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Author Archives: Gabe Meier

baths-of-titus

Views of the Baths of Titus, Giovanni Battista Piranesi

In part one of this essay, I laid out the disappointing reality of the walking dead or pop modernism that has taken hold of contemporary cultural forms. This hollowed-out take on radical 20th century aesthetic movements is particularly relevant to dance music. Over the remainder of this essay, I’d like to update Mark Fisher’s conception of pulp modernism and lay out a few illustrative examples of its potential.

In an essay that went through several iterations, first on the k-punk blog and later in The Weird and the Eerie collection, Mark Fisher’s examination of The Fall’s music through the lens of the “weird” has been a provocative touchstone for both my understanding of Mark E. Smith’s post-punk outfit and the greater potential of a counter-hegemonic popular music. Almost right off the bat, Fisher juxtaposes the “gnarled, collage cut-up” of The Fall with the “minimalist, metallic austerity,” of Joy Division, marking out what he sees as the fundamental break between a classical modernism and the pulp modernist mode.

In rejecting both lumpen-punk’s reductive literalism (“circles with A in the middle”) and the bourgeois excesses of prog, The Fall’s music was full of “gobbets of linguistic detritus ejected direct from the mediatised unconsciousness” and came in the form of “tracks,” not “songs.” Contrasted with their more urbane counterparts, The Fall were opposed not only to an older, establishment right, but to a middle-class left who “talk of Chile while driving through Haslingden.” Circumventing social realism entirely, Smith’s lyrics dealt in “hexes”, the  “restricted linguistic, gestural and behavioural codes which produce a sense of inferiority and enforce class destiny” and were unfiltered by any reflexive, or centering, subjectivity.

 

 

Where pulp modernism really takes off in relation to The Fall is in the convergence of the weird and the grotesque. Drawing on Philip Thomson’s study of the grotesque, Fisher’s understanding is characterized by the “co-presence of the laughable and that which is not compatible with the laughable.” This is exemplified in the crudely rendered creature (“emigres from old green glades”), left etched into the cover of the 1982 single “City Hobgoblins”. The etching functions as a threshold between worlds, muddling the ontological distinction between inside and outside and making irrelevant “standard modes of legibility.”

The humor here does not come from a recognizable common language, but from a “psychotic outside,” formulated in a “psycho(tropological) spewing of associations and animosities.” Juxtaposing their gnarled sound and fantastical lyrical content with the mundanity of growing up in the post-industrial north of England, The Fall “reacquaint modernism with its disavowed pulp doppelganger.” Arriving on the precipice of Thatcher’s rule and the crushing of the labor movement, The Fall’s Grotesque (After the Gramme) and Hex Enduction Hour can retroactively be seen as a fledgling frankenstein entity emerging from modernism’s corpse.

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Image from Twitter

“The concept of progress must be grounded in the idea of catastrophe. That things are ‘status quo’ is the catastrophe.” – Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Look out over any large city’s skyline and a homogeneous certainty is made clear. Mies van der Rohe skyscrapers or knockoffs are omnipresent, fighting for urban space with Norman Foster’s oddly shaped, reflective totems to multinational capital. IKEA’s denuded take on mid-century modern furniture is the de facto interior decor for the young professional set, while the clean line and muted color-driven design of the Swedish furniture conglomerate is ubiquitous in chain restaurants, web design, and everything in between.

The promethean, utopian modernism of the 20th century has largely atrophied under 40+ years of neoliberal order, now resigned to art books and heritage sites. Aptly laid out by architecture and culture critic Owen Hatherley, modernism is now defined by the “distance between itself and the everyday.” Hatherley’s Militant Modernism and Landscapes of Communism, published in 2009 and 2015 respectively, function as earnest and honest investigations into the makeup of the modernisms of the last century. Probing the architecture, literature, film, theater and politics of the early revolutionary Soviet Union, industrial England, Weimar Germany and more, both volumes salvage kernels of wisdom from past forms.

An earlier volume, Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, published in 1982, performs a similar task, delving into modernism’s genesis moments (Goethe, Baudelaire, the construction of St. Petersburg) to draw out the contradictions and failures of uneven development in Russia, mid-twentieth century New York, and a burgeoning austerity state under Reagan. Berman understands modernity as a “maelstrom of perpetual disintegrations and renewal,” and that only through communication, dialogue, and dialectical thinking can the dream where “the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all” become reality.

Following the rise of multinational capital and its ensuant postmodern cultural logic, Hatherley and Berman’s tracts are important reminders of what was once possible: an art that didn’t dispense with the everyday, politics in the street, and a vision for a world after capitalism. Many of the modernisms called on by both — Brechtian theory, early Russian constructivist architecture, Marx’s “free development of physical and spiritual energies” — still feel eminently alive today and are worth excavating for their relevance to contemporary life, as well as  studying in their own right. That said, modernism’s vitality comes from its relationship to the present, to humanity’s “capacity for perpetual self-critique and self-renewal” and through a willingness to “wake up out of this dream, with its proliferation of phantasmagorical commodities, into an entirely new world.”

