Wednesday, May 27, 2015

maxed out

At Pitchfork, Meaghan Garvey connects PC Music and my digital maximalism essay "Maximal Nation" (also for Pitchfork) from several years back, under the rubric of what she calls "the Internet Hangover".

"The most fitting torch-bearers for the ideals of digital maximalism in 2015 are the members of PC Music... Masterminded by producer/conceptual svengali A. G. Cook, the crew makes music and visuals that are uncannily cheerful and shamelessly synthetic, a self-aware mash of faux-naive teen girl caricature and leering corporate brand-speak....  

"PC Music’s music is a means to an end, just one tier of the label’s half-performative, half-serious post-postmodern branding experiment....  Fully "getting" PC Music relies on the spectator’s awareness of the artists’ winking performance of Web 1.0 zeal in a Web 2.0 world: the post-ironically naive lyrics ("I don’t wanna be an MP3/ 320 kbps, you know that I feel kinda real") or the poker-faced, bizarro-world advertising spots. I initially read this as satire, though certainly not without an obvious tenderness for its source material (the business of pop, the art of branding), that would ultimately lead to some critical conclusions about consumerism, art, and identity in the digital age.... 

"But there’s something awkwardly dated about PC Music’s approach, too—an unwavering optimism in the chaotic, supersaturated digital realm, and a desire to immerse oneself even deeper within it, that I find hard to relate to in a way that I would not have a few years ago. PC Music’s approach amplifies and exaggerates the ideals put forth in "Maximal Nation," but our experience of the Internet has warped pretty drastically in those deceptively short four-ish years. These concepts felt sexy and vital in the early 2010s, but in 2015, "digital maximalism" isn’t so much a limitless frontier as our exhausting day-to-day reality. 

"Internet culture feels like it’s reached a critical mass: non-professional bloggers feel like a dying breed, privacy is nonexistent, our most essential social media platforms have grown tedious and rife with harassment, content is branded and SEO-optimized within an inch of its life. Everyone I know is "thinking about deleting Facebook." We use technology to help us stay away from technology. In short, a predominantly digital existence just doesn’t feel that fun anymore, at least not as fun as PC Music makes it out to be. I wish I could muster up A. G. Cook’s enthusiasm about life in the digital realm; instead, I’m listlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed in the dark, wondering why I even bother...."

 "Divisive" as PC Music has set out to be..  they subvert nothing, nor do they add anything to the discussion beyond noise. They merely reflect the flat, bright, incessant, corporatized banalities of the current age...  PC Music had the potential for insurrection, subversion, or at least some shred of insightful commentary on our dumb, addictive, overwhelming digital existence. But mostly, they remind me of ideals I believed in not so long ago that now just make me feel tired."

Garvey identifies 2015 as "the year of the Internet Hangover"....

Guess it hits everyone at different points, but looking back it feels like every year for the past seven or so felt like a year of encroaching burn-out, from both a personal perspective and what I was observing in those small corners of the blogosphere / social-media that I frequent.... a sense of increasingly frazzled brains struggling to process all the sound-image-text flowing ever more swiftly and inundatingly across our mindscreens.... people dropping out to rejoin "real life"

But somehow you get used to it, you persevere...

I was alive and alert for too long in the analogue-only world to be called a digital native... but I have been on the web since 1996, so that is nearly 20 years...  and in truth, probably every year has felt like an escalation... the number of emails you have to reply to, the copiousness of stuff to read out there,  the equally ever-expanding incitement to deposit discourse (first the website, which Joy painstakingly constructed and taught me how to use; then the blog;  then the blogs plural; then Facebook, Twitter, etc, not forgetting various message boards and forums I participated in intermittently, with varying degrees of intensity, UK Dance, Dissensus, ILM);  the ocean-of-sound becoming a tsunami with the sharity blogs, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Mixcloud, ad nauseam;  YouTube's invitation to get lost in elsewheres and elsewhens, live in the past...  The TV recaps, the forensic political coverage at election times... both equally exhaustive, equally exhausting....

