It begins with a six minute opening from me, then I introduce my esteemed co-panelists — Boima, Poirier, Ripley, Max, and Jesse — and we finally REALLY get into the convo about 10 minutes in. From there it’s a solid 50 minutes of discussion (but not a minute more! #realtalk), followed by another 15 of tantalizing open-mic action (just joking; stop watching at that point; really).
These are some of my favorite voices in wot-ever-we-wanna-call this thing (though the labeling, as we discuss, remains inextricable and carries consequences), so they may be of interest to you too –
Last month I spoke over Skype with Roifield Brown, a British-Jamaican producer working on a series of podcasts and a short film devoted to the international influence of Jamaica’s distinctive shapes and forms, or in his words: How Jamaica Conquered the World. It’s no doubt one of many many tributes to the likkle but tallawah nation in this 50th anniversary of independence from direct colonial rule.
The series will devote attention to sports and style and other dimensions of Jamaican culture inna outernational sphere, but obviously music — namely, reggae and its roots and routes — exerts irresistible force over such a project. With a promising list of shows planned, Roifield’s already spoken to some great commentators (including, I’m told, a two-hour conversation with Clevie just last week), and he’s in the midst of finishing the first few, including a segment on ska and rocksteady featuring yours truly, doing my best to tell the story of the emergence of Jamaican pop:
Wait for the mini-megamix of Dawn Penn re-rubs at the end!
I love that Roifield is putting this together himself and using everyday tech like Skype to make it possible. Sure, there’s already nuff documentation out there on Jamaican music and culture, but as long as there’s too much to know, we may as well keep asking questions, telling stories, making media, and filtering the best forward (while maintaining the richest archive we can). I’m sure Roifield’s series will offer some crucial contributions to the wider set of stories about Jamaica’s powerful presence in the world.
It helps, to be sure, in putting together these little radio-like shorts, that Roifield also happens to be a demonstrably wicked producer of tracks himself (sometimes under the name Daddys Boy). When he first got in touch I followed a few links to the garridgey roller below and proceeded to hound him for a hi-bit version, though I started rocking an ol 128k right away just because I had to — and to a strong response here in Boston! Not bad contemporary resonance for a track cooked up years ago –
Today I’ve got a Q&A with Jared Demick at his site The Jivin’ Ladybug, a “Skewered Journal of the Arts” or in slightly plainer terms, “an online arts journal devoted to word-whittlers, picture-pizzazzers, & sound-slingers, all over this here globe!” Though the latter most obviously describes me, and the middle option may seem more dubious, I like to consider myself all three. (I mean, look at that picture of a ladybug drawn in sidewalk chalk — full of pizzazz!)
At any rate, Jared asked a bunch of questions about the stuff that I do and think about, and because I think it offers a good glimpse at my current thoughts about blogging and DJing and meaningful mixes, world music 2.0 and appropriation, and platform politricks, to name a few, I’m cross-posting the convo here too. Without further ado–
How does your DJing & academic work connect with each other?
I discover a lot of music in my research, and DJing allows me to “activate” these tracks in a new social setting, to sit with them and hear and feel them in new ways, and to share them with other people. As someone who studies DJ culture, and as something of an old-school participant-observer, I think it’s pretty crucial to put my intellectual work into practice in this way. Another way to look at it, though, is that my abiding love for music propels all that I do, and I’ve managed — or attempted — to chart a course where sharing music is central to my life and work.
What got you blogging so extensively?
I started blogging back in 2003 when I moved to Jamaica to do research for my dissertation, which largely consisted of visiting dancehall events and recording studios and turning my own apartment into a collaborative space for making and talking about music. (One result of which, apart from the disseration, was my self-released album, Boston Jerk.) Initially I figured the blog would only be read by academic peers and family and friends, but I was happily surprised when it turned out that a wider readership of people who were interested in taking hip-hop and reggae (and their interplay) seriously had also found their way to my research-in-progress and thinking-aloud. More than anything, the deeply encouraging feedback loop of a community of co-readers (for I think of myself as engaged in a collective process of interpretation) is what turned the blog from a research experiment into the most important and fulfilling part of my work.
Does this â€śworld music 2.0â€ť (or as you cheekily dub it â€śglobal ghettotechâ€ť) phenomenon, this global mix nâ€™ match of genres, leading to greater musical variation or homogenization? In other words, is it a scenario of capitalism doing cultural colonization or is it reflective of increased diasporic movements?
As much as I’m suspicious of how capitalism shapes and circulates culture, I don’t buy the “cultural grey-out” anxiety that haunted so much globalization theory in the 1990s. Examining hip-hop or reggae as a global phenomenon (which is to say, a trans-local thing) gives the lie to any sense that local transformations of these forms are simply imitative. It has been well observed, of course, that capitalism thrives in the production of novelty, so one could argue that the lack of homogenization is, in a sense, just as useful for selling things. At any rate, I think it would be hard to make a case for anything other than greater variety in terms of the music to which we have access today, and whereas “world music” used to be a fairly exotic product, I find some optimism in the newly quotidian qualities of “the world out there” in an age when media travels so instantly and rapidly, especially when coupled with an increasing recognition that our own neighborhoods (at least in fairly cosmopolitan cities) are amazing and rich repositories of world culture. To the extent that exposure to new sounds — rather than simply the products of the media capitals of the US — might engender a more mutual regard for each other, a respect and tolerance for difference, is about as good as it could get. That, and radical wealth redistribution. (But I wouldn’t wait on “world music” to deliver that.)
