Archive of posts tagged with "dance"

August 30th, 2011

Incoming / Outgoing

Despite my relative silence here this summer — about which, more soon — big tings a gwaan, especially as the fall semester rolls around.

First up, I’m thrilled to report that I leave today for Rotterdam, my first visit to Holland / the Netherlands! I’m fortunate to have been invited to participate in a conference gathered around an exhibition on Bengali film at De Nieuwe Oogst

You might be wondering what I have to say about Bengali film, but you’ll have to ask me after the weekend is over for that. Happily, the conference organizers are using the event to stage some broader conversations about media and popular culture, and I’ve decided to take the opportunity to organize my thoughts around a topic that’s been bubbling up on my blog from time to time: Dutch club music — or more specifically, the contrasting media ecologies and aesthetic affinities between 90s bubbling and 00s dirty house / moombahton. In other words, Dutch club music from Moortje to Munchi, with a lil Afrojack along the way. Or in other words:

Look at Me Now: Dutch Club Music from Invisible Local Marginality to Invisible Global Ubiquity

Holland’s bubbling scene of the 1990s was so unremittingly anchored in local sites of realtime production and material circulation that in two decades, with few exceptions, the genre has hardly migrated beyond Rotterdam and the Hague. In marked contrast, contemporary Dutch house producer Afrojack, whose style audibly emerges from a national club music inspired by bubbling’s distinctive take on foreign but familiar forms, could credibly be counted among today’s top-tier producers of global dance-pop (if often overshadowed by US-based partners such as Diplo and Pitbull). Moreover, Afrojack’s remix of “Moombah,” slowed down several clicks by a Washington DC-based DJ named Dave Nada, has served as the basis for an emergent genre, moombahton, that enjoys a similar breadth of engagement and international circulation, but with relatively little attention to questions of Dutch origins — again, offering a striking departure from bubbling’s insistent locality and marginality. Although at a glance, then, the formal aesthetic qualities of mid-90s bubbling and today’s moombahton might have a lot in common — highly referential and resonant drum loops, Afro-diasporic signposts, a strong embrace of denatured synths and samples — a closer attention to their particular contexts and technologies of production and circulation can reveal striking shifts in the cultural politics of urban Holland, and the wider wired world, in an age of digital and so-called “social” media. Tracing the shapes and forms of Holland’s club music from bubbling’s Antillean counterpublics to the multicultural mix of participants addressed by Dutch “dirty” house and moombahton, this paper examines the distinct media ecologies that fostered the rise of such styles while considering the implications for understanding how musical media can facilitate forms of social collectivity and interaction, mobilization and disarticulation, audibility and illegibility.

See here for the full program. I’ll be giving my talk on Friday, Sept 1 at 11:45am as part of a panel addressing questions of “Urban Form.” Even more exciting (for me anyway), I’ll be DJing an afterparty on Friday night alongside Munchi himself! (not to mention State of Bengal and Nafer Loves You) It’s gonna be fun connecting all these dots! Sentello velocity indeed…

The second upcoming event I want to mention here is another DJ gig of sorts. On the evening of September 7, I’ll be performing at openLAB_03, a gathering at Harvard’s cool new experimental research unit, metaLAB, happening in conjunction with the Berkman Center’s iLaw conference.

The directors have been using the openLAB event series to present projects from Boston-area artists and share ongoing metaLAB experiments with the public. The theme of openLAB_03 is remix/curation of media archives (“broadly interpreted,” I’m told). Along these lines, they’ve asked me to reignite the Boston Mashacre/Smashacre stuff I worked up a few years ago, and I’ve decided that the next chapter in this series of sonic explorations of Boston’s sound(scape) will focus on radio transmissions.

Although I haven’t had a chance to write about the subject here yet, I’m deeply interested in how Boston’s radio landscape offers a uniquely audible picture of the city and the people who live here. The vivid, if often muted, presence of low-power and “pirate” radio stations — especially emanating from Caribbean communities — is something I’d like to explore, and accentuate, especially alongside the crushing amount of hi-fi, ClearChannel, middle-of-the-roaditude that saturates the airwaves here. In terms of aesthetic procedures, I plan on toying with degrees of distance and difference, signal and noise. To that end, I’ve been making my own “personal” (and/or public) archive of Boston radio scans, which I plan to cut up and loop and reassemble in the spirit of, e.g., my 2003 Jamaican radio edit.

Not sure yet about the title — think I’ve exhausted the (s)mashacre schtick, so maybe something like “Towers of Power” — but, at any rate, I hope something suggesting these power relations emerges in the performance. Will share in audio form here once I get a chance to bounce it all down, but please do come to openLAB_03 for the live mix if you’re in the area.

Association with the Berkman Center is always a felicitous thing, IMO, and I’m happy to report that, in addition to this latest bit of convergence, I’ve been selected to serve as one of the Berkman Center’s Faculty Associates for the 2011-2012 academic year (alongside a humbling list of luminaries).

Speaking of the academic year, the fall semester is soon to commence, and although I don’t have time (right now) to go into the long story of my academic employment situation, I’m excited to report that although my fellowship at MIT ended this spring, I’ll be continuing to teach here in the Boston area. I’m offering two courses this fall, one at Brandeis and another at UMass-Boston. I’m delighted to be teaching at both institutions, and very much looking forward to meeting the students. If you happen to know anyone at either place, please help spread the word. In brief the deets are:

1) On Monday evenings from 5:30-8:00 at UMass-Boston, I’ll be attempting to fill the very large shoes of Reebee Garofalo, who is retiring, teaching his perennial and popular course on the “Social History of Popular Music.” This is a great opportunity to dig into the question of the “popular” and how it opens into, emerges from, and informs social history. I’ll share the syllabus here as soon as I’ve got it into good enough shape. It’s being offered through the American Studies department (AMST 235).

2) On Tuesday nights from 6:30-9:20 at Brandeis I’ll be returning to the topic of “Reggae, Race, and Nation” for the department of African and African American Studies (AAAS 171a). The syllabus will not look too unlike my Global Reggae course for MIT (now on OpenCourseWare!), though I will be tweaking it a little, of course.

These topics are near and dear to my heart & work, and I feel fortunate (if a little undercompensated — twice the teaching for 20% the pay!) to be able to continue thinking and talking about music, popular culture, and social history & theory for a “living.” Nice work if you can get it. Do help me out by directing good students my way!

Hope to see some of y’all at some of these things. And I promise to fill you in on my Summer of Relative Silence very soon. Also, I’ve got some pieces of writing to share. Soon come, patient readers, soon come.

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June 10th, 2011

Crashing Two Bumpy Dances

Yesterday Cluster Mag posted my second contribution to what we’re calling a “multimedia mash-up series.” (The first was my Lambada mega-mix.) As with my “Gasodoble” remix, this mashy montage sources related clips from YouTube — in this case drawing from Colombian (and a Dominican) choque vids and a variety of folk (mostly US-based) doing the bump — and collides them together (artfully, I hope) to pose some fun questions about symmetries, genealogies, and notable departures.

If you liked my lengthy post on choque from a couple months back, or if you’re a longtime devotee to the bump, I hope you’ll <3 "Bump con Choque.”

Here is the text from the Cluster Mag piece, which is no longer online (though also archived here):

It’s almost perfect in its simplicity: bump against your dance partner, once every beat or so, repeating as desired. In the 70s, they called it “the bump.” More recently, in Colombia, it goes by “el choque” (alt. “shoke” or “choke”) — the Spanish word not for “bump” but its more severe cousin, “crash.” Looking at the dances side-by-side or, if you will, transposed together as I’ve done in the video above, you get an immediate sense of resemblance, perhaps even genealogy.

But despite a few stray correctives on YouTube comment threads, I’ve yet to see any evidence linking the moves Colombian kids are doing with the disco fad from three decades prior. When I tried to get to the bottom of the bottom-bashing dance from Buenaventura, its obvious antecedents were reggaeton’s perreo and dancehall’s daggering — both serving as clear but muted points of departure for the choque’s nimble-hipped rhythmic thrust. Seems more plausible, despite that plenty kids in choque videos could have parents who remember “el bump,” that we’re talking instead about a case of convergent evolution, two kindred dances springing from the same age-old seed. I mean, it’s a pretty obvious move.

Indeed, the dance seems so universal that all manner of folk claim it for themselves, declaring the most popular choque video to be everything from East African to West Indian. [Alas, the video is no longer online, but see my post for some screenshots of comments.] And yet these spectacular collisions can divide as much as they conjoin, especially when conveying different modes of masculinity and sexuality. Superficial as it may seem, the choque has served as a transnational site of debate, which might be more than can be said for three decades of the bump.

