Friday, October 29, 2021

ghost slavery (the revenant meme)

Seem to be on the verge of meme-isis with "ghost slavery" which pops up regularly when the subject of pop holograms of deceased performers gets an airing

viz, this Washington Post piece on the profitable afterlife of Whitney Houston by Steven Zeitchik

interestingly if you flick through the comments below the article, the vast majority find the whole phenom creepy, morbid, unsettling, exploitative

it is the ultimate expression of Momus's retro necro

here are choice portions of the WashPost piece, with incredulous outbursts from me in BOLD

"The Grammy-winning legend died more than nine years ago. But in Las Vegas beginning this week, Houston took the stage with a complement of breathing performers, shimmying and shimmering and of course singing some of the most famous pop songs of all time in “An Evening With Whitney,” a live concert with a Houston hologram.

"This is what Pat Houston, her sister-in-law and manager, wants; this is what BASE Hologram, run by the former Clear Channel executive Brian Becker, wants. Soon enough, we will find out if this is what America wants — whether we crave Houston in colorful regalia on a buzzing stage, delighting audiences as she did so often when she was alive, ascending us to new heights of afterlife performance, or, maybe, just plummeting us straight into the uncanny valley.

"The show in many ways shatters the norms of techno-illusion. A two-minute deep fake is one thing. The dead dancing for us is another.

"“I don’t see it as resurrecting the dead but as celebrating a life,” said Becker over Zoom last week, pushing back, a little. “We want to build a great live show around her.”

"The “live show” is made up of a four-piece band and four dancers. “Her” is a computer-generated face of the singer in her prime that has been digitally grafted to an actress body-double, choreographed and shot months ago and now projected onto a scrim. Nothing on performance night can go wrong.

".... Several performances were held in the United Kingdom in early 2020, before lockdowns did to its star what death could not. The pause gave BASE and the creative team time to regroup, and now they are back with an open-ended, $80-a-pop run in Sin City.

"If all goes well, a tour will follow in 2023, delivering Hologram Whitney to one American road stop after another. 

"... The singer walks around the stage, she salutes the band and crowd, she slinks and dances, all in a dynamic, human-seeming performance. Oh, and there are wardrobe changes.

"... Holograms are not new in pop music. Nine years ago, at Coachella, Tupac appeared, via an old trick known as “Pepper’s Ghost.” (Technically, it’s an optical illusion.) They popped up again last year after Kanye West gave Kim Kardashian the holographic gift of her late father.

"They’re also not new to BASE, which has had hologram tours with Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Maria Callas.

"Some see exploitation in conjuring dead performers by hologram — “ghost slavery,” the journalist Simon Reynolds has termed it — either by damaging their supernal essence or by simply forcing technology to stand them up again and again on stages they never meant to grace. In America, you cannot defame the dead. But you can overwork them seven shows a week in a Vegas club.

"Pat Houston objects. She sees the production as a dream realized — a chance for a person to do in the virtual afterlife what she could not do while on earth.

"“Whitney would have loved the size of the venues and the ability to be in a smaller, more intimate setting,” Pat Houston wrote in an email. “Whitney’s touring was of course so massive when she was alive that she was playing arenas and stadiums and Super Bowls. But we often discussed the smaller venues and the ability to connect with an audience. She grew up singing in the church, so the connection to an audience was so important to her. She would have loved this show for its ability to be intimate with an audience.” INTIMATE!?!? YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING

"Becker points out that it would be hard to call it exploitation when the estate is involved creatively and sharing in the profits. HUH? THAT'S THE POINT, THE FAMILY CUSTODIANS ARE MILKING IT

"Reynolds also sees in the form a kind of disruption to the music ecosystem, since instead of new artists rising when old ones die, the old ones never clear out.

"The show offers a chance for people who never saw Houston in concert to do so. But their language is not yet developed. When the image pauses before a song, claps cheer her on.

"“It’s weird — like, you can’t encourage a hologram,” said Becker. (If the Whitney tour works, he has plans for other icon shows, estates-permitting; he also envisions living artists appearing by hologram in multiple cities on the same night.)  OLIGOPOLY AHOY!

"The social-media backlash has been noisy. Becker theorizes it is the boldness of the experiment, but something more primal may be at work: Seeing a late icon vital again reminds us of the thin line between life and death.

