Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FYI all cru:

an announcement and general appeal for donations of flyers, zines, rave memorabilia, music, books, etc:

Glowsticks, Acid and the Post-Modern Matrix. An Archive of Rave and Club Culture.

A project by the Berlin Archive of Youth Cultures (Archiv der Jugendkulturen e.V.) and the chair for general sociology at the Technical University Dortmund.

On the occasion the 20-year anniversary of the Love Parade, Sean Nye from the Berlin Archive Youth Cultures together with Professor Ronald Hitzler from the techno archive at the Technical University Dortmund are pleased to announce an initiative during 2009, to expand and centralize their collection in Berlin.

Rave and club culture has existed for more than two decades. It has long since moved out of the subcultural shadows of the basement and warehouse raves and has since become a global phenomenon. Although its exciting history constantly grows in complexity, there still exists no central archive, where the development and history of the scene is documented and preserved. The goal of the archive is to establish a central collection for scholarly research on the history of the scene, which will be made public and accessible as a meeting point for researchers, journalists, musicians, fans and other interested parties. In this regard, the focus of the archive is not only techno, as the most popular and general genre for electronic dance music. Rather, we seek to document the entire history and variety of electronic dance music with its various subscenes and genres: House, Trance, Drum & Bass, Electro, Gabber, IDM, Industrial, EBM, Goa and much more.

The collection already consists of more than 3,000 rave and club fanzines, primarily major German fanzines (for example, Frontpage, Partysan, De:bug, Groove, Raveline, etc.). It also includes a press archive with thousands of articles from newspapers, magazines, and other print media, academic research (bachelor, master and doctoral projects), books, as well as thousands of flyers, posters and other objects. The archive has set a goal to expand this collection considerably with the help of labels, scene activists, and fans. We ask for you help through material and financial support in order to personally contribute to the construction of this archive.

For the coming year the Archive has set the following goals:

1. The expansion of the book and fanzine collections: The collection of significant German-language and international fanzines, books, academic papers, and media articles should be completed. A list of the current book and fanzines collections can be sent upon request.

2. The expansion of the media collections: A comprehensive collection of films and documentaries, music videos, TV-reports and concert films that deal with rave and club culture needs to be gathered. This includes recordings of radio interviews, DJ-sets and concerts, among others. Our collections of posters and flyers also needs to be expanded. A list of our current collection of video materials can be sent upon request.

3. The development of a representative musical archive: This is the most challenging goal of the archive, and it demands the greatest support from volunteers. We call upon labels as well as collectors and private persons to participate in the construction of such a collection. Above all, donations of musical recordings are needed. We ask music labels to send copies of their future releases to the archive; available copies of major releases from back catalogues would also be much appreciated. All material forms of musical releases are included in this request: cassettes, records, CDs and other formats. Due to the enormous number of musical releases, our focus at this stage remains on a representative
archive: that means, on releases with either a significant musical or commercial impact on the scene.

4. To promote the archive: The archive’s work and research should be made better known through the cooperation of well-known scene personalities (artists and DJs) and institutions (media, labels and promoters). Events should not only promote the archive, but also help raise money for the development of the archive.


On account of the Archive of Youth Cultures’ lack of regular financial backing (rent, job salaries, etc), we are currently planning the founding of a general endowment, in order to secure the archive’s work for the long term. The Archive of Rave and Club Culture currently under development would be an important component of this endowment. To establish this foundation, 50.000 Euros are still in need of collection.

Always available for questions and further information:

Sean Nye
Curator of the Archive of Rave and Club Culture
Archiv der Jugendkulturen e.V.
Fidicinstraße 3, 10965 Berlin
Tel: 030/6942934

Tours of the archive are also possible.
More information can be found under www.jugendkulturen.de


For an annual sum of only 48 Euros, you could support the social work and documentation that the Archive of Youth Cultures offers. You will be part of a creative and scholarly network that at the same time continues to develop a comprehensive library on the topic of youth and subcultures. As a member, you will receive an issue of the Journal of Youth Cultures as well as two books of your choice from our annual publications.

Further information: www.jugendkulturen.de

About the Archive of Youth Cultures:

The Berlin Archive of Youth Cultures (in Germany, an officially registered association) was founded in 1998. It collects – as the only institution of its kind in Europe – above all authentic documents from youth cultures themselves (fanzines, flyers, music, etc.), but also scholarly and academic papers, news reports, etc. The archive offers these free of cost for research and for public use in its 300 square-meter-large library and archive spaces. In addition, the Archive of Youth Cultures carries out its own research on youth scenes, and works with institutions, communes and associations. It offers 120 school project events and adult education services annually and publishes its own journal – Journal der Jugendkulturen (The Journal of Youth Cultures) – as well as a book series, publishing six new books annually. The Archive of Youth Cultures is in this respect always interested in obtaining appropriate documents and materials in all forms. The majority of the archive’s employees work on a volunteer basis.

About Professor Ronald Hitzler:
Professorship of General Sociology at the Technical University Dortmund. Longtime Rresearcher of youth scenes with personal specialization in the techno scene. Founder and ofi Co-editor of the volume Techno-Soziologie: Erkundungen einer Jugendkultur (Techno-Sociology: Investigations in a Youth Culture) (Opladen: Leske + Budrich, 2001). Also the founder of jugendszenen.com and co-Editor of the volume Leben in Szenen: Formern jugendlicher Vergemeinschaftung heute (Life in Scenes: Forms of Youth Socialization Today) (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2005). More information at www.hitzler-soziologie.de

About Sean Nye:
PhD-Student in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society (Minors in Music and German Studies) at the University of Minnesota since 2004. DAAD-research fellow in the Popular Music Research-Centre at Humboldt University Berlin (2008-09). Research scholar in the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, Free University Berlin (2009-10). Since 2008 curator of the techno and gothic scene collections at the Archive of Youth Cultures.