And yet, while one might argue that the choque is an interestingly “equal opportunity” dance — especially given how strictly macho the perreo and daggering tend to be — any such leveling of the dirty-dance playing-field applies to the bump as well: butt to butt, side to side, hip to hip, it can be silly, deflective. Even the president can do it, and with a teenage girl no less! Most choque videos possess a nonchalant playfulness, showing the dance to be, among other things, a fun way to hang out and goof around with friends and family. As I think this mashup shows, the bump has long served that purpose too — even, or maybe especially, thirty years removed from actual dancefloor drama.

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April 14th, 2011

I Believe That Children Are Our Future

And these videos give me hope that the future will be groovy, at the least —

(h/t @Chrysaora on both of these, I think)

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April 12th, 2011

Lambada Is a Feeling

I’m happy to report, just in time to soundtrack that new spring in your step, that I’ve cooked up a new mini-(mega)-mix! This one follows the circulation and permutation of a song I’ve tracked here before, “Llorando Se Fue” — better known to the world as “Lambada.”

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You can get some sense of the history here, but that Wikipedia page only scratches the surface (for now; here’s hoping this bit of mixxage can help aid expansion). I’ve been hearing the tune turn up in some unexpected places over the years — in hardcore dancehall reggae, for instance, which despite a certain capaciousness still surprises with what seem to be far-flung borrowings. As with similar projects, I’ve grown fascinated by the way such a spreadable song can draw attention to the inflections of individual interpreters as well as the very conventions that give genres their ability to uniquely address an audience.

What I’ve put together here is hardly comprehensive, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. For one, 15+ renditions is already pushing the limits of monotony, I suspect, despite the subtle twists and turns the tune takes in new settings; moreover, it would be quite impossible to catalog the song in full, especially given how it continues to spread. (I’m sure that J Lo’s global imperial club version will inspire many more.)

So, like Nguzunguzu’s magisterial Moments in Love, which I think of as offering another bit of inspiration for this effort, Moments in Lambada is simply an attempt to give a sense of the shape-shifting the tune undergoes. Who knows? Perhaps someday there will be a part two. (Feel free to bring to my attn any versions that seem conspicuously absent; only learned this morning that I left out a new Don Omar take!)

Whirling together a world of Lambadas is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but the impetus finally came in the form of an invitation to contribute to a new online magazine devoted to creative engagements with contemporary music and arts, Cluster Mag.

Go check out the post to grab the mix and scan the tracklist — and don’t miss my little write-up, which concludes thusly:

[Update (April 2016): alas, Clustermag seems to be down; you can find the archived post here, and the audio is here (or via the button below). I have reposted the entirety of the original text at the bottom of this post.]

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Over the course of the mix, we dip into forró, UK funky, dancehall, reggaeton, lambahton, lambow, norteña, global guettatech, panpipe pop, and other club-ready confections that may or may not have real or invented genre tags, with some delightful, surprisingly recurrent nods to vintage house. Palimpsests push their way through the texture, as when J Lo seems to retrace phonemes from “Llorando Se Fue” before singing along with Vakero’s everyman adaptation (“la la la la la”). Her zigzag jetset cartography in “On the Floor” could as easily be following the circulation of “Lambada” — Brazil, Morocco, London to Ibiza, straight to LA, New York, Vegas to Africa — but the earthy sentiments that Vakero expresses in a local tongue — “vamo a beber, vamo a joder” — are just as global.

Finally, after giving a listen, I challenge you to dispel the wriggly earworm embedded in this sweet song of a thousand dances, forbidden like fruit. Lambada is a feeling. Enjoy! (<-- MPfree)

Originally printed at Cluster Mag (April 2011):

Nodding to Nguzunguzu’s magisterial Moments in Love mix, which knits together countless covers and echoes of a seminal Art of Noise track, I’ve threaded along a similarly diverse collection of related riffs. Moments in Lambada retraces the flexible but familiar contours of one of the most popular melodies of the last 30 years. A 1981 Andean pop song (“Llorando Se Fue” by Los Kjarkas), popularly translated for Brazilian audiences in 1986 (Márcia Ferreira’s “Chorando Se Foi”), and transformed three years later into a worldwide worldbeat hit by French group Kaoma, “Lambada” was the unauthorized anthem that inspired and propelled The Forbidden Dance, a film which opened on the same day in 1990 as a rival bit of bandwagon-hopping, the less salaciously titled Lambada. In the years since, the tune has hardly receded from earshot, cropping up in both predictable and unexpected quarters over and over again.

A stretchy bit of ear candy, the song has been reworked like so much tropical taffy, twisted and folded into an impressive array of styles, sometimes as part of the same release. To maximize exposure across club scenes, Kaoma’s version was itself made available in remixed form, entering the world in several shapes and styles at once, including two “Dub” mixes, an “Extended” mix, and a “Club” mix (all of which I’ve worked into Moments). Although we begin — after a brief Incan incantation and station identification — with Los Kjarka’s 1981 recording, the mix doesn’t proceed in chronological order. Instead, tempo and formal correspondences dictate the direction. Certain segues demanded creative, but not inapt, tweaking: to stay in key (loosely speaking), a cumbia version needed to be pitched down, a procedure resonant with rebajada tradition; likewise, I’ve dubbled dub mixes and made club edits of club edits.

Over the course of the mix, we dip into forró, UK funky, dancehall, reggaeton, lambahton, lambow, norteña, global guettatech, panpipe pop, and other club-ready confections that may or may not have real or invented genre tags, with some delightful, surprisingly recurrent nods to vintage house. Palimpsests push their way through the texture, as when J Lo seems to retrace phonemes from “Llorando Se Fue” before singing along with Vakero’s everyman adaptation (“la la la la la”). Her zigzag jetset cartography in “On the Floor” could as easily be following the circulation of “Lambada” — Brazil, Morocco, London to Ibiza, straight to LA, New York, Vegas to Africa — but the earthy sentiments that Vakero expresses in a local tongue — “vamo a beber, vamo a joder” — are just as global.

W&W, Moments in Lambada

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Tracklist
Los Kjarkas, “Llorando Se Fue”
Inca Son, “Llorando Se Fue”
Jorge Rico, “Llorando Se Fue”
Grupo Chiripa, “Llorando Se Fue”
Red Foxx and Screechy Dan, “Pose Off”
Wisin y Yandel, “Pam Pam”
Kaoma, “Lambada (Dub Mix)”
Max le Daron, “Lambahton Remix”
Kaoma, “Lambada (Extended Mix)”
Kaoma, “Lambada (Llorando Se Fue?) (Dub)”
Kaoma, “Lambada (Club Mix)”
Metal de Durango, “Llorando Se Fue”
Elephant Man, “Hate Mi”
Vakero, “La La La (Lambow)”
Kiko e As Jambetes, “Chorando Se Foi”
Terror Tone, “Kaoma – Lambada (Terror Tone Remix)”
Jennifer Lopez (ft. Pitbull), “On the Floor”

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March 10th, 2011

Social Media & Electro Diasporas

This Saturday I’ll be at Cornell, speaking on a panel alongside some esteemed colleagues. The subject at hand is, more or less, the animating force behind this blog in recent years: “(post-)regional dance musics and their transformation through the internet” —

Social Media & Electro Diasporas

The students organizing the event have an ambitious agenda for digging deeper into this stuff. They envision Saturday’s panel as “a way to introduce, contextualize, and start a dialogue that really hasn’t existed in (with a few exceptions) academic circles.” That said, I’ll be curious to see whether the turnout is largely students or whether some scholar-colleagues will join us as well. Although some of the speakers are (aspiring) academics, I’m told that our profiles as bloggers were central to the invitation, “an interesting statement on the role of the internet in the circulation of these regional styles.”

The organizers tell me that they hope this weekend’s event will pave the way for two future shows involving some of Chicago’s best and brightest. (Their wishlist includes DJ Rashad, DJ Deeon, DJ Clent, Jammin’ Gerald, and Traxman). Nick, one of the organizers, adds: “Admittedly, the shows are super Chicago centric, but this is what I’ve played the most and what I’m the most familiar with (I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio). Working on planning some stuff next semester and bringing some other folks up.”

