linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on


wicked wicked soundscape

gettin' jiggy at 3 C's (photo from bobbyshakes.com)

since i'm in a snipping mood, i thought i'd share another piece i wrote recently. the following was published in the july issue of sonicheart, a new boston-based music mag specializing in the "electronic" scene--an umbrella term seemingly encompassing just about anything that can qualify (which is an interpretation that i obviously endorse). in keeping with that inclusive mission, the sonicheart folks asked me to contribute something about boston's reggae scene. despite a general degree of acknowledgment (and even genuflection, at least to the dub guys) in the electronic music lit, the prevailing impression seems to be that reggae, and generally other "black" musics, aren't electronic. they're organic or something, natch. (and actually, natch more-or-less says it, fingering the naturalization, romanticization, and condescension implicit in the myth of inherent "black" musicality.) but, of course, as many have pointed out, you would be hard-pressed to find music in which technology plays more central a role than it does in reggae and hip-hop.

as a kind of tangent to my dissertation, i've been interested in the boston reggae scene as an example of reggae in the diaspora. what does reggae carry with it? what do people bring to it? in this way, i see reggae's resonance in the U.S. as an interesting flip-side to hip-hop's significations in jamaica. although i'm hardly old or experienced enough to be able to say anything definitive about boston's reggae heritage, i've been talking to and interviewing (and spinning alongside) folks in the reggae scene here for several years now. and i've been absorbing the sounds of jamaica, consciously or not, all my life in and around boston. moreover, a number of boston reggae veterans have been kind enough to offer up informal histories, favorite details, and reminiscences of all sorts. (note the acknowledgments at the bottom of the article; and thanks to all the others who have spoken with me or otherwise shared their memories and opinions.) to the extent that i get some things right in the brief history below, it is to their credit as bearers of their stories. any mistakes or glaring omissions are my own. ultimately, i hope that efforts such as this one can encourage others to continue building this history, this tapestry of cultural connections, musical memory, and commuity spirit. i invite any and all to help flesh out this skeletal account, to keep dubbing in new voices.

finally, a word on my frame here: knowing my audience and my limitations, this piece is written as an introduction and a primer. it is intended for the boston-area music enthusiast who would like to experience the reggae vibes around town, who may not be aware or cognizant of reggae's rich resonance here, and who thus might think a little differently about their community and its history--and hear the boston soundscape anew--as a result of (re)considering this town's roots-and-cultural heritage.


Reggae-Tinged Resonances of a Wicked Wicked City

Boston is well-known for using wicked as an adverb, as in "It was a wicked fun pahty" or "Wicked pissah, dude." And while Bostonians use wicked as an adjective too, it is more commonly found as an adjective in Jamaica, where, although tied to Biblical curses, when used colloquially the word is synonymous with other re-signified terms of praise--e.g., tough, bad, mad--as in, "A wicked tune that!" or "Wicked inna bed." So, if we're talking about reggae in Boston, wicked wicked emerges as the perfect modifier for what is a vibrant, diverse, and established scene.

Although reggae may not be the first music one associates with Boston, the sounds of Jamaica have long been part of the city's soundscape. Known for its large number of venues and college students, Boston has been a destination for touring reggae acts since the 1970s. For years 88.9 WERS has played reggae from 5-8 p.m. every weekday—perfect rush-hour listening—on its "Rockers" show. And with the continued and increasing crossover of dancehall into the American mainstream, one now hears a fair amount of reggae on Boston’s hip-hop and pop radio stations as well. At times Boston audiences have even displayed a cultish love of reggae: The Harder They Come, which introduced Jamaica's music to the world as much as Bob Marley did, famously enjoyed one of the longest cinema runs in history at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge during the 70s and 80s.

For some Bostonians--in particular, the predominantly white baby-boomers and generation x-ers that form the core of the live-band audience--reggae signifies sun, fun, rum, and ganja and provides a compelling soundtrack for shaking out their stiffness on weekend nights. For hip-hop DJs and audiences, reggae is a familiar, related, and sometimes nostalgic reference, and a hip-hop set at a club often includes some dancehall tunes. For DJs in the ragga/jungle scene, reggae is a creative resource, something to be sampled, remixed, and played against double-time breakbeats. Playing dancehall a capellas against a barrage of breaks, these DJs pay tribute to jungle's roots in London's reggae scene and align themselves with reggae's oppositional sentiments. For the more purist DJs, or selectors, who play reggae exclusively, the music is a world unto itself, a vehicle of righteousness or licentiousness--and sometimes both--and a means of identification with a larger community: with Jamaica, with the Jamaican, West Indian, Caribbean, and/or African diaspora, and with reggae enthusiasts worldwide.

In the early 1980s, Boston's reggae scene was blessed by a number of soundsystems and selectors working mostly in clubs in Dorchester, where Boston's West Indian population has been based for decades. Echo International (which later changed its name to Capricorn Hi-Fi), with its eponymous selector, Echo, was one of the more well-known sounds in the area. Evertone Hi-Power, with selectors Wheely and Robot, ranked among the best in town and is remembered as one of the biggest soundsystems in Boston during the 1980s. They even clashed with legendary Jamaican sound, King Jammy’s, in Dorchester in 1986. Apparently, Unity Sound, with selectors Reggie Dawg and Warren, was the "gal favorite," while Supersonic was known as the "bad boy" sound, with connections to the infamous Dog Posse. Cambridge’s Western Front earned a reputation in the 1980s as a spot for "bad men" as well as for serious reggae music, especially from local live-bands such as the I-Tones and Cool Runnings. Aside from the Front, though, most of the top spots to hear reggae in Boston were based around Blue Hill Ave in Dorchester: Black Philanopies, Manny's Bar, Windsor Cricket Club, 4 Aces, Carver Lodge, Kelekos, and, of course, 3 C's—the Caribbean Cultural Center, which opened on 1000 Blue Hill Ave in 1981 and has been hosting big reggae events ever since. Veterans of the Boston reggae scene also note the popularity of house parties during the 80s, many of which, not unlike dances in Jamaica, would often last until 7 or 8 in the morning.

Iranian-born, London-bred, and Boston-based selector extraordinaire, Junior Rodigan, cut his teeth on the house party scene. He began his local music career in 1986, DJing parties for friends at B.U. Before long, Rodigan worked his way into the reggae scene, playing at clubs and after-parties and making a name for himself as a selector with deep crates, extensive knowledge, and a fine sense of a crowd's mood. He produced and performed on some recordings in the late 80s, such as "Get Here (If You Can)" with Igina, which stand among the few reggae shots from Boston heard around the world. Having watched reggae go from marginal to mainstream in Boston, Junior has a unique perspective on the history of the scene. At one time, he recounts, a reggae set at a party could leave a dancefloor empty and indifferent, whereas now reggae is just another part of the mix--and often a popular, if not crucial, part. "It's come a long way," Junior told me, "but it was inevitable." Comparing Boston’s socio-cultural milieu to London's, where he spent his teens, Junior attributes the shift in taste to basic demographics: "Just like in England, there's all these West Indian kids who grew up here now. And at that time [i.e., the mid-80s] whoever was twenty-one hadn't really been to school with too many West Indian kids. The West Indian kids had just been getting here. Now, whoever's twenty-one has been to school with West Indian kids since they was six." Indeed, a Boston-area education specialist estimated back in 1995 that as many as 70 percent of children in the Boston Public Schools were of Caribbean descent.

