STYROFOAM JUSTICE & THE BOWERY MODE

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

(“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’!

16 thoughts on “STYROFOAM JUSTICE & THE BOWERY MODE”

  1. What a good fucking read!, but you are too tolerant! I felt like a bit of frontier justice when i saw the cross, like to stick it up ed banger’s denim-clad asses. As for la tema de Mims ya sabes mi opinion. Pero con tus palabras has mostrado que es possible lustrar un turd.

  2. Always enjoy the mudd up, so thanks, but i have to say this is a particularly solid post. If only all my blog related reading was so well written, thought out and enaging, top notch.
    also have to say i’ve been thrashing that adrenaline mix to within an inch of its life on my radio show. Absolute killer as a standalone, but superb for flexing in and out of yard business into who knows where. one of my tunes of the year thus far, without a shadow of doubt, and if theres vinyl i’ll be pursuing it.
    cheers

    jim

  3. yes! according to Alan Moore magic is nothing more than making things happen – potency, re-described. magicians have frequently used words as a vehicle for this, but whereas greek/roman magic would attain authority (which you correctly note magical utterances presume) by borrowing from exotic or incomprehensible sources (frequently persian in the greek and roman europe, but also think of the effect of a latin catholic mass for non-latin speakers) Mims uses 10 one-syllable words to form his equation. Keeping it real (magically so) where the real is the most base, unedited and universal (like a long-take in realist film).

    great post.

  4. Hey great post! I was totally ignorant of The Ed Banger viral marketing. I feel enlightened. Some of the peeps involved are friends of friends of mine and they’re definitely a well ummm… motivated bunch. I didn’t manage to catch Nettle’s set unfortunately, my attention was distracted by a beautiful Finnish woman elsewhere on the site at the time. I did catch around ten or fifteen minutes on Mary-Ann Hobbs’ show on Radio 1 here in the UK. It was sounding great!

  5. indeed, quite the performative utterance of your own (this is why you /rupt), and a much better read than that villagevoice wankery. but with all that talk of magic and language, not a mention of taussig?

    “lustrar un turd”!! (nice one, grey.)

    & for the record, la mala rodriguez totally rips it on the new calle 13 album. picante como tikka masala!

    more like these —

  6. you’re on fire today! enjoyed reading this. but aren’t your observations about Mims’ lyrics (elegantly written) a bit like me writing a slippery berber rhythm in classical western staff notation?

    bcn is dead! there are only zombies and vampires left!

  7. “a bit like me writing a slippery berber rhythm in classical western staff notation?”

    that sort of endeavor sounds to me more akin to the villagevoice analysis, tho it depends on why you’d be involved in such an act of translation/explication & what’s the point: showing what’s amazing/magic about the subject/object in question and how–despite surface simplicity or, if u will, turdidity–it withstands and bolsters such theoretical tools (which offer us another perspective on it), or simply belittling it from “above”?

  8. also, not to flood the comment box, but it’s worth noting that mims’s language and berber rhythms not only can withstand but also elude such tools. nevertheless, i’m glad to have read jace’s analysis, and i suspect it enriches the resonance of the mims song in way that western notation probably would not enrich the resonance of berber rhythms (but maybe that’s just my bias against “western” notation).

  9. sorry, i didn’t mean to be down on Jace’s post, i thought it was great. i was being devil’s advocate, was meant with raised-eyebrow, tongue-in-cheek sort of expression.

    i think staff notation is just another theoretical tool, just like analytical text. for me it’s a language which i understand, and although it has it’s pitfalls, as long as you are aware of them and of the system’s limitations as a whole, it’s efficient and convenient.

    i was just trying to make a point that there’s no harm in using different tools and languages in order to get a deeper understanding of something which can appear, on the surface, to defy definition. (from one perspective)

    maybe the danger is that by notating or analysing something you appropriate it into a system and culture which is totally alien to it, thereby losing the magic and robbing it of its own identity.

    but i hope it would be more the case that you described:

    “an act of translation/explication that….despite surface simplicity or, if u will, turdidity–it withstands and bolsters such theoretical tools”

    and actually i would have quite a real need to do this!

    translations are extremely useful but they never replace the original.

  10. >”maybe the danger is that by notating or analysing something you appropriate it into a system and culture which is totally alien to it, thereby losing the magic and robbing it of its own identity.”

    definitely some danger there, but not necessarily a loss in magic or identity; rather, a change, perhaps an accretion of meaning, new magic for new interpreters.

    i do think benjamin (/ taussig) is rather, er, illuminating in this regard — that is, w/r/t magic, aura, and the “task of translation.”

    & i agree about the “need” to do this sort of translating for oneself, long as we maintain some vigilance about the problems and pitfalls and power relations inherent to the enterprise.

    thx for the thoughts!

  11. Yeah, it’s funny to see DJ Mehdi who was the top french producer 10 years ago (so much hits he produced over there) to reinvent itself into a solo career in the house style.
    Most of the people don’t makes the link, but us (francophones) we KNOW !
    🙂

  12. terrific post and comments.

    y’all heard weezy’s Da Drought 3? in a funnily pertinent twist of the ol’ lemon, he flows in a fake jamaican accent over the song in question. i think this provides a nice converse to what you describe, ashe posessing as opposed to ashe sought and hiding.

    re: the mims song in all this, i think what jace describes holds true for most southern rap, too. especially (surprise!) houston rap. so many people write off the lyrics as dumb, but there’s so much more to it than that. it sounds (/is?) stupid, but all it takes to understand this effect is to listen to music about running around trying to make money at all hours, while you’re running around town in a place you don’t know with no job, trying to make money at all hours. the fact that we’re talking about different scales/extremes here, and that their prophecies are often self-fulfilling, really illustrate this point. y’know, in the same way that lame-ass emo lyrics actually make that sex-symbol skaterdude a total puss.

  13. Quieto – ‘ashe’? yes re: houston rap, and rap in general, capitalism music.

    BTW, i’m a big fan of Mr Lil Wayne Weezy’s Ja-fakin’ accent. more!

  14. axe/ashe (Ah-sheh) = yoruba spiritual concept, often compared to the force in star wars, except there’s not so much an issue about good and evil. rather, it is a force that’s neither right nor wrong but undeniably real and powerful. you can read about it in robert farris thompson’s flash of the spirit.

  15. I have a friend named Nita who moved down to New Orleans in the 90s, and met and worked with many greats of their music scene…when she met Ernie K-Doe (please see linked article), he introduced himself with words to the effect of “Pleased to meet you! Ernie K-Doe, Mother-In-Law!” Perhaps we should all do that, “famous” or not…Mr. Gold Teeth Thief, meet the Boston Jerk. I’m Mr. Approaching the Minimal with Sprayguns.

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