Sounds like a plan to me. I’m happy to be a part of the conversation, and I’m thrilled to chat with some smart participants/observers who’ll bring to the (round)table years of experience in and research on such crucial sites as Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, and New Orleans. No doubt you all know blogging brethren like Gavin Mueller, a perennially sharp critic of world2.0 and longtime ghettotech interpreter, but I’m also looking forward to meeting Al Shipley, the guy who’s writing the (kickstarted!) book on Bmore club, as well as Matt Miller, scholar of bounce and other dirty southness, and, last but not least, Ghettophiles‘ Neema Nazem, who first came to my attention as an acid-tongued but well-meaning interventionist in London’s burgeoning love affair with juke.

Oh, and did I mention there’s a party Saturday night featuring the mighty Dave Quam on the decks? YES.

I don’t have much more to add for now. Longtime readers should know that my pantheon of everyday heroes in recent years is remarkably populated by some central players in this story: courageous (if often faceless) kids dancing up a storm at school, at home, on the street, & on the screen —

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March 9th, 2011

Best African Dance Ever

So, yeah. There’s rearing; and then there’s rearing

Slightly older kids, well enculturated & irrepressibly motivated, can tend to take things to the next level, bumping body parts with acrobatic abandon and lighting rooftops (and laptops) on fire —

Devotees of dancehall reggae and reggaeton will no doubt recognize elements of perreo and daggering in the “choque” (alt. “choke” or “shoke”) — named after the collisions so central to the dance. (One bump on each beat = 95 bumps per minute!) As one choque song goes, and there are many of them, the dance might be conceived as “perreo con toque.” Musically speaking, all the big choque songs (whether by La Combinacion, Son de AK, Element Black, Los de Tura, etc.) are basically reggaeton productions, if by reggaeton we mean Spanish-language, reggae-inflected rap over beats constructed piecemeal from mid-90s dancehall riddims — a stab of guitar from Murder She Wrote, a Fever Pitch hi-hat, kicks and snares resampled so many times they’ve taken on a new character, thick and crunchy, perfect for soundtracking the crashing of hips. In this way, we might appreciate an aesthetic symmetry between the ways the dance and the music both sample from as they explode well-worn forms.

Notably, however — and clearly departing from perreo and daggering in this way — the choque has a strong and, for many, surprising (or even subversive) “equal opportunity” character. As seen in the video above (and in many others), after doing some “leading” of their own, the men take turns being “led” (i.e., smashed on) by the women. Moreover, as I’ll discuss below, the choque also appears to lend itself to a fair amount of same-sex coupling — a rather rare sight in dancehall or reggaeton (especially male-to-male). But despite (or perhaps because of?) how clearly the choque is indebted to Caribbean forms — both musical and embodied — the video above has been received and recoded, again and again, as “African.”

When I first “stumbled upon” and reshared that video (via @culturedoctor, aka Sonjah Stanley Niaah), it wasn’t just called “Best Dance Ever. Watch it.” — it was called “Best African Dance Ever. Watch it.” And while I have no doubt that Africanists and Caribbeanists and scholars and enthusiasts of all stripes could hold an animated debate over what constitutes an “African” dance, whether here or there, and how much it hinges on aesthetics and history and politics — or, per Sonjah, whether “there is ground for analyzing inter-dependent genealogies” — I’m not so interested in hashing out that particular argument as I am in teasing out how ideologies of race and nation and sexuality, as routed through the charged site of Africa, play out in the public spheres gathered around YouTube and the myriad places, online and off, where a video like the one above can be discussed or re-embedded.

Comments on the various instantiations of the video reveal a remarkable resonance produced by the familiar movements and milieu. (It’s actually rather striking how little of the YouTube discourse around the song&dance mention the music at all.) This everyday but spirited rooftop jam clearly activates viewers’ social, global, and racial imaginations (to name a few). Some claim the dance for themselves, folding it into a capacious sense of identititity, others distance themselves from the scene and all it opens into —

It looks like you can get pregnant from that dance

While some celebrate MAMA AFRICA incarnate, some can’t look past head-to-batty and man-on-man action —

DA DANCE IS MAMA AFRICA!

All manner of associations and explanations are proffered —

sumwere in east africa yall..

Remarkably, debate continues despite that the uploader — who was, incidentally, not the first: this copy has nearly 20X as many views — finally “corrected” the title after several commenters correctly ID’d it as a Colombian scene/song (i.e., “Choque” by Son de AK).

People remain keenly interested in, skeptical of, and, indeed, ignorant of the video’s provenance. Some insist it is African African. Of course, even once we locate it in the Americas, that hardly means it’s not “African.” Note that Sonjah refers to the dance as a product of “the African community in South America,” an interesting (and, of course, political) way to describe it — as opposed to say, “Colombian” or “Afro-Colombian” or “Buenaventuran” etc. — and, I hasten to add, not necessarily an identititity that the kids in the video would oppose.

But pan-African commitments do not always lead to the tightest coalitions, for local cultural mores can produce fissures. It’s clear, for instance, that certain Jamaican viewers, even as they observe strong links to their own dear practices (“Dagga dat”!), find themselves repelled by certain practices that, no pun intended, give them pause (“dat cyaah gwaan a yaard”) —

Dagga dat.

When I shared the “Best African Dance Ever” video with one of my favorite observers of Jamaican culture — @ProdigalJA (né @bigblackbarry) — he quipped (and I’m sorry I can’t find the tweet) that he knew it couldn’t be “African” when he saw the guy hit the girl’s butt with his head. Rasta nuh move so.

And I think he was further convinced, and a little dismayed and bemused, when I shared some other choque videos I had turned up:

That video led me to a couple more, where the action is set in front of and then inside a home, and (thus?) it gets a little more intimate:

As you might imagine, given how YouTube has become ground zero for gay slurs, the comments on these videos get pretty hyperbolic. Indeed, trawling for interesting responses, I came across some classic chatroom Spanglish invective:

EMOSXESUALESHPPPATAS

Another one of my fave supporters of JA dance culture (esp vis-a-vis homophobia), @rizzla_dj, had a different take on it:

dandyism at it's most based?

My friend and colleague, Michael Birenbaum Quintero, a self-identified “ethnomusicólogo gringolombiano” who has been working in Colombia (and specifically in Buenaventura) for many years now, and is well acquainted with the choque phenomenon, offered another interpretation. He told me this sort of display — dancing in front of one’s house with a small soundsystem — is a commonplace practice in Buenaventura, including same-sex partnering. It may be homosocial, but it is not necessarily homoerotic — and according to MBQ such activity is rarely seen that way. Rather, and perhaps ironically (for some outside observers), this sort of galavanting is, more often than not, a means of showing off for girls. (But tell that to YouTube.)

Moreover, and this is something I hadn’t picked up on, MBQ noted that there’s a fair amount of subtle deflection in the dancing between men: rather than a square crotch-to-ass thrust, the guys are more likely to swivel hips at the last moment, so the bumping of sides is more frequent.

This is not always so, however, as some fellow Buenaventuran fellows demonstrate:

Then again, here they are again (and again), with opp-sex partners, so go figure:

And here’s a great example of two girls from Buenaventura, at what appears to be a family party, showing how the dance can be a lot more athletic than erotic —

Clearly, specific cultural frames and contextual understandings structure the meanings of choque, even as translocal elements (reggaeton, daggering, skinnyjeans) undeniably inform both local engagements and global circulation / fascination / revulsion. That said, it’s worth noting that the reason the choque became the phenomenon that it did — inspiring local and regional artists to record songs about and for it — is precisely because of all the kids in Buenaventura and Chocó dancing with abandon out in the street, up on the roof, and, eventually, on YouTube. This has made the choque more popular than ever, and it has invited contributions and appropriations of all sorts.

For one, thanks no doubt to YouTube, it has long since traveled beyond Buenaventura and Colombia: uploaded in September 2009, this video finds a Dominican couple doing the “baile de choque” (as well as jerkin’s “reject”) to some local dembow beats:

Closer to home, some recording artists have attempted to court crossover success by translating the choque for audiences outside of Colombia’s Afro-Pacific communities. As noted on the Masala blog a few months ago, Element Black and Bloke 18 premiered an upscale take on the tune, complete with HD video:


note the mambo outro

According to MBQ, although hailing from Buenaventura, Element Black appear to be targeting the regional capital, Cali, with this production. The most obvious cue is the participation of Cali-based group Bloke 18, but as MBQ told me via email, there are other signs to be read here: for one, whereas “videos for Pacific-focused music tends to have a generally darker demographic like that of the Pacific itself,” in this video we see “much lighter-skinned, upper-class-Caleño-looking models”; moreover, MBQ contends that “the fact that the more virtuosic aspects of the dance (e.g. head to butt headbutts) don’t appear” suggests that they wanted to “make it easier for Cali dancers,” a strategy seemingly buttressed by the use of mambo / merengue in the production. (But then, MBQ adds: “This is more that post-Ilegales No Pare Sigue Sigue neo-merengue mambo stuff than merengue, but it’s probably important that merengue is generally associated with the upper classes in Cali.”)

