October 29th, 2009

Dig This: Vote Beat Research

I’m happy to report that our modest Monday throwdown, Beat Research, has been nominated for best Monday Night club thing in the Weekly Dig‘s 2009 Dig This Awards.

We’re honored & flattered to be considered for this, as we do our best to hold it down for “experimental party music” here in the Bean each and every week. I’m not sure when the deadline is, but I think it’s soon, so if you want to show some support, get yourself over there and throw us a vote!

Better than that, though, if you really want to support, come out to the club next time you’re looking to start the week off with a bang. We’re privileged to be able to host so much local and international talent, but it can’t be party music without, as they say, party people in the house. Up next: Gypsy Sound System, str8 outta Poland! Bass culture meets brass culture inna Central Square. Be there–


  • 1. Birdseed  |  October 31st, 2009 at 6:23 am

    I’m sorry, but “Gypsy Sound System”? WTF? I can’t imagine any white middle-class people getting away with calling a club night “Nigger Sound System”. And WTF are they doing reppin’ the Roma in the first place, especially with that tired old breakbeat shit?

  • 2. w&w  |  October 31st, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    I’m sure some would agree with that equivalence, Johan, but not all find “Gypsy” offensive and plenty resist “Roma” as an umbrella term. I wouldn’t call myself that name, esp w/o any such ethnic background to auto-essentialize, but I’m not necessarily gonna pass judgment when I don’t completely understand the motivation. I mean, I know you have a serious problem with ethnic kitsch, but your response seems a little over-the-top/kneejerk/PC to me. I also think you unfairly dismiss GSS’s actual breadth of style and (what may be) positive gestures of identification.

    I confess that I don’t completely get the balkan beat thing, and I find its kitschy approach to traditional forms (including those of Europe’s classic internal others — namely, Jews and Gypsies) a little funny. But it’s hardly that different from various “tropical” fetishes in that regard. Since I’m willing to give plenty of people the benefit of the doubt in aligning themselves with this or that historically beleaguered group, I don’t see why I can’t do that in this case too. But if you like I can ask him about it.

  • 3. Birdseed  |  November 1st, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Hmm. One difference, and I’m not saying it’s a major one necessarily, is that “Balkan beats” as practised by these groups doesn’t really have a Balkan equivalent any more, at least not as a dynamic force – it’s been supplanted by much, much more interesting music which is eclectically creolised in an almost caribbean way, but which is generally not acknowledged by this kind of group.

  • 4. w&w  |  November 1st, 2009 at 9:26 am

    That’s an interesting point, Johan, and it does affirm some of the out-of-time weirdness of the balkan beat thing (but when *is* the right time to employ a kind of invented musical nostalgia?). I’d be curious to know what you’re referring to here. You mean, like, manele?

  • 5. Birdseed  |  November 1st, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Manele, Kosovar tallava with its weird psychadelic/dub influences, poppy Bulgarian chalga and moogy Bulgarian-Turk kyuchek, Greek Laïka, Serbian Turbofolk and whatever the awesome Macedonian stuff is called, I’ve lost track. All of them are kinda istanbul-centered, but at the same time more-or-less influenced by what’s going on in hip-hop, dancehall and reggaeton.

  • 6. rozele  |  November 3rd, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    on terminology, and racism:

    hmn. are any of the “not all” you’re referring to, wayne, from the stateless (b”h) diaspora that i’m going to keep calling “Rroma” here for shorthand? sure, there’s resistance to “Roma” or “Rroma” as an umbrella, but mainly to keep other more specific Rroma groups’ names in the mix – Sinti, Travelers, &c. it’s more or less similar to how plenty of non-ashkenazi jews in the u.s. insist on explicit shoutouts to sefardi/bene israel/banu israel/yerushalmi communities rather than go with the umbrella “jewish”, which in the u.s. is assumed to mean “ashkenazi”.