"To contemplate the Whitney Houston hologram is to feel instantly better about life — how nice to be reminded so viscerally of all we once loved — while also coming face-to-face with the uncomfortable truth at its center: It all goes away. Technology’s tempting of mortal physics touches deep.

"Harris’s experience is that the crowd softens as the show moves on. “They’re very quiet at the beginning, like, ‘how are we supposed to react to this?’ And then a few songs in they’re clapping and getting into it,” he said. “By the guitar solos, they’re cheers-ing and crying.”

"This, of course, is the goal. Watching Houston, we are meant to slip, if only momentarily, into the ecstasy of her presence, her talent, her alive-ness...." NO PRESENCE, NO LIFE, HERE!

Saturday, October 16, 2021

"I have vintage interests, but modern values" - the Nineties time capsule man

 via this Dissensus thread on 'The Meaning of the '90s',  a Daily Mail story about a "retro-obsessed man" who spent "£5,000 transforming his home into a time capsule complete with retro TVs, pine furniture, landline phones and a very chunky laptop.... complete with dated Ikea furniture, VHS players, telephone alarm clocks."

"Jack Walter, 23, from Bakewell, Derbyshire...  even drives a 'G reg' Austin Mini Metro.  The illustrator often scours charity shops and eBay while wearing high-waisted Levi jeans and Sweater Shop jumpers and says he finds comfort in the era and hoped to recreate the 'cosiness' of his parents' house from when he was a child - though he admits people think he's 'mad' for not enjoying the present day.

"And due to living in the countryside, he claims his 90s phone with extendable aerial ensures he gets better signal than his mobile phone.

"'I never really enjoyed modern decorating with all the greys. It didn't have the homey quality, and I wanted to replicate that.

"'When we moved into this current house two years ago, it was super bland and white. 

"Jack loves nothing more than watching TV shows from the era such as Absolutely Fabulous, Men Behaving Badly and The Vicar Of Dibley and 'always' plays his Now That's What I Call Music cassette tapes.

"Other photos show his home full of Ikea catalogues from 1997, old Nokia phones and a bulky, square laptop displaying Windows '95.

"He believes the 90s had the 'perfect balance of enough technology to keep us entertained, but not enough to feel like an overload' - though he admits he has to explain what his VHS tapes are to younger relatives.

"Sharing videos of his time capsule home on TikTok where he 'pretends it's the 90s' has earned him more than 5,000 followers as people have fallen in love with his obsession and he's met other fans.

""I'm probably at the charity shop once every two weeks, and I probably spend about £30 max,' he added.

"'The most expensive item I've probably brought is my 1980s television in my living room. 

"'That was £155. Not that expensive really, but for an old TV, people think I'm mad. A friend told me I probably could have gotten one from the tip.

"''I decided to share my house on TikTok initially because I was bored in lockdown and wanted to have a bit of fun.

"'Then I had a lot of people saying they remembered a lot of the items in my house, and that they feel the same way about the 90s.

"'There was a nice feel to it too, knowing that I'm not a weird person and other people enjoy this stuff too.

"Jack lives in the three-bedroom cottage with his parents and his partner of two years, Matthew Whiting, 28.

"For Jack, who admits he used to get 'funny looks' for wearing his 90s jeans, the decade offers an escape from modern life whilst also accommodating a lot of his interests.

"Jack's phone is pictured. He says 'I love my home telephone. I live out in the sticks, so I get awful mobile phone signal. A home telephone works for me

"Jack said: 'In the 1990s, we had enough technology to keep us entertained, but not enough to feel like an overload. Now we have so many different media outlets that it can get a little overwhelming. It's nice to have an escape from that.

"'I have my old television hooked up to an Apple TV which is hidden around the back. I have loads of old taped TV programs on YouTube.

"'But I also enjoy videos of series like Absolutely Fabulous, Men Behaving Badly and The Vicar Of Dibley.

"'At a push, I'd say my favourite item is probably my radio-alarm clock-telephone. It's very mundane, but I always feel a bit glam taking calls from my bedroom.

" 'I love 90s music. I always play the Now That's What I Call Music cassette tapes from 1998 to 1999. It's very 'Mum music'.

"'I obviously love the Spice Girls too - Gerri Halliwell being my favourite.

"'I'd say that any point between 1996 and 1999 is my favourite era for decor and music.

"'It's an escape from the modern world. Some people go to the gym, some play video games, this is my thing.

"'My partner is massively into video games, so he has all the original Nintendo consoles. We overlap in our interests there, so that's nice.'

