Wednesday, August 9, 2017

post-step / post-brock

Over at Leaving Earth, a new and very interesting post from the enigmatic Taninian...  who's been posting sporadically (very long gaps in between each one) to take the measure of what T feels is the absurd bounty of the last seven or eight years of post-dubstep action... what  T prefers to call "post-step." 

In  T's account, it's been an almost non-stop flood: so copious, varied, and on an individual unit level so intensely detailed, as to be barely digestible. T's over-arching claim is that  this approximately 8 years long stretch of  diffuse, hyperactive productivity - which ranges from Nightslugs and Rustie-style maximalism to weightless grime, and out of which T singles out as exemplary figures like Jam City, Jameszoo, Starkey, Montgomery Clunk.. , it all amounts to an era of wildly innovative, form-bending music on a par with postpunk or the early Nineties surge of hardcore rave, jungle, gabba, first-phase IDM...

In this (final?) blog post, T pauses to ponder - perplexed and fretful - as to why this upsurge has not been shouted about sufficiently.... Why the discursive short-fall? Where is the persuasive narrative around the eruption that would enable it to be accepted widely as an on-going full-blown phenomenon - something that everyone needs to pay attention to? Even the exponents don't come over as proponents that strongly: the post-step producers aren't talking themselves up as anything that radical or remarkable - seemingly don't feel that's the case.

In short, the question is: what if you had a revolution and nobody noticed?

Good questions, and T teases out possible answers and analogies with other eras and their different fates. The argument is too involved and extensive to summarise, but the gist - or one of the gists - is that there's something about the media economy of the present era that works against consensus forming, a centrifugal tendency driving people into smaller niches. There is also a failure of will, of rhetorical drive.... and there is also this pesky retromania narrative that has gotten in the way...

Obviously, I'm not wholly on board with the fundamental premise, i.e. T's fervour about this stuff. I haven't viscerally felt the post-step output to be shaking things up, or shaking me up (what I feel viscerally is the lack of viscerality, in fact). But taking taste out of account, objectively I think it's fair to say that post-step  hasn't created or attached itself to new kinds of social energies, it hasn't opened up new subcultural spaces or generated new behaviours. Rather it's too easily and neatly slipped into the existing structure, occupying much the same sort of space and (non)function that was once filled by IDM.

I also think the advocates for it have not necessarily done it any great favours: whole lotta insight, notta lotta incite.

One thing that T doesn't really consider is the idea that for all its abundance of ideas, the work that's gone into it, the startling sound-shapes and rhythmic angularities...  that despite this apparent plenitude there might be something deficient in it - or at least absent -  that explains the lack of take-up on a wider-world level.

If I was to try to put my finger on it, I'd say it has something to do with the way the energy in the music doesn't explode outwards... doesn't burst into the world. Rather, it's implosive.

It doesn't feel like anybody or anything is being released through this music.

In that sense it is attuned to its era (as is so much post-indie fare, or conceptronica generally), is the perfectly logical product of it - it is shaped at the deepest level of sonic structure and texture by the same kind of neurotic everyday processes that make modern life so self-repressing and asocial.

Breaking with the rave model, post-step is music that doesn't brock out - cut loose, slam, smash it up...

It's post-brock.

The fact that "rock" is a buzz term in rave music (and in hip hop) suggests to me that there is a greater spiritual and libidinal affinity between the hard rock continuum and the hardcore continuum, than there is between prime-era nuum (rave, jungle, UKG, grime) and the music of the postdubstep diffusion.

So a second-division rave anthem like this

actually has more in common deep down - despite the surface dissimilarities, the totally different means of construction and production - with a second-division rock anthem like this

than any post-step release, even though you can draw a much more logical-seeming sono-historical lineage between early-90s dawn-of-nuum and the last seven or eight years of whatever-you-call-it.

It's not just the physicality of the impact and the response - rocking, slamming, banging - it's a historical parallel as well. Both the second-division hardcore rave track and the second-division hard rock tune are  instances of,  sub-units, of a Grand Cultural Project: each track or tune is a microcosm enactment of "a program for mass liberation" (the subtitle to Lester Bangs's famous Stooges essay).  Each is in miniature the promise of freedom -  the herald of a non-alienated existence.

So long ago was it, and so very different in feel is our tense present, that the Promise probably seems like it must always have been a lie - the sensation of unbridled movement in the music just false energy.  But relics from those times are still capable of making it feel real, if only for the duration of their unfolding.

One of the only places where this kind of unleashing-feeling can still be registered as a force in contemporary music is rap. Where - no coincidence - the language of rock and rock-star has bubbled up as a self-descriptive, a displaced ancestry to be claimed and flaunted: "Future Hendrix", "Black Beatles", etc etc. And - no coincidence either - surrounded by all the old rockist 'n' roleplay trappings of macho and misogyny, the ugly fall-out of  all that self-glorifying excess and breaking free of all constraints.

A backward step... what was great about the "brock out" era was that all the wildness and cutting-loose was kept, but most of the retrograde claptrap got chucked to the kerb.

what was also great about the "brock out" era was that it was where progressive and regressive intermeshed in the grand tradition of rock music itself - the forward-evolution of sonics and the ritual-function of rhythm working off each other

or to put it another way

it was where cutting-edge and cutting-loose coexisted

too much post-brock era electronic music has the former, but not the latter

the form without the function


Let me present here a discontinuum of liberation-through-energy artifacts, aka the Brockism Canon.

Or at least a partial canon, according to one brockist-for-life...

