Monday, November 29, 2010

UK Music Scene Insularity and Xenophobia

One aspect of the UK music scene that amuses me is the frequent British accusation that other countries' music scenes are insular, when in fact the UK music scene is about the most non-inclusive of all of Europe's. This article on the new French Radio London highlights the wanton ignorance the British have of a music scene that lies just 22 miles south of the English coast. While the British chuckle at the fact that France mandates that a certain percentage of the songs played on French radio be in the French language (oh that silly French pride!), for years (forever?) one has always been able to hear plenty of English on French radio, whereas the UK seldom returns such linguistical favors with its own radio programming.

French Radio London is addressing a French-speaking audience, which would seem to invite some obvious questions about the changing demographics of London, though the article fails to raise any. Why is a French-language station being offered now? I am left to guess, and mine is that it is in response to the recent influx of immigration not so much from "traditional" French people as the mighty wave of French-speaking African immigrants. The French Afro-pop sound, championed by such bands as the classic Magic System and the more recent Congolese artist Les Jumo, has long been a staple on the French pop charts. While the news media rightly reports on the ethnic tensions in France, one has to admire the French pop charts for their inclusiveness (something I can relate to as an American, since in the U.S., despite our oft-discussed Mexican immigration issues, we cheerily consume Spanish-language pop music). This interesting angle is left entirely out of the written article (it is barely touched upon in the included video); the focus instead being how funny French pop music has been over the years, with the most egregiously goofy examples rolled out to "prove" the point. But as Sturgeon's Law crystalized several decades ago, by cherry-picking the worst examples of music from any genre, one can always create the impression that the genre as a whole is a failure; 90% of any genre is crap, after all, with no exceptions.

The haughtiness of certain vociferous segments of the UK music scene was on display again recently when DJ Mag published its annual Top 100 DJs poll, leading to much hand-wringing over the fact that dubstep (90% of which is crap) was almost or entirely absent from the list, alongside much moaning that nobody listens to trance anymore despite many of the top DJs being champions of this form of music. Regarding dubstep, perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that joyless, dance-unfriendly music with English-language lyrics will play well in Romania*. And regarding trance, clearly the Dutch (who, it should be added, live in a country only a couple hundred miles away from the UK) are rightly pleased with their own DJ countrymen and the trance music that those guys play.

To the BBC article's credit, the quotes from Stuart Maconie, presenter of BBC 6 Music's Freak Zone, get everything right. But no sooner does Mr. Maconie finish speaking than the author pours on the snark again.

For the UK music scene the thought of anybody singing a pop song in a language other than English seems to be a terrifying prospect (thank goodness Daft Punk offer their lyrics in English). Fortunately, the demographics of the UK are changing and an ever more vibrant, multi-cultural society is emerging. The music will get even more colorful, and dreck like this BBC piece will come to be seen for what it was: a xenophobic curio from another age.

* Actually, I like some dubstep stuff, and some, like Chase & Status, can exhibit some joy, but let me have my moment of argumentation here. ;-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

All DJs Are 80s Teen Sex Comedy Characters

All DJs can be divided into four basic categories. These categories mirror the major players in American 1980s teen sex comedies.

(Note: female DJs are in the extreme minority in the DJ world; similarly, female characters in 80s teen sex comedies were usually ciphers. So, just as 80s teen sex comedies did, we focus on the guys.)

1) Jock DJs

In 80s teen sex comedies, the jocks rule the roost. They have ascended to this rank due to a fortunate mix of genes and testosterone. In these movies, they are also the least-interesting characters, due to a complete lack of taste, intellect, and individuality.

In the DJ world, these are the folks who spin the Rihanna remix followed by the latest Black Eyed Peas tune followed by Katy Perry. Their extroverted nature enables them to confidently hustle their skills, and clubs that are run by similarly-minded people hire them to entertain their patrons. These DJs make a good day-to-day living. Nobody who cares about music respects them, but it is impossible for these hyper-extroverts to notice or to care.

2) Nerd DJs

In 80s teen sex comedies, the nerds pursue sex under the misguided notion that women will be impressed by their extensive knowledge of computer languages and comic books. The women are not (except for that quirky female character who sees and appreciates the nerd for who he is, but is fated to be the perpetual "girl friend" instead of "girlfriend" as said nerd misdirects his energies toward bedding the head cheerleader).

In the DJ world, these are the DJs who focus on underappreciated genres--IDM in the 90s and early 2000s; dubstep today. They express frustration over their genre's lack of commercial acceptance (despite the fact that singles from that genre regularly appear on the UK dance charts). They emphasize how real their scene is.

3) Preppy DJs

In 80s teen sex comedies, preppies are generally well-adjusted, fashionable smart-alecs with all the right moves. Often, they are also enviously clever assholes. Like jocks, they are conformists, but they substitute intellect for the former's testosterone-fueled aggression.

The vast majority of DJs on DJ Magazine's Top 100 list are preppy DJs. They know what is in fashion, what is "right" in respectable dance music circles, and they always do the right thing to promote themselves. Yet their robotic nature (demonstrated by their perfect clothes, perfect hair, perfect photo-shoots, and perfectly large bank accounts) can be alienating. Jock DJs beware: a preppy DJ is most likely to fuck your girlfriend.

4) Slob DJs

In 80s teen sex comedies, the slobs pick their noses sans embarrassment and shrug when they pass gas. Their redeeming feature is their interest in partying at any cost, and their willingness to sacrifice themselves, their bodies, and their reputations selflessly in the pursuit of a good time. They are always in the moment, yet never "all there."