Our partners include the following institutions/artists:

Ad Noiseam Records (Electronic Music Label, Berlin)
Adam X (Producer/DJ, NYC-Berlin)
Atom TM (Uwe Schmidt, Producer, Frankfurt/Santiago)
Club Transmediale, Fesitval For Adventurous Music and Related Visual Arts (Berlin)
Dense Records (Record Store, Berlin)
DJ T (House/Techno DJ, Journalist and Founder of Groove Magazine, Frankfurt/Berlin)
Groove (Fanzine, Berlin)
Hecq (IDM Producer, Berlin)
Oliver Lieb (Producer/DJ, Frankfurt)
PARTYSAN (German and International Fanzine)
Pearls Booking (DJ booking agent, Berlin)
rock‘n’popmuseum (museum for pop music history, Gronau)
Simon Reynolds (English Journalist, Author of Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture)

We appreciate any form of assistance and look forward to more official partnerships!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009





Quite often during hardcore continuum discourse there'll be an invocation of "the feminine"--as a depleted or suppressed quality in the music, and sometimes in the discourse about the music too. This deplorable deficit will prompt calls for an irrigation of fluidity to counteract the encroaching inflexibility, whether it's a stiffness and riffness afflicting a particular nuum genre, or the "ossification " [fnote1] syndrome caused by excessively rigorous theorizing.

Now the person invoking "the feminine" in these debates (if they're well-read they might even mention Helene Cixous's ecriture feminine) is always male, and not the least bit hesitant about recruiting "the feminine" to support their argument (generally aimed against some other male, an old fashioned iron fist wrapped in the velvet glove of quasi-feminism). Compare that with the way that few people nowadays would be sufficiently unaware to do a similar rhetorical move using "blackness": over time it has sunk in that few things are more undignified than two white guys squabbling over whose has the better understanding of/ relationship with musical "blackness." (I speak, wincing, as someone who has in the past been one of those two white guys). Despite this it's still permissible to do the inverse racism move and complain about an excess of "whiteness" in the music. Indeed nuum-discourse participants do this quite regularly, railing about particular subgenres that have gotten too "whiteboy" , which usually means too rocky/riffy, which in turn means too masculine/phallic. Taking us right back to all those invocations of "the feminine".

Now I did actually feel slightly self-conscious about invoking the Mighty Yin during my Liverpool talk--the passage on hypersoul/diva vocal science/"feminine pressure". As the paragraphs approached it suddenly felt awkward to be talking about this stuff in a room that contained a fair number of women: what would they think? But I ploughed ahead--had no choice, since those points were central to my argument, and furthermore were (as far as these things can be gauged) "true". There is a diva-fabulous, "feminine presha" undercurrent running through the nuum that every so often totally swamps the music (2step being the supreme example).

But in terms of my becoming intrigued by gender-coded discourse games [fnote2], the seeds of this essay go back a couple of months, when my interest in Caspa was sparked, having been startled by the vilification of the man and his music. All that incredibly vivid revulsion for wobble's mid-frequency blare as the sound of "someone jizzing in my face" and "bukkakestep"! All that anxiety about dance music degenerating into rock: "rigor mortis mid range shite… punching the ceiling and moshing rather than dancing… shouty soulless gack… big chunks of riff meat".

Here's a recent deployment of this kind of rhetoric, albeit calmer in tone: Louis Pattison spotlights as Guardian single of the week "Narst"/"Love Dub" by Cooly G (an actual woman! on Hyperdub!!).

"As dubstep begins to resemble, quite literally, a boy's club -- one that pongs of a pungent mix of spliff and locker rooms -- Hyperdub, the label behind the murky, underwater two-step of Burial, ups the ante once more… 'Love Dub' and its remix are a reminder of UK bass music's capacity to sooth and seduce, all gently massaging sub-bass, breathy vocals and woozy synth that collects like warm pools of sunlight."

Stop press: and here's another one, same newspaper, different writer, same rhetoric from scribe and artists alike (Bristol's new "purple" sound purveyors Joker, Guido, Gemmy--all men as it happens):

"There's a gender issue here, too: since the sexy vocals and pop sensibilities of garage disappeared, British club music has become dominated by bland masculinity. Guido says that is reflected on dancefloors: 'The low-end sounds carry the power, bass, and aggression, and the mids and highs carry the sexy melodies. Without the melodies, dubstep and grime clubs have lost the girls. But the girls get up and dance to our stuff'.... For too long, British dance music has been po-faced, masculine, drab...."

Stop Stop Press: in the big dubstepforum July 2009 discussion about wobble versus post-dubstep, one commenter referred to the low-frequency-oscillation riffs of wobble as "LFO rape":

"its not even the fact that the wobble is hated. Its just the LFO Rape I dont agree with.. My Defininition of LFO Rape... the process in which subject uses an LFO preset to create soul-less, machine music."

