Why I Love Captain Beefheart

Here are some reasons why I love Don Van Vliet or Captain Beefheart as he was otherwise known.

His musical work was mainly conducted with a rotating assembly of musicians called the Magic Band, which was active from the mid-1960s through to the early 1980s. Van Vliet was primarily a singer, but played harmonica and very nutty saxophone. His compositions are characterized by their odd mixtures of shifting time signatures and by their surreal lyrics, while Van Vliet himself is noted for his dictatorial approach to his musicians and for his enigmatic relationship with the public.

Here are my reasons…..

1. He Helped Get Me Into Indian Music

I think most of us under-estimate the influence of rhythms in our lives or rather the lack of variety in them.

Capn Beefheart used to say that all the rock and roll music and pop (4/4 rock beat or Waltz mostly) was hankering after being back in the womb and hearing the consistent thud thud of your mothers heart. He said that it was appeasement music …boom cha boom boom cha… predictable and that we were kids for feeling happy and comfortable with these simple first rhythms – we hadn’t moved on. Actually most rock, soul, funk, blues is the same too.

The Captain used to say of Frank Zappa, his alleged mentor, that

“Frank believes in time and we could never get it together. He writes all his music and gets sentimental about good old rock ‘n’ roll, but that’s appeasement music”.

I’ve mentioned this rhythmic philosophy of the Capn to a lot of the musicians I’ve met and it’s some hard shit to hear for the first time. The whole appeasement thing and sucking on your mothers tit bit I mean. It’s true though – we are addicted to the head nod and the foot tap like mental patients in the corner next to the radio set. The good musicians get this revelation and others don’t wish to hear it at all. Understanding the approach and taking the approach are two different things however.

That’s not to say the Captain didn’t use simple head nod rhythms occasionally – his roots were in Blues and in particluar he took alot from Howlin Wolf and those are of course simple rhtyhms but wonderful expressions of those rhythms. However, over time, Beefheart began to develop a new technique althoghther and developed his patterns around the words and odd phrases of piano…he didn’t truncate the sentence to fit the bar – he just pushed the bar out and that was just the length of the phrase.

Most rhythms we hear are quite predictive – you know what’s coming next. I’m sure we all know when the drum fills come in or the last chorus. Our euphoria gland has been pimped this past long while with the same patterns over and over – we all know the templates and the shapes. Often it’s the only the atmosphere of the instrumentation or the vocal that differentiates the music in any fundamental way.

With unpredictable rhythms they often appear like a cacophony to the listener at first but once you become familiar with the approach you can zone right in. This isn’t 4/4 or a rock beat or a waltz – it’s something else. Indian rhythms and music are often thought of like Captain Beefheart in the West –– initially cacophonous and unmusical – we don’t know where the beat is or what’s going on with the melody – we can’t tap our foot so easy but with practice it comes. It’s like wine or riding a bike – you don’t give up on your first try and I’m glad that I stuck with the Captain and kept listening until I wasn’t listening on the outside of the music I was inside the music and those rhythms seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

Grooving on the strangely structured rhythms of the Captain made me accept rhythm as having a melodic route or structure and not just a backbeat in a traditional form. To be able to break away from existing patterns was the Captains genius and our lesson from him. Ok – that’s reason number 1.

2. Great Songs

Even though Trout Mask Replica is mooted as the Capn’s best or most outlandish work it’s not my favourite album. My favourite album is somewhat ironically one of his most mellow and accessible albums – ClearSpot Kid. A lot of Captain Beefheart albums have some tracks that stand out more than others so I prefer to look at the body of his work and luckily he was quite prolific in his time.

(Get full album list here from the Radar Station – easily the best Captain reference on the web and it’s been running for years 🙂


Diddy Wah Diddy (A+M Sessions) – Bo Diddly cover. Raw and from prehistory.

Electricity (Safe As Milk) – I don’t think another song, other than maybe something by the Chemical Brothers, that conveys electricity so well. The Captains voice is such a rasp here – it sounds like a dropped pilon cable.

Beatle Bones and Smokin Stones (Strictly Personal). Even though I love the Beatles I also love the fact the Captain was irked into having a pop at them on this song.

