I’m Surprised No One Has Coined “Post-Electronic” Yet
Yes I’m sure someone will claim it now but *shrug* whatever. Google search popped up a lot of ‘posts’ about ‘electronic’ but the only post-electronic ref I saw on the first two pages of results were for a post-electro tag in Last.FM and a post-electronic tag in Beatport. The former has a bunch of results but is only a sub-genre of what I’m talking about; the latter has one result. What’s up with that? Surely some overzealous writer has mused on and on about the post stylings of today’s electronic music already. *Sigh* These hyperbole’s won’t write themselves.
The whole notion of ‘post’ music is a bit of a head trip, though I think it’s safe to say it’s become a natural part of the cycle of genrefication. You have a burgeoning sound, which becomes a bonafide trend until codified as a genre or sub-genre. At that point there’s usually a three month period of hottness (it used to be six, but you know – the quickening), where everybody and there mother tries to get down, which ultimately results in fusion. After about two weeks of fusion it’s pretty safe to say that it’s dead, at which point there are two choices: wait for the resurgence in a decade (though by quickening math that may end up being two years by then) or go post.
Going post usually entails a rejection of everything that the term has come to mean while holding on to everything that the term means, only not so rigidly. It’s usually in direct opposition to the diehard nostalgiaists who will hold firm to the original principles of the thing for the black years, waiting for the resurgence, when they can finally rejoice in their poetic license to say, “it was better in the beginning”. The posters though, they are the ones that keep just enough of its trademarks around through all the subsequent genrefications, making the resurgence inevitable.
The interesting thing, and I guess where we can introduce this notion of post-electronic, is that its this later activity that dominates what is electronic music right now. The term itself hit me from a few directions this week. First I was listening to the Rumpistol/Red Barron track “I’m Not Listening” and thinking of it as a continuation of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” which made me remember how synth heavy that classic soul ballad was. Was it electronic (rhetorical)? Connecting the two songs however is not the electronics, but one of these ancient concepts called a melody. How two years ago – talking about melodies in electronic music. That of course a reference to the godfather of melodies in electronic music James Blake (Note: If you haven’t noticed yet this post is written in hyperbolese, if you find yourself wanting to criticize the claims made here you may want to consult a translator).
Now James Blake is an interesting case because by most accounts he’s also the godfather of post-dubstep, thrust into popularity for his cover of a non-electronic Fiest tune. A rather literal cover too, with the melody and lyrics staying relatively intact, with those electronic (ie dubsteppy) rhythms creeping in about midstream. He was thoroughly hated as a dubstep producer turn singer, except of course for the people that loved it. But even they had to admit it wasn’t dubstep proper, hence the post. Mind you this was all around his debut album, meaning he went post before he had the time to even settle into the thing (shut up! I know about all the singles. hyperbolese!!!)
So returning to “I”m Not Listening” it’s clearly in the shadow of Blake, but it suffers from not owing enough of its sonic backdrop to dubstep for it to be considered post-dubstep (it’s more post-IDM’y, except IDM is such a bastard child nobody want’s to post it even if everybody and their mother is borrowing from it). If we zero in on the singing parallel though, another thread pops up because, adding melodies to electronic music is very post. Too post, so much it actually makes it pop or post-pop. Hmmmmm. Let’s let that one hang there.
The next thread in this post-electronic stream was Martin Clark’s recent piece which almost predicts an end to the Hardcore Continuum (which by this sentence in this post will of course mean that the end is unachievable), because of a new trend amongst Grime MC’s. Now make no mistake, I’m a dumb yank who has no business at all talking about Grime. I used to think it was just the british word for hip-hop, but apparently its actually more of an electronic sound with MC’s rapping over it. Fair enough I guess. Except what’s being outlined in Martin’s post has no grime music in it at all, but rather old hip-hop instrumentals and Grime MC’s rapping over it (very post). This is apparently a crucial thing because if the MC’s are the indicators it would seem they are telling the Grime producers to go post – lose all prior references for what is Grime, study up on some old school hip-hop and let’s do that next shit. Never mind if the next shit is throwback U.S. shit (which has already been thrown back I might add). No disrespect intended, but where Clark seems fascinated by the popularity of this from the streets (or road as the brits say) rhyme cipher, we’ve done it so much, the parody is already being used in parodies. Still it’s all very very post.
Another post thread hit me as I was watching Joe Muggs’ recent TEDx Talk called “DJ culture is hideous”. It’s fun to watch and good for a few laughs. But what really caught me was how quickly I associated DJ culture with electronic culture. For the lay they are more or less the same thing. The lines between an edit, mashup, remix, reworking and original piece are forever blurred in metadata tags. Today making electronic music is all about how it fits into the DJ mix. Genre declarations by BPM’s for smooth transitions.
