Letter from the Editor
Appropriate \ a-prõ-pre-ãte \ v
- To take to or for oneself; To take possession of.
Appropriate \ a-prõ-pre-at \ n
- Fitted for a purpose or use. Suitable.
Pastiche \ pa-steesh \ n
- A literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources.
- An incongruous combination of materials, forms, motifs, etc., taken from different sources; hodgepodge.
I would love to be able to wax philosophical about relevant topics in music and culture each time Dialogue Inc. does a new installment of its radio show, but these rants of mine become disingenuous if I do them just for the sake of doing them. That’s why there’s usually some article or incident that has come to my attention in the weeks preceding these letters that I use as my impetus for the subject matter chosen.
My inspiration this go around came from two places. The first is an article that Michiko Kakutani wrote for the New York Times entitled “Texts Without Contexts.” In it Kakutani discusses writing that re-appropriates large portions of—if not all of—its content from other sources (without citations). Moving this idea of re-appropriation beyond books, the greater societal implications are a world where people “process information” not through reputable sources, but through tweets, Facebook posts and aggregate bytes that have mashed up our stimuli for us, with increasing disregard from where any of it comes from. (You deejays out there will notice my choice of the term “mashed up” and hopefully start to see where I’m going with this when I bring it back to the world of music). This easily accessible composite output erodes the strength of genuinely qualified voices and throws originality by the wayside in favor of quick consumption.
This, in turn, breeds a collective and dominant postmodern voice; one that uses sensationalism as an appeal to over stimulated Internet junkies who have an increasingly numbed ability to think critically. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not criticizing postmodernism in and of itself. In the right setting I praise the idea that, because of these hyper speed engines of information collation, we are infinitely more able to seek out and connect with people, movements and thought processes with which we share a fondness. I love that our digital world has allowed, say, Burial and Flying Lotus to connect across thousands of miles and two continents to make beautifully subversive music together, with no pretense other than because that’s what they want to do. It was as recently as last December—in my Letter from the Editor “Everything is Everything,”—that I praised this sort of collective consciousness, or “hive mind” as Kakutani refers to it.
The problem is that this technological trend has produced more laziness, fragmentation and homogeneity amongst niche groups than it has any sort of discerning cultural discourse. As Kakutani so astutely puts it, it has led to authors—and for my purposes I use this term loosely to mean people who are releasing output: music, books, art, etc.—who choose to cherry pick anecdotes (or pre-existing forms, structures or plots) to make a point (or sell a product) when he or she should be assiduously pursuing a real truth or, at least, his or her own voice.
Here I want to return to my use of the term “mash up” or better yet, “pastiche,” as I’ve defined above. To articulate my point I’d like to reference a review—my second piece of inspiration for this diatribe—I did for a recent live show here in Chicago and the user generated comments that followed. (Full disclosure: This is not meant to be an over sensitive defense of my position or an excuse to call this person out. But, rather, to make what I think is an excellent point.)
Last week I went to see Little Dragon live. Amazing. The opening artist was VV Brown, someone I found to be not as amazing. Here is my Time Out Chicago review of her performance so that we have the context needed to continue:
[VV Brown] is a commanding frontwoman with a booming voice and sturdy chops, and her backing band was more than competent at rolling out grooves that ranged from ’50s rockabilly to Fela-style Afrobeat rip-offs.
The issue with VV Brown comes when you dig a layer deeper and discover the hollow void that is a lack of real sincerity or originality. Sure, there are a couple of songs in her catalog that manage to avoid generic references to love—of each other, the world or “music” in its most general sense—but by midway through her set, it took a turn for the lamely cookie-cutter worse.
Her shtick became a blind appeal to the lowest common denominator, with each new song beginning with the question, “Do you like _______?” Insert genre here. Do we like reggae? Do we like hip-hop? Do we like rock & roll? The last of these left her sounding like Estelle fronting the Brian Setzer Orchestra (if you find yourself thinking this might be cool, it wasn’t). VV Brown is talented—there’s no question of this—but she does not have a voice or level of taste that is her own; it is just a composite of ideas that a marketing team thought might be good for her. So, as she ended the show introducing her band of merry Williamsburgians, it just felt as if you were listening to a really popular wedding band.
Ok, first let me criticize myself. If I were to go back and do this again I would have toned down my line about her sincerity, “hollow void” plays a little too heavily into the sensationalism I just got done bad mouthing. I also would have cordoned off my critique to the songs from her set, not her catalog as a whole. That said, I stand by every other word in this review.
So now we move to the response I received via TOC’s website:
I think its really presumptious that a journalist has come in to suggest VV isnt sincere when he probably doesnt know anything about her journey. Ive been following her career for a while and she is anything but. I think she is a fantastic artist. Little Dragon are absolutley sublime and meet sophistication at its best. Being a journalist I thought this review was pretentious. Just saying.