Stop Stop Stop Press: and still they come: in the second issue of Loops, Kev Kharas bigs up the in-touch-with-its-feminine-side aqua-step of Joy Orbison's "Hyph Mngo" versus the Swarzeneggerism of Coki's "Spongebob" ("a workout in thugstep cliche that womps along tediously doling out nuggies and farting the word 'generic' into air stale with dead sweat reek and 'roid fumes... pumped and solid to the extent that it leaves no room for any response other than a moody grimace and a flailing fist" followed by numerous references to the "generic thugstep" it spawned (Caspa, Rusko, etc), music "that only seems to make sense to moshing males with a heavy sadness in their loins".

Stop Stop Stop STOP press: and yet more--reviewing the Ikonika album in the Wire, Adam Harper sets up the familiar bogeyman of wobble a/k/a brostep: "at a time when what many hold to be dubstep has taken steroids and left London to conquer the world as the new Heavy Metal, rattling (almost exclusively) male students' bedrooms with its gargantuan sub-bass"

Stop Stop Stop STOP STOP press: and for once, here's a woman actually voicing this complaint, Ikonika herself, interviewed in FACT, says of wobble and the big room/big drop mentality: “I’m not into jumping about, moshpit kind of stuff.... I have played after some big headliners who’ve caused a moshpit, and you can smell the set... I dunno if I should say this, it’s pretty explicit, but from a girl’s point of view, whenever I hear really big wobble sets, I find it offensive. ‘Cause I’m picturing sex, and when these guys are playing big wobble sets it’s like coming on a girl’s face. And you’re reloading it, and you’re doing it again.”

Yes, the potent whiff of man-stench has been giving the custodians of dubstep the jitters recently. Is it going the way of drum 'n' bass post-1997, they worry? Actually what I hear, at least in potential, is something closer to slowed-down gabba. Complete with gabber-like cartoon bad-boy samples and puerile abjection/pulp horror yuk-yuks (track titles like "Diahorrea," "Putrid Creature," "Puking Over", "The Mong Song"). The handwringing dismay of the cognoscenti has a curiously déjà vu quality. Dubstep, six years into its existence, has become a hardcore, headstrong, having-it scene, with a following of punters and munters, not just pundits. Its original fans, scholars of the history of hardcore to a man, are repeating the exact same kind of attack lines the Balearics and house heads spat in 1991: ardkore as "the new heavy metal" for shirtless sweaty hoolies, "all the curve and swing has been squeezed out… all it seems to be about is boys, bass and bother".

At the time there was a counter-view: another Caspar (Pound, young boss of Rising High Records, RIP), proclaimed: "Hard as fuck! It's the rock of the future… The best thing about hardcore is that all the soul's been taken out. We’ve had 200 years of human element in music and it's about time for a change…. It's not about happiness, it's more aggressive, more intense."

Those words were uttered in early '92, the nuum's dawn (bliss twas to be alive and rushing your nut off). What Pound identified as an emergent force in the music--aggression, apocalyptic darkness, a soul-less mechanistic coldness--would prove to be a massive current within the hardcore continuum all the way through its existence. It's hardly ever gone away completely, and often it's flared up to completely take over the music.

Yet strangely it's become almost impermissible in recent years to say that what attracted you to this whole area of music was--in large part--its qualities of hardness and darkness, its ability to overpower and dominate the listener. In a peculiar twist, "macho" has replaced "poppy" (code for "girly") as the way cognoscenti diss(miss) things that aren't tasteful or "progressive" enough. As I noted in the Caspa column, people refer to the macho, noisy dubstep as "commercial".

Now all these gender-codings and "feminine pressure" moves [fnote3] would be irrelevant if they didn't have some correlation with what's going on within the scene itself. Handily corroborating what I'm addressing here is currently hot tune "Too Many Man", a grime/funky hybrid by Boy Better Know:

"We need some more girls in here/We need some more girls in here/There's too many man/Too many many man"

So at last we arrive at the crux: the lugubrious concept of the "sausage party", a social gathering where hardly any women are present. Jeremy Gilbert described the UEL seminar as the most male-dominated academic event he'd ever organized. I wasn't surprised to learn this, not in the least. In my second reflection I noted that "the majority of us appear to be boys, regrettably" and suggested "the reasons deserve further investigation". What follows is my attempt to probe that mystery.

First thing to note is that no one ever voluntarily and with foreknowledge goes to a sausage party. It's something you end up at inadvertently and discover with slowly mounting dismay. In the case of nuum-discourse, I don't believe women are excluded so much as they simply don't turn up. Some do, obviously, but the sexual imbalance is marked. Begging the question: if this music is so crucial, and the discussion about it so compelling, why don't we have something much closer to gender parity?

I'm not sure this is a nuum problem exclusively. It's probably even worse in some other areas of discussion about dance music--deep house snobs, Detroit techno purists. It's possibly a fairly uniform syndrome across the music nerdosphere. Even in the poptimist milieu--where the whole premise is "letting in and privileging the music of the teenage girl"--there's a rather high density of sausage. This doubtless relates to a common mode of engagement with music that cuts across genre divisions: competitive expertise, the drive to mastery and knowledge, curation, collecting/classifying, canon guardianship, taste and taxonomy battles, etc.

I can get weary of all that, like anyone. But I get equally weary when blokes go into auto-flagellation mode about their blokeishness (especially when the self-reproaches quickly subside and it's back to blokey business as usual). I don't believe that obsessiveness and hyper-seriousness are somehow discredited by this gender imbalance, that it reflects badly either on Obsession in a general sense or on the specific musical area being obsessed about, over-interpreted, etc. I think these activities have an intrinsic value. Nerdishness has some things going for it: knowledge, enthusiasm, the capacity to get carried away by ideas. I'm just curious why relatively few women are drawn to engage with this particular form of music in this particular mode.

