Frankie Knuckles: A Look at the Dance Legend’s Groundbreaking Career

By | April 01, 2014 4:14 PM EDT

Frankie Knuckles

CIRCA 1988: Photo of Frankie Knuckles

Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The international dance music community is mourning the loss of one of its founders and most beloved figures today. Grammy Award-winning producer and DJ Frankie Knuckles unexpectedly died last night due to complications from diabetes.

Frankie Knuckles, Godfather of House, Mourned by Dance Community

Knuckles’ music and DJ sets bridged the gap between disco and house, birthing the global nightlife scene and making the tall, radio-voiced Bronx native a living icon around the world. He once called house music “disco’s revenge,” referring to the American public’s rejection of the genre associated primarily with urban gay minorities.

Frankie Knuckles’ Top Billboard Club Hits

In 1977, the Bronx-born Knuckles was named the resident DJ at Chicago nightclub The Warehouse, thought to be the namesake of house music. There, he extended songs into tracks using drum and reel-to-reel machines; and blended disco and R&B with the stripped-down, synth-hack beats springing from Europe and Detroit, which formed the basis of house and techno.

Even Knuckles’ rough, undeniably carnal early tracks with Chicago artist Jamie Principle had a certain grace to them, and later songs like “Tears” and “The Whistle Song” are timeless and definitive house music anthems; elegant, emotional, and musical. His remixes of artists from Toni Braxton to Sounds of Blackness to Depeche Mode set a standard for the art of remixing that has since been almost lost: The original artists would often re-record their vocals for him, and Knuckles would add new melodic lines thanks to his frequent partner, pianist and producer Satoshi Tomiie. Knuckles won the first-ever Grammy awarded to a remixer in 1998.

Even as house music captured imaginations worldwide, it didn’t take hold in America, and Knuckles spent a good part of his DJ-ing career touring Europe and the rest of the world. He and his Def Mix crew — the collective founded by David Morales and Knuckles’ long-time manager Judy Weinstein — were royalty on the Spanish party island of Ibiza, where their weekly party at Pacha was a must for vacationing celebs and serious dance fans alike.

He naturally assumed the role of emissary for the still-young genre of house, giving thoughtful press interviews and freely dispensing advice and guidance to young artists. But Knuckles was never interested in fame or recognition. He was a great cook and often invited friends and associates over to his Chicago home for meals. He was liberal with smiles and hugs, and welcoming to new faces in a scene that could tend toward insular.

Even after losing his foot to diabetes two years ago, Knuckles still DJ-ed, frequently seated in a chair. He played Chicago’s Wavefront Festival, and a special set for live-streamed underground party Boiler Room in New York in 2013.

In 2004 Knuckles was honored by then-Senator Barack Obama, who declared August 25 Frankie Knuckles Day, and renamed the street where the original Warehouse was located in his honor.

“Frankie made the dance floor a religious experience and was a key inspiration for me to work in dance and electronic music,” says Astralwerks GM Glenn Mendlinger. “We will miss you Frankie, but your spirit will remain. Thanks to you we can proudly say: ‘House music all night long.’”

 

http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/legal-and-management/6029519/frankie-knuckles-a-look-at-the-dance-legends

Moby on Klaus Nomi, the ’80s Club Scene, and ’90s Rave Drugs

NEW YORK - AUGUST 14:  DJ and Musician Moby poses for a portrait at his home on Mott Street on August 14, 1992 in New York City, New York. (Photo by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)
Moby in 1992.

As told to Jennifer Vineyard

The clubs that we were going to in like 1980, 1981, were the Mudd Club, Danceteria, Peppermint Lounge. My friends and I were living in Connecticut at the time, and we would borrow someone’s car or sneak in on Metro-North and show up as this pack of scared 16-year-old suburban kids. What was really amazing was how just really odd and eclectic the music scene was. A perfect example would be, you would go to Danceteria to see Bad Brains in the basement, and then you’d go up to the second floor and there would be a hip-hop DJ, and then you’d go up to the third floor and there’d be a gay-disco DJ, and you’d go up to the fourth floor and there’d be someone playing New Wave videos. The Peppermint Lounge, that’s where the Peppermint Twist was invented. By the time I was going there, it was to see New Wave bands and punk-rock bands. The first time I saw Echo and the Bunnymen there, the DJ before and after was playing hip-hop and dub reggae. You look at a lot of the music that came out of this period, and it’s all informed by this bewildering eclecticism. A classic example is the Talking Heads. They moved to New York as this very nerdy, angular, academic, white New Wave band, and then a few years later, there’s ten people onstage and they basically sound like an African disco band.

There were certain people who were just mythical legends. My friends and I would read the fanzines and hang out in record stores and nightclubs, and someone like Klaus Nomi, as far as we were concerned, was a bigger rock star than Mick Jagger. He seemed so completely otherworldly. I think the first time I ever encountered something by Klaus Nomi, there was this very strange movie called Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video. It was put together by Mike O’Donoghue, and it was basically just a collection of weird, random video clips that he compiled into a movie. One of the clips was Sid Vicious singing “My Way.” And I’m pretty sure that he also had a Klaus Nomi video clip in there. I saw it when I was 13, and I went to this weird movie theater in Norwalk, Connecticut, with my mom. My mom and I sat there and watched Sid Vicious and this Klaus Nomi video. All I remember was this otherworldly Nosferatu style; it was like a benign operatic vampire. What I loved so much about the music and the culture back then is that on first glance, none of it made any sense. Part of the criteria by which it was judged was how effectively did it challenge the viewer or the listener. It’s one of the things I resent about popular culture now, is I feel like so much alternative culture now is accommodating. Like there was nothing about Klaus Nomi that was accommodating. You felt like it was your duty to try and understand what he was doing. I was so bored living in the suburbs, and so much of the otherworldly culture coming out of Manhattan seduced me so much, because it was just the antithesis of what I was experiencing on a day-to-day basis in the suburbs.

My friends and I were listening to punk-rock records, and we didn’t know anything about gay culture. We didn’t even know that it existed, because this was the ’70s, and nobody talked about gay culture. I remember one night, we were in the East Village, and we somehow ended up in this club, the Saint, and we didn’t know it was a gay club. It was this amazing, dark, degenerate disco, and at some point, we realized that there were no women in the club. So for us, gay culture was just this fascinating, foreign, and very anti-suburban thing. We couldn’t be homophobic, because the gay culture was amazing and it was also ubiquitous. There was no compartmentalization. The hip-hop scene was part of the dance-music scene, was part of the punk-rock scene, was part of the art scene. That to me was the ethos of the time. It’s the ethos by which I’ve judged every other counterculture movement.

As the ’80s progressed, things compartmentalized. Also, by ’86, ’87, New York had become like Sarajevo during the war. It was really exciting, but it was also incredibly dangerous. I don’t want to overglamorize it, but everything was dangerous. In the ’70s, leaving your apartment was dangerous. But in the ’80s, even just having sex with someone became dangerous. And drugs. All these things that had been relatively benign became life-threatening.

It’s hard to say when the first raves in New York really started happening, because rave culture in New York was an offshoot of the dance culture that already existed. I would almost presumptuously maintain that the first rave in New York took place at a bar on the corner of Avenue A and 7th Street. It was a Sunday night, and there was a DJ named Moneypenny, and she invited a whole bunch of the New York rave DJs who didn’t know each other very well, like Joey Beltram and Frankie Bones and Adam X. Storm raves were the first illegal raves in New York. They were in a warehouse, no alcohol was served, it was all just about ecstasy and techno music. They were a direct offshoot of Keoki playing at Limelight, who was kind of an evangelist for early techno records. At the time, a lot of the DJs in the club world were playing much slower house music, and rave music was a lot faster, a lot more electronic-sounding.

The reason music got more segmented, one of the reasons is really the tempo of the genres. Inner City records, their beats were 124 beats per minute, and house music was about 122 beats per minute. So if you were a DJ, you could very easily play house and techno at the same time. By 1992, the techno records had gone up to 140 or 145 beats per minute, and the house music had slowed down to 118 beats per minute. But there was a very supportive scene, regardless of what genre it was, because we all felt very marginalized. Outside of New York and London and Berlin, we didn’t think anyone was paying attention to what we were doing.

The two big things that led the scene awry were drugs and money. You can’t really talk about dance music and club culture without talking about drugs, but the drug use had been relatively benign. In 1990, a 19-year-old kid would go out to a rave or a club, and take one or two hits of ecstasy and have an amazing time. By 1993, a 19-year-old kid would go to a rave or a club, and take Special K and acid and crystal meth and ecstasy, all in the course of one night. People started getting really damaged by drugs. Every now and then I would run into Michael Alig on the street and I would see the consequences of drug use. In 1990, Michael Alig had been this like light and bubbly and happy-go-lucky club kid. And before he ended up going to prison, he became this vector, just trailing darkness around him.

For me, the apotheosis of the club scene would have been the summer of ’92. It was this event at the Ritz, organized by D.J. DB, and I performed. It was for Lifebeat, which was an AIDS charity, and it felt like the best of all possible worlds. It was before the drug use had started to take its toll. The worlds of house music and techno were cohabitating. Everyone seemed young and happy and healthy. We all felt like we were there for a good reason.

*This is an expanded version of an article that appeared in the March 24, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.

 

http://www.vulture.com/2014/03/moby-on-the-90s-club-scene.html

“Get Lucky”: Rick Moody and Dean Wareham debate Daft Punk, disco and whether pleasures should be guilty

Joyous, celebratory pop? Or soulless, vapid, plagiarized? Dean Wareham and Rick Moody argue four decades of music VIDEO

Daft Punk (Credit: AP/Matt Sayles)

This exchange began as a Facebook thread in which musician and writer Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500, Luna, etc.) and myself disagreed publicly about the French recording artists Daft Punk and their recent Grammy triumph:

Rick Moody: It is perhaps a commentary on awards and the weakness of awards-season stuff generally that among the very worst, most cynical and utterly vapid records of the decade is the one that won album of the year at the Grammys. And yet if I had been asked to pre-select the winner, I would have drafted it.

Dean Wareham: I listened to that Daft Punk album all summer long. I suppose it’s vapid, about as vapid as “Rock Around the Clock” or “Sexual Healing.” But I enjoy those songs too.

I think Daft Punk has about as much soul as an aspirin commercial, and I don’t think it makes me old to say so. I do like the Dawn of Midi album. And they are young. I think Daft Punk makes “Let’s Dance” sound effervescent it’s so dead inside, so calculated, so EXPENSIVE. The simulation of the human makes me want crawl under a rock. I want the actual, not the fraudulent, even if it’s clever and shiny.

“Sexual Healing” has a great melody, and a great singer, and I would argue neither of these is present here (except perhaps during the Paul Williams number on “Random Access Memories”). And if they were present, ephemerally, it would be because the French robots PURCHASED these things. And: I could make the argument that the lyrics of “Sexual Healing” are the very opposite of vapidity. Perhaps dreadfully earnest, but not vapid.

OK, you don’t have to like it, but I will point out that this Daft Punk album (unlike their earlier ones) was recorded with real human beings; drummers, guitar players (including the guitarist who played on “Let’s Dance,” but I guess you knew that). In fact a lot of Daft Punk fans were bitching about this when the album was released, that the record sounded old-fashioned. The Grammys are a joke but I think they got it right with “Get Lucky.”

And maybe “Sexual Healing” is the wrong choice for vapid lyrics. And most singers don’t stack up to Marvin Gaye. And lyrics (especially in English) are not a strength for French bands. But I will leave you with this Lou Reed quote (from a guest DJ spot on WPIX in 1978): “I like mindless disco . . . they say the lyrics are stupid and repetitious. So what’s wrong with that? So is lying in the sun. Not everything has to be serious.”



I, too, like some disco. (Although if we are speaking of black music from the ’70s I would rather listen to funk almost any day.) But I think an ahistorical imitation of disco that is created by a massive roundup of session players (yes, Nile Rodgers, et al.) does not square with art; it’s just slavish imitation. About as interesting as Interpol’s imitation of Joy Division, or Counting Crows’ imitation of Van Morrison, etc. For me, the appearance of Pharrell Williams, a singer of almost no interest at all, is a sign of this imitativeness. Anyone, with the right Rolodex, could make this record.

In that main, this was the substance of our Facebook exchange. (And I am leaving out some fruitful ripostes from others, including my friend Harper Simon, who has a great and humane point of view on these issues.) At this point, I challenged Dean Wareham to a full-throated debate on the subject of Daft Punk. And this debate now appears below.

