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Delirious With Weird

Tuesday, May 13, 2003  
Back in the days when I was a teenager, before I had status and before I had a pager, I used to find the abstract listening to hip hop, my pops used to say it reminded him of bebop. I said "well daddy don't you know that things go in cycles, way that Bobby Brown is just ampin' like Michael..."

Simon Reynolds think's Prefuse 73 is crap. Simon Reynolds says that Ludacris "creams [Prefuse 73] on just about every front, including riddimological invention." Simon Reynolds may be right; Simon Reynolds may be wrong. I don't care. As respected as Mr Reynolds is I think he needs to clamber off his high-horse from time to time and worry less about what's 'real' and 'vital' and 'relevent' and 'street', and just concentrate on what's good. MVC Exeter has, like many record shops these days, an 'Urban' section. What the fuck is that? That's the section to catch-all anything that isn't obviously Rock & Pop. Which is, of course, stupid in the extreme, because the resultant 'Urban' section ends up composed of hip hop, r'n'b, drum n bass, house, electronica, nu-soul and anything else that people can't be bothered to categorise properly and that isn't 'rock'. MVC's 'Urban' section is subdivided into two further categories, but these are un-named, and you have to figure out for yourself precisely what governs the placement of one thing in one section and another in the other. Broadly speaking, the two sections appear to be divided into 'black urban' music and 'white urban' music: ie; Chemical Brothers and Paul Van Dyck on one side, NWA and The Fugees on the other. Strangely enough, Tricky finds himself on the Chemical Bothers side of the divide. I'm not sure how that works. I also found Fridge in with the Chemical Brothers (is postrock 'urban'?), even though the new Four Tet album was positioned firmly and squarely in Rock & Pop. Solo Music in Exeter has an 'Alternative' section (where you will find NOFX and Kids Near water), a wonderful classical section, but not even a cursory, tokenistic nod towards a dance section (I know the manager, I must have words with her about this).

But what about Simon Reynolds? Like Freud, Reynolds seems to dogmatically fit things into an arbitrary grid according to a pre-defined system; with Freud it resulted in any variation of response to a specific question being slotted into one possible conclusion ("Sucked your thumb as a child? Fancy your mother! Didn't suck your thumb as a child? Fancy your mother!"); less analysis than narrow pigeon-holing. Reynolds' is obviously different; his analysis, we know, is generally very good; it's not that we're questioning. What we're questioning is value judgements; is it dishonest of SR to dismiss Prefuse 73 in favour of Ludacris? No it isn't; but it is dishonest to dismiss Prefuse 73 in favour of Ludacris on a sociological basis rather than on the basis of whether you like it or not. Reynolds' recent assertions on his blog that dancehall and UK garage are where it's at at the moment are fine; for loads of people that's true. For loads more it isn't. Music as force for sociological and cultural revolution and documentation? Fair enough; but can't music be just as valid without having to force upon it sociological resonance? ie; can't we just happily appreciate and enjoy it and be enriched by it on an almost solipsistic, aesthetic level? Reynolds' didactic approach then comes across as slightly patronising ("hope lies with the proles") and posits everything inside a dualistic, inverse-rockist system - "Is it street? I like it! Is it relevent? I like it! Is it not relevent? I don't like it! Is it rockist? I don't like it!" Thus The Streets get the thumbs-up, Ludacris gets the thumbs-up, UK garage gets the thumbs-up, but The Roots don't, Prefuse 73 don't, Flaming Lips don't, and the reason why these things either find favour or don't doesn't seem to be because Reynolds likes or dislikes them or whether they are any good or not so much as because they do or don't fit his schematic, like Geir Hongro in negative ("No melody? No worth! Even if it is relevent!"). Hence even if Prefuse 73's new album was the most God-kissed, sky-fucked moment of creation, SR would still not like it because it's a white guy doing 'arty' electronic hip hop (even though it's not particularly hip hop or arty; it's just electronica with hip hop beats and odd noises). It's almost as if SR is positing 'black' music (yes, I know it's a tenuous and dangerous term and I hate to use it) as beyond tampering with by those from priviliged backgrounds; but it's more than that, it's not just 'black' music, it's all 'working class' music, which is an even more dangerous and tennuous term to use. Socio-economic cultural bias? Yes, there may be one; but no, it doesn't make a record bad.

I'm talking myself in circles.

As for Prefuse 73; it's wicked. I'll tell you why soon.

5/13/2003 05:25:00 pm


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005