State of the music criticism?


#51

ARGH. Sorry, I’ve been trying to track down a digital or free copy of Energy Flash for a hot minute now as I’ve been assessing much of Simon’s body of writing and composing a critique to jettison the outmoded concepts (HCC, retromania) while salvaging his often constructive observations. And since it’s been a solid decade since last reading it, would really like to re-familiarize myself with some of the more nuanced arguments in it, like the one you mention. What’s so funny to me reading the bit you wrote about how he views qualities like ‘intelligent’ or ‘progressive’ (‘sophistication’ is another of his favorite targets) being used to deracinate black culture when implementing similar value judgments and notions of ‘good’ taste in his scene reporting in the 90s:

https://www.thewire.co.uk/in-writing/essays/the-wire-300_simon-reynolds-on-the-hardcore-continuum_introduction

He also perpetuates his own middle-class and rockist norms to a frustrating degree in his essentializing of ‘rudeness’ and his bullshit populism (in his rave and EDM reporting). He just always strikes me like the posh boy playing punk until it gets too real and he has to run back into his penthouse and his specter is one that looms massively over contemporary music writing (and especially electronic dance music writing).


#52

@str_apx @zurkonic when you two use the word “deracinate,” are you using it in the literal sense of uprooting (and to what end?), or do you all really mean to say “whitewash”?


#53

Great question! I was actually digging into that word’s usage within afrofuturist criticism last night and it can seemingly have both positive and negative connotations. And think about why it would be used within afrofuturist writing (and the context in which Reynolds used it in the above quote). “Being uprooted” is a hallmark of the African diaspora that separated its inhabitants from their homeland, so in @str_apx’s comment, they’re describing a form of cultural colonization that echoes the already displaced, uprooted nature of black culture.

Interestingly, it’s a word Kodwo Eshun seems to enjoy employing in his afrofuturist outlook that seeks to employ various fictions to move past race all together…or to at least ‘uproot’ the meaning of ‘blackness’ that was imposed by western imperialists. Taken from tobias c. van Veen’s introductory essay to the Afrofuturism issue of Dancecult from a couple years back:
“Eshun’s radical approach to the deracination of blackness has lead to debates over the limits of black identity, embodiment and posthumanism.”
https://dj.dancecult.net/index.php/dancecult/issue/view/50/showToc

So really it just means to overturn something meaning or identity and can be used rather loosely. Does that make sense?


#54

yes, but I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of smart people insist on examining globalized culture and subculture as if it exists in a vacuum, untouched by external influence.


#55

Really Energy Flash is my only knowledge of his writing. I was too young to have any actual experience of the scenes he wrote about there, and I don’t know his broader journalism well. I amn’t into fetishising ‘rudeness’ but I think it is a vital part of much of the dance music I love the most, and I’m suspicious of attempts to try and excise it from ‘proper’ music or look down on it.

Cld say more abt it but I’ve gone into slightly more detail in the hardcore continuum thread.

@criminiminal I just meant ‘whitewashed’, obviously I’ve read it somewhere and read a false meaning into it. But the @zurkonic view of it seems more interesting! & certainly more informed about the background and other writers’ use of it.


#56

It’s extremely unfortunate and also shockingly commonplace. And that’s where a space like this could serve as a much-needed intervention in such myopia…just the willingness that I’ve seen amongst users here to disagree or discuss music in a way that music sites have decided there isn’t an audience for anymore and that the nature of social media seems to preclude is just insanely heartening to me. Of course, I never saw either heading towards becoming the reaffirmation/consensus machines they are today. But when you think about how globalism came to be–through imperialism and colonization–it seems to be a distinctively human predilection to try and extend one’s familiar culture into the unfamiliar and unrelated.

