Initially serving as an outlet for the IDM scene and its offspring, the label has since undergone a series of radical overhauls, consistently wrong-footing its detractors and cementing its position at the forefront of all things electronic. In the mid-2000s the label served as an essential platform for dubstepâs launch into the mainstream; in recent years it has become renowned for championing Chicago footwork, helping to plant a previously obscure music firmly in the global musical consciousness.
With footwork for example, how did you discover that? Was it something you stumbled across?
MP: âYeah. I think Wayneandwax posted something on his blog, maybe, and I clicked a link. Then I just followed all the YouTube links from there, and there was shitloads of stuff, and it was all completely amazing in its own way. Although we got a lot of criticism from certain corners of Chicago for releasing DJ Nate. So then I suppose we had to redress the balance slightly.â
Noncommital attribution or not, I do appreciate the nod. (Thanks, Mike, if you still read on occasion.) Can’t help but be delighted by even the faintest possibility that this here blog had something to do with oddball Chicago bedroom / rec-room music crossing over into the global bass mainstream (for better and worse). I started blogging about juke back when I lived to Chicago and discovered imeem (at the same damn time). Sudden juke goldmine even if everything was pretty much streaming at horribly compressed levels. And I was a certified Nate booster, so that might explain some things too. If this really was the chain of events, sure was a roundabout way to finally score some Nate 320s!
Speaking of betterdom or worsement, allow me to share a bit more:
In general do the Chicago scene approve of what youâve done with footwork?
MP: âI think they just want to make money. I mean I think they care whether theyâve been represented, individually, correctly or not, obviously. And that the scene has been represented OK. And thatâs why they didnât like what had happened about DJ Nate â self-appointed scene members were upset by it. But above that, I suppose everyone wants to be successful. I think artistically we were successful [with Footwork], but it hasnât been the best-selling thing. Some of the artists made advances from us, and thatâs been good for them. And Rashad and Spinn have been playing out a lot. Iâve always wanted Hyperdub to release some [footwork]. Because I felt like people were looking at Mu as if it was mental, releasing all this Chicago footwork. I wanted not to be alone. Though there are a lot of labels releasing pseudo-footwork â even us, even Planet Mu.â
What sort of things are you referring to?
MP: âPeople like Machinedrum. FaltyDL has been doing a bit of it, though I donât think itâs been released. I think Machinedrumâs has been successful in that it wasnât emulating footwork â he was taking a deeper sort of response to it. But there has been a lot of other things â like Krampfhaft â itâs all a bit pyrotechnic-ey. I donât think the European and white American response, unless youâre in the [Chicago] scene, has been that successful. Itâs not very grassroots is it, itâs just part of the post-dubstep scene, and so thereâs not really a big reason for it to exist other than, âOh Iâve been listening to a bit of this, Iâm going to put it in my musicâ. Some of itâs more successful than others. I think the first successful track for me â apart from Machinedrum â was Mark Pritchard as Africa Hi-Tech, âOut In The Streetsâ. But then Markâs a fucking great producer.â
My first reaction was: don’t blame me for future-juke! Just kidding, my actual first reaction was: gotta appreciate the candor. Paradinas appears to come by his love for and opinions about the music honestly. Gotta appreciate as well that he’s put some Chicago-based producers, established and emergent, into circulation for entirely new publics — and into little more posterity than the socialmedia “platform” du jour.
The Young Smoke album Planet Mu put out last year was one of my favorite things of 2012 and still resides on my smartphone many months later (which is something, trust me). To think that I might have had some passing influence on the processes that led to this music finding me 6 years later puts a little smile on my face, no lie.
Beat Research looks to remain in high gear (with more low end than ever!) for the rest of the spring, maintaining our beast mode pace with some BIG guests coming thru over the next month or two.
Among others, as I’ll detail below, our spring line-up will include such wreck-shopping luminaries as Chicago juke alchemist DJ Rashad (4/4), veteran (and still #1) Boston reggae selector Junior Rodigan (4/17), and NYC bhangra ambassador DJ Rekha (5/1). We’ve been wanting to get all three of these masters of their craft to BR for a while, and I almost can’t believe it’s all going down in the next five weeks. Do help us set the experimental-party off if you’re in the area.