Dean Wareham: I accept your challenge. And I see your point about Counting Crows and Interpol being imitations of Van Morrison and Joy Division, respectively. But I am going to posit that Daft Punk are to disco what Sergio Leone is to the western: derivative, certainly, but dazzling and inventive, also.

I suppose I could concede that “Get Lucky” is not a great “song,” per se; it will sound pretty silly with just piano or acoustic guitar. But it did not win song of the year at the Grammys. It won record of the year — an award supposedly given to the best performance or recording (though the history of the award is pretty awful over the last 40 years). Song of the year went to Lorde, a 17-year-old from New Zealand who was essentially poking fun of every rapper and rock star sitting at the Grammy Awards. “Royals” is about sitting at home in a shit town listening to people sing about champagne and diamonds, and feeling very disconnected from them.  And it is a song that can be covered (there is a very funny version on YouTube sung by a sad clown).

I’ve grown a little tired of “Royals” at the moment, but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of “Get Lucky.” It is six minutes of ecstasy (that is, if you have been listening to the superior album version, not the radio edit). And you are right that it is a triumph of sound (or perhaps a triumph of groove), rather than of songwriting. It’s a simple song, a sex song. It appears to be about hooking up with a special person at a dance club (which is probably the best place to hear it, too). She’s up all night to the sun / I’m up all night to get some. Some what? And yes, it’s all about the groove being played by Nile Rodgers, but whether he appears as himself, or as a facsimile of himself, his playing is so tasty on this song — and wherever he appears on the album —  that he elevates everyone around him. Still, my favorite moment, among many enjoyable moments in this song, occurs about three minutes in; that’s when the robotic Vocoder voice enters and you know you are in the presence of Daft Punk

I’m glad you mentioned KC & the Sunshine Band. “Get Lucky” has basically the same message as “Get Down Tonight,” and this too was probably written for the dance floor. KC and the Sunshine band are not my favorite disco act, but they seem to have played an important role in that movement. I would point to “Rock Your Baby,” a defining song in the history of disco. It’s not officially KC and the Sunshine Band — George McCrae sings and gets the credit — but they wrote and produced it. Their guitarist Jerome Smith’s rhythm guitar track is a thing of beauty, and surely you hear echoes of that in the sound and patterns of Nile Rodgers. And according to my former drummer Stanley Demeski, “Rock Your Baby” was the first radio hit to feature both a drum machine and a live drummer. Perhaps for you this is the moment everything started going downhill.

Doesn’t “Family Affair” have the first drum machine on a top-40 hit? Oh, but maybe no live drummer too. As I have argued in the past (see my book, “On Celestial Music”) the insistence on drum machines in black music is different from the use of drum machines in robotically inspired white dance music. I will concede that “Get Lucky” does fuse black music (Chic, in particular, but disco generally), with robot music, dehumanized white music that prizes its lack of humanism. But that doesn’t mean it’s good.

I can’t find the vocoder interesting here because I already know about the vocoder from Kraftwerk (about whom I have mixed feelings, too). I also know about the vocoder from “Trans” by Neil Young. That album, which is fascinating in its meanness of spirit and its ahistorical mashing-up of traditions, seems to hate the vocoder in a way, and to render inert a naive, unreflective use of the vocoder. But the French robots apparently do not know about “Trans,” or rather, they are too cynical to care about “Trans,” and they bank (it’s the operative word here) on the audience’s lack of knowledge about the history of the vocoder. So they use it again and again like a neurological tic, and given that this vocoder section is the only appearance on this song of the actual robots rather than their surrogates—the musicians who are hired to make the song sound as though it has actual soul—it is inadequate as a sign of the auteurs.

In short, yes, Nile Rodgers appears here, and he seems to sound just like Nile Rodgers, or, at least, a Nile Rodgers who is mostly out of date, and the vocoder appears, and it sounds exactly like other robot-iterations of vocoder, and then there is the lyric, which you allude to above, and which is exactly as stupid as a KC and the Sunshine band lyric (and it keeps making me want to ask Why do you have to stay up all night in order to get lucky? Couldn’t you have gotten lucky at 12 or 1?), indicating that this is a song assembled entirely from hitherto-existing pseudo-musical gestures.

And I haven’t gotten to the vocals yet. For me, Pharrell always sounds like one of the instances in which producers or composers sing who aren’t really confident or interesting singers, like Bacharach singing his own songs, or Malcolm McLaren’s later recordings on which he occasionally sang. He’s a placeholder for a better singer, and it’s a measure of the inadequacy of the album that he is the best that Daft Punk could do. Either that, or they actually wanted a not-very-good singer for their hit, as an acknowledgment that their whole project is bankrupt (which I sometimes suspect is the motive here). He is the barometer for what a mediocre singer sounds like (I only like him on the N.E.R.D. albums), and here performs to type, until the song gets to its B section, where they pile on the Earth, Wind & Fire harmonies. (What do you make of Earth, Wind & Fire’s suppression of the serial comma, by the way?) This EWF passage is so exactly imitative of the harmonic intervals, and those falsetto harmonies of EWF, that it’s almost laughable. Laughable if not so transparently cynical. Philip Bailey should be getting royalties on this song. Given that there is not one new thingon “Get Lucky,” not one new gesture, not one idea, whether in terms of arrangement, composition or performance, not one idea about music, where is the space in which its qualities are admirable. Where would the admiring take place?

Meanwhile, I concede my shocking inability to get song of the year straight as regards the Grammys (I do not and have not watched them in years and years), but I am looking forward to talking about the rest of the album, if you are willing, because the rest is far worse.

I find much to enjoy just in the first 30 seconds of “Get Lucky.” I don’t know if you can call it admirable (yes, you can) but it works on my ears. It’s a simple bag of tricks; they build it up, they break it down, removing the rhythm section and then bringing it back, much as Chic might have done, or the Rolling Stones in ’78, or the Clash a couple of years later — anyone creating an extended dance mix. And these are pleasurable moments; the moment the bass reenters is tasty, and for me the entrance of the robo-vocal is surprising and exciting. Up ’til then it could be anybody. The track is a triumph of production and musicianship. New gestures? Not so much. Still, I don’t think anyone else has done it better than this. And this is what Daft Punk do — they mine yesterday’s trash, they recycle tired sounds but recombine them in new ways, and generally with humor and musical intelligence.

Is it black music or white music? Well, like KC & the Sunshine band, or Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, it is both. And yes, they paid for it — just like any other big pop artist pays for session musicians — and yes, the album was expensive to make. They are operating much like David Bowie did on “Young Americans”; he traveled to Philadelphia in search of the Philly soul sound, and enlisted Luther Vandross and Carlos Alomar. As you say, Steely Dan’s “Aja” album was equally expensive. That is an album which I can grudgingly respect for its musicianship and shiny grooves, when I hear it on the radio. But I won’t put it on in the house; it makes me want to jump out the window. “Aja” is an authentic ’70s downer. “Random Access Memories” is an upper.

You’re right: Neil Young makes a complete mess of the vocoder on “Trans.” It doesn’t suit his voice, but rather it destroys him; he sounds like some rock guy goofing around with a new toy. I imagine Daft Punk are well aware of that album; they seem to have a deep knowledge of trashy music from the ’70s. Is the vocoder (or the Talkbox, which can generate a similar effect) their neurological tic? We know they did not invent it, and yet it is one of their signature sounds, part of their identity since their first hit in 1997 — “Around the World.” I think they are entitled to use it whenever they please, and we should not judge them for the fact that a thousand bad producers copied the effect in the years that followed.

Perhaps you think this is their great flaw: the French dudes can’t sing — especially in English — so they are reduced to either 1) bringing in guest vocalists or 2) hiding their voices behind a vocoder. Well yes, this is certainly an issue; it’s something they have to deal with on each album. The same is true of of their counterparts in Air, another brilliant French duo who are not natural singers, which is why their best tracks are instrumental, or make use of a single word or phrase (see their recent song “Love”). But surely this absence of a singer is what makes Daft Punk what they are, and not just another band fronted by a guy who stands in front and sings about his feelings.

Is Pharrell really a mediocre singer? You are not alone in this opinion, but personally I think he does a real nice job on his two tracks (and on his recent single “Happy”). He has a sweet, silky, natural-sounding voice, and he doesn’t over-emote or stretch his vowels out to eternity like every other pop singer does these days. If you want “good” singers, you can watch “The Voice” on TV. They let you know how good they are every step of the way.

The rest of the album? We could start with the opener, “Give Life Back to Music,” which features Nile Rodgers at his best (whether he’s out of date or not) or the stupendous “Lose Yourself to Dance” (Williams’ other vocal performance on the album). But I’m afraid really this would just be the same discussion. You’ll tell me it’s just another copy of Chic with stupid lyrics about dancing. I’ll answer that I like the groove, that I love the vocoder vocal that pans from left to right behind Pharrell’s lead, and the way the backing vocals are arranged. I can’t tell you how many guitarist friends went running to figure out how Nile Rodgers played that riff (OK, there were just two of us). I do know one other person who hates this song — my neighbor, she called at 2 a.m. to tell me that the bass was making her walls shake.

Do you want to tell me what’s so horrible about “Giorgio by Moroder” and “Touch”? Both clock in around 9 minutes, and both are pretty over-the-top, so there is a lot for you to hate.

OK, I need to concentrate on your first paragraph for a moment, Dean, and then perhaps I will let  go of “Get Lucky” (noting, in passing, that you do not dispute the Earth, Wind & Fire charge in my note above). If the simple buildup-and-breakdown methodology were enough for a song to be generally interesting, then any dance mix would be interesting. And perhaps this is the basic assertion of electronic dance music (which is what Daft Punk used to be), that any assertion of four-four is compelling, and enough to make you want to move. I find four-four tyrannical a lot of the time (which is why, e.g., I revere “Trout Mask Replica,” or the music of Ornette Coleman), and it is not a foregone conclusion that this is inherently compelling to me at all. But what about the dance floor, you say? I am reminded of Frank Zappa, on “Roxy and Elsewhere,” saying to audience members who had climbed up onto the stage to dance that if they could dance to this, they could really dance. I have no objection to dance (I like dancing, and at one time thought I was good at it), and I have no objection to dance music, I just don’t agree with the idea that in order for music to be danceable that it has to have a certain neo-fascist time signature without rhythmical variation, most of it played, these days, by machines. To me this is the sound of corporate enterprise more than it is the sound of music.

I physically and emotionally cannot understand the idea that four-on-the-floor is more interesting, or more danceable, and, relatedly, I can’t understand that building up and breaking down is inherently interesting. I do love a break beat in hip-hop, mainly because I love the drumming on a break beat, but a break beat in EDM is just a chance for the digital processor to show that it can play 64th notes, or 128th notes, and all that does, for me is display the prowess of a computing device. And: The breakdown is a feature of all popular music (been to a square dance lately?), and therefore the breaking up and breaking down should recommend other idioms as well. But does not apparently. Which suggests that it is not the breakdown, unless there is something special about this particular building up and breaking down on “Get Lucky.” (P.S., what if Nile Rodgers’ guitar part is sampled there? Then it’s not a matter of physically playing the part. For me, it’s important to remember the role that digital programming has in the vaunted organic sound of “Random Access Memories.”)

And then one last thought about the singing. Of course I’m not saying bad singing renders a song uninteresting. There is a great range of “bad” singers I find enormously interesting, even profoundly moving: David Thomas, Don Van Vliet, Shane McGowan, Yoko Ono, Sun Ra, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Kim Gordon. And “The Voice” often makes me want to run screaming from the room (see my recent review of Leona Lewis on the Talkhouse for more on this subject).  I think Pharrell, however, is an example of a bad good singer instead of being an example of a good badsinger. The French robots might be bad good singers, but we will never know, because they hide behind the vocoder. Perhaps this is the secret of the vocoder, generally. Kraftwerk is hiding behind it because of the weakness of their vocals (though they sang a bit back in the day), and Daft Punk is hiding behind it, and all the hip-hop guys who seem to have fallen asleep at the mixing console while depressing the autotune button are hiding behind the autotuner, all to eliminate what’s human about the playing, the actual sound of human beings playing the music and singing the melodies, on the occasions where there are actual melodies. But that’s what makes music a human art form. The sound of humans.