My own memories of reggae in Boston definitely resonate with Rodigan's remarks about the relationship between demographics and culture. Sure, at a certain point I learned about Bob Marley and roots music, but my first exposure to reggae was via hip-hop. The first "reggae" song that I can remember listening to is the bizarre hybrid, "Roots, Rap, Reggae," featuring Yellowman, on Run D.M.C.'s King of Rock (1985). A few years later, I heard more reggae-tinged rap from Boogie Down Productions, Shinehead, Slick Rick, Special Ed, Leaders of the New School, the Fu-Schnickens, and other acts. Before long, dancehall reggae artists such as Super Cat, Shabba Ranks, and Chaka Demus & Pliers began reaching me through hip-hop vehicles such as Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City. High school dances at C.R.L.S. frequently featured the sounds of Jamaica, as the DJ--usually my old friend, K.C. Robinson--would segue at a certain point from the rap and R&B hits of the day to some real windin' and grindin' music. Mad Cobra's "Flex" was a favorite back in those days (for obvious reasons if you know the song). Incidentally, K.C. was one of the first DJs involved in the now longstanding Monday night session at the Phoenix Landing in Cambridge that mixes hip-hop and reggae (although these days, revealingly, the hip-hop portion has been shaved down to a mere 1/2 hour).

When I returned from a six-month stint in Jamaica a couple years ago, I felt as if reggae had followed me home. Although reggae continues to grow in popularity across the U.S., my perception was largely due, I think, to a greater sensitivity. Hearing reggae in the Boston soundscape is all about tuning your ears to its distinctive vibes: it's definitely out there—on the airwaves, in passing cars, in clubs, and sometimes on flatbed trucks. There are reggae events every night of the week in Boston. (Just check the calendar over at bostonreggae.com.) While the Phoenix Landing in Central Square hosts "Makka Mondays" with Satellite Sound, across the street at the Enormous Room (where DJ Brynmore and Burning Babylon just started a weekly dub session, "Heavy Dread," on Wednesdays), the eclectic duo of DJ C and DJ Flack mix dancehall and dub into hip-hop, drum'n'bass, and bhangra for their "Beat Research." Meanwhile, Dublin House in Dorchester offers "Sexy Tuesdays" with Cannon Movements, "Weddi Weddi Wednesdays" with Riddim Rider, and "BoomBlast Thursdays" with Junior Rodigan. Live acts, from Mang Dub to Toussaint to III Kings to Dub Station to Vibewise, fill clubs and pubs around town, and local selectors such as Jah Rich, DJ Advance, and Mad Skim throw occasional sessions and host semi-annual soundclashes at spots from the Western Front to Kay's Oasis in Dorchester. Every weekend there are special events of all kinds and all sizes, from dances to concerts, often drawing performers and soundsystems from New York to Jamaica and usually involving a fun dress code of sorts. Although many record collectors bemoan the physical closing of Beehive Culture, there's still Taurus Records and Junior Rodigan's Vibes Records for those seeking the latest and greatest tunes.

Being both far from "home" and yet among neighbors, Boston's Caribbean community has cultivated and celebrated a pan-Caribbean identity. Given shape in music, dance, and other cultural forms, Boston's "island heritage" resonates across the city's soundscape. That we can all partake in such a rich diaspora of sounds is a privilege no Bostonian should forsake.

Wayne Marshall is a writer, teacher, and performer living in Cambridge. He would like to big up “dancehall lover” and “sexcd” @ bostonreggae.com, and give special thanks to Junior Rodigan, for supplementing his hazy recollections with those of some local veterans.


we jammin'

if you're in or around boston (well, actually, somerville) today--that's saturday, july 30--you should come through union square sometime between 4-8, where we'll be celebrating 30 years+ of hip-hop history with music, dance, graf, and good times.

here's the deets:
SAT, JULY 30, 4-8 PM. Free outdoor HIP HOP HISTORY JAM in Union Sq., Somerville, MA.

Lyrical and Brick Casey

WAYNE&WAX - Jamaican Roots
DJ YAMIN (Beats not Bombs) - Funk & Soul
DJ DEF ROCK (Monstamind/Megabug) - Birth of Hip Hop
DJ DRAMA (Elemental Compounds) - Old/Middleschool
DJ FLACK(Mashit/Beat Research) - Golden Age
DJ C (Mashit/Beat Research) -Back to the Future

LOSST UNNOWN and members of the FLOOR LORDS


The youth/activist collective CRITICAL BREAKDOWN and the MASSIVE RECORDS family will be there too. The INDEPENDENT (local bar) will be showing WILD STYLE and STYLE WARS all afternoon!

For more INFO:

yeah, so check the link above for directions, etc. i'm going to be representing hip-hop's "jamaican roots" from 4:00pm-4:40 by playing what i imagine herc would have played at those early parties in the bronx if folks weren't, as jeff chang excavates, "throwing jamaicans in garbage cans" (CSWS p.72) back then.

so what's that mean?

well, admittedly it's a subjective (and hopefully suggestive) interpretation, but i have a few specific goals in mind: 1) to play reggae songs that would have been popular in jamaica in the early 70s (and should have been popular in the NY diaspora); 2) to play reggae songs that have some kind of audible influence from soul and funk (so as to play up the interaction between the US and JA and to lead into the mid- to late-70s breaks and such); 3) to play a bunch of early DJ tunes, letting the jive-infused toasts of u-roy and dennis alcapone, big joe and tapper zukie suggest at least one of MCing's vocal lineages.

i'll be doing a little toasting and chatting (and maybe rapping) myself over the tunes and riddims, trying to bring a likkle edutainment into the mix and adding yet another layer of performance (i.e., me rapping over someone rapping over someone singing over someone's mix of someone's rendition of someone else's song). should be fun.

as a kind of run-up to the event, yesterday's boston globe ran a very supportive piece on me and my various, overlapping projects. between this and the undercover piece i linked to recently, this all amounts to a lot of affirmation all of a sudden, and i'm really touched that folks seem not only to be getting what i'm up to, but to be digging it. thanks for the support.

in other news, big tings are percolating (not rumbling) between me and some musical/critical cohorts. look out for something special coming soon. the more nodes the better, knamean? (thanks, y'all, for the referrals.)

finally, thanks to my dear girl, becca, for the slick update of my main site. not bad for a computational linguist. i've been meaning for a while now to revise the site so that it more accurately represents my most current thoughts, perspectives, endeavors, etc. i think this succeeds at that, and some. props, too, to clay ward for taking some great photos and making a boston jerk look slightly less so (perhaps).


war inna babylon

i've got a lil' back-page op-ed in the august issue of XLR8R magazine (on news stands now!). one of the ideas the editors threw at me was to write something about jamaica and the war on terror, which seemed like an interesting challenge. given my prolix tendencies (despite vigilant attempts at concision), i wrote something way too long and way more involved than they had space for. no problem: tomas scissorhands made some expert edits and there it is inside the back cover of the new issue, reading all breezy and shit. word.

i'm going to post my original draft here, though, as i think it brings up a lot of interesting issues--many more, apparently, than could fit in the magazine. do me and XLR8R and yourself a favor, though, and pick up the print version if you can. if nothing else, hop over to their newly re-vamped site and get yer download on.

without further ado, here are many more words than i was asked for...