While listening to an Element Black mixtape I turned up, it occurred to me that mambo (as well as reggaeton) was working as a sort of platform in itself — as a means to project and promote one’s act, to invite the participation of a readymade public (i.e., one already addressed/amassed by mambo). It seems telling that there are multiple choque mambos circulating with their name on it. Then again, is mambo the platform, or does “choque” itself create a new scaffolding?

Perhaps inspired by the same crossover dreams, another act drummed up a (blanqueado?) salsa version:

Given the choque’s “African” connotations, there are consequences — in terms of social, cultural, and financial capital — for facilitating the circulation of choque beyond Colombia’s Pacific coast. While I can’t speak further to its reception in Cali, I have noticed a few videos portraying the choque in Bogotá, where it is definitely received ambivalently, not least because the suggestive dance has been embraced by (putatively) non-Afro-Colombians — most scandalously of course, by highschool kids and even younger.

On videos like this one, we see comment threads unfolding along familiar lines

PORQUERIASSSSSSSSSSSSSSS??

Indeed, the following footage of uniformed students in Bogotá doing “EL NUEVO BAILE PARA JOVENES” (as the description phrases it) became the focus of an alarmist “national” news story

Despite, then, what we might observe — and some would celebrate — as a certain set of cultural mores on display in choque videos, discourses of shame and scandal persist, at least in certain quarters. (One gets the sense, looking across these various videos and their metatexts, that these dances are ok, y’know, on the coasts, but not in the center!) Or maybe it’s just another lame excuse for the moralist media to replay the same supposedly salacious imagery again and again and again:

Resonant (and in conversation) with mediatized youth dance scenes the world over, the choque stands as another site of cultural and social contest. The myriad comments on choque videos using terms like “mierda” or “porquería” alongside racist and heterosexist epithets merely serve to confirm, among other things, that as with its kindred genres (perreo, daggering, wining, freakin’) the choque can do a whole lot of cultural work at once. Whether teaching kids how to be in their bodies and cavort with their peers (sometimes a lot more innocently and playfully than critics let on), or pushing against longstanding biases, the choque vividly embodies the inevitable collisions in a post-slave, post-colonial, and multicultural society like Colombia.

And, indeed, despite vitriolic debates on YouTube and the fanning of populist fears on TV news, a large part of the choque’s cultural work may already be done. As MBQ also noted in our email exchange:

As for the upward mobility of choque, I recently saw on a friend of mine’s Facebook page a video of a middle-class white mother of about 40 and her 20something son in Buenaventura unironically dancing choque together.

It’s practically a post-script.

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March 7th, 2011

Now That’s What I Call Enculturation 2011

via Dave Quam’s tumblr (sorta) ~~

which cannot be posted with out this kneejerk embed-again also:

further reading:

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February 8th, 2011

El Gasodoble Magnífico

El Magnifico

To assist with the launch of NWLA (New Weird Latin America — read all about it), a new curatorial effort by some friends in the DF, I cooked up a video mashup I’ve long been wanting to assemble. The piece stitches together 13 performances of “España Cañi,” as collected on YouTube. It pegs them all to the tempo and (more or less) the key of the instrumental, or pista, from Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina.”

As I wrote in the opening of my reggaeton chapter, to my ears Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina, produced by Luny Tunes, “galloped up the charts” on a “riff befitting a bullfight”:

The harmonic movement of the track, shifting a semitone or half-step every other measure—especially with its galloping figures, adding 32nd note flourishes to propel the pista forward—may suggest to some, including listeners who first heard such clichés via the producers’ namesake (i.e., Looney Tunes cartoons), the classic contours of bullfight music or pasodoble, as typified by Pascual Marquina Narro’s well-worn sporting anthem, “España Cañí.”

I mean, could it really be a mere coincidence that Yankee raps, “En la pista nos llaman los matadores”?

At any rate, whether or not a suggestion simply planted in my own head (and now yours?), I wanted to explore the strange overlap between arguably the biggest Spanish song of the last decade and one of the biggest Spanish songs of all time. So I went to YouTube and rounded up a baker’s dozen “España Cañi” instantiations. I like how the search itself, and the video below, help to highlight the amazing array of contexts for which “España Cañi” provides a model and soundtrack: from classical guitar etude to lounge piano standard, bullfights to ballgames to ballroom dances, baroque visions of Gypsy Spain to trippy scenes of liberated bulls and beefcake matadors jamming at Charo’s club, Pascual Marquina Narro’s composition sure seems alive and well — and often weird.

gasodoble workflow #2

Here’s the post at NWLA where you can read about it in Spanish and stumble upon new romantic mixes, DJ Orion’s latest genre-blending EP, and all manner of odd Latin Americana. (Here’s their twitter which, awesomely, described the piece as “un alucinante video mashup del mítico himno de la tauromaquia con ‘Gasolina’ de Daddy Yankee.”)

Or just watch it right here:

Gasodoble from wayneandwax on Vimeo.

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December 13th, 2010

Platform Politricks


orthogonal image copied from some website or other

I’ve been working on this monstruo post since last January, and hinting at it here and there, making it feel all the more urgent to finish though I haven’t had the time to tie it up. And yet, what has made finally publishing this post so hard is also what makes finishing it all the more pressing: the seemingly unending array of reasons to be suspicious and cautious toward the so-called “platforms” of the net.

The issue has, of course, come into more intense relief than perhaps ever before with the last week’s commotion around Wikileaks and the way that what many of us understand as, in some sense, “public” “platforms” hosting “free” “speech” have been exposed as anything but public or free. But we’ve been following this plot for some time now, with ephemeral but irrepressible songs&dances serving up so many canaries in the coalmine. In other words, the so-called platforms falling out from under Wikileaks are the same ones that have been shifting beneath our footworking feet for years. Once again grassroots popular culture — as animated by music in particular — stands as a harbinger for a brave, new, and rather unstable future.

Clearly, mere vigilance will not suffice. New media literacies, even, only go so far. My aim here, then, is to reaffirm (with the support of many smart thinkers) that for those of us who see, hear, and feel a lot of promise in the participatory publics and creative, critical cultures that coalesce around certain websites and protocols, there is real need for action — toward bringing the most popular platforms to heel with regard to users’ demands and expectations of fairness, for one, but more importantly, toward a collective investment in self-determined and self-controlled architectures, where we can share in the value we ourselves create through the network effects of a critical massive.

While I don’t think I’m saying anything terribly new here, as my reliance on the writers below attests, I do think music plays a remarkable role in these matters and can offer an instructive, persuasive thread through this tangled web. Moreover, I’m interested in synthesizing various debates in recent technology and media studies for the music-centered conversation (esp for participants and practitioners — namely, many of you who read this blog).

IMEEM, I’M SAYIN

For some time now, my research has felt increasingly like sorting through a disturbed graveyard, names and dates scraped off tombstones, everything scattered if not missing.

We’ve all seen blogs and blogposts and videos disappear, often thanks to specious legal challenges. Even more troubling, we’ve seen entire media ecosystems, such as imeem or Jamglue, succumb to the sudden slash and burn of corporate logic, which cares little for what we might celebrate as cultural vitality.

Many imeem users were shocked and dismayed when MySpace, after acquiring the site in a copyright-hobbled firesale (for reportedly under $1M), suddenly nuked it without warning. They promised post-facto to let users “transfer” their media over to the misguidedly redesigned MySpace Music, but this turned out to be true only for the sort of corporate-owned content that proved to be imeem’s downfall (in the form of unauthorized uploads impossible to monetize to the satisfaction of certain record labels). The substantial amount of independently produced and remixed music on imeem, which is what drew me and so many there in the first place, simply disappeared into the e-ther.

What’s striking is how much more vibrant imeem was as a musical-cultural space than MySpace Music or Facebook could ever be — precisely because it was so unruly. For some time, it stood as a remarkable platform for musically-organized social networks, musically-animated public conversations, and the peer-based, non-commercial sharing of worlds upon worlds of music.

I mean it when I say imeem was amazing: I often found myself drawn into a veritable maze of media there. As a somewhat self-contained (but outwardly connected & embedded) media ecology, it managed to become a willynilly archive for all kinds of audio (YouTube now largely fills this function, of course), and it networked a variety of vibrant publics (e.g., juke publics, Trini publics, West Indian publics, Caribbeanist publics, nu-whirled publics, and so on).