Ella Guru + the Blimp (Troutmask Replica) – proper leftfield weridness..the Blimp lead vocal was recorded down a telephone.

Lick My Decals Off, Baby + Space Age Couple (Lick My Decals Off Baby) – Beefheartians tend to say this is their favourite album and with good reason – even though the band using their odd-rhtyhms to the full this record is accessible and much fun.

I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby + Blabber’N Smoke (The Spotlight Kid)

Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man + Sun Zoom Spark + Big Eyed Beans from Venus (ClearSpot). Great record – Sun Zoom Spark is a great chorus and it’s like a guessing game as to when the Captain is going to drop the beat again.

Run Paint Run Run (Doc at the Radar Station). This is one of my all time favourtie Captain songs – A while back in Kerala India (during the Scale sessions ) I did a version of this track. I used a temple instrument called a Nadaswaram which has a reed like a clarinet. The only part that is really the same is the lyric “Run Paint Run Run” because sometimes it’s just too difficult making out what he’s saying or what the band are playing. Of course – if you cover a Beefheart track you daren’t copy it and luckily the Capn builds that shit right in – they are unrepeatable by anyone but him.

3. Nutty Composition Process and Great Guitarists

For some reason the Captain used to attract all kinds of hot and avante garde guitarists who would float around the whole Zappa and Bowie kingdom. These names included : Doug Moon, Alex St. Claire, Ry Cooder, Moris Tepper, Richard Redus and Gary Lucas and more.

The guitarist that stuck with the Captain for the longest time was a fella called Bill Harkleroad who joined the band first for the album Strictly Personal. The Captain used to Christen every body in his band with a new name and low and behold Bill became Zoot Horn Rollo – which is easily better than Bill … see the liner notes for Trout Mask Replica :

ZOOT HORN ROLLO: glass finger guitar, flute

ANTENNAE JIMMY SEMENS: steel-appendage guitar

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART: bass clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax, vocal

THE MASCARA SNAKE: bass clarinet & vocal

ROCKETTE MORTON: bass & narration

DRUMBO: drums

The Captain preferred younger guitarists because they could be moulded more easily. At the mouth of the river would be Beefheart hammering a piano and the drummer (John French or Drumbo) transcribing parts for the other musicians. The parts weren’t all playable but for the most part the guys kept to this ‘score’. Initially that might seem cruel but it undoubtedly made the music unique.

The sound of twisted, spiky and angular guitar was pioneered very heavily by Harkleroad and as his relationship with Beefheart developed he was given increasingly more freedom. Bill said of those crazy early years with the Captain.

“I was 19, my two favorite artists were Zappa and Beefheart, and I was just glad I didn’t have to go to college or join the army and die.”

John Peel said of Beefheart :

“If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of popular music, it’s Beefheart…I heard echoes of his music in some of the records I listened to last week and I’ll hear more echoes in records that I listen to this week”

During the rise of Punk many of it’s leading lights praised Beefheart and claimed influence including John Lydon, The Sex Pistols and the Clash. Many popular modern groups also draw heavily from his well including Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, dEUS, the Pixies and The White Stripes to name a few.

4. Frank’s Philosophy

Here are a few of the great quotes from the Captain

  • “I think nutrition is very important. If you eat bad, you feel bad. If you feel bad, you do bad things. Most of modern rock and roll is a product of guilt. People cop licks off of dead people, like stealing pennies off a dead man’s eyes. The movement needs a bowel movement.”
  • “I don’t believe in time, you know, 4/4 and all that stuff,” Beefheart says.
  • “I guess the reason I use lyrics is because I’m a singer and the record companies and everybody would think I was ridiculous if I didn’t use the English language.”
  • “Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument. You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.”
  • “A carrot is as close as a rabbit gets to a diamond.”
  • “Everybody’s colored or else you wouldn’t be able to see them.”
  • “I’m not really here, I just stick around for my friends.”
  • “Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employerin terms of who you’re brining over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.”
  • If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out. If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

5. Recording Lore

The story of recording Trout Mask Replica is fantastic ….

For the rehearsals of Trout Mask Replica – the captains most famous album. – the Magic band were holed up in a house in the the Woodland Hills. Only one of them was allowed out once a week to get the basic supplies of lentils and stuff and then back onto the rehearsals – which lasted a month.

