Grime: An Oblique View

Grimes

I have been challenged by Mr Oblique Junior to explain why I think he likes the musical genre of Grime. I had intended to write a post about Grime anyway, but this gives me a way to approach it.

Now listen carefully if you don’t know anything about Grime. According to Google, it is “a form of dance music influenced by UK garage, characterised by machine-like sounds”. It is not hip-hop, which features “rap with an electronic backing”; but apparently, our researchers tell us, it “draws influence from dancehall, ragga and hip-hop” (Wikipedia).

Clear? No, of course not. A curse of modern music is the continual argument about what defines a particular genre, to the extent that there have even been fictional genres created and believed. I like the idea of “Progressive Death Country”, although William Gibson was ahead of everybody else with fictional bands “Dukes of Nukem”, “Lo/Rez” and their ilk. No, I won’t explain. Go read William Gibson.

Grime is a particularly English genre. Prominent figures are Stormzy, Skepta and Dizzee Rascal. To appreciate what it is actually like you of course have to listen to it. To me, after some limited exposure, it’s characterised by a very bare, stripped down musical sound, almost minimalist dance music with often clever elements of electronica, with lyrics rapped in what seems to me frequently to be a very slow style across the top. But, as I said, you have to listen to it to appreciate what it is.

What seems to characterise it lyrically is a preoccupation with sex and violence, and usually a focus on the personal life- even the life as a celebrity- of the writer. I am not necessarily referring to any of the artists  named.

There really is in some of it a very dismissive attitude towards women and what really grates on this middle-class, late middle-aged, rather liberal-minded, white male listener is the frequent use of the N-word and the B-word. Oh, go on, you know the words I mean.

I’ll probably keep my f***ing b*****s ’til I’m 49”

goes the lyric I’m being played at the moment. Although that may not be grime, I believe.

“I make her think I love her, so I can f*** her when I want.”

However, to put my point of view was not the aim of this blog. Why does my 21 year old son like Grime?

He is very open about music, and will patiently listen to my choices, to the point of planning to come to a techno gig with us. I wonder if to some extent the fact that I am uncomfortable with the lyrics is a factor in his liking for it. Although we might deny it (I certainly did- but see “An anecdote” below) there is perhaps for all of us a wish to move on from the music of our parents and perhaps to shock them; or just to find something that is our own, and definitely not theirs.

I am sure that this wish is often unconscious, and I am sure that this is not the only reason or the main reason for Mr Oblique Junior liking Grime. The music is very striking, bare, new and challenging. It is a very fresh and young form of music; I wonder if anybody over 30 makes it or really gets it. It’s rebel music for a new generation. I speculate that this is the appeal to him.

So there you are. It is of course about the music, but it’s also about the cultural aspects. Popular music is all about change, and all about moving on from the choices of previous generations. Disco (still don’t really get it), punk (oh yes), and then electronica (definitely) were all new forms of music that moved me on from the rock music of my teenage years. But certainly for me, Grime is beyond the point at which I can understand my children’s choice in music. No, I don’t really understand why Mr O. Jr. likes it. Try asking him.

Please note: I almost certainly don’t understand the nuances of the N word as used in grime and hip-hop. Apparently the spelling, with an -a rather than an -er, makes it acceptable when used by certain groups.

An anecdote: When I was a teenager, I only used to listen to records when my parents were out. When they came back from the shops one day, Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs was concluding a rather noisy feedback guitar solo on that catchy little number, ‘Split Part 4’. My father and I had a very rare parent/ teenager spat:

HIM: Do you call that music?

ME: It’s better music than your silly old Beethoven.

Ho-hum. He did later go in with me on a new hi-fi system we could listen to away from the living room.

 

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A Literary Wedding

DSCN6753Briefly- We went to a lovely wedding the other day, where there was something of a literary theme: hearts on the table punched out from a copy of Pride and Prejudice, paper bouquets made from books and magazines, themed course names, and so on.

 

 

DSCN6752I particularly liked being asked to choose a present for myself: a book from a selection made by the bride and groom. The idea provoked discussion and pleasure. I know it has motivated some guests to read, or to read something new. I chose ‘Underworld’ by Don de Lillo, as the groom particularly recommended it. Looks like a cue for a blog review. Eventually; it’s huge. Thank you, Michael and Christy-Anne

To be a hippy, 2017

We were passing through Glastonbury, for the first time in many years. I was pleased to see that it still had shops selling healing crystals, joss sticks and, for all I know, kaftans. There were still colourfully dressed types walking through the streets, some of them looking a little dazed and out of touch with the year 2017.

What does it mean to be a hippy in 2017?” I asked Mrs Oblique.

She thought carefully.

Well, now it’s making a statement. It used to be just…. being.” Which got me thinking.

A hippy was, I believe, somebody who espoused freedom, rejecting the conventions of the time and living according to their own ideals. This inevitably led to them developing new conventions of their own, typically an acceptance of drug use and sexual freedom. Hippies also had a certain convention of dress, typically colourful and loose. Hair was worn long. “Flower power” was the key phrase.