Unfortunately, especially from a research/advocacy perspective, unlike the more widely mourned and archived Geocities, no one seems to have mirrored imeem — or even get decent screenshots. More recently, a similar site, Jamglue, which also offered users the ability to (re)mix tracks online, joined imeem in the web2.0 scrapheap (though that metaphor fails to capture the utter lack of scraps left behind). At least in this case, there was a little notice, leaving me enough time to get some screengrabs. A glance at the number of jerkin mixes and tracks in circulation at the time of the site’s shuttering, most of them home-produced, is impressive:

This disappearance of archives, of crucial contextual data, is a product of “preferred” protocols as dictated by Big Copyright. Flash-based media are not so easily archived. (Had torrent technology triumphed in the battle over critically-massive streaming media, we likely wouldn’t be having the same problems.) And the sort of ad-hoc archiving that perseveres in an age of flash-media — save something here, fave something there — will hardly help us to reconstruct some of the most important information we lose when sites like imeem go under (whether data or “metadata”). Even if many of us take the trouble to download an FLV file or rip some other format from it, that’s hardly the same sort of preservation as one that would keep intact the broader contextual framework for any particular instantiation of audio or video. When platforms go poof, a lot more disappears than awesome dance vids.

Following a host of media scholars, we might productively (if provisionally) think of all this contextual data — interfaces, playlists, connections, conversations, and records of embeds and changes and the like — and to the careful cultivation it calls for, as constituting a particular site’s ecology (which, of course, is itself embedded in other ecologies, not to mention situated in various topographies). Thinking about media in terms of “ecologies” or “topographies” can help us to understand the implications of the so-called “architectures of participation” that increasingly structure social connectivity and cultural production. Such biological and spatial metaphors suggest modes of interplay as well as types of terrain, as shaped by particular affordances & constraints.

It is instructive to note how the distinctive design and address of Fotolog, for example, facilitated the efflorescence of flogger culture in Argentina and beyond. No less a spokesperson than the de facto leader of the floggers, a tomgirl photogenic who calls herself Cumbio, has discussed the signal differences of certain socially-networked media-sharing sites, and how they can seem inviting in certain ways, or not:

“Facebook asks your religion, your eye color, your relationship status,” she explains, “We don’t ask any of those things. We floggers just accept people as they are. We say, ‘Show yourself.’ And we accept you.”

Floggers may be an extreme example in this regard; after all, they’re named after their preferred platform for a reason. But given such a clearly constitutive relation, we might wonder about the implications, say, for a substantial shift away from Fotolog (in Argentina, at least) in the wake of increasing inroads by Facebook:

Given the important irruptions of the public sphere that floggers staged in Argentina and across Latin America, we might find a statistical plunge like that worrisome. When we talk about disappearing platforms, we’re also talking about disappearing people. And in reflecting on various kinds of “disappearing people” on the net, from bloggers to floggers to subjects of extraordinary renditions that never get leaked, I inevitably start thinking of this as a serious collective action problem.

For some time, including rather explicitly on this here blog (sheesh — that post is nearly 4 years old!), we’ve been bearing witness to, and bemoaning, the effects and losses associated with this relocation of public culture to the corporate net. But we haven’t done much at all to change the status quo.

“IS OUR CHILDREN LEARNING?”

After my “Skinny Jeans and Fruity Loops” talk last year, the ever-sharp Chrysaora asked me the silly but poignant question above. At the time, she was working at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media, and my concerns about public music-and-dance culture on the web clearly resonated with the underlying issues they’ve been exploring there. My answer was, simply, no. Savvy as they clearly are, I don’t generally see a lot of young people (or older folks, really, myself & peers & forbears included) employing what we might call a strategic approach to culture on the net; rather, it would better be described as tactical.

But alas, moving relatively unhindered from imeem to the next thing, or ignoring ‘watermarks’ from demo/unauthorized software — essentially privileging, as I’ve put it elsewhere, “participation, immersion and immediacy” — is not what activist-artists usually have in mind when they talk about “tactical media.” The sort of tactics we behold on web2.0 may represent a form of subversion, in a sense, but they hardly constitute an intervention.

As I attempted to trace out in the “Sounds of the Wide, Wired World,” what we see and hear on the net offers ground for celebration. And yet, the audible and visible aesthetic traces of our compromised ability to freely share the fruits of collective creativity also remind us that we’re building our cultural heritage on shaky foundations. They may even highlight what Siva Vaidhyanathan, in his forthcoming The Googlization of Everything, would call a “public failure.”

Clearly, this predicament is far from ideal. “Kids these days” enjoy an effervescent, exciting, but deeply compromised public culture. Which, among other things, gives the lie to facile celebrations of “millennials” or “digital natives” as inherently or naturally equipped to navigate this brave new world. Take, for example, David Parry’s warnings about assuming far more digital literacy on the part of our students (and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters) than is warranted:

I do not mean here to suggest all of that nonsense about digital natives versus non-digital natives; indeed I am actually suggesting something quite the opposite: students are not digital natives who possess some unique set of skills whereby they can magically manipulate the network and gadgets to do whatever they want with outstanding acumen, rather that students are for the large part unreflective about the way they use these network technologies, and what is more are unreflective about the ways in which their use (or our use) has already been historically determined and shaped, an unreflective response which gives up power and control over to these systems.

And yet, as important a reminder as this is, the critique of naive kids and their crummy tactics can also go too far, as in the elitist screeds of Andrew Keen, Mark Bauerlein, or Jaron Lanier. As pointed out in a pointed critique in Pop Matters, such rants tend to miss out on a lot of what does drive this stuff — the sort of thing I’ve celebrated here again and again, the stuff of music as social life:

The implication of Lanier’s argument is that people are motivated to create only by rewards rather than by the pleasure of creation or participation itself, an assertion belied by Web 2.0 voluntarism. “In the open culture future, your creativity and expression would also be unpaid, since you would be a volunteer in the army of the long tail. That would leave nothing for you.”

Nothing, that is, except the pleasure that stems from creative work itself, the solidarity that derives from participation, the satisfaction of contributing useful social labor, and the expanded potential for recognition expressed in non-monetary terms.

This calls attention to the importance of understanding what motivates people to do what they do (and hence opens up important space for ethnography). The question of motivation came into fine focus, at least for bloggers, with last February’s so-called “musicblogocide” (which also extended to such seemingly unlikely targets as insouciant teen fashion blogs).

What the musicblogocide debacle highlighted was that, at least in some quarters, a spectacular instance of platform failure can actually prove instructive. In addition to generating thoughtful takes and helpful hints, a number of afflicted blogs relocated to their own server space and others adandoned Blogger preemptively.

Among those that moved, some offered poignant testimony about what they do and why they take umbrage at having their platform unjustly pulled out from under them. Allow me to quote Masala’s manifesto-like response to Blogger in some length:

– At Masala we believe that music, like culture and art at large, is a mix of influences and is largely derivative. No artist is creating anything from scratch. We also believe that if the copyright laws (DMCA) prevent culture and music from circulating and being reinterpreted and mix, we’re moving towards a monolithic culture (to the economic benefit of a few).
– The music we’re promoting here is the incarnation of this idea. It’s often music made by young people wired to the world through internet or 1st, 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants. People who are inventing themselves through and with the world they’re living in, trying to connect their local tradition and history with what they receive from the outside.
– We believe that by posting MP3s on this blog, we’re encouraging people to broaden their horizons, be curious and open minded about other peoples music and in the case it’s possible, (and it’s often not possible), to buy the music, support the artist and the people who made it possible to circulate.
– Don’t believe the hype, every download is not a theft or one less sale. Music lovers have a pretty limited bank account. But do support art when you can! Recording music industry is shifting and doesn’t make as much money as they used to and on the other hand, the music industry at large is doing ok (publishing, shows, merchandising, sponsorship etc.).

This resonates righteously with Larisa Mann’s (aka, DJ Ripley’s) notion of “saving the world” (a phrasing that also evokes archives), by which she means to underscore how music blogs, regardless of the platform on which they’re hosted, are an important part of the cultural ecology of popular music and the forms of sociability that grow up around it —

Masalacism is a perfect example of music-making, in that the blog is part of the conditions for my favorite music, it creates the possibility of audience for/creation of music variously rooted in geographically and socially distant scenes.

