Following the various debates/arguments/discussion around the validity of Simon Reynolds’ influential Hardcore Continuum theory earlier this year (which I touched on here), Jeremy Gilbert and Steve Goodman (aka Kode 9) set up an afternoon seminar session to allow further debate/discussion/arguments. The panel they brought together was pretty strong, representing for/against/in between views and including some of the writers which had contributed to the debate earlier on in the year. On the panel were: K-Punk, Kode 9 and Kodwo Eshun, Joe Muggs, Dan Hancox, Alex Williams, Jeremy Gilbert, Martin Clark and someone from the Wire’s whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry).
Past the fact that this was the perfect occasion to return to my old Uni campus and spend half a day discussing music and catching up with/meeting some of the panelists, my main interest for attending the seminar was to hear the arguments put across online earlier in the year taken further and just generally think some more about what the nuum means today, whether or not it’s still valid, and, probably most importantly for me, give me further food for thought for my own nuum tangent – the possibility of a boom bap continuum, one which crosses with Reynold’s own nuum, dipping in and out of it over the years and currently being, in my opinion, as much of a driving force behind the whole ‘wonky’ phenomenon as the Hardcore nuum and UK rave music.
With a good attendance, some good crowd participation and some really interesting arguments and discussion (big up the organisers for keeping things short, works a treat) it was definitely a good 5 hours spent. Highlights for me included some fairly controversial/ballsy statements in K-Punk’s opening defence of the nuum talk such as ‘producers don’t know anything about music’ and a certain assertion that the ludic factor in production that was integral to nuum music genres in the 90s has somehow faded/become lesser. That last point was quite rightly debated by some of the bloggers/journos with Joe Muggs pointing out that the jump up template in dubstep, which has been in full effect for a couple of years now, is as ludic in many ways as what was made in the 90s. There is still a definite element of ‘what the fuck’ in a lot of production styles within dubstep and other 00s UK rave/dance music genres. Also K-Punk’s argument that some of the new nuum music made today isn’t as powerful as what happened in the 90s is quite contentious, as rightfully pointed out by a member of the audience during the short q&a at the end of his talk. It may not seem that way to him, which is fair enough, but ultimately the power and relevance of music is in the ears of the beholder no matter the academic debating you want to wrap around it.
Kode 9 and Kodwo put forward a fascinating talk framed around afrofuturism and looking at a different continuum/genealogy for the rhythms and music that have sprung in recent years, most notably the funky and wonky strains. Steering clear of naming things and stepping into the whole ‘is the nuum theory still valid today?’ they provided one of the most interesting talk, full of little jokes, insight and best of all for me, backing it up at the end with some music, something no one else did. Granted it may not have been necessary based on the assumption that the people there knew what was being talked about. Personally though I’m all for backing up these kind of talks with actual content.
Alex Williams, whose blog posts on the whole wonky thing I’ve found to be among the most interesting/pertinent, further elaborated on his argument that wonky can be seen as a process rather than a ‘genre’. I think that’s how I like to look at it best, despite not liking the word as such (which is really just a personal grudge more than anything) if you think about wonky as a process it all starts to make a lot more sense and more importantly you can also start to see how the whole thing departs from Reynolds’ nuum theory, with its own constraints, and actually touches on a lot of other genres and ‘nuums’. It’s hard to argue that there hasn’t been a sonic process of wonkyfication ongoing across various genres, styles and (mini)scenes – from hip hop to dubstep, grime to more 4×4 house styles. Alex also spoke on ‘wonky as a paradigmatic example of naming as a creative process of intervention’ another point which I think is quite pertinent within the whole debate surrouding wonky/beats/electronic hip hop. You can read Alex’s talk in full here.
It was probably Joe Muggs who made a point that I most felt in agreement with, especially in light of my own thoughts and ideas on the whole nuum thing. And that was his mention that there were and are other ‘nuums’ parallel to Reynolds’ Hardcore Continuum which also deserved attention and shouldn’t just be brushed aside especially when looking at the evolution of UK rave/dance music in the 00s – the main point of contention surrounding the current debate around Reynolds’ theory. Dan Hancox also put forth some very good points, rightfully highlighting that he was the first person, nearly 2 hours into a seminar about dance music, to mention the dancing aspect of things. He hasn’t yet posted his talk online, though his concluding sentence is definitely worthy of some thoughts: “UK club music continues to move forward – and I feel very sorry for the section of my profession that is incapable of doing the same.”
Martin Clark also made some very valid points and considering he is ‘responsible’ for giving the production trend we saw emerge in 07/08 the name ‘wonky’ he rightfully pointed out, both in his talk and in the q&a, that while wonky has taken on a life of its own he was, at the time, referring to a production process/trend rather than really trying to name something for the sake of it. This ties in nicely with Alex’s idea of wonky as a process, and ultimately for me that’s really what it boils down to regarding the whole wonky debate – it’s not a genre, and I really hope it doesn’t become one, but rather an idea, a process, or even a sonic template or even filter, one that can be applied to a variety of modern music genres. You can read Martin’s full talk on his blog here.
Jeremy and the woman from the Wire closed the day putting an emphasis back on jungle, and then followed a rather long but interesting q&a session with all the panelists. Considering I went there primarily to get some food for thought I got what I came for and also got the chance to meet a few of the people whose work I’d been reading/following for a while as well as meet and talk with Kodwo, someone whose work was a big influence on my own beginnings in music writing (his book, ‘More Brilliant Than The Sun’, was a massive influence on my thesis at uni). Specifically I wanted to speak with him about his point in the book that there comes a time when new language is needed to discuss evolutions in music because the music has moved on so much or so fast that the existing linguistic framework doesn’t apply anymore. Both him and Kode touched on this again during their talk that day, and it really reminded me of just how relevant and pertinent a point it is, one often ignored. It applies quite nicely to the current debate surrounding the nuum’s relevance but also wonky – in a way the music, or the process if we take what else was said on the day, has moved on so quickly and in such a variety of directions that the existing framework of music criticism is ill-equipped to truly come to grasp with it. That’s why discussions like the one arranged on the day are important and why debate in general, whether online or in the real world, is also important to help develop a new framework for thinking about the music and talking about it, and maybe even a new language ultimately.
I’ll be following up my original boom bap continuum post/idea at some point soon, but while words are all good and well music is still key – with that in mind I’m working on a special mix with 2tall that should hopefully help to frame my whole idea of a boom bap continuum in more than just words.
Last note, both Dan and Martin commented on the amazing change to the East London landscape due to the works for the London Olympics. Coming in from town via the DLR I somehow missed all of it – gutted as that’s definitely one of the most interesting changes happening to London at the moment.