featured the hoover sound when it was "wildly popular and its potential was being explored. Despite quickly becoming a gimmick across the scene, and one that spawned countless shit tunes, the hoover was at its peak in the very early nineties, and the productions of that time set the gold standard for years to come. Hoovers survived as a cliché but hardly evolved after that.”
Much like a presidential historian, EVOL's admiration for dance music's early sonic innovations flirts between being quasi-academic and gimmicky, exhaustive and exhausting. The Fact Mix was an early popular example of the methodology that's been taken to an illogical extreme on Ideal Acid. Where the Fact mix reflects a surgical exactitude in stitching together such disparate tracks and different uses of the hoover sound, it also obtains an uncanny singularity. It's not a linear narrative in the sense that its beginning, middle, and end have little salient aural significance, but they are still able to craft a story from other's music, which after all, is what DJ's do. The mix got me thinking about the difference and similarities with Lorenzo Senni, another artist who broke through around the same time by taking a utilitarian element of functional dance music and expanding it into something potentially more substantive and less-faithful to the music inspired by it while still raising questions as to what this achieves on an artistic level.
Ever since Senni rose to prominence through his not-groundbreaking notion to isolate the most emotionally-wrought element of trance music: the breakdown. Where Evol will obsessively pore over a single sound or element of rave, Senni works with a far more expanded set of tools, drawing upon trance's ever-growing maximalism and classic musicality as reflected in his progression since releasing 2012's brutalist-tinged Quantum Jelly. Where a track like "Windows of Vulnerability careened down a tearjerker melody, the synths remained hard and brittle, undercutting the heart-on-sleeve sentiment and keeping the music at a certain remove endemic of 'difficult' experimental music (drawing on that old modernist notion that to be avant-garde you must be inaccessible).
And while Senni could have stayed down his niche path, Superimpositions showed him open to variegating his sonic palette, the twinkling high-end of album highlight soon reinforced in droves by cruise missile synth arpeggiations, He introduced multiple melodic motifs into the mix as the tracks' permanent state of anticipation became a narrative vehicle in and of themselves. And from a western musical standpoint, it was an interesting strategy, extending the tension-filled big room breakdown past a meager sixteen or thirty-two bars into a seven-minute composition, robbing it of its upward crescendo and placing it on the same planar access as techno.
Despite the project's stark beginnings and experimental stubbornness, by the time Senni was signed by Warp, he made it clear he was eager to take the project in something of an avant-pop direction sounding like he jammed together about thirty different trance breakdowns into a single composition. Released in advance of his first EP for Warp, the self-aware Rave Voyeur, he released a one-hour mix that was the product of years of sampling and collecting 'build-ups' from trance, hardstyle, hard-trance, and hardcore. In a way more like Evol's Hoover mix than Ideal Acid, the absence of a dependable groove becomes the groove as the listener is left in a state of. perpetual wish unfulfillment, the drop never coming at the end of. the crescendo. It was impressive in its amphetamine-like obsessiveness (though Senni is straight edge, I believe) that mirrored the manic pop of the PC Music camp, another group of producers engaging in either cynical or all-too genuine nostalgia for the poppy side of rave music.
Pop music these days can resemble a bingo game in that it's a hybridization of numerous genres and styles. Yet without those colorful chips, most pop is just a dull bingo card (not all of it of course; I'm focusing primarily on those pop producers who seek to boil down songwriting to a formula rather than a blend of inspiration and influence. Of course, EVOL and Senni are operating within a single genre or tradition using an established set of tool (though their music grows increasingly heterodox, in different ways). Theirs is a seemingly rules-bound approach to referential sonic experimentation with which to work, unspoken limitations that arguably made Senni's first two weightless trance albums such a joy. His breakdown mix was a bit more curious, for while I admired the work it undoubtedly required, I'd be curious to hear if anyone listened to the whole thing and liked it.
That joyless sense of confusion came right to mind when I started reading the intro to the Boomkat mailer. As it gets more absurd with each passing paragraph, I hope you forgive me if I post it all right here...and I hope it makes you fucking giggle. For just like that creepy dude who's always telling you how nice he is, when a press release starts off witht the words "No hype," well, read for yourself:
No hype, this record is the maddest belter you’ll hear this year. A rinse thru three hundred and three acid cherries pitted and sequenced, tweak for tweak , into the only rave weapon you’ll ever need. 303 copies, acid yellow vinyl with download.
