Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Daft Comparisons and the impulse to make them

On peoples dismissal of the Arctic Monkeys Simon says: "Whether it’s kingmaker/cud/wonderstuff, or ruts/members ,to me it's no different to someone saying 'Dizzee Rascal, Kano, that's just Derek B and Rebel MC all over again--more black blokes, boasting over beats, heard it all before.'"

One can't help but wonder: isn't this Simon's exact approach to almost everything house and techno has produced for oh, how many years now? Certainly as long as I've been reading and probably longer. Oddly, in the previous post he says "where are the vanguardist bastions on behalf of which one would launch one's volleys of indignation and disgust? dance music..has for the last half-decade or so been recycling its own history as assiduously as rock has"

If you accept that the final statement is true, then you're left with the question, why in that case dismiss one and embrace the latter? That is, if these Arctic Monkeys pieces really are more than 1000 word posts turning gut personal preferences into a grand genre dismissing theories.

When Simon compared the survival of indie-rock to that of metal, again you wonder, where does dance differ in this fairly straight up analysis of alternative genres that have survived the test of time? Either it's young and it's still going or it's old and it's still going! It's certainly as popular as metal if not moreso. How is electronic music somehow not, like metal and indie, "a fixture on the music culture menu now".

Another thing which strikes me is the extent to which Simon fails to see the relationship between indie and dance in the UK as it currently stands; it's surely more harmonious and close than ever before. If the Arctics, whatever I think of them, have a lyric about "banging tunes on the dancefloor" then if anything that's a sign that they are of the new generation of rock fans for whom dance music is anything but alien. We live in the age of Erol Alkan and Optimo (to name 2). There is more crossover between dance and rock than ever before, and the only way in which that's damning to dance music is if you believe it's tainted by association.

Now this may validate Simon's point about dance being "just another leisure pursuit" but not when you consider dance's alleged superior in this respect is indie! It may have been an acceptable point in praise of grime, but it's ridiculous when eulogising about NME rock music. At the very least (the very least) it's impossible to see one of the genres as a clear victor in such a comparison.

Also you would think, to read Blissblog, that there is some exact symmetry between "the generation who liked rave as it HURTLED FORWARD in the early 90s" and "the generation who now like the Arctic Monkeys". As if nobody now listens to dance music and that cultural space has been neatly filled by the Arctic Monkeys/Libertines generation. What a neat little switch!

I'm left with the impression which should probably have been blindingly obvious to begin with, that Simon is not a particularly big fan of certain genres and thus the revision of them does little for him. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but why are some genres dismissed for being revisionist while simultaneously Blissblog complains about how narrow minded people can be when they dismiss music for being revisionist? Why are some genres dismissed for recycling themselves while Simon rightly points out that innovation is often undetected by those external to a particular scene?

Surely anyone can see that house and techno are far far more prone to the latter failure of the imagination than rock music. Also isn't this a major factor to consider when Simon asks why it is that indie allegedly outlived dance and es? Though I think "outsold" or "outmarketed" might be a better word, and I don't mean either in a negative sense.

My own personal opinion is that I think the Arctic Monkeys are aesthetically pretty off-putting, though I guess I'm in the camp of people who just can't support something that's such white bread rock and roll, or more accurately, I can't support something which seems to revive rock as music of the arrogant English bloke. Maybe there are similar attitudes in bands like the Specials, but I just don't see the social conscience in the Arctic Monkeys, not least because it's difficult to believe in socially conscious rock music selling thousands to a generation who aren't socially conscious.

I also feel, reading the sometimes nasty ILM threads, that Simon is the victim of just how readable and well written his posts are, and that this has contributed to a scenario where he holds forth on almost anything in the popular music sphere.

I don't think I'm wrong to point out that Blissblog sometimes can go out on too many limbs, because it does attempt to be more than simply the blog of one writer. Again there's nothing wrong with that and alot of us would love to be able to keep that up so determinedly. But is there a sort of eclecticism brought on in part by being a notable writer, or does someone in that scenario just feel shoehorned into having an opinion on everything, all at the same time? Maybe it's addictive knowing that whatever you're writing about, people give your contextualising and theorising on foreign pastures you once trod more credence.

Or is it just (and this is only intended as a minor jab) that if you removed the dismissals of other genres from Simon's Arctic Monkeys posts, (let's call these "his past"), that minus the controversy of the apparent about turn, they would read more like something in one of the broadsheets? Record collection rock criticism?


Blogger Tim said...

Ronan I think you're maybe over-estimating the extent to which Simon's current pieces are hatin' on dance music's alleged retro-fetishism.

He's responding to Mark K-Punk's complaints that Artic Monkeys are the most hopelessly-retro of the hopelessly-retro, and it makes sense to note that, for all its shiny sonic surfaces, dance music is caught up in a similar game (with the proviso that dance music has available the same defences which Simon provides on the AM's behalf).