Are these emerging musical trends sticking around or do they rapidly rise and fade? Who are the primary producers and consumers?
The whole “world music 2.0″ scene is still pretty small and definitely marked by a hype-cycle dynamic. This is perhaps reflective of the “Western hipster” base for a lot of this stuff — at least once it’s been remediated by DJs and bloggers. But for every bandwagoneer, there are people whose interest in new sounds serves to drive their curiosity about other places, about other histories and narratives, and even about other people in their own local communities. Of course, we shouldn’t let out of sight that lots of these exciting sounds from around the world are emerging from rich local scenes which could care less about a few downstream DJs and bloggers (although, on the other hand, there are clearly some opportunities to be had, lest only the middlemen make the metropolitan money). But the production of the music that circulates on blogs and Soundcloud as a sort of “WM2.0″ is no longer entirely “outsourced,” if you will. Rather, instead of simply “digging” for far-flung sounds and scenes (a la funk carioca, kuduro, cumbia), as the case of moombahton shows, new genres have emerged that partake of the templates and circuits for “global ghettotech” while being almost completely unmoored or grounded in any particular place, hence inviting a broader sort of participation (especially from more privileged corners) and perhaps entailing a different approach toward exoticism.
Why do economically disadvantaged urban areas (the ghetto, favela, barrio, shantytown, and its many other manifestations) play such a prominent role in the circulation of this material?
For all their actual impoverishment (or one might say because of it), ghettos are also immense sites of creativity — and, part and parcel of that, powerful repositories of authenticity. I would alter your question to note that while these places play a prominent role in the production of this material, they are less involved in its circulation. Increasingly, grassroots producers from around the world are using “social media” to share their productions with their peers and wider audiences, but a lot of the wider circulation of these genres is being initiated by web-trawling bloggers and DJs who are enthralled by the stuff they’re hearing. Sometimes the grounds for that fascination and/or empathy are spurious, sometimes sincere.
Do you see any political ramifications to this increased cultural dialogue?
It’s not always clear to me that this phenomenon entails a “dialogue” except in a rather vague (and one-sided) sense. I do think that playing music for local audiences (say, here in the US) which is not what they typically encounter can do a sort of political-cultural work insofar as it reforms ideas about us/them. I tend to reserve my greatest hope for the locally transformative power of these engagements — that is, we can work in Boston or New York to reshape our own sense of our soundscapes and our neighbors, and ourselves.
What makes the contemporary musical practice of appropriating and recontextualizing sounds so prominent and attractive?
The relatively novel ease of cut-and-paste is what accounts for the prominence of these methods. As for their attractiveness, I think that recontextualization, reframing, and remaking culture is simply an elemental way that we make sense of the world and share that sense with others. Of course, the advent of the global internet also means that distant appropriations are easier and more commonplace than ever.
Youâ€™ve talked about how this emerging global musical culture is precariously archived within corporate platforms. How could we create a public, non-privatized space on the internet?
This is a serious problem for posterity, and even for present practice. It reflects both a corporate capture of “public” spaces as well as a new prioritization on the part of music-makers and -sharers toward immersion and participation. Toward remedying that — to the extent that people care to — I think we really need to develop (and invest in) new platforms that allow people to personally host (or better, collectively distribute) the media that we make or care to share. I wish there were a will to do this at a municipal or even federal level — to really do it with public funds, as an investment in infrastructure — but there are too many conflicts, I suspect, to make this possible now. So, this has to start with a collective but individual move toward our own servers, and with insisting that we keep copies of everything we post to the corporate platforms whose only value — beyond the user-interface they provide — is entirely generated by our presence and participation there. An open-source alternative to Facebook / Twitter / Soundcloud / YouTube that allows people to maintain more control over their digital culture would be a killer app to be sure.
In both your essays and your mixes, you chart out the routes of particular sounds such as the dembow riddim or the â€śzunguzung memeâ€ť as they get reappropriated in a variety of different contexts. What kinds of insights about contemporary musical culture does such a method provide?
Since — as I think such mixes make audible — it’s not so easy to generalize about “appropriation” when a tune or drumbreak can clearly take so many forms and support such a diversity of messages, the most consistent insight has more to do with the fundamental flexibility and reconfigurability of musical forms (and cultural forms more generally). Although I think this phenomenon far predates the age of technological reproducibility — and results from the essentially mimetic basis of culture — I do think that, with regard to the contemporary, these mixes show not only that it’s easy and commonplace to appropriate or allude to or otherwise invoke and rework previous performances, but that a great deal of creativity, and localization of the power to affect an audience, is very audibly a part of the process.
Which of your currents projects are you most excited about?
I’ve got an ongoing project about the Boston soundscape that I’ve just extended recently with the publication of “Love That Muddy Ether” / Boston Pirate Party — a brief reflection on the rise of Caribbean low-power / pirate radio here in Boston and an audio collage that tries to encapsulate, and take some poetic liberties with, this city’s segregated soundscape. I’m also embarking, after a couple trips to Rotterdam last fall, on a book project about bubbling, the Dutch-Caribbean hyperactive twin of reggaeton, which seems, like kindred genres such as jungle and bhangra, to speak volumes about the musical mediation of a changing sense of place.
