November 19, 2012

Emerging Aesthetics: Music About Dance Music

In many ways, Electronic Dance Music is the ultimate breeding ground for hyper-memetics. Moreso than any other genre, EDM has evolved in such a way that new subgenres not only embody smaller and more specific aesthetics, but are often born out of a SINGLE sound or piece of kit. Without the Amen break, there would be no Jungle, without the 303, there would be no Acid. While the mutation of hyper-specific sound-sets is usually exciting at first, it often leads in short order to carbon-copying and ultimately, a loss of objective judgment. How can something be good or bad, when it can only sound one way?

Over the last few years, a new and curious crop of sonic experimenters has emerged, focusing their efforts on the re-contextualization of the ubiquitous sonic tropes and cultural baggage that define the norms of dance music culture. When the most thoughtless cliches are left to thrash in a vacuum, their absurdity quickly becomes inescapable. In this time of total cultural access, forward-thinking artists are choosing self reflection. This is Music About Dance Music.


Lesser – “Adios Amen”
Lesser is the snide, punk-indebted laptop-based project of one Jason Doerck, whose halcyon days in Northern California coincided with more high-minded experimentalists like Matmos, and snotty MAX/MSP brats like Kid606. While the vast majority of his output is of questionable quality and motivation, I’ve always enjoyed “Adios Amen”, his super-cynical sendup of the Amen break from 1998. Tweaked, time-stretched, and echoed beyond all recognition, the track is a ludicrous “fuck you” to the useless manipulations of the Drum and Bass genre that spawned his career.


DJ Sprinkles – “Grand Central, Pt. 1 (Deep into the Bowels of House)”
Terre Thaemlitz, aside from being a supremely sensitive sound manipulator (and a personal hero), is a master of critical discourse, especially when it comes to the world of dance music culture. His 2009 album “Midtown 120 Blues” under the DJ Sprinkles moniker is an earnest, compassionate memoir of the troubled world of New York gay nightlife that he experienced firsthand in the ’80s and ’90s. The journey of House music from underground phenomena to popular feel-good cash-in is told through 10 tracks of somber, deep-house explorations, peppered with his own narration throughout. Possibly the strongest example of “Music About Dance Music” here, and a mirror image of Lesser’s critic-baiting temper tantrums, Terre makes his intentions entirely clear.


Lorenzo Senni – “Makebelieve”
Lorenzo Senni, the 28-year-old founder of the Presto!? label (home to such avant luminaries as Marcus Schmickler, CM Von Hausswolff, and Lasse Marhaug), can be credited with putting this entire notion of meta-EDM in my brain. His newest LP “Quantum Jelly” was a formed around a dead-simple concept: Trance build-ups, isolated and extended to song length. The result is an oddly beguiling set of bubbling, minor-key arpeggiations that twist through an utter vacuum. Waiting for a drop that never comes gives these pieces a sort of wistful charm, despite their stark, digital sheen.


Mark Fell – “SOA-2″
Mark Fell has been creating boundary-pushing electronic music for over a decade as half of SND, and most recently under the moniker Sensate Focus. This newest project, while ostensibly comprising his most danceable material to date, might also be his most subversive. Each release(now totaling 4 12″s and a double LP), uses an almost identical (and intentionally non-remarkable) sound palette of kicks/hats/claps, diva vocal clips, and house-y synth stabs. The magic lies in their combination, as all conventions of rhythmic interplay are cast to the wind. Though the BPM remains constant, elements are free to shift, skitter, slide, and mutate across each track’s length. The track showcased here is from an LP under his own name, that further extends these “automatic house” arrangements with Fell’s signature alien flourish.


Lee Gamble – “Emu”
One of the latest releases on Pan, Germany’s premiere experimental imprint, comes from Lee Gamble, a musician who found himself at a crossroads in the early 2000s. A refugee from the UK’s Jungle/DNB scene of the mid-90s, Lee took a hard left turn towards the academic, embracing procedural computer music with admirable rigor. This year, he attempted to bridge the gap between past life and present with “Diversions 1994-1996″, a collection of extended, mysterious mantras sourced primarily from his vast collection of hand-dubbed jungle mixtapes. Atmospheric interludes are stretched and devolved, and desolate breakbeats hover in and out of focus over all manner of found-sound detritus and smoldering tape hiss. At certain points, the tracks approach Robert Turman-level looping timelessness, and perfectly encapsulate the duality of isolationism and community that must have characterized a life in the 90s underground.


EVOL – “Rave Slime”
This last one’s a bit of a lark, though it probably wins the award for “Clarity of Vision”. It comes from Barcelona’s Roc JimĂ©nez de Cisneros, aka EVOL, who makes what he describes as “Computer Music for Hooligans”. “Rave Slime” is brutal dissection of rave and hardcore techno’s most insipid indulgence: the “Hoover”. The “Hoover” sound, a synth patch made inescapable in many forms of harder dance music over the past 15 years (and somehow now crossing over into American pop music…), started as a preset called “What The?” on the Roland Alpha Juno synthesizer. This totally cheeky single puts the final nail in the Hoover’s coffin, with 2 extended workouts of nothing but. The result is intriguing, but borderline unlistenable, which is exactly what EVOL was shooting for.