My contention would be along the lines of Joe Strummer, who I believe said, after “Sandinista!”: “We have to stop ripping off black music.” I don’t think Strummer was saying that there was something maladroit politically about playing black music (or a white refraction of black music), although there have been moments when that was a fruitful way of thinking about certain “crossover” artists (Macklemore being the example du jour); I think Strummer was saying, in effect, Have we bothered to investigate fully what’s here at hand? Part of my problem with the Hollywood sound of the very expensive “Random Access Memories” (meaning, in this argument, the selective forgetting of one’s origins) is that it conceals what is French, or it makes the argument that what is French is only “ripping off black music,” when that is far from the truth. There’s a whole history of African-American jazz and soul artists going to France for more respect (Nina Simone comes to mind), there’s a whole history of French artists (Django Reinhardt) borrowing American idioms and bringing something nativist to them. But I feel like there’s a quantum change in “Random Access Memories,” in that what the French robots bring to the proceedings is that absence of the nativist. They bring superior hiring capabilities, and astute marketing.

One last observation and then I leave off for the day: How should we interpret the line “Give Life Back to Music” in the song of the same name? It’s the opening track on the album “Random Access Memories,” and therefore it seems like it has rhetorical importance. It starts with some more very effective rhythm guitar playing, and it has that annoying Wurlitzer arpeggio thing that is a characteristic of a lot of Bee Gees stuff from the mid-’70s, and right away the faceless robot voice comes in with an utterly vapid lyric that repeats over and over (like in “We Are Family”), “Let the music do tonight/just turn on the music/the music of your life/give life back to music.” It has a sample of people on the dance floor, presumably, celebrating the deep and trenchant truths of the song. Longtime fans who dislike the fact that Daft Punk have abandoned what was “punk” about the monotonous simplicity and minimalism of their early electronica presumably see this song as a rallying cry for this slightly disappointing album. Live musicians! So retrogressive! Give life back to music! How conservative! But I take it as a seriously ironic expression of the intent of the album. You say you think the album is in some way funny, and I would be interested to hear in what way is it funny, because for me it’s more ironic than funny, and/or funny mainly in its very traditional irony. When a robot tells me to “give life back to music,” I find it seriously ironic, and risible mainly in the shamelessness of its affront. Because there is so little for me on this album that feels like it has human life about it.

I do, in fact, definitely want to talk about the Giorgio Moroder song, and especially the Paul Williams song (“Touch”), which is the one song I unabashedly like on the record, and “Motherboard,” which actually has some nice drumming on it. And strings! The irony! Do you want to start there?

I greatly admire Joe Strummer so it’s interesting to hear his comment “we have to stop ripping off black music.” Did he mean “we the Clash” have to stop ripping off black music? After “Police & Thieves” and “Black Market Clash”? I always thought the Clash were more interesting when ripping off black music than when ripping of the Ramones. Still, no one would mistake them for Black Uhuru or Grandmaster Flash. Robert Gordon wrote that “rock and roll was white red-necks trying to play black music. Their country music background hampered them and they couldn’t do it. That’s why we don’t call what they did rhythm and blues.” And we don’t call the Clash reggae.

Let me try to answer a few of your questions. Fair enough, the stacked vocal harmony (nicely done by Pharrell Williams) is pure Earth, Wind and Fire. And maybe there’s a little Bee Gees in there too. This is what Daft Punk do, and always have. Everything is fair game for them; they have sampled Barry Manilow, Sister Sledge, Cerrone and more. In the past they would take these samples and feed them into a ring modulator or some other kind of processor, and then write a new song on top of the resulting sound (if you look on YouTube you’ll find videos where people dissect their early songs for the samples). My all-time favorite Daft Punk song is “Digital Love,” which samples four interesting seconds from an otherwise unremarkable song called “I Love You More” (by George Duke), and goes from there. The song later borrows Supertramp’s Fender Rhodes sound, and it nods to 10CC, and then comes a dazzling, slightly cheesy/ironic guitar solo, the sound created by playing a guitar into a synthesizer. From this stew they created something that was harder, faster, stronger and better than the original.

But perhaps I should say this is what Daft Punk used to do. Because on “Random Access Memories,” the only song based on a sample is “Contact,” which lifts from “We Ride Tonight” by the crappy Australian band the Sherbs (aka Sherbert). Sometimes the album you make is a reaction to your previous album. From what I understand, Bangalter and de-Hominem-Christo (they do have names) started constructing this record the way they always have, but found that they were repeating themselves. They decided instead to try a new approach, instead of using drum machines, loops and bass synthesizers they would record a live rhythm section. This doesn’t mean that a band sat in a room and tracked whole songs live. But the rhythm section created live grooves that Daft Punk would later chop up and move around in Pro Tools to build their songs. This is pretty commonplace these days. It’s not the way I work (I don’t have the patience), but many people work on a Pro Tools grid for this exact purpose. You ask “What if Nile Rodgers’ part is sampled?” I’m not sure it makes a difference. There is definitely some sampling going on here, but in this case they and their musicians created these samples themselves.

Are they selectively forgetting their origins as you charge? Not at all. I remember being taken to a tiny nightclub on a Saturday night in Rennes (northwestern France) after a Galaxie 500 show in 1990, where I was surprised to find myself dancing to Hall & Oates. This is their youth. They didn’t grow up listening to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli; they grew up with the same crap that you and I heard on the radio: Boz Scaggs, Supertramp, Wings, the Eagles, Peter Frampton (pioneer of the talkbox effect) and more. We Americans export our dominant culture to the rest of the world. We shouldn’t be too horrified when two French whiz producers chop it up for their own purposes and then show up to claim their Grammys.

How, you ask, are we to interpret the lyrical content of “Give life back to music”? The same way we interpret “Fly Robin Fly,” or “Get Up and Boogie,” by the Silver Convention (another German/American disco act). It’s silly. And slightly awkward. There are other awkward lyrics on the album too — the French are prone to confusing the simple tense with the continuous because they don’t have both in their language. I forgive them — because they are French. And because I do not come to European disco expecting to find Bob Dylan.

Is the album funny? Maybe ironic is the right word, or sly. “Random Access Memories” is certainly over the top at times. “Giorgio by Moroder” starts with a spoken monologue and ends with what sounds like Space Invaders. “Touch” takes us on a similar trip, careening from Tomita-like tinkles to Isaac Hayes wah-guitar to to New Orleans jazz, and employs orchestra and choir to great effect (they can afford them). Structurally both of these songs are similar to “Siberian Breaks” by Brooklyn’s own MGMT; an epic song that contains many moods and shifts. Anyhow, I happen to know that the robots liked that MGMT album.

I am glad you find yourself moved by “Touch” and “Motherboard.” Maybe this indicates a slight retreat from your first hyperbolic statement that this is one of the worst albums of the decade. And I will admit to you that there are a couple of smooth songs on the album that I do not care for.

Shall we wrap this up with a few closing arguments?

Yes! Now, it is true that the Joe Strummer quotation (and I am re-creating from memory here) is from the period after Mick Jones left the band, and they made that extremely disappointing last album with (alas) drum machines. He was talking about the Clash, yes, and I think the anxiety implicit in the remark is real. He was trying to return to the source, and purify the impulse, even if, in a postmodern era, it is obvious that no musical gesture is ever pure. Purity is always a fool’s errand.

That said, I do actually think “Random Access Memories” is one of the worst albums of the decade. To me, in the end, it sounds as insipid as a Grover Washington album, or the really bad George Benson albums, and the lyrics make me want to crawl under a rock and hide. And nothing can change that. However, I do find “Giorgio by Moroder” interesting because as a song structure it is sort of ridiculous. The monologues are funny, and revealing, and one assumes that by borrowing Moroder the French robots are indicating that they understand that there is nothing new under the sun, and that Moroder was aesthetically bankrupt right at the beginning, and borrowing the aesthetically bankrupt and trying to rehabilitate it is part of their modality. Now there’s a reason that Moroder has been forgotten for a couple of decades, and the reason for that is that Moroder became boring. I too adore “I Feel Love.” Its sexual provocation is immense, and its chorus is magnificent. And the Blondie song was great too.

But I lost interest in Moroder starting with Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and I never quite recovered my interest. In a way it’s the badness of Moroder that merits the attention here (i.e., all of “Random Access Memories” is meant to be understood ironically). After all, the most recent Moroder project seems to be a Haim remix. Haim is when I reach for my revolver (metaphorically). “Giorgio by Moroder,” like many of the less banal songs on “Random Access Memories” tries to make a more earnest point by bludgeoning, and so the big orchestral passage starting at 5:31 bludgeons you with strings. Just as the jazz tinkling of Fender Rhodes early in the track is mannered and imitative, so do the strings strike me as mannered. I do like the drumming, however. There’s some good drumming on “Giorgio by Moroder.” And a nice passage where the drums seem to have some synthesizer treatment happening alongside and there’s a bass solo at about 7:00-7:30. This, at least, is undeniably musicians playing something! And there are no neurotic vocoder stylings anywhere in sight. “Motherboard,” which falls into the usual faux-futurism of EDM, has some of the same problems and successes. I love the arrangement of the woodwinds on this track, even if it sounds a lot like Philip Glass or John Adams. Again, the drumming is lovely. Also there’s a burst of analogue-ish synth noise in the middle, where the drums drop out.  Very satisfying. I like noise a lot more than I like smoove jazz. Or retro-futurist-all-but-plagiarized-culturally-appropriated disco. These two tracks, more or less, are instrumentals, and that is part of their appeal.

“Touch,” the Paul Williams number, is something else altogether.  Part of its undeniable appeal is that Paul Williams is so oddly applied. We think of Paul Williams primarily as a sort of Muppet. A washed up writer of torch songs who was unbearable in his first iteration (“Smokey and the Bandit”!)and who can only be beloved of hipsters whose perverse wish is to like what is beyond the pale. His craggy Broadway-ish voice, however, is full of a kind of feeling that no other singer on this album can manage. It is his inability to be digitized completely that is so appealing, to come to the album from before the digital age, to be a real musician at a real piano, singing, “You’ve almost convinced me I’m real,” as if to dramatize the central difficulty of the album: the real versus the simulated, the simulacrum counterposed with the genuine. “Touch” lurches along in seven or eight different parts, again flinging strings and a choir — as you correctly note — at the problem in the will-to-musical-legitimacy (the same in the opening of “Beyond,” which I believe is also by Williams), in some completely incoherent structure that ends up, for its total excess, being hilarious, unpredictable and not like anything on the radio right now. I can admire this track, it is true.

Look, Dean, it is difficult to be a person who never much found disco interesting. To dislike “disco” immediately suggests that you are a person who burned Bee Gees albums in a Chicago stadium in 1979, and who therefore cannot be trusted, culturally speaking. I actually love black music, love the blues (especially the country blues), love New Orleans jazz, love hard bop (a lot), love free jazz (I admire Sun Ra without restraint), love Mingus and the Art Ensemble of Chicago and James “Blood” Ulmer, and Ornette, love Coltrane, love almost every period of Miles Davis (except thesmoove comeback albums), and I even love a fair amount of hip-hop (I am on the record as regards the Roots, but also Blackalicious, Deltron 3030 and other “underground” hip-hop artists), lest it should be assumed that I only like black musicin retrospect. But I found a lot of disco, back in the day, sort of dull.  It didn’t really make me want to dance (Funkadelic made me want to dance), it didn’t have any deep message for me, and I didn’t want to go to discotheques anyhow. I wanted to go to punk clubs. Given that this is the case, listening to a perfect, ironic, knowing re-creation of disco is for me like trying to wear bellbottoms during the bellbottom revival. I didn’t even really like them when I was a kid and everyone was wearing them, why would I wear them again?

“Random Access Memories,” therefore, reminds me a bit of the French hatred of McDonald’s. The French have a great tradition as regards their national cuisine. They even, on occasion serve food quickly — the croque monsieur, available at any café — but for some reason they allowed the McDonald’s onto French soil, and then, after a couple of decades lamented it, and, now and again, protested the presence of McDonald’s, and hurled a couple of rocks through a couple of McDonald’s storefront windows. I admire this hatred of our American export. It seems just and true to me, like a postmodern rerun of May ‘68. “Random Access Memories” is like a French McDonald’s franchise, it is a simulation of what was ephemeral, weak, thin, wan and unworthy of imitation in the first place, done with a knowing wink that is meant to loft it above suspicion, but which, for me, is like those French New Yorkers who know more about Bushwick than I do. “Random Access Memories” is a kind of exoticism, a French version of orientalism, which is just sophisticated enough that many people don’t seem to know what’s happening before their eyes.

In the end, “Random Access Memories,” like the revival of bellbottoms, is perfect for the very young, which is why my wife’s nephew, Jackson, loves “Get Lucky.” Because he doesn’t understand any of the cultural references. I haven’t asked you if your own appreciation of Daft Punk has anything to do with your son, but the fact that I know anything about this record, which I would probably never voluntarily listen to, does have a lot to do, for me, with kids. Kids love it. All of its winking, self-aggrandizing simulation is shorn away for the kids, and it is hard to hate what the kids love. Even if it has nothing for me. I would like to throw a rock through its storefront window.

