Saturday, January 20, 2007


The clubs I frequented in Leeds, Nottingham and London during the 80s had very loud sound systems but often several rooms, at least one of which had music playing quietly enough to actually listen and talk to friends without getting saliva splashed inside your ear or go hoarse drenching your mate's lugs. If you were lucky, more than two people could have a conversation with each other. Music venue design in Auckland is horrible, even if Moroccan lamps hang from the ceiling. Why do the secondary rooms in biggish Auckland clubs still have such loud music even if they've laid out the sofas, tables and chairs for that loungy vibe? Clubgoers are still treated like sheep filling up a pen, crude treatment compared to that offered to consumers of other media entertainments.

Saw Diplo last night at one of the worst venues in town for sound quality: Galatos. Fortunately I could sit down through most of the two hour set and the bods that stood or dance in front of me acted as a sound barrier. I danced on my ass. There were times the treble was remarkably high, but that may be just the quality of today's compressed digital music on mp3 and played off a laptop. The show was a really good upbeat, get em on the floor and keep em there at a sustained pitch kind of set. The MC didn't do much except shout out Aucklan' some hundred times, but he wasn't annoying. People were into the mix and showed it with a handsome variety of dance moves. Some had stepped out of a Go-Go's video from the 80s. Diplo likes dirty funky beats across genres. I've known about him since the excellent M.I.A. Piracy-Terrorism mixtape and his sundry remixes of classics and obscurities, many under the collective Hollertronix moniker. But he's also a terrific party DJ. No track goes on for more than about two minutes. He drops one out and goes into another and then returns to the first one after you think it's gone for the night. There are Jamaican style rewinds but not too many flashy EQ manipulations that wear out their welcome. He went through hip hop, 80s electro, hyphy, crunk, neo-rave punkish stuff (not sure what the generic tag is these days), baile funk, James Brown funk, dancehall. There's something democratic about his love of working-class dance music that's local but also transnationally viral and hacked to new life in different locations. However, ethical questions about ghetto chic are circulating online. On his blog Mudd Up!, DJ /Rupture, who has a less populist sound but is broadly speaking a propagandist for viral sonic culture, linked to an interesting article by Anna Dezeuze about the contemporary artists representing slums. In that respect, Diplo does have the anthropological imperative like David Byrne and others. A documentary on Baile Funk is in the works. I don't know enough about Diplo's work and position on these issues yet, though I'm sure he's a smart cookie. I haven't heard the many Baile funk mix CDs that he's released either. So I'm not presuming that young Diplodocus is in 'the wrong'. But his work does force us to pose some critical questions about the political economy of music right now. For example, he has brought the music of the favelas to the attention of consumers in the global market. Take a Brazilian producer in Rio who samples global hit music from North America or the UK for her or his own dubiously legal computer productions of local funk to play at the ball. Is he on the same ethical and financial ground as an American producer who then takes those sounds and circulates them in an overlapping but more lucrative economy? That economy will likely give the American producer greater financial opportunities as an emerging name/brand in the US-Europe-Japan-Australasia market network? How do the various musicians and mediators of this music negotiate an ethical way to work with these unbalanced power relations? For a start, you might look at this excellent collection of essays by Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh.

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