First, don’t forget that we’ve got the mighty Chief Boima in the house tonight, March 28! Check out this awfully nice post he put up for some context. Suffice to say, we’re just as happy to give the man a well-deserved platform. (And maybe to claim “First!“) I’m definitely a what-goes-around type of guy, and so I couldn’t be more pleased that Boima will also be giving a lecture in my global hip-hop class at Brandeis tomorrow night. He spent some time in Liberia last year, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about such thorny but important questions as how to ethically endeavor to play musical middleman.
Here’s something toward what it sounds like maybe —
Let me remind that Boima’s got a new release out on Dutty Artz called African in New York, which is great. But if you come to the club tonight, you not only get to hear tracks like those, you get to hear lots of other stuff they’re webbed up with in Boima’s memory (and his hard drive’s).
Wednesday, April 4 – DJ Rashad & Kat Fyte
In conjunction with the good people at Cluster Mag, and the Together Fest, we’re doing two things we don’t usually do: we’re conducting Beat Research on a Wednesday, and we’re asking for a modest $5 at the door. But, boy, what we have in store.
We’re enthused to report that our guest for the Fest will be DJ Rashad, one of the biggest players in the Chicago juke/footwork scene, especially with regard to its movement in the wider world — thanks in no small part to his releases on Planet Mu.
I can’t wait to hear Rashad at the Good Life. Those sustained 808 tones and insane tom rolls are gonna bang through that system. It may be the first time I’ll come close to hearing/feeling what they should really hear/feel like. But beyond the 808 wizardry, Rashad’s stuff also stands out with its fine ear for all sorts of samples, especially the sort of jazzy sources that once bedeviled many a hip-hop producer. He and his comrade DJ Spinn are quite the connoisseurs of the sample-flip (<3 the Edo G shout). Here's a taste (lots more here), where you can hear why London lads could lose their shit over this Chicago-bred style that creeps up on drum’n’bass without even meaning to —
And to top things off, erstwhile/occasional/forever Bostonian and all-around force of awesome, Max Pearl (aka Kat Fyte), will help us get things started right.
Tuesday, April 10 – Brian Coleman & Pacey Foster
We’re keeping it extra local this week with two DJs who together can cover much of this town’s illustrious musical history, from electro to rock to hip-hop and much else between and beyond. Longtime friends of Beat Research Pacey Foster and Brian Coleman have promised to “dig in their Boston crates and pull out cuts from all eras and genres (with the exception of experimental country-western from Metro West).” At times, it could sound like this —
Or this —
Tuesday, April 17 – Junior Rodigan & Irie La
Our big guest on April 17 should need no introduction, in Boston or beyond, but he sure deserves one. Taking his name from the legendary David “Ram Jam” Rodigan (aka Father Rodigan), Junior Rodigan moved to London from Iran as a kid and became totally enraptured by his namesake’s radio show, which gave him quite an education in reggae during his formative years. He moved to Boston as a young adult, and started rocking parties around town beginning in 1986, steadily building a solid rep.
For a short time in the early 90s Junior worked as a ragga-hiphop vocalist, recording for New York and Boston-based labels, and he owned and operated his own reggae store, Vibes Records, on Blue Hill Ave for more than a decade. Since the late 90s, he’s devoted nearly all his time to DJing, and these days he’s known as the drive-time DJ on Big City FM, Boston’s premiere Caribbean community radio station. Junior’s a longtime point-man for nuff visiting artists from Jamaica, with whom he has some serious rapport (see, e.g., 2min in: “me wan some original old time medley right now!”). Man talk the talk, seen.
Of course, Junior is a master of up-to-the-time chunes and classic catalogue numbers alike. For his special appearance at Beat Research, he’s going to do something he rarely gets to do on the radio or at gigs and dig into his deep crates in order to play cuts exclusively drawn from the foundation labels, Studio One and Treasure Isle, on which so much subsequent reggae is based. It’s bound to be a serious vibes. Once again, a great opportunity to experience this music as it was intended to be: as palpable, vibrational force.
This is quite a historic month for Junior, as it happens: just a couple nights earlier, on April 15, he’ll be holding a 25th anniversary bash at the Russell Auditorium featuring Stone Love & Steelie Bashment. If I were you — indeed, if I were me (which I am) — I’d want to catch both these events.
