Monday, December 03, 2007

I am relatively old: Selective Beat Slicing; dub-step?; Life ReCycled

I can't keep up with all the genres anymore. Dubstep? Okay, sounds like a great idea. Drum N Bass/Jungle has been a guilty pleasure of mine for more than a decade, since the release of King of the Jungle, the first DnB stateside release. I bought it randomly, as I often have performed with my mysterious, sporadic infusions cash. Like all of my greatest purchases, I could not make head or tales of it when I first purchased it. I had been pumping myself up with the post-techno breakbeat releases of Instinct Records; as noted in the wikipedia article, they released a lot of Moby early stuff. They released a series of comps that featured techno rave-ups, early hard techno, and what I liked most, breakbeat based techno. I ate it up. Electronic Music has been a continuous thread of interest for me. I'll fight to the death defending synth- and sample-based music. Even if 98 percent of it is crap. 98 percent of everything is crap, anyways. Anyhow, as I was wont to do back in the day, I transferred King of the Jungle onto a cassette and listened to it as I drove around in my beige Nissan Sentra from School and back. I also frequented book stores and CD stores, such as Best Buy. Around the same time, my cousin Jason was staying with our family and he introduced Rap music to me (Via Tribe Called Quest), and I, in complement, introduced to him techno-derived music. Our previous disdain for each other's music transformed into complete absorbtion. He became a big fan of electronic music, and slowly I discovered the delights of early Hip-Hop. This was around the same time I was becoming disillusioned with studying academic music, the radio was playing terrible derivative grunge music--but it appealed to me because it was something different. I sook real knowledge, and I found it in the guise of Spin Magazine's Guide to Alternative Music. I still have the book, and I still go to it. Back in the day, it was my record-buying Bible. At the time I was listening to the heavy bands and I knew I liked the sound, but I had wondered where these people came from? I started digging Nirvana, whom I hated in 1993. It was too noisy. I had liked Pixies, via Bossanova copied from my buddy Mark--the main arbiter of taste in my life during Middle School and early High School. I didn't get into any techno music until that other early influence, Randy Buckle turned me onto some things, such as techno and Brian Eno. I started appreciating Techno when I started emulating it in my own music. I had no idea of its origins. Detroit, Kraftwerk.

So, anyway, King of the Jungle, released by Instinct (my new arbiter of taste), opened an alien world of fractured beats, obnoxious vocal samples, and smooth bass. The first track on it, and one of the best, is the [whatever]-step presager "Jazz Note." An abstract, intractably syncopated organ bass note starts it. Then it starts layering quick and light, unbroken break beats on top. It is a very effective track. Also, the opening track "Dance Hall Massive" by DJ Massive is an ear-opener, with an extremely smooth yet hard swooping bass lick that you wouldn't mind hearing all day and night, over and over again underneath a super crispy off-kilter but tight with the accents of the broken beats based on a 3/3/2 beat that would become fodder for permutation for years and years and years. (I have no how original the track is--but it's effective. And the artistry in DnB effectively submerges the notion of "derivative," seeing how the majority of it unabashedly derives its sounds from the whole world.) (Got to Ishkur for academic accuracy, I'm not the greatest Virgil to accompany you into this particular Inferno.)

Yet, when I first heard it, even though my dad's radio-shack built stereo system had very nice bass response, I thought it was too light. Classic jungle doesn't "rock" like early nineties techno. Not in a headbangin' way. (We'd have to wait for Jonny L's "Piper" for that, and it's infinite iterations.) But I dutifully listened to my tape on my car for a few weeks. At times I liked it, but (like so much much music we aren't accustomed to) it started to all sound the same.

And then, somehow, it just started to click for me. I became obsessed with the beats, and marveled at the clarity and power of its sinuously smooth bass lines. As an agoraphobic outsider, I can only imagine the genesis of this music and clubs. Somebody, I don't know, started really fucking with the beats. Once I got a hold of a sampler I used breakbeats. There was a particularly nice beat that came on a disc with my ESI-32 I played around with. I made many Homer Simpson Enchilada songs using it. (Sample some here, and here.) I remember Randy coming over and playing with the sound and he played the beat, and then in the middle of the beat, re-triggered the beat on an offbeat rather than letting the whole sample play through and then simply retrigger it after the full 4 beat count, and I realized that's how breakbeat technoists Prodigy got their off-kilter beats. I don't know if I ever told Randy that. He's the guy who always encouraged me the most, as far as my music went--and encouraged my excursion into Techno. Anyhow, from there, I figured out that you can cut the samples up, move the snare and its ghost notes go off of in unexpected places. But the big revolution in the jump from Jungle to its predecessors was cutting the beats to start on ghost snare hits, or, more commonly, on hi-hat hits. When you have a sample cut from a funk rhythm that starts on one of these light notes you can do incredible things. Run an eighth note series triggering this ghost note sample, and at the end of the sample you hear the snare, those swinging the stronger, louder snare. A total off kilter sound that revolutionized the whole sound. Sometimes these eightnote hits (which are really swung 16th notes because you have at least two notes in each eight-note hit) are faded in as an intensity building fill. And sometimes they comprise part of the main beat. Anyhow, this beat chopping is the foundation of the new style. Many junglists used a Steinberg product, ReCycle, to accurately chop up the samples, cutting the transient points accurately. I cut them just using my sampler, gradually learning how to make smooth-sounding ("rolling" beats.) King of the Jungle is a representative, text-book example of the early use of this beat-chopping and scattering. I once read an interview with master-rap producer Shock G of Digital Underground where he explained that the "melody" of rap was how the sample interacted with the programmed beats. Movie-actor Goldie mentioned in article in Keyboard Magazine that the power in the music lay in the relationship between the beats (produced to seem faster than they were) and the bass.