"Jack said: 'I usually get one of three reactions from people when they come around and see my house.

"'There'll be some people who get nostalgic and remember things from my house from living through the 1990s.

"'Then you get people like my niece. She's only young so it's all new to her and she didn't believe that my phone or telephone worked. I had to explain to her what a VHS was.

"'And I get some people who walk in and don't get it at all. They think I'm mad, and they'll ask why I'm not enjoying what we have now.

"'They'll say that I should buy new things as they're better quality. In my opinion, it's cheaper for me to live like this and everything in my house has a story. They last a lot longer too.

"'I'll have some people online who will tell me it's not accurate. They'll say 'That TV is from the 80s, it's not 90s'. I think people forget that back in the day, people bought things to last.'

"Jack said: 'I do get some funny looks when I'm out dressed in a 40-year-old Sweater Shop jumper.

"'Some fashion trends from the 90s are coming back around, whilst others aren't. I've had people say to me 'It looks like your jeans are back in fashion', because when everyone was wearing skinny jeans, I was wearing high-waisted Levi's. People thought I was a bit weird for doing that.

"There's definitely a lot of people online who share my interests. I even met a mate online who has a house that is completely 70s.

"'I know I probably wouldn't have fit in during the 90s though. Being a gay man and having no internet, I probably wouldn't have met my partner. Gay men weren't portrayed in the media at all.

"'I have vintage interests, but modern values.' 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

pre-echoes of Retromania (3 of ??)

(This was the title I submitted the piece under - the Graun used something else)


The Guardian (1990)

by Simon Reynold

 "1990: A New Decade". So proclaimed the title of the second Soul II Soul album earlier this summer. But just as much as being the year of the Manchester explosion and the indie/dance crossover groups, of a new vibrancy and a sense of anticipation in the UK pop scene, 1990 has also been the year of... just about every other year in pop history.

     Launched last month, new rock monthly Vox is a concerted and calculated attempt to lock into the retro-Zeitgeist. Like its rival Select (which was launched earlier in the summer), Vox is aimed at a "twentysomething" market midway between the highly-committed, gig-going readership of the weekly music press, and the sedentary, partially-lapsed, semi-detached rock fans who read Q. Q's constituency is those who want to read about 'dinosaur bands' (Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Phil Collins, Clapton etc) who are still "going strong" in their third decade.  Vox, on the other hand, is less concerned with "living institutions" than with relics: the myths, memorabilia, and above all highly collectable music of Rock's Glory Years.

 Vox is targetted at a readership that divides its time equally between stockpiling the past pinnacles of rock history and keeping abreast of the latest developments.  Each issue of Vox contains a "free" magazine called "Record Hunter", which is aimed at the trainspotter types that are the backbone, the silent mediocrity, of the music press readership: collectors, curators, completists, fact-compilers. "Record Hunter" includes such anal retentive treats as: guided tours of the collections of stars (this month, the Jesus and Mary Chain) who are fanatics themselves; a paean to the collectability and "audiophile" quality of Japanese pressings;histories of the Two Tone label and The Doors' first year;comprehensive reviews of the latest reissues; a guide to record fairs; a column where readers write in with queries about discographies and related trivia.

     If this wasn't enough, the main body of "Vox" displays a pronounced retro-warp. The first issue contains: a completist's appetite-whetter of an article on legendary "lost albums" (e.g. The Beach Boys "Smile", Prince's "Black Album", Bruce Springsteen's electric version of 'Nebraska); a beginner's guide to blues pioneer Robert Johnson; a piece about Bob Dylan's eccentric studio behaviour based around anecdotes related by his former collaborators; Part One of a 'cut out and keep' Encyclopaedia of Rock; classic shots of The Stones and The Clash; 50 Things You Never Knew A James Dean.

     For those of you thought rock'n'roll was all about the exhiliration of living in the present tense, about cutting loose from the ties of the past and burning up like there's no tomorrow, all this necrophilia might seem like the final proof of rock's advanced state of rigor mortis.  But the makers of 'Vox' have shrewdly grasped the fact that there's a substantial market of young rock fans who feel they've got a lot of catching up to do. For neophyte rock consumers, the 10 or so outstanding records of each new year, compete with the 10 "classics" of each of the 30 years of pop history. The present just can't compete with the past. Not only is it outnumbered, but it is fighting a losing battle with more exciting eras, periods when rock seemed to be in some kind of direct altercation with the outside world.  Consumers who invest heavily in old Stones, Hendrix or Velvet Underground records are buying into myth: they are pledging allegiance to a golden age when rock seemed transformative or subversive rather than simply self-reflexive.