For this week’s “Back Talk” — the Q&A that runs on the back page of the Phoenix — I had the pleasure to pose a few questions to Nancy Baym, a scholar who’s work (& Twitter feed) I’ve been following for a few, especially as my own research turns more to questions of music “industry” in an age of “social” media.
Nancy is coming (back) to town next week to take part in Rethink Music, “a solutions-focused conference” being staged by Berklee and MIDEM “in association with” the Berkman Center & Harvard Business School. I was also supposed to join a panel there, but I withdrew from the program a couple weeks ago based on contractual language that seemed, in short, out of step with any meaningful “rethinking” or reform of the way business gets done in “the” “industry.” (I was surprised and disappointed that the “association” with the Berkman Center failed to produce better boilerplate.)
I confess that I was lukewarm to the prospect anyway: the last thing I want to do, really, is to forestall the crash-and-burn of the current regime by sharing ideas about creativity and grassroots practice with them. (Though I’m still wondering who the audience will be for this event, given the hefty pricetag.)
At any rate, I’m happy to contribute in my own little way to any rethinking that might happen here in the next week by amplifying some of what Nancy has been thinking and writing about recently. You can read the full interview online here (the physical paper features an abridged version), but allow me to share a pull quote or two –
Does the question of “social exchange” (as opposed to economic) become more important in an age of “social media,” or just more noticeable? Where does something like (unpaid) “fan labor” fit into the equation?
Social exchange is both more noticeable and more important. It’s always been there. When I talk to musicians about what they find most rewarding in their engagements with audiences, they never talk about the fan who paid them $100 for a CD when they were only asking for $10. They talk about hearing that their music helped someone deal with a loved one’s death, they talk about realizing people had traveled far just to see them perform, they talk about receiving art that fans had been inspired to create because of their music, they talk about getting to travel and meet people in different cultures. These are all social rewards and none of them rely on social media, though they often arrive through those means.
Fans engage in unpaid labor for social reasons rather than economic ones. In fact, they often view monetary compensation as devaluing what they do, which is common in fan communities. They do what they do for one another because they want to share the pleasure they take in the music. They also do it to build their own status in fan communities. They do it because it brings more music into their inbox. They do it because it’s a way to form social relationships with the artists they love. Sometimes they do it to build a base for a career in music themselves, and some do move on from running a fan site to working for the label, but it’s rarely intended from the get-go as a way to make money. Just as people in the music industries need to recognize the social values that matter in the music ecosystem, people who think about the work fans do as exploitation need to recognize and respect the social rewards that these fans receive and value in exchange for their labors. That said, the potential for exploitation is always there and is something everyone involved should be sensitive to.
Your current research has brought you into conversation with rock stars, singer-songwriters, and globetrotting DJs. Are there ways in which certain genres lend themselves better to this moment of transition/disruption?
It’s been hard to get a pulse on this, because even within genres people are having such different experiences. Genres that are already heavily technological (like electronica) or highly personal (like singer-songwriters) lend themselves better to this era, the former because they are already game for experimenting with technology and playing with technological mediation as a means of creating connection, the latter because there is already a sense of intimacy and personal connection between musician and listener. But it’s really more about the attitude of the individual musicians and the team of people they’re working with than about the kind of music they’re making. This moment serves people who like to socialize with strangers and acquaintances, it doesn’t serve people who prefer to be private and just make music. Those differences exist within as well as across genres.
A couple items to share, pardon the self-centeredness, but hey, this is a blog, right?
First, hot off the virtual presses: Radio Berkman has just posted a snappily edited podcast featuring yours truly in conversation with the one and only Ethan Zuckerman about world/whirled music, globalghettotech, jerkbow, tribal, moombahton, and platform politricks, among other things. Go check out the full post here (where you can also stream or DL the audio).
Second, it took the dedicated team that organized TEDxIrie just a week and half to edit & post the talks to YouTube. You can see them all here, including my own talk — which, in somewhat classic w&w form, tried to pack in a little too much and grooved a little too hard in places — but if you watch just one, it has to be Ebony Patterson’s “Fashion Ova Style” (which I’ll embed below).
For those of you who have been following some of dancehall’s style trends in recent years — whether we’re talking skinnyjeans and mantourages or bleaching — you’re no doubt aware that Jamaican masculinity appears to be undergoing some peculiar revisions. Unfortunately, a lot of the coverage of such turns — both on and beyond the island — tend toward a sort of surface sensationalism rather than a deeper grappling with their implications. But Ebony goes in DEEP in her art and her talk, and her discussion of dancehall’s “camp” dimensions and the structural relations between gender (roles and representations) and employment seems to me a thoroughly insightful reading. It helps, no doubt, that she is a genuine dancehall devotee who also works in other worlds (the art world, first and foremost).
Her talk is probably the smartest, most nuanced, and most creative engagement — Ebony is a stunning visual and conceptual artist — with these complex questions that I’ve yet to behold. I just wish you could see her art in full color, as we did on the big screen in Kingston a couple weeks ago. Nevertheless, this is well worth your time:
Since we’re back to the topic of the wide and contested world of reggaeton, it felt fortuitous to find in my inbox this morning a link to a new interview with Renato, Panamanian pioneer of reggae en espaĂ±ol. With the effective prodding of Peter Szok, a history professor from Texas, Renato helps to further flesh out the picture of how reggae has been translated and transformed in Panama. Go read the whole thing, but allow me to highlight some illuminating excerpts below.