    but i’ve yet to see any group of Rroma use “gypsy” for themselves except as an explicitly self-exploitative marketing tool. the same way, again, that some jews (almost always white ashkenazim) will use “heeb” or “kike”. it’s a heavily in-group privilege – definitely not okay for outsiders, especially outsiders whose communities have some responsibility for past acts of attempted genocide. that doesn’t mean it’s always actively called out as fucked up: witness the NY Gypsy Music Festival, which is as far as I know not Rroma-organized (or even all that weighted towards Rroma musicians). there’s a semi-strategic, semi-disorganized calculus involved.

    you’ll notice that on the u.s. brass scene, fewer and fewer bands who play a balkan repertoire use the word “gypsy” to describe their music – the ones whose repertoire comes from Rroma traditions are usually the most solid on this; the least solid are almost always the ones least connected to balkan musical traditions and to musicians who are actually from the balkans. this here’s a good thing. kinda like the lack of blackface in the “old-timey” music scene.

    this (positive) trend does not seem to be the case in europe (as far as i can tell from here – is that right, Birdseed?), except among the folks who are actually involved in concrete projects of solidarity and have actual relationships and contact with Rroma folks.

    yes: not much different from the “various ‘tropical’ fetishes”. which are also deeply racist and often pretty unabashedly about taking “everything but the burden” from their targets, and still not making interesting music. these record jackets illustrate what i mean pretty well, bearing in mind that these are mostly the ones packaging actual music from the african diaspora, which is usually a hellofalot better than the similarly marketed appropriations/whitewashings of these traditions.

    on the music:

    i gotta say, as someone who makes one of my cultural homes in the balkan music world: there’s some folks who make kick-ass dj music using balkan trad (Rroma, yiddish, slavic, and other) source material. so why book these cats? as far as i can tell from their myspace, you’d get better beats, more interesting samples, and less clichéd clarinet work by downloading any old Joroboro mix (or, hell, invite the the guy to spin), or even just putting on the Mehanata double-disc compilation and letting it play.

    i’m with Birdseed to a degree: the actual dj/electro-trad music coming out of the balkans is usually stranger and more interesting than the stuff mixed elsewhere. but what folks elsewhere (including here in the u.s.) do with balkan trad sources is very different from what folks in the balkans do with them, and no less interesting and good to dance to – when it’s done well. when done badly (and a moniker using “gypsy” is often a good way to predict that) it’s ethnokitsch on the order of the little “zhid” dolls modeled on caricatures from Der Stürmer that are marketed to jewish necro-tourists in front of every shul still standing in poland. and not even much fun to dance to, IMRHO.

    i’m also (again based on the myspace) not hearing this “breadth of style”. sure, there’s some slavic material, some Rroma material, and some yiddish material in their sample crate. and a few variations on the basic ‘Electric Gypsyland’ forumla, beatwise. but the standard set that bores the regulars at my usual place for dancing to balkan-based dj music (NYC’s tenacious Mehanata) goes from that to cumbia in one direction, bhangra in another, dancehall in a third, and current balkan istanbul-centered (as Birdseed points out) electro-trad in a fourth. i mean, really: you can hear a wider range from Slavic Soul Party any tuesday you’re in new york city (as long as eva primack is in town to sing), and they have to blow into things to make noise.

  • 7. wayneandwax  |  November 3rd, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    thanks for the lengthy/strengthy comment, rozele. i confess that i’m not well versed in rroma politics, or in balkan-based DJ music for that matter, and so i will defer to your narrative here & respect your aesthetic preferences. you make lots of sharp points above, and all are well taken.

    so, why book these cats? well, first, i should say that i didn’t; rather, my partner, dj flack, is responsible for the booking. but i want to follow that by saying that olga & schnaps are total sweethearts — really, they’re remarkably nice, gentle, warm people — and despite whatever romance/naiveté may undergird their aesthetics (and there’s definitely some of both), they are also, far as i can tell, well-meaning and respectful in their approach to “balkan trad” sources (even if they use politically incorrect terms for it). last night, i asked them both about how they found their way into this music, and it turns out that their stories of “discovery” are, reassuringly, both direct and mundane: interpersonal musical exchanges with neighbors and friends, from childhood into the present. i’m not saying that they couldn’t do this shtick better, or more carefully or politickly, but i don’t think they’re deserving of such spite. for me, the real answer to why we booked GSS is sociability.