I know that I have convinced you of nothing, cannot convince you of anything, and I have found your arguments articulate, fascinating, and just shy of irritated with me, and I assume you have some real inside knowledge of the album and its participants, or so it seems to me. This has made the conversation very interesting to me. You are a worthy antagonist, and I thank you for the discussion.

Hi again, Rick. Sorry for the delayed response, but I have been busy rehearsing with live musicians for an upcoming tour. I also took a little time to read portions of “Celestial Music,” as I wanted to familiarize myself with your highly entertaining essay on the use and abuse of the drum machine through the years, and the chapters titled “The New York Underground” and “On Celestial Music.” And I learned about some of your own guilty pleasures.

In “Europe, Forsake Your Drum Machines!” you detail your mixed feelings about Kraftwerk, whom you rightly identify as brilliantly ironic, even funny. At one point you call them a comedy act. And yet still you give them credit for writing some beautiful songs. I think we both agree that “Ralf Und Florian” is a wonderful record, it is the record where they become the mature Kraftwerk, the band that then made “Radio-Activity” and “Trans-Europe Express.”

You love the band but conclude that their sound became obsolete, that their records did not date well. I have to disagree. At one point, yes, it surely looked that way, but it’s a long race, and when I saw them at Hammerstein Ballroom in 2003, it appeared to me that they had invented the future, that they were a good 25 years ahead and everyone else was playing catch-up. It was one of the best live shows I have ever seen (though how much of it was live I cannot say with certainty).

But take a look at this video of Kraftwerk in the Ralf Und Florian period.

Or this video of “Autobahn,” from Midnight Special 1975, check out the drum solo at 3:30!!

)

As you note in your essay, they had a hard time holding on to drummers in the early years; drummers apparently objected to having contact microphones place on the drums, or having to keep it simple. Their answer was to build their own drum machines, and that’s what you see here. But these were not sequencers, and they were not spitting out repeating drum patterns; they were in fact electronic drums that were played by human beings.

You continue with a discussion of some unfortunate English and European music made with drum machines (as well as some German electronic music that you admire), and how the sounds pioneered by rave culture were absorbed into even worse American pop confections. And surely you are right. But we both know that it’s not the machine that is the problem. Drum machines don’t kill music; people who use drum machines do. You know who else can really suck? Drummers. Most drummers. Most guitar players too.

At one point you suggest that we check out “Blah Blah Blah” by Kesha or “3″ by Britney to see what horrible damage the drum machine and auto-tune effect have wrought, when incorporated into mainstream pop. Sure, those tracks would prove your point. But there is good Britney and bad Britney. Likely there is more of the latter, but check out “Radar”  or “Toxic,” which uses drum machines, auto-tuned vocals, and synthesized bass line, but also contains some cool, snaky guitar parts. I think you might actually like it.

Anyway, I too have enjoyed this exchange, even though you can clearly write circles around me, and quickly. I feel we have made some real progress, that this has possibly even been therapeutic. Because I think our different reactions to “Random Access Memories” can be traced to your early teenage years — and mine. These are the years when we form some of our core opinions about pop music. And you and I are separated by two years — two formative years.

I see your point about most disco music (and the whole scene) being unappealing; there was a whole lot of dubious fashion, and a whole lot of bad songs: “I Like the Nightlife,” “Ring My Bell,” “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Boogie Nights,” “I’m Your Boogie Man.” Of course, it wasn’t just disco music that was vapid; there was Barry Manilow and the Starlight Vocal Band too. Most of any genre is crap, whether it’s disco, metal, jazz, punk or indie rock.

But let’s look at 1976. I was 12 and you were 14. Hot Chocolate released “You Sexy Thing,”  Silver Convention dropped “Fly Robin Fly,” and Thelma Houston released  ”Don’t You Leave Me This Way” — and these made a big impression on me. I saw the Silver Convention chicks on Australian TV and found them spunky — this is the word we used down under; the American equivalent was “foxy.” I remember walking into a record shop, intending to buy the latest single by the Silver Convention, but a sales clerk convinced me to buy Boz Scaggs’ “Silk Degrees” instead. Now I have a soft spot for that LP too.

You probably didn’t have much time for this stuff. You were just a little older and cooler and likely listening to Roxy Music, Frank Zappa and Parliament (correct me if I’m wrong). I think around that age (14, 15, 16) music becomes incredibly important; it helps us define who we are and who we are not. You were not someone who listened to KC & the Sunshine Band, and I don’t blame you. I was too young to know about such things.

A couple of years later our lives were turned upside down by the punk movement. I defined myself by listening to the Clash, Television, Ramones, Talking Heads and Public Image, who appealed to me far more than Cheap Trick, Kiss or Van Halen. And they dressed better too. So I certainly understand that in 1978 you wanted to hang out at punk clubs, where a revolution was taking place in music, not at Studio 54 or Xenon where the douchey people stood in line, trying to get inside to snort coke and dance to the “aesthetically bankrupt” music.

And now yesterday’s trash is elevated to the level of art. But I imagine every generation makes this complaint. I scratch my head when some kid tells me that Lionel Richie is a genius. I am more turned off by bad ’80s production values (and fashion) than by the bad ‘70s.

I like your formulation “retro-futurist-all-but-plagiarized-culturally-appropriated disco.” I agree that Daft Punk (and Air and Phoenix too) can be said to traffic in a form of French Orientalism, that they recycle things that you found objectionable years ago. But since I enjoy the results, since I like it better than Chic or Tavares or Supertramp, I don’t care. Yes it’s retro-futurist, yes it’s culturally appropriated and all-but-plagiarized, but so are the songs of Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin.

Did I mention that I reviewed “Random Access Memories” for the Talkhouse? So I tried to find out what I could about how it was made. I could not get an advance copy of the album (Sony was worried about it leaking before release), but had to sit in an office and listen on a secure computer and some good headphones. Which I think was helpful — to listen to the album from beginning to end with no distractions. Hearing it that way, taking the whole trip, instantly convinced me of the essential brilliance of this Bangalter / De-Hominem Christo production. And let me ask, if anyone with a Rolodex and checkbook could have made this record, when was the last time Paul Williams or Nile Rodgers did something this good?

So we disagree on this album. Fortunately we both love Kraftwerk, Arvo Pärt, Pere Ubu, Suicide (best drum machine band ever), the Feelies (a band that changed both of our lives), and the Velvet Underground. I liked your observation, in ”Celestial Music,” that by the time the Velvet Underground recorded their fourth album, “Loaded,” they had ceased to be “underground.” This was their least innovative record; they entered a nice studio and made a rock album, like other rock bands did. But when a friend tells me that “Loaded” is the greatest of all V.U. albums, I don’t necessarily disagree. He can at least make a good case for an album that contains “Sweet Jane,” “Rock and Roll,” and “Who Loves the Sun?” So it is with this, the fourth album by Daft Punk; they have made their least groundbreaking album, but also their most enjoyable.

Dean

P.S.: Yes, my son (age 14) likes it. He and your lucky nephew get to appreciate this album without having to ask what it means.

 

Rick Moody is the author of five books, including “Demonology.”

 

Dean Wareham fronted Luna and Galaxie 500, and currently plays with Dean & Britta. His most recent release is the album “Dean Wareham.” He is the author of the memoir“Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance.”

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/23/get_lucky_rick_moody_and_dean_wareham_debate_daft_punk_disco_and_whether_pleasures_should_be_guilty/?source=newsletter

Libraries are an American success story that shouldn’t die.

 


America is About to Lose One of Its

Best Public Resource: Public Libraries

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ValeStock

As an American librarian I am glad to be living in the European Union where library funding isn’t under attack to the extent that it is back home in the United States, because readership, literacy and an open based knowledge system that is publicly funded is still valued. In America, library budgets have become low hanging fruit for conservative local and state politicians. Louisiana is the worse case in point where Gov. Bobby Jindal has eliminated state library funding all together. Not only does it beg the question will your state be next but it asks the question what will you do  when they come for your library and your kid’s summer reading program? Do you really know how many books it’s really going to take to make that special child or grandchild in your life a lifelong reader. Do you think you have anywhere near those numbers of books in your private collection?

Please let’s remember the voluminous studies that have been done year after year, decade after decade that show us that prison inmates for the most part are functionally illiterate and that teen pregnancy is directly linked to literacy rates.

Christian Science Monitor:  November 18, 2013
Louisiana residents choose libraries over jail to receive funds  Residents of Lafourche Parish in Louisiana recently voted down a proposal that would have used money currently going to local libraries to build a new prison.

Literacy statistics and juvenile court85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.

More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.

Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.

According to UNICEF: “Nearly a billion people will enter the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names and two thirds of them are women.”

People who don’t grow up as lifelong readers grow up in an America living under a form of de facto censorship and what it means is that the censor, by withholding library funding, limits access to reading materials to children from a young age. So they don’t get to see the other side of the coin and wind up developing a one-sided point of view which has been historically associated with sexism, homophobia, racial bigotry and other forms of intolerance and hate. If we don’t support libraries, we support going backwards in a type of devolution of the past which is exactly what the Tea Party types mean when they say they want their country back.

My question to you Mr or Mrs Progressive America, just how far back in time will you let the haters take us? Will you let them take us back to a point in time when women didn’t have the right to choose, a time before the civil rights movement would let anyone who chose to sit at the lunch counter, or when a time at the back of the bus was reserved, a time when people were hated for who they are or for who they loved or for what God they believed in, that is their America.  But it’s not our America, it’s not the progressive America that we’ve come to love and aspire to, because that America is supported by your neighborhood library as an open knowledge learning center, where everyone is treated the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s the mayor or a homeless person, you can expect to receive the same level of service. You can expect to have access to a collective repository of everyone whose ever thought and everyone whose ever written, that’s why I became a librarian and a reader and a listener and someone who you can count on to resist censorship in all of its guises. That includes false arguments related to library funding.

Source: From the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy – U.S. Illiteracy Statistics (as of 2013)Percent of U.S. adults who can’t read: 14 %
Number of U.S. adults who can’t read: 32 Million
Percent of U.S. adults who read below a 5th grade level: 21 %
Percent of prison inmates who can’t read: 63 %
Percent of high school graduates who can’t read: 19 %

The library is a public good. It belongs to everyone but only for as long as you’re willing to defend it. Public libraries due to budget cuts are cutting their operating hours, their services and yes too many are shutting their doors. Therefore this action diary asks you in support of your local library to write a letter to the editor today and to do it for yourself and do it for the special children in your life. Do it for your community and tell them that you support full community library funding today, tomorrow and forever.

*    *    *

Updated information regarding the functioning of the library as an adult education center, made at the request of a reader.

The library as a children & adult learning center
One of the best parts about being a librarian is the information sharing. So I am pleased to have the opportunity to share with you my experience of working in the library as a children’s and adult education center. You always hear these wonderful stories about adults who have come into the library, people of great skill and are essentially completely self educated. Though many librarians hold multiple graduate degrees and often PhDs as well, particularly in academic libraries. I can honestly say some of the most educated people I have encountered were self-educated lawyers. I am from Washington State back when I was living in the U.S. and Washington is one of those states that allows you to be a lawyer without having to go to law school. So I worked with a number of lawyers who were basically self-educated people who served under an apprenticeship under another lawyer who helped them. So they came to the law library with their learning contracts and we worked with them. I have to tell you this was one of the most fulfilling experiences in my working life. So you see libraries really do work. They really are great adult learning centers. They always have been. Let’s not lose that, because libraries are an American success story. Please support your community libraries. Thanks.

I’m an American expat who is a business librarian living in the European Union. As such I hold a graduate library degree MLS and a graduate degree in business MBA in marketing. I support unions and health care reform. Email: democratsramshield@yahoo.com

San Francisco or bust: Class war and why we need to stand and fight to save our city

http://mcmanuslab.ucsf.edu/sites/mcmanuslab.ucsf.edu/files/imagepicker/m/mmcmanus/san-francisco.jpg

Progressive champion George Moscone narrowly won victory as mayor in 1975 by challenging the entrenched power of the downtown banking and real estate interests and defending the beleaguered working families in the neighborhoods, who felt squeezed by soaring rents and by the erosion of the good, unionized, blue-collar jobs that had created the city’s middle class.