For now, though — since I gotta get running over to the club to warm things up for Boima — I’ll leave you with this amazing but tantalizingly brief clip of Junior Rodigan in ragga-rapper mode, amping up the crowd during RSO’s opening act for Naughty By Nature’s Boston debut way back in 1991. Unfuckwithable–
Oh, and we’re gonna have the added support of another DJ who’s held the torch for reggae here in Boston: Selectress Irie-La. It’s gonna be quite a night, fi true.
So yeah, a seriously fun month+ ahead. Do join us! More info will follow.
I’ve been on a serious YouTube grind over the last couple weeks, working up a couple papers/talks on black digital youth culture. Check the waxtube or my favorites to sink into a pixelated dance trance.
Gave one version of this black-digi-youf chat a couple weeks ago at Harvard, which thx to a little bird tweet, led to an exchange with Miles Raymer in this week’s Chicago Reader. Check it out!
I’m trying to work up a YouTube version of my ideas about YouTube culture for this weekend’s meeting of the American Studies Association. But, man, my iMovie skills are laughable (or maybe it’s just that iMovie is laughable?). At any rate, I’ll share it here if I succeed in making something worth putting up. It’s not like the chicken-noodle-soup kids are sweating the transitions, so why should I?
To give a clue of where I’m headed, here’s my abstract for ASA, followed by five videos set to the DJ Nate track that inspires my title (previously blogged here), the illest juke waltz everrrr and a fairly abstract/avant piece to propel so much funky movement —
May Be Sum Day: Online Video, Self-Representation, and Peer-to-Peer
The recent integration of online video and social networking sites has
created an unprecedented arena for cultural production, exchange, and
debate. Of particular significance is the emergence of do-it-yourself,
peer-to-peer video culture, which now animates a substantial degree of
the activity on such popular sites as YouTube, MySpace, and imeem. The
advent of socially-networked sites for sharing video and music among
peers seems to have facilitated a veritable efflorescence of
African-American regional dance scenes and interregional rivalries and
exchanges (asynchronous and online as well as realtime and
face-to-face). Chicago juke, Detroit jit, Bay Area hyphy, and Harlem’s
“Chicken-Noodle Soup” all represent vibrant sites of practice and
pride at a grassroots level, while successful figures such as Soulja
Boy Tellem (author of the “Crank Dat” craze) embody a new set of
opportunities and shared cultural reference points for tech-savvy
The vitality of these scenes seems downright infectious — to borrow a
weighted, racy term long associated with the circulation of
African-American music culture — and as these homemade dance videos
find themselves embedded not just on the MySpace pages of
practitioners’ local and regional “friends” but on hipster blogs from
Brooklyn to Paris, we behold well-worn patterns of production and
consumption. Hence, issues around race and representation emerge as
central in any analysis of the cultural significance of DIY, p2p
online video. These representations are, however, often
self-representations, crafted and curated by active agents of their
own online avatars. So although the ability for these cultural
products to circulate outside their spheres of production — a process
inherent to the promiscuity of digital files — might raise flags of
sorts, it remains significant that the tools of production and
distribution alike are now in the hands of teenagers in Chicago and
the Cayman Islands (to name a couple case studies this paper will
consider), rather than, as in the past, middle-aged executives in Los
Angeles and New York. Thus, the phenomenon of widely-distributed (or,
in p2p parlance, “shared”) music video represents a crossroads not
just for _the_ music industry, but for music _industry_ itself — that
is, the cultural work that music does. As online video increasingly
drives popular and grassroots music culture, perhaps once again we
must reappraise music’s place in the social sensorium in the wake of
seemingly seismic techno-cultural shifts.
Those last two are, in case you didn’t notice, pretty gay — raising yet another (familiar) set of questions.
