999 Words

A Load of Bull: how RBMA is at odds with its founder’s beliefs

Remember that appalling Pepsi advert this April—the one where Kendall Jenner singlehandedly diffuses some generic protest with a blue can of cola? Upon its release, increasingly more people quickly denounced the spot for its tone-deaf co-optation of the iconography of grassroots activism like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Even Bernice King, the daughter of the American minister and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a snarky remark about it on Twitter. Snark begat screenshots begat memes, and Pepsi, in a rare reversal of a mammoth global marketing campaign, scrapped it following an overwhelming backlash. All that over an ad, Pepsi’s failed stab at radical chic.

Now, imagine that Pepsi had doubled down and skipped making the ad altogether, going straight to sponsoring the actual protests instead. Imagine that they showed up to the next demonstration and set up stands selling Pepsi, plastering their logo across banners, handbills, and t-shirts. Imagine they installed temporary ATMs. Imagine they became corporate partners with nonprofits and NGOs, making them cross-promote Pepsi products through their social media feeds. Imagine they funded leading experts to retrace histories of their own communities, publishing them on a Pepsi-branded website. Imagine Pepsi, more than merely co-opting the lexicon and codes of a popular movement, simply annexed the whole movement.

You can stop imagining, because that’s exactly what Red Bull has done with the global underground music scene, another grassroots, radical, and revolutionary force. Rather than mimic avant-garde music communities, Red Bull has bought them outright. Which would be less of a problem, if Dietrich Mateschitz, the company’s co-founder and public face remotely stood for any of the values that avant-garde artists and their audiences hold dear.

I’ve written before about the loose relationship between experimental music scenes, Red Bull Music Academy, and gentrification, as well as Red Bull’s shady business practices, and the mystery of the beverage itself. Now, on the occasion of their return to Montreal, it’s time to talk about RBMA’s ostensibly inclusive cultural rhetoric versus Dietrich Mateschitz’s unsettling social and political beliefs.

According to Forbes magazine, Mr. Mateschitz is Austria’s wealthiest person, controlling a vast fortune estimated at $13.4 billion US. Being that rich means that he has a lot of stuff: aside from a forty-nine percent stake in Red Bull, he also owns an Alpine lodge, a Formula One motorsports team, a race track, football clubs in Austria, Germany, Brazil, and America, an island in the South Seas, and various aircraft to get there. By degrees of separation, Mateschitz likewise finances Red Bull Music Academy. But all these assets haven’t tamed Mr. Mateschitz’s tempest.

No. In an exclusive Q&A this April with the Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung, Mr. Mateschitz rants indignantly about his contempt for political correctness, hostility toward multiculturalism, sympathy for Donald Trump, and scorn for what he describes as the “self-proclaimed so-called intellectual elite.” Apparently, Mateschitz doesn’t recognize his billionaire entrepreneur status as anything approaching elitism.

When pressed on political correctness, Mateschitz claims: “The most basic of all human rights is that of self-responsibility, and that is what they want to take away. They manipulate, regulate, monitor and control.” His sentiments echo Trump’s own, who has frequently railed in public against liberal diplomacy. On Twitter following the June terrorist attack in London, Trump wrote: “We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse.” As if “getting smart” equates to “outspoken bigotry.”

Another point of accord between the US president and Mateschitz is their opposition to accepting those fleeing conflict, something that Mateschitz in particular sees as a wave that’s “destabilizing Europe.” The reporter interjects at one point during the interview, warning: “You are talking like an enraged citizen.”

“I am talking about the fact that none of those who called out ‘Welcome’ or ‘We can manage it’ offered up their guest room or set up a tent in their garden to accommodate five emigrants,” snaps Mr. Mateschitz. “When one of the highest officials in Brussels says that countries with monocultures should no longer exist, then I hope that I am not the only one who is worried. But it seems that no one dares say the truth anymore, even if everyone knows that it is the truth.”

The truth, as Mateschitz sees it, is that emigrants are mongelizing Europe’s purity. This is all a long way from RMBA’s talk of diversity and inclusivity in dance culture. For Mateschitz, heterogeneity is fine in the club, just not out in the real world.

Few English-language music publications picked up on the Mateschitz interview—The Fader, Resident Advisor, and Crack magazine all ran brief mentions after Artsnet’s Hilli Perlson initially reported it—but the story quickly disappeared, as stories do nowadays. Still, the right-leaning website Breitbart jumped right on top of it, running an enthusiastic news item with the headline: “Red Bull Boss Slams Mass Migration, Forced Multiculturalism in Europe.”