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Last week, we released “Msll777”, the debut single from Khadije and Lil Asaf. The track is a preview of a longer project from the duo out later this Spring. Khadije is a Beirut-born, Berlin-based multi-disciplinary artist. You probably know her work under a different name, but Khadije is an entity autonomous from previous and future work. Lil Asaf, also known as Bashar Suleiman, is a Palestinian rapper and producer based in Amman. A previous solo effort was released by Hizz in 2018 and his work as INSIN with Welsh producer Elvin Brandhi was released by AMEN in late 2019.

The video for “Msll777” was directed by Yusra Nazek and shot in Beirut. The whole project came together in a matter of weeks and we’re extremely grateful to be working with this talented group of friends. You can grab “Msll777” here and be on high alert for more Khadije and Lil Asaf soon.

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Ochre Flood is SHALT’s seventh release on APR and first since 2018’s Seraphim LP. The tight three tracker follows a series of edit packs that saw the London-based artist take on Far East Movement, The Pussycat Dolls and a range of recent French rap hits. Expanding on the ideas introduced in the ʃælt single series, Ochre Flood sees SHALT at his most focused, matching a billowing spatial dimension with a fine comb approach to texture and sub bass construction.

Each percussive hit crackles and burns on opener “Shudder”, which progresses methodically before letting loose with a reckless clarity. “Ochre”, already a radio staple, forms the carnivalesque backbone of the EP, throbbing with low end energy and a top line melody that insinuates itself deep in memory. Any perceived restraint in SHALT’s work is thrown to the wind on “Unlast”, the EP’s stormy closer that retains a sense of calm in its center even as the elements violently swirl. Ochre Flood is out on February 14 and can pre-ordered here.

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After playing all label/label artist music on our December NTS show, I decided to dive into the HD for a taste of dynamic new music from the past two months. Dancefloor material was more inspiring than usual this time around and I was able to fit in a collection of FDM, litefeet and other 100 BPM-ish tracks into the first 30 minutes. Check out NYOP’s 0 collection and one-offs from Epic B, Davincii and MVSTERMIND. Fridge’s 666 Speed, quest?onmarc’s PHOENIX and DJ Nigga Fox’s Cartas Na Manga were also major focal points for the opening bit of the show.

Vocal edits from v1984, Pininga, nunu and Kelman Duran, as well as a few choice songs from the forthcoming DJ Lostboi and Torus split, form the next section. Sadly, it looks like Kelman took everything on his Bandcamp down, but you can hear “she said she from da westside, yeah she said the best side” below and “die here” in TTB’s most recent show. Having the opportunity to link up tracks that denaturalize the traditionally beautiful and revivify familiar material is one of my favorite parts of composing the show each month. Eartheater & LEYA’s Angel Lust is also a must have and exhibits a few of the qualities that make Eartheater’s live performances so special.

The mixing in the remainder of the show is a bit ropey, but managed to touch on must have new Ase Manual, Bamao Yendé, Color Plus, Ecko Bazz, Gant-Man, Sonia Calico and more. There are a few special Aya edits in there as well. Speaking of which, her latest NTS show is an R.I.P. LOFT special that brings in tracks from various aliases dating back to 2009. You can grab a bunch of those over at her Bandcamp. For a more complete track list, hit the jump and/or check out the Buy Music Club rundown of a good portion of what we played. Our show will be back on February 14 and we’ll have announced APR123 and APR124 by then so keep an eye out.

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In my year end essay for FACT published in December, I focused on 2019 releases that deal extensively with the quotidian. I’d like to expand on that piece and reframe the releases mentioned in the context of Fredric Jameson’s understanding of “cognitive mapping” and Rafael Lubner’s rejection of post-internet discourses. These are not definitive examples of this aesthetic mode, but a nod to the potential of a music for fighting alienation.

Music for walking the city — for building into and bracketing every facet of our urban existence — has been of increasing importance to me over the past several years. More often than not, that music tends to be about the everyday: not in a literal, descriptive sense, but in that it deals largely with the issues of ordinary people. I’ve wondered quite a bit about what separates the music that elicits a feeling of place-ness versus that which increases isolation, paranoia and a loss of agency. Neither can be reduced to a set of aesthetic principles, but I think there are distinctive qualities, outlined below, which begin to unravel the question. When referring to alienation, I won’t be using it in the strictly Marxist sense, although alienation from one’s labor is a key component.