In a way, this person might agree with many of the points I have made thus far. The commenter’s assumption that I was presumptuous may stem from similar skepticism of critical commentary on the web. My problem, though, is that he or she is the one who is being presumptuous. This unnamed journalist—this faceless critic of a critic whose spelling and punctuation errors have been left in tact—feels the need to criticize me simply because he/she does not agree with my opinion? Because I don’t know anything about “VV”’s journey?
Well I do know a thing or two about her journey: her parents practically home schooled her, she graduated early, attended Oxford and studied law. Ok, so she grew up listening to jazz and rock n’ roll too. Have any of these things contributed to an original voice that is truly bringing something to her field? No. Have they made her lyrics, which I felt were watered down, generic and, yes, insincere more heartfelt? Obviously not. Did P.Diddy’s record deal offer help define her as an individual? You get the point. And forget what I know, let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth: “I make musical mashed potatoes” she’s been quoted as saying. If that doesn’t get to the heart of my issue with the pastiche (lack of) quality of her music, I don’t know what does.
The reason I revisit this and take this person to task is because it illustrates the trends I’ve outlined. VV Brown, in my humble opinion, appropriates varied musical genres without truly making any one of them her own. This “appeal to the lowest common denominator” as I call it is obviously going well for her, or she wouldn’t have masked defenders coming to her defense on message boards scattered across the Internet. And what happens next? I get called pretentious because someone didn’t like what I had to say. From someone calling himself or herself a journalist no less. Well unnamed journalist, if you can’t recognize the difference between a critic for an internationally recognized publication making an educated statement about something and an anonymous individual who makes comments about things without knowing all the facts, then I suggest you take a look in the mirror. And then go join your VV Brown tea party at some undisclosed corner of the Internet.
That’s all. Kthanksbye.
With that, let the conversation begin!
—Joshua P. Ferguson
With that, we actually have new music too. We haven’t done an exclusively indie set on the show yet so we’re very proud to be bringing you music from impending Pitchfork headliners Broken Social Scene, Finnish dream poppers Husky Rescue, indie country darlings She & Him and our number one band thus far in 2010, Yeasayer. "ONE" is the anthem, no two ways around it.
From there—and with an unexpectedly great little mix, we might add—we transition to the dance world with music from Prins Thomas’ new LP, due out any day now. We also have new music from two of the best nudisco labels running currently, Permanent Vacation and Gerd Janson’s Running Back.
Bonobo is back at it. You can read all about his new album here. From there, we round things out with a string of artists we’ve done features on: New York indie electro duo The Glass, local electro trio Midnight Conspiracy and brain dubstepper Martyn.
We pass the reigns to our good friend DJ Earwig and his partner in crime Matt Hood for an exclusive promo mix they’ve been gracious enough to provide. Showcasing work from both deejays as well as general output on both of Earwig’s labels, Shoes and Plimsolls. Earwig extended this to us as an introduction for their mix:
Plimsoll Records founders Earwig and Mat Hoods first connected in 2006 on the Beyond Jazz music site after the release of Earwig's Al Green edits on his Shoes label. They soon discovered though they were an ocean apart (Mat in Manchester UK, Earwig in Chicago, then moving to South Florida) they had similar taste for blending the old and the new in funk, soul, latin, afro beat, and disco. They were particularly keen on hunting the best of the best edits and remixes of classics that had some movement toward the future. When Mat sent over two of his edits of Patrick Adams produced disco tunes that Mat had done with his production partner under the guise The Automats, Earwig knew he wanted to put them out. So they cooked up the name Plimsoll Records (plimsoll being a British word for a gym shoe) and a Sugarhill style logo to match.
2009 saw the launch of the label with the Automats "Guardian Angel" 12", a digital Michael Jackson tribute release available exclusively through Turntable Lab's digital store, and the Space Rangers "Keep On" 12". Look out for future releases from the secretive SY & EL, sought after edit newcomer Onur Engin, a second release from The Automats, and the launch of a various artists series called "The Shoe Box". Join us on Facebook to get updates on new Plimsoll releases and other related happenings.
The mix was constructed tag team style by Earwig and Mat Hoods, sending files back and forth across the ocean. Using Ableton Live, the boys drop plenty of Plimsoll and Shoes tracks, many unreleased, and construct some edits and blends exclusive to this mix.
Kicking things off is a pair of Earwig edits of disco treats from his longtime friends at the Numero Group label. First an unreleased instrumental edit of Missy Dee's self titled party on wax complete with hand claps, chants, and whistle blowin'. Then the spacey groove of Earwig's edit of Sabatta "Man for My Lady" that leads right into what will be the Automat's sophomore release for Plimsoll, "Pass Me By", a filtered and tweaked remix of a classic Patrick Adams track.