All this begs the question: if Mateschitz is so obviously versed in the alt-right’s talking points, why is Red Bull interested in traditionally left-leaning avant-garde music cultures, of all things? I believe that, in their combative postures toward the status quo, Mateschitz sees something of himself. The artistic underground is also the most loyal scene—the most vocal, most active, and accustomed to being on the defence. For both the underground and Mateschitz, their critics are haters, losers.

In addition to Pepsi’s misguided ad, another string of images this year came to symbolize how out of touch with reality some of us have become: Chris Christie vacationing on a private beach; golfers in Oregon chipping on the fairway while nearby wildfires rage; Melania Trump arriving in stilettos in Houston to greet victims of hurricane Irma. It’s an equally bad look now to claim a radical political attitude and continue to support Mateschitz’s endeavors. Do you want to be seen raving away at RBMA while the world burns?

The choice is yours.

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The Soundtrack of Our Lives

My Alarm Clock, Pile Drivers

The pile drivers this week had fallen mercifully silent. That is, until this morning at 7:41am. There has been so much construction noise in the neighbourhood at all hours that I can scarcely tell what time of day or night it is anymore. By all accounts, this is merely the iceberg’s tip: more than twice the amount of roadwork seen in 2016 will take place before 2021, reports La Presse. The auditory effect—and proprioceptive affect (earplugs don’t work because you can feel the destabilizing concussive force) is almost identical to MK-Ultra psychological warfare research the CIA conducted clandestinely at McGill University in the 1950s—inducing sleep and sensory deprivation through indiscriminate noise—to break psychiatric patients down to a blank emotional slate. It’s all been meticulously documented in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which our Sud-Ouest borough uses like an operator’s manual. To put a twist on O. Henry’s famous adage about New York City: Montréal was a great town, until they started rebuilding it.

 

Emptyset – Borders – Thrill Jockey

Speaking of pile drivers, Paul Purgas and James “Ginz” Ginzburg—the duo known collectively as Emptyset—are due to release Borders, their fifth studio recording, via Thrill Jockey in early 2017. Some reviewer somewhere sometime once said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that Emptyset’s signature infrasonic industrial drub reflected the sonic landscape of Bristol’s mid-naughties construction boom. Well, it’s not just Bristol now; it’s the whole world. Having the privilege of previewing this album at high sound pressure level over the past two days has provided reprieve from the jackhammers and pile drivers and beeping vehicles. They counteract each other.

 

Jóhann Jóhannsson with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble – Cinquième salle – 10/20/2016

Black-and-white video projections of fur-bearing creatures rotate on a screen behind the darkly lit stage. With a sense of ceremony befitting a Viking funeral, Jóhann Jóhannsson periodically arises from his piano stool and meticulously rewinds reels of ¼ inch tape, upon which are recorded processed loops of female voices counting out encoded alphanumeric transmissions in French, Spanish, German. A chamber configuration of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble fills in the gaps between Jóhannsson’s protracted compositions by elongating single notes from their stringed instruments, concealing the transitions that otherwise sewed the evening’s musical offerings together. “Seamless” would be one word to accurately yet inadequately describe the performance. Another might be “perfect.”

Orphée, Jóhannsson’s first recording for revered Classical music label Deutsche Grammophon, is a strong contender for my album of the year. I almost choked coughing up $42 Canadian dollars for the LP at “Cheap Thrills”—a misnomer if ever there was one. Still, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

 

The Public Psychedelic Reel

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It’s often said and seldom heard: cultivate your mistakes; they become your style. Two separate but connected events this week prompted me to collect and repost—in effect, to retweet—my published writing. The first was this excellent essay by Elizabeth Newton. In it, she urges: “To retweet oneself is to say, ‘I gave it some thought, and I meant what I said.’ Retweeting expresses a conviction that is the essence of reference, whatever its form: In case you missed it, here it is again.”

The second came when Dan Lopatin tweeted his personal approval of my “Play Recent” blurb about his latest video for “Animals.” It is apparently the first piece of my writing that 0PN’s legion fans have liked. The duty of criticism is not to please artists or audiences, but of course it’s nice when it does. I’d almost quit writing after the responses to my 2015 Garden Of Delete Quietus review—trolling comments that have since been… deleted. (S/he who lols last lols longest.) Revisit that review, as well as all the work that I’ve contributed to the public record over the past five or six odd years. Thank you for the support.

(Hack: to access the stuff hidden behind paywalls, copy/paste the links at sci-hub.cc)

 

Factmag’s Halloween Hip-Hop Mix

This is fun: Fact Magazine’s US editor John Twells has compiled a mix of Hip-Hop tracks that sample from Horror movie soundtracks—ideal seasonal listening. Personal fav: Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More,” which deftly deploys Bernard Hermann’s Psycho Suite as counterpoint to Busta’s expeditious lyrical delivery. I saw Mr. Rhymes perform this track live at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas in 1999. Impossibly, he rapped faster than the beat.