One possibility, of course, is there is something about this music that has a particularly strong attraction to males, or to a particular subset of males.

Right up front it ought to be acknowledged that lots of the key moments of the nuum have been, if anything, hyper-masculine: ragga-jungle, techstep, grime, and certain strains of dubstep (early on, the colder, techno-y side of the music; more recently the rowdy wobble yobbery). (I'm trusting here that people will allow me to use the conventional codings of masculine and feminine in this essay for the purpose of argument--obviously I'm aware of their culturally constructed nature). There have been peak phases within the trajectory of the nuum that have only really been celebrate-able in terms of their hardness and aggression, through recourse to notions of music that tests the listener, to an ideology of the underground as anti-pop. Terms that are conventionally negative, that are unappealing in life and in entertainment--cold, severe, militaristic, machinic, emotionally armored, tense, dread-full--are valorized within this music culture. More than that: they're glamorized. You only have to look at the slanguage of praise generated within the scene itself: tracks or DJ sets that are slammin', kickin', tearin'…. deejays or MCs who smashed it, tore it up, killed, slew… music that is rude or ruff, sick or disgusting…

And then consider the sonic currents percolating all the way through the music's history. The gruff swagger of hip hop and dancehall reggae doesn't require elaboration, and in nuum history these flavours generally overpower or at least balance out the influence of house (diva vocals, groove, the disco tradition). But pushing things further to the yang, you have the fourth cornerstone of the nuum: hard techno [fnote4]. The "Dominator"/"Mentasm" sound of Belgium and Beltram… the clanking, mechanistic industrialism of Meng Syndicate and 80 Aum plus the harsher bleep exponents like XON and Forgemasters… the riffy-ness of Frank DeWulf and CJ Bolland… even the darker side of Detroit (early UR, Suburban Knight, Kevin Saunderson's Tronikhouse alter-ego) creeps in a bit… This strain of cold, punitive bombast, rooted partly in Electronic Body Music and Euro industrial, is something that resurfaces periodically: in the techstep brutalism of No U Turn and Dom & Roland and Renegade Hardware, in early grime and sub-lo, at various points in dubstep. Hell, there's some Human Resource-style sicknoize on "Mind Is A Gun" on the recent Newham Generals album!

So running parallel with the current of feminine pressure within the nuum there's an equally strong current of masculine pressure [fnote 5]. Crudely diagrammed, you can track a dialectic here, a pendulum-like oscillation, or (more frequent, actually) the fissile coexistence of opposites:

Yin / Yang
Pop / Anti-pop
Song / Track
Maximalist / Minimalist
Swing / Stiff
Cheesy / Dark
Sentimental / Cold
Groovy / Machinic
Human / Inhuman
Pulse / Riff

A point worth making at this juncture is that the yin terms are very much forces within the music. It's feminine pressure. What could be more formidable than the diva? I make this point because many who call for the nuum to get back in touch with its "feminine side" confuse that with a sort of aquatic androgyny, a metrosexual mildness. Hence the recurring error of the Dolphin Move, where the "logical progression" for this music is to make it sound more like Carl Craig or a Nu Groove B-side (something you can see with a lot of the wishy-washy, watery dubstep of recent years that converges with Basic Channel/Chain Reaction…. Don't get me wrong, that Martyn album is splendid home listening, but mash up a dancehall?). Or you'll get people bigging up deejays for mixing with slow blends and gradual builds rather than the wham-bang pander-to-the-massive style, with its orientation towards "the drop". But "true" nuum music is about the dynamic co-existence of equal but opposed forces (dark/light, minimal/ maximal, etc), rather than a Derek Smalls-like "fire + ice = lukewarm water" half-measure.

Looking back across the history of this music, it seems to me that even during those periods when you might say that fem-presha was ascendant (speed garage and 2step), the darker, harder undercurrent still lurked balefully within the slinky sexiness. Early UK Garage had tunes like "Gunman" and "Sound Bwoy Burial" (the raucous dancehall MC christens the track's genre-of-one as "ruffhouse"!), like "Cape Fear" and "Bad Boys Move In Silence". Even 2step--nuum at its slickest, most mature and melodic and sugarsweet--had its fair share of rudeboy MCs and dutty bass-2-dark. On one of 2step's most poptastic crossover hit ever--Truestepper's "Out of Your Mind"--Victoria Becks taunts: "this tune's gonna punish you".

So what I'm talking about is how the nuum (and dance music in general) has this secret side that's raucous and ruckus-oriented and, face it, rockist. And this is disavowed, even when it might have been the very thing that drew some of us into the music in the first place. Certainly in my case it was Beltram and Bolland and the Belgian bombast-blare that pulled me into rave, before I turned on to the breakbeat direction…. the mid-range riffage of what was then just called "techno" was the first time that I heard something coming out of the house music area that had the full-on bliss-attack and engulfing (over)power of MBV and other neo-psych bands I worshipped…. or rather it was the first thing since the original
acid house (another hard, cold, mechanistic music that had certain parallels with rock).

I don't think I am alone here. Some of us are pulled in by this rockist/testosterone-y element in the music and then later on veer away from it; our tastes evolve or we learn to think of it as less sophisticated or advanced or something.

