Wednesday, December 3, 2008
We were NEVER mnml, December 2008
In December 2007, I framed the year that had been as a ‘long glide into the deep’. 2008 felt like a year that developed and, at moments, perfected a lot of these ideas. But if 2007 was the ‘long glide into the deep’, then 2008 could be understood more as a ‘dark surge out of the dub’.
For the most compelling tracks in 2008, there was still the 2007 sense of space exploration, and a deepening through dubbing (with the powers of reverb and repetitions), but added to that was a strange, dark ecstasy. Three tracks that capture something of this for me are Portable’s ‘Release’, Shackleton’s remix of Ricardo Villalobos’ incredible ‘Minimoonstar’, and DJ Koze’s spine-tingling remix of Sascha Funke’s ‘Mango’. In each case, vocals (pitched and filtered) hosted monologues strongly evoking the disarray of the world, the need for healing and transformation, and the sense in which we are being blown backwards into the future, which is beginning to look uncannily like the void.
Meanwhile, vinyl is dying as a DJ format, physical distro is in disarray (Neuton and Kompakt are on the ropes if the rumours are to be believed), and almost nobody’s making a living wage from groove-based electronic music. Part of the story is that, in 2008, people are getting the overwhelming majority of their music digitally, and only a part of that delivery involves economic exchange. If private trackers like Oink (and its demise) were ’07, in ’08 it was all about google and rapidshare, the only two things anyone with access to broadband needed to ‘keep up’, a habit that might have cost an Australian vinyl user $3,000 or more per year, and a Beatport user perhaps a third of that.
I’ve heard all the excuses, and I’ve made a few of my own, but now I can’t help but think that the people rolling the anti-record company screed were also doing their little bit to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Much like the moments prior to the financial implosion, it seems, almost everyone has their snout in the trough, and most know what they’re doing is not only unsustainable but actively destructive – but they can’t stop downloading. Where does this lead? Ultimately to individual tactics to minimise personal cost and risk transfer that burden to the system, which creaks, shudders, then collapses.
But at the same time, this destructive digital technology is also incredibly productive and efficient: it’s lean, it’s light, it’s amazingly accessible (to those who can afford computers and have access to the internet). On a local note, Australians now have no excuse either to fail as internationally recognised producers or to be parochial about their own value as a scene, a sound and a voice. The field has never been more level, or more accessible. The opportunities are there: the rest is just mediocrity grumbling apologies for being so.
More than anything, the collapse (financial, economic, musico-industrial) is an opportunity to develop a new context for groove-based electronic music – and here comes the hard part. This is a creative opportunity that must be seized. What is to be invented is an extra-technological context for electronic music, one that is beyond the drug muppetry of corporate raving and amphetamine nightlife. But nobody wants to wake up. People just keep ripping, dropping, downloading and dancing around like it’s 1999. Meanwhile it’s 2008, and something’s on fire.