God damn, there ain’t no more. Is there?

 

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999 Words

Red Bull Music Academy Blues

As I write this, at least a dozen cranes are presiding over Southwest Montréal’s up-and-coming condo boom. It’s a story that Williamsburg Brooklynites, or Mission District San Franciscans, or Gastown Vancouverites, or Londoners of Hackney will find only too familiar: once a light-industrial and staunchly working-class community, the area known locally as Griffintown is undergoing a massive “revitalization”; read: sweeping gentrification.

Culturally speaking, gentrification typically wipes out whatever creative community might have previously thrived there. But Griffintown is different: here, cultural events have been woven right into a cunning redevelopment narrative. Rebranded as part of the city’s “Quartier de l’Innovation”—a hub for the creative class—Griffintown in particular has been sold as the city’s newest hipster neighborhood, an alternative to the Plateau and Mile-End’s cultural hegemony: an “urban oasis”.

Look for example to last Friday’s Red Bull Music Academy Drone Activity In Progress. This event series began in 2013 at the Knockdown Center in Queens, and is franchised out to reconditioning communities around the globe. Staged in a disused warehouse that ironically now serves as a sales office for the chic SE7T condo project, the Griffintown edition boasted most of Montréal’s fiercest noisemakers including Drainolith, Kara-Lis Coverdale and headliner Tim Hecker.

Still, hold no illusions that Red Bull cares about this district. They don’t care that the cost of a single-family home in the Southwest borough rose by 18% over the past twelve months—the highest increase seen anywhere across the city; they don’t care that a nearby 18th century archeological site was recently demolished with no consultation or oversight; or that an historic housing co-op was irrevocably damaged and razed without warning, its longtime residents losing all of their earthly belongings; or that industrial noise from around-the-clock work is disturbing sleep; or that dust and debris deteriorate air quality; or that frequent water main breaks make drinking water unsafe; or that, despite this localized influx of capital, the entire city is suffering from what the CBC, in an on-the-nose nomenclatural gesture calls “extreme neglect”.

Red Bull doesn’t care about this music scene either, or especially about music in general. Red Bull’s sole purpose is to sell Red Bull—wherever, to whomever, however—in as much quantity as possible. Kanye loves Kanye like Red Bull loves Red Bull. In 2015, according to data-gathering website Statista.com, the company raked in nearly one US dollar per person on the planet, making it by far the world’s most profitable energy drink, and among the more ubiquitous global brands. How? Since the 1990s, Red Bull’s advertising tactic has been to get involved in absolutely anything and everything. Slowly, we bought it.

The former New York Times “Consumed” columnist Rob Walker coined a useful term for this strategy: “Murketing”, or murky + marketing: blurring the borders between what we consider to be traditional advertising and authentic daily life. Defined by Walker, murketing is increasingly confusing the things we buy with our fundamental identities: simply, who we think we are is ever-more based upon our marketplace choices. Lifestyle branding is nothing new. What is new, though, is how apparently every possible lifestyle now seems to sport a Red Bull sponsorship: from windsurfing to space jumps to art spaces—and musically speaking, from Mumford and Sons to last Friday’s drone show.

Yet, Tim Hecker’s audience is a far cry from Mumford and Sons’: it’s not particularly popular culture. For Red Bull, ostensibly, there is no pile too high, and no hole too deep. What does it say when even our most underground artists and effervescent scenes are not beyond the reach of a behemoth branding machine? The question becomes: Is the scene fundamentally different because of corporate sponsorship? And after the fog clears, the answer is a resounding yes.

Previously, this kind of thing might have taken place in a DIY loft or other venerable venue, with little advertising beyond perhaps a Facebook event page (or a flyer before that) and word-of-mouth—precisely the sort of murky strategies Red Bull has appropriated. It would be organized locally and cost relatively little money—another façade that RBMA worked hard to construct. But people would arrive on bikes and on foot, not in Ubers. There would be no valet parking, no hastily installed ATM machine, no guest-list exclusivity and no omnipresent trademark imagery, as there was at the RBMA event.

Superficially, the fifteen-dollar entry fee for thirteen acts in a sprawling abandoned warehouse seems like a steal, until you realize who really ends up paying. Friday night’s show didn’t take place in an established locale. It was a pop-up event. This is an alarming and dangerous trend representing the Airbnb-ification of festivals, with no cultivated relationship to a permanent venue or staff, and no ongoing responsibility to the community. If a scene is defined by a group of people engaged in collective activity around a common interest, what we are left with, then, is a group of people collectively engaged in replicating a scene for commercial benefit—a scene-simulating scene.