If you didn’t, you should know that Renato, of Bajan and Jamaican parentage, grew up in the Canal Zone alongside other English-speaking labor migrants from the Caribbean (and their children), and that he strongly identified with US pop culture before moving to Panama City as a teen, where he learned Spanish and participated in a number of crucial ways in the emergent reggae scene: MCing parties, recording songs for drivers of diablos rojos or mini-buses (which Renato describes as “like radio stations”), and, among other things, assisting the rise of Edgardo Franco, aka El General, who got his start as one of Renato’s 4 Estrellas.
Renato’s tale of making the transition from Canal Zone to Panama, from americano to panameĂ±o, deserves a little quotation at length:
What I knew was â€śBuenos dĂas,â€ť â€śHola,â€ť and â€śÂżCĂłmo estĂˇs?â€ť So I had a lot of problems. Since I came from the Canal Zone, the kids jumped on me and called me the americano. Once I took an apple to the teacher. That was something they taught us in the Zone, and they went after me for being a brown-nose. So you know, from those experiences, I had a lot of fights. They didnâ€™t like me, because I came from the Canal Zone. The whole experience was a bit confusing. When we moved to Panama, my grandmother told me, â€śSon, I have to tell you something important. Youâ€™re Panamanian. We never told you before, because we thought that you knew.â€ť I initially had a hard time believing. But she explained that we were Panamanians, but grew up American-style, because we lived in the Canal Zone. Thatâ€™s why we knew the National Anthem of the United States and not the Panamanian song. And that was another problem. When I was at school, I had to sing the Panamanian anthem, and I didnâ€™t know it. This also created a lot of problems. Because youâ€™re Panamanian, and people think that you donâ€™t love your country. But itâ€™s not that. I grew up in a country that was in another country.
And here’s Renato describing how he and Wassanga, a local DJ, made their foray into production — for the buses/busdrivers, before music on buses was banned — using reggae instrumentals:
Iâ€™m learning now how to speak in Spanish and sing in Spanish, and so we start doing tapes with the reggae instrumental versions. The guys from the diablos rojos were a big deal for us. The bus drivers would tell us, â€śHey I want you to do a song, saying that Iâ€™m the number one driver in this sector. Iâ€™m the best conductor. Iâ€™ve got the girls.â€ť So Iâ€™d do something like, â€śYeah, this is the number one conductor. Yeah, heâ€™s got the number one structure. Girls like him, so get on the bus.â€ť And we would do it in Spanish and put it on a tape, and he would play it on his bus. Remember that Panamanians had music on their buses. Panamanian buses were like radio stations. What you heard on the buses, was what was hitting. So after we started getting this popularity in Spanish, we began to write our own songs.
Here’s Renato on rap and the Canal Zone’s relationship to the US/NYC:
Rap started in Panama with â€śRapperâ€™s Delight.â€ť It was a big hit, The Sugar Hill Gang was really popular. Then came Run-DMC. They brought in the breakdancing. I used to breakdance. Remember that I came from the Canal Zone, and so everything from the United States was my style. And so while I was in Panama and trying to do Panamanian stuff, it was still my style. I used to try to go every day to Balboa, because I was so accustomed to my style of living that I couldnâ€™t stand being here in Panama. I used to go every day and spend all my money on bus fairs and taxis, just to be in Balboa, just to be in Pedro Miguel with my people, my friends. You know it was hard for me to leave my friends and to live in a place where I didnâ€™t know anyone. Then everyone started to leave for New York. Almost everyone who grew up with me now lives in the States.
Finally, Renato gets to parsing the difference between Panamanian reggae (or plena / bultron) and Puerto Rican reggaeton:
But if you hearâ€¦the way we sing, then youâ€™ll understand that itâ€™s different from the Puerto Ricans. Itâ€™s a little more suave, and you can understand the Spanish more. Puerto Ricans like to invent a lot of words that most people donâ€™t understand. In Panama, we have a different type of reggae. We have the most romantic reggae, because we are a romantic country. We donâ€™t have so much gangster music. I can tell you how many gangster rappers we have. Itâ€™s like six or seven. But we have so many romantic singers, almost six or seven hundred singers who donâ€™t sing about gangster stuff. Because we are not a violent country.
And when it comes to explaining reggae vis-a-vis “black identity,” Renato draws the lines pretty starkly, in blood red:
Yes, because we took it from Jamaica, and it has a black culture. And remember something. The majority of Panamanian reggae singers are black. In Puerto Rico, theyâ€™re white. The Puerto Rican reggae singers are white. Over here, theyâ€™re black. Why? To them, it was like something new, these new moves that they wanted to do. But for us, it was something from our families, something we loved.
He paints in some broad strokes here, and perhaps fans a few flames, especially with such sweeping generalizations about national difference, but I appreciate the greater sense of context he gives us for hearing how reggae resonates in Panama.
