Saturday, August 13, 2005

Bonus Beats (Read The Post Below Before You Read This)

I threw in the comments box for the post below after Vahid reminded me, but each of the Strictly Hardcore discs ends with an "ad" for other Strictly Hardcore comps. The one on Illegal Pirate Radio II is for Sonic Experience: Def Til Dawn, featuring (as Vahid discovered) "dictaphone recordings from illegal raves" (crowd noise, MC's hyping, someone talking about a judge pushing bakc a "court injunction") megamixed with various breakbeat hardcore tunes and capped off with a painful, twenty second blast of air horns and rave whistles (if you looped it, it'd be a Merzbow record). It sounds like the DJ Wrongspeed album ten years before the fact.

Strictly Hardcore Info mp3

I realize using the word "crap" repeatedly in the post below leads me into some very dodgy territory I potentially don't intend. This was hammered home by the tiny inscription on Illegal Pirate Radio II that "artwork by Scooter." You know, no one wants to read that something they poured their heart into (even half-assedly or on less than ideal equipment) is "crap" and they probably especially don't want to hear it used as a praise term. I am cursed with some conception of what "good" design entails (you know...Perlon sleeves, emo covers by guys who own a silkscreen machine and think they're Neville Brody, the aforementioned Wookie cover) and am applying really patronising "trash culture" aesthetics to this stuff. It deserves better than that.

But it's hard not to sound patronising when you're praising something for being "raw for the streets." Even though that's what this stuff was. Stray too far and you end up in rap blog territory, middle class white dudes praising crack dealing trap tales detailing the sort of mentality that's destroying lives as "the realest". It's times like this that so much of the music I love deals in the non-verbal. It's a cop-out - or at least an dodge - but one I can deal with. It's also easier to deal with an idealized drug culture from ten years ago which no longer exists, rather than, say, the current plague of crystal meth that's clear cutting right through the gay club scene.

And yet, and yet...the best rule of thumb remains that, when it comes to mixes and compilations of "street" dance scenes, the "cheesier" the cover, the better the record is likely to be. This applies as much to rap mixtapes as to reggaeton comps and dancehall yard recordings featuring dropped bottoms in barely restrained bikini sets. (Like that Bong-Ra mix with Junglist! in huge letters drapped over a giant butt shot baking in the summer sun.) Reggaeton and other latin street musics take this to the extreme, where even the stuff released under the banner of Universal or Sony looks like it was knocked out in someone's bedroom in a few hours on a cracked copy of Photoshop 4.0.

So I guess a better term (maybe?) might not be "real" so much as "honest." Reggaeton artists with access to that Sony and Universal money should be able to knock out "respectable" looking covers, right? So the only possible explanation is that, of course, this what they want their records to look like because this is what they and their audience want to see on a cover: thonged asses, pot leaves and E tablets, Puerto Rican and Dominican flags, skulls with backwards baseball caps, big fat guys in white tees holding pitbulls with Photoshopped glowing red eyeballs and their city skyline aflame.

And these covers are fun! Racism (or at least patronising behavior) rears up when you assume the people making these covers aren't also enjoying the silliness of their imagery, that they're not in on whatever "joke" you're ascribing to it because they also take their culture seriously. Unfortunately "we" (white folks, rock fans, aesthetes, whoeveer) also judge "seriousness" in the most shallow way possible: by the image. It's not necessarily a sign of encroaching debility when artiness creeps into design, but it defnitely signifies a shift in how the artist views themsleves, their audience, and their ambitions. Compare the covers of Daddy Yankee's Barrio Fino, the Wookie album, and Slim Thug's Already Platinum with releases by Baby Rasta y Gringo, Public Demand garage comps, or all those No Limit and Cash Money covers.

I have been thinking about this kind of thing a lot vis a vis moving to Baltimore. I can't say I know much, if anything, about Baltimore breakbeat, outside of the little bits I've heard of it in the last year or two. But having spent a lot of time driving around Baltimore in the last weekm while I still won't pretend to know much of anything about the city, it's starting to make a lot of sense at least on an instinctual level. The media - especially with its most well-known representations being The Wire and Homocide - would probably make a big play about urban blight, drug destruction (crystal meth use up 500% in the greater Bmore area according to Newsweek for whatever that's worth), and general social collapse.

