But – as you say-- not only have all previous eras of human civilization had particular modes of relating to the past, it’s also true that the anxiety about an excess of history and historical consciousness is not a new thing either. Look at Nietzche’s On the Use and Abuse of History For Life. Reading that, I was surprised to encounter so many pre-echoes of my own doubts and disquiets. That was written in 1873!
3. It seems that there is something strange with the category of newness, we still desire novelty, but I think we cannot or do not want to create it anymore. Do you think that this concept (newness) is still useful and diagnoses properly phenomena and transformations of contemporary culture? Can you give some examples of completely new developments and trends in contemporary music?
As with “the future” or “futuristic”, the idea of the new lingers, I think, but in a kind of painful way, it’s not completely buried and forgotten but nor does it work like it used to.
I can’t think of many really new things in music. Some of the bass sounds in dubstep – the wobble, brostep, Skrillex end of it – seem pretty extreme, if not completely new then a development along on an axis of intensification from things being done in the Nineties. And similarly the use of AutoTune and “vocal science” effect, while building on Nineties techniques, seems to be a growth area – it seems to be a way that musicians indicate contemporaneity and “this is now”. You get that across the board from mainstream pop and rap to underground and experimental music – an interest in vocal weirdness, the denatured and posthuman voice.
The same goes for rock criticism, particularly in its early days, -- critics focused on the lyrics or the social meaning, had very little to say about groove or sound. That partly reflected their background as students of humanities, usually English Literature or History or Political Science. But it also reflected a culture-lag syndrome of the kind you’re talking about.
5. What do you think about hipster culture, what does it mean for you and how does it influence the condition of contemporary culture? Why does this category function rather as an insult and the object of derision, in fact no one wants to admit that he/she is a hipster? Does the diving for remnants in the dumpster of culture is so shameful or the very concept of a hipster is identified with the lack of any taste and competence?
Hipster, as a phenomenon, is closely bound up with retro, but it’s not identical with it. Retro and vintage is one of the ways hipsters express themselves and accumulate their subcultural capital. But it can also be done through cosmopolitan exoticism – through knowledge of other cultures, usually non-Western and subaltern cultures. So I talk about xenomania as a parallel phenomenon to retromania. Both retro and xeno have existed for decades, but again the internet has intensified both syndromes hugely. You have hipsters who know about obscure music from the 1960s and 1970s (or increasingly going back before World War 2 to pre-war gospel and blues). But you also have hipsters – often the same hipsters – who are chasing strange new rhythms from the ghettoes of South America or Africa, things they find out about on YouTube. And sometimes you get retroxeno – which is the quest for super-obscure African music only ever released on cassette in the 1970s, or Ocora field recordings, or New Wave music from the former Soviet Union...
I sometimes think of myself as a hipster who isn’t good with clothes or hair... a failed or partial hipster. I can do the music-taste part of hipsterism easily, not the other bits. But I’m the wrong age group, also. I have too much mental and emotional baggage from a pre-hipster era. If hipsterism is the voiding of bohemia of any actual dissident cultural value, then I still mostly belong emotionally to a world before that happened.
Recreativity is a term I came up with for a whole set of practices to do with remixing, reenactment, mash ups, parody, and also for the theories that have sprung up to celebrate these practices and to attack ideas of originality and innovation, along with the notion of copyright and intellectual property. As with retro, there’s been a boom of these practices and their attendant theorizations in the last decade, but they also go back a long way – through appropriation art in the Seventies, back to Pop Art in the Sixties, all the way to the readymade and collage in the early 20th Century. Not forgetting postmodernism which was in large part all about the rejection of the idea of originality and origins. And just in the context of pop music, there have been debates about sampling and “plunderphonics” and the remix going back to the early Eighties. So in an ironic way, these very 21st Century things like Nicolas Bourriaud’s theories about postproduction art and curatorial aesthetics, or things like the early 2000s fad for mash ups, they are themselves remixes of earlier ideas or they are extensions of earlier practices of remixing and mashing-up. They exemplify and perpetuate the very syndromes they identify and celebrate .
To say that “all artists steal” doesn’t help explain how some artists transform what they steal and actually create the new. Which keeps on happening.
But then for other young people maybe there is actual longing and yearning directed to these golden ages of music they’ve read about, the attraction is to music that seemed to be connected to history and to social energies in a way that few music today is. So that would be a self-defeating form of nostalgia, because by channeling energy towards music from the past they are by definition disconnecting themselves from history and from current social energies.
It is interesting, and something that I don’t really explore in the book, how the idea of the generation gap has faded – the rejectionist impulse of youth doesn’t seem to apply anymore, in the sense of rejecting their parents’s music. Or in the early hyper-accelerated days of rock, it was rejecting your older brother and sister’s music. Glam fans seized on glam because they wanted their own thing, and the hippie / underground music of just a few years earlier belonged to their older brothers and sisters. Same with punk and New Wave: it created a dividing line in history. It would be many years before I listened to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd... when I got into music in 1978, you just took it as read that the Old Wave of rock was utterly irrelevant, discredited, and actually devoid of any musical value.
I don’t know about that. Personally, I have all kinds of nostalgia for various periods of my life, and periods of culture. But I strongly resist this idea that when you talk about a decline, or a change even, in how culture works, or the nature of music – that this can be simply dismissed as nostalgia. To point out that things are different in a certain respect, doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to go back.
So in terms of what I’m writing about in Retromania, I think the book can be seen as in part a neutral description of changes caused by the transition from an Analogue System to a Digital System. Parts of the book – the stuff to do with YouTube and with filesharing and MP3s in particular – are a kind of phenomenology of digital life, an anatomy of its sensations and affects. The Analogue System made possible certain kinds of affect and convergence of energy; these occur much less frequently or much more weakly in the Digital era, if at all.
But since my expectations of music was shaped by experiencing those affects and living through such convergences of energy: postpunk, rave, etc) you could justifiably view Retromania as a requiem for the Analogue System. There is an element of mourning the passage of an entire world and the kind of subjectivity shaped by it. The Analogue-era sense of culture-time as linearity and forward propulsion has been displaced by atemporality and a recursive, archival logic. So the interest is what new convergences and affects are emerging out of this altered sense of time and space? How will music function in the new order? So far it’s very unclear -- mostly we are still living inside the wreckage of the Analogue System. Will pop music have the privileged status it had or has it become just one zone or componenent with the entertainment landscape? The sense is that the old power and function that music had has decisively gone but we don’t know yet what powers and functions it will have.
13. I know that you are planning a new book. What comes after retro and what will be the subject of your research this time? Will it be another come back of the past and you will continue threads started in Retromania or you will focus on completely new territory?