Afropop Worldwide has a new program, airing currently on terrestrial radio in the US (and soon to appear online as streamable audio), which focuses on a subject near&dear to the heart of this blog: world music 2.0, aka nu-whirled music, aka global ghettotech. Or as they put it –
Afropop Worldwide takes us into the world of the globalistas, a far-flung grouping of polyglot hipsters, bass freaks, and digital beatsmiths who rally around the sounds of the 21st century dancefloor – rhythms such as Angolan kuduro, Brazilian funk carioca, reggaeton and dancehall, Indian bhangra and Argentine electro-cumbia. Ethnomusicologist/DJ/Blogger/Writer Wayne Marshall calls this music World Music 2.0, highlighting how digital production technology and the internet has created new, younger, international audiences for music from other places. Marshall will guide us through the sonic circuitry of global bass music and show us why old assumptions about “world” music might no longer apply. We’ll also speak with DJ Rupture, Dutty Artz founder and visionary world mashup artist, and, of course, listen to some ground shaking tracks from across the beat-o-sphere.
I’ll be sure to post a link here when the whole program comes online; meantime, if you don’t live in one of the radio markets where Afropop is carried, you can hear an 8 minute teaser here –
This week on Afropop Worldwide, we took a look at how technology is shaping music production and listening practices around the world with Afropop Soundsystem 3: Nu-Whirled Music. Over the course of the program, we explore the question â€“ is there such as thing as World Music 2.0? And if so, what are the consequences? Here, you can read our full interview with our guest Wayne Marshall, who has some pretty interesting things to say about the topic.
Wayne is an ethnomusicologist, blogger, and DJ, currently doing a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT. He is the co-editor of Reggaeton, an excellent anthology of essays on the Puerto Rican reggae-rap. He works, more broadly, digging into the â€śsonic circuitryâ€ť of contemporary global music.
You can read Wayneâ€™s thoughtful rambles on technology, culture, and electronic dance pop from the globe at his blog Wayne & Wax. In fact, the colorful analysis on Wayneâ€™s blog was the prime inspiration for this weekâ€™s program!
Thoughtful rambles! I can live with that ;) “Nu-whirl” on the other hand…
But ambivalent as I am about pretty much all of the terms being used to discuss this stuff (I disavow coining “World Music 2.0″ in the interview, though I do take responsibility for the monster that is global g-tech), I’m excited to see the conversation continue, and I’m especially thrilled to see Afropop bring some of these new sounds and styles (dare I say new worlds?) to the attn of their listenership.
Finally, I want to give special thanks to producer (and interviewer) Marlon Bishop for initiating this project and for making, as Rachel put it, “afropop sound like radiolab”!
As the treble/bass culcha conversation continues here and there, we keep coming around to the words & work of Kode9 / Steve Goodman. It became increasingly clear, esp as we wait for his book to come out (yo MIT Press, get at a Fellow!), that I should ask him if he’d answer a few building questions, as artist and/or theorist, producer and/or scholar. He was nice enough to shoot back “some quick thoughts.” They appear below, with my questions in boldface. If anyone else has opinions to offer, I am — as they say — all ears. (Thx also to Derek Walmsley for his questions, referred to below, that have spurred my own — and for, presumably, letting me run that great photo above.)
* Listening to music via mobile devices appears increasingly common, and has been an aspect of street/public culture especially remarked on in the UK/London. Don Letts recently told the Guardian that, “It’s disturbing when I see kids on buses, listening to music on their phones, and it’s just going: tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, with no bass. Bass culture is Jamaica’s gift to the world and technology is, kind of, ruining that. Bass is sexy. Women respond to bass.” Knowing something of your own interest in bass, both as a scholar and as a producer/DJ/labelhead, I’m very curious about your take on this phenomenon and its phenomenological implications.
Well while I can definitely relate to where Don Letts is coming from, thats not my point of view regarding mobile devices. While I share a concern with the bass poverty of new media and clubs etc., the fact is that music has never been more ubiquitous, coming through so many different technical channels. Clearly there is a politics of frequency going on when these technical devices are designed, just like there is “expert decision” making going on behind the supposedly psycho-acoustic criteria involved in perceptual coding of mp3s that favours certain average frequencies over others. There is a politics of frequency that permeates the whole technical ecology of sound recording, storage and playback devices. And I’m the first person to complain about crap sub bass response on your average club sound system. But I think something much more interesting is going on with kids using the mobile phone speakers as mobile sound systems. The potentials of young people carrying sound reproduction (and increasingly production) devices around with them at all times I think is more significant than the fact that they are trebly. . .the becoming trebly of mobile culture is perhaps part of the cost of sounds ubiquity – bass is heavy – i.e. its not so portable. I think that sonic culture is in transition right now, and this kind of ubiquity is going somewhere quite unpredictable and i don’t think you get half of that picture by just complaining about lack of bass, as much as I do generally complain about that.
* If bass (pressure) is, in some basic sense, about mobilization, about moving masses/massives, does something fundamental about this socio-cultural circuitry get lost when frequencies drop off? Or does perhaps the representation of bass (in higher frequency ranges) or the imagination of bass (on the part of listeners) serve to compensate?
At least in the club setting, what gets lost is a certain sensual relation between the dancer and their body, the sense of the materiality of their bodies, that they are just another vibrating object in the room. What I think is conceptually powerful about bass culture is that it reminds the arrogant human race that they are really mostly composed of non-organic matter, are not self-enclosed individuals but permeable membranes through which forcefields can pass and interfere with your insides. I think there is a extent to which bass culture educates dancers about their bodies, literally vibrating parts they didnt know they had.
