Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Friday, June 27, 2008

Imitation is the Most Illegal Form of Flattery

Disco isn't dead, thankfully, and I've been a long-time admirer of the DFA camp, especially el jefe James Murphy, for maintaining a disco sensibility that includes a deep reverence for the classics. While LCD Soundsystem is viewed as relentlessly contemporary and trendsetting, Murphy's DJ sets and pure compositional work betray a sense of lineage -- he isn't breaking new ground so much as updating and readapting it in another musical generation.

DFA often straddles the line between excessive commercialism and the underground music scene, however, and I downloaded up 2006's 45:33 with some trepidation. First EMI, now Nike? I'm rather fond of the often dreamlike, spaced-out epic, however, and honestly thought it didn't sound much like running music.

I'm late to the scoop, but it turns out I was right: The whole business about a jogging soundtrack was a sham. As the cover, which I hadn't seen before, makes clear, it's an homage to Manuel Göttsching's E2-E4, one of the finest proto-techno electronic compositions.

Having Nike finance your otherwise not commercially viable 45-minute electronic opus? Brilliant.

The story could end there, but the problem is that the reverence toward Herr Göttsching was not entirely appreciated. I dug up this press statement on the interwebs. After going on about the iconic status of "E2-E4," it paints Murphy as a johnny-come-lately:
This clearly doesn’t qualify his album as a tribute to the great role model.
He's just jumped on someone else's gravy train without buying a ticket.
What Murphy is doing is exploiting the album's reputation for his own purposes illegally
in the context of German Competition Regulations and also according to legislation of other countries, too.

Sadly, it boils down to a bristling about copyright infringement and the branding of the chessboard image. I happen to take Murphy's side in this one -- the world needs more, not less, E2-E4/45:33-esque études. Instead, it's another public case of an electronic auteur uncomfortable with the dance music progeny his work has spawned.

And frankly I'd much rather hear Murphy behind the mixing board than in front of the microphone. DFA has been experiencing a resurgence in the last year or so, as always on the strength of its tireless dedication to the 12" single, releasing dance floor favorites like Holy Ghost!'s smooth plaintive "Hold On", Juan Maclean's blissful "Happy House", and now a full-length from the mythologically-inspired Hercules & Love Affair (whose full-length dropped a few days ago on June 24, my birthday). They've gotten some high-profile press, and I think might represent a sea change for DFA. As Tim Goldsworthy explains in the article, "'It’s really honest,' Mr. Goldsworthy said in a phone interview, pointing out that most artists in the DFA world approach disco from more of a punk or new-wave sensibility. He said that, as a club kid, Mr. Butler 'understands disco and he understands all the little quirks of the music that other people would probably find cheesy.'" After years of mining the points in the late '70s and '80s when rock bands encroached on disco territory, they've finally acquired a flagship act who's loud and proud -- gay, campy disco with no shame, producing glorious diva house without a trace of irony. It might be just the tonic to pull DFA out of the post-ironic/hipster milieu and firm up their dance chops. Play another record, James.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ela gostou de baile funk

Casi from Flamin Hotz directed me last night to the Mad Decent blog, where with tremendous surprise and utter shock I learned that Adriana Pittigliani has passed away. I hadn't the faintest idea that she had cancer, as admittedly we haven't spoken much since last August, following a dispute about a DJ gig and disagreements over the Flamin Hotz CD. These arguments seem petty now, and in fact I had recently written her a letter to accompany her copy of the CD, in hopes that it would serve as a springboard to patch things up. She was one of the examples of how the transition from wide-eyed researcher and inquisitor to representative of a record label, however small and independent, unfortunately compromised social relationships. But I still recall with clarity the long discussions in her Flamengo apartment, overlooking Pão de Açúcar, where she chain smoked cigarettes and held something of a funk carioca salon. Adriana was one of the first points of contact for any foreigner coming to Rio with an interest in funk, from Diplo to Daniel Haaksman, British party promoters, Swedish journalists, Québécois radio DJs, or someone with an academic inquiry like myself.

As a middle-class white woman, she seemed a strange fit for a relentlessly young and predominately black scene built from the ground-up in favelas far from the tony high-rises of Flamengo. But I think her attraction began, in part, with her photographer's eye. (Her site no longer works, but if you get the Flamin Hotz CD, you can see her excellent work on the Carioca Funk Clube artist photos.) The movimento funk is a whirlwind of humanity at its most exuberant, and certainly she must have been drawn to photographic compositions rich with sweat and bodies, color and movement. She had a feminist tilt to her experience as a funkeira as well, and she frequently recounted a transformative experience back in 2004 in Vila Mimosa, the red light district of Rio, throwing a baile with a group of prostitutes -- not to drum up clients, just to enjoy. She saw something parallel in attitudes and mores, a thumbing of the nose at decency, in Vila Mimosa and the favelas where bailes are king.

