FOOTNOTES to THE NUUM AND ITS DISCONTENTS, PART 5: MASCULINE PRESSURE
… "ossification" effect of excessively rigorous theorizing…
Prior to its acquired derogatory meaning of overly rigid thought patterns, "ossification" meant the natural process of bone formation, or the hardening of soft tissue into a bone-like material. So there is a parallel here between nuum-theory's orientation towards "bones" (the structuration principles that make up the music's rhythmic exoskeleton, and that determine the contours of genre) and anti-theory being sensuously attuned to the subtleties of "flesh" (the prettifying flava-surface that makes each auteur, each track even, unique, a genre-of-one.). "Bones" might as well be "boner" as far as some folk are concerned: rigour is equated with rigidity, the theorem seen as a kind of mental erection.
…gender-coded discourse games…
Another thing that got me interested in the gender-ised discussion surrounding the nuum was this straw man wielded against the theory-mongers (me and K-punk), the nuum generalisers with their wood-not-trees bias: a bizarrely off-base accusation of being unwholesomely fixated on some East London ghetto hardman mythos. But Mark doesn't like grime much at all, as far as I can tell! The real irony here, though, is that the whole death-to-Nuum kvetch-fest started approximately eighteen months ago when me and K-punk did the classic invocation of "feminine pressure" move. We were blogging, very enthusiastically, about bassline, celebrating its diva-fabulous euphoria, giddy fairground thrills, fizzy poptasmic cheese-power. K-punk argued that this was a dialectical reaction to dubstep's masculine ploddiness and solemnity; I demurred, as it seemed unlikely bassline was even much aware of dubstep, let alone reacting against it, and besides dubstep and bassline had evolved in parallel, as diverging strands from UK garage, starting in the early Noughties. Some flak was thrown, an uncharitable response you might think to highly positive commentary (but you know, these dubsteppers have thin skin!). This was the start of the anti-nuum campaign, so it's amusing to be later painted as exclusively obsessed with all things ruff tuff and street-creddy.
… "feminine pressure" moves…
Course it was me who invented the "feminine pressure" critic-move in the first place, with 1999's 2step epic Adult Hardcore, which was originally titled… Feminine Pressure. Taking the name of a pretty obscure female DJ team I'd stumbled upon, I used it to symbolise the spirit of UK garage/2step. It was perfect for encapsulating into a slogan the creation-myth of the scene as the result of women departing the drum'n'bass dancefloor to dance in the garage side-room. A myth based on participant-observed data (all the scene rhetoric about "this one's for the ladies", "the girls love this tune" etc) as well as changes in the music, so a "true myth". And a narrative with legs: it's most recently been wheeled out for funky house, celebrated by one and all for its percussive sinuousness and female appeal.
..fourth cornerstone of the nuum: hard techno…
All praise to the Mighty Yang for "Dominator" and "Fairy Dust", "Here Come the Drumz" and "Terminator", "Sonic Destroyer" and "Death Star," "Terrorist" and "Super Sharp Shooter" , "Shadowboxing" and "Squadron," "We Have Arrived" and "Apocalypse Never", "Pulse X" and "Anger Management"'…..
… masculine pressure…
I recall a conversation with Tim Finney in the early days of grime in which he said there was a need for a "Feminine Pressure"-style thinkpiece on grime. I considered doing one but couldn't come up with a good-enough antonym ("Masculine Armour" was the closest I got). But some of this gender-stuff is dealt with in the very earliest bloggage I did on grime, a time when lyrics could get very misogynistic (remember "Swallow"?).
… D Double E's freestyle over "Frontline"….
I'm playing this and the wife says "what's this?" and then adds, before I can open my mouth, "Not liking". I'm, like,"it's only one of the greatest grime MCs of all time!!" Her face--a frown of skepticism -- says it all. I consider trying to explain the artistry of D Double E… but then, thinking of the lyrics, think better of it.
… ballet of violence…
See also "Gloc": a song written, Gerald Simpson told me, as a kind of symbolic retaliation, against this Gunchester bad boy who'd taxed Gerald's studio of some valuable equipment. There's a sample from Robocop and he conceived the track as a kind of serve-and-protect warrior-droid of his own design and construction, a sonic act of displaced and sublimated vengeance.
