I was speaking to a friend on Sunday. As we smoked outside the club, this friend, a producer, DJ and record label owner who shall remain nameless (you’ll understand why in a minute), told me he wanted to ‘de-hype’, that he wanted to be able to bring down the hype surrounding him and his music, and I’m also assuming possibly his label. Knowing him, his comment didn’t necessarily surprise me though it made me think, prompting me to tell him, ‘how the hell do you de-hype in this day and age? When everything is up for grabs, scrutiny, discussion and spreading?’ Ok I probably didn’t quite word it like that considering how tired I was from staying up till 6am the night before, but you get the jist.
Over the last couple of days his comment kept running around my head, not least because it echoed with various discussions I’ve had recently with artists/producers. How the hell would you go about bringing down the hype surrounding you, when hype today comes at a much faster and much less controllable rate than ever before? Do you try and disappear and let things die down in your ‘absence’? Do you publicly make it clear that you want to step away from whatever hype has built around you? Or do you just do it, slowly step away from instances and situations that help bring hype and hope it slows down in the process?
If you take someone like Burial, his approach was a good example of someone who seemingly wanted to not play to today’s hype system – he hid behind the moniker Burial for nearly 4 years, quietly doing his own thing, at his own pace, in his own time, letting the hype around him build for one reason only, his music, and not feeding into it whatsoever, aside from the rare couple of interviews he gave in that time. Ultimately, even his approach proved no match for today’s hype system, forced to come out publicly after a certain British tabloid decided it was everyone’s business to know who he was following his nomination for the Mercury prize.
Having never been an artist, never released music, it’s hard to think how’d you even go about trying to de-hype today. As a fan, someone who writes about music and someone who has a keen interest in media, old and new, I can however think about how the media, especially the internet, feeds into this new hype system, how it helps build things into a hype in the time it used to take for a dubplate to be heard in another continent.
This is a discussion I’ve found myself having a lot recently: during the recent Original Cultures pilot, with 2tall, Will Barras and Hentsix, and during a late night chat over dinner, wine and more with L.A’s Take aka Sweatson Klank, Architeq and Mr Beatnick (from which there’ll be a feature/interview coming very soon by the way). Every time the discussion revolved pretty much around the same thing: we’ve seemingly reached a point where the internet is helping create hype around musical trends/movements in such a short time that what used to take years, now takes barely months it seems.
An easy to imagine example of this is the differences between jungle/dnb, dubstep and the recent beats musical movements. It took jungle a few years to become dnb and another good few years to reach a status as a truly global dance music with a set of musical ‘criterias’. Of course with these musical criterias come people trying to tap back into what made the music exciting in the first place, a time when there was no criteria. Dubstep for its part took a few years to truly emancipate itself from its 2step/garage roots, get a ‘name’ and start to register on the global level. From that point however, it blew up, reached a global status and developed its own musical criterias much quicker than jungle/dnb had. You could even argue that all happened in one to two years, from 06 to 08. And then there is the beats movement, the producer’s renaissance in hip hop. This is a movement that has bubbled under the surface for close to a decade, but which reached levels of global popularity and its own musical criteria in pretty much a year or even less, from early 08 to early 09.
All of this ties nicely with what Alex Williams said at the recent Hardcore Continuum discussion at the University of East London, especially his theorising and discussion around the ‘wot you call it?’ moment, this moment in music movements/trends where something has got so exciting, so interesting that people flock to it and ask ‘so what do you call it?’, a question that is often left unanswered by the most direct participants, the music makers. In the case of wonky/beat shit, the standard answer has generally always been ‘hip hop’. Once the naming comes though, once that moment is crystallised into something ‘real’, into a name, a movement, a genre, it generally all starts to go downhill, and the hype which helped built it up into something lingers and moves on to the next big thing.
Talking about this with Take, Architeq and Beatnick recently, and listening to their reactions to this trend as music makers, something occured to me. While the internet helps to increase the speed at which we reach the ‘wot you call it?’ moment and the point at which an ‘interesting’ music movements becomes just another established micro niche or sub genre of something or other, it’s also working against this by connecting the music makers, the artists, the most direct participants, in ways that were never before possible. And this applies not just to music but also to other forms of art, as I witnessed recently during the Original Cultures pilot by observing and speaking with the visual artists we’d invited. Their reaction and their attitude towards the hype surrounding ‘street art’ today is exactly the same as that of music producers caught in the latest hype trend.
Going back to the point, the internet has connected the artists in new ways, brought them closer to each other, physically and virtually, and brought them closer to their fans and their critics. As a result, artists are much more likely to react to the hype quicker and move away quicker than ever before. This is something Take mentioned in our chat, how the hype only made him want to keep doing his own thing, to remind himself of making music for himself, and not to pertain to what others are saying and want to hear. This isn’t easy, as anyone involved in any form of creative process knows, whether it’s music making, painting or even writing. But it’s something that in many ways is much easier for artists to be aware of, to discuss among each other and in the process to avoid, thanks to the same tool that is bringing the hype to them quicker than ever. When I say the same tool, I mean in the sense that the internet is allowing for artists to connect, stay in touch and work together while touring/travelling in ways that are easier, and some may even argue lead to more organic relationships.
All of which was to say, it’s something that bears thinking about. More soon.