I’m talking about music as a social practice, not music as a recording or a particular moment frozen in time or on paper. Masalacism makes music involving actors from all over the world, it draws them together and opens lines of communication between people, places, scenes, who might not get to know of each other in any other way. This is some of the best music-making there is, in my opinion. I love the specific &local, juxtaposed with other specific & local, to make a kind of conversation between localities and experiences, when music does this well, it also does this for the bodies &minds of people involved, bringing them into conversation or dance with each other, physically or mentally or both. Which is part of saving the world, kind of, or at least getting us there.

How do we save a world that can disappear behind a URL redirect in the blink of an eye? In the long term, we need to build better platforms; in the short term, we need to proceed with far more suspicion when that term gets so loosely thrown around.

PLATFORM POLITRICKS

For internet marketing guru Tim O’Reilly, who coined the term, web 2.0 described the “new participatory architectures of the Web.” A couple years later he put it another way: web 2.0 is built on the idea of the “network as platform.”

In a recent article, Tarleton Gillespie discusses the politics of ‘platform’, arguing that the term serves as an effective bit of rhetorical judo to do the delicate job of knitting together the multiple constituencies of sites like YouTube — among them, the uneasy triad of professional content producers, advertisers, and end-users (that’s us, pretty much, though I hate being called a user, esp when I’m actually a product). For Gillespie, “This is where the discursive work is most vital.” He continues,

Intermediaries like YouTube must present themselves strategically to each of these audiences, carve out a role and a set of expectations that is acceptable to each and also serves their own financial interests, while resolving or at least eliding the contradictions between them. … Curiously, tropes like ‘platform’ seem to work across these discourses – in fact, the real value of this term may be that it brings these discourses into alignment without them unsettling each other.

More specifically, Gillespie notes that

The term ‘platform’ helps reveal how YouTube and others stage themselves for these constituencies, allowing them to make a broadly progressive sales pitch while also eliding the tensions inherent in their service: between user-generated and commercially produced content, between cultivating community and serving up advertising, between intervening in the delivery of content and remaining neutral.

And yet — and you saw this coming? — for Gillespie, portraying itself as a platform “is a claim that arguably misrepresents the way YouTube and other intermediaries really shape public discourse online.” Gillespie’s use of the term “intermediaries” is important, for he argues that sites like YouTube, or in his own words “a handful of video platforms, search engines, blogging tools, and interactive online spaces,” have become — for better or for worse (for better and for worse?) — “the primary keepers of the cultural discussion as it moves to the Internet.”

Hosting the public conversation on private, commercial “platforms” is problematic for any number of reasons. One of the primary ones — and the one most salient for me — being that our shared culture (especially in the form of recorded sound and video), and all the discourse in and around it, is not only constantly vulnerable to cooptation and exploitation — worrisome as those are — but to outright disappearance. This is problematic from an archival/heritage perspective as well as for anyone interested in contemporary practices, politics/publics, and the chilling effects constraining the creation and circulation of the (peer-to-peer) popular culture of the 21st century.

Without needing to get so romantic about it (e.g., invoking das volk), we would do well to consider the framing offered by Yochai Benkler in chapter 8 of Wealth of Networks, which concerns the power of peer-production: “From the perspective of liberal political theory,” writes Benkler, “the kind of open, participatory, transparent folk culture that is emerging in the networked environment is normatively more attractive than was the industrial cultural production system typified by Hollywood and the recording industry.” He is quick to caution, though, that, “We cannot, however, take for granted that the technological capacity to participate in the cultural conversation, to mix and make our own, will translate into the freedom to do so. The practices of cultural and counter-cultural creation are at the very core of the battle over the institutional ecology of the digital environment” (277).

It should probably go without saying that the biggest threat to continuing the “cultural conversation” on our own terms is the hammer of copyright being wielded by Big Media companies — and more recently, in the case of Wikileaks, by the US government — to force compliance from the corporations who are hosting more and more of our socially-networked digital culture. In Benkler’s words: “the tension between the industrial model of cultural production and the networked information economy is nowhere more pronounced than in the question of the degree to which the new folk culture of the twenty-first century will be permitted to build upon the outputs of the twentieth-century industrial model” (300).

Allow me to quote him at a little more length (as appropriate for Yochai ;) —

In this battle, the stakes are high. One cannot make new culture ex-nihilo. We are as we are today, as cultural beings, occupying a set of common symbols and stories that are heavily based on the outputs of that industrial period. If we are to make this culture our own, render it legible, and make it into a new platform for our needs and conversations today, we must find a way to cut, paste, and remix present culture.

On the other hand, lest technoptimism run away with the spoon, in a provocative article about what he dubs our emergent “network culture,” Kazys Varnelis contends that if “appropriation was a key aspect of postmodernism, network culture almost absentmindedly uses remix as its dominant process” (150). The effect is to invite the tentacles of capital into everything we do, via legal capture and a certain subtle, insidious consumerism:

But such peer-to-peer production also faces challenges. Chief among these is new legislation by existing media conglomerates aiming to extend the scope of their copyright and prevent the creation of derivative work. Even if advocates of the free circulation of cultural goods are successful in challenging big media, it is still unclear if the burgeoning fan culture is critical, or if it only re-inscribes, to a degree that Guy Debord could not have envisioned, the colonization of everyday life by capital, with debates about resistance replaced by debates about how to remix objects of consumption. Furthermore, the possibility of consumers not only consuming media but producing it for the (new) media outlets suggests the possibility of new, hitherto unanticipated forms of exploitation.

FREE CULTURE, FREE LABOR

In an attempt to debunk the all too uncritical embrace of web 2.0 rhetoric in the tech conversation, Trebor Scholz charges that:

The Web 2.0 épistémè will not just go away. Therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of its false claims, its ideological embedment, reinforced by professional elites.

“A fine example of the Web 2.0 Ideology,” writes Scholz, “is immaterial free labor,” which he calls “a fairly unpopular and very complex subject.” But he gives it a shot:

The Web makes people easier to use. By “surfing” it, people serve their virtual hosts and they are not unhappy about it. Online, service platforms rather than products are offered, and users are encouraged to participate, communities become the brand.

It’s precisely this scare-quotable way of “surfing” the net that inspires Astra Taylor’s recent critique of the myriad ways we’re actually “serfing the net.” For Taylor, the key bit of deception is with the word “free,” namely that it excites both the technoptimistic “free culture” kids as well as the rapacious capitalists eager to have “pirates do the work of mass marketers, while industry pretends to defend the very artists they have exploited for so long”:

Where free is concerned, we’re typically told that “the kids,” impatient and entitled, want their culture this instant and will not pay a dime, so they’ve embraced piracy. But the young pirates aren’t really leading a mass insurrection; they’re a symbol or a scapegoat employed to obscure a larger struggle about culture and value—and in whose pocket that value accumulates. The owners of social networking sites may be forbidden from selling individual songs posted by members, but the companies themselves, including user content, can be turned over for a hefty sum: almost $900 million for Bebo and far more for YouTube. Google doesn’t see the mammoth archive of books it currently hopes to digitize as a priceless treasure to be preserved; it’s a trove of content to sprinkle with banner ads. Google, as Chris Anderson points out many times, succeeds because of an almost unfathomable economy of scale; each free search brings revenue from targeted advertising and fodder for the data miners: each mouse click is a trickle in the flood. Technology writer Nicholas Carr and others call this “digital sharecropping”: It’s not that the production or distribution of culture has been concentrated in the hands of the few — it’s the culture’s economic value. Somebody’s got a massive financial interest in free, and it’s not the people uploading footage of kittens to Vimeo.

Given all this talk of serfing, it’s no surprise that feudal metaphors appear to be proliferating in critical discourse about the current state of the net. Matteo Pasquinelli offers up “digital neofeudalism” to call attention to the alarming trend whereby the utopias of the net have shifted “from self-organised media to generic activism on corporate platforms with their closed code and protocols,” a provocative parallel to Jodi Dean’s critique of activism in an age of “communicative capitalism.” For Pasquinelli, digital neofeudalism describes

the polarised scenario where few landlords owns the whole infrastructure of communication (hardware layer, protocol layer, meta-data layer, social network layer) and face a multitude of cognitive workers forced to ‘creativity’.

Describing digital neofeudalism as creating new spaces of rent (and in the process raising the specter of what James Boyle calls the “a second enclosure movement“, namely “the enclosure of the intangible commons of the mind”), Pasquinelli also takes aim at the rhetoric around “free culture,” contending that

profit is the income made selling commodities, rent is the income made by a monopolistic exploitation of spaces. In feudal times, it was the exploitation of land cultivated by farmers, in the internet age it’s the exploitation of the immaterial spaces cultivated by cultural producers, prosumers and the notorious Free Culture.

