Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Nothing is without precedent, but how does one go through life with an increasing breadth of knowledge about the expanding palette of the present without becoming blind to the new when it does pop up?"-- a good question from Tim H Gabriele at 555 Enterprises, although I disagree with "nothing is without precedent": unprecedented things have actually been done in music, and the othersarts, although it is certainly not the only route to the shock of the new, and in the absence of new technology it's much harder to escape precedents. 

He continues: "In all likeliness, the new will never actually be holistically unheard- at least in the way electronic noises once were, but will rather defy simple categorization as a proximal amalgamation of reference points. This is the way P4K often used to review (and still does occasionally), using the musical past as metrics, ancestry as math- they're the MBAs of music, finding no problem a calculation or a McKinsey study can't answer."

This is but a throat-clearing before a detailed breakdown of all things he hears as constituents of the Death Grips sound . Of course a group can have a plethora of sources, influences, starting points and unwitting or semi-witting parallels without being "retro" (which implies an element of referentiality and/or reverence). 

Tim mentions John Calvert @ Quietus's contention that DG are an exemplary postpunk group, and in amidst JC's litany of late 70s/early 80s forebears, up pops the name Kevin Martin (he wasn't recording during postpunk, but Kev is the most diehard, true-school postpunk-until-he-keels-over chap ever, formed in his fibres by Metal Box etc). And that reminded me that when I first heard Death Grips I felt there was something vaguely mid-to-late Nineties about them...   like they were coming out of an aggy-hardhop zone inhabited by Company Flow, Oxbow, and ooh i dunno what else...  and  as it happens loadsa 90s coordinates pop up in Greyhoos's own little list  at Our God Is Speed ("mid-90s Wordsound.... Sensational... the various Scott Hard-produced acts like New Kingdom")

but DG's sound is neither a recapitulation, nor even a straightforward resumption of a path prematurely abandoned... but more like a two steps back, one step forward, three steps sideways...

the fact that they remind so many people of so many different things suggests that they might actually be true originals


  1. I wouldn't argue with that last point. And by pointing out a number of vague precedents, it wasn't my intention to imply that DG are necessarily retrograde or derivative or blahblahblah.

    I just find it intriguing. Because hip hop has always been aesthetically conservative in many respects. Despite talk of "some next shit" or whatever, a certain reverence for roots and adherence to certain degree of form are to be expected.

    But then you have things like the aforementioned that pop up from time to time (particularly in the '90s), but fizzle out fairly quickly due to lack of significant response/interest. But eventually someone else takes the baton and runs with it again, or tries to advance things in a certain direction, or hits upon a similar idea, or whatever. And maybe the timing proves more conducive and it ends up catching more ears then than previously. (Even if all the self-reckoned hip hop purists dismiss all such stuff like the above as "bullshit," as they always do.)

  2. I agree with the last point as well and I think I meant to come out and say that, but relooking at the post it's definitely not clear in the writing that I actually do find them to be originals after all.

    On the first point though, I meant that nothing contemporary is without precedent. With the more music I hear, it's hard to think of a sound I haven't heard before, even if I've never heard it in the context it's in. I'm not saying that this means there is no shock of the new anymore, but it makes the new harder to shock when you're programmed to categorize music by the sounds you associate an unheard piece with.

    In the case of Death Grips, I felt a slight shock when first listening to them (I've still only heard the new album- I've heard their first record is different but perhaps similar enough to dull this affect?). Then I started to hear all these different things in them. But the fact that they didn't sound close enough to any of them made me realize that projecting a historicity onto their audio signature didn't necessarily mean that the music was the end product of all that list. An argument could be made on a purely sonic level that DG are the result of hybridization or sublimation of certain left-behind elements, but that just makes for a tidy series of questions leading to a sloppy answer. What makes DG so compelling for me is that despite all these elements swirling around in their music, they don't really seem concerned about having a history. They don't even seem to care about having a relationship to any other music at all.

  3. A question I always did to myself (and can't yet find the answer) is this. Is it possible to judge anything from an historical point of view when you are close in time to that event. I mean it is possible to evaluate 60's, 70's, and 80's are they defined period in the past but what about years from 2000 and on. Is it possible to define what happened as the year come close to our actual today?

    Hope it is clear. I am sure a certain distance in time will help analysis.

    I listened some DG tunes and I've to agree about the mix of many differents sound techniques. In one song I noted (The Fever) how the focal point was on the sample rather than on the beat itself. The drum loop was on the background sonically while the loop seemed some intricate keyboard passage. I mean starting from the fact that apart from drum loops everything else is a sample it is possible I can give a new recombination by just finding a new style of editing.

    The new technology today seems to be the DAWs (digital audio workstation). Yeah, they exists since 90's almost but now they adding more and more powerful features everyday letting the chance of recombinations virtually unlimited.