Oh, and don’t miss these fragments of a footwork feature! (part 1 | part 2)
“Understood according to the order of first causes … capital is parasitic upon the labor of the multitude. But existentially and experientially, the situation is rather the reverse: we are parasites on the monstrous body of Capital.”
a friend told me recently that while in JA this spring, his friend — an ol rasta chap — remarked about the recent trend toward tight pants, oversized belt buckles, and ‘metro’ fashion among young men, “me never know jamaica would have so much gay”
again about the wonderful work that music does, the vitality of digital (youth) culture, the persistence of realtime, peer2peer creativity and sociability, & the obvious shortcomings of corporate hackery
u kno the first, no doubt —
The maker of many a best of 2007 list, Dude Nem’s “Watch My Feet” was a notable mainstream breakthrough of sorts for Chicago juke. Sure, there’s a bit of corporate hackery a gwaan here what with Dude Nem being the first juke group to get a national push from an out-of-town record label, but there’s a whole lotta esprit de corps in there too.
I remember getting the e-promo like it was yesterday —
As you might surmise (or already know), DIY versions abound, all asking you to watch their feet (if sometimes assuming you’re watching other things, esp when the feet aren’t really visible, knamean).
But, for my clickthrough, the most ebullient of em all (nem) is the the (DJ Nate produced ?!) audition for the Dude Nem video —
I find this^^ a lot more watchable (and that’s what it’s about, no?) than the slightly more choreographed segments we see in the official video (tho there are some gems there too). There are just so many individual styles on display here, a lot personality animating the footwork. I’m impressed in partic w/ how gracefully big man (from around 1:05 to 1:20) throws his weight around. But they’re ALL amazing.
Yes, it’s unfortunate that we don’t get a sense of sync here. (Overdubbing music for live music/dance scenes — a la Rize — really kills me; I want to know what it sounds like THERE). It’s perhaps less vexing, though, considering that juke footwork seems to be more “floaty” in character, not unlike ravey liquidity or over-acrobatic b-boying, than dance styles which engage more directly with the musical pulse. (Got actual dance vocab for this distinction? Do enlighten.)
Not too surprisingly, before long there was a corporate bandwagon version, even on OldTube (i.e., TV), featuring a very virtuosic if uninspired set of footworkers and employing an obv/awk ripoff of “Watch My Feet” while abandoning juke’s frenetic digi-tom rolls for some watered-down, ol’timey, Miami Bass-ish — like some ignant studio hack heard Dude Nem and went scrolling through his “Gangsta/Dance” loop library. (I swear, if Gant Man produced that crap I would not recant.) The vids even attempt to capture the spirit of an audition (not to mention the authentic patina of amateurism, as evoked in part by the inclusion of video “counter” data at the bottom of the screen), and with various versions offering up “competitions” between the dancers (using a split-screen; they’re not actually dancing simultaneously). It’s a YouTube-ready ad campaign, fo sho —
Not only do the Verizon vids pale in comparison to watching kids do kid things outside of stifling studios, for all their YouTube-readiness, they lag behind actual YouTube-savvy riffs.
I’d be remiss, then, if I didn’t conclude this brief survey w/ one of the most delightfullest mashup vids for “Watch My Feet,” wherein Dude Nem’s boastful, upful anthem is set to loops’n’clips from Happy Feet — as produced, apparently, by the same kid, an 18yr-older from Cayman, who did Soulja Boy Pooh (which has now garnered over 6 million views!) —
We can waffle over whether YouTube’s newly unleashed audio takedown worm will make this activity move elsewhere, but it’ll keep on moving, no doubt. (& I’m sure Dude Nem / TVT would be happy to rake in some ad revenue from all these plays, if GoogTube could get its act together on that.) At any rate, I’d say archive em while you can.
The NYT published a long profile on Rick Rubin yesterday. It’s a innaresting piece and Rubin’s a helluva producer, executive producer, A&R man, and new-age exec — but he’s not gonna save the music industry.
DJ Nate (via s/fj), on the other hand, provides a good glimpse at the new non music industry. On his MySpace, he shows himself to be an expert uploader-promoter, stacking YouTube videos w/ feet wurkin’ to his beats and embedding an auto-play imeem playlist of his own hopped-up, bass-propelled, fruityloopy productions —
— deese are HEAVY jams, making my laptop speakers vicariously feel woofish, as if the tiny speakers hope to emulate bass with the way they shake, all pathetic plastic tryna vibrate along at lower frequencies than their polymers permit.