Bill the guitarist for Troutmask replica recalls his memories of the time:

“the side of the music that most people don’t want the hear about is how manipulative this older guy was with these 19-year-old kids. It was only ten yards short of a Manson situation. We would play 12 to 16 hours a day, fall on the floor, and them wake up and do it again. Our hero was a brilliant person with half his energy running on extreme paranoia. He’d talk to us for 36 hours straight, telling use that our hand position in the air wasn’t artistic enough.”

The band played the whole record until they knew it inside out. They went to the studio ran by Frank Zappa, set up and got a sound. Frank hit the record button and the band played it to the end. Frank said “great rehearsal” guys let’s do some more takes. The Captain said “that’s the record Frank” and then they packed up and left.



6. He Also Painted


Now Beefheart lives out in the Arizona desert. He retired from music after the album Ice Cream for Crow and lives with his wife and cat. He paints a lot of the time and although there is nothing officially released about his current health he is suffering from a long term illness.

The Captains paitings come at the right time in his life….no running around the music business madness and time to be private in the desert that he loves. The paintings contain the same spirit that the music. Beefheart was a real artist and not a Xerox copy like so many others.

See this link for an index of his paintings

——-

So that’s why I love Captain Beefheart.

Drongomala

http://www.drongomala.com

http://www.myspace.com/drongomala

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Hip Hop Part 3 of X : A virus let loose on the English Language

Ingerlish – The beginnings
I mentioned briefly in the last blog (part 2) that one of the tools subverted by the hip hop phenomenon was the English language itself by the rappers and scene members. Not all musical scenes when they burst forth have a verbal equivalent that is also brought into being at the same time. Rock and roll didn’t really change the way people talked – dressed and acted – ok – but not really the vocabulary. It wasn’t the pantheon of patter that came out of hip-hop.

Hip-Hop was different.

Remember that the English language isn’t first generation stuff – it’s derived from languages that went before. In 1786 William Jones, a British judge in Calcutta, announced to a meeting of the Royal Asiatic society that his studies of the Sanskrit language (ancient core Indian language) led him to believe that it was a a cousin of Latin and Greek. He further stated that he thought there were great similarities between these three languages and Celtic, Gothic and Persian and that must have all came from the same source. This single people had brought and carried their language as far as Ireland and India where it eventually diverged into modern tongues. This single people were called the Indo Europeans and their homeland is what we now know as the modern Ukraine. 8000 years ago they left their homelands and having mastered the horse they managed to get around a bit. Genetics has also backed up this movement by tracing genes and variations.

Now languages can change for a number of reasons. The invading men kill all the other men and take the wives….words get blended together as do genes. The new language is associated with a new technology – in the case of the Europeans it was the horse and farming that peppered the language and as the technology was spread so was the language.

We can skip over the Greeks, Romans and development of English in what is now known as the UK – essentially by around 1500AD the UK was moving over to English in politics, law and as the common tongue. The Irish, Scots and Welsh had to bow to the pressure of both the military and the commercial concerns of the South and eventually English was established in the Isles as the primary tongue. Ireland still has Gaelic today but it’s dwindling, Scotland has hardly any and the small numbers of the Welsh were at least smart enough to ensure that legislation was passed to keep the Welsh language alive. The rest of the empire in India, Africa and Australia was co-erced to follow suit. English has won the war of the tongues or at least made a bloody good stab at it.

USA – the Baby is born
So that’s the British Isles…what about across the pond? The birth of hiphop? America was spawned from mostly European aspirants and a mixture of slaves taken from the southern hemisphere. It was inevitable that the language of the masters would dominate in America – and that was English. btw – can anyone tell me how Columbus discovered America when it was populated already – he was really just a violent tourist…anyways…America, the new baby, had been born and it had it’s own fair share of input to English to give.

White folks added a variety of words or alternate words like : trunk, truck, ranch and crap like that aswell as mis-spellings and changing ‘ise’ to ‘ize’ however in my mind there is no such thing as American English other than what resided in the vain minds of the American. The volume of differences is nowhere near great enough.