In assessing matters of alienation and disalienation, Jameson lays out a loose structure with which to assess large scale cultural developments in the second half of the 20th century and follows with a potential strategy for moving through and transcending postmodern hegemony. Lubner’s analysis functions as a rejection of a segment of contemporary music and culture criticism, as well as a constructive framing of much of the music that we both adore. Later, I refer to both approaches in my further interpretation of releases from Amazondotcom, Loraine James and Oli XL. These releases have been particularly relevant to my attempts to fight personal alienation this year and provide a potential jumping off point for working towards what Jameson would refer to as a moment of truth.

In Jameson’s “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, initially published in New Left Review in 1984 and later adapted for the seminal Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, the American Marxist theorist and cultural critic lays out an aesthetic strategy for fighting alienation in the capitalist city. Building on the work of urban planner Kevin Lynch, Jameson places spatial concerns as his central organizing principle, writing that “the alienated city is above all a space in which people are unable to map (in their minds) either their own positions or the urban totality in which they find themselves.” In this, the postmodern city is a reflection and a representation of the intentionally unfathomable dimensions of multinational capital, an “emptiness…here absolutely packed” with mirrored totems.

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The line between club and noise music has been thoroughly breached over the past decade. Artists flow seamlessly between the two worlds, participating in bands and DJ projects, recklessly merging sounds, and ignoring the bounds established by “experimental” scene gatekeepers. More importantly, sounds that had decayed in the hands of those gatekeepers have been revitalized and torn up by a range of black and queer artists who have essentially re-written the rulebook, matching militant energy and high intensity sonics with a deep historical awareness, comedic instinct and collective spirit. Stylistically divergent artists like Dreamcrusher, Fuck U Pay Us and Moor Mother have led the charge in the live arena, while DJs like Juliana Huxtable, LSDXOXO and Nkisi have taken distinctly black, hardcore sounds to global dancefloors.

Richmond’s ARCHANGEL is one of the most refreshing voices to emerge out of this environment of late, combining a passion for Baltimore, Jersey and Philly Club with a distinctly confrontational and emancipatory ethos. Taking on a collage approach, ARCHANGEL mixes and tracks are saturated with information, full of overlapping Club tracks, bits of speeches and spoken word, and recontextualized video game and anime soundtracks. Initially introduced to Club music while driving to a cousins house (her mother is from Philadelphia and the track was DJ TIZZ’s “I’M THE NIKE MAN”), she continued to hear snippets of other regional sounds and was hooked from that point.

Moving away from the dancefloor, ARCHANGEL is also a member of BLVCKPUNX, a  noise-rap group in the process of re-recording their debut YOUAREHERE(I) EP. Filtering the sound of institutional racism and violence, BLVCKPUNX are explosive, pushing back on the idea of blackness as a monolith while embracing a mischievous, joyful energy and a coy hedonism.

With her Club music roots in mind ARCHANGEL’s Astral Plane Mix (initially titled “Hot Girl Summer”) is aimed at letting go and allowing people to let go. At an hour and a half long, the mix is a comprehensive run through the past few years in Club music, drawing on a litany of different micro-movements while touching on specific standout tracks from the likes of Ase Manual, DJ Tameil, LSDXOXO, R3LL and more. A few sly originals from ARCHANGEL herself fit into the end of the session as does an instrumental BLVCKPUNX track. You can grab a download of the mix here and hit the jump for a full track list.

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Maral – Mahur Club
APR121 | Out Now
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Los Angeles’s Maral has spent the past half-decade quietly honing an approach that meshes the latest in club music contortions, a range of pulverized dub effects, and samples from her library of Iranian folk, pop and classical musics. More likely to be found working behind the scenes for local labels and club nights, Maral steps into the spotlight on Mahur Club, highlighting a trans-historical collage technique that emphasizes formal experimentation as much as it does personal history.

Exploring (rhythmic) psychedelia in both concrete and abstract forms, Mahur Club dials in on mashed out versions of Jersey club, reggaeton and dub, nodding to psych rock and trip hop via whirlwind takes on contemporary battle dance genres. Repetition and rapid sample chop are utilized on tracks like “don’t trip on your way down” and “lori lullaby”, pairing familiar dance-floor rhythms with waterlogged Farsi vocals in a sublime vortex of tradition, pop and functionality.

Mahur Club features material from ABE, DJ Abosohar and Loris. The release consists of two separate components; a cassette featuring two mixed portions and a free mixtape of individual tracks. Mastering provided by Will Mitchell, artwork by Maral Mahmoudi and design by Caleb Ali Miller.

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Our affinity for the booming Manchester scene is no secret, but the sense of kinship goes far beyond Manc to the many divergent movements coming out of the UK’s northern extremities. The sonic acceleration of the Sheffield and Glasgow scenes has been noted at length, but Leeds and Liverpool have become hotbeds of experimentation in their own right while sounds like bassline, donk and happy hardcore are still prevalent and thriving in clubs throughout the North. Leeds’ BFTT, seemingly one of the busiest people in dance music, has become a key node in the Northern archipelago, linking with Manchester’s Mutualism label and boygirl collective, while running the Leftovers platform out of Leeds.