And while I’m not nearly as cynical and I might take issue with Pasquinelli’s use of music as an example — I’m not sure the situation is “squeezed” for more musicians now than a decade ago; the myth of a middle-class of musicians better off under Big Music is one that really needs debunking — taking a big picture view, with the idea of a hamstrung 21st century (popular, p2p) culture in the balance, this is a necessary and bracing critique.

It’s a little dispiriting, to say the least, that this harrowing specter was raised at least a decade ago. In an article called “Free Labor” (pdf | html), first published back in 2000, Tiziana Terranova argues that, if I may update her argument a bit, the kids on web2.0 “are not working only because capital wants them to; they are acting out a desire for affective and cultural production.” For Terranova, “Free labor is the moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited.”

She also speaks to the particular predicament of such collectively produced fields as fashion and music:

If knowledge is inherently collective, it is even more so in the case of the postmodern cultural economy: music, fashion, and information are all produced collectively but are selectively compensated. Only some companies are picked up by corporate distribution chains in the case of fashion and music; only a few sites are invested in by venture capital. However, it is a form of collective cultural labor that makes these products possible even as the profit is disproportionately appropriated by established corporations.

Recently, a number of artists, writers, bloggers, etc., in sectors like fashion, are picking up on this, um, thread. And clearly, a large number of artists design workers also agree with this perspective, feeling more and more like assembly-line workers in a precarious world of rapid deskilling, reskilling, and unsatisfying work.

I like the Rasta term ‘politricks’ for its slip-tongued critique: in a Babylon system, politics is rigged so better to turn to (and invest in) culture, to various practical toolkits for dealing with, persevering under, and triumphing over Babylonian fuckery. But what happens when that culture to which we’ve turned gets folded back into what Peter Tosh dubbed the shitstem? And where does a total retreat leave us? (All too often, it seems to pave the road not for independence but for exploitation.)

The irrepressible DailyMotion so embodied by youthful (net-abetted) dance crazes tells me, again and again, that the genie’s out of the bottle. They can’t shove it back in. But they can try to build a bigger bottle. And call it a platform.

THE FUTURE OF MUSIC … AND HOW TO STOP IT

Against this creepy, creeping context, some suggest that “web 3.0” might well be conceptualized as a “grand retreat back to our own servers.”

But will this vision of an interconnected independence prevail, or will it be a ZuckerBorgian colonization of the net as we know it? Given what I’ve sketched out above, the specter of a “second Internet” should be a scary one–

Facebook, with the private information of over 350 million members, now constitutes what Wired magazine has called a “second Internet.” By encouraging members to bring their Facebook settings with them onto the rest of the Web, Zuckerberg hopes to take this new Internet, with its pretensions to privacy, and place it at the foundation of the old one.

While Zuckerberg’s ambition to reduce the experience of the Internet to a more human scale should be applauded, his site, despite its recent openness, prevents users from transferring their information to other social networks — a restriction, considering the huge time and effort many members put into their profiles, akin to prohibiting homeowners from packing up their houses and moving elsewhere. Moreover, with the site’s huge database of personal information and its hopes to profit from highly targeted ads, Facebook creates its own surveillance problems. If anything, Zuckerberg looks, in some distant but discernible way, like the Robert Moses of the Internet, bringing severe order to a chaotic milieu.

Facebook’s OpenGraph indicates that they’re moving away from the walled garden approach toward simply being one’s portal to the web (like AOL 2.0), but the fact is, there’s an increasing amount of self-censorship in the ever-expansive realm of Facebook. And that’s not great for the kind of unruly culture that many of us prize.

As far as silver-linings go, the Robert Moses reference above makes me wonder: if Facebook is the Cross-Bronx Expressway of the Internet, what sort of hip-hop will emerge from under its overpasses and beyond its walls? What kinds of cultures will thrive in the corners of the net, unhindered by auto-takedowns and the prying eyes of parents and employers?

This degree of dominance, Facebook’s increasing mediation of the internet itself, opens up the idea that Facebook resembles a utility and perhaps, as danah boyd argues, it should be regulated as such:

If Facebook is a utility — and I strongly believe it is — the handful of people who are building cabins in the woods to get away from the evil utility companies are irrelevant in light of all of the people who will suck up and deal with the utility to live in the city. This is going to come down to regulation, whether we like it or not.

Props to Gavin Mueller for raising this possibility, if more cynically, many months before:

I’d advocate turning social networks into public utilities to better hew it towards the Bill of Rights, but not in a country that passes the Patriot Act. We’ll have to wait until the revolution comes to nationalize Facebook. And by that point, lots of people won’t even be able to afford the internet.

But why expropriate when we can innovate? That’s what Mark Andrejevic suggests with regard to YouTube — or more to the point, suggests that YouTube, as a commercial venture, may never become the platform it promises to be:

The objective is data-driven control: the channeling of users’ own activity to further a goal arrived at neither through shared participation not conscious deliberation: that of increasingly accelerated consumption. … That the offer of a platform for ‘non-estranged’ production might threaten this goal constitutes the contradiction at the heart of YouTube’s marketing plan, and helps explain the ambivalence and even hostility of commercial content providers toward ‘amateur’ content. They want the user-generated data without the user-generated content. If sites like Hulu start to gain large and loyal followings, they may well succeed, and in so doing demonstrate that the more appropriate infrastructure for a site like YouTube may not be commercial, but collectively owned and operated.

It’s been all too easy to let corporate enterprise host our collective culture. We didn’t know some of these things were possible, and we didn’t necessarily have the critical capital to bring such things into being. But this is a devil’s bargain we’re making. Certainly we can do better. The network effects of critical mass constitutes a great proportion of the value that we bring to these sites (user-generated data, as opposed to user-generated content, pace Andrejevic). But when will our critical mass become a truly critical mass?

At least in the near term, one way, among many, to address the issue of control (and hence stability/sustainability) is what some have called “virtual rights management” (and hence, activism, architecture, self-determination). Along these lines, see, e.g., the Berkman-related Project VRM (and Doc Searls’s emphasis on internet geology), as well as the Mine! Project (about), or the badly-named but well-meaning Diaspora, or the fledgling Poyozo. If any of these gain serious steam, they can create a serious opening.

While we’re at it, as Kevin Driscoll asked many months ago, who wants to start a broadband collective?

To return to the words of Jace Clayton, let us commence our grand retreat —

NO SURRENDER, NO DELETE

Or, as he put it elsewhere and with regard to something else:

The key is openness. Together we can make everything last.

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November 1st, 2010

A Whole Nu World?

Last week a daily newspaper from Abu Dhabi, The National, published a piece I wrote about “nu world” music under the title “Sounds of the wide, wired world” (29 Oct 2010). As usual, while I think my editor — here, the mighty Dave Stelfox — did an utterly admirable job of making my prolix prose ring pretty damn clear, it still feels weird for stuff to fall under my byline that didn’t come directly from this horse’s mouth. And there are lots of words and phrases and names and things that I’d rather like to cram back in. So as with other things I’ve written for newspapers and magazines, I’m providing here at W&W a “director’s cut” (which nonetheless preserves many of Dave’s careful cuts and amendments). Thx again, Dave!

Sounds of the wide, wired world
Wayne Marshall

In the autumn of 2009, Dave Nada, a Washington DC-based DJ, was playing a midday party in a basement for his cousin and a couple dozen of his high-school-skipping friends. The DJs preceding Nada warmed up the room with bachata and reggaeton: mid-tempo dance music from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico that offered deep, familiar grooves to the Latino crowd.

At 32, Nada was the oldest person at the party, and more of a techno/electro guy. In a flash of inspiration, he decided to drop something out of the ordinary on his young audience. Afrojack’s remix of Silvio Ecomo & Chuckie’s “Moombah” – a typical example of Dutch “dirty house” – already had all the elements of a reggaeton club banger: thumping kick drums, piercing synth-lines, cut-and-paste party chants, and a distinctly Caribbean cross-rhythm in the snares. The only problem was that it was too fast. To make the track fit the vibe of the gathering, Nada reduced its speed by 20 beats per minute. This simple adaptation sent the kids into a frenzy.

Unexpectedly, it also birthed a new genre that embodies a much broader phenomenon: a reclamation and redefinition of global street music for the internet age that we might call world music 2.0. Spurred by the success of his experiment, Nada recorded an MP3 edit of his Afrojack remix and constructed several more slowed-down interpretations of house tracks. These were circulated on the internet, representing a sound that its creator, perhaps not entirely seriously, dubbed “moombahton.” Ever hungry for the new, the global dance music blogosphere seized upon this strange, hybrid sound. By March of this year, Nada had been featured on the website of The Fader magazine; by summer he was running a popular weekly club night, Moombahton Mondays, in DC.