And yeah, there are plenty of boarded up buildings, sketchy street corners, and hard looks from people. But there's also a lot of beauty, a lot of beauty in residual, non-gentrified neighborhoods, a lot of people who are happy to make it their home. Like Philly - which is further along in the gentrification game and thus has more neighborhoods where people breathe a sigh of "oh, a few years ago I was scared to go visit him up there" relief - there's a lot of working people, people hauling trash or driving buses or working fast food or running bodegas or operating their own little take out joints or working for the city. Drugs and crime may fix certain perameters of their lives, but they're not the defining narrative.

At the end of the day, dancing is still about blowing off steam, trying to flush the toxins built up during the work week (or on the grind) through sweating your ass off on the floor. It should hardly be inconcievable that sometimes people want a fast, rough, straightforward music that reflects (but not exacerbates) the conditions of their lives. Not everyone wants Theo Parrish and not everyone wants "Pop That Pussy", but sometimes, in my more delusional utopian moments, I still feel like the dancefloor is one of the few social spaces where boundaries can melt in the mix. That's probably the old taint of raving in my bloodstream; maybe current social and economic conditions do preclude it; maybe I'm just fooling myself that class, race, and status considerations can evaporate under the heat of a beat. But if I stopped believing it I might as well start going to indie rock shows again.


Blogger j. said...

haha the ad at the end of disc two of illegal pirate radio iii (not quite as uh inadvertently avant-garde as the ad i posted) features what (i guess is) mark ryder himself castigating his audience that "bootleg tapes are killing the rave scene" and if you have any info on bootleggers "you will be rewarded"!!

10:54 AM  
Anonymous steve k said...

Do Puerto Rican or Dominican women consider these covers as ''fun'' as you and the guys who make them do? I think you've touched on this more fully elsewhere in some of your writing about hiphop.

11:04 AM  
Blogger j. said...

i would some of them don't, no. so, yeah, you caught me out there. on the other hand, some people would also find a baltimore oriel's logo with X'd out eyes surrounded by crack vials called Baltimore Club Crack offensive, and others (me included) find it funny, even as we recognize that, you know, crack isn't funny at all. but a cracked out cartoon bird is pretty funny.

let's face it: the minute you step away from desexualized rave music, you're gonna start running into dodgy areas of expression. it's a long way to saying pictures of behinds are innately offensive, however.

11:10 AM  
Blogger j. said...


11:11 AM  
Anonymous steve k said...

Is there more diversity among patrons dancing to Baltimore breakbeat than to a crowd watching an indie-rock event or going to a jazz show, or seeing an r'n'b vocalist, and does this really affect how you spend your night out on the town?

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

xpost comments.

I'm not asking you to apologize. I'm just saying we seem to have reached a point in parts of the music world where many women and young girls may feel that wearing a thong or suggestive clothing is the only way they're gonna get on a cd or in a video. Now women can, of course, choose how to dress however they want. And they shouldn't be harassed or judged based on those choices, but alas it does happen.

11:18 AM  
Blogger j. said...

i think my implication is that there's NOT more diversity, that most people still stick to their little spheres of interest. (i wouldn't have used the word "delusional" or the phrase "fooling myself" otherwise.) and that's fine; y'know...people are creatures of habit and comfort. but i have seen it before, every now and again, and it's almost always been in a club context. and i would like to see it more often. but again that's why i threw the word "utopian" in there too.

as for the butts: my "point" in talking about misogyny in pop music (as much as i ever have one) is that it has to be your choice about where you draw lines in what is acceptable and not. i have never not bought a record because it features a scantily clad woman on the cover. (i would have to stop buying dancehall compilations entirely if i did so.) but if there were lyrics on that record that intimated violence against women or grossly abusive language...well, then yeah, i'd probably trash it. and of course i would never deny a woman (or man) who didn't like it to call it out. but these are my lines, and they're not fixed, by any means, but at 2:21 pm on Saturday Aug. 13th, 2005, i am comfortable with them.

11:25 AM  
Blogger j. said...

so uh how about that mp3, eh?

2:23 PM  
Anonymous adamrl said...

It's great, geez!

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great great but when will middle class white guys quit using middle class white guy as an insult, maybe then can we all dance as one

6:52 AM  
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