War Ina Babylon
Jamaica and the War on Terror

I first traveled to Jamaica in the fall of 2001, shortly after 9/11. I remember the flight assistant's warning that undercover federal marshals may be among my fellow passengers. Tension filled the air in Chicago and Miami, but in Kingston, the airport exuded a decidedly different air: warm, thick, a little antiseptic. In many ways, it was business as usual in Jamaica. Customs officials pretended to give me a hard time. Taxi drivers vied to give me a ride. The newspapers focused on local violence and local politics. And soundsystems across town attempted to drown out everything but their own "big tunes." Having come to Jamaica in order to observe a remarkable rehabilitation effort in Kingston's prisons, my attentions were immediately drawn to local concerns: overcrowding, physical violence, corruption. Although the Jamaican mediascape, including the familiar faces of American cable television, projected plenty of fascination with the attacks, the general level of preoccupation with 9/11 was nothing like that in the U.S.--somewhat surprising, given the common understanding that if "America sneeze, Jamaica catch cold." Of course, we weren't at war yet.

The tenor was much different in Kingston the following summer while I was doing research for my dissertation. Now, we were at war, though only in Afghanistan. Jamaicans seemed to react to the War on Terror in a different way than many of my peers back in the "Homeland." I would spend the mornings with my host, a middle-aged Rastafarian woman, while she watched CNN and cussed out America for its contradictions. "Start from yard," she'd say, as yet another ugly suburban kidnapping temporarily grabbed the headlines from the War on Terror. When the video surfaced showing Al Qaeda's experimentation on dogs, she was indignant: "Who cares about dogs? Do you know how many dogs die every day on the street in Jamaica?" She didn’t have time for people who cried out for animal rights in the midst of such disregard for human rights. Her teenage son walked in the room, saw the dying dogs, and said, "Cool!"

When the U.S. invaded Iraq, I was living in Kingston. I appreciated the distance between my surroundings and the spectacle I was watching on television and the Internet. It was the spring of 2003 and seemingly every taxi driver wanted to know what I thought, as an American, of the War on Terror. "I don’t like it," I'd say. But it didn't matter what I thought, since I would have to represent the U.S. despite my best intentions. As I waited for a bus on Hope Road, a man biked past me and sneered, "Bloodclaat American!" Similarly stereotyped, people of Middle-Eastern descent in Jamaica became popularly referred to as "Taliban"—as in, "Look at the Taliban dem," or, in Elephant Man's matter-of-fact address, "whether you a baldhead or a Taliban." In the same song, "Genie Dance," Ele refers casually to the Iraq war as a metaphor for the battle-of-the-sexes, "Man bomb dem out just like Iraq base." Ele delivers the line over the Coolie Dance riddim, partaking in the same discourse about the Middle East projected by American media and reinforcing differences between the West and the rest.

The Coolie Dance is one of many "orientalist" riddims that have mashed up the dance in the last few years: Tabla, Diwali, Bollywood, Egyptian, Amharic, Sign, Baghdad, Allo Allo, Middle East. Partly inspired by a parallel trend in U.S. hip-hop ("Big Pimpin'," "Get Ur Freak On," "React," "Addictive"), partly from a longstanding tradition of Jamaica's own fascination with the East ("Eastern Standard Time," "East of the River Nile," "'Til I'm Laid To Rest") and with musical stereotypes (see Ele's "Mexican Girl" for an example that hilariously deconstructs itself), and partly enabled by the tabla-patches and "Indian Flutes" available on the studio-standard Korg Triton, Jamaican producers and DJs have been responding to the Bush Administration's War on Terror in myriad ways. This has included everything from explicit anti-war songs--Capleton's "Baghdad" and Luciano's "For the Leaders"--to tracks that incorporate references to the war in a more subtle manner. Vybz Kartel's compliment to a Jamaican woman in "Stress Free"--"Skin smooth, e? You a wha? Barbie Doll? / You nuh haffi hide your face like Bin Laden gal"--expresses a preference for a Western sense of beauty and a willingness to trade in stereotypes of Muslim women. Whether or not Kartel intends it, such sentiments reinforce neo-conservative ideologies of "freedom" and universal--which is to say, unilateral--rights. American ideologies circulate globally via American music, including music once considered oppositional, such as hip-hop. These ideologies are then partly reproduced, partly resisted, and newly articulated through the lens of Jamaican culture.

War occupies a prominent place in the Jamaican imagination, but when people talk of war, they more frequently refer to the ghetto-blasting gun-battles that routinely erupt in downtown Kingston. Since the 1970s, Jamaica has been in a state of perpetual war. The noxious combination of U.S. cold-war and drug-war policy, the American arms-industry, and "misguided" leadership has militarized the pork-barrel politics that splits the city into warring garrisons. War is a popular musical metaphor, and the "gun-hand" in the air remains the most common form of audience approval. If war can be found right down the road, why worry about some fanciful American crusade abroad? It's all Babylon anyway, where war is yet another symptom of the dehumanizing "shitstem." (Oddly, few seem to appreciate the irony that the U.S. has moved the theater of war to the actual historic site of Babylon. "U.S. Led Troops Have Damaged Babylon" read a headline in the New York Times this January, but, lest any Rastafarians get too excited, the article was speaking in very literal terms.) I remember a comedy routine at a Kingston club one night which featured an impersonation of a conversation between George W. Bush and the Jamaican Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson. With a thick, redneck accent G.W. asks P.J. if he can commit some troops to the "Coalition of the Willing." P.J. responds, in characteristically drawn-out tones, "We don't...have e...nough troops...to fight...a war...with......Tivoli." The crowd roared. For them, Jamaica's internal wars--the sectarian strife symbolized by the reference to Tivoli Gardens, longtime stronghold of the JLP, or the opposition party to Patterson's PNP--clearly present a more urgent and concrete problem than "bringing democracy to the Middle East."

At the same time, the effects of the War on Terror undoubtedly are felt in Jamaica, and reggae has registered much of this anxiety. The comedy routine included another topical impersonation: George W. invites a skeptical Elephant Man to perform his post-9/11 reflection, "The Bombing," at the White House (and to bring some high grade with him, capizzle?). Jokes aside, "The Bombing" is one of the more eloquent and witty songs to address 9/11 and its aftermath. Not only does Ele come up with a coup of a couplet, rhyming "Bin Laden" with "cannot be forgotten," but the chorus documents, with humor and pathos, the particular problems Jamaicans faced after the attacks: "Everybody 'fraid fi fly through the bombing / Bush nuh trust nuh guy through the bombing / So many innocent die through the bombing / Look like a World War Three 'bout fi happen / Now weed can't smuggle again through the bombing / Can't pass custom with a pen through the bombing / Everybody cry for men through the bombing / Dead bodies start talkin'."

Later he substitutes, "Visa a get deny through the bombing," thus calling attention to what was perhaps the most salient consequence of 9/11 for many Jamaicans: further restrictions on the already elusive goal of mobility. In the wake of 9/11, it became a lot more difficult to get a visa to England or the United States, the two traditional post-colonial "release valves" for Jamaicans in search of opportunities for personal and family advancement. The processes became even more bureaucratic, and the lines grew longer. Many Jamaicans at this point have grown weary of state "politricks" and are more concerned with the ways that the governments of the various nation-states they inhabit enable or restrict their pursuit of social, economic, and literal mobility. (At this point, almost as many Jamaicans live off the island as on it.) The War on Terror has created some peculiar pressure points for Jamaica: its borders have become more tightly policed in terms of non-elites' ability to travel abroad, while simultaneously the U.S. efforts to tighten the Mexican border have once again shifted the major drug-trafficking routes to the Caribbean. Weed can't smuggle again, but cocaine can.