The thing is, the mobile phone sound system – what are its precursors – transistor radios on buses? ghetto blasters? well not really I don’t think – there is something new about the mobile phone sound system which maybe has not fully materialized yet. . .i.e. that it is potentially a production and a reproduction devices, as well as a transmitter – like a junior pirate radio micro-transmitter. So my problem is not with tinny playback devices in situations where there traditionally there was never much bass playback. . .my problem is more with the squeezing out of bass in music performance venues/clubs/festivals etc. Now obviously there is a feedback from a youth culture used to hearing their music as purely in the mid-range of frequencies, and you can hear that e.g. in the brittle production of grime, but thats still a very bass heavy music.
* With regard to “bass you can hear” (as you said to Derek Walmsley, since subbass is, as you put it, “not even a sonic thing”) have you yourself tailored, or are you aware of other producers tailoring, tracks knowing that they might often be listened to sans bass? Is the “fuck off” riff-based craze, “across different dance music genres,” an inherent/inevitable product of treble culture?
I’d say its got some relation to mid-culture and the way riffs resonate with alchohol, drugs, your average club sound system, and radio compression
* If, as you note, “you canâ€™t underestimate the impact having to play on shit sound systems has on a music culture, and itâ€™s aesthetic decisions, and what it feels it needs to do to translate into as many environments as possible…” — how do producers reckon with the commonplace that their tracks may be largely listened to on mobile phones and tinny laptops, never mind “shit sound systems”?
Well I think tracks get EQd and mastered with this in mind, to make the tracks brighter than you might think is necessary or comfortable to listen to in the studio.
* Is bass (increasingly) a luxury?
Certainly in the club world. Even when commercical clubs buy in Function 1 sound systems, they are usually not tuned up properly so you are not feeling anything under 70 Hz.
I borrowed it and digitized it and emailed it to Jace. I also asked if I could share some of it here and whether I might throw him assorted odd questions about it. It turns out, according to the DJ himself, that 1 + 1 = 3 was his very first mixtape (!), produced sometime in the late 90s –
i actually cant remember the year i did this. that Saul Williams
track i use had just come out. i was living in central sq…
it was 2 decks, str8 to cassette, all live one-take business.
it was def my 1st mixtape. i sold it at Toneburst shows.
i did the artwork
I was enthused to hear some Toneburst-era /Rupture. Although I attended a few Toneburst parties back in the day, and picked up their comp at Newbury Comics way back when, I don’t actually remember seeing /Rupture play at any of em (or Jake or Flack for that matter). I do remember seeing We, a great favorite of mine, when they came up for a big bash at MassArt.
One cool thing about this vintage /Rupture mix (for me), as featured in the excerpt that I’m sharing here, is that — even if I wouldn’t put 1+1 together (to make 3?), and realize who he was, until much later — the one time I did see /Rupture DJ back then, he was playing Saul Williams’s “Twice the First Time” (which pegs this mix right around ‘97/98). The track really caught my ear and made me stand there for a minute, wondering, among other things, who was this dude playing radical music through a decent soundsystem on the lawn in front of the the Science Center. And why wasn’t there more of that?
Even as 1 + 1 = 3 gives a sense of how much he has grown and morphed as a DJ, it still offers some recognizably rupturey maneuvers and seems to prefigure the strange melange of Gold Teeth Thief. Trad middle-eastern sounds meet modern beat science, from slurred boom-bap to minimal dancehall, rollicking jungle to proto-breakcore noise. You won’t hear all of that in these 9 minutes, but you’ll hear a lot.
/Rupture sez he may re-release the mixtape in some form soon; hopefully, this 9-minute clip whets yr appetite. After the mix link/stream-button, you’ll find a brief interview wherein W&W asks /R some funny questions about mojos and noise and math and he replies in generous, off-the-cuff fashion.
note: this interview was conducted over email back in early April
W&W: When’s the last time you played a jungle record? Did dubstep take jungle’s mojo?
/R: Caracas, 3 or 4 weeks ago… But before playing that old 12″ out, I hadn’t dropped a jungle or breakcore tune in ages, like maybe 3 years. Dubstep didn’t take jungle’s mojo, which is part of its problem. although drum&bass is now a genre, its dead in New York, but many cities, especially in Europe, will have a substantial drum&bass scene that’s going strong, usually organized around a weekly or monthly party. Drum&bass is essentially institutionalized, like house or techno, it’s no longer nonstop innovation and surprises, but its still solid food for ravers.
W&W: There’s a lot of dancehall in here. Is reggae the ultimate sonic glue? Or does the breakbeat, skittering in and out throughout at several tempos, deserve equal standing?
/R: the exciting parts about reggae aren’t strictly sonic, so it’s not quite sonic glue — BUT reggae culture does have some powerful music values: there’s a constant emphasis on populist experimental/novelty, the incredible importance of the performativity of prerecorded music (whether dub versions or enlivened by deejays or DJs, etc), a long history of close links between audio engineer-musician-soundsystem, and lots more. All these things combine to make reggae culture central to what I do, much moreso than breakbeat (think of all the great new music w/ programmed beats instead of sampled breakbeats). Of courses, jungle’s appeal stemmed from the exuberance and shock of it, but also b/c it had all sorts of dancehall references folded up inside it.
when i think of sonic glue, i think the the Technics 1200s themselves, the fact that since the 70s we became used to performing records themselves — its not a sonic component that drives my mix style, the sounds are always changing. for me its more of a “well, you’ve got these records made by other people. how do you combine them into something that bears your style?” and that search for a voice or style or narrative line is basically the creation of sonic glue. and i was never interested in the easiest route– just playing one style and letting it end there.
