He zipped around wearing dark sunglasses, either rushing to get the letters delivered on time--god of the crossroads, god of the lonely inbox--or letting them pile up on his kitchen table, next to the unwashed dishes, the open-pizzas boxes, the little cardboard boxes of Chinese takeout, the tiny persistent cockroaches, the worn-out winged New Balance sneakers, the eternal sweatpants, and lately, piles and piles of texts refuting polytheism. His latest step towards self-negation was a whole-hearted embrace of monotheistic precepts. Zeus thought the magic postman had fried his brain on acid or even mushrooms: effectively legal in England, so long as you buy them fresh (not dried or prepared in any way). Hermes (or Mercury) would certainly know this since he was, even now, an avid reader of British tabloid press; the other gods watched television from Olympus. They had at least 17,000 channels of tasteless human programming to choose from, and it's safe to say that they were hooked.
Madrid stencil graffiti from plaza de lavapiés january 04.
One of the books, A Heart So White, opens with the following two sentences (more)
Watching hotel room CNN (it's been unavoidable for me these past months), I'm continually struck by how much "terrorism" has become a thing, an entity worth talking about, reporting on, etc. George Orwell didn't expect modern life to be so much woozy fun, but if he was with me in Budapest last week, watching CNN spin in circles over the latest terrorland non-event, an alleged OBL cassette (whose message first surfaces on Al-Jazeera satellite news or a Arab-language website, and is then reproduced endlessly, everywhere, by CNN & friends), then he would have smiled a weary smile and said "I told you so." Terrorism is an international mega-trope. It's the heavy MSG sauce our big media meals come slathered in. With grunts and meaty pushing, Bush-Laden extremism butts its way into the center. I can´t even remember what big media spent its time freaking out about prior to 9/11.
It´s been said before but not here: if media truly wanted to focus on humanity's hotspots, all the news and psuedo-news about terrorism would be replaced with stories about huge multigenerational terrifying but preventable problems like AIDS in Africa. Or even statically-more-likely dangers such as being stung by a scorpion hiding in your shoe. Because we´re more likely to die that way than in terrorist mayhem. But instead it's quick cuts to the Jakarta Hilton, where a gardener found a rusty, defunct WWII-era grenade in a half-buried old tin can.
In the Patois Buffer Override sidebar, Sizzle wrote: "I really wish more people would pick up on the dances to go with songs thing outside of the dancehall world. A weird and conflicted example is the Terror Squad's recent Super Hit 'Lean Back' with the hook 'my niggas don't dance we just pull up our pants and do the rockaway, now lean back...' Simultaneously instigating a dance craze and pre-empting the possible rise of others through the espousal of the coolness of non-dancing. Something I strongly disagree with." Me too.
In the face of too-cool-to-dancedom, this “Lean Back” reggaeton remix, like the genre in general, does what's necessary: blasts away any ambivalence about dancing/non-dancing with a crazy infectious beat. No sé que pasa y lo siento mucho pero este 12" doesn't credit the female MC; the dude is Miami's Pitbull.
Reggaeton is basically latino party music. But unlike straight-up salsa or merengue or pop, it borrows heavily from hiphop, and the basic beat pattern came from late 80s, early 90s Jamaican reggae riddims. (Like Chaka Demus & Pliers' hit "Murder She Wrote").
I first heard about reggaeton about 6 years ago from a friend in Puerto Rico, I think he described it as sounding like low-BPM techno with reggae bass. (It's true: If reggaeton had no snares, it would be slow techno, drum kick steady on the four.) I lived in NYC's Lower East Side for a minute in 2002 and reggaeton was the default soundtrack for my Puerto Rican neighbor's late-nite llello reveries and mid-morning ex- arguments, so basically I heard way more than I needed to.
This year was hot because reggaeton began appearing on vinyl, fully entering that slipstream of greasyfingers and mix&scratch mentalities. A lot of hiphop-reggaeton connects became overt, aboveground--- N.O.R.E.'s work, heavyhitter Tego Calderón over rap beats, and, usefully, umpteen dozen reggaeton - hiphop - reggae bootleg 12"s. Pitbull's (thoroughly legal) "Culo" jam best embodies the crosstalk. He rhymes in Spanish & English over Scatta Burrell's "Coolie Dance" riddim from Kingston (via imaginary India I think), with Lil Jon giving his trademark Southern monosyllabic support. YEAH!
Anyhow this excellent energetic Lean Back remix cuts between 2 reggaeton patterns and the original, using DJish beatscratches, triplet hits, horns stabs, and the occasional Lil Jon sample. You put the record on & peope think you're getting busy behind the decks.
Taking a few steps atrás, the trend this tune & "Culo" represent---everybody talking to each other, then harmonizing (then cashing checks)---made 2004 nice. It wasn't really a year of hot genres, but one of hot genre slippage. Like every East Coast head looking south--Miami, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica. Like grime looking crunkwards. When I saw Dizzee Rascal, he spat over only two beats that weren't his: southern US hiphop anthems "Tipsy" (J-Kwon) & "Like A Pimp" (David Banner).