When I returned to Kingston this spring, it was in order to participate in a music video shoot. Working with a couple young directors in Kingston, I was given DVDs containing a number of recent dancehall videos. Many of them sample newsreels from the Iraq war. Falluja gunfights, bombed-out buildings, and morbid scenes from Abu Ghraib easily fit alongside images of downtown Jamaica--perhaps too easily, again underscoring the more mundane meanings and realities of "war" for Jamaicans. Ghetto areas earn nicknames such as Afghanistan, and gangs adopt names such as Taliban even as they use the term to deride Jamaicans of Middle-Eastern descent. The Jamaican Street remains, paradoxically, as hostile toward and uninterested in the American government as ever. And the dancehall massive is "still jammin'," according to Elephant Man: "Down in Jamaica, yes, fun we still havin’ / all of we dancehall them keep on rammin' / gal a do hair, fingernail, and shopping...music lick on, champagne still popping." Capeesh?


it's where ya at

gyal dem skinny, e?

compare the pic above to the one featured on dan charnas's blog from a few weeks ago.

things done changed, but not everywhere (yet).

soon come, though. no doubt. even back in 2002 a co-worker at the cambridge depahtment of public works was remarking on how "these days the white girls be beating out the sistas." a bit hyperbolic perhaps, but an astute observation still. the cultural landscape of america is changing--in a good, healthy way, i'd say. don't let some snooty harvard square retailers convince you otherwise.

give thanks for the caribbeanization of urban america.


arse over tit

all hip-hopped out, innit

i was just reading through the may issue of undercover. we don't get that jawn around here. but jake, while on tour, picked up a few copies for me and moms. because, yeah, the reason i was reading through a london-based hip-hop mag is because the issue includes a rather supportive profile of yours truly in the "uncovered" section. (for which i'm grateful. thanks, y'all. appreciate the shine. for real.)

it was not self-promotion (i assure you--i mean, shit, you're already here) but another piece in the magazine that provoked this post. in an interview with 1/2 of autechre, sean booth describes his grounding in mid-80s hip-hop (and cut-up music more generally, which he considers hip-hop). his opinions, if strongly worded, both demonstrate his passionate engagement with the music and express, at times bitterly, the underlying beliefs that hip-hop embodied for him during some formative years. he ends by offering some interesting, and clearly informed, critique re: contemporary hip-hop, debunking the conventional arc of its story and making some provocative aesthetic judgments. don't let the same ol' this-dude-is-an-old-man tone fool you--dude makes some good points:

Hiphop these days is just inside out compared to what I grew up with. I don't know if most kids who are into hiphop nowadays could even fucking explain what a B-boy is. It's weird. It's all about what you can get for yourself, how rich you can get yourself. It's just a nasty reflection of consumerism. It's the same sort of thing that soul music is now. Hiphop now reminds me of Alexander O'Neal in the '80s, in them big fucking stupid suits. It's gone totally arse over tit.

There's so many tunes these days, these little half bar loop hiphop things all at the same tempo with the sound all at the same kind of level. Then along comes somebody good like Jay Dee or somebody with a style and then suddenly every fucker sounds like that. You know, everyone's got them crunchy claps now and them analogue kicks. Fucking hell, get a life you bastards. I understand that they want to copy music and that's the idea of hiphop, but you're not supposed to copy other hiphop. That's just sad unless you're doing it in a referential way or you're dropping it in a tune or you're making some kind of point. That's what we grew up with anyway.

I keep reading how Run DMC are the band that introduced hiphop to the mainstream, and I'm thinking, what the fuck about Flash and stuff? What about Sugarhill Gang? All that stuff was in the charts. Kurtis Blow? Even Art of Noise, which is arguably hiphop--to me, anyway, it was at the time--all that shit was in the charts. Malcolm McLaren? All in the charts before fucking Run DMC basically took hiphop and shagged it up the arse with the worst kind of guitar idea. It's just inside out music. Everything that hiphop wasn't meant to be basically. Not that you can't make the most out of what you've got in terms of cutting up an Aerosmith tune, but doing a video and getting them to play in the video? Fuck off.

so, yeah, it's a bit on the caustic side. and, yeah, he paints a somewhat limiting picture of hip-hop, forgetting that there is nuff stuff happening off the billboard charts, including music made by other followers of his heroes (not to mention his heroes), lots of other (regional, global, and stylistic) strands of hip-hop music and culture, and an assortment of entirely new, but related, practices and spheres of activity/expression. even so, i think he puts his finger on a lot of good points. and raises some good questions.

i wonder what the hip-hop cognoscenti would say, though? (never mind the proles.) is booth an insider or outsider? does that make his perspective more or less valid or persuasive? does namedropping jay dee bolster his standing or discredit him further? i guess it depends on who you ask. but, then, why bother asking?

(y'all know where i stand on that Run DMC shit.)


boston mashacre

(thanks to jesse L for the title)

wayne&wax, "boston mashacre" (for somerville artbeat 2005)

we begin with sounds of the davis square farmer's market, with several different languages being spoken, including what sounds like a guy saying "habibi." the percussion is an empty soda bottle that another guy was banging on his hip, quietly singing what sounded like a reggae song at the same time. confirming my impression, yet another guy--this one a farmer/vendor--walks up to him and says rather dryly, and to my incredulous ears for stumbling upon such a soundbite, "champion sound, yeah?" from there, the man with the bottle plays a classic 3+3+2, reminiscent of so many caribbean styles, and we hear car alarms and horns spin into melody. as a bus pulls up and takes off again (and "buses" was one of the most popular returns i got to the question "what are the sounds of somerville?"), the familiar strains of the standells' "dirty water" enter the soundscape and the mix. from there, the incidental sounds of the city--which, as you can hear, are rather musical in their own way--yield to the "musical" sounds of the city. that is, we enter the realm of pop recordings, of the boston soundscape as MOR radio presents it (at least as filtered through the ears of a lifelong boston jerk who harbors a strange mix of pride, humility, and humiliation when it comes to the sounds of his city).

after the standells, the lineup moves through a number of boston mainstays and one-hit wonders, has-beens and shoulda-beens. the full tracklist is as follows:

the standells, "dirty water" (not a boston band, but they might as well be)
the cars, "you might think i'm crazy" (yup, a boston band)
dj c, "boston you're my bounce" (beat research)
NKOTB, "hangin' tough" (omg! jordan is my fave lol ;-)
mr. lif, "home of the brave" (so he lives in berkeley now, and what?)
tracy chapman, "fast car" (used to play T stations)
extreme, "more than words" (found an acapella!?!)
aerosmith, "walk this way" (nice break, dudes)
run DMC, "walk this way" (better break, jam master)
NKOTB, "the right stuff" (williamsburg where ya at?)
bell biv devoe, "poison" (girl, i must warn you: i know that BBD album by heart)
the cars, "just what i needed" (uncanny how the intro mirrors BBD's)
j geils band, "angel is a centerfold" (urbody whistle now)
boston, "more than a feeling" (guitars are for dorks)
ed O.G., "i got to have it" (representin' the bean harder than guru since 1991)
MBTA, "davis square redline stop" (a wicked hahd-to-find recording)

the final bit of "field" noise is a couple of guys agreeing on something like, "that chronic, ninja" and laughing about it. some bostonians are so funny with their slang.

listeners will notice that some of these tracks are in more fragmentary form than others. (hope not to leave anyone hanging too much, but you should seek out the originals in that case.) as with most mixes, it was the tracks' suggestive qualities and affective resonance that i was going for--not some sense of their textual wholeness. this is however less a mix or a mashup, per se, than what might be better called a mix'n'mash. at times, i play songs on their own, though more often than not i play two or more songs at once (or instrumental versions/loops of them).