Black folks were adding to English aswell and the vernacular and delivery style of Hip Hop came out of the prisons, army camps and segregation – similar breeding ground for blues and gospel. Black music invariably contained feelings and words about hard times but the difference with HipHop is that it wasn’t couched in the comfortable language of the past. Hip Hop didn’t eulogise past glories or wish for better ones in the future – instead it talked of how to do it now. It wasn’t a way of just thinking – it was a way of being.

It’s all in the Delivery
Now English is classified as a non-tonal language and that means that generally when you speak it in different pitches (higher or lower) it means the same thing. That’s not to say that you can’t use English with tonality for example “you BOUGHT a James Blunt record?” – by stressing the word ‘bought’ by maybe saying it louder or in a higher pitch we convey our incredulity and surprise – the devliery adds new meaning. Most languages in Africa are tonal (except Swahili and Fulani) but as to their full effect on hip hop I’m not sure. There are a number of studies done on the influence of African tongues and tonal languages on rap but I aint really buying much of it. People talk about how rapping can be traced back to roots of poets singing or telling stories over drums – thing is – nearly every culture did this – it’s a truism of humans not a genetic group.

I think that the expressiveness of hip was born of a performance style, a political state a mentality and of a time – all done in English or ‘phreaked’ English.

The words and the delivery of the words were inseparable. It was futuristic, coded, and extremely rhythmic. Sometimes the rappers only made use of a few notes in the musical scale with which to ‘drill’ their rap home. The melodies of the raps were very simple – tweaking up and down at the beginning and ends of sentences and always pushing and playing with the groove. Radio Dj’s, comics, wilful mispronunciations and the bubbling groovy language of disco and funk also got thrown into the mix. The subversion of the language was spawning out of control like a virus. Young people didn’t want the cure and the old folks couldn’t think quick enough to come up with an antidote.

Unlike in the past where a war was needed to give a language a leg up the radio and TV stations did all the conversion very easily.

A generation was being shut out. Hip Hop Culture was codified. It was difficult for outsiders to pick up although it was really just ‘phreaked’ English.

Covert Operators
Black folks had a lot of covert talking to do in America and it’s inevitable that slang would be coded into the language. It allowed you to talk about those controlling you without them taking your head off.

Check the words out to swing Low Sweet Chariot – the old gospel tune. (My South Indian Band did a version of this on 100 Fields – due out in the last quarter of 2006). Some say this song was a code too and that the Sweet Chariot was in fact a freight train that would take them north and away from the slavery. Thing is – if you start singing about the 3.15 leaving tomorrow it’s going to work out bad for you. At least the coded versions could be sung out loud and felt inside. The secret language and delivery had been getting honed for years in the black community. As African families had been pulled apart and fragmented by their uprooting and placement in America – old traditions and language were difficult to keep up outside of a home influence. Native tongues of Africa were discouraged with sticks as it all sounded conspiratorial to the rightly paranoid slave owners.

Phreak Techniques
Slowly black America was absorbing the English language and developing it with a rhythmic delivery unseen before – drawing out words to extraordinary lengths and swooping the pitch up and down like long trombones. Code words and fun words were shoehorned in. The idea of ‘proper’ went out the window and rightly so – the African Americans delighted in chopping, shafting and ripping English and putting it back together to suit themselves again. There was a singing in it too – it had started to develop tones and nuances. English the stress language was moving into tonal territory via the performers. The sentences were being played like instruments and drumkits. Words were repeated for a machine like delivery and emphasis – the digital age of chopping and splicing had entered the words. Growls and roars were in the delivery.

There is no single moment when things like gospel became blues became soul became disco and funk then electro and hiphop. It just tends to happen same way rivers meet up. It was the same with the language – it absorbed all that its developers gave it and kept going.

Louder than a Bomb

In Hip Hop specifically African Americans stamped the culture heavily. They showed everyone what could be done with the English language when combined with a metronomic delivery. It was the sound of the inmates taking over the asylum they should never have been in. It was the sound of the human bomb. It was the terrordome and it was the truth of the world. It was as poetic a moment in the English language as when James Joyce wrote the first modernistic novel ‘Ulysses’. Chuck D and James Joyce would have had great crack in the pub together – they both speak the language of fiery romance and for my money Nation of Millions or Fear of A Black Planet are as equal as some of the finest artist statments rendered in the West.