This being said, I should say that I was a bit misguided in my DnB producing years. I don't have the funk. Sometimes I can muster some sort of semblance of it. I can fax in the funk. But I'm more of a tonal maximal composer, for better or worse. But I did learn how to edit audio and there are a few tracks that I feel I did some justice to the genre.

Anyhow, back to King of the Jungle. It's a treasure trove of funk and weirdness. It features tracks by artists, hardly known at the time, but it seems at least half of them became stars. Some, like Roni Size, Dillinja, and Krust, super-sized stars. The Roni Size track was, as most of his have been over the years, stellar, prescient. His beats and bass roll so smooth, so hard. How could you not love it? DnB, unlike any other genre, seems to be derivative of the past and the future. It is so limited, and so unlimited. So unique, yet, like a virus, able to incorporate itself and takeover any number of genres. Besides techno, its roots lay in styles that I had no exposure to, and still am pretty damned ignorant about. Ragga, dancehall, RNB. Some junglists have liked to say that DnB was the first style of music that owes its genesis to both black and white artists. I don't know if that's true, but it's a pretty idea. I've heard that it grew out of a coke culture rather than hallucinogenics and friend-making drugs of the older hardcore rave scene. (What did Ali G say, is it true that taking E makes house music actually sound good?) Over the years it got dark, and then lightened, and darkened. It seemed to have to get dark to get new types of grooves, and then pads could overlay the dark textures, transmogrify a sense of foreboding into a sense of wonder. Powerful stuff, if you succumb to its textures. But it seems foolish sometimes too, like other unironic styles of music such as Death Metal. You can see my ambivalence mixed with love. But, ultimately, DnB is functional, and therefore claims of it being silly are unjustified.

And over the past couple of years I've been introduced to genres of music that have informed DnB. I know a lot more about dub now, for example. These mostly analogue genres seem more authentic and nourishing than most DnB. ANd that's why I deem DnB a guilty pleasure. Well, whatever.

So, Dub-step. I'm going to have to make some purchases. I heard a track from Boxcutter on WFMU this morning that was very slick, a little too slick, like some of inferior jazz-step stuff. But also had some grit, and a really nice fluid sound that reminded me of some of the better tracks off my beloved Liquid Funk comp. DnB had to slow down. I've wanted it to slow down for a long time. It just seems faster and faster. There needs to be a beer-drinking DnB. I'm looking for an Otis Redding of DnB. Or, perhaps a Led Zeppelin. I'd never ask for Lou Reed of DnB. Of the latter era junglists, Bad Company were pretty with it. Inside the Machine is an album I still listen to. There hasn't been much in the DnB world that has excited me as much since. Though Pendulum makes amazing, rocking tracks. Everything that Ed Rush touches is black gold. And Dieselboy mixes and tracks are always exhilarating. I love techno, trance, house, all of it. Especially the pioneering techno of the early nineties, like Black Dog, and the Rephlex stuff. Not to mention Juan Atkins, and the timeless tracks of Derrick May. But DnB seems to be the electronic genre that seems to have the inexhaustible ability to renew itself. Not so much reinvent. It keeps going back to its basics, the same breaks, Ragga, Dub, Reggae, RnB--and probably most crucially, Hip-Hop. It's a real cultural stew that might be so tasty because it has so many deep roots in so many cultures.

But it's so disposable too! Every track on King of the Jungle is a throwaway. Really good junk food. In that way it's similar to Punk Rock. Almost every single Ramones tune is junk in the most delicious way. What makes it junk food? It can't be pure quantity. Take Bach. Now, Bach would burn up a cantata to warm up the living room--but only in that sense is a Bach cantata disposable. Maybe DnB achieves postmodernity in a way that the Ramones could never conceive, because of its total assimilation and total irrevelance as soon as its moment has past. The Ramones were creating something that they felt needed to exist. Something to perform. They wanted to recapture Pop, and recapture youth--but it's impossible to recapture the past. DnB and a McDonalds cheeseburger has no history and no future. The Ramones are disposable in the way Warhol's soup cans are. But DnB are TV dinners for the ears. Anti-pop pop? I don't know what the fuck. I can't figure it out. Candied Garlic?

Anyhow, I am trying to enact new exciting changes in my life. Dude and dudettes, I'm in my Late Spring. Like everyone, I've unrealized ambitions. I won't go into detail. But if you know me, you have an idea of what those ambitions entail, if vaguely.

I'm listening to a DnB mix on and the MC is singing along with the bass melody:

"Dum-dumdumdumdum. Drum-n-bass no matter what. Dum-dumdumdumdum. Drum-n-bass no matter what." I don't understand the drum-n-bass MC phenomenon. Anyhow, I've got go help Laogzed with his next broadcast. Things are a bit haywire in the Troglodyte world. I got to see what I can do to help. Or not. I'm a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. Only because I'm not sure if the Trogs have our best interest in mind, despite Laogzed's insistence to the contrary.

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