Now I hasten to add that I'm not suggesting this kind of aggy, hard-as-hell stuff has no appeal to women. I was always surprised by how many girls were into the post-97 drum'n'bass, after the supposed defection of Womankind to speed garage; indeed one female friend of mine only got into D&B in a real heavy-duty fanatical way after I'd switched over to UK garage (but then she was from a kind of rocky, indie background). When you get female deejays in these seemingly macho-land genres like jungle or gabba, often they play it as hard or harder than the men. (I'm flashing on DJ Rap one time at the Paradise, scourging the audience with a set of ruthlessly stripped-down, hard-as-nails jungle, out-blasting the likes of Hype and Randall on the same bill). Or think of someone like Mary Ann Hobbs, who was into heavy metal and motorbikes before she became the first lady of dubstep.

Nonetheless, one has to say that a lot of this music--resorting to gender designation as conventionally understood, seen--it's quite… manly, isn't it? And it's not just about the sound of the music, it's about the imagery that surrounds it: the track titles… the artist names picked by producers, DJs, MCs… the samples used… There's a steady stream of masculine archetypes, of heroics and anti-heroics. The rude boy, the gangsta, the thug, the soldier… It's all very Clash, to be honest! Grime was the culmination of this funk-to-punk tendency within nuum music, and how right that the genre virtually begins with a song titled "'Oi!".

I'm going to seize the opportunity to talk at some length about grime here because it got somewhat neglected at Liverpool and in the subsequent discussions. In my case this was partly because it seemed so recent it almost didn't need to be accounted for, unlike the Nineties stuff. But grime is a totally crucial phase-shift within the nuum narrative: in some ways the most drastic transformation (from a dance/deejay oriented sound to a verbal/MC dominated culture) but undeniably continuum-ous from what came before (the flowering of rave/pirate MCing as a latent artform, the fact that the grime artists were all inspired by jungle MCs). Grime represented the remasculinisation of the music after 2step's girls-like-this shift. All the supple slinkiness of 2step rhythm was reversed, with cold, stiff beats that merged aspects of electro, ragga, even gabba. The sound-palette became vastly less "musical" in the conventionally understood sense (a marked diminishment in "played" feel; tonalities that are glacial, dry, thin, redolent of video games or ringtones). All this makes grime ideally suited for a discussion of the play of genderised terms within nuum music.

It's also overdue for me to grapple with grime again because the fact is I was as excited by that "moment"--from the summer of 2002 to the summer of 2005--as I was by jungle or 2step; as much of a believer. It's only the bruising failure of its push to crash-over (rather than cross-over) into chartpop that led to the emotional exhaustion with grime candidly recorded in the 2006 blogpost that Dan Hancox wheeled out at UEL and which he seems to almost take personally. I also eagerly grab the opportunity to discuss grime because I think it's one of the most potent arguments against the nuum-is-over case. The fact that grime has endured through the entire Noughties, that in crossover terms it's bigger than ever while the underground is healthy, as triumphantly noted in this piece by Man Like Dan
(which I could almost imagine as belated riposte to my 2006 blogpost!)… all that would seem to prove that the nuum remains relevant both as an actually living body of sonix/scenius and as a model that retains some purchase on current musical reality. So I'm delighted to direct the spotlight of my mind on grime once again.

And the first thing to say about grime is to acknowledge how much of its compelling aesthetic qualities and its sheer pleasure is related to the flexing of power and violence.

Let's look closely at two tracks that have claims to be absolute zeniths of grime both formally and in terms of a cultural moment rising to its peak:

"Pow (Forward)", by Lethal B featuring Fumin, D Double E, Nappa, Jamakabi, Neeko, Flow Dan, Ozzi B, Forcer, Demon and Hot Shot
which you can watch as a video here


"Destruction (VIP)" by Jammer featuring Wiley, D Double E, Kano and Durty Doogz
which you can listen to here

The title of "Pow" comes from comic book superhero violence--"Biff! Bang! Pow!" --but there's nothing very cartoon-like about the lyrics, which are at pains to convey the gritty specifics of their various threats:

Nappa promises:
"I'lllll....crack your skull
Leave you fucked up in a wheelchair
If you try to clash this evil brer"

Jamakabi describes how he's going to
"draw fi da metal
Not da gun, me draw for da belt buckle
I make a bigger boy feel so likkle
Just swing my belt round like a nun chuckle
Bus you head and make your blood start trickle

Neeko and Flow Dan both vow to cock back their steel and bun fire, with Flow Dan adding the grace note of
"Man I go step in a him face with my new Nikeys"

Then there's Demon's immortal verse:
"You don't wanna bring armshouse
I'll bring armshouse to your mums house
You don't wanna bring no beef
Bring some beef and lose some teeth"

"Destruction VIP", while more direct in its title, is less bloody in its verses, but does feature the bravura Wiley sequence where he dresses down a wannabe bad-boy, a fake-gangsta:
"I know Trouble
Trouble said he don't know you
I know Beef
Beef said he don't know you
I had War
And War said he don't know you

...and so on, through a long list of Personified Essences of Grime Reality… Crime, Street, Empty Belly, Robbery, .38, Hustler, Ghetto Life, Bad Boys… all of which Wiley's intimately familiar with. (Which leaves your typical middle class bloggerati grime-lover in a strange place, since he's unlikely to have made the acquaintance of any of these fine fellows).

Lyrics like this--boasts and threats; the verbal articulation of relationships of dominance and humiliation; invidious contrasts between the MC's street knowledge with the fronting of rival MCs, the MC as man of experience exposing the empty talk of mere boys--all this is standard business in grime. You could pluck a record at random almost and you'd likely as not find some variant. So here's "Bruzin" by Bruza featuring Footsie. Triple Threat and Shizzle:
"come on bruv let's ave it, let's war….
"bare left hooks to your jaw…
"to your bredrens you look poor/ there the reason you don't wanna war"
"bring bodily harm, leave you in a mess"
"we're bruising/against us, you're losing/we're the microphone ooligans/ with higher powers/we spit fire showers."

