28 Mar 2013

Some recommended reading...


Check out this Guardian interview with The Knife, getting all politisch
There's a narrative that culture or music should not have to do with politics. We are learned all the time to not think, and that of course comes through in many cultural workers. But I believe that it's in the music where you can really try out political alternatives and utopias. I have many friends who play around with these issues in their music – Planningtorock, for example, is doing that in really exciting ways – but the kind of vocabulary used around these artists is that it's pretentious or the production is not good enough. And that makes me think more about who is writing those things. (Olof Dreijer)
or how about:
We are constructed to like certain things... We've been teaching a bit at this summer camp for teenage girls who want to make electronic music, and there we often talk about this idea of quality in music and what informs our ideas of what is supposed to be good and bad music. You know that music history is written by privileged white men, so we can ask ourselves how important it is to repeat their ideas. (Olof Dreijer)
Read the full interview HERE (ignoring the snarky, reactionary commentary from the interviewer), and get excited for Shaking the Habitual on April 8th.


More importantly though, this fabulous essay from n+1 magazine (Jan 2012), by Richard Beck, wryly styled as a 'review of Pitchfork' (he gives them 5.4 out of 10). 

A seriously good survey of the history and impact of this hugely influential, vastly under-theorised and under-critiqued cultural megalith. Beck interrogates the ideology behind the creation of the site, the dimensions along which this ideology has (or hasn't) mutated as the meaning and power of the site has changed, and the problems that Pitchfork's effective monopoly over music discourse has had on the music itself.

One of the most striking aspects of the article, which is so unlike so much of what you read about music on the internet (and which many people would probably take exception to), is the quasi-ethnographic way that it encounters the various 'Pitchfork bands' (Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, M.I.A.) as if they were determined by (and, in turn, determined) the object of analysis - Pitchfork. For mid-00s bands, this might seem like an extreme proposition, but for many current 'Pitchfork bands', I believe this is a genuine phenomenon. Discussing these bands solely in relation to a particular site/community of discourse allows the essay to attempt two things. The first is to frame, as the essay's real object of analysis (or review), not the site per se but its musical milieu - the discourse which surrounded the early Pitchfork writers' initial cultural field/set of aesthetics/narrative templates, and then (more importantly) the music which began to feed off this discourse, to be generated by it and to perpetuate it, expand upon it and investigate it. In this way, Beck uses Pitchfork as an anchor around which to discuss the whole of American 'indie/alternative' music since the late '90s. He fixes it as an object of analysis which he can then critique.

This timely critique is the second important mission of the essay, and it is a refreshingly politicised one. Beck frames Pitchfork's high-rated protegé artists, like Sufjan and M.I.A., as symptoms of the discursive style (and the ideology) of the site itself, which is - in a way - itself a symptom of a particular cultural moment. Beck doesn't really go further into analysing what might be the socio-cultural context of this self-fashioning feedback loop between critics, fans and artists - I think we can lay the blame largely on late capitalism, alienation and post-deconstructionist disorientation, in combination with the supposed 'demands' of post-net culture - but it doesn't really matter, his insights into the assumptions, elisions and obsessions of online music-critical discourse are just too good.

You must must must read it all, since it's been very kindly posted in full on the n+1 website: HERE

However, I feel compelled to repost the last few paragraphs, because they fit so perfectly with the intentions of this blog. Enjoy -::::
I sometimes have the utopian thought that in a better world, pop music criticism simply wouldn’t exist. What justification could there be for separating the criticism of popular music from the criticism of all other kinds? Nobody thinks it’s weird that the New York Review of Books doesn’t include an insert called the New York Review of Popular Books. One of pop music criticism’s most important functions today is to perpetuate pop music’s favorite myth about itself—that it has no history, that it was born from nothing but drugs and “revolution” sometime in the middle of the 20th century. But the story of The Beatles doesn’t begin with John, Paul, George, and Ringo deplaning at JFK. It begins with Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 1722 Treatise on Harmony, which began to theorize the tonal system that still furnishes the building blocks for almost all pop music. Or, if you like, it goes back to the 16th century, when composers began to explore the idea that a song’s music could be more than just a setting for the lyrical text—that it could actually help to express the words as well. Our very recent predecessors have done many important and wonderful things with their lives, but they did not invent the musical universe all by themselves. The abolition of pop criticism as a separate genre would help pop writers to see the wider world they inhabit. 
Most of all, though, we need new musical forms. We need a form that doesn’t think of itself as a collection of influences. We need musicians who know that music can take inspiration not only from other music but from the whole experience of life. Pitchfork and indie rock are currently run by people who behave as though the endless effort to perfect the habits of cultural consumption is the whole experience of life. We should leave these things behind, and instead pursue and invent a musical culture more worth our time. (Richard Beck)