Taking Evol's obsession with Roland’s squelchy grey box to an ultimate, logical conclusion that leaves dancefloors turned utterly inside out and begging for track ID’s, it’s the kind of idea that has been floated in raves, smoking areas and afterparties for the past 20 years but has never been executed with such precise method and inexorable effect, until now.
Taking way too many classics to mention, EVOLmodulate a cascade of liquified riffs that last anywhere between 1 beat and a few bars before shifting to the next pattern, and so forth. The cumulative effect of elastic undulation is mind-bending and body-jacking in the extreme, yet uncompromisingly crafted at the immediate service of the rave.
It feels as though much of EVOL’s practice to date, from mixes for FACT and ReelTorque, to their experimental objects for Alku and blasts for Presto!?, Diagonal and BUS have been leading to this point: the ultimate acid rave tool.
As the mere 300 copies in existence are largely restricted to vinyl right now, you can get a solid idea of what it involves here, in this 2013 mix for Ideal that basically served as an early attempt at the idea, one which is--as every news story quotes from the press release---"the kind of idea that has been floated in raves, smoking areas and afterparties for the past 20 years."
Now, I won't lie. When I read that line, I basically knew I was going to have an issue with this album. For while there are some great stoned ideas that everyone has that work out stupendously, mainly ones involving food, what does such a statement say about a work of art? Well, much like the disco medlies that eventually became commonplace as the music took over--ten or fifteen-minute jaunts through all your favorite songs set to a disco beat-- Ideal Acid is a medley constructed by a computer hooligan. And not a very interesting one.
I might be playing the role of the old fogie here--and I can stomach the product much more in mix form--but stuffing 303 one- to five-second samples of classic acid tunes does not a record make. What's more frustrating about how the record has been presented/marketed as the ultimate rave tool, which I personally have a hard time buying. Although the TB-303 and emulators are structured around the twelve-note western octave, one often gets whiffs of many other in-between tones that emerge from the more pitch bending and portamento-heavy tracks.
So the idea that stitching together over 300 samples might not sound as coherent as the record has been touted remains a bit baffling After all, though the keys often bleed into one another, the ever-changing rhythmic patterns makes losing oneself in the record highly implausible. Acid's whole appeal was always its modulation-through-repetition. You can play the same bassline for thirteen minutes and still create an utterly compelling and game-changing track. The earlier examples of EVOL's catalog I included above certainly demonstrates that they're focused upon somewhere just beyond the dancefloor (though their set at Berghain supposedly went down just fine, though I've never really heard anyone complain about their time at Berghain either!)
So what is Ideal Acid? Is it an ultimate rave tool? A medley of acid's greatest moments? A sincere artistic interpolation of a certain genre and dance music culture? It's most likely all these things depending on who you're asking. Acid house was an American musical export enthusiastically embraced by the UK and Europe and packaged not as accidental or avant-garde music, but as a new western pop music (with the identikit graphic design to nail it all home). It's not imitation but that doesn't mean the sticky sweet stench of uninspired pastiche doesn't hang all over it, the acid house they pay tribute to a European simulacrum of an authentic black American music. As one makes their way through either side of Ideal Acid, what the appeal is supposed to be become less and less clear, especially as the idea is not inherently a bad one. Yes, such facile concepts are better suited for mixes, but when nostalgia is such an unfortunately powerful source in so much of contemporary dance music, it's hard to swallow such a literal serving of it.
I'm not deeply familiar with EVOL's back catalog but listening to the two- to three-minute manic loops that comprise albums like Do These, I can at least sense that hypnotic, even insane feeling a dancefloor can incite depending on the circumstance--that either a massive orgy or violent riot could break out if the DJ pushes the dancers any further. But Ideal Acid is tantamount to Evol's muzak phase, populist fare presented under the guise of the rave avant-garde (which as a concept makes zero sense, not least because an avant-garde practice is rarely identified as such). It's that sense of hooliganism that's long given EVOL a bit of edge over the other many rave revisionists as they represent a sort of risk-taking not unlike taking three pills and chasing them with two more an hour later. Is it deeply irresponsible? Sure. But is it fun? When done right, it achieves that type of white-hot intensity that makes questions of fun moot, so totalizing is the present moment created by the music. In this case, it feels like a haphazard cash grab awash in the type of cynical nostalgia that makes so much of contemporary dance music unlistenable for me, as this very much is. There's nothing wrong with looking back in time through one's artistic practice, but to get lost in the endless archives of the past is to forget the pure potentiality that has long fueled dance music's most significant developments.