the sound and shape of the music i am making here is a product of the technology that i am using: ableton live. having the relative freedom to stretch tempos without changing pitch allows me to match a number of songs together that the average vinylist couldn't/wouldn't. of course, i also change pitch sometimes, purposely, either to make a harmony sweeter or to weird/chipmunk something out. generally though, at least in this case, i have preserved the original pitch/key of the songs in question, which i think makes them much more recognizable. the changes in tempo are less noticeable. you'll notice i like the echo button, too. what can i say--it's in my dubstream.

at any rate, this is just some technical information for those who care. for those who are inventing numbered systems for this sort of thing, you might want to know that i first played through this "set" at artbeat last friday night and recorded it live from the board (along with my mic-work), which sounds ok. [if there's interest, i'll put this up, too]

i decided, though, to re-record it back at home and make it as tight as possible via plenty of "post-production" edits (as if it is possible to determine the moment of production anymore). i went through and corrected all kinds of shit. just not in a purist mood, i suppose, especially since i know this will be listened to as an mp3 on the internet as opposed to, say, viewed as a live performance. so it goes. compute if you care to.

hope you enjoy. it was great fun to put together. boston rules.

ahem, "go sox!"


i think i'll stay in brooklyn


vintage toneborscht

my post on mashpolitik ended up so long and involved that i decided not to post some representative mp3s lest they wind up buried in prose. but part of my excitement about the post flowed from my eagerness to share some sounds of the toneburst collective, whose eponymous compilation has graced my shelves and pleased my ears since 1997.

back then, as more of an occasional party-goer than a core participant, i first approached these sounds with a fair deal of wonder and curiosity. sounded like some stuff i'd heard before, but then again it didn't. i liked that it somehow represented boston (a town woefully marginal on the musical map), but i wasn't sure how exactly. somehow the music was both smart and gritty, though, which seemed right. the liner notes--a combination of lofty metaphor and frank "critical interventions"--have only made sense to me in hindsight, having gotten to know the personalities behind them years later. allow me to quote the first two blobs of text:

Why Jungle?

The jungle is alive. The jungle is a complex system. The density of life in the tropical rainforest combined with the speed of the ecological cycle allows for thick layers of fertile soil to become established in the brief time between rainfalls, even on the surface of upper tree branches. Life in the jungle is able to move quickly. Sedentary forms like plants and fungi have developed the ability to spread seed or spore in all directions at every opportunity. Molds, fungi, and bacteria thrive on the decay of plant and animal matter//

>I was speaking with Tony today and he was expressing
>his distaste for "Why Jungle?" I can't speak for him
>but it was something to the effect that: 1) If we are
>going to say anything at all we should just say it
>outright without all the metaphor and intellect. 2) He
>and other people on this CD are not representing jungle
> 3) It seems too serious and self-congratulatory.

looking back on it now, it's great to see the lack of a unified position on what this music meant to the various players involved. it's even better to see the willingness to expose these rifts and let them stand as dialogue, as offering various simultaneous perspectives. at once you get spookian-eshunian meta-theory and no-bullshit down-to-earthness. and i think you can hear that in the music with all its interventions and remixes, various voices variously combined, as well as its more straightforward, simple presentations of the underlying ideas and philosophies as encoded or expressed implicitly--thus speaking for itself, or through "carefully selected if not documented samples."

i learned later that a number of my favorite tracks on the comp were the short-but-sweet instrumental hip-hop romps produced by none other than tony, aka dj flack. the comp begins with one of flack's tracks, the seamy "last call canyon" with its in-your-face, laidback scratching and careening crowd-noise loop.

dj flack, "last call canyon"

flack just put out an EP, the first vinyl offering from the new beat research label. it's dope. so's flack's mashit record. and don't miss a good wasted afternoon: play some of flack's interactive flash jawns or watch some of his video-music! highly edutaining.

the other selection i would like to share is, due to length issues and buy-a-CD issues, a partial selection: parts 2, 3, 4 of the 5-part "percussive waves" by electro organic sound system (EOSS), aka dj c, as remixed by /rupture.

EOSS, "percussive waves" (/rupture's sand in the sampler mix), pts. 2-4

wicked jungle breaks, haunting half-time melodies, middle/near-eastern/norfafrican sounds, suggestive/pointed vocal samples, a pre-screwed slurring of "we are the world"--this is quintessential jake'n'jace. sorry to leave off the bookends of this multi-part mix, but if you want to hear the rest, you'll have to buy yourself a CD.

trust me, it's worth it--some vintage MA shit this:

tony flack writes: "Looking back I
am not as negative about all that "metaphor and
intellect" as I used to be and I have nothing but
respect for our man /Jace as a musician and a writer
(I am an enthusiastic reader of his blog). On the
other hand I certainly I don't mind representing the
no bull-sh*t camp. I still can't believe they decided
to put all that in the liner notes."



a new word for an old concept?

mash, mashing, mashups, mash culture--those products and processes of synthesis, juxtaposition, hybridization, appropriation, innovation, creation--have quickly attained a kind of prominence in contemporary discussions of cultural practice, especially with regard to music. increasingly, mash comes to accompany or even replace the term mix--though they would seem to signify something different.

so what then, if mash just seems like a new word for an old concept, is the difference? what does mash signify that mix does not? how does the term speak of (or to) the zeitgeist in a way that went previously unspoken? most anthropologists, artists, and even casual observers would acknowledge that people tend to mix up the various things around them in various ways through various cultural activities--making sense of the world, and expressing one's place in it, one's sense of self and community, by putting together, almost necessarily idiosyncratically, the particular set of (re)sources that one is surrounded by or presented with and that one seeks out. people blend musical styles, cuisines, fashion styles, dialects and languages, architectures, philosophies, religions, colors, and pretty much anything else culture-soluble.

if mash is simply synonymous with mix, then i see little cause for celebration, except that, i suppose, it's always useful to find a term with currency. but i'd like to think that that's not what's happening here, at least not yet. (give the mainstream media a chance to get ahold of it, though, and watch it lose all significance. kind of like the term deconstruct, which used to mean something quite specific and now simply means, at least for most, "to take apart.") so let's try to get to the bottom of this distinction: if culture has always been about mixing and matching and mashing and such, and if, musically-speaking, hip-hop and reggae long ago divorced beats/riddims from acapellas/voicings, engendering and encouraging recombination on a massive scale, what does the mashup represent that the remix or the dub or the collage does not?

i guess the main difference, and the thing that mash as a term-with-currency seems to express to people, is that "democratized" access (on one side of the digital divide at least) to the technologies that facilitate cultural creation/recombination at the level of mechanical reproduction has opened the floodgates of production, turning consumers into producers, and consumer-end products into canvasses, source materials--into things suddenly more "in process" (and thus open to revision, reinterpretation, resignification, and re-use) than they may have ever seemed before. this is most obvious in the song, of course, especially in digital form, where it expresses its essential malleability--its reducibility as much as its special, if flexible, form--in its particular combination of 1s and 0s. even if we don't see these 1s and 0s, we see waveforms and patterns, we hear relationships, and we imagine new connections.

because the mashup, like the screw and other forms of remixing, blurs consumption and production, it takes on a critical, if usually playful, resonance with regard to status quo notions of ownership. this may be one reason that words like "appropriation" get tagged, often in an unusually positive way, to the products and processes of mashing. the sense is that an artist's appropriation of commerical (i.e., copyrighted) culture serves as commentary as well as art. as far as this goes, the musical mashup (especially in the form of an mp3 circulating online) represents a great copyfight-shaped hole in the dyke of IP, and it seems like a downhill battle from here. just a matter of time before some of these mashup-making kids become case-closing judges. as technology ushered in the age of authorship, technology will also usher us into a new understanding of the way culture is produced, perhaps one that returns us to the more "communal" norms that obtained before relatively recently, when it was recognized that creation flowed from the public commons of ideas.