Since you’ve over here now @str_apx, wanted to say first and foremost that we may share more of a similar type of thinking than you might think! I do not believe objectivity can be attained at any distance, be it up close or far away and in no way am I discounting Reynolds’ account because he was an active participant in the culture. For that reason, he has insight that I could never obtain. But I also don’t think one has to be part of a scene to be an expert on its music and culture. No matter how close we get, we can always overlook something or fail to identify it from afar. My background is in philosophy and history, so I’ve always been taken by questions pertaining to how does one describe an event or movement in the past without narrativizing it, without projecting unchecked assumptions and biases. And while I’m still developing my own means to do so, I do know that it involves never relying on just one method as well as accepting the fact that the conceptual framing device or idea that allows one to make of cultural behavior today may become outmoded in five years or five months. The main issue I had with the HCC (both as a theory and an alleged reality) was how unwavering and unresponsive it was to changes in technology and society it could never anticipate. It’s also rather ironic that for all the supposed self-evidence in support of its existence people and for all the simplicity that made the idea so potent–not to mention the nationalist pride over the development of its own urban electronic music culture that is so attractive to many–it became increasingly opaque and Byzantine the more it was discussed and analyzed (both by ‘the nuum generals’ and ‘the nuum dissidents.’) Part of the reason is that even in 2009, the way we conceived of genre was changing rapidly. As I noted in an earlier post over at the HCC thread, genre terms have long served a descriptive purpose and that the HCC was given its definition by the genres it supposedly incubated.

As I’m finding in my own research, Reynolds’ outmoded approach to historical practice was one that hewed closer to Hegelian and structuralist notions that presumed that words would retain their significance over decades when–as I’ve found in a paper on genre mutation in 90s electronic music–the word techno meant something different in 1994 than it did in 1992. Overall, I’m just in search of ideas, concepts, and approaches to researching and recounting history in ways that are dynamic and flexible as I don’t believe there is ever just one answer or approach to understanding something as complex as a scene. OK, this dude needs a nap.


#57

Yeah I’m sure we share plenty! I did analytic philosophy at uni so I didn’t really learn abt Hegel or Marxism or any cultural theory. So on a lot of this I’m blagging I & I’ll be participating more as a curious amateur tbh! Finding the discussion interesting.


#58

All good stuff @zurkonic would be good to share findings at some point. Despite my reading being more of the historical UK kind (albeit with heavy external influencing) it’s vital to use the past to critically examine the present (and see a future).

Reading these comments makes me also feel that class and its attendant antagonisms are important. A majority of the writers in the UK from the late 70s were autodidacts from working class backgrounds, they added an angrier, more individually stylistic approach to the ‘educated posh fraternity’ (women being on the margins too).

I suppose what I’m stretching to articulate is that these factors, allied to societal tensions and exciting, ‘new’ music, all created new forms of criticism, positive and negative, dry, witty and antagonistic, at odds with the corporate diktats, creating forms that still pervade today. hence the feeling that today’s criticism is PR rehashed puff piece prose. ‘Advocacy’ is a great choice of word.

The marking/grading system for me negates ‘reading’ and encourages surface reading that ends up with surface listening, the writing should enchant and seduce. The grading is a primitive algorithm, consumptive classifications for the supermarket sweepers wanting the new Adele release. Oh, and then there’s streaming …

Re: your television comment, do you think/fear that maybe music has no boundaries to cross, no edges to fray, no borders to surmount anymore?

Maybe Garry Bushell was right, music has just become light entertainment, everything becomes so-opted almost as soon as it appears.

Anyhow, that’s my tuppence worth, for now.

Interesting chat thus, nice one


#59

The theoretical stuff is really interesting but going a liiiiiiiittle over my head. There have been some really interesting posts in this thread so far. I can’t even remember if it’s in this thread anymore, but the post about how Facebook/Twitter etc are controlling algorithms to control what we see effectively was particularly good and relevant. Mostly because my original thought was that the internet has lowered the barrier to entry for creatives, but also for critics. Just like it’s easier to get your work out there, everyone is a critic now too. I think that’s why we see a wealth of positive reviews, because someone out there is going to either like your project, or want to like it.