When those hiphop wagons rolled into town they might as well have been the Ukranians riding in on horses – the spoken word was irrevocably changed in the 80s. Like the horse had propelled the roots of English around the world – the new technologies of digital and the burning street poetry of African Americas were changing the lexicon daily.

Ebonics and the Wild West

There seems to be an idea that there is some sort thing called Black English – Ebonics is the proper term. It’s academic home is Oakland, California – the same place I recorded Elemental (yes that’s a plug).

I have to laugh at the Ebonics debate and all the pious bullshit associated with it from both sides. English is a sponge and it doesn’t yet seem to have stopped absorping influence. I think the whole Ebonics gig does black folks a disservice – let time decide which aspects of English changed in our time will be kept….that’s how it’s worked for centuries. Linguistic policies of divide and conquer only end up dividing.

The Ebonics gig at root is from a mindset that wants to separate and show distinction – in reality it’s a competition. Who ever delivers ‘meaning’ or ‘achieves’ results the best in the language wins….they become most effective and therefore psychologically dominant. The winning flavour of the language swallows encompasses or bloats the existing one.

The idea of the Queens English or owt like that went long ago – it’s not the state that regulates the language it’s Hollywood and iconism now that rule the verbal roost. With every young person born in Europe, America and India the manner in which English is being spoken is changing. Every country I have been in Europe put a premium on the young talking English – many define a class status in India on being able to speak English.

The black peoples in America have put their colour in the English mix – it’s inseparably mixed now and rightly so. Ebonics is like trying to separate two tins of mixed paint – a waste of time when you could be painting

Burroughs used to say language was a virus and he was right. HipHop was an outbreak. English language was the host.

Yeah – it’s like that.

Summary

  • Black folks absopred the moment in the 80’s and created a lexicon. Hip hop shagged the crap out of English and had a baby called rap.
  • Vernacular also sprung up because of segregation and the need to be covert,
  • Wilful overloading of words and incorrect context usage was a ‘fcuk you’ to the originators/keepers of the language.
  • Repetition and stuttering and non-linear effects were expressing the digital machine age.
  • Ebonics is a red herring or a black trout or whatever
  • There is no such thing as American English

We owe a debt to Hip Hop in showing us how we can express and improvise on our feelings. The hip-hop that mattered to me was the hip hop that was the call to justice. The cause worth dying for and not stupidity and moron bravado…..of course, funny and rude is a good release valve for stories crammed with sadness. hip Hop does all of this and more which is why it hit me like a truck or is it a van?

Rap is how the poets must have spoken before great battles in the past – how people were led to freedom. We will get justice today. We will not accept the way things are.

The tempo of hip hop makes you want to get out of your seat and move to action – while the lyrics of hip hop give you a reason.

A powerful combination – birth of a nation.

Drongomala
www.drongomala.com
www.myspace.com/drongomala

Hip Hop Part 3 of X : A virus let loose on the English Language

Ingerlish – The beginnings
I mentioned briefly in the last blog (part 2) that one of the tools subverted by the hip hop phenomenon was the English language itself by the rappers and scene members. Not all musical scenes when they burst forth have a verbal equivalent that is also brought into being at the same time. Rock and roll didn’t really change the way people talked – dressed and acted – ok – but not really the vocabulary. It wasn’t the pantheon of patter that came out of hip-hop.

Hip-Hop was different.

Remember that the English language isn’t first generation stuff – it’s derived from languages that went before. In 1786 William Jones, a British judge in Calcutta, announced to a meeting of the Royal Asiatic society that his studies of the Sanskrit language (ancient core Indian language) led him to believe that it was a a cousin of Latin and Greek. He further stated that he thought there were great similarities between these three languages and Celtic, Gothic and Persian and that must have all came from the same source. This single people had brought and carried their language as far as Ireland and India where it eventually diverged into modern tongues. This single people were called the Indo Europeans and their homeland is what we now know as the modern Ukraine. 8000 years ago they left their homelands and having mastered the horse they managed to get around a bit. Genetics has also backed up this movement by tracing genes and variations.

Now languages can change for a number of reasons. The invading men kill all the other men and take the wives….words get blended together as do genes. The new language is associated with a new technology – in the case of the Europeans it was the horse and farming that peppered the language and as the technology was spread so was the language.