of course, mashing, and mashups, and music in a moment of mash culture, often involve (once again as a result of technological tools) another kind of appropriation as well--the power-infused act of transgressing cultural (or other) boundaries--and it is this more typically, negatively-inflected meaning of appropriation that i would like to explore in trying to describe a mashpolitik of sorts, and perhaps even point to a productive set of strategies.

for many people, mashups are apolitical. they're just plain fun. most mashups truck in irony and/or nostalgia--the pleasant swirl of memories and associations triggered by the juxtaposition of two well-known songs. even in such cases, though, there are political resonances. when we take christina aguilera more seriously over a strokes riddim, or eminem less over a britney beat, or appreciate the overlap between 50's "i'm into having sex, i ain't into making love" and trent's "i want to fuck you like an animal," we are made to reconsider things that we may not have really considered in the first place.

the proliferation of mashups (and mashup producers) represents a massive and mass-mediated demonstration for the cultural, legal, and technological freedom to do what we have always done as artists, as cultural agents, as human beings. so, despite the sheen of hipster surfaces in all of this, there are deeper implications in our consumption, production, and endorsement of mash(up) culture. although still frequently anonymous (due to tenacious lawyers firing off cease-and-desist missives), the people who make, download, and circulate mashups articulate a certain kind of cultural politics: one that imagines cultural expression not only as reflecting contemporary social relations but informing them. in this sense, the resonance of the mash expands to still broader horizons, and connects to earlier movements: the mashup--a fairly self-contained, "vertical" (which is to say, simultaneous) arrangement--sits easily alongside, and of course fits into, the mix--a "horizontal" arrangement (though often with moments of verticality, not to mention an overarching sense of unity). in the context of certain kinds of mixes, especially those that eschew geography or borders, the "horizontal" takes on a certain kind of time-release verticality. the mix becomes the mash, and the mash is revealed as the undercurrent, implication, afterthought, guiding principle, effect and/or affect of the mix.

thinking about mashpolitik and mashkultur (as if there's any other kind of culture) reminded me--along with /jace's [and this is exactly the type of post he'd prefer me to fax him, i'm sure] latest tantalizing promise to excavate some history--of the toneburst collective, the late-90s, boston-based, electro-multi(media)-culti cult of party people. toneburst's avowed "culture mashing," as ol' toneburster config.sys described it to me, continues to leaves its mark on the city (and the world, via various expatriates and broadcasting locals). and, fortunately for all of us, it seems like the world is finally catching on (as planned?) with similar movements more and more connected and in conversation. (we, those illbient originators, who i had the pleasure to catch live at a toneburst event way back when, represented a related, contemporary expression of this inclination, this tendency, this drive toward engagement, synthesis, absorption, and [urban] blends. and there were, of course, many more doing similar things, so don't take this little bit of historhetoric too seriously.)

what config.sys was referring to with that provocative phrase, "culture mashing," was toneburst's open approach to the world of sound as a window into cultural process and social connection. they were creating a sound world in their mixes and production that, like many of their vanguard peers and heroes in hip-hop, reggae, jungle, and assorted/associated styles, imagined the present-future, the sonic as reflecting and informing the social. eclecticists, if break-oriented, they mixed genres that weren't usually mixed and teased out the underlying connections.

as a casual observer of toneburst's activities in the late 90s and an increasingly integrated participant in former members' current activities, i can't underestimate the degree to which the toneburst aesthetic has informed my own musical map of the world. when i returned to cambridge from madison/kingston in 2003, i found dj c's and dj flack's mixes at their weekly spectrum event, now "beat research" across the street, beguiling in their ability to weave thematic and rhythmic threads across genres, styles, eras, etc. suddenly i heard much more clearly how jungle could emerge from reggae, how dub could overlay with hip-hop, how bhangra bounced off dancehall. in turn, i have brought these musical/cultural insights to my own study of music and society, and i'm grateful to these folks for their unintentional-but-generous research assistance.

it is through this lens that i hear (again, note the messy mixed A/V metaphor) /rupture's and mutamassik's north african/middle eastern incursions (inviting more of a conversation perhaps than hip-hop's and reggae's infatuated rip-offs). their approach strikes me as rather different from those who troll the (third) world for new exotica to dress up old wares. /rupture and mutamassik seek to make sonic (and real) connections, with people, lifeways, sonic structures, etc. this is inherently different than putting the third world "on blast", as it displays a degree of critical self-awareness and reflexivity. one gets the sense in listening that there is at least some theorizing going on, if sonically, latently, implicitly--and sometimes, or often in /rupture's case, explicitly.

i hear similar things in dj c's work with the mashit label, though the focus there is more concentrated on the sounds of jamaica and their resonance in the wider world. anyone who has listened to c's mashit records knows that their politics is hardly implicit: conscience a hang dem, babylon a fall, fuck you george bush. the selection of samples, or source materials, in the mashit catalog thus differs substantially from the more general tendency in ragga-jungle to grab any ol' patois shit--and often some gun-totin', ignant shit--and put some breakbeats over it. artists who appropriate the serious signifiers of jamaica too easily and without understanding or consideration of their local as well as global meanings do a disservice to all of we in the belly of the beast who really do try to chant down babylon. fortunately, mashit is a shining exception. not insignifincantly, the label's name itself plays on the current resonance of the mash, though it refers also to the toneburst connotation and adds additional ones: mash it, mas hit, MA shit.

back in the world of mashups in the stricter sense, i'm pleased to see and hear other boston-based artists making some fun music through simple, if adept, juxtaposition. if there is perhaps less conscious mashpolitik in such activities, there are effects nonetheless. dj bc has been making (radio) waves with his catchy combinations and has been exposing the boston massive to mash shit at his mash ave events. the sheer act of exposing people to mashed-up music as a commonplace feature of the contemporary cultural landscape is significant in its own right. meanwhile, the skillful vinyl blends of dj rndm (who connects, through his analog, real-time approach, to a pre-mashup mixing tradition) collide, for us boston folks anyway, the MOR hip-hop of 94.5 with the MOR rock of 100.7 (kid would kill williamsburg, yo), and i think that the implication of doing so is interesting for a city with such a history of racial segregation. for me, it foregrounds the distance between these pre-packaged demographics by collapsing it (and vice versa). we need more music, and more opportunities, to all get down together. and we could stand to be made more aware of the subconscious ways that we draw the lines of community, such as via musically-mediated identification. although i don't expect everyone to dig lil' jon and the eagles at the same time, hearing it happen makes me think about my community in a new way and wonder about what it would actually take to get this town moving together and moving forward.

the reason i bother to bring all this stuff together and theorize somewhat loosely and longwindedly about it to gather my thoughts in preparation for a little bit of edutainment i've been asked to provide to the somerville massive tomorrow night. as part of this year's artbeat festival in davis square, i'll be talking about mashups, playing some favorites of mine, and creating a couple boston-based mashes on the spot. since they're calling me a "mashologist" on the fliers, i figured i better get to studying up and finding a way to communicate the significance of all this to a diverse crowd. as someone with his ear to the boston soundscape, i'm definitely interested in the way that the mashed sounds of the city can reveal new relationships. what does the boston soundscape say? how can we make it speak with the voice that we imagine as our own, distinctive, collective voice? what is our musical heritage? how does it inform our sense of self and community? these are just a few of the questions that i'll be posing while i mix the sounds of somerville (musique concrete style) with beats and acapellas from some of boston's greatest bands. should be fun. (i'll try to post a wacky mix of this sometime soon.)