With that said, the barrier for entry is lower, but it’s also harder to get noticed now I think, unless you get picked up by the right people/company/online outlet. There’s probably swathes of music that I would like, that just isn’t hitting my ears, because what I listen to is mostly governed by the sites I check regularly, and my social media feeds/friendship circles. I’m sure that’s true for most of us here. I’m proficient at doing my own research on industrial techno because I like enough artists associated with that scene to find stuff that isn’t picked up by RA etc. For anything else (even genres I enjoy/would consider myself a fan of (electronically speaking)) I am pretty reliant on RA or someone picking it up and pushing it. For example, I’ve been checking out and loving Eris Drew’s mixes, but I never would have come across her if her mix didn’t make it into the monthly roundups by both RA, Fact and possibly even Pitchfork.

Basically agreed that music criticism is now mostly a form of promotion. I don’t know how we scale it back a bit. I think honest critique of art is good and should be encouraged. Another poster here said that anything mildly negative will get downvoted on RA/Reddit. This is definitely a problem. The comments on Reddit are useless for telling you whether a release is worth checking out or not because the initial reaction is almost universally positive, unless it’s an artist that particular community hates, in which case the opposite is true.

I think part of why this is a difficult problem to fix/discuss is that it’s hard to tell what is an honest difference of opinion, and what is a positive review, pandering for the sake of it. A recent example would be the new Jon Hopkins. As a big fan of his, I found the new album to be a huge disappointment and very bland. The comments online seemed to share my opinion, but all the reviews I have seen are pretty positive to very positive.

Maybe forums like this, where the focus is more on a topic of discussion rather than upvotes and downvotes will help bring discussion around albums back a bit. Anyone knows that trying to follow a genuine conversation on Reddit is a nightmare.

Just in keeping with the format of the rest of the posts in this thread: sorry for the ramble and I hope there are some good points in there. Have been really enjoying this forum so far, this thread and the discussion about deconstructed club have been particularly interesting to follow.


#60

yes, it’s an interesting thread but potentially veering off topic somewhat.

I liked @parrishcouncil’s question to start putting some ideas out there of possible action. We can all see that one artist starting a forum can make a big difference already.

I think, just to look at these structural devices for communication that we all use, may have effects upon the entire community. Looking at which conditions over the years led to better results, and learning from it. Personally, I think there was something about Myspace that held a lot of strengths. There was something about its ability to communicate something particular about its users. You could click on a page and instantly know if it was something worth checking, or just another dud. If it was worth checking and you liked the music, there was a Top Friends feed where you could find recommendations of their favourite artists, user comments allowed you to connect with potential audiences.

I’m not saying it was perfect or ideal, but if we look today at SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Spotify, what we see is a kind of ultra-cookie-cutter profile with no worthwhile networking capabilities. Everyone looks the same, and there’s no way of really cutting through the shit. This is something you see hinted at by journos all the time: “there’s so much stuff out there, it’s just so hard to find the good stuff” etc.

{EDIT: what you started to see was artists using Tumblr or some external source to ‘express’ what their project was all about. Listeners having to literally click off-site to get some clues as to what they were listening/looking at.}

At the same time, a music critic, or a music fan, have very little space for interaction or self-promotion either. There was a time when BBC DJs and such were using SoundCloud and Myspace to find and network with artists, to a degree I don’t think is possible in the slightest sense today (if you have 3.5m followers). It’s almost as if the democratisation of culture has made it impossible for anyone to find anyone, and the only people able to cut through the cheese is Warner Bros and Sony, or a major Media brand. The demise of Blogspot as an serious outlet and the rise of Instagram or Twitter as basically contentless time-killers feels very relevant to this moment too.

I do really want to stress I’m not a ‘golden era of the internet’ believer, no such thing, there are uses for the tools out there today, but there are also instances where certain parameters worked better for what we aim to do, and the only thing stopping it happening is the phony belief that ‘the market will self regulate’… ‘if we need it, some genius will make it’… maybe it’s the time to invoke Eno’s Scenius, or maybe that’s just a cheesy way to end this post.


#61

HI wonder if forming subscription co-ops might help small (web) publications recover a financial backing. Few people will get one-by-one subscriptions for every publication they read, but maybe it would work to have one subscription for access to a sufficient number of them. There’d be a lot of kinks to figure out (how to share revenue constructively, how to choose member publications, rivalries…) No idea if it would work, but it’s something to consider.