Now all of this talk is in complete denial of the vast history of electronic music because,who cares about old guy’s in lab coats (hyperbolese so let me throw the females in there too), after all electronic music didn’t count until the DJ’s got involved. DJ’s made electronic music, and so it only makes sense that post-electronic would be that electronic that holds on to all the bleeps and whistles of electronic music but without catering to the DJ. This will of course raise a problem for many. I mean what’s the point right? If you came into electronic music through the DJ it might seem quite pointless. But believe it or not this stuff has been being made since the electronic dawn (old guy’s in lab coats). The lab coats have been abandoned, but the experimental realms of electronic music have never been wont. What’s interesting now is the way the true electronic artists (read that as DJ electronic in clear hyperbolese) are now getting dangerously close to the post.
While it’s quite easy to find a string of electronic songs that go seamlessly, one into the other for hours on end, it’s also increasingly easy to find the latest hot release just doesn’t fit right in the mix. Take Actress’ new album “RIP”. Everybody’s abuzz about it and with reason. For a good chunk of it you’ll find the steady beats required to effectively use the beat match button in your computer. But soon you’ll find yourself searching for the sound match to go with that beat match, and end up well left of center. I get to play around with this notion in my RIPL podcast. How many steps from four on the floor to Ekoplekz, (by that very act I guess I’m resisting the post but you’d have to qualify me as a DJ first wouldn’t you).
Speaking of Ekoplekz, his latest, Skalectrikz, is the first release using his “one-take improvisational” technique. I asked him about that this week, and he noted that it’s been a bit of a process getting to the point he’s at today where it is all completely live. What stood out though was claimed his intent to create in an ‘anti-production’ mode. Anti-production electronic music. You don’t even have to read between the lines to see the post in that. Resistance is futile.
Now the last thread of this whole post thought came while reading William Gibson’s latest collection of non-fiction writing. There’s a piece in it where he discusses how in science-fiction critics have declared the Future (capital F) is over (I wonder if Mr. Gibson has ever listened to Non Phixion cause they said it back in the day, but I digress). What this notion reminded me of however was how intricate this notion of the Future is in electronic music. Shout out to Matthew Herbert who this week got appointed to the New Radiophonic Workshop. No indication if he’s tasked to make the capital-F Futuristic sounds his predecessors were. Regardless the posting itself is very post.
There are no more futuristic sounds in electronic music (quiet you generative degenerate), despite everyone’s cliched attempts to make songs that do just that. I have an ongoing conversation with a good friend, and fellow music snob, where I try to keep him up on the latest greatest electronic music and he replies without missing a beat, “sounds like artist X did over fifteen years ago.” And it’s true, the sounds themselves may have a digital shine, be quantized with a new level of perfection or have a spatial placement offset that wasn’t even possible ten years ago, but the sounds themselves are very much references to the past (often noted by name in their preset grouping but unfortunately liner notes don’t come with preset lists).
All of these old sounds which were made at the time to be futuristic are now instantly gratifying real sounds of our present. This would seem to indicate that electronic has already gone post due to the manner by which electronics have permeated the very fabric of music. I mean they are putting DJ’s in classical concerts these days (points if you realized I used DJ and electronic interchangeably there). I wobble the smallest sine wave ever for all the classical music history professors that will have to explain that.
But what’s the point of post? Well the point is that electronic has permeated so much into our now that its indistinguishable from it. Today one must explain that they are not using electronics where it once was the opposite. In other words there’s no point in even saying that it is electronic. In fact in post electronic doesn’t even have to be limited to electronics. This week I got to see a live performance by Joe McPhee. He had a breathing technique matched with using valves percussively that created this amazing sound. Thirty years ago when he was doing this technique it would have sounded futuristic. Today it sounds like Drum & Bass. Colin Stetson sounds like industrial drone music. Zoe Keating sounds like a string quartet.
This is post-electronic. It is the sonic palate of today’s listener which has been conditioned into a future that has replaced the present. It’s not style or genre declarations. It’s the sonic palate, like acoustic represents a collection of possible sounds which can be used in a musical context – the collection of possible electronic sounds used for music.
No, what’s the point of this post? Well that would be to get into the natural google results for ‘post-electronic’ so the person in the future can read the absurdity of this and save us all the trouble of having to read a serious piece about it.
Addendum: Oh yeah the picture at the top. Famous shot of Justice ‘playing’ their live set without their controllers plugged in. Very post…. or is it. Hmmmmmm.