aka Sonar Festival recap via Stephen Crane & the Big Language Thing about Mims’ song that i dont think anybody else has mentioned.
So. SONAR was fun although
(“Bcn is Dead”, photo by Jace’s Cellphone)
French electro-disco act Justice (or their labels, Ed Banger & Vice) hired a guy to go around the 30,000 person party that is Sonar-by-Night, holding up a large advertisement: a white styrofoam cross with ‘Justice’ written on it. The poor fellow was sweating profusely. He looked underpaid. Fighting the crowd while holding a big sign aloft ain’t easy. Yesterday I read some article about Justice, and it opens with the same advertisement as seen at Coachella, but the writer was unaware that it was an ad — he attributed the thing to fans, unwittingly injecting the viral ad into his write-up.
And that’s the thing about Justice / Ed Banger / Vice. They are savvy mofos. Apart from Sonar’s horrible tacky adverts for (massively overpriced) beer, no other group had any sort of advertising presence at all, and this Justice cross was plausibly deniable… until you realized that the guy wasn’t just in the Ed Banger room, he was everywhere, nonstop, looking stressed, looking not like a fan but like the worker he was.
Stephen Crane wrote an excellent essay about late 19th-century New York City wherein he describes a mangy underfed man with placards for gold or somesuch strapped across his body, this pitiable embodiment of destitution advertising opulence. It falls into an unusual subset of advertising where, in order for it to work, you must completely ignore the body of the person. (rather than ogle the sexy young fit model). It remains popular in New York — seedy men sandwiched btwn placards for strip clubs in lower Manhattan; gaunt vinegary drug addicts holding signs for gold & diamond shops around Herald Sq.
Crane notices us not noticing because he too, was once broke in NYC, walking outside for hours during the winter to get warm — his apartment had no heat. Crane died of tuberculosis at age 28.
All of this (plus the caffeine) suggests to me that what we can call the Bowery narrative mode is the more ‘natural’ one (contrast with the bildungsroman, tales of heroes; in Shakespearean terms the ‘comedies’ where couples get together instead of the ‘tragedies’ which leave the stage littered with bodies and spilled blood): things fall apart, people get frayed, thoughts go fuzzy, the city destroys more people than it builds, hopes get stifled & bend into bitterness that lasts, at the end of the chapter there is not resolution but dissolution, we lose legibility, we unmake ourselves, dust gathers, friends drift, alone we die.
But is that story worth telling? ‘Naturalism’ — the literary mode attached to Stephen Crane’s words. It’s so hard to interest editors in tales of unextravagant losers. At Bani’s suggestion I started Leo Africanus by Amin Malouf. I’m only 40 pages in but the novel’s structural subtext speaks on how stories outmuscle their tellers, the way repeating a scene — even from a critical position — involves some level of complicity and becoming. The novel (more precisely, the first 4 chapters) gently eases the frames out of view so characters speaking soften into stories being told, stories valued over the body transmitting them, the first-person narrator constantly fading into third-. Generalities press upon us.
Bearing this in mind, in his hit rap song, Mims isn’t telling us why he is hot. That conceptualization privileges the voice over its story (precisely what Malouf avoids doing in the small portion of Leo Africanus that i’ve read). “This is why I’m hot” is Mims invoking a powerful and lengthy story of hotness, the kind of story everybody wants to believe could be told about themselves by other people. This story of hotness & flyness reaches us via Mims, it uses Mims to tell itself.
Now Mims calls himself “Mr This Is Why I’m Hot” which blows my mind because it is noun-ifying the special phrase that he used to get famous the way wizards and witches cast spells, trying to turn it into an object he can wear around his neck like jewelry. Of course the beat to “This Is Why I’m Hot” is uptown NYC crunk genius, but the song has traveled as far as it did because Mims used a performative utterance. Blazed us with it. What am I talking about? Whether accidentally or not, Mims knows how to do things with words. (“I could sell a mil saying nothing on the track”)
A performative utterance is language on fire. It is not description or questions or speculations or commands or (nearly all of what we say is). A performative utterance is when what you say becomes what you say it is. This is language as magic, indistinguishable in function from the (successful) casting of spells. You say the words and something becomes. The commonly cited example is: “I now pronounce you man and wife”. Speaking those words at a marriage ceremony makes them solid. This is language’s most directly powerful moment, by definition it exists at a point beyond truth , exploding into a kind of tautological irrepressibility, which Mims — Mr This Is Why I’m Hot — hacked into.
It takes real braggadocio, no? If you can say “i’m hot cuz i’m fly” credibly — which is to say, without being contested (the song dominated the pop charts) — then it becomes not simply ‘true’ (or false) but irrefutably real. Most usage of this type of language implies and requires a framework of religious or governmental or societal or familial power: I declare war, I sentence you to life in prison, this meeting is adjourned, we name the baby ‘Mims Jr .’ Mims’ performative utterance (secular, public, personal) draws on that assumption of power. People in power don’t need to explain themselves. Their power (their hotness, their flyness) exempts them from the autobiographical injunction. They say, they declare, they simply do.
And most people think Mims lyrics were stupid… Some go out of their way to be clever about his perceived stupidity. I mean, his lyrics are stupid, but they are stupid in a complex way with immediate bearing on the success of the song. Unfortunately for Mims, this can’t exactly be repeated. If Mims actually tried to explain his hotness, it would melt into description, and lose the rare psycho-linguistic magic whose efficacy he clings to by calling himself Mr This Is Why I’m Hot.
This magic made his verses the year’s most memorable: “”I’m hot ’cause I’m fly/You ain’t ’cause you not.” Considered as description, it’s idiotic, arguably worse than that “I’m too sexy for my car” song. But as a performative utterance its hypnotic power is strangely unassailable, and if there’s any doubt, it was Number One Song in America for awhile… And that’s no small feat especially when you consider that several large corporations (major labels) are spending enormous amounts of time and money trying to manufacture a hit song and propel it to the top of the charts.
But wait, wasn’t i talking about Stephen Crane?… no, Justice’s styrofoam viral ads… no, SONAR. Spain. where were we?
Also at Sonar I also made the connection that DJ Mehdi of Ed Banger Recs. is also the DJ Mehdi of some rai mixtapes i’ve got & the French rap crew 113, which was a nice realization.
And I bumped into both Malas, La Mala Rodriguez and Mala ‘DMZ bass weight’. Skream’s a good DJ! technically, i mean, readers of this blog will know i like his tunes. Kode 9 live had all these extra kick drums, much more vigorous than his recorded output. Oris Jay was focused & fierce as only U.K. DJs utterly confident of their genre & record crate can be. Right before meeting Mala # 2 Chris-the-cat and I shouted at each other for a few minutes, i’m listening to his excellent summer mix right now. Recommended.
Les Aus were excellent, a catalan guitar & drums duo with this spacious western free jazz punky thing going on that was earnest and accomplished and non-annoying.
the funny thing about walking around Sonar or even walking around Barcelona during Sonar-time is that it feels like what it must feel like to be famous, it feels like electronic music and DJ culture matter on some larger scale — all these people come up to me and say ‘Hey, Rupture!’, often with strong accents so it becomes ‘Eiii, Rup-Tour-Ey’!