    one more thing about GSS: olga has been singing songs recently and schnaps has picked up the accordion again (i guess he played as a youngster), so it’s quite possible that they will find a way into a more interesting (dare i say original?) take on all of this.

    incidentally, i had an email exchange with joroboro just this morning, and i was curious to see, in his latest mix of, as he put it, “dirty local” music, that a fairly typical (what you and birdseed might call cliche?) balkan beat track found its way alongside all manner of other “etnoteck”:

    i’m welcome to any and all recommendations of other acts we should book, long as they’re willing to make the trek to our modest Monday night (and by modest, i mean that we have very little money to offer), as olga and schnaps — to their credit — were.

  • 8. Birdseed  |  November 3rd, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Rozele – Great comment. I’m not hugely up on specifically the Balkan beats scene here in Europe, but as far as I know it’s a little bit of both. There’s plenty of well-respected-though-not-to-my-taste Balkan-oriented music which is very respectful in that old-fashioned World Music type of way, where direct collaboration with or worshipful adoration of Roma musicians is a central part of the agenda, often turning out solidly produced coffee table music for the discerning tastes of the multikulti crowd. Plenty of active Roma musicians making money off a “concious” Western European middle class crowd too.

    On the other hand there’s something about Europe and insensitivity… I’m currently engaged in a blogging project to document the use of jungle imagery in marketing mixtapes in the global ghettotech style, and it’s striking how just about everyone who is able to put a jungle image to “African” music is European. A couple of Argentinians and a (snarky) Afrikaner duo have done it as well, but absolutely no-one from North America despite the genre being equally big there. There’s something about European hipsters that makes them think being ironic and crazeee means normal ethical standards don’t apply to them, and certainly excessively using “gypsy” is a part of that. I think it might just be drummed in more in the US…

  • 9. wayneandwax.com » I&hellip  |  November 4th, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    […] guiding us into hearing UK funky as funky, unfunky, African, or not. I hope I haven’t kicked another hornet’s nest with this post. My interest (investment?) in talking about and thinking through these issues brings […]

  • 10. DJ Flack  |  November 4th, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Raph and Olga, from Gypsy Sound System, are two of the sweetest, most goodhearted, giving and unpretentious people I have ever met – for real. They are the exact opposite of the “ironic hipsters” that Birdseed was complaining about and anyone who would drop the “n-word” to make some point about them has no right to complain about snarkyness in the first place. Hearing Olga singing beautifully in Polish over some heavy Dub beats last Monday was truly miraculous and I think that seeing them live would squash any reservations one might have regarding the terminology in their name. They have always collaborated directly with musicians from all types of backgrounds and communities and If you actually met them in person, their sincerity and honest love and respect for the music that has inspired them would inspire you too.

  • 11. Birdseed  |  November 4th, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I was browsing through some journal articles today when I found one that specifically references and heavily criticises the Gypsy Sound System – I’m obviously not the only one who’d like this stuff to be critically reevaluated:


    And Flack – intent and effect, eh? Not just intent.

  • 12. joro-boro  |  November 4th, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    i have to join in the discussion with a confession: originally i wrote about this in an email to wayne based just on birdseed’s reaction and only after that did i read through the entire discussion, including rozele’s post. so originally i talked about there being two reasons to use the term ‘gypsy’ as a name for a type of music: first, to avoid confusion between the different groups making the music (sinti, roma, etc. as rightly pointed by rozele), and second to note the fact that some of the musicians are gadjos (non-roma) – which makes the label a stylistic one rather than an ethnic exonym. i called that use “problematic” but “functionally accepted”.

    and then i read rozele’s post.

    it made me rethink my position on the topic yet again – i’ve been struggling with this issue since my early days in mehanata and the release of the compilation (which i wanted to call ‘new york gadjo underground’). i realized that there is a reason why it is problematic to find a name for this music and the reason is this: there is no such thing as gypsy music!