if you're in the area, i definitely invite you to come out and check the show tomorrow night. to those who read this in the next hour or so, i recommend checking out tonight's mash forum featuring our own jake trussell, aka dj c. (jake tells me that the questions closely resemble questions he fielded at a similar forum almost ten years ago. only then, they were calling it "sampling," which just serves to underscore the continuities here. this is another reason it is important to try to wrap our heads around what is new about the mash? is it just a simpler, sexier term? or does it mean something qualitatively different?)

so what is mashpolitik exactly? i've tried to articulate some of the concepts that emerge from the sounds of mixing and mashing, but it is the experience of the music and the sensibilities it engenders, as well as the intellectualization of all this, that creates some sense of politic, of social organization, identity, and action. with the detachment and promiscuous recombination of riddims and voicings come new combinations and conceptions, new imaginations of harmony and dissonance. (even so, it requires a great deal of vigilance and self-awareness about one's subject position to exercise a productive kind of mashpolitik; otherwise we risk fetishizing rather than engaging and collaborating.) the sound of mashkultur, for all its recourse to tribal signifiers, at least in the world of urban electronic musical styles and practices, is a cosmopolitan one, ecumenical in its influences and diverse in its sonics. it is the noise--the enigmatic deformation and subversion of known forms, of conservative relations--that will presage and bring about new forms of social organization. like santeria, mashing represents an explicit tactic of syncretism, a rewiring of master codes, and more often than not, an alignment against the status quo that proceeds, ironically, through mass culture. its fronts are rhythm and timbre, its tools samples and synths, breaks and bleeps, drum and bass. its time is now.


a real forward

who can make the dance ram? (photo by brian jahn)

erin macleod just published an excellent piece in the montreal mirror which interviews some of the dancehall greats who are performing at this weekend's reggae fest. there's quite a line-up this year, with a notable emphasis on performers who made their mark well before many in the current crop of DJs had ever held a mic, among them sugar minott, yellowman, shinehead, and chaka demus & pliers. (makes me wish i could head north this weekend.)

these seasoned performers' commentary brings to the fore a bunch of issues i've been thinking about lately with regard to dancehall. their frank opinions don't come across as bitter or stodgy so much as incisive, steeped in experience. present-day DJs would do well to heed their advice. allow me to highlight a couple of the more significant sentiments (though you should definitely read the article):
  1. "Now dancehall is like hip hop crossed with soca," says yellowman, and i think he's onto something with this observation, its slightly pejorative connotation notwithstanding. there's no doubt that dancehall DJs' vocal deliveries have become increasingly influenced by hip-hop--even while retaining a distinctive quality (e.g., steady/on-beat flow, staccato syllables, end-rhymes, and that ol' double-time/flip-tongue stylee)--while dancehall riddims have become increasingly soca-like, with their "up" tempos (many exceeding 120bpm in the last year) and four-to-the-floor kicks against 3+3+2 snares (a rhythmic pattern also common to nuff reggae and many other carib styles, of course, but one that sounds more like soca than anything else in the 120-150bpm range). in this way, yellowman articulates concisely a stylistic shift that many others have been noticing. dancehall today sounds very different from the dancehall of yellowman's day. nothing wrong with change of course, but with shifted priorities come different aesthetic outcomes.

  2. one such outcome is the effect on (live) performance that has resulted from dancehall's shift from an emphasis on live DJing with a soundsystem to studio-based recordings. before the 90s, most DJs cut their teeth rocking the dancehall massive all night long with a soundsystem. this required serious stamina and serious skills. crowds were notoriously demanding and generally one would have to work for a while, riding the riddim right and landing some good turns of phrase, to earn their respect and approbation. as many dancehall observers know, things are different today. bounty killer need only say "lordamercy" or "cross!" and crowds go into a frenzy. the first strains of a tune, or the first words of a verse, and an automatic pull-up is called (often by the DJ himself). chaka demus sees this as an odd change for the worse: "People now have it much easier, they can just go into the studio and blah blah blah, and if they end up performing [their hit] on stage, they can’t finish the song. These young deejays, they are all ‘Wheeeeeel, pull up, bupbupbup.’ It’s like they mad." sugar minott concurs, remembering the days when "To pick up a forward you’d have to have long lyrics, like two minutes you’d be going on." and shinehead recalls even more extreme tests of endurance: "You get in the dance from nine o’clock in the night and the dance might end nine o’clock the next day, sun’s rising on you. You’ve got to have staying power. That’s crucial, that’s integral."

  3. yellowman makes an interesting and important distinction between good sex lyrics and bad sex lyrics: "Raunchy is one thing and tastelessness is another. You can be suggestive, sex is a part of life, and art imitates life, so the department of sex, it has to be expressed. But you can do it with taste also. No one should complain about Yellowman." of course, plenty of people--mostly middle-class prudes--compained about yellowman in his day, but things done changed. who knew that "under me fat thing" could ever be considered subtle.

  4. finally, as a guy who had to confront his share of prejudice--and did so with aplomb, claiming to be the sexiest DJ alive, despite being an albino (and therefore a pariah of sorts in jamaica)--king yellow weighs in on the homophobia debate surrounding dancehall these days (especially abroad). his position is especially noteworthy in a climate where to be against anti-gay chants is to be gay (as if we're in grade school or something). for good reason, yellowman is not worried about people getting confused about his sexual orientation, and he makes his position on the whole bun-battyman thing very clear: "I don’t do songs against gay people, I don’t do violent lyric against gay people. If you don’t like a person or you don’t like a thing, you don’t talk about it. You don’t come on stage and say kill them or burn them because everybody have a right to live."
for more up-to-the-time dancehall-related news, check out dancehallworld.com. i highly recommend clicking on the twins of twins icon in the lower right and listening to excerpts from one of their hilarious mixtapes. as i've mentioned previously, twins of twins are brilliant parodists of contemporary jamaican society. they skewer everyone with their critique: bounty and beenie, muta and bob, r.kelly and michael jackson--no one is safe from the twins' tongue-in-cheek impersonations. twins of twins have been all the rage in JA for a minute now, so it's good to finally see some of their stuff popping up on the net. they provide a lens--wide-angle, probing, and fractured--unlike any other into jamaican culture. for those who might have missed the clips i posted when i returned from a short trip to JA in april, here they are again:
[gun yoga: brapbrapbrapbrap!!]

all screwed up

maybe things are getting out of hand with this free-for-all screw shit. i don't think so, though. i think it's pretty exciting, actually. props go to dj screw and his houston bredren, of course, for giving the practice a kind of legitimacy, an air of cool, a sense of craft--but people have been slowing down and speeding up other people's music for a minute.

after he heard my unscrewed mixes, my man andrew scannell (who may or may not be looking for a few good popcorn stuffers) sent me an mp3 of an antony and the johnsons song that he had pitched down, but kept at the same tempo, in order to learn it and sing it in his own range. this process is a tried-and-true technique for musicians of all stripes. jazzists have long slowed down satchmo and bird records to cop their solos. and rock musicians do it too. andrew's slurred fistfull of love--done simply, via pro-tools--takes on some epic proportions, especially the way it highlights the insane warble of antony's vibrato. it doesn't quite have the same sonic resonance as an "unscrewed" joint, per se, as it lacks the analog crunch of a slowed down record brought up to speed. but it makes for a sublime listening experience at any rate.

and that's what this is all about: expanding the listening experience, the modes of reception, our very interaction with the music around us. consumption blurs into production, much like with a record scratched, a radio dial tuned in and out of signal rhythmically (i love doing this when nothing particularly good is coming through in the car), a twisting of EQ knobs on a shitty boombox, etc. folks have been doing this kind of thing, intentionally and serendipitously, for a long time, and i'm delighted that, in the wake of so much sizzurpy sound, more of these experiments are coming to "light." (ever notice how strange it is to talk about music when most of our metaphors are vision-centric?)

john at chiasm has been riffing off these experiments himself, slowing down suicide and most recently, speeding up t.rex. clearly, the flood gates are opening and a syrupy wave is bearing down on the blogosphere. sounds paradoxical? you clearly ain't heard of the great molasses flood that swallowed up 21 bostonians back in 1919.


us and, um, us

(get crackin')

siva challenges us, in compelling and compassionate terms, to think long and hard about what we need to do to get out of this mess. talking will come with thinking, and collective action out of dialogue. although some might be dissatisfied by his conclusionary question to list good books, i applaud his impulse toward learning, engagement, and open, informed consideration of our best possible options.

plus he admits that he's a nerd. i'm sorry, "book guy." that's actually much better, considering what some people think of nerds these days.