#62

Hey! So in the Hardcore Continuum thread, I’m trying to slowly and lucidly (ha) explain some of the theoretical backstories that I believe explain both what it is and the different arguments about it.

I know the last thing anyone wants to do is consider what role intellectual history plays in all of this but personally, that’s what I’m seeing…still fleshing out the ideas over in that thread. But I’m writing it for people who understandably find it going over their heads cuz ultimately, I think it’s all understandable if presented correctly.


#63

ahh, good idea. also having some kind of inbuilt platform to share and comment. I was just thinking yesterday how publications eliminating comments sections may have accidentally moved conversations elsewhere, or nowhere. The ability for people to interact with things being said, and for pubs to have instant feedback. It got all out of hand with users’ negative comments a few years ago and most pubs couldn’t moderate their comment sections any more, but maybe if tied in to a single platform of sharing / subscription, it could get interesting.


#64

Great analysis and picking up of @parrishcouncil’s challenge to posit some actual ideas and strategies.

I still have yet to start the thread, but having first come of age in my early 20s during the mp3 and music blog days–and experiencing how something you could spend less than two hours a week on could have the kind of impact that’s almost embarrassing compared to the traffic numbers for my own site (tho NOT COMPLAINING cuz it’s the people who should find it are and that’s why it exists). I remember there being a debate on Twitter a while back amongst some friends talking about the state of criticism and Pete Swanson cited my site as an example of a strategy to reclaim music writing by music fans (leading to a typical Mat Dreyhurst rant…not talking smack, he’s been super supportive of my work but he’s also someone I need to meet in person again to communicate the area I strongly disagree with him about…but again, he’s fucking PASSIONATE and if I’ve learned anything, that’s the rarest thing of all today: sincere passion.

But of course, I freelance and do a minimal amount at the moment so I can focus on my writing projects…it sucks being poor but also is wonderful to sense that I’m slowly starting to write and say thingshow I actually want to…nonryhrlrd, I think to the period from 2006-2011 and just feel a rare pang of nostalgia as there were so many good music blogs and many of ther authos are still firends today. And to come back to this forum the ability for a group of people to self-select and join a forum like this could prove explosive


#65

…sorry, browser froze.
…explosive velocity towards having an actual affect on corprate music criticism. Dog knows I’m seeing far more incisive and informd analysis here than I have anywhere else of late (with the exception of a Wire article every now and then…miss the glory days of the 00s for that pub).

Negative comments…so frustrating because I hate that site disable comments tho I also don’t know what else they’re supposed to do.


#66

https://www.cjr.org/analysis/algorithms-music.php


#67

hey @nickecks thank you so much for posting this…adds a whole new dimension to this conversation, especially with regard to the noticeable rise in positive sentiment among the few working, credible journalists left. the pressure on writers to push an agreeable tone over a critical tone isn’t just shallow jockeying for VIP credentials or shrinking column space, it’s a result of how insidious “algorithmic culture” has actually become and how “rewarding familiarity” is really just another way of “punishing adventurousness”. as the editorial algorithm iterates over time, so do the types of music its critical feedback ultimately influences and informs…and with each cycle, quality erodes imperceptibly on both sides.

whoa.


#68

give it 5 years, we’re already seeing a social media backlash…algorithmic allergy is just around the corner


#69

a big question that arises for me is how do we break our algorithmically defined lanes and find music that challenges assumed conventions of what we’ve been fed?

labels like trillogy tapes and reliable aggregators for me, stuff that people on this forum plug and keep going back to over time…also these end of year lists and avalon emmerson’s bandcamp program are helping lots…

…not to mention good old lineups and programming by bookers…


#70

Hey folks, I’m in the electronic music niche and I know how hard it always was to get to the surface with a new release, to get noticed properly, to get even critics or to be reviewed. That’s why some friends and I recently launched a review channel on Youtube to help other EM producers to make themselves heard (EM, not EDM). So, social media is still a tool and always will be. Let’s see where we are in 10 years. I bet on that social medias will have even more impact than nowadays. I’m optimistic…