It would require a further leap in logic to then claim that the Arctic Monkeys are superior to current dance music - and I don't think he has made or attempted to make that leap anywhere.

I agree though that Simon, perhaps by omission more than anything else, impliedly overstates the level to which dance music is focused on obsessively redocumenting its own history - he and many other critics tiring of dance music seem to notice only e.g. lovingly crafted acid house period piece reconstructions (now thin on the ground mostly), and mention interesting, plausibly futurist examples of current dance music (Tiefschwarz, the M.A.N.D.Y. mix, Villalobos) as if they were totally isolated exceptions... When in fact there is a v. large number of producers doing v. new and exciting sounding stuff.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Ronan said...

I had a feeling this might happen, I knew I should have left in the opening line "I don't want to seem like 'the guy who defends dance music'!

I am not really saying Simon is hating on dance, more that the foundations of this Arctic Monkeys defence, which really do seem pretty big and overblown for just one band, throw alot of Simon's previous ideas out of sync.

I do think Simon kind of frames the Arctic Monkeys revisionism against other genres and what's around elsewhere on a general level throughout the pieces, and so you are left with the sense that some things are still being dismissed.

Also all along, for years, Simon's dismissal of stuff seemed to centre around it not being the very newest and the absolute cutting edge, so now it just seems a sudden and weird about turn that it's the Arctic Monkeys who have him fairly vehemently defending revisionism and abandoning that previous stance.

3:26 AM  
Blogger Ronan said...

I mean isn't the door is now open not just to today's dance music, but to loads of other genres previously omitted too?

This is what I mean by saying that it's like there's a transition from the critical position of "This is what should be liked and talked about" to the more casual blogger position of "I like this and I'm going to talk about it", but the remnants of the first position still remain.

3:29 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

It might be worth considering the definition of dance music here. I think Simon is referring to a particular moment where the scene represented a progressive, revolutionary force (both sonically and socially). Something notably diminished in the current holding pattern aesthetic of Villalobos or DMZ. What Philip Sherburne has been describing as a 'mobius-loop sensation' - the image having a telling resonance with postmodern hypnotic simulacra.

The examples of Optimo and Erol Alkan as an oversight may be misguided. It's possible the Arctic Monkeys critically articulate this nexus in tracks like 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' or 'Dancing Shoes' from a metaperspective anyway. Particularly by highlighting the notable shift from ecstatic-rave to bashy meat market, and so on...

In any case, I think the emerging question of temporality and memory is proving to be a significant issue. As you point out, increasingly surrounded by the present past, where can we find the potentialities for revolutionary mobilization? What are the new criteria in the permanent present?

12:33 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Rather than record collection rock criticism, this should be understood as the politics of memory, perhaps?

12:41 PM  
Blogger hector23 said...

I like his writing, it just seems that often he believes his own hype.

"Dance music is dead" I mean c'mon.

8:13 PM  
Blogger hector23 said...


8:36 PM  
Blogger theo said...

ofcourse there is a tendency to retro in both indierock and dance but there are also other - not so visible - lines to discover.

what happened with the artic monkeys record is in a way the same that happened with the new madonna. in most dutch and international musicmedia it was celebrated as the dancerecords of 2005, the record that sounds like what is happening right now. really, when you are a popjournalist and thinks this is true you have no idea how vivid the dancescene is at the moment.

true, also in more invisible, progressive areas there are tendencies to retro but they are combined with new things or at least the combination of already known music is relatively new.

for instance the records of Kelley Polar and Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas are the tip of what is happened in - especially german - dancemusic right now. the tempo drops, the music becomes less eclectic and more introvert and dreamy. sometimes it is like hearing old new beat stuff and eurodisco with Alan Parson coming along. but, more important, it opens a full new spectrum of posibilities for dancefloor music to go into new directions instead of doing things that have been done for so long.

I am not an expert but I am sure the same goed with indierock. Artic Monkeys are have made a very lively and good album. but superfantastic and the best band of the last few years? I bet not. there must been happening much more exciting things right now. and that story has to be told too.

10:46 AM  
Blogger maya luisa said...

lived in manchester through stone roses and rave - in bristol through jungle -london through garage - and I now live in Berlin.

Dance music has never sounded so good

Simon is too far away to hear it

4:05 PM  
Anonymous terry lennox. said...

i just dont think that simon has had time for german house or techno since, what, hardfloor - acperience? really, simons path since 92 has been away from house and techno music (rave/jungle/speedgarage/2step/grime/dancehall/hiphop), and this path has taken him to a place a long way from either house or techno, and certainly a long way from things like electrohouse and plip-plop;)

i don't really understand simon anymore:/

11:53 AM  
Anonymous terry lennox. said...

also, you know, the cult of vanguardism

11:54 AM  
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4:43 PM  

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