Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It starts with the idea that "we've reached peak dubstep, folks"..(And after Bieber and Muse have hijacked the rhythmic undercarriage and bolted What They Do on top -- and not uneffectively, either, although in Bieber's case the song and the substructure seem to bear no real relation to each other beyond adjacence for the duration of the single-- that would be seem to be a logical and inevitable development). And then Phil points to how that's left a gap in the aesthetic-ideological market that's yet to be filled: "a vacuum in electronic dance music's whirling vortex, contributing to a nagging sense of rudderlessness throughout the year."

"Despite the rise of trap, there wasn't really anything to take dubstep's place as dance music's Next Big Thing. And it didn't feel like there was anything new on the horizon — at least, not a "scenius"-level newness, a collective movement towards something greater than the humdrum now. Everything kept getting bigger, but behind the breathless boosterism of overground and underground alike, there was a sense of spinning wheels. Economists have a word for this: "Stagflation."

Ah, stagflation. Now this was a term that I really wanted to work into Retromania , in the conclusion chapter when I wheel out the concept of hyperstasis. Partly in hopes of tightening the rather loose economic/finance-capital analogies I'd made, but also simply because it's such an ugly word.  But in the end I went with the trope of "ever accelerating circles."

Phil continues:

"Legacy genres like house, techno, drum and bass, and trance soldiered on, as they must. No slight to them; just as Japandroids proved the enduring pleasures of back-to-basics rock’n’roll, there was no shortage of if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it classicism in dance music, particularly in that nameless space between underground and overground.

I love this term "legacy genre", and the more general use of  "legacy" as an adjectival noun, which I've seen cropping up increasingly in the last year or so.  One of those vague but evocative terms that does the job in  an open-ended sort of way.  Perhaps it has some business world or media world usage I'm unaware of, to do with branding or marketing or something like that  ...  but the idea I get from its use in a music context is "established, time-honoured, with a history behind it". A history that then becomes capable of being revisited.

So the transition from emergent genre to legacy genre is the very threshold at which retro becomes possible, in all its permutations (commemorative releases, oral histories, reissues, revivals, homages etc).

In between though there must be a stage of reasonable duration where the genre is neither unknown nor over-familiar but is in its prime: freshly accepted, but still surprising, still growing. Perhaps that corresponds to what some call the Imperial Phase (usually with an artist not a genre:  when a group or performer is at at the top of the world AND the top of their game, creatively -- just runnin' tings). 

"Legacy" is  a nice way of saying "old news". Which is a way of saying, "something you can't be an early adopter with, because you're too late, mate". For journalists, "legacy" also means: hard to get an assignment to write about in magazines, apart from specialist publications. ("What's the story, here? "Techno, Still Pretty Good"?!?!)

Perhaps when a genre reaches the legacy phase, it has a history behind it - but it can no longer make history. Its normalisation -- its acceptance -- is both its triumph and its downfall, because it's just part of the landscape now. 

(Is there a subtle difference between "legacy" and "heritage"? Legacy perhaps leaves open some kind of functionality in the present ("a living legacy"), an ongoing state of relative vitality, the mature refinement and perfection of the already-formulated. "Heritage" just seems to suggest a museum culture, a style of music to be documented, studied,  memorialized preserved - propped up with reverence. 

Perhaps they correspond to stages of life....

emergent / childhood-teenage
imperial / young adulthood-thirtysomething
legacy / middle age 
heritage / old age )

Back to the Phil S piece: somewhat contradicting the "rudderlessness" accusation made at the start of the article, he tacks to a more positive view of hyperstasis as a roil of endlessly morphing  nano-generic possibility - the Harper position, basically, but really a glass half-full view of the exact same condition seen as glass half-empty by such as moi:

"Outside the EDM bubble, deep in the underground — the realm of boutique labels, small-cap rooms, and idiosyncratic festivals — lo-fi textures, counterintuitive structures, and a general disregard for convention resulted in some of the year's most exciting electronic and dance music. Genres mattered less and less. House and techno and the broken beats of what we've settled on calling "bass music" ... kept getting more and more tangled up. There was no one sound that felt new, just a steady stream of short, sharp shocks that pulled the rug out from under dancers' feet, and forced them to think and move in new ways."

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