W&W: One classic component of your mixes is a healthy dose of noise, whether as unintelligible masses of sound per se, or as when jungle tips into breakcore. Without those latter genres in the mix so much these days, how do you still manage to bring the noise?
/R: the ‘noise’ on Uproot was the ambient stretch in the middle — noise is so flexible, so contextual. the noise on Minesweeper Suite was breakcore mixed with Borbetomagus. but listen to enough Borbetomagus records and the saxophone assault stops sounding like noise. same for breakcore. So i’m more into noise as something textural that challenges the notion of music (or beats). pulling out the beats into floating melody was more of a risky or radical gesture, for me, then slamming into breakcore — the noise that folks had come to expect. I think of noise as a moment almost outside the logic of the sound, so ambient in a beatfilled world works now as well as more traditional noise worked a few years ago.
that said, come see me live*, i always have a few full-on turntable noise moments. I love playing w/ soundsystem dynamics and saturating the mixer and pushing records into that almost physical space where its all just noise and vibration. with the right records and the FX i use and whatnot, i push for that. sometimes it’ll just be at the end of the concert. i think its really cool to have played dance music for awhile then end with something totally other, using the decks in a completely different way, working with feedback and delay, using vinyl as percussion instrument, that sort of thing.
playing with Andy in Orleans once we had terrible problems w/ bass feedback from the turntables — finally at the end of the concert i decided to work with it, and managed to get (and partially control) an amazing bass drone from the turntable — you can hear it in one of the tracks on Patches.
W&W: How about the title? It reminds me on the one hand of SFJ’s great article about mashups “1+1+1=1,” perhaps expressing a sense of the greater-than-the-sum logic of DJing. But perhaps the more obvious parallel is 2+2=5, which could either represent, as for Orwell, the fascist project of manufacturing truth, or, as for Dostoevsky’s protagonist in Notes from Underground, a desire to reject cold rationality for human messiness. By asking this, have I already overdetermined the mix too much? Have you invited that? Are you now or have you ever been a Stalinist?
/R: haha, you’re reading too much (into it)! to me 1+1=3 is the DJ’s axiom. plain as that. the work of the DJ lies in taking one record, blending another, and getting that magic moment where the sum is greater than the parts, when the ‘third’ record emerges and you can hear the two tracks individually, superimposed (if you know what to listen for) and also can hear the new thing they make when they play in unison. so yeah, rather than some call for the irrational or illogical, to me it was a simple statement of turntablist logic. it also worked with the xerox ziney stuff i was doing then, like the cover for the mixtape. with a quick cut and paste, a lot can be created.
* attn, Boston headz: DJ /Rupture (and Dutty labelmate, Matt Shadetek) will be playing this Friday evening at the ICA
Is it possible that Zunguzung itself is an adaptation of someone else’s work?
It’s something I’d been wondering myself, of course — for about as long as I’d been noting the melody’s long legs, really. In my reply I said,
Iâ€™d love to ask him about it sometime.
Well, I’m happy to report that someone has.
That someone is Brent Hagerman, a PhD student in religion and culture writing a dissertation about Yellowman which, as he put it via email, “reads” his slackness “in terms of his Rastafarian faith.”
Here’s what Brent had to say about “[Zungu]Zung”:
I asked him once about Zung and he told me that he got the melody/phrasing from a Michael Manley political rally — similar to your Cutty Ranks clip, I assume, except it must have been earlier.
If you think that’s a revelation, you’ve got to hear the story for yourself. Many thanks to Brent for sharing it with me and allowing me to share it with you (and thx much to King Yellow too, of course!):
Allow me to transcribe the conversation, with some cuts for clarity sake:
Brent: What does zunguzunguzunguzeng mean?
Yellowman: Zunguzunguzeng is a slang, you know? It can mean anything. Like, I can say I’m gonna zunguzunguzeng you, which means I gwine kill you. And I can look on a girl and say, I want to zunguzunguzeng you. It mean I want to ‘f’ you. It have many meaning. … But it was a political song, for Michael Manley. Like, “zunguzungunguzunguzeng, you shouldn’t trouble Mr. Manley, boy.” So I turned it into “zunguzungunguzunguzeng, jump for happiness and jump for joy” …
B: I thought you wrote that melody?
Y: No, the melody come from a political song.
B: A song that Manley used?
Y: Some guy used to go around with Manley and mic and say, “you shouldn’t trouble Mr. Manley, boy.”
B: That was never recorded, though?
Y: No, that never recorded. I take my style, and record it. I use the melody.
B: And did he use the term zunguzung as well?
Y: No, no. He don’t use the term. I only use the melody. … “Jump for happiness and jump for joy, you no fi call Yellowman no boy.” … So that get ban off the radio. … The reason why they ban it in that time, it was the Labourite government was in power. …
B: Because you borrowed this [melody]? You were making fun of the melody?