The Space Rangers massive "Love Don't Come Easy" edit, that was the B-side of Plimsoll's second release, works the vocal disco vibe while keeping a loopy tech edge. While the Shoes remix of the Automats' "Guardian Angel" from the first Plimsoll release abstracts the disco vocals and sends them swirling around a chunky bassline and clattering high hats.
The unreleased Earwig track "Let's Start Dancin'" sets chopped up disco bits over a chunky house beat and leads us into a preview of the next Shoes release, Shoes of Roy Ayers. Shoes lights the classic bassline of "Running Away" with afro-beats and chopped up vocals and guitar.
Taking some timeout from the disco, the next section is an edit exclusive to this mix and should be called 'Boards of Africa'. It pits the psychedelic afro rhythms of "Ifa" by Oyelana, Tunji & The Blenders, and the afro-latin stomp of C.K. Mann's "Funky Hi Life" with bits from Boards of Canada's electro classic "Nlogax".
SY & EL "Crawfish" is a track from the soon to be released third 12" from Plimsoll. SY is a veteran producer who wishes to his identity to remain secret as he messes with the king. That's right, Elvis' "Crawfish" gets done up right with a raw house groove with a little bit of booty dub flavor. Listen closely to the deft way SY chops and dubs the vocals and adds his own expert synth stabs and bass wiggles, you may be able to recognize this artist from his releases on Compost, Sonar Kollectiv, Raw Fusion, Room With a View, MPM Records, and many more.
The Plimsoll tracks continue to roll with The Space Rangers much needed extension and re-rub-to-the-max of the way too short dub mix of D-Train's classic "Keep On". The congo, guitar licks, and funky 80's synth bass get stretched out to make a dancefloor work.
Onur Engin from Istanbul has gained a lot of attention in the last year in the edits scene for his finely crafted works of funk. Plimsoll is proud to be releasing his "Origins" EP later this year, including this edit of The Crusaders "Chain Reaction", a slice of funky jazz fusion set over a chunky mid-tempo beat which leads into a cheeky little chop up of the breaks from David Bowie's "Let's Dance". Could some of these quick edits be on the chopping block for a planned Earwig EP for Plimsoll? Maybe.
A little known, but well respected, side project of Earwig and the Shoes crew is the raw and rugged Broken Compass project and record label. Every few years a different obscure field recording of indigenous music from a remote corner of the earth is dusted off, chopped up, and set to dirty dancefloor beats for these releases. "Flutes of Rajasthan" sets hypnotic flutes and chants from the mountainous regions of Rajasthan India over tough afro disco drums. Look for it in 2010.
Love Peace Hair Grease
Other posts we've done since last time:
Free music from cool people: More Spring Tunage
DFA 12" single round-up: Spring Fever
RJD2 interview: Colossal
Dialogue Inc winter mix: Space is the Place
Blog etiquette: Playing by the Rules?
Ron Trent interview: Sunday Love
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Dialogue Incorporated #18
Hosted by Mister Joshua P. Ferguson
Special guest mix from Plimsoll Records Earwig & Matt Hood
Broken Social Scene “World Sick” – Arts & Crafts
Husky Rescue “Sound of Love” – Catskills
She & Him “Thieves” – Merge
Yeasayer “ONE” – Secretly Canadian
Prins Thomas “Nattøsket” – Full Pupp
Spectacle “The Mask of Insanity” – Permanent Vacation
Rezkar “Above the Clouds” (John Daly remix) – Running Back
Bonobo “Eyesdown” (Appleblim & Komonazmuk remix) – Ninja Tune
Birds & Souls “Birds & Souls” – Spectral Sound
The Glass “ Wanna Be Dancin’” – Plant Music
Chromeo “Night by Night” (Midnight Conspiracy remix) – CD-R
Maryn “Hear Me” (Zomby remix) - 3024
Exclusive Plimsoll Records mix from Earwig and Matt Hood:
Missy Dee "Missy Missy Dee (Earwig Party Mix)" Numbero
Sabatta "Man For My Lady (J. Hayford Re-edit)" Numero
The Automats "Pass Me By" Plimsoll Test
Space Rangers "Love Don't Come Easy" Plimsoll
The Automats "Guardian Angel (Shoes Crew Remix)" Plimsoll
Earwig "Let's Start Dancin'" CDR
Shoes "Running Away" Shoes Test
Exclusive Earwig Edit "Ifa/Nlogax/Funky Hilife"
Space Rangers "Cala Salada" CDR
SY & EL "Crawfish" Plimsoll
Space Rangers "Keep On" Plimsoll
Onur Engin "Chain Reaction" Plimsoll Test
David Bowie "Let's Dance" - Exclusive Earwig Edit
Broken Compass "Flutes of Rajasthan" Broken Compass
Free Disco "The Kelp man" Bear Funk
The Maniacs "Sweet ladies (Joey Negro edit)" ZRecords
Jerome Sydenham & Kerri Chandler "Ko Ko demo dub)" Ibadan