Monday, September 16, 2013

mirror mirror

One of my stumbling blocks with vaporwave was this idea that it constituted a critical response, as opposed to merely reflecting hyper-capitalism.  The listener could supply that criticality, through conscious reflection, but it didn't seem to actually inhere to the music itself, which was all too convincingly the sound of the simulacrum, genuinely vaporous and sedative.

Now Adam Harper argues that that with V-wave's latest sub-wave of practitioners, this very absence of a difference or distance from what it is "critiquing" somehow makes it even more radical/compelling/perplexing/disorienting.

"Loads of listeners got where Ferraro was coming from with 'Far Side Virtual', understood what it was representing, but on the whole it was a hyperreal caricature, instructively over-the-top, which was the point - there was a small but significant difference between music we had experienced out in the world and where Ferraro was taking that music. With ADR, Gatekeeper, and now perhaps Yen Tech, the pastiche is so close and so deadpan that the listening experience becomes even more confusing and provocative. The gap between the caricature and its object narrows to a hairline fracture, for many listeners it disappears completely. No longer, it seems, is underground new music merely caricaturing the sounds its audience associates with capitalistic or technological excess, leaving us space to comfortably situate ourselves in relation to it. For all intents and purposes, it is the music of capitalistic and technological excess. The only thing missing is the big record contract, or the advertising deal. It might be just around the corner."

Well, I wouldn't hold your breath for that. And I don't know about "confusing and provocative". Listening to e.g. "Forever Ballin'" there is no surplus value to be gleaned of criticality/commentary.... the lyrics are the standard-issue 2011/2012/2013 mish-mash of ceiling-can't-hold-us triumphalism, "only got one life", raise my glass, etc. It seems like an unnecessary supplement to the already existing, a superfluous contribution to a field flooded with redundancy as it is.

Harper argues that the intermediary role of ADR, Yen Tech et al enables one to engage with the genuinely utopian (but also crypto-dystopian) nature of contemporary pop...

But that begs the question: why not just listen to the radio?

Because the capitalist-utopianism (and its dysphoric interior, emptiness and depressive hedonism) is right out front and center with virtually everything coming out of the pop stations, whether it's the banging clubpop YOLO&B with its soars and AutoTune glazing, or (t)rap /ratchet, or Drake-style  having-its-hedonist-cake-and-moaning-about-it decadence rap..... (Only exception really: Lorde's "Royals", which is an actual critique of that hypercapitalist glitz 'n glamma fantasy world).

There's more to listen to, and more to think about, with this stuff (Black Eyed Peas/, Rihanna, Tyga, "We Still In This Bitch", "Hell of A Night", "Young and Wild and Free", "Paranoid" etc) . And because it's out in the world in a way that V-wave isn't - actually popular, listened to and danced to -- it possibly tells you things about the state of the culture.  It is, conceivably,  a mirror, rather than a mirror of a mirror.   

A lot of the stuff on the radio damn near deconstructs itself.  A song like  "Can't Hold Us" is like an instant blog post: just add quotes from Lauren Berlant's Cruel Optimism, mix in some Simon Frith "routinised transcendence", a pinch of Veblen and a dash of Fisher, garnish with links to the requisite It's Her Factory posts, and you're away.

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