Well, it never rains, it pours (and pitches, smokes, and tangoes). This coming weekend’s a doozy as far as international acts are concerned, with Alex Smoke, Michael Mayer & Superpitcher as well as Pilooski and Todd Terje all adding their spin to the rotating assembly that is Melbourne’s nightlife. One of the more interesting unintended consequences of the arse falling out of CD & record sales may well be that you have more internationals travelling to play more gigs, more often. If you want to see your favourite artist play in Melbourne, keep torrenting their music…
On the torrent tip, the consistent responses from recent interviews in Inpress over the past few weeks are painting a picture of the new musicscape, and it's a pretty bleak one. Depending on who you ask, sales of vinyl are down between 30-70% in the past twelve months, and this decline has not been offset by an increase in digital sales. More people are buying digital, but a helluva lot of people are sharing music through Soulseek, BitTorrent and the like, and (again, depending on who you ask), this means a lot of small labels and independent record stores are going to the wall. A small but perhaps very telling anecdote from a writer friend of mine who works for a music magazine: he reckons that no-one can be bothered coming in to pick up promo CDs any more. Free CDs, and no-one’s interested in them (even people working in the office). What does this say?
Who knows what the future holds for electronic music? This little vignette from the WMC paints one kind of picture. A journalist friend of mine in attendance asked Richie Hawtin (and his ‘I wanna be Sven’ beard) what had been his favourite track of the Conference, to which he replied: ‘I don’t remember any of the tracks I’ve played.’ To which he quickly added, ‘Heartthrob, Heartthrob.’ High five, Richie! Rack ‘em up!
This also lends credence (and more than a little unwitting irony) to Michael Mayer’s opinion – published in my interview with him in this edition – that the use of digital is actually affecting people’s musical selection, that it’s ‘impairing their judgement’. He said: “There might be some DJs who really know what they’re doing there, like Richie, but I know so many DJs who switched to Serato and totally lost it. They play generic music. The dramatic side of the set got lost, ‘cos they’re scrolling through menus. It’s not the same thing. It’s code. So I’m totally pro-vinyl, and I’m not going to give that up.”
To some vinyl of the moment, beginning with one thing I’m fairly non-plussed by. It’s the new Dial EP. And it’s BLAND. Terrifyingly bland. Prog for architecture grad students. The only interesting track on the whole thing is the appallingly kitsch (in a good and bad way) Phantom/Ghost cover of… the Right Said Fred song ‘You Are My Mate’. While it’s too early to declare that the Dial shark has been jumped (especially with the Sten LP due), this is a pretty dire release. The bit that sums this up for me is the use of the vocal sample 'Detroit' on the Jost and Klemman track. Like, 'Detroit?' WTF? It's a totally empty referent – all it means is 'we are referencing Detroit'. Ooh, the echoes in the carapace, ahhh, the insults from the parapet.
The Dial EP also got me thinking abou three strands at work in the music at the moment. The first is a repudiation of ‘mnml’, which is music that emphasises spaceform, waveform, plugin, mixbuild. Frank Zappa might have said that ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’, but in a very real way, mnml is all about dancing about architecture, or dance music about architecture – the titles of Monolake’s recent works ‘Momentum’, 'Polygon Cities’ and so forth, are a dead give away in this regard.
So mnml (and its architectonics) is being repudiated, in favour of an avowal and appropriation of the blackness, deepness, ‘funk’, ‘soul’ or whatever. This is music that emphasises history, influence, innovator, and ‘respect to deepness’ and so on. The danger in some appropriations of this is ‘standardised magic’, a bland, closed world of boring, functional, interchangeable, indifferent interpretations of ‘funky’ and ‘soulful’ music that are neither funky nor soulful. ‘Tiefschwarz’ as both word and concept sums it up. Tiefschwarz means ‘deep black’, even though ‘Tiefschwarz’ is actually pair of slightly creepy brothers who are neither ‘deep’ nor ‘black’. And while the best of the vibrant tropes of the moment (‘dub techno’, ‘deep house’ and ‘minimal techno’) continue to produce, mix, and interpret in an interesting (if not innovative) ways, there’s a deathforce in the ‘Detroit’ sample. Just say ‘deep’ enough, and depth will appear. Say ‘Detroit’ (or have a sample of a black man do it for you) and the 313 will manifest – and you will have soul. Paul van Dyk’s appropration of Audi’s motto (Vorsprung Dyk Technik) was much more honest.
The third strand is the ambivalent embrace of kitsch, sentimentality and nostalgia, an indirect nod to the ACDC lyric: ‘The white man had the schmaltz/ the black man had the blues.’ This is a social emphasis (unlike mnmls architectonic and house/techno's historical), and you can see this at work with the Phantom/Ghost track, but it’s also highly apparent at Kompakt’s HQ, right down to Burger and Voigt calling their last EP ‘Bring Back Trance’. Again, maybe PvD had his finger on the pulse. This one might take off... be afraid.