[incidentally, if you think that this latest bit of shit is going to stick to the nerds in the teflon administration, i don't know what news channel you've been watching. clearly, you should be reading the onion.]

not sure where to begin as far as books, though--history? anthropology? political science? media studies? buddhism? poetry? psychology?

i'd throw a couple votes to emerson and thoreau at any rate--two of the best writers on civic duty this country has ever produced. (happy birthday, henry david!)


and they were just about to feed some africans, too

(ah, the good ol' days)


trolling for skatalites

in the course of some research today i ran across one of the best musical/technological explanations for stylistic differences in jamaican popular music that i've seen yet:
All-About-Jazz: What’s the difference among ska, reggae, and rocksteady?

Ken Stewart: It’s really just the same rhythm slowed down. The way the bass plays - [Lloyd] Brevett was talking about the walking bass in the ska - that’s basically the difference between ska and rocksteady. Rocksteady was when the bass line started to get more repetitive, and the choral [sic?] structures were less complicated and slower. As reggae came in, it’s just the same thing, basically. Electric instruments were coming in. The acoustic bass was kind of out because the bass lines were so fast that they got kind of muddy with a string bass. So the electric bass was a lot clearer and, of course, more of a punch.

i'm pretty sure he said, or meant to say, "chordal" structures. but still, sounds right on to me.

and just to prove it, here's a reggae song turned into a ska song, purely through tempo manipulation. mind you, it's not a great piece of work, especially for a ska song. (the bassline's too bubbly, not enough horns, and yeah, the effect on the voice is a bit weird at times.) but it makes a point, at least in terms of the relationship between style and tempo, ska and reggae.

max romeo, "chase the devil" (ska screw-up)

("screwed-up" seems a better term than "unscrewed" in this case, innit?)

[gun yoga: of course, more of a punch.]


screwed and unscrewed (no slo-mo)

a recent thread at dissensus reminded me of a serendipitous "screw" of an old 45 that my college roommate and i accidentally created while listening to records one smoky afternoon. i'm sure this happened to countless others long before dj screw turned slowing, slurring records into an artform. it was a minor revelation to us at the time, as a well-worn booker t instrumental suddenly became a sublime song--a thick, heavy rhythm-section workout with crescendos that seemed to bleed out of the speakers. the irony that the song was called "time is tight" was not lost on us, and i began to think of the 33rpm version as "time is loose." we recorded a version to tape and would play it for friends and relatives. i remember my uncle saying something like, "dude, this would take, like, 11 bones to get into." um, yeah. that's about right.

or some sizzurp.

booker t and the MGs, "time is tight"

i'm not sure that tracks like this can really be labeled "screwed" since they're the result of a simple transformation effected by nothing more than pitching down a record by playing it slower than one is supposed to. screw music proper, especially when "chopped" as well, clearly involves more manipulation of the original sources. even so, there's a lot that can be brought out of a record through such simple and subtle changes. i'm excited by the new listening practices that screwed music seems to be engendering. and i'm not just talking about listening to slowed-down music on some slow-you-down drugs--i'm talking about people interacting with music in a more creative, "productive" way, if you will. the more that new technologies (and old technologies, re-purposed) enable such activities, the further the line blurs between consumption and production.

recently, with the huge surge of interest in / production of screwed music, i've been thinking about various ways the concept could be played with. although it's a bit of a cheap trick, i've been meaning to "unscrew" a bunch of screwed tracks, preserving the strange, haunting vocal-slurs and tone-de(con)struction yet bringing the tempos back to original levels. i've always been more attracted to the strange, de-realizing effect that slowing down these tracks produces than the hypnotic effect of the lurching beats. and with the advent of programs like live, pitch and time can be de-coupled pretty easily, opening up all kinds of avenues of experimentation.

so, with comic and experimental intention, i give you a few "unscrewed" tracks...

roll deep, "remember the days"
this track is absolutely gorgeous in screwed form. as /jace notes, it becomes eerie and psychedelic in the hands of radioclit. sped back up to original tempo, it gains some energy while retaining the strange power of "tones slipping off the piano's deep end" and other serendipitous transformations.

doobie brothers, "what a fool believes" (120bpm)
found this one over at the world of weird that is umeancompetor. (i mean, competitor. whatever.) following michael mcdonald and the dipset around epcot center is a lot more intriguing that i would have imagined. and the recent appearance of several "screwed" versions of mcdonald songs on the site suggests newer, stranger territory for these peripatetic pranksters. for me, the screwed version of "what a fool believes"--despite being what sounds like a fairly "lo-fi" screw-job (check the site's aesthetic, though, it fits)--derives its most affective force in the intro, where drums become deep, especially that fizzing hi-hat, and keyboards crunch. the version above is restored to the original tempo of 120bpm, though i have to admit i prefer it at around 100, which is more of a mid-point. add a breakbeat to the first eight bars of this shit, and you'll have quite a lil' banger on your hands:
doobie brothers, "what a fool believes" (100 bpm)

three-six mafia, "sippin' on some syrup"
i had to try this technique with some classic screwed shit, so i found what purports to be a dj screw version of three-six mafia's "sippin' on some sizzurp," a song which is itself influenced by the screwed-up aesthetic. the track, along with similarly screwy non-screw songs such as mike jones's "still tippin'," demonstrates an interesting circular trend and would seemingly make a screwed version redundant. i guess not, though. fuck it: lay it on. i've restored the tempo up to original levels, which is not really much faster than the screwed version, though the slurred voices, and especially the chops, sound pretty wild up at 68bpm.

vanilla ice, "ice ice baby"
finally, gotta leave you with this swishahouse screw of vanilla ice, brought back up to its original club-track/fast-rap tempo. i have to admit that mr.van-winkle sounds a lot better pitched down. and the chops are crucial, picking out some of the best lines and leaving out some of the worst. this is another one that works better at a slightly slower tempo, but i wanted to bring it up to the original for demonstration purposes. wurrrrd toooooo yurrrrrr muuuuthhhherrrr.

i plan to mix all these together in some upcoming performances. they can actually all work at about 100bpm, though three-six mafia sound pretty strange all slowed and chopped at that speed. i'll try to put up a lil' mix at some point.

at any rate, i look forward to hearing some other experiments in this vein. the possibilities are wide open. there are several over at dissensus, and probably others elsewhere. of course, i'm still waiting for those tantalizingly titled "triple slow screw tape" joints c/o dj crashingjets.


have a good weekend

c/o chris&john:

c/o wayne&wax:

enjoy yourself and the weather.
we're in this together.
tell every brether:
end the empire.
over fire.

[gun yoga: americans get some things right.]