Moving from grande dame of funk, making connections between foreigners and high-profile local DJs and MCs, to the manager of a "house of artists" (Casi's words) in Carioca Funk Clube, chief among them DJ Sany Pitbull, I kept wondering why Adriana dedicated so much time and energy to putting together tours, sending out promo tracks, and scouring the web (her imprint was everywhere -- MySpace, blogs, Wiki) to relentlessly promote CFC -- sometimes, in my opinion, at the expense of the movimento funk as a whole, which I began to think she didn't have a whole lot of respect for. Regardless of my personal gripes, she was decidedly on a mission, and certainly was promoting something new and exciting. It was not for nothing that Hermano Vianna, veritable written authority on funk (cf O Mundo Funk Carioca, c. 1988), called Sany's "Funk Alemão," and by extension the CFC aesthetic, "pós-baile funk."

Adriana's goal, I eventually realized, was to "break" funk the way that her father, Armando Pittigliani, had in part "broken" bossa nova. According to the Cravo Albin Dictionary of Brazilian Popular Music, he "was one of the ones responsible for the first releases by several bossa nova artists." I can't prove it, but I believe the royalties from those early albums, or at least his success as an A&R guy in the Brazilian music industry over the decades, in part allowed Adriana to have such a nice apartment in Flamengo without holding down a steady, full-time job (not that she didn't, I'm sure, earn her own keep from photography). And, in turn, she used the time bought by her father's success to pursue her era's own Brazilian popular music.

I never spoke with her directly about this idea, just inferred it from my own experiences talking with her and with Maga Bo, who introduced me to her and offers his own thoughtful tribute. She was truly a linchpin between Rio and the rest of the world, for me included. She was part of the encouragement that got me to my first baile, and I acknowledged her (as well as cited our interviews) in my thesis.

In a still burgeoning enterprise -- the dissemination of funk carioca abroad -- an essential fulcrum, and the opportunities that came with her, have been lost.

Genesis 1962 [from the now defunct Pitti Podcast, but the only hint she gave of nodding to her past]

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 16, 2008

Heat Waves

The mercury kept climbing and summer doesn't even start until next week. I'm out of Boston for the foreseeable future and have moved to the muggier confines of the mid-Atlantic. On the train heading north last week, I saw hydrants wrenched open in East Baltimore, the classic cooling strategy on scorched city streets. The Johns Hopkins Medical Complex looms over the blocks and blocks of row houses in that part of the city, a citadel of air conditioning towering above the sweltering fields of asphalt.

In D.C., they kept turning on the hydrants till they bled the taps dry. "Quander-Collins said some residents complained that as soon as WASA employees arrived to close a hydrant, neighbors would return and open it again. Deborah Boseman of the 900 block of Barnaby St. SE had been without water for almost six hours. 'This doesn't make any sense,' she said."

The heat makes you do crazy things.

/rupture's got an early mix of the summer candidate, but damned if I don't keep coming back to La Ola de Calor from last year. Summer is all about memories anyway, right?

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 09, 2008

Textual Healing

  • "Reading Place and Space Between Morro and Asfalto: An Itinerary Through the Contemporary Zona Sul of Rio de Janeiro" -- The thesis that, in part, got me across the stage last week
  • "Techno City: Race, Space, and DEMF" -- More organized thoughts on the 313, following the scattershot first impressions post-DEMF.
  • "The Anonymous as Exotic in Presenting Proibidão" -- My BRASA paper gets reprised elsewhere on the Interwebs.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, June 02, 2008

Who Says Vinyl is Dead?

Vinyl sales are up. Cycling is up. Public transit ridership is up. Nothing but good news today.

I've dusted off lots of vintage Chicago house and Detroit techno records for my farewell party tonight. Come by if life is thriving in the good life.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Farewell to Boston, Beat Research Style

Just as the fine New England summer is settling in, I'm passing through the crimson gates of the Big H (which some might mistake for the Potterish big H on commencement day) and out into the wild blue yonder.

Looking forward, though, to saying farewell tomorrow night at the place that has most exemplified -- and nurtured -- my socio-musical sensibility: Beat Research at The Enormous Room.

If you're in the Bean, and not too busy chanting "Beat L.A." (although the first Celtics-Lakers showdown since, well, the year I was born isn't till Thursday), come by for the always ear-opening beats of wayne&wax and DJ Flack, alongside Gregzinho as special guest.

Call it a goodbye block party, neighborhood style.

The Enormous Room
569 Mass Ave. in Central Square
Monday, June 2
9 pm - 1 am, no cover

Labels: ,