Wednesday, April 25, 2012

R&D (rhythm & darkness)

A quotation from Amos Childs of Bristol's Young Echo crew that I read at the end of the day yesterday in this great feature on them nicely clarified some thoughts that had been oozing around the edges of my mind earlier in the day:

"I think what people miss about the essence of dance music is that it wasn’t originally a safe, boring thing," says Amos, getting back to the purpose behind Young Echo. "All of these styles that people are doing quite boringly, house music, dubstep, techno, whatever, they all started out very fringe, almost punk things, and I think sometimes people forget that. It can become all about keeping a crowd happy."

With Death Grips having released their album The Money Store recently and thus being on my mind, I was finally moved to buy their album from last year, Exmilitary (that's the Bandcamp-based link; I couldn't find a digital version on Amazon, Boomkat, Juno, or iTunes; had I known at the start of the search that it was on Bandcamp, I would have gone there straight away). It had been on my radar for quite a while, and I wanted to get fully acquainted with it before progressing to The Money Store. The synthesis of hip-hop/nuum/juke electronics with an industrial/noise rock/hardcore punk sensibility (and samples, which were a great callback to my 2008 hardcore immersion) is just a total sweet spot for my musical taste and arrives at brutal sonic destinations that I'd been away from for too long.

As I went to bed last night with Death Grips' hooks burrowed into my brain and Amos' spot-on words freshly received, I thought about the frequently posited linear spectrum of electronic music's functions: at one end, simply being intended to get you jiggy and/or euphoric on the dance floor; at the other end, being a vehicle, via headphones, for solitary inner-space journeys. A piece of music that nails both of these can then be regarded as an ultimate dance music achievement. But with a little thought it becomes obvious that there can be far more dimensions to (electronic and other) music's function than just those two poles, noble though they both are. I think another important purpose of music — not ALL music, of course, just some, as with danceability and spirit-transportability — is to rattle your bones, to get you spooked, to bag you up and roll you into a dark forest at night and leave you there with only the creatures with glinting eyes to keep you company. When electronic/dance music accomplishes this while remaining danceable, something truly special is going on; the rhythms and the darkness slip right over into the realm of ritual and the occult. I think that could be part of the reason why old-school jungle is such a hallowed realm for so many producers and listeners in the dubstep diaspora, myself included, via the darkness and weirdness of the bass combined with the still mind-blowing percussion science, ominous and transportive and funky at its best. This is what Death Grips, Lightning Bolt, 36 Chambers, deep industrial techno, Burial, Shackleton, crazy dark interbass tunes like Objekt's "Cactus," and certain strains of post-punk do for me as well; it seems to be part of the stirring-up that Young Echo are doing, and it's what I am striving toward in my own productions.

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