clap clap blog: we have moved

Thursday, December 04, 2003
While I understand and even sympathize with the concerns raised here, I can't really agree with the conclusions. Viz:

It's all too easy to sit in your bedroom in Pinner downloading all the latest ragga and garage joints from Soulseek (also read: ripping off many artists who can ill afford it), but does this help you actually know anything about the culture? I think not.

We're living accelerated times where access to information is at an all-time high, but said access can often be gained with no effort, removing any need for interaction between cultures, subjugating the contextual experience necessary to read these "texts" properly (and, yes, you better believe there is a proper way to read them) and effectively building up a kind of "virtual apartheid".

Reading through some of the posts on ILM's dancehall threads I am continually amazed by the pervasive idea that hearing/acquiring music (by whatever means) immediately equals understanding it, all this without ever having so much as set foot in a dance or been completely ignored in Brixton's Blacker Dread.

Sorry. No. This is like musical nimbyism (just realised the delicious irony of the phrase "not in my back yard" here!): enthralling in principle; exotic from a distance. But up close? Different story entirely.

This is kind of like the anti-piracy argument brought to cultural capital: if you can't afford to do it, you just shouldn't, man, even if you want to. Look, let's be honest. I don't think most of the posters on ILM are avoiding Brixton clubs because they're scared, but because, uh, they live in Seattle, or Chicago, or wherever, and it's, you know, a bit more expensive to fly from there to the UK than to take the tube down to South London. I suppose if you're already in London and you're into dancehall you really should be going to Brixton clubs, but I think a) most people would, and b) that it's interesting in a whole different way if you don't.

This particular view would, I think, cut off a whole bunch of very valid critical positions. For instance: should American musical critics be able to talk about Mozart without having visited 18th-century Vienna? Should UK residents be able to talk about the blues? (Or Detroit techno?) Should Jamaicans have to go to suburban Virginia to appreciate Missy Elliot and Timbaland? The idea that you have to have a geographic and interpersonal connection with a particular subculture in order to come to some understanding of their music seems very limiting to me. Sure, I won't have the same understanding of the musical climate of Mozart's world as someone who actually lived there, but I can read a bunch about it and listen to the music and read the scores and have a valid understanding of that culture. And sure, it seems kind of silly to be really into dancehall and not make the effort to get to Brixton when it's actually a living, vibrant scene, but can you still appreciate the music for what it is and come to some understanding of the culture without visiting the damn thing. I'd certainly like there to be less fetishization of seemingly closed-off subcultural musics, but at the same time I think it's this particular exclusionary attitude of the scene's participants and halfway in/halfway out bards, like Mr. Stelfox here, that fosters said fetishization. Telling some people that "You couldn't possibly understand what we're doing here" is a great way to get them to obsessively try to understand it. To a lot of people, closed-off scenes are like "graphic sexuality and partial nudity" notices before movies for teenage boys, and I think we're all aware enough of this phenomenon by now that if you want to keep the looky-loos away, you could adopt an appropriate strategy.

I guess mainly I'm curious what the solution should be--if you hear a new style of music and like it but aren't a participant in the scene, should you disregard it entirely? Or should you enjoy it but constantly reiterate that you are aware that you don't, like, actually understand it? If the latter, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find people who like dancehall and represent themselves as masters of the scene if they're not actual participants in the geographic location where it's going on. Maybe I'm wrong. But regardless, I think there's a value in also having critical viewpoints that understands dancehall in the same way it does Mozart.

Of course, I'm the kind of guy that would strenuously disagree that there's only one proper reading. Three or four, maybe, but not one.

Oh yes, and as for "virtual apartheid"--I think you may be overstating the power of ILM there just a wee bit, Dave.

(via somedisco, who is actually linking to the post directly below)