We can skip over the Greeks, Romans and development of English in what is now known as the UK – essentially by around 1500AD the UK was moving over to English in politics, law and as the common tongue. The Irish, Scots and Welsh had to bow to the pressure of both the military and the commercial concerns of the South and eventually English was established in the Isles as the primary tongue. Ireland still has Gaelic today but it’s dwindling, Scotland has hardly any and the small numbers of the Welsh were at least smart enough to ensure that legislation was passed to keep the Welsh language alive. The rest of the empire in India, Africa and Australia was co-erced to follow suit. English has won the war of the tongues or at least made a bloody good stab at it.

USA – the Baby is born
So that’s the British Isles…what about across the pond? The birth of hiphop? America was spawned from mostly European aspirants and a mixture of slaves taken from the southern hemisphere. It was inevitable that the language of the masters would dominate in America – and that was English. btw – can anyone tell me how Columbus discovered America when it was populated already – he was really just a violent tourist…anyways…America, the new baby, had been born and it had it’s own fair share of input to English to give.

White folks added a variety of words or alternate words like : trunk, truck, ranch and crap like that aswell as mis-spellings and changing ‘ise’ to ‘ize’ however in my mind there is no such thing as American English other than what resided in the vain minds of the American. The volume of differences is nowhere near great enough.

Black folks were adding to English aswell and the vernacular and delivery style of Hip Hop came out of the prisons, army camps and segregation – similar breeding ground for blues and gospel. Black music invariably contained feelings and words about hard times but the difference with HipHop is that it wasn’t couched in the comfortable language of the past. Hip Hop didn’t eulogise past glories or wish for better ones in the future – instead it talked of how to do it now. It wasn’t a way of just thinking – it was a way of being.

It’s all in the Delivery
Now English is classified as a non-tonal language and that means that generally when you speak it in different pitches (higher or lower) it means the same thing. That’s not to say that you can’t use English with tonality for example “you BOUGHT a James Blunt record?” – by stressing the word ‘bought’ by maybe saying it louder or in a higher pitch we convey our incredulity and surprise – the devliery adds new meaning. Most languages in Africa are tonal (except Swahili and Fulani) but as to their full effect on hip hop I’m not sure. There are a number of studies done on the influence of African tongues and tonal languages on rap but I aint really buying much of it. People talk about how rapping can be traced back to roots of poets singing or telling stories over drums – thing is – nearly every culture did this – it’s a truism of humans not a genetic group.

I think that the expressiveness of hip was born of a performance style, a political state a mentality and of a time – all done in English or ‘phreaked’ English.

The words and the delivery of the words were inseparable. It was futuristic, coded, and extremely rhythmic. Sometimes the rappers only made use of a few notes in the musical scale with which to ‘drill’ their rap home. The melodies of the raps were very simple – tweaking up and down at the beginning and ends of sentences and always pushing and playing with the groove. Radio Dj’s, comics, wilful mispronunciations and the bubbling groovy language of disco and funk also got thrown into the mix. The subversion of the language was spawning out of control like a virus. Young people didn’t want the cure and the old folks couldn’t think quick enough to come up with an antidote.

Unlike in the past where a war was needed to give a language a leg up the radio and TV stations did all the conversion very easily.

A generation was being shut out. Hip Hop Culture was codified. It was difficult for outsiders to pick up although it was really just ‘phreaked’ English.

Covert Operators
Black folks had a lot of covert talking to do in America and it’s inevitable that slang would be coded into the language. It allowed you to talk about those controlling you without them taking your head off.

Check the words out to swing Low Sweet Chariot – the old gospel tune. (My South Indian Band did a version of this on 100 Fields – due out in the last quarter of 2006). Some say this song was a code too and that the Sweet Chariot was in fact a freight train that would take them north and away from the slavery. Thing is – if you start singing about the 3.15 leaving tomorrow it’s going to work out bad for you. At least the coded versions could be sung out loud and felt inside. The secret language and delivery had been getting honed for years in the black community. As African families had been pulled apart and fragmented by their uprooting and placement in America – old traditions and language were difficult to keep up outside of a home influence. Native tongues of Africa were discouraged with sticks as it all sounded conspiratorial to the rightly paranoid slave owners.