Hailing from the Fatboy Slim school of thought, the slob DJs spin whatever they want whenever they want, so long as the music generates some sort of a buzz. Why not combine 80s rap with Viking metal? This ADHD attitude can result in a jarring listening experience for the audience. The slob DJ is most likely to train-wreck, but so what?--that's just the nature of the beast. Note: slob DJs are the best DJs.

Monday, November 15, 2010


The bloody, tattered testicles of rock are being held aloft in two clenched fists, one of which belongs to "Idol," and the other of which belongs to "Dancing With the Stars."

Friday, November 12, 2010

EorE? Cinema: Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes (1965)

The most famous comically-rambling movie title of the mid-60s was probably Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, but if you've seen that one already, then here's a really great/dumb movie with a similarly unwieldy title that you probably haven't seen--and should.

"Stereotype" is a word steeped in negative connotations, and usually rightly so, but an odd thing about stereotypes is that we sometimes perpetuate them in celebration of what we most admire about another culture. Consider the plain-talkin' American cowboy, the ever-wooing Frenchman, the detail-oriented German. Rather than being negative, each of these clichéd characteristics can also be viewed in an appealing light. We like romantic Parisians, the precision of German automotive engineering, and the blindly optimistic never-give-up American spirit. Stereotypes unfairly paint the disparate members of any society as the same, but cultural differences are also a reality, and those observable differences make the world a more interesting place.

Perhaps "satire" could be defined as the wielding of stereotypes to illustrate a greater truth. It's a highly delicate operation that the filmmakers behind TMMITFM understood (as did Stanley Kubrick). While TMMITFM perpetuates nationalistic clichés (including those of the British filmmakers' own countrymen), it does so affectionately. Besides, that's the whole point, for once one steps back from the cartoon character details one finds that those broad brush-strokes form a wonderful satirical portrait of pre-World War Europe.

The film is set in 1910, a time when "Britannia may rule the waves, but it does not yet rule the air." So a British newspaper magnate sponsors an international air race across the English Channel. Of course, the Brits are not above a little cheating in order to tip things in Britannia's favor; after all, Britain wishes to impress the rest of the world with a win, and it is determined to secure victory at any cost.

Pilots arrive from various countries in order to compete (most of these countries are European ones; a modern remake would likely cast a wider international net). Each pilot is an embodiment of the stereotypes associated with his country of origin. Having a cast of British actors play each of these international representatives would likely have resulted in an unwatchable and nasty movie, but here is where the film delivers its master stroke: all the leads are actually from the countries of the characters they portray in the film.

The much-respected French actor Vincent Cassell's dad is in it; Jean-Pierre Cassell plays an affable and (of course) perpetually love-struck Frenchman. Italian actor Alberto Sordi plays a pilot who discovers the perfect time and place to captitalize on anti-Protestant leanings. German-born actor Gert Fröbe, coming off of playing the title character in Goldfinger, proves an excellent comic actor as he sends up German stereotypes (he wears a Pickelhaube throughout). And in the film's cutest twist, Japanese-born Yûjirô Ishihara plays a pilot who baffles his hosts because he speaks perfect King's English (when you remember how the Caucasian Mickey Rooney cringingly played a Japanese man in Breakfast at Tiffany's four years earlier you really appreciate the higher-order comedy on display, here).

Benny Hill is in it, but don't let that be a deterrant; while his eponymous show and this film may share a few "screwball" qualities (including one sped-up-film chase scene), the comedy in TMMITFM soars in loftier realms. In addition to Hill, an odd foreshadowing of the future of British comedy can be experienced when one notices a familiar melody played by the band on the day of the big race: ah yes, that's the Sousa march that would later be used as the theme music for "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

After an enjoyable first hour getting to know the likable--and likably unlikable--characters, things shift to the big race. The comic tone remains consistent during this section, but with the change of focus also comes a new sense of wonder and adventure. The cast is wonderful, but the faithfully-reconstructed vintage airplanes are stars on an equal par--so historically accurate that one of them hangs in a museum today.

After 1910, Europe went to pieces, a serious point to reflect on while enjoying this comedy. But the film is really a celebration dance for the much-relieved and happier post-World War Western Europe of the 50s and 60s. An infectious joie de vivre permeates this endearingly silly movie, and so it is guaranteed to make you very happy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pioneer CDJ-400 Amendment

From Pioneer's CDJ-400 manual:

"The CDJ-400 may not support playback with all USB memory devices or provide sufficient electrical power...Erratic performance may result when a USB hub is used."

As one who has experienced the frustration of getting the CDJ-400 to recognize my USB memory device; and who has, since clearing that hurdle, experienced PLENTY of erratic performance, may I suggest a rewording of the CDJ-400 manual:

"We at Pioneer created a USB hub that we don't feel confident will work in any way at all, which is why we make no guarantees of any sort. In fact, we advise you not to use the USB hub we provided."

11 November 2010 ADDENDUM - Played with MP3s burned to CD-ROMs (as data) today; this went extremely well. I also enjoyed success with an 8 GB thumb drive. So, not all that I hoped for, but still an improvement over my Numarks.

Ode to a New Backpack

Getting accustomed to a new backpack is like moving into a new apartment. One empties the old backpack and then, finding that the new one is not laid-out in the same fashion, determines how best to fit items into the latest version. Kindle in this pocket, external hard drive in that, each pocket carefully selected based on considerations of ease of access and security.

I have now finished moving into my new backpack. It feels terrific when I wear it; it's a great improvement over the beaten and ripped version I used to tote around. Worth every penny. Here's to life's small pleasures!