This hot genre slippage/crosstalk wasn't just confined to vocalists marketed as 'street'; my friend Kid606 recorded with warped ragga heroes Ward 21 & started a label called Shockout where indy beat producers do proper (ie not thefty bootlegs) collabos with reggae vocalists. Some people I know in L.A. are banging out funky intersections between reggaeton, hiphop, and drum&bass--crucially, using the last two genres as spices and the first one as the main dish. That's the most radical element of reggaeton--whereas so much pop dresses itself in fake ethnic trappings (and I love it, ¡viva Timba-tunes!), reggaeton is a the latest development in a long history of Afro-Antillean music, and its outsider, 'exotic' elements stem from mainstream hiphop & reggae. Hiphop posturing and pungent machismo remain intact but the obvious compositional elements of rap music get drowned out or submerged within reggaeton's loud Hispanic Caribbean logic. ¿Sabes lo que te digo? You feel it when music lives local & sees no need to translate itself.
If I squint hard and go to the right wrong neighborhoods, if I shoot my television and refuse to read the newspaper, America can seem suddenly bilingual, difference-embracing, willingly desegregating, a place where dimwit notions supporting immigrant/native dichotomies and hyphenated identities grow unfamiliar rather than de rigeur.
Then reality hits me upside the head.
Oporto, Portugal is a beautiful weathered city. Between fantastic meals that shake your taste buds awake people exist solely on cigarettes and espresso. Gentle melancholy scents the air, not just there but everywhere I´ve been in Portugal, and like my friend Max said, you can spot a Spaniard a hundred yards away because they are talking so much louder than the Portuguese.
Many of the houses´facades have lovely pastel tiles, and a handful of the walls hold pissed-off graffiti and stencils, written in playful pun-ridden Portuguese with the occasional forray into direct, angry English. Below is a dope iconographic blend--Bush, Hussein, the social elegance of a business suit turning into bombs & flags. Patriotism. Persecution. A cycle of propaganda. Things that make nations.
(What will happen when the budget airlines slam into Portugal? This new colonial outpouring is odd indeed: driving into Budapest a huge sign announces "Tesco [UK supermarket chain] welcomes you to Hungary!" Easyjet arrives, then Wizzair (the London-based, Central- and Eastern European-branded equivalent) and simultaneously, a flourishing of British stag parties in Budapest, steaming Britons stumbling around, asking for the whores... It happens like that in Barcelona too: Sleazyjet economy-- cheaper foreign city sidestreets as the marketplace; women, usually African or Eastern European, as the goods. Plane home on monday, English spoken all the while.)
Back to Porto-- going underground, which is where Ove-Naxx & I performed. Ove---a polite maniac noisician from Japan who maintains enough rhythmic base in his music so you can A. dance along and B. feel the full impact of his violence against structural normality---went buckwild, rocking a Saddam Hussein mask thrashing about in the transfixed audience. At some point he sliced open his thumb, deep cut, on broken glass. Ove kept raging, pounding out riotously fun architectural beat-splinters on his MPC2000 sampler--spilling blood everywhere in the process: on gear, floor, clothes, other people. He didn´t stop early, despite heavy bleeding.
People often joke about "crazy
Japanese" or slap totalizing labels on "extreme music from
Japan", but the fact is, the experimental / noise / punk freakout
in Japan possess a downright impressive sense of historical context.
Nuances of style hold enormous importance. Punk Japanese
experimentalism isn´t conceptual
in the WIRE-approved, Alvin Lucier type way, but kids really care about
the ideas, attitudes,
and situations that go into a particular work or performance--the
story, behind any given piece is something you need to get as well as
At least I think that´s what´s going on. Sometimes in Japan it´s hard to tell.
Right now, at this very moment, just as the famous soccer team Real Madrid was about to finish a match in their Madrid home stadium, they had to run out. All 80,000 fans exited in chaos. A bomb threat. This happened live on national television. Now TV cams pan the field: empty except for pigs and police dogs.
Last week ETA set off no fewer than a dozen bombs in Spain, most of them syncronized across several cities. If the Basque country had oil instead of sheep then Haliburton´s Department of Defense and Homeland Insecurity would be underpaying their illegal Guatemalan nannies extra to take care of the kids while they embark on expense-account trips to assess the profitability of anti-terrorism efforts in Spain. The last time the Madrid´s Bernabéu stadium was bombed (a car bomb) I lived up the street & heard it. You don´t just hear bombs exploding, you feel them too. Part of it is the way low-frequency bass soundwaves travel, and part of it is the way violence births violence, hate amplifies itself.
There are a lot of things about this picture. We're backstage in Belfast, North Ireland, only a few minutes away from neighborhoods where you find streets like "RPG Row" and enormous wall murals of paramilitary men with big guns. We: the 2 guys on the left, Abdel Hak & Grey Filastine in my band Nettle; the 2 guys on the right, Hamid Batma and Allal Yalla in the group Nass El Ghiwane.