Even if grime words are taken as metaphorical, about verbal maiming, the use of rhyme skills to slay rival MCs… you'd have to say that grime was a gladiatorial art, each sixteen a flurry of verbal blows, cracking egos like skulls.

To quote Bruza's classic track about boy-men pretending to be tougher than they are, I'm "not convinced" by an argument that would propose grime could be reformed, that all it would take would be to get grime artists to drop the gun talk, the murking and feuding, etc, and spit about… other stuff. It's not just about the content. The form of the music is violence, or at least combat.

Take D Double E's performance on "Destruction". His words are usually riddled with descriptions of ultra-vivid violence, but here the lyrics are virtually inaudible. The violence is the delivery itself, the mangling and shredding of language. Here's how I described the first six bars in the Grime Primer for The Wire --"a gargoyle-like gibber closer to hieroglyphics than language… seemingly emanating from the same infrahuman zone Iggy plumbed on “Loose” and “TV Eye”.

I actually met D Double E in 2005, doing a feature on grime for Spin, and was as thrilled as if I'd met Iggy Pop. I was struck by the fact that he was this soft-spoken, dreamy guy with an astonishingly skinny frame, seemingly unlikely to hurt a fly, and yet his rapping is almost non-stop carnage. Here's some of his most famous and frequently recycled lines, which appear on the Terror Danjah tunes "Cock back" and "Frontline" [fnote6] and probably other places too:

"Think you're a big boy cos you got a beard/Bullets will make your face look weird"
"For what I just done/I could get years/Heart is cold and I got no fears/Shed no tears"
"Think you're a big boy cos you go gym/Bullets will cave your whole face in"
"Tip of the gun straight up your nostril and pull"
"Head get mangled and then dangled just like I wear my kangol"
"Who do you resemble?/Face looks fucked up like Michael"
"Never going to go away/Permanent scar"

But listening again to some of his other performances--"Signal", "Birds in the Sky"--what strikes me is the odd fusion of wimpiness and thuggishness. With its lack of definition and edges, his voice is actually weak ("seemingly battling multiple speech impediments" is how I described it in the Wire primer), but there's this sense of tremendous inner turbulence bubbling up through the delivery. (See also the feral gnashings, growls and roars that serve as "backing vocals" in tunes like "Not Convinced" and Flirta D's "Warpspeed"). This gives D Double's utterance an almost involuntary quality, a quality of possession or trance. Seeing Double live onstage in New York and later at the Rinse FM studio, both times I was reminded of Ian Curtis; Double stares sightlessly into the middle distances, makes these strange dainty carving and slicing gestures with his hand, which hovers by his chestbone like a hummingbird.

Some time ago, listening to A Guy Called Gerald's "28 Gun Bad Boy", I suddenly heard the breakbeats as a ballet of violence [fnote7]. Listening now to the jagged syncopations of D Double on "Destruction," to the "Pow" MCs spitting across and against the "Forward" riddim, to the growling distortions and mouth-manglings that transform all these MC's voices into slashes of pure texture ("sixteen bars, sixteen scars"), I started to hear grime rhyming as breakbeat science given voice. In another sense, grime is literally the verbalization of jungle's submerged "content" : society-as-warzone. In jungle that content was audio-allegorised as rhythm and bass and atmosphere, with occasional articulation in the form of samples about darkness or street knowledge. With grime, this became a lot more stark and in-your-face: the lyrical content, the delivery, the performative stance, are all about
mayhem style-ized.

Jungle and grime: martial art forms.

You're not feeling this music if you don't understand it viscerally as the violent assertion of self. Everybody knows this but it doesn't get talked about much because the implications don't bear thinking about too closely. You might start to become aware of uncomfortable stuff, like the way that the knowledge prized in our little subculture is so often related to being down with the minutiae of social destructiveness. E.g. youngers took the piss out of me a few years ago for taking my eye off the ball and missing the rise of the praise term "showa." What they were proud of was being au fait with slanguage derived from the shower of bullets rained down on their enemies by an infamously ruthless Jamaican gang! Another e.g.: a mini-debate triggered by my Caspa piece, where I'd talked about a double standard of black grime MCs acting thuggish on record being deemed cool whereas Caspa was considered both a lout and a poseur. Martin Blackdown effectively argued in defence of the double standard, saying that Caspa's Cockney shtick was all front whereas your grime youth were walking it like they talked it, and going on to cite various acts of real violence perpetrated by certain grime figures. What a fucked-up world where fake thuggery is worse than the genuine article! But not to be the kettle calling the pot black, I've verged on similar logic myself, e.g. semi-dissing dubstep by saying the reason it would always be somewhat lacking for me was related to the reasons why you would never hear anyone utter the words "police are locking off dubstep raves." Yet on some level that is simply true, and sometimes you have to say stuff like this however close to the bone it is. There has been a certain tension and menace at nuum-related raves that's inseparable from the vibe and from the very qualities of the music that make it so powerful.

Yet (no surprise here) I've never voluntarily been involved in violence in my life. The few times it's come calling, it's only been the pure adrenalin-rush of fear, plus dormant capacity left over from my schoolboy cross-country running, that's saved my skin. So why the attraction to music that is actually the opposite of how I live my life and to a large extent opposed to my values?