And yes in case you're wondering I do include disco in this discontinuum  -  disco and house - or at least place them very close, virtually adjacent in their fundamental affinity of affect and aim. The emphasis with discofunk and house is less on slamming or brocking, true - more on gliding and swirling  - as you'd expect, given that it is less coupled to a heteromasculinist / phallocentric libidinal economy -  but disco-house is still absolutely about transport and release and self-escape  - about access to a state of non-alienation. "Only when I'm dancing do I feel this free" to quote La Madge. 


Unknown said...

I like Taninian's blog and he raises good questions in this post you are referring to Simon. Me thinks the reason the music he's featuring on his blog (the "Post Step") doesn't incite more discourse etc is (the fundamentally ani-) social media. To form a proper "scene" you need some core(s) where things can crystallize. In the 90s those "cores" consisted of the specialist shops, radio stations, raves/clubs. In the 2000s much of that shifted to the internet, which had crystallizing cores via specialised web-based forums and communities. Today though (and for the past few years) people shifted again towards social media, which is unable to be such a core for crystallization bc that's how social media works - it's supposed to focus on the moment, the "connected-ness" is the focus, not the contents, it absolutley fragments not only time but also content and has a tendency to shorten content as well.

bivers said...

I was quite struck with Taninian's point regarding "a man with a theory he wants to support ". That's really what this whole thing boils down to. Both of you have decided to believe in something, and those things happen to be fundamentally at odds.

You may consider yourself a "brockist-for-life", but I don't think you can let yourself go there anymore. Especially not with anything `nuum related. Conversely, Taninian's beliefs are walking the walk. The "fervor" or whatever might seem totally unfounded, but... isn't that typically how believers are regarded by the unenlightened?


"Decided" is the wrong word. That suggests an arbitrary, wilful choice. Like it has nothing to do with strong feelings, gut reactions, an accumulation of preferences over time.

After all, it's not like I have any choice about finding most of this music cold and uninvolving.

(Nor is it for want of trying - I've listened to hundreds and hundreds of hours of the stuff, most of which I can barely remember).

Mainly, though you miss the larger point which is that the spirit which I'm trying to pinpoint here and that I find absent in the Thousand Year Reich of Neurofunk is something that abundantly pre-existed the nuum - that could be readily found outside the nuum during the latter's golden age - and that it still out there to be found to this day.

bivers said...

'Decided' is the wrong word for you, and probably the wrong word for me as well. But what's appealing about Taninian's argument is that maybe these strong feelings are being blocked by something else... prior baggage of expectations, coming of age aesthetics, etc.

To me, his/her argument also suggests that we can intellectually force our way out of this. Like 'believing' in UFOs or cult mysticism or Santa Claus when you intellectually know better. Artists do this sort of mind trickery all the time, but we critics/journalists/whatever have far more difficulty going there. Why? Being able to 'go there' is part of the brockists' credo, isn't it?

Regarding missing the 'larger point', I disagree. The context of `nuum music is inescapable for those of us that had the pleasure of experiencing it first hand. Likewise, the old rap guard HATES the likes of Future, Lil Yachty, Rae Sremmurd, etc. This is aesthetic baggage.


Re. "intellectually force" - overriding one's actual feelings seems like a strange thing to do. The most it would achieve - in my case - would be more or less what I already feel for post-step, which is a sort of neutral respect for the amount of intelligence and work that goes into it. Sort of "file under interesting".

I don't quite get this "go there" concept.

I suppose I could be regarded as "the old rap guard", in a way, since I was writing about it from 1986. There is something that connects the phases of rap I've been most excited about - Schoolly D, Def Jam, "It Takes Two", Tone Loc et al - and then Cypress Hill, Onyx - and then DMX, Ludacris, Cash Money et al - and the recent wave of Future, Sremmurd, Migos et al. It's not exactly "brock out", but it's an energy-release thing; it's riffy and it's hooky. There are other kinds of hip hop that are great - Dilla or G-funk or whatever - but that's the kind that really gets me off. I suppose the word is bangers. Again that makes me think of bangin' tune.

Things that bang are far from the only kind of music I listen to - half the time I'm playing early electronic and musique concrete (things that klang). Or Joni's Hissing of Summer Lawns type of thing. Or...

But I think with dance music, you want to be getting your rocks off.

bivers said...

'go there' (for my lack of a better term) deserves some better explanation, as it was a big part of what I took away from Taninian's piece. Letting go/cutting loose/getting rocks off/etcetcetc... these all strike me as analogous to the following bit:

"To feel that you're living in an age of exhilarating future shock, you have to be both open to the shock of the new, and you have to actually encounter it."

Being open to the shock of the new is what I meant by 'going there'. And I think Taninian was suggesting that being open requires some 'intellectual' work beyond just listening:

"I had to decide to believe in it, suspend the disbelief that had been building ever since the original golden age of rave just sort of fizzled out, so that I was subsequently always conscious about whether something was it or not. And – as soon as I did accept the bounty before me, heard it with fresh ears, it became every bit as overwhelming and future shocking as I could have hoped for."

Intellectual trickery or the act of quelling an inner voice to ignore critical consensus? Who knows...

As a side note, the top comment from 'Zensuensesensnlasjdfla' for this Concord Dawn track _from 2001_ seems (comically?) appropriate here:

"I don't know maybe I am the only one that noticed this thing, but older dnb songs are better than new songs, it feels very atmospheric and it feels like you want to travel back in time to listen to it during that time when it was popular."