Friday, April 27, 2012
Superb + Solid: The Most Vibrant House in Australia
It happens every day; someone sent me a link. I tabbed it, kept emailing, did a bit of immaterial labour, read a couple of Terre's latest articles, on bullying and contemporary Russia, both raw and honest and a little frightening. Then I read the article which provoked what you're reading: Deeper Shades of Melbourne. Apparently, Melbourne has one of the world's most vibrant house scenes.
I was incredulous, and straight away I felt ranty. I mean, this is so at odds with my impression and my empirical experience. 'Not so fast,' I told myself, 'when was the last time you went out? You are in no position to evaluate. For all you know, it *is* the most vibrant house scene in the world. In the past six months you have been out more in Tokyo and Berlin than you have in Melbourne.' (NB: in my self talk I am prone to exaggeration. I have been out quite a few times in Melbourne in the past few months. But I had a point..as well as a niggling feeling I wasn't the only Melbournian who shared those kinds of party patterns).
So I did what you probably do when you feel this way. I sent an email to a friend, wondering what they thought of the article. Above the link, I wrote: 'we have one of the best house scenes in the world, apparently.' I wrote it to him because if there was a way to the underground, he would know how to get there (of course it's in a fucking laneway), be exchanging rollies and nicknames and high fives with the door bitch and bouncers and so forth. If there was something to be inside, he would be an insider. If there was a dwelling called house in Melbourne, he would be among its proud occupants. This was his response.
'So I keep on reading. I do not think that is one of those things you should read about your city to find out…'
I'm not posting this to call anyone a liar or suggest that their evaluation is wrong or whatever. Nor do I want to have a dig at any of the artists featured in Deeper Shades. But the article really, really bothered me; I want to tell you why.
At this point it behoves me to disclose my point of view I suppose. My read - for what it's worth - is that Sydney has a much better scene going now, whether for house or techno. It's not big, but it's pretty good, and it is so because of the week-to-week scene, and careful choice of venues, and promoters that book parties that are respectful of the internationals who travel so far to play here. This obviously can't be a total characterisation of 'the scene'. But it's what I know. Back to Melbourne, home of a world class indie scene and a good, if overpriced, restaurant scene (both quite wanky, it must be said). TISM nailed the Australian dichotomy(and if you care to learn about great Australian electronic music, click): it's not hipsters and bogans, it's yobs and wankers. Class is real, but it's more about behaviour... but I digress...
From what the piece indicated, there are, finally, a new generation of people in Melbourne who aren't still thinking back to the docks and 140bpmx3decks bangin' fully sikk loop techno; reifying a mythologised Detroit; or just homosocial lunchbox legends doing second-rate stuff on gear they don't seem to get much out of – ie, producing anything but distorted projections of their own greatness. On this point: HMC aside, name me one great Australian techno producer. Your mates don't count. So look, I'm really glad to see evidence of emerging producers here, and that they've been given RA as a platform (though as always I am very wary of promo, content, and boosting). And the parties have been getting better, here and there, as a minority have become rightly disgusted with jetlagged internationals playing half-arsed sets on second-rate systems and profiteering shyster promoters (where it is 100% a business and all about the money), and total balls ups where people did not get paid (where it is a bunch of fucking amateurs who could use a few lessons in business from the businessmen). Cocaine might be a suits drug and a destroyer of talent; but it's universally true that you don't let the sound guy drop acid before he's set up the decks.
The 'world's most vibrant' claim stuck in my craw, given the RA context and its power to frame. I mean, Howard Arkley (above) his shit was vibrant. Mardi Gras in Sydney, even after it became all about shopping and feather boas, it is still vibrant. Rainbow lorrikeets, they are fucking vibrant, and raucous, and have horrible dinosauric tongues and talons and creepy flat red eyes... RA have mostly given up on one of its editor's dreams of journalism proper (whether because of the will or the resources), but even though FACT have caught them off garde in the podcast department, they still do strongly contribute to the framing of things, for better and for worse. World's most vibrant? It made me feel doubly alienated. Alienation the first: to find this out by being sent it as a link. That was weird. I do not think that is one of those things you should read about your city to find out. …Alienation the second: I kept asking people who might be insiders (if, as mentioned, there was/is a structure, even a humpy, to be inside, to shelter from all that cool, all that cold). The response that kept on coming back was this: ?!