Of course, the kind of ruff-housing, second-person-directed hostility, megalomaniac energies present in grime are far from unique to it. Think of rap [fnote8] , metal, hardcore punk (and also, within dance music, gabba). Now, once again I don't want to underestimate here the female capacity for aggression, albeit more often of a non-physical sort. You only have to look at the behaviour of teenage girls towards each to see the fairer sex's flair for competitiveness, status games, verbal cruelty, and so on. Nonetheless it seems reasonable to generalize that there isn't quite the same intense attraction towards theatricalised violence in art and entertainment. I'm guessing that by and large women watch movies like The Godfather or Goodfellas (movies which I am incapable of not watching for the umpteenth time if they happen to be on TV) despite the violence, not because of it [fnote9].

I don't know if I'd go as far as saying men, myself included, enjoy watching violence. But there is a compulsion there that feels gender-specific. With this sort of movie it is probably similar to what goes on when you listen to gangsta rap: a dizzy-making double identification [fnote10] with the perpetrator and the victim simultaneously. Plus a pornographic aspect, seeing what should not be seen, what in fact (in our relatively orderly society) most of us don't ever get to see (thank God). But, to take another example, when I read Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, it was fairly obvious that I was not reading about the activities of these soccer hooligans entirely to inform myself about a peculiar subculture or to disapprove, but because there was a certain appalling thrill. Buford places his own voyeuristic/vicarious fascination for these brutal boors right up front, he becomes a particant-observer in fact and the narrative of the book shows him getting swept up in the mob rampages, leaving behind his civilised, literate self in a kind of tribal group-mind, and then taking the brunt of an almighty comeuppance (he's taught a lesson at the hands and truncheons and boots of riot police in Italy, if I recall right). That's the moral at the end of the story that retroactively washes clean the body of the book as a whole, justifying the prurient pleasure in ultraviolence the reader has taken. (I wonder how many female fans that book has?)

Sports itself, as opposed to sports fan hooliganism, offers another analogy, since a lot of sports are forms of aestheticized warfare. The more gladiatorial and war-like--boxing or team-based contact sports like American football and ice hockey--the greater the proportion of the audience are male, I think it would be fair to say.

So what is going on here? In the case of this discourse around grime and other nuum genres, as opposed to the composition of the subcultures themselves, it's a rather nerdy fraternity we're dealing with, by and large. I'm guessing, owing to the level of literacy and the general left-leaning bias, we are talking about a constituency that is pretty aware of feminist issues and therefore has some ambivalence about conventional notions of masculinity and gender, a degree of confusion about what it means to be a man in the 21st Century (a common predicament anyway in this era of the "kidult"). Through this music, though, we have access to dramas of strength and power, survivalist sharp-wittedness and prowess, that temporarily resolve--or rather, work through--or maybe just put in play--these doubts and confusions.

Now this is nothing new, actually. It's one of the oldest stories in popular culture: white, mostly middle class men working their identity issues out through an intensely felt, deeply confused, slightly problematic identification with black masculinity as manifested through music. It goes back at least as far as The Rolling Stones and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Probably a lot further back. This kind of projection towards black music may well be more than slightly problematic, but there's no doubt it's hugely significant as a historical phenomenon. As a syndrome it's something impossible to feel comfortable about, let alone affirm unreservedly, but equally it seems to have certain things going for it and be broadly preferable to the alternatives (the de fact apartheid/monoculturalism of indie-rock, for instance).

Nor is it, when looked at in the grander historical scheme, just about black masculinity in the "street soldier" sense as laid out in the Wiley verses on "Destruction". Not at all: there's a whole range of things that your white male has sought and found in black male musical expression, things that have filled in holes in their own culture or upbringing, that have provided a "way out" (especially in Britain, where the projection towards Black American music is especially intense). These things include:

-- an emotionalism that isn't "wet" or "weak" but powerful, a form of strength (soul)

-- worldly wisdom, life-tested toughness (blues, etc)

-- grace, elegance, gentleness, urbanity (softer soul, cooler jazz)

-- gnostic cool, cosmic suss (certain jazz, the boho styles of hip hop)

-- protest, spiritual-political critique, militant pride, purity, prophecy, preacher (conscious rap, roots reggae, etc)

-- exuberance, joie de vivre, sass, earthiness, vitality, energy, style (funk, etc)

And doubtless a bunch of other things too.

Running through all this stuff, the Bad Boy side of it and the Good Man side of it, is the fact that these forms of musical expression offer heroic images of masculinity (even when anti-heroic, as in the gangsta/Staggerlee/rudeboy mode). They are also quite often models of authority. That applies whether it's a Jay-Z or DMX or Clipse talking in worldly-wise, world-weary tones about the game, the paper chase, the things a man does to make it in this world, or whether it's James Brown in soul statesman mode, or Bob Marley as prophet, or the great reggae producers as sound-wizards, or Miles as dark magus… (See also the I Am the King thread running through black music pinpointed by me and Joy in The Sex Revolts.) If you're a left-leaning type then the idea of authority may well be discredited by its association with authoritarianism, etc. But in black music you can find images of authority and stature that aren't about being a cop or colonel, a priest or politician. Perhaps they are images of authority untarnished by actual real-world power, in a similar way that the violence in gangsta rap and grime is inoculated by the justification of its being true-to-life, it's given an alibi and a pass on account of oppression, inequality, racism, etc.

