January 18, 2004
IRONY AND AWE
In his round-up of 2003 round-ups, Angus wondered out loud as to why I'd included the Richard X album in my highlights of 2003. Isn't this everything k-punk should hate, he asked? Surely Richard X is the kind of self-conscious meta-pop I'm pledged to destroy?
Well, I included Richard X in the same section as I included The Rapture: as a guilty pleasure. How could I resist an album that is so shot through with the spirit (and sound) of 79-82? There's a paradoxical nostalgia for lost futures that is part of the k-punk aesthetic. (See nostalgia post below.)
Jameson identifies 'the nostalgia mode' as a defining component of the postmodern. This is nostalgia as form more than content: his examples are Star Wars and Body Heat, films which revived an earlier mode without being explicitly revivalist. (Star Wars revived the adventure serials of the Thirties, while Body Heat, despite having a contemporary setting, revived the Film Noirs of the Forties.)
Richard X represents a postmodernist modernism, or modernist postmodernism, in which what is revived is modernism's very hunger for novelty itself. The Numan and Human League which Richard X retools and refits were the last gasps of modernism in Pop, before the spiralling temporality (nothing is new, everything is forgiven) of PoMo clicked in.
All of which brings to mind Simon's (relatively) recent comments (inspired by rant against Daft Punk *) on the possibility of irony and awe co-existing.
The strange thing is, I'd never thought of Daft Punk as especially detached. I'd assumed almost the opposite: that it was genuine enthusiasm for Supertramp, 10cc, ELO and Wings that inspired them into breaking ranks with accepted taste and simulating their sound on Discovery.
I wonder if there's something about electronic music which lends itself to producing this problematic, though? The original awe-inspiring ironists would be Kraftwerk, they who made detachment into an art form, yet whose sound was gleamingly awe-some. Two other examples: The Pet Shop Boys (eyebrows raised but achingly melancholic) and Yello (aristocratically detached, but capable of swooning majesty).
*And what a rant: 'isn't this the music of shoreditch twats, the Face, those mindless 'i love the 80s' programmes, jamie theakston, asymmetric haircuts worn with a pursed lipped sense of superiority, the shift from ecstacy to cocaine, from inclusivity to exclusivity, new labour, silver and white restaurants, the shift from pubs to bars, the rise of the word 'lifestyle', jimmy carr, that way of speaking so that you're voice goes up at the end so that you can't show enthusiasm for, or commitment to, anything, yeah?, fun-killing dress code policies for nominally 'punk' clubs [hello kashpoint], mini-scooters, kids in designer clothes instead of stuff their grans knitted for them, the rise of the word 'designer', the ubiquity of ciabatta, coffee tables, art-school mullets, childrens tv presenters in iron maiden t-shirts, the chapman brothers and so on and on. you get the idea.'
Love it! But I do like Jimmy Carr.
Posted by mark at January 18, 2004 05:13 PM
And if ciabatta is ubiquitous, all well and good, as far as I am concerned.
Aaah the ciabatta question. The first time you saw it on the sandwich shop menu, maybe six years ago, it was seductive, the syllables as bouncy and delicate as the air-sprung loaf. Naturally you ordered and were drawn into the novelty of bread that yeilded slowly, rather than crunched or wilted with the first wave of saliva. However, I discovered recently that I had perhaps turned my back on the humble baguette too quickly. 'No, no ciabatta today, especially not the honey and malt variety. Sold out hours ago. We've got baguettes left though.' And so I compromised. The thin layers of parma ham were ruffled into a new-romantic shirt of a sandwich.
And what nostalgia assaulted me with that first bite! Rediscovery, is it not every bit as thrilling as the new?
yeah yeah yeah! k-punk is BACK. Praise the lord.
Ciabatta is hell on those of us with bad teeth, but I can't bring myself to blame Daft Punk for that.
I agree with Simon (not Reynolds) on Daft Punk. And I agree with Mark on Richard X, who Matthew Ingram gave solid praise to in his NY Press review a while back . . . . Which brings me to this: Massive apologies on the NY Press debacle. The editor-in-chief there stopped running music reviews, but the paper has sections devoted to video game and film video reviews????? Before I discovered blogs, my main reason for reading the Village Voice and other such papers was for the music reviews. Oh well. It's the NY Press's loss, not yours or Matthew's . . . . As for the "irony and awe" equation, Yello tend more toward the ironic than the awe-inspiring. I have a record by them featuring "heavy breathing" on side and a car crashing on the other (?). Not sure if I can think of anything by Yello that inspires awe, at least in my heart. (For awe-inspiring, see "Eye of the Storm" on Underground Resistance's Sonic EP.) (As for mid-80s dance acts comparable to Yello, see Laidback.) But I fail to see the virtue in Daft Punk entirely (no matter which side of the equation). "One More Time," especially, grates. I completely reject Daft Punk and think that house music declined markedly after the turn to disco cut-ups circa 1993. (Right now I'm championing Rheji Burrell instrumentals on Nu Groove and the like, the bassline genius of Mark Ryder (no matter what brand of bassline), and the UK outfit Psychotropic as exemplary house producers pre-93.) And while Simon (not Reynolds) conjectures that there must be some good French music somewhere, by virtue of the supposed law that good music scenes fly beneath radar everywhere, I'm highly skeptical. The French do many things well, food, fashion, philosophy, film, piano music to dream to, but not rock 'n' roll music and certainly not dance music. Call me ignorant, etc, but that's my firm opinion. Best, Dominic
Actually, the more I think about the "irony and awe" equation, the more puzzled I become. What are you talking about???!!! Kraftwerk's "Radioactivity" I can see as both ironic and awe-inspiring. But apart from a band such as Kraftwerk, and a song such as "Radioactivity," I'm not sure if the two can inform the same work of music effectively. What made 88/92 rave/house so great was the lack of irony in the music and scene, which made it anomalous in "hipster" culture . . . .
You never seem to talk about America or American things in your blog.
I just can't agree with you about Daft Punk, Dominic. I love them and I don't think I'll get any argument from anyone if I say I'm highly suspicious of irony and meta-pop. Daft Punk have simply got too much groove, too much simply effervescent joy, to be Ironists pure and simple. And Yello: it's ages since I listened to them, but trust me, there are many swoonsome moments. Check out 'Moon On Ice', a lovely precious sliver of a ballad with guest vocals from Billy Mackenzie. And if you're still unsure about the possibility of irony and awe co-existing, what about my other example, the Pet Shop Boys?
All this talk about music is perfectly dandy and splendid, but I do think it is drawing us away from the real doughty and dough-ey issue at hand.
You never seem to talk about Slovenia or Slovenian things in your blog.
Will be interesting to see what Daft Punk do now. Most big music mags won't even review dance music albums for the time being unless it's to give them scores of 2 or 6.5 or the like.
Discovery is pretty much my favourite album ever, although I can appreciate the reasons ppl hate it. Anyway, can they rescue the scene with a brilliant new album or will it make the electrohaters hate like they always do?