Harvey Milk – the city’s other leading progressive icon in the 1970s — was not just a crusader for gay rights. He had a broader vision of human liberation. Milk realized that much of the anti-gay backlash in the city came not just from die-hard homophobes, but from working families who were being displaced by gay gentrification in the Castro, Mission, Alamo Square and Duboce Triangle areas. Many of the gay newcomers were young white professionals with disposable income, while those they were squeezing out were poor and working-class and minorities. Harvey’s true greatness as a progressive leader came from the way that he brought together the gay struggle with the labor movement and the tenants right campaign and the battle for women’s liberation and racial justice. He understood that the imbalance in wealth and power – that never-ending battle between the have’s and have-nots – was the common thread that connected all these social struggles. And he dreamed of a grand coalition that would have the clout to bring power to the bargaining table – the way Longshoremen’s Union leader Harry Bridges brought management to its knees in the 1930s by coordinating the city’s labor unions.

The waves of hippies and gays that poured into San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s were indeed disruptive. But they brought a fresh infusion of progressive energy into the city, just as San Francisco’s labor movement was growing soft and bureaucratic. By absorbing this new human energy, the city became more creative, enlightened and even prosperous. San Francisco, in fact, became a social model for the world. After years of debate and turmoil, San Francisco innovations like gay marriage,  legalized marijuana, a livable minimum wage, city-wide green programs and bike systems, and guaranteed health care – after all this, San Francisco – as the social laboratory for America — can quite legitimately take much of the credit for moving the country forward. God knows, the right wing has recognized how dangerous the city and its notorious “San Francisco” values are. For years, we’ve been the whipping boy for the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.

But now that San Francisco’s cultural revolution has been won, the city is facing a new crisis, one that again tests its very soul.

This war pits San Francisco’s bedrock progressive values – including a strong commitment to social diversity and the common good – against the defiantly individualistic, even solipsistic, world of digital capitalism.

Let me state right up front that I am no Luddite.  As I wrote in my article for San Francisco magazine back in October 2012 – an article titled “How Much Tech Can One City Take?” which helped spark the current debate – I have benefited enormously from technology, not just as a consumer but as a journalist, author and media entrepreneur. I’m a strong believer in the power of technology to liberate the human spirit. And I’m very proud that San Francisco is a beehive of this kind of buzzing innovation.

I clearly could not have launched my own pioneering online publication — Salon — back in 1995 without the miraculous digital infrastructure built by the architects of the web. This new digital wizardry allowed me and my merry band of ink-stained wretches to bail out of a moribund newspaper industry and reinvent journalism. At Salon, I become very fond of the brilliant geeks who were constantly coming up with new ways for Salon to connect with our readers and stay one step ahead of financial disaster. Working closely together, the editorial staff and tech team at Salon proved that we could defy The Man, run our own shop, and break away from the numbing conventions of the mainstream news industry.

But over the years, the innovation bubbling up in the Bay Area has become much more market-oriented than socially driven. Vast fortunes have been created overnight by raiding the intellectual content that others have painstakingly built over the years. Other new empires have risen by convincing millions of people to give up their privacy and reveal their deepest thoughts and desires for free – a kind of Tom Sawyer business model based on persuading the public that it’s lots of fun to paint someone else’s fence.

Much of the new tech wealth is either built on this kind of shameless piracy – or on what I call the idiocy of ingenuity. You know — creating apps that are nothing more than solutions in search of problems. The fact that so much of this new wealth is based on either trivial or downright damaging human pursuits makes it doubly hard to stomach the arrogance and self-absorption of this new tech elite. These are men – and as we know, 98 percent of them ARE men – who sincerely believe that just because they came up with some new “friction-free” way of accessing people’s bank accounts, they are now entitled to run the world.

(Just a little aside — I love terms like “friction-free,” dreamed up in the world of tech-capitalism – language that romanticizes a brave new world where there is no human contact and where the very human consequences of innovation are hidden underneath layers of marketing hype. Another one of my favorite terms is “content aggregation” – which really means intellectual property theft. )

When they’re not busy trying to run the world, these men are turning San Francisco into their private playground. Technology tycoons like Larry Ellison of Oracle are not content to hijack whole blocks of downtown San Francisco to celebrate themselves and their latest product lines each year – shutting down entire streets and snarling traffic to stage their corporate orgies. No, it wasn’t enough for Ellison to take command of our city streets – now he owns the San Francisco Bay too.

Last year’s America’s Cup race gave Ellison the opportunity to turn the Bay into his own personal water park. The sailboat he entered in the race was so over-engineered and prohibitively expensive — it cost upwards of $100 million to build — that only one other sailing team, underwritten by an oil sultan, could afford to compete with him. And even though he overspent nearly near every competitor out of the race, Ellison’s team still felt it had to cheat in order to win.

Ellison, of course, promised that this spectacle of wretched excess would bring millions of dollars into the city. But the reality, as City Hall accountants finally revealed, was that San Francisco ended up subsidizing Ellison’s vanity water show. City taxpayers were stuck with a bill for the event that will total at least $5.5 million.

The tech elite seems more interested in what they can take from San Francisco than what they can give back. It took years of creative and social ferment for San Francisco to become what it is today — a magnet for young and ambitious people from all over the world, including many of the best and brightest digital workers. But instead of expressing gratitude to a city that has given them numerous competitive advantages, tech moguls demand more and more handouts from the city, in the form of tax subsidies and other public giveaways. Mayor Ed Lee has all but turned City Hall over to the tech industry, meeting with digital executives on a weekly basis to ask them what more he can do to make them happy. The mayor not only hands over entire sections of downtown for tech block parties, he has reserved a prime section of the city – the Mid-Market area – exclusively for the Twitterocracy.

The battle over the Mid-Market corridor – which runs through the heart of the city, along Market Street between Fifth and Nine Streets – is a battle for the city’s soul. For years, City Hall and community organizations have struggled for ways to revive this blighted urban zone. As the local newspaper keeps reminding us, the Mid-Market has long been a magnet for junkies and street criminals. But it’s also a home for immigrant families and the working poor, as well as people trying to get a foothold in the city after surviving bouts of hard luck, mental illness or addiction. Some urban activists and dreamers – like writer and visionary Dave Eggers — have proposed turning the Mid-Market area into a mixed-use haven for the poor, as well as artists and craftsmen who still work with their hands. But Mayor Lee decided to turn Mid-Market into an urban Silicon Valley, making it a tax haven for tech companies like Twitter, Zendesk, and Yammer.

To make Mid-Market squeaky clean enough for the young engineers and marketing managers now pouring into the new office buildings here, the mayor has ordered the police to sweep the homeless off the street. This amounts to sweeping the problem to other corners of the city – including the mayor’s own front yard. The mayor can now look out his window at City Hall and see roaming packs of scruffy street people with their shopping carts and pit bulls in tow. They congregate in Civic Center and they crash in the Main Library, turning these central public spaces into dumping bins for the city’s chronic homeless problem.

Meanwhile, as City Hall showers millions of dollars in tax giveaways on the tech companies, a new city study shows that for an extra $44 million in annual spending, the city could wipe out the homeless problem by building new supportive housing for people living on the streets. Despite all the uproar about the problem, San Francisco’s homeless numbers have remained relatively flat for the past 12 years. The city only needs to focus on getting about 3,500 people into housing.

Defenders of the new tech boom point to all the new jobs and tax revenue coming into the city. But somehow this new wealth has failed to trickle down to the people most in need. The rapid rise of tech wealth in San Francisco has actually INCREASED the already disturbing gap between the haves and have-nots in the city. A recent report by the Brookings Institution found that the wealth gap in San Francisco is the second largest among American cities. The top 5 percent of San Francisco households earn more than $353,000 per year, whereas the bottom 20 percent of households earn less than $21,000. And it’s important to note that his grand chasm between the top and bottom grew more QUICKLY in San Francisco than in any other city.

San Francisco is fast becoming a city of billionaires and beggars, with middle-class and working families priced out of the city. Everyone who lives here knows dozens of friends and family members who have been pushed out – schoolteachers, firefighters, nurses, restaurant cooks, writers, artists, retired dockworkers, people with deep roots in the city – people who helped make the city.

This brings up my next point: what is a city? It cannot be summed up simply in accounting ledgers, in the numbers spewed out by Ed Lee and Ron Conway, the tech investor who seems to pull the mayor’s strings.

If you have lived in a special city like San Francisco for any length of time, you develop a sense of what makes it unique. A great city is a delicate marriage of human enterprise and natural beauty. A great city possesses something like a soul – a fragile vessel of time, memory and civic spirit that can be shattered with remarkable speed. San Francisco is less than 200 years old. But within this torrent of history, from the gold rush to the tech boom, it has become a wonder of the world. The streets of San Francisco contain multitudes – waves of immigrants and social outcasts and creative visionaries.

Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Bret Harte. Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Jerry Garcia. The rugged 49er fortune-seekers who came from all over the world, and the tough Chinese immigrants searching for their own Gold Mountain. Bill Walsh and Joe Montana’s 49ers. The Jazz Renaissance that turned the Fillmore into the Harlem of the West. The cafes and the cheap North Beach railroad apartment where Allen Ginsberg wrote “Howl.” The tough hippies who stood their ground with guns in the Haight-Ashbury to drive out the heroin dealers and the bad cops and save their neighborhood from the redevelopers’ wrecking balls. The aging Filipino tenants and young activists who stood their ground to save the residential I-Hotel on the edge of Chinatown. The young gay men and women who fled the boredom and persecution of their hometowns, turning San Francisco into a fabulous Emerald City. And the brave doctors, nurses and agitators who put their lives on the line to fight the AIDS epidemic. In the process, they truly made San Francisco the City of Saint Francis – a city that refused to abandon its sick and helpless and dying – no matter how untouchable they seemed.

I wrote about this turbulent and magical history that made San Francisco in “Season of the Witch.” And the city has embraced the book – it’s been on the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller list for over a year now. I think the success of the book is due to San Franciscans’ deep anxiety about what the city is becoming – a creeping sense that much of this urban wonderland can be wiped out in a single San Francisco earthquake, like the tech boom that is now rocking the city.

The tech cheerleaders prefer to call this type of boom, “creative destruction.” Now I know that many of the rank and file people who work in the tech industry are not disciples of Joseph Schumpeter and Ayn Rand – they are good, hard-working people who share our progressive San Francisco values. But the political ethos of the tech elite is far different. By and large, the new digital elite are selfish libertarians – the type of instant billionaires, three or four years out college, who feel that since they scraped and clawed their way to the top — with mom and dad’s and Kleiner Perkins’ help — they owe nothing and nobody in return.

Some of these baby billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg, have even joined political forces with older, very uncool fat cats – like the notorious Koch brothers, whose motto most certainly is “Be Evil.”  Zuckerberg belongs to a corporate lobby that is working hard to roll back pro-labor and minimum wage legislation, climate change reform, and voter rights. But this very same Facebook billionaire feels quite comfortable building a dream mansion overlooking Dolores Park, in the heart of a city whose pleasant surroundings and genial mix of citizens were ensured by decades of progressive struggle and reform.

This is the type of selfish and greedy corporate behavior that empties out the heart of a city. And this is, of course, what is fueling the rage against the Google buses – those vast, sleek, wi-fi vehicles that have become symbols of San Francisco’s colonization by Silicon Valley. They represent one more way that the tech industry is feeding off the city’s public treasury, clogging the streets and municipal bus stops, and reminding everyone of the privileged bubble people who seem to be taking over our city.

The few, scattered protests that have broken out against these buses have sent Marie Antoinette-like shivers through the tech aristocracy. Silicon Valley billionaire investor Tom Perkins became so agitated by this rather mild outburst of democracy that he compared his fellow one-percenters to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust – which only underlined how out of touch with reality many of these bubble billionaires really are.

Of course San Francisco is also lucky enough to have a few sane and generous tech tycoons in our midst – people like Marc Benioff of Salesforce, who has not only bankrolled a new children’s hospital, but has contributed to San Francisco’s public schools, and is now pushing his fellow tech moguls to kick in to a fund for the city’s poor. “We don’t want to be the industry that looks like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ ” he told The San Francisco Chronicle. “We want to be more benevolent.

“We have to keep a light on this idea that if you come to San Francisco, you need to also be committed to giving back. You can’t just take from our city. You can’t just come here from another city, another state, another country, start a company, take advantage of all of our resources – and then leave with all of your money that you created.”

Benioff, whose family has lived in San Francisco since the 1800s, is trying to extend a great tradition of San Francisco philanthropy into the new tech generation. In the past, wealthy individuals like Warren Hellman, the Haas family, the Fisher family – even rock and roll showmen like Bill Graham – have contributed enormously to the museums and parks and clinics and music festivals that make a city worth living in. Now Benioff is reminding selfish rich kids like Zuckerberg that it’s time for his generation to step up and do the same.