… combative, second-person-directed hostility, megalomaniac energies … rap…
One of my long running problems with much hip hop criticism (going back to the almost very first things I wrote about rap in the mid-Eighties) is that it is so keen to establish the socially redeeming value and artistic worth of the genre that it glides past the nastiness. For as much as it is the music of black male youths, this is also music of male youths, and your adolescent male can be fairly nasty under the best of circumstances. A good example of this is how hip hop criticism in the academy looks at graffiti--it will talk about it as an artistic expression (the aesthetics of wildstyle), or in terms of urban politics, reclaiming hegemonic space, the assertion of a subaltern identity, "bombing" etc. But an important component of graffiti as a practice is that it is vandalism. And that it involves risk-taking activity (trespassing, sometimes involving risk of physical harm; running the gauntlet of police and security guards; in some cases shoplifting the aerosol cans). It finds and creates adventure in the urban environment in ways that are similar to the things that all teenage boys do when they are bored and frustrated, full of hormonal energy they can't find an outlet for. (Tagging also parallels MCing in the same of it being about having a Name, rising out of the anonymous urban multitude).
Boys do irresponsible stuff, dangerous stuff; they take delight in pure mischief and destruction; they have a remarkable ability to not see the consequences of actions, and to temporarily suppress of empathy in favour of the pure kick of the moment. I'm a bookish sort but I did some mildly wicked things as a teenager. Some of them would be glossed up with a bit of Dada or reading about the Situationist's political graffiti and pranks. But really these minor feats of delinquency were just anti-social, un-neighbourly, a nuisance. There is just something in men that enjoys destruction for its own sake. Boys (actually young men in the scenario I'm now thinking of, Oxford graduates no less) will look at a TV that's finally broken down after a long struggle to stay alive and their gaze will wander to the open third storey window and the next thought is "let's chuck it out the window, watch it explode". Somehow I can't imagine that many women I know reacting the same way.
… despite the violence, not because of it…
I asked the missus if she enjoyed the violence in movies such as these, and she said "no". Which surprised me because it was she who wanted to watch Kill Bill, but then again the violence there is so fantastical and choreographed, it's more like watching a musical's dance routine. Of course there is a mass public appetite, probably reasonably mixed gender, for the carnage and destruction of Hollywood action films, which is violence without real-seeming costs, without reality. But when it comes to movies that feature genuine brutality depicted with some attempt at realism… I do suspect that the missus is not alone among her gender here, in watching the film or TVs despite this aspect.
… dizzy-making double identification with the perpetrator and the victim
One thought I came up with a long time ago in connection with metal, rap, industrial, etc is the idea that it offers a "'deconstruction of masculinity" akin to movies like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Wild Bunch, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, etc, which take you inside the hollow-souled paranoia of hyper-masculinine psychology but also rub your face in the results of its depredations. But the truth is as much as there's a critique--rich in historical reverberations in many of these films (the pimp played by Harvey Keitel in Taxi Driver is "symbolically" a Red Indian), there's a intense, disturbing jouissance in these images of violence. The final carnage of Taxi Driver is the "orgasm" the film structurally requires after so much tension. The way the camera lingers over the bloody aftermath is appallingly ambiguous: rubbing our faces in the gore, but also allowing us to delectate over it. "You wanted this", the camera says, "so here it is"--more vivid and prolonged than any film before it, even Peckinpah's.
…at a time when nobody knows what to be a man is….
For many of us becoming a father is the first time when the idea of manhood starts to make some kind of liveable sense, to lose its negative connotations… authority and self-sacrifice and sticking-with-it take on not so much lustre as functionality, a can't-get-by-without quality.
…. the war film…
It was a shock recently to realise that my son, now nearly ten, has never watched a World War Two movie and has very little idea of what that conflict was about. When I were a lad, there was a constant stream of World War Two movies on the telly, beaming into my impressionable mind all kinds of notions to do with sacrifice, teamwork, loyalty, determination, stoicism, etc. But heroism in a believable, non-cartoon sense--heroism outside a pure fantasy context--is rather a cornered commodity in today's culture market. At the quality TV end, with series like The Wire, it is presented in its rare instances as impotent, thwarted by bureaucracy and power games by malign authority figures. Either that, or the vocational compulsion to be a hero is presented as a form of pathology, as with the New York firefighter series Rescue Me, where the firemen are all damaged and dysfunctional boy-men, incapable of having relationships, addictive personalities, and so forth. The title is ambiguous: these professional rescuers all needed to be rescued from themselves.
… grime seems particularly obsessed with the battle rhyme….
Here' s an old Martin Clark piece
that looks at the murking lyrics and the hyper-competitivity of the scene: the importance of having a name, how the biggest way to build a name is to diss an established Name. Anonymity is what the MC is really battling against. I'm reminded (as so often in connection with hip hop) of Robert Warshow's famous essay on The Gangster As Tragic Hero, which explored how the movie viewer takes vicarious pleasure in the ruthlessness of the mobster's quest for prestige--to be top dog, to be Somebody as opposed to a no-mark-- and then how we are relieved (of complicity and guilt) by the inevitable reprisal taken by Society against him.
…A war-like component to it…
It's also something of a preemptive strike, but in a very precisely targeted way.