"I can't go on. I'll go on"...

("Maximal Nation", incidentally, was far from a straightforward celebration of the digital existence; there's an undercurrent of ambivalence, perhaps more apparent when read in conjunction  with other things I published that year, from Retromania to this Wire essay).

In the piece, Garvey also steps sideways to consider Hipster Runoff and the untaggable sensibility of Carles:

 "... I don’t think HRO would have resonated as much, personally, if I hadn’t sensed something deeply sincere and weirdly intimate beneath all the layers of irony: the quiet existential shame that creeps in as a belief system to which you’d once earnestly ascribed (in this case, the "alternative," but also, the Internet as an inherently positive force) reveals itself to be flawed and ultimately hollow. I recognized it because I was starting to feel it too."

Carles on PC Music...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

NInetiestalgia pt 456 / the shifting 'center' of classic rock

Pitchfork mini-thinkpiece on millenial nostalgia for mid-late-90s  (and even early Oughts) by Paul de Revere

"Millennials are surely as nostalgic as any other preceding generation, yet Millennial nostalgia is seemingly more self-reflective, even, and critically thinking than restorative. What they share with previous generations—particularly with Generation X and its pioneering meta observations—is a willingness to reimagine eras in which they never lived. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy noticed it too. On 2002’s "Losing My Edge", Murphy—a Gen X’er—deadpans about "art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties."

"This assimilation of an era in which you never lived is what Douglas Coupland called "legislated nostalgia" or persuasion through the pop culture of preceding generations to "have memories [you] do not actually possess." Coupland, a seminal Gen-X culture critic, got this published in 1991. Indeed, Millennials and Gen X’ers are hardly the first to have nostalgia legislated onto them, then retool it. But their cultural critics have certainly mused the most about it.

"It’s the pace and frequency of the Nostalgia Cycle that’s changed noticeably with Millennials specifically, whose time frame of lived memories for which they’re nostalgic is perpetually shrinking. What Coupland called "ultra-short-term nostalgia" has been shot into Millennial overdrive. Writer-director Noah Baumbach exaggerated the concept in his 1995 dramedy Kicking and Screaming. "I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday," Baumbach muses dryly through the character Max. "I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur." Instant nostalgia. Pre-emptive nostalgia. They happen on social media now, almost literally. And for Millennials, it’s almost blasé. Similar to the crew in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, pop culture is increasingly at the lip of a black hole—in this case, a pop-culture quantum singularity—where the past, present, and future are all taking place simultaneously."

"If you’re low-key freaking right now, you’re not alone. The Future Shock of 1970 has become the Present Shock of 2013. It’s why—in the face of a major tour like Third Eye Blind and Dashboard Confessional, capitalizing on the ~feels~ and meta ultra-short-term nostalgia of young-professional twenty- and thirtysomething Millennials—it might seem somehow "too soon" to get nostalgic over late-'90s alt-rock or early ’00s emo. But it’s not. Nothing is ever too soon anymore."

"....  It’s a wonder '90s rock bands took even this long to start organizing nostalgia cruises. And that the so-called present Emo Revival—perhaps a byproduct of the genre’s next wave, perhaps a fleeting moment of Millennial nostalgia—got coined as a term only recently."

Can't speak for Millenials obviously - realised recently I'm not even proper Gen X, since demographically I was born in the very last year of the Baby Boom - but one thing I've personally noticed about 9tiestalgia is that the things that were backgrounds sounds  - that you might have disregarded or been on some level opposed to  -  have now started to have an appeal... beyond even the memory-tug they trigger, they (some of them, anyway) actually start to seem objectively good

In my case that would be a new appreciation for the works of The Offspring...  Weezer ....  Sublime ... Cake ... even (amazing / worrying myself) one or two things by No Doubt and NiN and Smashing Pumpkins

Mind you I always loved this SmgPnkns tune, as surely everyone did (which itself is a nostalgia song)