New conventions perhaps now had to be followed to be a hippy, which of course ran counter to the ideal of freedom. (I am sure some of the original hippies would object to this reading.) I suppose that 1967 was the high point of the movement. It couldn’t last, despite ecstatic welcoming of the “Age of Aquarius”. It turned into a fashion style, rather than a lifestyle. Eventually, musically at least, punk came along and rejected it, in characteristically energetic style. Unfortunately some punks had an aggressive approach to life; Daevid Allen, leader of the ultimate psychedelic band, Gong, and probably an archetypal (and certainly peace-loving) hippy, was allegedly nearly lynched at a B******* R**** concert when the singer, one B** G*****, saw him and urged the audience to “kill the hippy”.

Mrs Oblique, upon further discussion, said that she thought originally hippies did not necessarily call themselves hippies; they just were what they were. I’m not sure if there is anybody who calls themselves a hippy now; but what does it mean to be a hippy in 2017 if this is not just a fashion statement?

I would say that a hippy is still someone who espouses freedom and lives according to their own ideals. This cannot mean, and has never meant, that they have no morals or responsibilities. We live in a hugely interdependent and interconnected world. It is almost impossible to live “off the grid”, at least in the UK, if that is your idea of freedom. It is also certainly wrong to interfere with the freedoms of others. In this I am with the duchess, who, I seem to remember, on being told of the activities of Oscar Wilde, said: “My dear- as long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.”

It is, however, possible to live something of the hippy ideal; going your own way; perhaps being as independent as possible; perhaps being as self-sufficient as possible. I am exposing my own instincts here, but sadly I don’t follow them.

Incidentally, since writing this, I saw a mention of “rich hippies” in a newspaper. Clearly I have a different view of what the word means; or perhaps it is now just a fashion statement. Do a search for images on the word “hippy” to see what this means.

I finish with a cartoon by Mrs O. This is a reimagining of an original idea I saw in a music paper long ago. Please contact me about any copyright issues!

Hippy and mother

Moving in Music

It’s a sunny April morning. Mr Hillage and Ms Giraudy, otherwise known as System 7, are playing ‘Manik Shamanik’ from the CD ‘Seventh Wave’ on the hi-fi. It’s quite loud, so we can hear it in the bath upstairs. I just wanted to note how much I like having music around me, rather than on headphones. You can move round the music; be in the music. It takes on the characteristics of the space you are in. It’s also a shared experience (however perhaps to the annoyance of others). It’s part of the environment, rather than isolating you in a little bubble. In the case of music like this, you can feel the bass, too.

System_7

(This is uplifting, positive music, as is most of Steve Hillage’s work. No, I haven’t bought the 22 CD, £200 Steve Hillage pre-System 7 retrospective box set, much as I have been tempted. Would I ever have time to hear it all?)

Oddball Reviews #3: ‘Pick a Dub’ by Keith Hudson (1974)

Ladies and gentlemen, may I direct your attention away from my dreary ramblings about National Health and propose the virtues of this fine album (yes, an album): in my wholly personal opinion, the best example of dub reggae I have ever heard, and definitely another one for my top albums list.

pick-a-dub

For those who are not familiar with the genre, dub reggae is basic, bass-heavy reggae with huge variations made by the producer. For those who are not aware of what reggae is…. oh, don’t bother.

The variations can involve instruments dropping in and out, echo, effects….. It’s hard to describe. The original dub tracks were done on analogue mixing desks, pushed to places they never thought they’d go. At its best (and this is dub at its best) the music seems to exist in another space: a vast sound stage where the instruments move in and out and transform.

This album was produced by Keith Hudson, with a small collection of musicians including himself, particularly featuring the Barrett brothers, whose drums and bass underpinned Bob Marley. The tracks are dub versions of his original productions (I think). He died of lung cancer at the age of 38.

Originally I bought it on vinyl, on a whim, many many years ago; it was then described as being by the “2nd Street Dubs”. My copy was, amazingly, stolen; the number one suspect was one of those people who somehow make you feel you are the most important person in the world when they are talking to you. (Actually I only know one other person like that.) Now I have it on CD. Inevitably it lacks the rawness of vinyl, but it’s still pretty **** good.

There are twelve tracks. The longest is only 3 minutes 17 seconds. It’s called ‘Part 1-2 Dubwise’ and is a deeper dub version of the track before. It’s an absolute killer, with the bass line to end all bass lines. It still comes into my head, unbidden, at intervals. I once tried to reproduce it, on an Oblique track called ’99 Bonk’. (That title comes from a description of reggae as being a centipede with a wooden leg.)

What more can I say? If you have never heard dub reggae (which heavily influenced dub techno, or whatever it should be called) I doubt if I will have convinced you. It’s a total original. If you do by any chance find it or search it out, play it on a proper system, not little headphones or a little box. Turn it up, close your eyes and get lost in the sound space it creates.

The Desperate Bicycles

“Bring your good news on a fast train…..”