Leftovers is a good place to start laying out BFTT’s approach, melding sentimental and campy streaks with an unadorned approach to sonic expansion. May saw the release of An Untitled Longing, a compilation featuring artists “operating in or connected to the North” including IceBoy Violet, LOFT and Marlo Egglplant. The compilation was Leftovers first official release and explored ambient forms in the broadest sense, touching on prickly metallic sounds (Sam Ridout’s “Untitled”), extended voice/noise (Marlo Eggplant’s “September 2017”) and elaborate melodic exercises (Clemency’s “SSRI Season / Sleep-In Sickness”). BFTT’s own “75623372 2” is one of the tape’s standouts, highlighting a granular approach that can also be found on 2018’s “iOSMIDI Tracks” for Tobago Tracks.

BFTT’s more club-focused records can be spotted on labels like All Centre, Cong Burn, Whities and now Gobstopper, the host of his forthcoming Versioning EP. Techno is an obvious template, but the BFTT sound circumvents linearity, matching an innate sense of groove with constantly fragmenting structures. That challenging sensibility is met wit a sprightly dose of fun, found in particular on his bootleg work of Britney Spears and Charli XCX for boygirl, but also in the light touch on tracks like “Enin” and his remix of Dervisis’ “Yelde”. from earlier this year.

The mischievous streak in the midst of formal experimentation found throughout BFTT’s production work is expanded infinitely in his take on DJing, which sees an omnivorous rhythmic diet matched with a nous for idiosyncratic progressions. Wonky low end sounds are matched effortlessly with horizontally arranged bliss and tempos are bound to reach 160+. His long awaited Astral Plane Mix exemplifies that approach while also functioning as an affectionate run through of music from friends and family. AP crew Amzondotcom, Chants and LOFT are all included, as are likeminded exemplars of cross-genre excellence like Ariel Zetina, Mr. Mitch and Oli XL. Recent outings for Rinse and NTS show that the BFTT gospel is expanding beyond the usual circles and the Versioning EP for Gobstopper, due August 7, should introduce the Leeds artist to an even larger circle of fans. Hit the jump for a full track list and download Astral Plane Mix 191 here.

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A few weeks back, we featured a mix from Osaka’s Le Makeup, highlighting the Eternal Dragonz crew’s mission to forge a broad, cross-disciplinary identity contextualizing the work of Asian diasporic artists. Today, our focus turns to Shanghai’s SVBKVLT, another emerging outlet that embraces a far more specific, not to mention intense, approach to curation. Largely drawing from Chinese and China-based artists, SVBKVLT has made links between several traditions, namely noise, hardcore and rap, skewing towards a latex-clad, confrontational attitude and an innate performative spirit.

Alongside artists like Hyph11e, Swimful and Yen Tech, Shanghai-based, American interdisciplinary artist Osheyack has become one of the label’s stars over the past few years, conjoining an explicit hardcore ethos with the theatrical potency of proto-noise acts like Cabaret Voltaire and Coil. Early work, like 2015’s Fake/Fiction/Fraud, also set out an affection for various regional club musics with ballroom finding a particularly prominent space, while the five part “Clown” mix series showed off Osheyack’s voracious consumption of everything noisy and full frontal.

2018 was the year that Osheyack’s sound truly crystalized though, first on Empty Hell for SVBKVLT and later on his debut Sadomodernism LP for Bedouin Records. Initially premised on a 2015 remix for Pan Daijing and 2017’s “Pyre”, with frequent collaborators Milky He and Jordan Tierney, ripping rhythms, guttural moans and terrifying screams quickly became signature sounds across the two releases with tracks like “Parataxon” and “With Us”  functioning simultaneously as rave anthems and body horror exhortations. The latter, a nod to New York’s ballroom culture as noted in an interview with The Ransom Note, also featured Nahash, a fellow Shanghai-based artist and affiliate of noise outlet Huashan Records. Featuring on three consecutive Sadomodernism tracks, the duo connect on a deeply intrinsic level, crafting a sound that comes off as both comprised of age old organic materials and hyper-modern methods.

For Astral Plane Mix 190, the duo have continued their prowess by linking elastic, backlit pop with a range of front foot hardcore contortions. At 26 songs in just 30 minutes, the blends come fast and potent here, always on the verge of careening out of control, but never quite leaving the roadway. Artists like Uganda’s Slikback, who recently spent time in Shanghai, Italy’s Nahshi, and Oakland’s Russell E.L. Butler make key appearances in the intricately layered patchwork, which seems to extends forward at an almost exponential rate. Hit the jump for a full track list and download Astral Plane Mix 190 here.

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