This particular scene has been nurtured in Montréal since 2000 most visibly by the Mutek festival; a non-profit organization principally supported by the municipal, provincial and federal governments, and dedicated fans. Then Red Bull waltzes into town and drinks their vod-bomb milkshake. How can Mutek refuse partnering with an overwhelmingly profitable brand, its tendrils embedded in deep pockets? How can local artists say no to playing a stage with nothing else visible save a Red Bull logo? All of this community’s political momentum—chiefly its public, grassroots origin—has been co-opted into an elaborate energy drink sales pitch. We are forced to face the fact that this once-resistant music scene is now indelibly branded, and ultimately inextricable from the urban gentrification process. It’s murketing at work.

The lineup on Friday night was stacked with eight hours worth of performances—an impressive bill by any standard. Just how was an audience expected to stay alert for the entire evening? There’s always that fridge-full of sugar water behind the bar.

(Read Part II of this story here. Read Part III of this story here.)

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I Think Therefore I Ambient

On Mute

Everyone hates auto-playing ads. They blast us unexpectedly when we’re most immersed online. Which is why Facebook and other advertisers are attempting to make video ads eye-catching, especially on mute. From avoiding annoying pop-up ads to watching political debates, “in silence” is increasingly our prefered mode for browsing the internet.

Film scholar Tom Gunning, in his essential 1986 article for Wide Angle entitled “The Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde”, defines a useful term for scenery-chewing silent film as “a cinema that displays its visibility, willing to rupture a self-enclosed fictional world for a chance to solicit the attention of the spectator.” Silent cinema at the turn of the 1900s, according to Gunning, was less about telling a story and more about senselessly grasping for audiences’ fleeting attention.

What we are seeing (but not hearing) is a return to this base-level solicitation—a retreat to what Gunning succinctly called “exhibitionist confrontation.”

 

Sonic Sea, (2016) – Dirs. Michelle Dougherty and Daniel Hinerfeld

A few months ago, I stumbled upon this outstanding but profoundly troubling documentary about how industrial and military noise is altering the world’s oceanic soundscapes, and devastating delicate marine ecosystems in the process. This week while on a morning jog, I witnessed a full-grown man screaming at a squabble of seagulls at rest on the Lachine canal’s banks. Our sonic aggression toward the animal kingdom knows no bounds.

 

Alan Turing’s Computer-Generated Music

What is more interesting than the music itself—which is neither the first computer-generated music, nor the most aesthetically pleasing—is the commentary caught on this 1951 recording restored by researchers at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. After a painfully out-of-tune rendition of Glenn Miller’s Big Band hit, the voice of a woman declares with wit, “The machine is obviously not in the mood”.

 

St. Henri’s Beeping Machines

Along with the rest of the neighbourhood, I can’t sleep much of late for the constant beeping of all-night construction. Enjoy it while it lasts. Remember what happens in Montréal come wintertime:

 

Report Spam: P4K’s 50 Greatest Ambient Albums Listicle

Canons are dangerous. They oversimplify and tend toward various biases. In short, they exclude. And exclusivity is the opposite of inclusivity. Still, revisionist canons run another risk. Once a canon has been established, it becomes an imperative historical document—a broad survey of items and ideas that powerful stakeholders found interesting and important at the time. Ripping into a canon can efface certain traces of discourse, and de-historicize concurrent modes of classification. Even when the impetus is good—finding the lost, remembering the forgotten, championing the damned—revisionism overlooks the very act of overlooking.

Having said that, I’m about to eviscerate Condé Nast’s bullshit Ambient list. “Pitchfork Staff” are re-stocked with benighted, lifestyle-shilling millennial twits who seemingly never benefited from this music’s highest possible spiritual ambition: to ease the exit and eventual re-entry of inter-dimensional astral traveling whilst under strong acid and/or cheap whizz. It’s like a Catholic priest trying to teach Sex-Ed: the man doesn’t even have a zipper on his pants. There are so many astonishing Ambient albums—and not overly obscure ones—that had nary a chance of making this catalog. Here’s a baker’s dozen, in no particular order. Happy travels:

 

Klaus Schulze – Mirage – Brain

Aptly titled The Ultimate Edition, German Ambient pioneer and former Tangerine Dreamer Klaus Schulze released a 50-CD boxed set in 2000—all 50 of which eluded Pitchfork—of his extensive oeuvre spanning a nearly 30-year career. One could go straight from owning nothing by Klaus Schulze to owning everything by Klaus Schulze. Notably, he was also a member of the prolific Dark Side of the Moog project with Pete Namlook (see next entry).