I have this tragicomic image of confused Mutek-y Canadians from Montreal getting off the plane and trying to find this underground. Maybe the underground is so underground that no one can find it - this is, surely, the most underground thing imaginable, and so appealing to our instincts as consumers, moreso even than that rumoured shop in Tokyo (I couldn't find it) with the random opening times, where they reserve the right not to sell you the item you desire arbitrarily. 'Sorry boys, private function'.
The problem is not that there is/not this amazing house underground in Melbourne - like I said, there might be, for all I know, although I confess it seems strongly counterintuitive. And from what I've heard, some of the artists mentioned show strong promise: they're talented, they're doing shit. What's the problem?
The problem is first of all that it appears to be a fiction (or may actually directly, nakedly be a fiction, or an illusion, or an error, or just plain false), a fiction that comes to be believed as a fact, because the primary context for electronic music is now the internet. Ssgs should know the interpretation I've been developing over the past few years here: house/techno is actually made up of networked laptops running a few key pieces of software, capital, civil aviation, promo and content. What I mean by this is that if you remove one of these elements, the assemblage changes, or (if you pull the structurally integral one) falls apart, Jenga-like. What does a scene *mean* here, in this context? Is it a structure I could shelter under? Would I want in, if 'in' was possible? Would I download it, if I could? Would I pirate it in 128kbps just to see what it sounded like? In what sense does it actually ever 'take place'?
What follows is deliberately cynical: nightclubs and festivals (especially festivals, these days) are just secondary places where people talk about that assemblage, and/or where DJs have to appear in order for all the money to change hands. The difference between us and the midwest ravers in that amazing/terrifying Hipster Runoff piece is a difference in degree, not in kind. Sneer at them, and you are sneering at yourself. Skrillex is what now is. So what if you think you have better taste, that doesn't matter. In fact, we've been labouring under the woeful misapprehension that our estimation of having superior taste 'saves us' from anything. It does not. Release, promotion, content, consumption, appearance. Appearance is just fee collection, recognition receipt, the final post-consumptive act. You get your tissue, the DJ gets his Euro. Bye. The internet is where the names are born, exchanged and forgotten, where the Truth begins, where the patterns are released, as content, to be pirated and forgotten.
What I've described in this paragaph: a scene proper, it should shelter us against all this, all this cynicism, this commodification, this disposability. Does it?
If it exists, if its vibrancy, its quality is what the article asserts…. why does the dudes/fans ratio seem so out of whack? Obviously, this is not science, just my impression… Quantitatively: can three (or several) dudes be a scene or an underground? In a way, if they can be an underground, build a scene, and make and maintain something world class, that's really cool. Kompakt did that in Cologne, Dial did that in Hamburg, UR did that in Detroit. Shit, Lawrence English puts and holds together world class shit in BRISBANE. So on that level, there is no excuse: if Australians put out mediocre stuff, it's because they are mediocre. That is all. I honestly hope that, if it doesn't actually have it, that the passions of interested people living in Melbourne do build a world class vibrant-as-a-lorrikeet house scene. My fear is that now people will go along to a fairly decent party, and either fail to believe this world-beating, world-fluffing claim or, what is worse, believe it. But whether worldmaker, worldbreaker, or recordfaker, back on the internet, the true danger is still within the Jenga, within the structure, within content and promo and how it appears - so mercilessly, so relentlessly - online: this week's unsupporting claim is already last week's content. And what today's content is suggesting is that in the long run content neither shelters, nor interests, anyone that much.
I would love there to be a world-class house scene in Melbourne.