But San Francisco can’t simply depend on a few good rich guys like Marc Benioff to make the difference. When a city or a society grows so distorted, so out of balance – as the entire country, but particularly San Francisco – has become, we need the powerful engine of government to intervene. On paper at least, we seem to have the political tools to push through this change. In Sacramento, we have a progressive governor and a legislature with a Democratic super majority. In City Hall, we have a mayor who was once a hard-core housing activist, fighting against greedy developers and landlords on behalf of poor immigrant Chinese families.

And yet for all his politically correct rhetoric, Ed Lee has done little to narrow the obscene wealth gap that is turning San Francisco into a tale of two cities. The former activist now wines and dines the tech elite and has staked his legacy on the glass palace that the Warriors want to erect on the waterfront.

San Francisco needs a different kind of leadership. We need a populist mayor who is deeply dedicated to saving the working and middle-class families that make this city run. We need a leader who will put the power of government fully behind a massive low-income housing construction program, job training programs, and tax policies that transfer wealth back to the people who have helped create it. We need, in other words, a leader who is not afraid of what a young Ed Lee once dared to call “class war.” That Ed Lee understood that class war in America is usually all about the UPPER class screwing the poor. But class war only gets screamed about by the Tom Perkins of the world when those who have been getting reamed for years finally begin to squirm.

Unfortunately, Ed Lee is no longer the crusading firebrand he once was – the man who helped engineer the first successful tenants strike, at a notorious public tenement in Chinatown. So these days San Francisco needs its own Bill de Blasio – the type of mayor who taps into the deep fear and pain of the city’s longtime residents and channels that into an overwhelming victory with a mandate for change. This type of urban revival campaign would bring together small business, labor unions, tenants rights, immigrant and homeless organizations, artists and craftspeople, parents and teachers who care about the future of local public education – in other words, all those who have a deep stake in San Francisco.

If we are to save San Francisco, then we have to make Tom Perkins’ worst fears come true. It’s time to take this city back from the arrogant tech moguls and timid city hall administrators who are killing San Francisco values.

My wife and I bought our house in the Bernal Heights neighborhood over 20 years ago. We raised our two sons there – and in fact, at ages 19 and 23, they are still living with us. Our house has become a kind of young artists commune, stuffed with kids who can’t afford to live — or eat — anywhere else. Our sons were educated at San Francisco’s School of the Arts – the excellent public school that turns out waves of talented, young filmmakers, musicians, dancers, artists and writers. My sons are aspiring filmmakers and they have already won awards from the San Francisco International Film Festival for their work.

They are now making a feature film called “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” – it’s based on the true story of their childhood friend Jimmy, a 19-year-old African-American born and raised in San Francisco, who does indeed often feel these days like the last black man in his home town. Jimmy lives with us these days. His family lost their home in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood – a beautiful Victorian built by his late grandfather, who was a minister. His family has been scattered – he’s one of the last ones left in the city. But Jimmy refuses to leave.

This is what Jimmy says in the film. “My grandfather left the Deep South because there was nothing there for him. He built his dream home in San Francisco. Now that it’s gone, they expect me to be gone too. But I’m not going anywhere. There ain’t nothing west of here but water. This is my home.”

Amen to that.

For more information about “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” contact Joseph Talbot: josephltalbot@gmail.com.

 David Talbot is the founder and former editor-in-chief of Salon, and the author of “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love.” david@talbotplayers.com.

Neil Young solving music snobs’ problems for $399

 

Quit complaining about your terrible MP3. Young takes his music genius digital to “restore the soul of music”

 

 

Neil Young solving music snobs' problems for $399

 

On March 12 music listeners who are dissatisfied with their iProduct or smartphone’s sound quality will have the chance to pony up $399 on Kickstarter for Neil Young’s PonoMusic. “It’s about the music, real music. We want to move digital music into the 21st century and PonoMusic does that,” Young said in the company’s release, “We couldn’t be more excited — not for ourselves, but for those that are moved by what music means in their lives.”

PonoMusic is not just a portable digital music player (PonoPlayer); it will also have an online music store (PonoMusic.com), where according to the makers you’ll be able to buy the “finest quality, highest-resolution digital music from both major labels and prominent independent labels, curated and archived for discriminating PonoMusic customers.”



The player is in the shape of a triangular prism, rather than the nearly flat, pocket-size design of most players. Its odd configuration allows it to rest on its side in a home or car. PonoPlayer can store between 100 and 500 high-resolution digital-music albums, depending on the size of the album, on its 128GB of memory. It also has an LCD touchscreen for “intuitive” navigating, and promises the highest fidelity of sound, as if you’re hearing it live. If you’re an audiophile, the device seems to bridge the gap between quality and convenience — with Neil Young’s stamp of approval.

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/10/neil_young_solving_music_snobs_problems_for_399/?source=newsletter

Glasshole nation: Tech’s culture war takes another ugly turn

BLOGGER COMMENT:  I wouldn’t wear GGs if I got them for free.  But then, I don’t own a smart phone.  I can affirm this right now:  I will not interact with anyone, friend or foe, who is wearing these recording devices.  Period.  If they become ubiquitous, as some believe, then i am comfortable that some blessed tech person will create truly disruptive technologies that will kill these big data devices around my personal space.  I’ll carry that device.

 

 

A viral video showing a violent response to Google Glass reveals the deep schisms wrought by new technology

 

 

Glasshole nation: Tech's culture war takes another ugly turn
(Credit: martin-matthews via iStock)

 

Molotov’s is the kind of San Francisco dive bar where you are guaranteed a hostile response if you break the house rules about who’s next at the pool table. As a reviewer noted on Google+, the bar “can be intimidating if you aren’t rocking your punk rock cred.” It’s a place to “bring your dog, order a two dollar PBR, and get your grime on.”

Media feeding frenzies do not ordinarily ensue when a fight breaks out and a purse gets stolen at a punk rock bar on the lower Haight. But throw a woman wearing Google Glass into the middle of the scuffle, a woman who later reports on Facebook that she was the victim of a “hate crime,” and faster than you can sing the chorus to “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” an entire city will be foaming with bile. The woman in question, Sarah Slocum, a social media consultant from San Mateo and self-described “glasshead,” instantly became the new face of the tech culture wars.

Most people who have experienced real oppression will likely scoff at the notion that having your $1,500 Google Glass ripped off your face outside of a dive bar at 2 in the morning constitutes a hate crime. But that doesn’t mean Slocum deserved having her phone and purse stolen, or all the over-the-top negative sentiment that has been showered upon her ever since. Drunk people do inappropriate things in bars every night. That doesn’t make them evil.



But what about Google Glass? That’s where this story gains some heft. Google Glass is a fascinating device because it simultaneously appears to foreshadow our cyborg future while also symbolizing — and enacting! — our growing anxieties about the present. The ubiquitous surveillance state? Google Glass plugs right into it. Technologically driven income inequality? What could be more potent than this expensive new tribal marker for the tech elite?

The people who don their cyborg head-dresses and manage not to grasp how off-putting they may be to the lumpen proletariat are betraying a revealing lack of self-awareness — so much so that Google recently felt it had to publish a list of “Dos and Don’ts” for Glass users. What more do we need for proof that Google Glass is

the antithesis of punk rock?

The details of what exactly went down last Friday night at Molotov’s are rapidly taking on a Rashomon-like inconsistency. Slocum says she was attacked — “flicked” at with wet bar towels, to be more specific — and that her Google Glass was ripped from her face by a “hater.” Another eyewitness claims a friend of Slocum’s threw the first punch.

Again, typical stuff for the wee hours in a punk rock bar. But here’s what we do know: Sarah Slocum wore Google Glass into Molotov’s. Some patrons of the bar expressed discomfort at the possibility that Slocum might be recording them using Glass. Slocum herself acknowledges that “after being verbally accosted ” by one woman, she turned on Glass’ video recording function, apparently operating under the extremely dubious assumption that taking such action would result in more restrained behavior.

That was dumb. Farhad Manjoo, newly crowned tech pundit for the New York Times, captured the stupidity at the heart of this story in one pithy tweet:

So maybe the story should end here.  It is one of the odd byproducts of our hyper-networked society that every instance of inappropriate behavior is immediately transmitted everywhere and becomes the gist of a culture-wide aneurysm. Let’s all learn from Slocum’s example: There are some places and times when it is inappropriate to wear a video-camera on your face.

If Google Glass-like technology is ever going to become acceptable in civilized society, a proper etiquette for its use will have to evolve. In his account of a year wearing Google Glass, “I, Glasshole,” Wired journalist Mat Honan wrote about all the times he didn’t wear his Glass.

My Glass experiences have left me a little wary of wearables because I’m never sure where they’re welcome. I’m not wearing my $1,500 face computer on public transit where there’s a good chance it might be yanked from my face. I won’t wear it out to dinner, because it seems as rude as holding a phone in my hand during a meal. I won’t wear it to a bar. I won’t wear it to a movie. I can’t wear it to the playground or my kid’s school because sometimes it scares children.

Honan believes that eventually, as prices drop and the technology becomes less obtrusive (Google Contacts!) and people become more generally comfortable with state-of-the-art cybertech, wearable technology will become as ubiquitous as smartphones are now. It’s a possibility that can’t be ruled out. If the steady bubble of incidents involving Google Glass can in large part be attributed to Glass users simply not getting that there are situations where it comes off as rude and invasive to be wearing a video camera on your face, maybe they’ll eventually grow up.

But the problems with Glass go deeper than etiquette. As stupid and juvenile as so much of the “tech hate” is in the Bay Area now, there is no denying that, as a society, we are reassessing how we think about technology, and becoming more suspicious of it in the process.

The emergence of the ubiquitous surveillance state is exhibit A in this reevaluation. We know now that the original “Don’t be evil” Google is one of the primary architects of a new order in which vast reserves of data are collected every day about all of us. This data has enabled both the NSA and advertisers to track our every movement in extraordinary detail. How hard is it to understand the symbolism of Google Glass in the context of this sea change? If we’re already nervous about our email and our texts being scooped by spooks, the last thing we want to see after we’ve been pounding PBR for a few hours is someone staring at us with technology on their face that could be transmitting a live feed of us to just about anywhere.

The increasingly obvious negative economic and cultural consequences of technological progress are exhibit B: During the 10-second video clip recorded by Slocum, one bar patron can be heard saying: “You are ruining this city.”

There are many reasons why the animosity  captured by those five words is unjustified, especially when it is brought to be bear indiscriminately on anyone who happens to be employed in the tech sector. Tech culture is as deep a part of the San Francisco Bay Area as the Gold Rush and the Summer of Love and the gay rights movement. There are thousands of people in the tech sector who contribute to its culture and vibrant economy.

At the same time, in San Francisco right now, art galleries are closing, nonprofits are being forced out of their offices, and seniors are being evicted from their homes. And if you happen to be losing your home, or even just your favorite gay Latino bar, you really don’t want to hear how tech workers are feeling demonized. Their victim-hood is low on your list of priorities.

Change is constant in any big, dynamic city, but the rate of change in the San Francisco Bay Area right now is so fast as to be palpably destabilizing. And what is happening locally also connects to a deeper unease, a growing sense that our increasingly sophisticated technologies are automating people out of their jobs and putting downward pressure on wages.

In that context, the emergence of thousands of Google “Explorers” as an obvious tech elite avant-garde is bound to be perceived as irritating by those who feel threatened by recent change. The people who are benefiting most from the new economy are separating themselves from the rest with silicon circuitry on their heads. As Mat Honan wrote, “Glass is a class divide on your face.” That kind of conspicuous consumption is bound to inspire conspicuous resentment.

It could well be that as Moore’s law kicks in and prices fall and the technology becomes less obtrusive, and as we all educate ourselves on how and when flaunting our cyborg tech is appropriate, we’ll arrive at some new equilibrium. The current paroxysms about tech culture are rife with contradictions. This morning I was looking through reviews of Molotov’s on Yelp. Not surprisingly, there are a handful of new reviews posted since the Glass incident, more or less split evenly between people trashing the bar as a seedy hole full of ignorant Glass haters and as a righteous center of resistance to the new tech overlords. But I was struck by the realization that the vast majority of those involved in the conversation about what happened at Molotov’s last Friday night were probably using a mobile, Wi-Fi-connected device to communicate, something that would have seemed like sheer fantasy just a decade or two ago. Who’s to say that the version of this conversation we are having 10 years from now won’t be conducted via ubiquitous augmented reality devices like Google Glass?