    ‘gypsy music’ is a name given from outsiders, it is a totalizing machine that forces unity onto divergent cultural forms based solely on the ethnicity of their producers. yes, there are stylistic proximities between a soleá and a russian gypsy ballad, the question is can we just leave them to ethnomusicologists, since they are already in heavy market use on the festival circuit (both in the u.s. and in europe)? this reminds me of the discussions on this blog about nu-whirled music (http://wayneandwax.com/?p=143) and global ghettotech (http://wayneandwax.com/?p=205). similar excluding/exoticizing operations take place when one talks about “world music” and about “gypsy music.” can one talk about “black music” today?

    it seems that there was (and still is) a need to argue the historic continuity of roma identity as a tool for gaining political recognition and building a pan-roma identity (toni gatliff’s ‘latcho drom’), but that is not the same as selling tickets or cd’s by advertising a “gypsy music”. a friend of mine from berlin – dj soko (http://www.balkanbeats.de/) – has always managed to avoid the issue by presenting his music (released on three compilations already) and his party as ‘balkanbeats’. when he started using it, the term didn’t refer to just club remixes, but any danceable music from the region (including ska, reggae, jazz and folk). soko is the only one to officially feature a popfolk singer from bulgaria (azis) on a compilation, thus breaking the brass stereotype. and on that note, i only know of one european dj who freely includes chalga and turbofolk in his mixes – dj rasputin (http://beemp3.com/download.php?file=2667813&song=DJ+Rasputin+mix+set). if you happen to know of other ones, please let me know. balkan music is surely more than just brass bands and i usually try to focus on that “more”: the decompressia mix (thank you for posting it wayne!) does start with a shantel track (covering/remixing ciguli’s ‘binaz’), but then also includes examples of both popfolk (ivana with the party mix) and chalga (amet – dogovori) and closes with a fantastic dub track done by a romanian producer with sampled vocals from esma redzepova (zgomot’s miri kamli). i attribute this to the influence of the american environment of hybridity, since it seems that european dj’s usually stay within the confines of one style (i might be wrong – birdseed, can you help me on this?)

    but back to gypsy sound system: yes, it is insensitive of them to use that name for the project. and yes, they are “remarkably nice, gentle, warm people” and also my friends, but that’s beside the point. what about gypsy punk? i still think that gogol bordello should have stuck with ‘immigrant punk’ as a much more appropriate name for their style. balkan beat box attempted a neologism with ‘nu-med’ – new mediterranean music (with influences from roma traditions as well as the entire mediterranean). a poster can surely advertise ‘olah music from hungary’ or ‘wedding brass band from bulgaria’ and use “gypsy” only in a footnote as clarification (eugene from gogol bordello usually justifies his use of “gypsy” with american ignorance and fear of the audience confusing it with romanian or italian – from rome – music).

    i am not without fault either: i was one of the organizers of the first ny gypsy festival. as rozele mentions, it is not organized by roma and very few of the musicians are actually roma. true, it was at least conceived as a way of starting discussion on these issues – today it runs somewhat in parallel with the new york gypsy film festival (which features a number of documentaries on the situation of roma today, beyond the romantic dreams of caravans and campfires) – but it surely has fallen short of that goal. in the meantime the american brass scene has become much more apprehensive about the use of the term (usually substituted with ‘balkan’), but i am not sure anything of the sort will follow in europe. today’s united europe includes the balkans (or some part of it) and all its exotic/orientalist imaginary. which reminds me of one of my favorite sound/video artists from the region – turkey’s 2/5 bz (http://www.myspace.com/2serhat5bz) – and his slogan:

    “no exotic, no ethnic market, no touristik”

  • 13. wayneandwax  |  November 4th, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    thx to flack & joro for adding their 2 cents to the discussion (or maybe 10 cents in joro’s case ;)

    i’m feeling like we’re coming around to a more nuanced position here, and i’m heartened that people participating in the scene — at least some people — are clearly very thoughtful and reflective about the terms they use (and the difficulties of seeking a singular term to talk about such a mix of music). interestingly, this conversation seems to have some parallels with my most recent post (on UK funky), especially in the comments there; and, as joro notes, similar issues spring up when we talk about “world” or “black” music.

    i guess i’d be curious to know, in the context of the social ties that bind the scene together (which are not, i don’t think, exactly “beside the point”), whether joro will talk — or has talked — to GSS about their “insensitive” choice for the name of their group.