     For all the rhetoric about a New Age, a new "positivity" and hope for the future, 1989 and 1990 have been dominated by the "re"prefix. There have been REformations: Crosby Stills Nash, The Allman Brothers, The Buzzcocks, The Byrds, The Turtles, rumours of Velvet Underground and Stooges REunions, plus David Bowie's Greatest Hits tour.  There have been REturns to form by old codgers and spent forces: Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Lou Reed and John Cale, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead.  There's been REtrospection: a series of tribute albums to artists like Hendrix, Young, The Stones, Byrds, or labels like Elektra, with their classic songs being covered by young bands.  Every year sees a fresh spate of anniversaries with their attendant glut of memoirs, biographies, documentaries and biopics. Above all there's the fact that back catalogue classics, RE-issued obscurites, and "best of" compilations (e.g. Led Zeppelin and Simple Minds' upcoming deluxe editions) now account for a hefty proportion of record sales.

     Even dance music, allegedly the most happening sector of the UK dance scene, relies to a  disproportionate degree on cover versions of classics. In the last month alone, the charts has harboured Adamski's version of "All Shook Up", Soup Dragons' cover of The Stones' "I'm Free", Bombalurina's "Itshy Witsy Polka Dot Bikini", Lindy Layton's "Silly Games", Beats International's "Just Be Good To Be Me", ad nauseam.  Even Happy Mondays, who have many claims to being the most "contemporary" and "street credible" band of the day, had their first big hit with a cover of the Seventies boogie stomper "Step On You Again", while their next single is a version of Donovan's "Colours".

     Of course, the REworking and REmotivation of elements of its own history, has long been the name of the game in pop, and goes back at least as far as Bowie's glam post-modernism in the early Seventies. But now it's the norm, oppressively.  Virtually all new groups invite you to play the reference game.  The only scope for originality lies in the use of recondite source material, or incongruous juxtapositions.  At best, this can be witty and moving: e.g the David Lynch-esque retro-nuevo rock'n'roll of The Pixies, or Primal Scream's "Loaded" (a cross between "Sympathy For The Devil" and house). At worst, the stench of deja vu is overpowering.   

Of course, for young recruits to the ranks of pop consumerism, the appeal of rock's past isn't nostalgia, because they were only a twinkle in their parents' eyes at the time. The past is just one of a range of options that the record industry profitably services, as part of the new "boutique" approach to record retailing (a plethora of genres and taste publics rather than a mainstream).  Magazines like Vox are designed to be handy consumer guides through this post-modern 'mire of options', where the great anxiety is to avoid missing out on any source of pleasure, past or present.

    Vox reflects the fact that rock has degenerated into something to collect, something to document, rather than an ongoing cultural project. Rock is dying of CONSUMPTION.  There's a vast heap of stuff to check out, get into, purchase, but what's been lost is a sense of the big picture, of meaning and direction. Rock is disappearing up its own back passages. For good?

Monday, October 4, 2021

pre-echoes of Retromania (2 of ??)


(from 2001, Unfaves,  off the old website A White Brit Rave Aesthete Thinks Aloud)

I was enjoying the Avalanches show at SOBs, NYC, late 2001: not the full band playing live, but the two DJs doing their mesh-it-up back-2-back across four (or was it six?) turntables thingy. Really enjoying it, actually, but somehow through the pleasure I could sense what I can only describe as "lameness on the horizon". The set was consistently surprising and clever, full of delightfully incongruous-yet-apt juxtapositions and montages, all executed with consummate turntablist skill. You couldn't help smiling when "Like A Rolling Stone" surfaced out of the midst of some banging house track, like nothing could be more natural.

But as I say, there was something vaguely disquieting at the back of it, a premonition of disappointment, ennui, sort of "is that all there is?" mixed with "how much longer can this kind of thing carry on being exciting/worthwhile/surprising." At the end of the day, everybody's got cool records, everybody's got interesting taste and provocative ideas about links and secret connections. (Well, not everybody, perhaps-- but most people I know, and most people reading this, I suspect). In a certain sense, everybody could do what The Avalanches do--maybe not with anything approaching their degree of flawless dexterity, but then again, seamlessness is over-rated, donchathink?.

