Thursday, June 19, 2003
Simon's musings on deterritorialisation in music are incredbly insightful, but I think it's somewhat misleading to suggest that all the exciting stripes of music around at the moment - especially garage rap - are defiantly territorialised and not deterritorialised at all. It doesn't explain the awesome friction created by Jay-Z rapping over Panjabi MC, or the geographically enigmatic appeal of the Diwali riddim. And what's exciting me about garage rap at the moment is that it's not just about distilling the music down to a pure London t'ing - on that Nasty Crew set a lot of the thill comes from the collision of minimal 8-bar and MCing with Indian dazzle (4 minutes in) or exotic synth sparkles (22 minutes in) or plangent Chinese flutes (the last track). Stuff like this, like Elephant Man's "Fuck U Sign" or Foxy Brown's "Run Dem" are neither territorialised or deterritorialised but a jarring mixture of the two forces. Urban music is well placed to create a diaspora precisely because of its "facialisation", its emphasis on origin and authenticity rubbing up against its multiculturalist sonic impulses to create a friction that is alienating, indecipherable, enticing. The interlinks between the US, Jamaica, London and India are interesting because of both their continuity and their radical breaks with eachother - their relationships with eachother become an irresistible puzzle that we can't help but want to solve.

And maybe that is what we're always looking for in music - the sense of conflicting ideas and impulses that have yet to be assimilated or pared down to a single essence, making this music impossible to entirely unpack, a Pandora's box whose lid is always only half-open ('cos once Pandora's Box has been emptied of its secrets, what purpose does the box serve any more?). In fact I'm starting to think that the ability to "pare down to a single essence" is the fatal blow to the future possibilities of a sound. The initial attraction of Horsepower Productions was the savviness with which they took all of 2-step garage's burgeoning contradictions and expressed them in a simple formula - rhythm-as-androgyny. I loved them initially because of the clean precision with which they expressed this underlying secret to garage's success. But ultimately this distillation was the equivalent of revealing the secret behind the magician's tricks - 2-step from then on could no longer retain that sense of enigma that it had hitherto possessed, and while I do love In Fine Style and related stuff by the likes of Zed Bias, it sounds like a comprehensive dead-end in the same way that the rhythmically superlative drum & bass released by the likes of Metalheadz circa 94/95 (eg. Dillinja's "The Angels Fell") seemed to spell the absolute end-point of breakbeat mash-up. It's no co-incidence that the 8-bar rhythmic matrix took over completely at the same time as Horsepower Productions "perfected" 2-step; at this point the appeal of 8-bar appeal is much less open to clear articulation, much more problematic.

Meanwhile the problem with prog house as a musical style is that it's deterritorialisation distilled, purified, simplified and scrubbed clean, with none of the flux and tension that the term implies. And deterritorialisation only possesses these qualities to the extent that it is in contest with territorialist impulses. It's no secret that the great social engines for modernist literature were countries where forces of modernisation were still in contest with pre-modern structures - James Joyce's Roman Catholic Ireland, or the pre-industrial, largely feudalist Russia. Remove the opposition, and you remove a large amount of the meaning of any given force or impulse. The deterritorialism of current urban music can only be understood in the context of territorialism; its facialisation only derives meaning when contrasted with its essential interchangeability; its open-minded experimentalism exists in perpetual contrast with its monomaniacal thematic consistency. It's these very contradictions which make this music seem to thrive with potential, make it so incredibly attractive and addictive.


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