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.
We decided to put a spotlight on our favorite artists from our home city of Los Angeles this Summer. Over the coming 10 weeks, we’ll feature a cross section of what the city has to offer. Far from a selection of the biggest touring entities, we hope to shine light on the individuals who brighten the airwaves and nights out on a regular basis.
To this point, AMAZONDOTCOM has existed in the interstices of a number of seemingly divergent spaces. Those spaces are geographic, sonic and conceptual and have allowed the producer and live performer to maintain an aesthetic that is distinctly her own. Geographically speaking, AMAZONDOTCOM has largely spent time between Los Angeles and Mexico City, performing at nights like Rail Up and NTS’ residency at the Ace Hotel in the former and taking her live set to a memorable Boiler Room set up in the latter that featured a slew of off-the-wall artists riffing on footwork. Those performances are hard to pin down, but display a confident grasp of club dynamics, allowing for a start-stop approach that defies traditional genre arrangements and easy emotional outputs without losing its clear dancefloor efficacy.
Releases to date have been sparse for AMAZONDOTCOM, but the material available is definitive. A joint release with Siete Catorce, the Teardropz EP for Nostro Hood System, sees the two artists complementing each other to the fullest, resulting in some of the most disarming club music to come out this year. The release is focused and arranged around a core idea, that being constantly mutating rhythms matched with minimal, spectral sound design, but it results in a complex of brilliant moments that are bound to wow and throw off listeners and dancers alike for years. Other standout moments have come in the form of single track contributions to labels like Juárez’s LOWERS and Mexico City’s Piratón. “youknowhowwedu” also appeared on our own NEW YR NEW US 2 giveaway compilation at the end of 2017, a preview of a more longform release to come on Astral Plane Recordings.
The smattering of AMAZONDOTCOM releases mentioned above paint a picture of an artist who fluidly moves between a number of sounds, touching on dembow, footwork, hip hop and a more amorphous beat aesthetic without falling into the trap of emulating calcified forms. It’s a sound that is already distinctly hers and a sonic space that will rapidly expand as more material is released. Her Astral Plane Mix is a good measure of that, comprised of over an hour of unreleased AMAZONDOTCOM material that gracefully bounds across tempo and rhythmic structure without losing an ounce of focus. Distended low end, cleverly snatched vocal samples and metallic drums have all become AMAZONDOTCOM hallmarks, but this volume also introduces sections of distorted breaks and a range of pleasing textural elements, ensuring complete immersion. No track list for this one, although you can pick out DMVU’s “Flew” towards the beginning of the mix. The rest is all AMAZONDOTCOM. Download here and be on the look out for more in the near future.
Due to some scheduling peculiarities, we’re in a slight lull in the Astral Plane Recordings release schedule, which makes our monthly NTS show the best outlet to hear new music from the label and label-related artists. We hopped on NTS on Good Friday (April 13) with a collection of devotional music (Alkaline, v1984, Arca, MC Pikachu, etc.), as well as a wonky, pitch/reality bending guest mix from Los Angeles’ AMAZONDOTCOM and Mexicali’s Siete Catorce. Also look out for a new LOFT edit, a Chants x Ophex collaboration, some unreleased SHALT and the usual assortment of barely together edits, bootlegs and blends. We also played a favorite from Mika Vainio. I only delved into Vainio/Pan Sonic later in the Finnish artist’s career, but have come to appreciate his work as one of the fundamental building blocks of what we do as a label and how I’d live to envision experimental music as an individual. Paul Smith and Andrew Ryce both wrote wonderful pieces in the aftermath of his passing and I highly recommend newer listeners to stop what they’re doing and to spend the day with Vainio’s myriad projects. He will be missed.