The first thing you see is Abdel playing Allala's banjo--so far as I'm concerned, you haven't heard a banjo til you've heard Allal play it. He's taken away the frets so that he can play quartertones. (In Turkey some devoted accordionists actually dismantle their accordion & whittle away the sounding reeds to achieve quartertones—the notes in between the notes on Western pianos). The banjo is notoriously difficult to tune even when fretted… Allal plays it loud, different every night, with no effects or reverb whatsoever. What he's expressing with the banjo bears such importance that he never lessen its impact with any sweetening effect like reverb or echo, although it is standard practice.
Listening to him play the banjo, thrash it about and make it leap into life under his fingers, without any acoustic softening of reverb, you realize that he's as punk as Iggy. Usually when people talk about "punk" or "heavy" or "hardcore" sound quality, they are talking about the use of distortion. Distortion (along with velocity) is one of the old obvious signifiers of punk-ness or aggression in music. Heavy metal, hiphop, drum&bass: listen at the "noisier" or "heavier" end of all these genres and lots more you'll find liberal amounts of distortion. Kids all over the world are still sampling fast breakbeats, throwing them into distortion plug-in software, and calling the results hardcore, this-core, thatcore. A thousand basement Nirvanas hit the distortion fx pedal to give their guitars teeth. Allal opens the other door.
steel-string tones cut, his voice pierces, it cuts through and you have to
listen. So, listening to Allal play night after night on tour together, it made
me start to think that distortion is a lazy way to heaviness or hardcore . This
is why crunk (US southern hiphop, lots of synths, gangsta posturing, syrupy
bass, fantastic sung choruses, etc etc)
&, in the UK, grime, is so nice: think about Lil Jon's clean synth
lines, squeaky clean, narcotically clean, as clean as synthetic drugs in a
plastic pill case--crunk is HEAVY, but without distortion. Crunk
production leans, at least in small part, on the realization that one of the
noisiest soundwaves is the sine wave---compared to a pure amplified sine tone, power
electronics distortion musicians like Merzbow are downright pleasant to listen
to. Put another way, once you start
listening to distortion *not* as this is the result of a reference signal being
dragged behind the digital dumpster and roughened up and just listen to it as
is, well, distortion is kinda soft nine times out of ten. Which is where
Allal's banjo comes in, where Lil Jon's production values come in, where the
grimiest of the grime tracks come in--primarily with weird little synth
doodles, playstation music: the new hardcore embraces cleanliness like never
before. Obviously, multiple notions of heaviness are the best, and so hardcore
producers across genres often get really really boring because most of the
producers are zoning in on a pin-hole notion of heaviness, of aggression, and
how to attain, contain, and release it. Back to the photo.
Abdel looks serious as he works his way through Allal's instrument. He looks serious holding any instrument. Some people make music and some people are musicians. Abdel is a musician. Cut him he bleeds gorgeous sound. Music is serious, to him, and to perform it with all the passion and control that he does, you end up with a serious look on your face. That's just how it is.
M.I.A., a British-Sri Lankan girl slash tiger whose music I like most of the time, rocks the stage with not only prearranged dance moves but also a backup singer/dancer to emphasize them, in step. They're synchronized. They've practiced these moves, it's obvious, they want to look good on stage, you've paid for your ticket, maybe you got in on the list, and you want to look at someone who looks good onstage too. What is more reassuring than a politically-tinged performer, dipping into rehearsed dance moves? The revolution won't be televised, it will be play-acted: you'll follow your script and I'll follow mine. I think about the cage holding the panther at the end of Kafka's short story "The Hunger Artist" (I only have him en Español, sorry): "Era todo un descanso, hasta para los sentidos más embotados, ver cómo ese animal salvaje se revolvía en esa jaula tan triste. No le faltaba de nada. El alimento, que le gustaba, se lo traían los vigilantes sin pensar mucho; ni siquiera parecía echar de menos la libertad; ese cuerpo noble, dotado de todo lo necesario para desgarrar, parecía portar la libertad en su interior, parecía ocultarse en algún lugar de dentadura; y la alegriá de vivir salía de su garganta con tal ardor que los visitantes apenas podían soportarlo. Pero lo superaban, rodeaban la jaula, y no querían moverse de allí."
I've yet to see Abdel, one of the most generous musicians I've had the pleasure to meet, share a smile on stage. Allal too disregards the cage, plays as if what he's playing can leave it and just keep on going. Way back in 1972 Nass El Ghiwane's music had grown so influential and widespread in the Arab world that young teen who would later be (international rai superstar Cheb) Khaled was frontman for a group specializing in Nass El Ghiwane cover songs, learning Allal's banjo notes by heart.
There's an enormous story behind Grey Filastine's suit. Short version: Nettle tour wardrobe was provided in part by YoMango. What exactly does it mean to go into a commercial chain store, stuff some pieces of clothing from a multinational corporation into your bag, and walk out, bypassing the cash register? Morally speaking, is that worse than the multinational drastically underpaying the people who actually manufacture and sell those clothes, and giving absolutely none of the profit to the communities where their product was made or sold? Widespread institutionalized theft underscored by localized ideological theft. YoMango is a proud sponsor of Mr. Filastine's wardrobe, and they not only think about these questions but they *do* these questions--nothing so cozy & protected and smug as "critique", YoMango risk arrest and/or deportation and in a sense they are these questions and the need to ask them, they are a beginning to it.