Maybe next time around we’ll be hating on the freaks who are implanting new tech directly into their skulls. Which, come to think of it, sounds pretty punk rock.

 

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

http://www.salon.com/2014/02/28/glasshole_nation_techs_culture_war_takes_another_ugly_turn/?source=newsletter

 

Is San Francisco losing its soul?

The big pay cheques of the tech boom are changing the City by the Bay as Twitter and Google millionaires take over its bohemian haunts. Could this be the end of the city as we know it? Zoë Corbyn reports
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. An iconic image of a rapidly-changing city. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

Poet and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti came to San Francisco in 1951 because he heard it was a great place to be a bohemian. He settled in the Italian working-class neighbourhood of North Beach with its cheap rents and European ambience. And before long he put the city on the world’s counter-cultural map by publishing the work of Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. But despite his status as world and local literary legend, the 94-year-old co-owner of the renowned City Lights bookshop and publishing house doesn’t feel so at home in the City by the Bay anymore.

He complains of a “soulless group of people”, a “new breed” of men and women too busy with iPhones to “be here” in the moment, and shiny new Mercedes-Benzs on his street. The major art galley in central San Francisco that has shown Ferlinghetti’s work for two decades is closing because it can’t afford the new rent. It, along with several other galleries, will make way for a cloud computing startup called MuleSoft said to have offered to triple the rent. “It is totally shocking to see Silicon Valley take over the city,” says Ferlinghetti, who still rents in North Beach. “San Francisco is radically changing and we don’t know where it is going to end up.”

Until recently, San Francisco, California – a small city of around 825,000 poised on the tip of a peninsular on America’s western edge that sprang up during the 1840s gold rush – wasn’t thought of as a centre for business. Rather, it was famed as an artistic, bohemian place with a history of flowering counter-cultures that spilled over and changed America and the world, from the beats in North Beach to the hippies in the hilly region of Haight- Ashbury to the gay rights movement in the Castro neighbourhood. Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner called it “49 square miles surrounded by reality”.

But times have changed in Ferlinghetti’s city. San Francisco has become the hype- and capital-fuelled epicentre of America’s technology industry, which has traditionally centred on the string of suburban cities known as Silicon Valley 40 miles to the south. In 2011, Mayor Ed Lee introduced tax breaks for Twitter and several other tech companies to encourage them to settle in and revitalise the downtown San Francisco neighbourhood South of Market, or Soma, and help the city climb out of the recession. Soma has become home to some of the most important companies in the new economy, such as Twitter and Dropbox, and many small startups hoping to challenge them. AngelList, a networking site for investors, now lists 5,249 tech startups in San Francisco, each worth $4.6m (£2.8m) on average and offering an average salary of $105,000 (£64,000).

Zeph Fishlyn

Moving on: Zeph Fishlyn, who was forced out of her studio in the Mission District. Photograph: Barry J Holmes for the Observer At the same time, San Francisco has become a bedroom city for people who work in Silicon Valley and prefer vibrant urban neighbourhoods to sleepy suburban towns. Facebook, Google, Apple and other companies lay on shiny luxury buses to ferry their employees on the approximately 90-minute trip. San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Authority estimates about 35,000 ride the air-conditioned, Wi-Fi-provisioned buses each day.

In one sense, San Francisco is thriving. The unemployment rate is just 4.8%, compared to 8.3% for California as a whole. In 2013 job growth in San Francisco County led all others in the nation. But the influx of so many young, rich tech workers has caused significant tensions. Starting in mid-2011, rents and house prices began to soar. Eviction rates soon followed as property speculators sought to cash in by flipping rent-controlled apartment buildings into flats to sell. Evicted residents have found themselves unable to afford to live in their city anymore and many businesses and non-profits have been squeezed. “There is only a handful of cities in the world that have such an extreme problem of gentrification,” says Richard Walker, an urban geographer at the University of California, Berkeley.

The facts are stark. The median household income of the San Francisco Bay Area is now higher than anywhere else in America, and San Francisco has twice as many billionaires per capita as London (financial analysts PrivCo estimated that Twitter’s stock market launch in November 2013 created more than 1,600 new millionaires in a single day, mostly employees). The median monthly rent is already the highest in the country and is still increasing at a rate three times the national average. Based on official figures from the San Francisco Rent Board, the San Francisco Tenants Union estimates that no-fault evictions displaced nearly 1,400 renters in 2013. About a third of those evictions were under California’s Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants and sell their apartments. A City study from October 2013 says Ellis Act evictions increased by 170% from 2010 to 2013. There are also untold numbers who have left the area after accepting buyouts.

It isn’t as if San Francisco hasn’t seen a tech boom before. Silicon Valley’s dotcom boom of 1998 to 2001 also led to significant displacement in San Francisco. But this latest one is focused on the city and visibly changing it faster. Many long-time San Francisco residents worry not only about being forced out of the city they love, but also that their city is being changed for the worse. Critics say that San Francisco’s communities of alternative culture, ethnic or otherwise – the soil of its creative mojo and legendary social movements – are being turned into playgrounds for rich people. If San Francisco’s soul is its social and economic diversity and status as a refuge for those outside the mainstream, then it is being lost.

Anthony Krumeich

Street life: Anthony Krumeich in his mobile home on the back of a truck. Photograph: Barry J Holmes for the Observer Emerging in its place is the mostly white, male-dominated, monied monoculture of the tech industry and there appears no end in sight. “It is not like it is over, but the tide is going out on San Francisco,” says Chris Carlsson, a resident since 1992 and co-founder of the Critical Mass bicycle activism movement, whose offshoots regularly take over the streets of London and other cities worldwide. Writer Rebecca Solnit, whose book Hollow City documented the effect of the first dotcom boom, fears the world is about to lose one of its most radical outposts. “I am not arguing for a city frozen in amber,” she says, “but this particular iteration of change is eliminating a lot of what the city’s identity has been for the past 150 years.”

Artist Zeph Fishlyn, aged 47, came to San Francisco in 1988 and settled in the working-class Hispanic Mission District, drawn by the large lesbian community there. In late 2012 she and 16 other artists who were part of the Million Fishes Art Collective were kicked out of the studio space they had lived and worked in for almost a decade. Rents have soared in the Mission, which is conveniently located for the freeways to Silicon Valley and has become a fashionable place to live. A new landlord had bought the building and, citing non-compliance with zoning laws, kicked them out.

Unable to afford to stay in San Francisco, Fishlyn moved east across the bay to Oakland, where the burgeoning art and activism scene is buoyed by a steady flow of economic refugees. “Anybody spending their time doing something that doesn’t come with a big pay cheque is having to move,” says Fishlyn, “and that includes the creative sector and any kind of social justice work.” So many creative types have relocated to Oakland that Oakland’s mayor, Jean Quan, recently likened the city to Brooklyn (San Francisco was Manhattan); San Francisco-based street artist Eclair Bandersnatch, whose stencil portrait of Edward Snowden recently featured in the Guardian, says so many of her friends have moved away that she feels like an anomaly. The irony, she notes, is that “with money you get people who are more into the arts”.

The Mission and Ferlinghetti’s North Beach are “ground zero” for gentrification, says Ted Gullickson, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. Others have already been subsumed including, he says, the Castro district, the world famous “gayborhood” synonymous with progressive hero Harvey Milk. The area was hit badly by evictions in the first dotcom boom, he says, and has been finished off by the latest tech surge. “It is more homeowner and much straighter, much whiter and much more conservative.” In late 2012, the elected representative of the Castro introduced a measure to ban public nudity outside of festivals in San Francisco – despite, or perhaps because of, male nudity being commonplace in the Castro for decades.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights book shop

Old school: Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights book shop. Photograph: Barry J Holmes for the Observer Gullickson believes the future of the city’s character now rests on the Mission, North Beach and the wider Haight-Ashbury, iconic neighbourhoods which people associate with San Francisco. “I think ultimately if they become gentrified, we are talking about San Francisco as a whole.”

There are others who see what is happening in San Francisco in a different light. Fred Turner, an American cultural history professor at Stanford University, argues that gentrification driven by white, middle-class newcomers to the city is nothing new, and has even underpinned its famous counter-culture movements. The arrival of the bohemians in North Beach began the displacement of the working-class Italians; the arrival of the hippies in Haight-Ashbury displaced some of the long-standing working-class residents; and the Castro had a large working-class Irish population before it became a gay mecca. The latest incarnation – digital workers displacing working-class Latinos and artists from the Mission District who themselves were already gentrifying it – is not radically different. “Nearly everything that is said about them – the taking of public resources, the pushing out of poor folks and different ethnic minorities – was said about the hippies of the 1960s and not without good reason,” says Turner.

In his book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, he even argues that today’s tech culture is a direct descendant of the hippy movement. The techies are far richer and aren’t a counter-culture, but like some hippies they have the same sense of social mission to transform the world for the better with technology. Likewise the way that tech culture mixes work and play and emphasises personal growth has echoes of hippy life. “The same logic that was driving the counter-culture – and that continues to drive much of San Francisco today – is the very logic that drives Google,” says Turner. “In a limited sense, the 1960s are turning around to bite San Francisco.”

Stewart Brand, who personified the link between San Francisco’s 60s flower power and the emerging technological hub of Silicon Valley, lives on a houseboat in Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. He is watching with pleasure as the tech boom enfolds San Francisco. Now 75, Brand came to the Bay Area in 1956 and became famous for publishing the counter-cultural bible the Whole Earth Catalog which recommended the tools, technology and attitudes hippies would need to advance themselves and society as a whole.

As Brand sees it, history is being made again in the city. There is the suburban version of Bay Area cyber-business and there is a new urban version being created in San Francisco. “Market Street has been this sleepy dead street for a long time,” says Brand, referring to the thoroughfare that bounds Soma. “Well, it is lively and exciting again now, thanks to the tech guys… A creative form is a creative form.” Brand is convinced that the injection of so many young people with technical skills, money to play with and no family ties will spawn new ideas in San Francisco, a well-heeled, much needed creative renaissance.

He has little sympathy for those displaced along the way. San Francisco is a small corner of the Bay Area, he points out, and the rest still has significant economic diversity. Even if San Francisco becomes a Manhattan-like redoubt of the rich, the area as a whole will see benefits. “One side effect of this may well be that Oakland, which is pretty damn interesting, becomes even more interesting.”

Curiosity drew Zeph Fishlyn back to Million Fishes’s old building last year. She found it occupied by a startup called Bloodhound that had moved in mid-2013 and was paying two and a half times the old rent. The company designs apps to make exchanging contact details with people easier in work situations. Its founder and CEO is Anthony Krumeich, a 27-year-old dropout from Stanford University’s Symbolic Systems course, which has produced senior executives for companies such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. On Twitter, he describes himself as: “Inventor, dog owner, free and present thinker, entrepreneur, drop-out, sailor.”

Originally from suburban New York, Krumeich has curly hair, thick-rimmed glasses and wears a plaid shirt – standard urban hipster uniform. He arrived in San Francisco in late 2010, after a couple of years trying to get Bloodhound going in Silicon Valley. The company now has 15 employees and nearly $5m in investment funding including from Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and the first investor in Facebook. Bloodhound has revenues but not profits and Krumeich moved his company to the Mission from Soma in search of lower rents and some soul. The office’s aesthetic is white space, wood and large Apple computers. It overflows with signs of a start-up culture – there are also soft furnishings, a table-tennis table and a copy of the tech entrepreneurs‘ bible The Lean Start-up. Employees who commit to not driving get a custom-made bike from a local bike shop and three days a week a chef cooks the office a wheat- and dairy-free lunch.

Krumeich and I walk the one block to Lower 24th Street, San Francisco’s most vibrant centre of Hispanic culture and commerce. It has the highest concentration of Latino businesses in the city, an eclectic mixture of speciality stores, Mexican bakeries, grocers and butchers. But 24th Street is in transition. High-end coffee shops and restaurants are poking in, along with a fashionable Jewish deli selling $13 sandwiches. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who has a second home in the Mission, has been spotted there.

Krumeich is busy with the kind of project that Brand claims will define San Francisco’s future. Inspired by the housing crisis, he and his companion – a Boxer dog – have just moved into what he calls an “alternative living situation”, a shipping container on a flatbed truck. Krumeich is converting it into an off-grid, mobile living space that he says will be self-sustaining in its finished form. Solar panels provide electricity and a system of plants is to be used to recycle grey water. He thinks more mobile living might be the future.