I'm thinking now of Chuck D, the way his commanding cadences and gravitas called on the traditions of black oratory, all those preachers who blurred religion and politics. In a 1991 interview with me, Chuck D described Public Enemy as being rap's "positive hardcore," as opposed to--and in conscious opposition to--the "negative hardcore" of gangsta. In some ways my last essay on the partly political nature of the nuum was about the failure of nuum musics to make the transition from negative hardcore to positive hardcore.

So what I'm playing with here is the idea of a history of white men looking to all these heroic/anti-heroic images of masculinity that run through black music… attracted to those images, inspired by them, confused by them… all at a time when nobody knows what being a man is [fnote11] , and where there aren't actually that many images of positive manhood in the mainstream culture. Well, you can find heroism in action movies and CGI thrill-porn pablum of every sort, but I don't think that provides the same function that earlier forms of mainstream culture did (hardboiled fiction, say, or the war film). [fnote12]

The MCs in jungle and garage often seemed to have an aura of authority, they were the hosts of the dance, the vibe controllers, with deep baritone voices, sonorous and commanding. With grime, you get that surrogate father aspect here and there, but mostly the vibe is boy-men, shriller and less poised than the UK garage MCs. Power here flexes itself primarily as verbal assault and intimidation. And unfortunately what goes on in the music doesn't always stay within the bounds of sound but spills out into real life. Feuds have turned fatal, damage done to self-respect and public status have led to deadly reprisals. Grime seems particularly obsessed with the battle rhyme [fnote13], even more so than American rap with its young pretenders like Canibus taking pot shots at legendary elders, or Jay-Z versus Nas / Prodigy.

It makes perfect sense that you find some of the same dynamics paralleled in the (mostly male) discourse around nuum music: the murkage, the alpha male clashing, the territorial pissings. There's the same odd combination of collectivity and competition, fraternalism and fratricide. And occasionally a bit of patricide. Even this essay, as much as it’s a sincere quest for truth, has a war-like component [fnote 14].

So we're right back to where we started: the boys-own atmosphere enveloping this music and this discussion.

I promised last time to explore the reasons why music with such intense "power" seething within it proved to be a narrowcast phenomenon. I'm not sure I've got answers but here are some thoughts.

The sheer assaultive intensity of the music (thinking specifically of jungle and grime) limits the appeal. If you're not totally of the demographic that makes this music, it's going to take a special combination of factors to enable you to hear past the menace and moodiness of the music, and--specifically with grime--hear the harshness as a kind of sensitivity, the hostility and rage as the expression of legitimate social demand.

Raw uncut grime is more than most people are prepared to deal with in an entertainment context. Grime was only able to really prosper when it could present itself as genial and good times oriented ("Wearing My Rolex") or just innocuous. It amazes me, looking at the video for "Pow," that the track even managed to get to the edge of the Top 10. It's not just the fact that the MCs are physically attacking the camera much of the time, raining down blows on the viewer, nor that the lyrics are so graphic and gory. It's the sheer ferocity of each MC's hunger and ambition as he tries to squeeze through the miniscule aperture of opportunity presented by his guest verse in this sure-to-be-big scene anthem/potential crossover hit. Sixteen bars to be grabbed and smashed as a display window for their talent. "Spotlight's on me" Fumin gloats, before asking "how you gonna bust if there's no room?": a striking image of an ego expanding to crowd out the entire space-for-stars-to-shine that is grime. If you're not already a grime convert, the series of intense eruptions of egomania that constitutes "Pow" must be as alarming as witnessing a volcano go off at close quarters. Disturbing, for many people, at least on a subconscious level, because it's the expression of social energies they don't want to deal with: each sixteen bar burst, a miniature riot. So they flinch, turn away.

Another aspect that limits nuum music's appeal concerns its "militant modernism", the interface between masculinism and the avant-garde. Fredric Jameson discusses how modernism is characterized by negatives: fragmentation, disorientation, stridency, and (quoting Hugo Friedrich) "bolts of annihilation", "brutal abruptness", "depoeticized poetry." Yet another crucial aspect of modernism's negativity, says Jameson, channeling Adorno, is its penchant for interdiction, its creation of new aesthetic taboos, its "ever keener distaste for the conventional and outmoded". This dynamic (out with the old, in with the new) leads to the >>FWD>> propulsiveness of modernism and nuum alike. Warp speed.

Then think of the soldierly subtext of modernism: the fact that "vanguard" is a military term, the idea of the shock troops of the avant-garde repeatedly blasting the new in the public's face. Art as bombardment, assault course, confrontation, challenge, test.

Factor in all these hallmarks and character traits of the nuum: its modernism (as both an inherent sonic narrative within the music and as a third-hand, filtered-down-from-on-high rhetoric of innovation and futurism), its "playing soldiers" aspect, its relationship to the streets as both UK socio-cultural reality and US hip hop cartoon fantasy, the scene's internal hyper-competitiveness, the influence from pulp fictions of all kinds (with their superheroics and dystopian darkness), the cult of technology… It all goes a good way towards accounting for
both the man-stench surrounding this culture and the narrowcast appeal of its musical output. Strictly hardcore.

for the footnotes, go here

Footnote 1

… "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.

Footnote 2

…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.


Footnote 3

… "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.


Footnote 4

..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"'…..


Footnote 5

… 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"?).


Footnote 6

… 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.


Footnote 7

… 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.


Footnote 8

… 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.


Footnote 9

… 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.


Footnote 10

… 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.


Footnote 11

…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.


Footnote 12

…. 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.


Footnote 13

… 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.


Footnote 14

…A war-like component to it

It's also something of a preemptive strike, but in a very precisely targeted way.