I felt a similar split response to Gold Teeth Thief, DJ Rupture's highly-regarded three-turntable mix-CD, which mashes up a taste formation that's right on the money vis-a-vis my personal audio-erogenous zones (post-Timbaland R&B, street rap, dancehall) spiced up with some Ambush-style splatterbreaks and bhangra for nice non-obviousness. It's a great selection, and technically dazzling, but once again, doesn't quite transcend the hey-I've-got-some-wicked-tunes-wanna-hear-em? syndrome. (Coldcut's celebrated Journeys By DJ mix-CD of many seasons ago, always left me underwhelmed for similar reasons. i.e. the ultimate lameness of "eclectic" as concept/praise word).

Sort of on the same tip, and inducing a similar ambivalence, are all those Kid606-and-friends homage-through-defacement/dismemberment jobs on Missy Elliott, NWA etc: these are well-intended expressions of genuine enthusiasm for mainstream black pop, and because that music is often underestimated and patronised within IDM circles, there's a certain heretical-polemical edge to these releases. And yet in the end all they're really saying is we really REALLY like these Missy Elliott records. Plus there's a certain pathos to the tribute-cum-desecrations: if only we could be this cool, if only we could pull off the avant-garde yet massively popular/potent balancing act too.
Now wouldyabelieveit, in the interval between starting Unfaves early in the New Year and actually completing the bugger, an entire subculture, nay movement, has sprung up that gives my premonition of lameness-on-the-horizon all-too-solid form. I'm talking about the bootleg/"bastard pop" craze, of course.

Well, that was my initial knee-jerk reaction, and having checked out some of them, it's only been slightly tempered: reams of poor man's plunderphonia, cackhanded and so-very-far-from-alchemy (ie. the kind of transubstantiation which the Avalanches's actual album achieves), leavened by the occasional mass-cult chimera (The Normal + Missy Elliott = Girls On Top's "Warm Bitch") that sounds genuinely striking and even makes an interesting meta-pop critique by linking two apparently remote yet secretly compatible artists.

It's tempting to speculate wildly on the phenomenon. Bootlegging as the expression of subconscious ressentiment on the part of the peon-like punter, a desire to somehow cut down to size the tyrannical uber-pop that invades our consciousness, literally fucking with it by forcing pop stars into kinky congress (a preview of the inevitable D-I-Y movie-remixes to come: Cameron Diaz fisting Brad Pitt while he reams a donkey, etc). Bootlegging as a reversal of the monologic vertical structure of the music industry: the force-fed consumer answering back, with regurgitation. Or (a more positive punk interpretation, this) bootlegging as an attempt to participate in pop, which is otherwise delivered from on high, totally out of reach and inaccessible; the DIY impulse achieving that million-dollar sound the only way it can, theft.

Actually, the fad seems driven by little more than the age-old phenomenon of fandom: people who like music, all sorts of music, and the only way they can think to express that all-gates-open (a nice way of saying "uncritical"?) enthusiasm is through arranging it into different patterns, except now they have the technology to do it in a much more extreme way, and live in a time more inundated by pop past and present than ever. Bootleg as more compressed form of the mix-tape-for-your-mate, in other words. Take Osymyso's "Intro Inspection"--a witty and expertly executed montage of hundreds of famous pop intros, from "The Message" to "Love Cats", Sinatra to Spice Girls. It is possibly the zenith of the bootleg phenomenon, if only because in 12 minutes it manages to cram in all the enjoyment and all the incipient-lameness-ahoy! that the Avalanches DJs mustered across a three hour set. It's impossible to listen to "Intro Inspection" without a fat grin creasing your face for most of its duration, and also impossible (for me at least) to not feel a certain shame tainting the glee. Cos that Cheshire grin is a smile of recognition ("oh, yeah that's X... isn't that Y... ah!...nice!"...) and as sensations-that-pop-music-can-induce go, it's all a bit cosy and self-congratulatory and selling yourself short.

Not wishing to resurrect some ancient notion of creativity ex nihilo, but underlying and unifying all the above, I sense a tendency towards entropy: indistinctness, inertia, ultimately indifference. Whether it's good (Since I Left You) or bad (most bootlegs), what we're witnessing is the kind of sonic grand bouffe only possible during a late era. Could it be that the age of retro-mania/file-sharing/sampladelia--where time has effectively been abolished--enables us to use the abundance of the past to obscure the failings and lacks of the present? Well, it's a thought...