DJ Nate’s music is deeply entwined with, engaged with, and inspired by the local scene. It could care less, it would seem, about anything beyond Chi-town & the suburbs. imeem and YouTube are visible from space, sure, but these tracks and vids are for the kids on the block. They’re about burning the nextman footwurker nem, ending his career, and no doubt, if more implicitly, launching one’s own.
This is not the music industry. It’s music industry. It’s how music works, the cultural work that music does, how we work it. We don’t need executives for that. In the words of the wise Rick Rubin, “too many people make and love music for it to ever die.” Even capitalism can’t kill it. Cue ominous outro —
The other day I was taking the 73 from La Belle Mont to Harvard Square. When I got on, I couldn’t help noticing the chap flickrd above, what with his makeshift Sailor Moon police outfit, complete with blue fabric glued to shoulders and breast, metal plate thing on head, and badges to boot (not to mention the extra-large Tokyo Kid bag).
As u can also see, dude was rocking a discman, and he seemed rather engrossed by whatever he was listening to. I assumed it was probably some ol’ Sailor Moon J-pop or something, y’know, to go with the outfit and help set the mood. (Whatever the mood is for a Sailor Moon policeman.)
What surprised and delighted me at the time, and which remains bewildering, was what he was singing when he started singing along, aloud, to the song. As he thrashed his arms about (that’s an action shot, yup), he mumbled some intermittent but not totally incoherent Spanish:
blahblah blahblah blah blah sola
blah blahblah blahblah vuelto con el
blahblah blahblah dido borrar
blahblah blahblah en tu piel
blahblah blahblah vas a llorar…
in other words, interestingly enough, dude was clearly ‘singing’ along to this —
Now, I’m afraid I never got a chance to ask the good Sergeant whether he always listens to reggaeton, whether he knows Spanish, how his love for reggaeton dovetails with his devotion to Sailor Moon, etc. — he too engrossed by his discman, and I too in a rush to get elsewhere. But it was definitely another striking example of the genre finding fans beyond where one would expect to find them and cropping up in the darnedest places.
I may not have recognized Hector El Father’s tune had it not been drilled into my head by La Kalle in Chicago last year. Guilty as any other contempo-corporate radio station when it comes to short playlists, La Kalle would without fail play “Sola” for me on my commute to and from Hyde Park each day. At first I found it annoying, treacly, unremarkable — but another dose of dembow bombast. Gradually tho, as tends to happen with repetition, it grew on me. Despite its cheesiness and cookie-cutter qualities, “Sola” does some interesting things, challenging facile dismissals of reggaeton as overly repetitive (“the same beat”) and unoriginal.
For one, the beat structure offers a fair amount of variation, alternating between reggaeton, dancehall reggae, and hip-hop grooves (i.e., boom-ch-boom-chick to bomp-bomp to breakbeat/backbeat accents), and thus propelling the song forward in a fairly dynamic way (see my notes to Another Crunk Genealogy for more elaboration/examples of these rhythmic approaches).
The other thing that strikes me about “Sola” is the way that Hector El Father sings / raps. It seems to me that this song, like many others in the genre, offers a good example of a fairly distinctive style of vocalizing that has emerged in reggaeton. Many observers, myself included, have noted that reggaetoneros tend to mix dancehall and hip-hop vocal styles, but few have gone into further detail about the other influences one can hear in reggaeton vox, especially in the (nasal / strained) timbres (which tend to recall a number of Puerto Rican vocal traditions, from bomba to salsa to various folkloric / religious styles), the use of melisma (or not), the kinds of melodic contours employed, etc.
It seems to me that we can hear in Hector’s vocalizing a wide number of influences being synthesized. In particular, the overwrought, by-the-numbers ‘emotive’-ness — dig that octave jump halfway thru the chorus! it’s something of a mini-truck driver’s gear change, innit — seems equally indebted to baladas y salsas romanticas, with perhaps a dash of rock power-balladry to put it over the top. Perhaps this is not terribly original in its own way, but it’s definitely distinct from (as it overlaps and engages with) dancehall or hip-hop approaches, and I think one could make a genealogical argument that extends into the first ‘crooners’ of the underground days (e.g., Baby Rasta) who, influenced as they were by dancehall singjays, also inevitably incorporated the sounds of boybands. (Let’s not kid ourselves: who do you think Hector is making a play for with songs like “Sola”? The thugs?) As the genre turns toward “romantic” recordings in the mid-late 90s, this tendency is exacerbated. & of course with the rise of the “thug ballad” in hip-hop around the turn of the millennium, the approach becomes both popular and profitable. And there we have it, at least to my ears.