    & i totally appreciate joro bringing 2/5bz into this. that dude’s totally rad.

    finally, thx to birdseed for sharing that interesting article. i’m sorry if some people can’t read it b/c of academic paywalls. privileged as i am to work at a university, i took a look, and it’s a good read, outlining a lot of the problematic history running through all this. but birdseed, i have to admit that i can’t exactly see how the author “heavily criticises” GSS. there is only one reference to the group in the article, toward the opening of the essay:

    Western deejays such as Shantel and Gypsy Sound System, and Western bands such as Beirut and Balkan Beat Box, feature or sample music from South East Europe, in what has become a fashionable, “not so underground any longer,” scene.

    this in itself does not clearly constitute heavy criticism. since they are not named again, we can only infer from later passages that GSS perhaps fall into the camp that the author labels “some other Western musicians from the dance scene who use the ‘Gypsy’ brand”:

    Shantel’s politics are more interesting than some other Western musicians from the dance scene who use the “Gypsy” brand. He discusses the multicultural past of a region like Bucovina and the destruction the Nazis brought to it, even though he does not mention the Roma. Other Western musicians feel entitled to dip at leisure into the repertory of traditional music without the faintest understanding of the history and politics behind it. One member of the American band Beirut unapologetically confessed that he had no idea about the history of “Gypsy music,” or about Transylvania, for that matter, which is the title of one of their albums (in Lynskey 2006:6). The bohemian appropriation and projective identification with the Gypsies continues in these instances through erasure. It is no surprise, then, that Romani musicians from Fanfare Cioc?lia dismissed Shantel’s mixing as “dogshit.” As Beissinger shows, musicians and l?utari make a living in an extremely competitive environment and Beirut and Shantel may be Cioc?lia’s competition on the international market (2001).

    The Gypsy motif and Gypsy stereotypes of the Serbian songs sung by Petkovi?, and Shantel’s own song and video “?iganiza?ia,” play a role in perpetuating discourses of Balkanism and Orientalism. Like the Gypsies in the Serbian songs van de Port discusses, Shantel’s “Gypsification” has less to do with the Roma and more with the Orientalist perspective in Romania toward Gypsies and manele. The video takes place in Istanbul, the music is from the Balkans, and Gypsification represents the link between the two.

    franky, given what passes as “interesting” in shantel’s politics as described above, i have to say that GSS are least as “interesting” in their own performances and discussion, if also, to come back to joro, “insensitive” in certain ways.

  • 14. Birdseed  |  November 4th, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Yeah, I guess you’re right re: the criticism, though I think she’s holding back out of trying to preserve cool academic objectivity. I have a feeling she’d like to dig in really. ;)

  • 15. The Incredible Kid  |  November 9th, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Yes. Book Joro-Boro!

  • 16. wayneandwax  |  November 9th, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Haha, he’s booked! Looking fwd to January 11 —

  • 17. Library of Vinyl Experien&hellip  |  November 24th, 2009 at 11:41 am

    […] played at Beat Research under the name The Gypsy Sound System. Now despite the commentary over at Wayne’s mega blog, I have to say I liked the set. In addition to a tasteful selection of tunes, Olga sang mournful […]

  • 18. wayneandwax.com » A&hellip  |  January 11th, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    […] was a fortuitously timed email because I had recently posted a note to this blog announcing the appearance at BR of Gypsy Sound System, and the comments rapidly turned into a debate about the use of the term […]


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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