Y: No, I’m taking it to an entertainment level. … It became #1, you know? For several months.
B: Without being played on the radio.
B: So his lyric? …
Y: Him say zazazazazazazaza, but me say zunguzungunguzunguzeng.
B: And zaza has no meaning, right?
Y: No, it just a slang, like I would say zunguzunguzeng. It can mean anything, you know.
B: What was that guy’s name, do you know?
Y: No, no. I don’t know what his name, you know. But I heard that guy is in Miami now, you know.
B: So he was an artist?
Y: No. You know like how Obama carry around Oprah? Fi get crowd, y’know? So they just carry a entertainer. …
For students of Jamaican democracy, the timing for such controversy might seem a little odd given that Yellowman’s song was released in 1982, but the JLP had been in power from 1980 and the 1983 election was boycotted by the PNP. No doubt there was still a lot of fraught politicking a gwaan at that time. I’d love to know more about how it seeped into Kingston’s soundscape.
It’s interesting to hear (and see!) how the melody remained a staple of PNP rallies into the mid-late 80s, as seen in the Cutty Ranks clip from a 1986 PNP rally. Browsing 80s dancehall videos on YouTube, I discovered a couple other clips that show the “zunguzung” melody doing a particular kind of political work (i.e., rallying people around the PNP). Indeed, invocations of the tune provoke some of the biggest responses from the crowd.
Take the following clip, for instance, which I think is from the same 1986 PNP rally as the Cutty Ranks excerpt, held at Skateland by Stereo Mars sound. After a lot of pro-Manley chatting, you hear the tune at the very end of video (“hold up your hand if you love the power”). Note the immediate call for pull-up!
There are a couple more examples in the following clip from the same rally (at 0:16 & 3:34), affirming again how common a reference (and rally-cry) it was. Selassie gets nuff shoutouts too, though. As do Spanglers and Junglists (“all spanglers hold tight, all junglists hold tight”) –
And, one year earlier, we behold a similar use at another PNP rally held by Stereo Mars at Skateland, this time featuring Tenor Saw, Burro Banton, Super Cat, and others. See Likkle John at the 5:00 mark and then at 5:40, and once again note the crowd response! Notice too, however, that for all the potential “political” connotations of the tune, Super Cat goes on to condemn politicians’ role in the island’s gun violence problems (even, ironically, as Joe Lick shot, er, “licks shots” in support) –
Despite all this activity, the zunguzung melody was so rapidly adopted by dancehall DJs — turning up in a flurry of recordings/performances from 83-86, and a little more sporadically thereafter — and often in songs that have nothing to do with politics, that I wonder about the degree to which the tune was heard as “political.” By whom? In what contexts? I’d love to know a little more about the instances in which Yellowman received any kind of pushback for using the tune. What does he mean that it was banned? (And yet was “#1″?)
Before this revelation, I had simply assumed that Cutty Ranks was making use of a well-worn riff, leveraging a powerful bit of musical memory for political ends. That may still be what is happening in his case. But I’m not sure whether the opposite is true, beyond Yellowman’s initial use. Did the melody also (just as often/powerfully?) mobilize political sentiment in the service of entertainment? Were artists like Sister Nancy, Toyan, and others who invoked the melody around that time always acutely aware of its political connotations? Or did Yellowman’s hit serve to “liberate” the tune from its partisan moorings, at least to some extent / for some listeners?
One relatively early example which seems to suggest an unmoored melody comes from a 1983 Gemini session in Jamaica, where Johnny Ringo casually weaves the tune into the beginning of his talkover spiel –
Another good example of the melody’s more free-floating character comes from Yellowman himself. In the following video, from a 1984 Volcano session, he uses the melody not to sing “Zunguzungunguzunguzeng” but to propel another routine, imploring the crowd (or a particular gyal?) to “boogie for me.” (Note: this video is a slightly odd assemblage; you’ll have to FF>> to around 26:10, when Yellowman grabs the mic; 10 seconds later he breaks out the familiar contour.)
Any others out there? Do tell/point/link. (One of these days I’ll make a montage.)
One final note, per recent discussions here about musical “borrowing” and ownership: b/c Yellowman plucked the zunguzung melody out of the air, as he did so much material — as we all do, don’t? — he doesn’t much mind if others take those same ideas and do something new with them. At least that’s what Brent surmises –
As you probably know he won the Tasty Patty competition in 1979 with an answer to Lone Ranger’s “Barnabus Collins” and often jumped on whatever thematic/lyrical/musical bandwagon was in fashion at the time, whether it be sleng teng, punanny riddim or whatever. So I really don’t think he minds if another deejay “borrows” something from him. The industry seems to thrive off that give and take, though Yellowman, like most artists, recognizes the need to receive credit for his inventions, even if it is just by insisting that he is the king of dancehall and the originator of several fashions/styles.
But Brent’s gonna ask him directly about this issue, to be sure.
If you want to follow along, or even lend a hand, to Brent’s research project. Check out zunguzung.com, an online database devoted to Yellowman’s lyrics and discography. As he puts it, “I haven’t got a lot there yet but it is starting to take shape.” As he also puts it, much to my delight — and quite in line with the spirit of the zunguzung meme — “I was inspired by your work when I chose the domain name.”