Which is the sort of thing I think about on the bus.
Everything was going according to plan. We slogged through Chicago (natch), cruised through Gary and the rest of Indiana, and were hoping to roll along I-90 all the way back to the Bean. But shortly after crossing the Ohio border, our ol’ trusty Honda — so clutch over the years — no longer would shift gears.
And so, about a quarter-mile from the first eastbound tollbooth in the Buckeye State, we waited. And waited. Nick chucked rocks at a small sign, bullseye on third try. I read aloud, fast as possible, from Harper’s Weekly Review (as e’d to my phone), shouting over the din of 18+wheelers. Becca shivered. A towtruck arrived just before sundown and dragged our car’s silver shell to a garage in nearby Holiday City. We decided to cut our losses, packed everything into our rent-a-truck, and sold the car for cheap to a dude named Dennis, sealed with a handshake in front of a state trooper as Roman Candles popped off in the Holiday Inn parking lot adjacent, all whoop and holler, snap and crackle.
We drove on a few more hours. Slept outside Toledo in a Days Inn. Nodding off to lukewarm beer and Dave Chappelle. Woke early the next morning and drove 12 more hours to Boston, six of them through interminable New York. Worst of all, though: iPod transmitter wouldn’t fit in the cigarette-charger, leaving us with FM and AM only. And as much as I tried to be a good sport about it — Ah, Americana — I can only listen to so much Eagles. In the midwest I was still catching mucha banda, though, oddly enough, the orgullo switched from mexicano to de la raza as we moved from Illinois to Ohio. & while AM is something of a refuge, it’s finicky in its own ways.
I’ll leave it at this little highlight: I had my second epiphanic experience while driving delirious to the strains of “Dream Weaver.” (The first was in Texas at dawn some ten years ago.) The opening of the song is so damn hip-hop (Premo sample that yet?), I was instantly transfixed, enough to float along on the rest of the song’s srsly over-the-top schmatlzathon —
& one more radio note: it was awful nice, if occurring a little too early in loooong New York, to hear “Welcome Back” as we slouched toward Bawstin —
They were playing that one for me, even if they didn’t know it.
So, yeah, here I am. Back in Boston, feeling at home.
But another funny thing happened on the way back to town: I landed in Belmont, just west of my native West Cambridge. Having grown up on the Cambridge-Belmont-Watertown border, I’ve known Belmont fairly well for a long time. My new neighborhood in particular, Cushing Square, I know quite well. It was a rainy day destination for us as kids, what with its enchanting five-and-dime store and ice-cream shoppes. Living here now is funny, tugs of nostalgia even though there’s a Starbucks where Friendly’s used to be and a few more restaurants tending to the up-scale rather than down-home (though Teddy’s diner remains refreshingly good and simple and Ben Franklin is still here and gloriously full of odd and useful things). Belmont has always had its “tony suburb” qualities — low crime and green lawns, and it’s a “dry town” to boot — but it retains some working- and middle-class character even into the Mitt Romney era.
We’ve settled here for the time being because Becca‘s based in Cambridge for at least another year or two, and I’m gonna be teaching in Waltham. Especially for a carless commuter couple, Belmont makes a perfect midpoint: it’s bikable and busable/trainable from both places. It has other charms, too, which I will no doubt be sharing as we go. But most of all, it feels good to be back in the midst of so many friends and family and familiar places, faces, sights, and sounds. As much as I like getting outside of the familiar, those lovely differences only make sense — or at least take on greater resonance — in relation to a home set of experiences, I think. (At least, for me.) Of course, it helps that I like the place I call home so much. No place like it.
One additional reason I’m vvvv excited to be back is that I’ll be helping out DJ Flack with his weekly Beat Research sessions at the Enormous Room. & I’ll be doing my best to fill the huge shoes of DJ C, who has essentially switched places with me, trying his hand in the Windy City for a lil while. (Keep yer ears peeled, Chicago.) I’m looking forward to being a regular research assistant, and to getting back into a real music-playing/making regimen.