Back in the 1970s I used to listen to John Peel’s radio programme a lot. He embraced all sorts of new music, notably the punk scene. One night he played a track called ‘Smokescreen’ by the Desperate Bicycles.

img091

This was recorded by them, completely independently, as a 45 rpm single, which perhaps needs a bit of explaining for younger readers. It was a vinyl record: the most popular medium of the time. However, it was virtually unheard of for a band to produce one without a record company. The Desperate Bicycles did this, apparently for £153.

The music was basic, urgent; the lyrics were inspiring. I ordered a copy by post; it arrived with a message saying “send us a copy of your single when you produce it”.

The Desperate Bicycles were the forerunners, perhaps the prophets, of a wave of independent, do-it-yourself creative forces. Some groups produced their music on cassettes. The punk movement was notable for its proliferation of self-made magazines, such as ‘Spitting Blood’ and many more. The message was you CAN make things for yourself. Your voice CAN be heard.

“If you can understand, go and join a band.”

Nowadays this is taken for granted. We can all record music on computers, even phones, and put it on the internet; we can all produce sophisticated art; heaven help us, we can all put our writing out there on blogs and the like. Perhaps it’s all too easy. Discuss.

It took me many years and a complete change in recording technology to do it, but I made two CDs (as’Oblique’) with a very limited production. I may even do more. Thank you, the Desperate Bicycles. Sorry I didn’t send you a single. You are the one of the guiding spirits behind this blog and anything else I produce. (We will ignore their lyrics about teachers…. and they’d probably be at huge odds with much of what I have to say or play… but the point is surely that all sorts of voices and opinions can be heard. Don’t take it for granted. Do it for yourself.)

“It was easy it was cheap, go and do it!”

The Oblique Top Albums List

This is, as usual, just an indulgence. I apologise for it not being very polished.

I do not contend that these are necessarily the best albums ever. They are collections that I love and consider of high quality. You may disagree. Please do.

‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon

paul_simon_2007Here is a classic example of what I said in the last paragraph. This LP is not consistently good. It peters out with the last two songs on the second side, which don’t have the same drive and direction as the rest. Before that… It’s astonishing from the opening accordion of ‘Boy in the Bubble’. I am wilfully detaching the album from the controversies that abound about it. It uses its African musical foundations to deliver songs of a lyrical intensity and cleverness only achieved by great songwriters… such as Paul Simon. And Leonard Cohen. Alright, Dylan as well. And dare I mention Richard Thompson? (As a footnote, I would love to hear the original South African tracks that became the bulk of this album, but I believe they were rather low quality samples. Or were they suppressed?)

‘Space Ritual’ by Hawkwind

dscn6448          See Oddball Reviews #1

‘Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround’ by the Kinks

6291683287_e51d873726_bThis is great song-writing and the musicianship is excellent. There is hardly a weak moment. Of course there is ‘Lola’, the original cross-dressing song, though it’s more subtle than you think; at no point does it unambiguously say that Lola is a man. (No, it doesn’t! Just listen again.) There’s much more: ‘Powerman’, a great melodic heavy rocker (did I just use the term heavy rocker?) and ‘Apeman’, a typical witty and intelligent Ray Davies single. Not to mention the wistful ‘This Time Tomorrow’.

‘I’m Your Man’ by Leonard Cohen

cohenWeak points? Don’t be silly. Again it kicks off with a great song, ‘First We Take Manhattan’, with its stripped down techno feel and its darkly humorous lyrics. Everything from there on is just Leonard at his best. How can it be that people don’t get it that he’s funny?

‘Angel’s Egg’ by Gong

gillismythThe first Gong album I ever heard and possibly the best. It starts with an improvised piece, ‘Sold to the Highest Buddha’ and goes on getting better and better and sillier and sillier and more and more profound. Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe are at the peak of their combined powers on guitar and sax. Pierre Moerlen proves that he is the best drummer ever…. and so on. Yes, I’m smitten.

 

‘Fish Rising’ by Steve Hillage

His first solo album, recorded at the same time as the above with mostly the same musicians. That being said, it has been described as a series of guitar solos. It’s more.. but the solos are glorious. Lyrically, it’s obscure but inspiring. If possible, I want this (or ‘Angel’s Egg’) playing as I die.

‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by the Beatles

You can mock, but I still sing ‘When I’m 64’ about twice a week. Ground-breaking….. Great songs….. Musically accomplished…. In the 60s there used to be arguments about whether this or ‘Pet Sounds’ was the best album ever. Or indeed….. ‘Blonde on Blonde’.

‘Blood on the Tracks’ by Bob Dylan

bob_dylan_june_23_1978Or possibly ‘Street Legal’. Or ‘Desire’. Or indeed…… ‘Blonde on Blonde’. See also ‘Street Legal’. I have no more to say on the matter!

 

 

 

‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate’ by Madness

attribution-livepictYes, really. An epic poem to the nooks and crannies and history of London. Only Madness could really produce something like this, in that unmistakeably English style. (But surely Dan Woodgate is one of the best reggae drummers outside the West Indies’?) Suggs picture attributed to LivePict.com.

There are loads more. Just about all the System 7 albums ever, ‘Soft Machine 3’ and ‘Soft Machine 6’, ‘2032’ by Gong. But if I don’t stop I’ll bore myself. Or you. And have you noticed how most of them are pretty old?