Back in the Netherlands, meanwhile, an aspiring producer stumbled upon Nada’s work during a routine trawl of the web. Like the kids at the party, he was floored. A 20-year-old Dominican, born and raised in Rotterdam, Rayiv “Munchi” Münch was a long-time fan of bachata and merengue, especially a recent streetwise version of the latter, known as mambo; Dutch bubbling – a mid-1990s collision of hyperspeed gabba techno and Jamaican dancehall; and hip-hop of all kinds. In moombahton, however, he heard a new future for reggaeton, a genre he loved but believed had become creatively stagnant.

He worked all night long, emerging the next morning with a digital “promo” package of five new songs. Rather than editing pre-existent tracks, Munchi built his productions from the ground up. Using samples from his ecumenical music collection, he injected influences from Brazilian funk carioca, Angolan kuduro, Latin American cumbia and more. In April, he wrote to a number of bloggers, myself included, to share his music. Over the next few months he maintained a prolific work rate, producing 50 tracks in all and releasing concept-driven online promo packs every four weeks. These circulated rapidly via blogs, tweets, and the SoundCloud account where he streams them and provides links for free downloads, either there or at free (but ad-riddled), temporary “digital lockers” such as MediaFire.

The feedback loop doesn’t stop there. In just the last month DJ Orion, a producer from Austin, Texas, uploaded 30 tracks to his BandCamp site (where customers are asked to pay as much or as little as they like to download the music), in a style he is calling “boombahchero.” Many of the songs are second-generation interpretations of Nada’s and Munchi’s remixes. However, Orion has gone a step further, infusing his edits with the strains of Mexican tribal guarachero, an emergent form of electronic dance music mixing cumbia, techno, and a distinctive triple-time swing – often produced by teenagers, the genre has been making the rounds recently as the latest local fusion of global elements to resound more widely than, say, the clubs and communities in Monterrey and Mexico City where it sounds right at home.

These interconnected stories form but one knotty vignette in the wider narrative of world music 2.0. Largely brought together online, this tangle of diverse street-level sounds is bound by common tools and shared reference points. Its accelerated interactive pace is driven by the proliferation of accessible music and video-production software, and the connective possibilities of the social web or, in marketing parlance, web 2.0 – the key feature of which is the explosion of networked platforms that enable anyone with access to publish their music and dance moves to a limitless audience. Needless to say, this is precisely what thousands of young people are doing.

The commonplace use of cracked or demo software in many of world music 2.0’s more rough-hewn productions produces a patina of piracy, an unintentional but marked aesthetic effect that privileges participation, immersion and immediacy. On YouTube, Colombian teens dodge “Free Trial Version” watermarks as they do a modified Melbourne shuffle at the local mall. Robotic voices interrupt homespun raps from Los Angeles to remind us that we’re listening to music made with unlicensed programs. Pop-up ads piggyback on the networked DailyMotion of young people across the Francophone world trying on and showing off the latest steps from the tecktonik and logobi scenes. Chains of compression lend a sizzle to MP3s of reggaeton and Baltimore club music, filled with uncleared samples and made everywhere from the Dominican Republic to Romania.

Because most of this activity happens on corporate “platforms,” the unruly openness of online enterprise is constantly vulnerable to the caprice of bottom-line logic and rearguard legal attacks from twentieth-century copyright giants. Videos disappear regularly, sniffed out by audio-detection algorithms. Entire sites vanish overnight. In the last year alone, imeem and Jamglue, two popular audio-streaming sites which played host to such burgeoning scenes as Chicago’s juke and LA’s jerk, suddenly shuttered, falling prey to licensing nightmares and hostile takeovers. Down the ether hole with them went thousands of conversations, personal playlists, home-produced gems, and peer-to-peer connections.

But who cares about quality control or posterity? Clearly not the kids who keep uploading. They’re hacking their way through contemporary media ecologies, motivated more by making and doing than by legal strictures or commercial profit. The result is a vivid picture of a truly global youth culture. Kids doing what kids always have done: dancing, performing, goofing around. The difference is that they now broadcast it to the world – if often as an afterthought, the result of default settings that encourage openness.

Public culture is being remade by all this so-called “user-generated content,” including the ever curious category of “world music.” In some contrast to its creation by a consortium of British music-industry players in the 1980s to market recordings that represented musical traditions of the non-western world, a multinational network of grassroots producers, DJs, and bloggers are now renegotiating and redefining this freighted yet inclusive term.

Their work embraces a fluid but thoroughly urbanized idea of worldliness. The stylistic signposts of world music 2.0 are utterly contemporary, grounded not in traditional instrumentation but the ubiquitous structures of hip-hop, reggae and house. The music’s themes are more often than not as unvarnished as its sound: sex, social domination and the travails of life in the big city – be it London, Johannesburg or Rio. Nonetheless, and more than likely as a direct result of this fact, it resonates widely.

A wealth of websites have sprung up, bringing these far flung sounds together. On Ghetto Bassquake (London), Generation Bass (Tilberg, Holland), Dutty Artz (New York) and many others, New Orleans bounce, Colombian champeta, Jamaican dancehall, desi bhangra and South African house all find common ground. Many of these sites have also become record labels, releasing music from and inspired by urban dance scenes from around the world – and around the corner.

A prime example is Dave Quam’s It’s After the End of the World, an open-eared blog from Chicago focused on the city’s juke scene but often extending its remit to Dutch bubbling and Memphis rap. Quam launched a digital label called Free Bass last month by giving away a three-song EP by Cedaa. A teenager from the small city of Bellingham, Washington, Cedaa’s music takes flight from juke’s stuttering drum machinery and adds a certain, synthesised Pacific Northwest pastoral. It’s glorious stuff that could only have happened now.

As the vibrancy and resiliency of youth culture from the inner-cities of the world inspires urbane curators and globe-trotting DJs, it animates another new strain of world music: Trinidadian soca filtered through Montreal’s Ghislain Poirier, funk carioca via MIA and Diplo, the cumbia of Buenos Aires’ slums recontextualised by the uptown crew ZZK. In a sense, this slicker, commercially released music by savvy interpreters of the Global North recalls the earlier, successful mediations of Paul Simon and David Byrne – albeit rather more modestly, at least in terms of sales.

Informed by the diasporic settings that so many cities have become, the “bottom-up” revision of world music is a valuable development, offering new ways of engaging with the world, often undergirded by intimate, everyday experiences of cosmopolitan conviviality. However, certain queasy connections with its earlier incarnation also persist. Despite the necessary translation and filtering provided by metropolitan mediators, the xenophily animating their work can cloak familiar fetishes of otherness in slum chic.

Another name for world music 2.0, in this regard, might be “global ghettotech” – a term I floated on my blog a few years ago, hoping its implicit critique would be clear. Surprisingly, it has since been unironically embraced by a number of artists and entrepreneurs across Europe and the Americas. The ghetto remains a major signpost in this new world, but its romanticization or exploitation as a signifier of edginess, especially by those not of it, will always create tensions. Teamed with a recent embarrassment of tropical tropes and neo-tiki motifs, it’s almost enough to return us full circle to hearing the world as kitschy exotica rather than the noise next door.

Fortunately, critiques are not the sole preserve of critics. They can come in musical form, too. In June a New York/Vancouver collective called Old Money, with Jamaican, Guyanese and Polish membership, posted a track to SoundCloud called African Kids! A sardonic send-up of the use of generic African imagery, it fits seemingly random lyrical fragments – “shapes, colours, African kids!” – to a bass-wobbling beat that nods to several recent UK dance genres all at once. The only tag added to the track reads “TribalTribalAfricanKidzzz,” a lyric in the song. It was amusing, but also discomfiting. Old Money sent it around to the usual network of websites and blogs, some of whom had helped hype their previous recordings. No one wanted to touch it. Perhaps it hit a bit too close to home. Or maybe it’s not such a brave new world after all.

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October 26th, 2010

Demo My Demo My Demo My Media

Yesterday, in a post about music and cellphones, Jace said something striking and funny and perfect —

More is my favorite type of music, actually. Then comes 128kbps, one of my favorite musical genres.

This reminded me that my favorite co-producer these days is without a doubt AVS Media Demo


(h/t who else but dave quam)

& my fave video vixen is most def vso-software.fr —

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Wayne&Wax

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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