June 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
As history, it’s twisted, fragmented – a quality wrongly read by most critics as incoherence or wilful deception – and all the more valuable for that, a gesture to “seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger” (Walter Benjamin). There are devastating moments that seem to crystallise entire volumes of thought about our dreadful historical situation. The piercing originality of thought inextricable from formal innovation comes within sight: the series’ verdict on neo-liberalism and evolutionary psychology (our thinly-disguised version of 19th-century social Darwinism) is crushing and timely; but it slips away again.
Me on Adam Curtis. There is a hell of a lot more to be written about All Watched Over…, which I would have written with more space & time – though Mark Sinker’s Film Quarterly piece on him is a fine start.
June 18, 2011 § 2 Comments
That critics, who attempt to practice attention & sympathy as acutely as possible, find sparks in work that articulates the raging numbness that seizes them of a sudden, & that they, by their work, attempt to banish. The tenor of every Instagram feed, photo-&-quote Tumblr, willow-bodied fashion-shoot, fulfils Jameson’s pronouncement that postmodernism is distinguished by its affectlessness, its flatness. Ocean’s tunes are probably the strongest indication of Odd Future’s status as the product of bedrooms closed to everything but the internet, for whom the critics’ paradox is essentially superfluous: that interpersonality & feeling themselves are historically-conditioned phenomena, & the old forms have had their day.
June 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
2) This particular dynamic trope – & I probably wasn’t clear enough about this in the original piece – doesn’t seem to simply be (as ZSTC speculated) the result of hip-hop producers turning to Ibiza as they grew tired of post-Timb/Neptunes angularity. If you check the production/songwriting credits on a couple of recent albums – Flo-Rida’s Only One Flo (Part 1) & Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream – the names that crop up are interesting. Benny Blanco (one half, with Spank Rock, of Bangers & Cash), Bonnie McKee, Dr. Luke (who wrote for Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Pink & Avril Lavigne), Max Martin, one of the pioneers of the ‘Swedish’ sound that dominated American (& hence global) teen-pop throughout the early 00s, were all involved with writing & arranging the latter; Blanco, Luke, Martin & DJ Ammo (a cohort of Will.I.Am for those not paying attention at the back) all had production duties. These same folks wrote & produced most of the Flo Rida album & Mr. Cruz’s ‘Dynamite’. What we’re seeing, then, is in fact the return of an older, formerly dominant mode of pop, & the personnel who originated it.
3) Of course, this doesn’t cover everything: the kind of hip-hop producers who worked on pop singles have, in fact, moved over towards a more Ibiza-inflected sound – in the case of Will.i.am, the contrast between the acoustic/rock work of 2003’s Elephunk & Black Eyed Peas’ recent work is all too obvious, & Timb’s atrocious Katy Perry-assisted single last year made clear how far the trend had gone. (Incidentally, I’m sure this whole thing is connected to the increasing encroachment of rock-‘n’-rote methods into hip-hop over the last year-&-a-bit – cf. Lil Wayne’s Rebirth, B.o.B.’s Adventures of Bobby Ray; hip-hop losing faith in its own powers & means of production?)
4) The question of why is more complicated, & not one I can really answer without resorting to abstraction: the intermeshing & tension of economic/label pressure, the artistic culture inside labels (senior execs lean in different stylistic directions), internal power-struggles between competing producers & tendencies (whose stock goes down or up) & the intent of artists themselves has always been intensely complex in pop, & I don’t think imputing the change to any one factor is very helpful. There is, as well, the complicating factor of the audience, who are always both leaders & led of the pop industry. But, of course, wherever something happens in pop, the market isn’t far away. I don’t mean that in any crudely deterministic way – oh, the bottom’s fallen out of the base, so the superstructure’s got fucked, natch – not least because pop is, more than any other artistic form, both base and superstructure, an artistic product that is also (& inextricably) an economic engine. But I don’t think that the coincidence of the renaissance & subsequent crashing slow-down of hip-hop with the 00s boom & crash (99-01 for the first, late 06-08), an arc predicated on virtual & cultural capital (in wh/ hip-hop, with its recurrent dream of making mega-money via rap talent, participated and embodied more than perhaps any other form) really is coincidence. If, as this trend suggests, the locus of rhythmic innovation has migrated from the centre to the margins – & it seems no coincidence that underground producers have made 00s R&B their default reference as it fell from the top of the charts – then we really should ask ourselves why the dancefloor, radio, major label – the institutions and production sites of pop – can no longer support complexity – at the moment, in fact, when the underground/overground distinction is being eroded, & the biodiversity of pop’s ecosystem (taking in everything outside of the clearings, as it were) is at its most lush, complex & teeming. That takes more than technological determination (e.g. the internet).
June 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
I rediscovered, a few weeks back, a recorded discussion of some film that he’d shot: scratchy Super8 of a tiny cardboard boat bobbing in the harbour at Woolloomooloo, where the navy ships berth; and a loop of seagulls flying above Bronte Beach. The boat, I listened to him say, was a reminder that nearly all of us have come to Australia from elsewhere, but the birds migrate without borders.
Something, after the longest time, from Anwyn.