But unlike Brand, Krumeich believes new San Francisco doesn’t have to eradicate the old. The big ground-floor windows of his office are currently exhibiting canvases painted by an Oakland-based artist. A couple of weeks ago he held his first “artists’ showcase”, where he opened the doors to passers-by and had various local artists show their work – and he is thinking about a new kind of app to connect artists with potential buyers.

All this was inspired by finding out that Million Fishes had been in the space before, courtesy of Fishlyn. “They had an interesting place,” he says, and while he is determined not to suffer from “tech guilt” he is thinking about the role he can play in his community. “I don’t have a lot of preconceived notions about how this should work, but I am just going to start from: I care about other people; I am trying to do interesting and good things; I would like my presence here to be a contribution.”

That kind of tech-led mission might be possible, but perhaps first an endangered species needs to be saved from extinction. Since late 2013, neighbourhood marches and blockades against Google’s commuter buses have captured local, national and international attention. Tenant and neighbourhood organisations are working on proposals to be taken to San Francisco voters in November – suggestions include a moratorium on no-fault evictions. In January, the mayor responded to the growing pressure, urging people to stop demonising tech workers while announcing a seven-point housing plan which includes a target of 30,000 new homes by 2020, at least a third of which will be affordable. More immediately, he plans to try to reform the state’s Ellis Act.

The San Francisco peninsular is where the world’s new dominant industry – information technology – is most concentrated. Its tensions between highly paid tech workers and the communities that came before them may be a preview for other places. “What happens here may well happen in similar ways elsewhere, such as the emerging tech zones in London and Berlin,” says Turner. “San Francisco is a canary in a coal mine.” What reinvented San Francisco will look like when the dust settles is difficult to predict. But the nature of urbanity is that people packed in together do encounter each other and discover history and traditions. “Cities are more resilient than you might think,” says Richard Walker. It’s unlikely to be all doom for old San Francisco.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for one, is still convinced that the San Francisco he knows ultimately can’t be engulfed by Silicon Valley, seeing too strong a connection to its geography, with water on three sides. “It still has an island mentality,” he says. “At nearly 95, all I can say is good luck!”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/23/is-san-francisco-losing-its-soul

Eminem, Ice Cube and Korn Team Up with Anonymous to Call For Global Revolution

‘Everything’s corrupt, everything’s fucked up.’

Photo Credit: Martin King/Youtube

February 19, 2014  |

The word “epic” long ago lost all its linguistic potency when Burger King and Hot Topic began to use it in the advertisement of their products. Yet if ever if there was an occasion to resurrect the term, it would be to describe the music video released today by elements of Anonymous along with Ice Cube, Eminem, and Korn.

They team up to splice together a nuance-eschewing, face-melting, testosterone-charged collaboration meant to incept a massive wave of action against the seemingly indomitable power of corporatist-totalitarianism within the world’s leading liberal republics.

The video features some hilarious spots of Rob Ford–perhaps the Western world’s most flamboyant symbol of transparent corpo-political stoogism–as well as the mainstream media’s two favorite tools of distraction, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. There are also a number of clips of Obama acting especially bourgeois while surrounded by animated cameras, implying that the spying-industrial-complex is an apolitical institution supported and grown by whichevever political party is in office.

Ice Cube, Eminem and Korn hit the peak of their musical careers within the mainstream musical establishment over a decade ago, which probably engenders them with a degree of freedom to partake in such an overtly political project.

It might be the most insane music video you’ve seen in a long time–and for some, it may inspire the visceral outrage necessary to orient toward a path of action. Others will just roll their eyes.

Check out the video below, and keep in mind  the Worldwide Wave of Action  begins on April 4 at “former occupation sites around the world.”

 

Aaron Cantú is an investigator for the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and an independent journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @aaronmiguel_

EDM – the worst thing that has ever happened to electronic dance music?

“Who’d have thought three little letters could make dance music look so wanky?”, fellow blogger Clive from UK-based music blog Electronic Rumors asked on Twitter a few months ago. “What’s happened to dance music?”, Haezer asks his fans on Facebook. London music blog Too Many Sebastians recently declared the beginning of EDMageddon on Twitter.

In the meantime, Tiesto is still touring US universities for his Club Life College Invasion tour, Steve Aoki is still surfing underage crowds on an inflatable raft and David Guetta is still selling out every single show he plays. Skrillex and Avicii can still be heard blasting out of every kid’s iPod, the top ten tracks for electro house on Beatport still have cheesy trance vocals and synths in the breaks and Rihanna or Pitbull’s songs still sound like big-room club anthems. Madonna still keeps appearing at Avicii’s shows. Sebastian Ingrosso of Swedish House Mafia still thinks SHM are the new Beatles. And above all, Paris Hilton still thinks she’s a DJ now. What has electronic dance music become? Or is EDM just electronic dance music for douchebags?

After an entire summer spent traveling from one EDM festival to another, I obviously could go on for hours here, but let’s just forget about all that for a second and step back to take a closer look at this thing called EDM. A few years ago, EDM had been a collective term for all kinds of electronic dance music (rather than a genre on its own), ranging from techno over house to drum&bass, and all other kinds of music created on computers and synthesizers with the purpose of making people dance. Except for some new genres (like dubstep or moombahton) that have recently joined the family, EDM is still the catch-all term for electronic dance music. So what exactly has changed, and why are so many people (including me) so upset about it?

“EDM has become an entire generation’s pop music.”

If you ask someone what kind of music they enjoy and the answer is rock, you can go on asking which kinds of rock music, and you would probably get stoner rock, indie rock, hard rock or any other kind of music with guitars as an answer. If you ask today’s average EDM fan the same question, they will most probably have a hard time naming you three sub-genres of EDM they’re into. If you don’t believe me, go check the line-ups of dance events a few years ago: never before have artists such as Tiesto, John Dahlbäck, Richie Hawtin and Steve Aoki constantly shared stages, because each of them represented a different style (trance, house, techno, electro, etc.) back then, with completely different crowds. Today, it’s all just EDM. For a large number of (young) listeners (mainly in the US), EDM has become a new genre, it seems. A genre characterized by simple melodies that immediately get stuck in your head and catchy vocals that you can sing along to after the first listen (wait, isn’t that pretty much a definition of pop music?). Add a big drop with lots of bass, gritty synths and white noise to that, and you’ve got a pocket definition of 2012′s idea of EDM. I recently asked on Twitter “What has dance music become?”, and one answer I got was from Andrew of Harder Blogger Faster: “One word: predictable.” I couldn’t agree more with this, remembering Skrillex joking about one of his fans commenting “Nice song, but where’s the drop” after the prince of dubstep posted a video of Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker on Facebook.

How could it have come to this, though? For years now, electronic dance music has been growing bigger and bigger, finally making the jump from music made for clubs to receiving attention on mainstream radio – outside of clubs. This process was sort of kickstarted between 2006 and 2008 when some emerging artists managed to build a big hype and make electronic music “socially acceptable” for people who have never been into dance music before: somewhere between alternative rock (which was huge back then) and dance music, indie dance was born. Think of: Justice’s remix for Simian’s We Are Your Friends, the early days of The Hype Machine, blog house, Kitsuné, the Ed Banger generation, Crookers, MGMT’s Kids (Soulwax Remix). In fact though, this process has been going on for much longer, though: electronic music has always been drawing influences from other genres – think Bloody Beetroots collaborating with hardcore punk bands such as Refused. After this big hype back in 2006 – 2008 though, it started actually influencing other genres itself. For years now, electronic dance music has been influencing mainstream pop music – I don’t think I need to give examples for that.

Today however, the situation has changed. Electronic dance music is no longer influencing mainstream pop music. EDM has become mainstream pop music.

Underground music has been influencing mainstream music for as long as music exists, probably. When underground music actually becomes mainstream music, though, some problems arise: long-time members of the original scene will feel irritated with lots of new people suddenly claiming to be part of the movement when they obviously have no idea what this scene is really about. What better example than old-school house legend Mark Farina being removed from the decks in Vegas after the club received complaints from its bottle-service VIP crowd for “too much house music”? Or deadmau5 ranting about Madonna, and his “we all hit play” statement, and Boys Noize tweeting “if you see a dj that uses a mic and screams ‘put your hands up’ throw a banana at him”. Furthermore, artists who used to define and shape the scene for long years will start to “sell out” because of the big money that suddenly can be made when a genre blows up. These problems and others are of course typical side effects of a genre’s commercialization, and no EDM-specific phenomenon.

EDM in the USA – a booming industry.

With the hype exploding and still growing, EDM has evolved from an underground movement to a big target market for all kinds of enterprises, attracting the attention of big companies who started pouring lots of money into the scene, hosting bigger, louder, crazier festivals all over the world (think Holy Ship, Ultra, EDC, Tomorrowland etc.). “It’s just a marketing term to sell various genres of dance music to the US.”, Clive of Electronic Rumors once tweeted, and he’s totally right about that. With the massive marketing firepower of the entire event industry as a strong tailwind, EDM is getting bigger and bigger. In fact, the bigger it gets, the bigger it gets – a vicious circle.

Obviously what I’m talking about here is largely a US-based phenomenon. Of course it’s swapping over to Europe, but the real big hype hasn’t actually arrived yet (and I’m not sure if it ever will): even at European mainstream EDM festival like Tomorrowland you will meet more North and South Americans than Europeans combined. This is due to a strong, independent scene and a long tradition of electronic dance music in Europe: French house in, well, France, drum & bass and dubstep in the UK, techno and deep house in Berlin – just to name a few examples. There are lots of big artists in Europe who firmly stand against the EDM hype, who have always chosen quality electronic dance music over cheap music for the masses. I’m not going to do some namedropping here – if you’ve been following this blog for some time chances are that you already know who the good guys are. After being asked in an interview why Europe seems to be constantly ahead of the US when it comes to electronic dance music, techno legend Richie Hawtin explains that the club scene in Europe has not only a much longer tradition than it has in the States, but also complains about the mentality of the US scene: “I think music in America, and this emanates across the world, everybody wants to be a superstar. Everybody wants to actually cut themselves off from people. Everybody wants to be on a pedestal. [...] It’s a little bit disappointing how that’s happened in America. It’s really like the whole rock star, hip-hop mentality. You know, these unreachable people.”

Having said that, EDM’s poster boys are of course in no way inferior when it comes to producing and DJing (except for some of the obvious douchebags), in fact I have all the respect in the world for artists like David Guetta: every single piece of music this man touches immediately turns into solid earworm gold. Also, he’s French, so obviously I’m not just hating on the US music scene here, just to be clear about that too. The US music scene is clearly breaking new grounds with EDM at the moment, so obviously there are lots of people who are new to electronic dance music – and of course they can’t be expected to immediately know and appreciate the more elaborate and sophisticated facets of electronic music, as Hawtin explains: “If you just got into Calvin Harris or you just got into Afrojack, great. You’ve stepped through the door, but there’s so much more to learn.”

This is the end?

However, at some point in the near future the EDM hype will probably collapse, as new (or old) genres will eventually start replacing it again. I remember asking Olle of Dada Life in an interview I did with them back in 2009 if he thought that electronic dance music would ever become as popular as indie rock, and he answered: “It already is, in some ways. On a regular weekend more people are partying to house and electro than rock. They just don’t know what they’re hearing at the club. I don’t think that will change, but that’s fine!” Obviously it did change, so why shouldn’t it change again? Hopefully for the better, this time.

In my opinion, while quickly gaining lots of fans, electronic dance music has become less credible in the course of this big EDM hype. The (bigger part of the) underground clubbing scene (where it has been all about the music) has turned into a commercial hype focusing on festivals, fireworks and rockstar personality cult rather than on the music itself. It has become harder to spot the most interesting artists, and it has become harder for talented artists to reach an audience if their music is not big-room compatible. While introducing massive crowds to electronic music, this thing called EDM has been a major setback for electronic dance music, as it has changed the public’s perception of dance music to something that dance music never wanted to represent.

Having said that, the scene has always been sort of re-inventing itself – and the bigger EDM becomes, the more up and coming artists start rejecting the hunt for the hardest drop, slowly developing a fresh underground scene, where it’s all about the music again – for example the future techno movement. Facing the rapid commercialization of mainstream dance music, these small underground scenes are rapidly gaining fans who are fed up with the EDM hype. So let’s all just sit back and wait for this whole thing to repeat itself again in a few years. Eurodance, EDM – I wonder what they will call it the next time.

Comments appreciated.


Photo credits: Drew Ressler, rukes.com.

http://www.discodemons.net/2012/09/09/edm-vs-electronic-dance-music/