Tuesday, 10 November 2009

DARKSTAR: Aidy's Girl's A Computer

I recently bought the 5 Years Of Hyperdub compilation on CD. I know - I can already hear the rude laughter ricocheting from Dalston Kingsland. If only I'd been there at Wonky Warehouse Records in Newham at 2:48 pm on a cold Wednesday afternoon in March 2006 I could have snapped up some limited edition etched 10-inches. Worse, I bought it on the basis of an article I read in the Guardian. Pathetic, isn't it? MC Scavenger, waits for everyone else to do the donkey work then just strolls into HMV like a middle class plantation owner. Who the hell does he think he is?

Now I know that there is some form about all this 'nuum business and that there's been some right royal sparring going on. It's like 2004 all over again. I've been happy to keep well clear of it, mainly because nobody seems to have come up with a ready definition of what "hardcore continuum" means. There have been a lot of unready definitions for sure but the slugging matches have been great fun to watch (never mind dull old Melanie Phillips, get Melissa Bradshaw and K-Punk and Dan Hancox and Alex SBA and all the rest of the combatants on The Moral Maze! Watch the ratings shoot up!). Furthermore, and confusingly, although Dan's piece is exactly the sort of article this simpleton wanted, it wriggles out of the nuum dilemma entirely by stating that the movement epitomised by Hyperdub's records is "so new that it has yet to take a street name." Maybe all those confused Clapton and Waits fans would have become even more befuddled and sped off to the Independent. Even so, the comparisons to Scriabin and the exceptionally New Pop French philosophy kick - ah, that pesky New Pop, it just won't go away, will it? - are bang on and Kode9 himself comes up with this very handy pocket definition (trust a Glaswegian to get to the point!). I totally get it.

Reeling from that rarest of things - a music article in the Guardian that's actually of some practical use - made me ponder a bit more. Mainly the fact that the main reason why it's been hard for me to get my head around the whole nuum business is that it's been so inadequately explained. You see, there are two ways for the punter to go. One type of punter reads apparently complex, multifocal articles and wonders: "hmm, I wish the writer had explained it a little better." The other type reads the same articles and mourns: "oh, I wish I was cleverer so I could understand what the writer was saying." I'm definitely in the first category. Given that I went to grammar school and Oxford and once wrote a detailed 6500-word essay on Finnegan's Wake it therefore stands to reason that if I can't grasp something it's probably the fault of the writer rather than me. If I'm interested in something I want it explained to me in simple (never to be confused with simplistic) terms. Of everyone who's had a go K-Punk relates to me most because he has demonstrated evidence of listening to the key records and making or at any rate discerning useful connections, both philosophically and sociopolitically, although Melissa Bradshaw has also put in her highly entertaining, splenetic guinea's worth. Doesn't get me a whole lot closer to assimilating and understanding the thing as a "movement," however, especially since much of the movement, rhythmically and otherwise, on the key records seem furtive, restrained, crepuscular, skirting around the boards of foment like the nocturnal urban rambler who shrinks himself against a hidden wall until the gang has passed and the streets once more know silence.

Then again I'm someone who reckons that the minimalist (in volume if not intent) warping of perspectives and harmonics has also worked when maximalised in a pop context. Let's get something straight now. Anyone who doesn't get "Bonkers" shouldn't be writing about pop in 2009. Should actually give up listening to pop, let alone write about it. Back to your Editors CDs, Grandad. It's the same as it was with "Jack Your Body" and "Pump Up The Volume" in 1987 - the goalposts have been shaken out of their roots and a lot of people have been caught short or caught out.

(Was there the same kind of maximalism in 1987 pop? Perhaps from the rap and PWL perspective, but it's remarkable how both "Jack" and the original mix of "Pump" carried that same furtive mist of scurrying paws within their rhythmic templates. Nevertheless "Bonkers" represents a culture shift and not a Shoreditch surrender.)

But enough of the rambling. "Aidy's Girl's A Computer" is great and moving. It tentatively pops into the lower left hand corner of our eyesight with a few plaintive bleeps and then the beat - a familiar 1995 sort of beat - kind of wanders in. There's a processed voice saying something which sounds like "feeling" and which provides a poignant harmonic bent to the quietly bustling rhythms of the song itself. But then the beat divides itself, absents itself for stretches, and the central body of the song quivers like a soon-to-be-discovered earthworm. The abandoned PacMan searches throughout the song's pores for this "feeling," can't quite grasp its essence. Eventually there is a long drone, sustained like the most perfect of damaged sunrises, and at the end the same (?) voice utters: "Good morning." Pure Kraftwerk, pure magic, and this is just one of the marvellously versatile factors which go into this collection of tracks and make the last five years seem - not different, perhaps, historically, but crucially augmented. The spaces are perhaps more in keeping with the heritage of Oval - picture this lone waster proclaiming back in the day that 94 Diskont was the future, or at any rate one of the most viable futures, when everyone else was salivating over Menswear and Gallon Drunk - than JA dub techniques, but as with the latter it is left for the listener to fill in the spaces; as Mingus said of both Elvin Jones and Dannie Richmond, the beats never go anywhere near the beat, and are therefore more mobile and perhaps more tactile. Beautiful and one of the year's key tracks, whatever anyone chooses to call it.


Don't know how long this is going to stay up, given that the paper is shutting down next week, but it's amazing how critics somehow manage finally to let go when they know their job's coming to an end. I previously never thought Paul Connolly anything more than a Somerfield Petridish but his remarks on the new Leona are a masterclass in the noble art of considered invective and makes me feel more at ease about the far distant time when I'll have to write about this impeccably dismal album. It's as if the real Paul Connolly has burst out and run a glorious lap of slag-off honour. Almost a Peter Finch in Network moment really. More of this in general please and MUCH less of the recycled press release/bland yea-saying. You might actually get more readers.