 

Namlook – Namlook – Fax +49-69/450464

The Frankfurt composer Peter Kuhlmann (aka Pete Namlook) was responsible for a number of Ambient classics, collaborating with Bill Laswell and Richie Hawtin among others, and releasing over 450 records through his own Fax +49-69/450464 imprint. His debut solo album, Namlook, is live and entirely improvised. Kuhlmann died of a heart attack on November 8th, 2012. He was 51.

 

Beaumont Hannant – Texturology – GPR

Beaumont Hannant came to my attention via the Artificial Intelligence compilations released on Warp Records in the mid-1990s. The exceptional Texturology was only one of three LPs Hannant released in 1994, before disappearing into obscurity by the early 2000s. His crunchy Industrial remix of “Enjoy”, taken from Björk’s Telegram, is one of that album’s standouts.

 

Autechre – Incunabula – Warp

I’m surprised, what with the pending reissue of Incunabula and two other Autechre classics, that Pitchfork didn’t further ingratiate themselves to Warp by including this with their list.

At 16, I had a proper out-of-body experience while listening to this album. I’d taken mushrooms alone in my bedroom. At one point, I physically disintegrated and felt as though I were flying over a series of shining metallic orbs. I reached what appeared to be the end and flipped around, floating back on the inverse side. I remember thinking, “Is this it? Was that the end of the universe?” When I returned to my bedroom / body, the album was over.

I confided the trip in a headbanger friend, Marc Cross, the next day. Marc was about 40. He wore shoulder-length black hair and a black leather jacket, with a string of long white tassels hanging across the back and down the sleeves. “One of those, eh?” Marc said, bobbing his head knowingly.

 

Neotropic – 15 Levels Of Magnification – Ntone

British musician Riz Maslen began in the mid-1990s performing as Neotropic and Small Fish With Spine, as well as with Future Sound of London (see next entry). Her excellent 1996 album 15 Levels Of Magnification is a meditation on surveillance and privacy in an increasingly watched-over world. Maslen still produces work, albeit of a very different ilk, under the Neotropic moniker.

 

Future Sound of London – Lifeforms – Virgin

Rather than two Oneohtrix Point Never records, Pitchfork might have been wise to include one from Future Sound of London. Across a cycle of remarkable albums including ISDN and Dead Cities, FSOL created their own vernacular of infectious rhythms interspersed with deep-space ambience. Following a few foolish psychedelic missteps, the band released Environment 5a return to form—in 2014.

 

Black Light District – A Thousand Lights In A Darkened Room – Eskaton

In 1996, Coil were stuck between two worlds: the Industrial and Acid House work of their Love’s Secret Domain era, and a more durational strain of glitches and drones that would find outlets through other incarnations like ELpH, Time Machines and Black Light District. A Thousand Lights In A Darkened Room marks a contemplative phase for the band—their “Low” period.

 

Scorn – Zander – KK

Devastating Illbience from former Napalm Death member Mick Harris.

 

Lustmord – The Word As Power – Blackest Ever Black

How much more black could this be? None. None more black.

 

Function / Vatican Shadow – Games Have Rules – Hospital

2014 was the year of Power Ambient, according to the very smart observations of writer Maya Kalev. In that year, 21st century American Techno stalwarts Vatican Shadow (aka Dominick Fernow) and Function (Dave Sumner) released a surprising Power Ambient record that showcased both these artists at their dreamiest. NB: Paul Corley mastered this album (great mastering engineers deserve more credit), which makes it sound immaculate.

 

Daniel Lanois / Rocco Deluca – Goodbye to Language – Anti-

Earlier this month, legendary Québécois record producer and frequent Brian Eno collaborator Daniel Lanois quietly released Goodbye To Language. Who could predict that one of the greatest Ambient records of our current age would be performed solely on pedal steel guitars?

 

Miss Dinky – Melodias Venenosas – Traum Schallplatten

In 2001, Chilean-born New York producer Miss Dinky (Alejandra Iglesias) created this Minimal Techno mistresspiece, which sounds something like a cross between Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin and Dan Wül’s electronic Sid and Nancy score. Melodias Venenosas is also uneasy and deeply creepy at times: i.e. the album’s standout track (which is not on YouTube) entitled “Chinatown Rape.”

 

Spacetime Continuum with Terence McKenna – Alien Dreamtime – Astralwerks

In his lecture about lessons imparted by the “self-transforming machine elves” he encountered after smoking DMT, the late American mystic Terence McKenna said: “The real secret of magic is that the world is made of words. And if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish.”

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