But with the late-alt and grunge-lite and pop-punk stuff (lots of one-offs here -  the theme from Peep Show by Harvey Danger, "Sex and Candy" etc) - the appeal is partly because these songs were ambiently around during a time which now seems golden for lots of other reasons (personal, political, and what was going on elsewhere in music as consuming passions - ie. rave, rap, postrock etc)

and partly because of their quality of Quintessential Nineties-ness

In that respect, The Offspring are perhaps the equivalent of Steve Miller Band ... a band that was journeyman, bread-and-butter, background-radio staple stuff at the time... but with time has an appeal precisely for their echt-Seventiesness

(They and similar other groups also bring to mind the last time MTV actually had music on...  and it was my routine during my early years in New York to take breaks from work not by going on the Internet as I do now, but switching on MTV)

This personal 90s-stalgia / alt-rock surprise-enjoyment (I'd draw the line at 4 Non Blondes and still find most Green Day a bit sickly-melodious) is partly a knock-on effect, though, of what's on the radio to listen to while in the car. It seems harder to find a classic rock station nowadays, in the old sense of 'classic rock' as mostly  60s and 70s rock....   60s you almost never come across and 70s is definitely becoming a diminished presence on the dial ... instead the demographic / generational center of oldies radio seems to have shifted to the late 80s and 90s...   clearly the radio programmers know what they are doing..... they must continually monitor the age-range of their listener market, what songs get the best response, what mix of eras / styles keeps people from switching to a different station the longest

Inevitably as the radio audience ages out, the nostalgia sweet spot drifts nearer the present - a station like Jack FM for instance seems to be playing less ZZ Top and Steve Miller Band... more Harvey Danger and Blind Melon (another one I always loved)

Things you don't surprisingly hear on Classic 90s Rock  Radio (at least in this city) and I wish you did - Alice In Chains

Things you don't surprisingly hear on Classic 90s Rock Radio hardly ever (at least in this city) and for this I'm glad  - Spin Doctors, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Live, Metallica


I wonder if I lived in the U.K. during the mid-late 90s and still today that I would be having similar effects of ambient-nostalgia re. Britpop and its afterbirth...   as heard on Radio 2 which is nothing like Radio 2 when I were a lad... the shifting center of M.O.R.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

nowhen pop with nowhere to go

Embling's Tiny Mix Tapes review of Shamir's Ratchet and its exquisite pastiche of "low-key electropop, glam house, dance rap, and indie power-balladry" 

"Shamir isn’t paying homage to any one era in particular; to me, he sounds as indebted to the turn of the Millennium as he is to the artists from whom the dance-punks and electroclashists were cribbing. Ratchet exhibits a temporal and generic dimensionality that is completely alien to me, as a person who spent the most formative years of his young adulthood without immediate access to portable devices that could feasibly contain the entire history of a given genre.
The closest analogue I can muster is the current season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, wherein young, inexperienced, yet fully-formed queens who’ve grown up not only with ball culture, but also with reality TV and Drag Race itself, keep besting their older, less polished, more narrowly-defined competitors.
"Maybe I should be thinking instead of Alexander, weeping at the prospect of having no lands left to conquer? In any case, Shamir, as a young artist, is proof to me of evolution as a reality, progress as an upward arc, and also of the existential terror I feel when I listen to Ratchet and my mind hears a historical vanishing point. When I hear Shamir’s nimble and cherubic vocals, I often hear a question hanging in air: where can we possibly go from here?
Please forgive me for saying this, but younger Millennials — there needs to be a more accurate term for the generation of those born in the post-broadband era — are in many ways like the final girl’s friend in The Human Centipede, meaning that they eat last and are fed only that which has already been twice digested. Maybe that sounds ungenerous, but think of the limitations of such limitless access: Shamir, who is a prodigy almost without peer, can’t make the music he wants without being reduced to echoes and aftershocks of every single (lesser) artist who entered this world before him."

[emphases added]