Phreak Techniques
Slowly black America was absorbing the English language and developing it with a rhythmic delivery unseen before – drawing out words to extraordinary lengths and swooping the pitch up and down like long trombones. Code words and fun words were shoehorned in. The idea of ‘proper’ went out the window and rightly so – the African Americans delighted in chopping, shafting and ripping English and putting it back together to suit themselves again. There was a singing in it too – it had started to develop tones and nuances. English the stress language was moving into tonal territory via the performers. The sentences were being played like instruments and drumkits. Words were repeated for a machine like delivery and emphasis – the digital age of chopping and splicing had entered the words. Growls and roars were in the delivery.

There is no single moment when things like gospel became blues became soul became disco and funk then electro and hiphop. It just tends to happen same way rivers meet up. It was the same with the language – it absorbed all that its developers gave it and kept going.

Louder than a Bomb

In Hip Hop specifically African Americans stamped the culture heavily. They showed everyone what could be done with the English language when combined with a metronomic delivery. It was the sound of the inmates taking over the asylum they should never have been in. It was the sound of the human bomb. It was the terrordome and it was the truth of the world. It was as poetic a moment in the English language as when James Joyce wrote the first modernistic novel ‘Ulysses’. Chuck D and James Joyce would have had great crack in the pub together – they both speak the language of fiery romance and for my money Nation of Millions or Fear of A Black Planet are as equal as some of the finest artist statments rendered in the West.

When those hiphop wagons rolled into town they might as well have been the Ukranians riding in on horses – the spoken word was irrevocably changed in the 80s. Like the horse had propelled the roots of English around the world – the new technologies of digital and the burning street poetry of African Americas were changing the lexicon daily.

Ebonics and the Wild West

There seems to be an idea that there is some sort thing called Black English – Ebonics is the proper term. It’s academic home is Oakland, California – the same place I recorded Elemental (yes that’s a plug).

I have to laugh at the Ebonics debate and all the pious bullshit associated with it from both sides. English is a sponge and it doesn’t yet seem to have stopped absorping influence. I think the whole Ebonics gig does black folks a disservice – let time decide which aspects of English changed in our time will be kept….that’s how it’s worked for centuries. Linguistic policies of divide and conquer only end up dividing.

The Ebonics gig at root is from a mindset that wants to separate and show distinction – in reality it’s a competition. Who ever delivers ‘meaning’ or ‘achieves’ results the best in the language wins….they become most effective and therefore psychologically dominant. The winning flavour of the language swallows encompasses or bloats the existing one.

The idea of the Queens English or owt like that went long ago – it’s not the state that regulates the language it’s Hollywood and iconism now that rule the verbal roost. With every young person born in Europe, America and India the manner in which English is being spoken is changing. Every country I have been in Europe put a premium on the young talking English – many define a class status in India on being able to speak English.

The black peoples in America have put their colour in the English mix – it’s inseparably mixed now and rightly so. Ebonics is like trying to separate two tins of mixed paint – a waste of time when you could be painting

Burroughs used to say language was a virus and he was right. HipHop was an outbreak. English language was the host.

Yeah – it’s like that.

Summary

  • Black folks absopred the moment in the 80’s and created a lexicon. Hip hop shagged the crap out of English and had a baby called rap.
  • Vernacular also sprung up because of segregation and the need to be covert,
  • Wilful overloading of words and incorrect context usage was a ‘fcuk you’ to the originators/keepers of the language.
  • Repetition and stuttering and non-linear effects were expressing the digital machine age.
  • Ebonics is a red herring or a black trout or whatever
  • There is no such thing as American English

We owe a debt to Hip Hop in showing us how we can express and improvise on our feelings. The hip-hop that mattered to me was the hip hop that was the call to justice. The cause worth dying for and not stupidity and moron bravado…..of course, funny and rude is a good release valve for stories crammed with sadness. hip Hop does all of this and more which is why it hit me like a truck or is it a van?

Rap is how the poets must have spoken before great battles in the past – how people were led to freedom. We will get justice today. We will not accept the way things are.

The tempo of hip hop makes you want to get out of your seat and move to action – while the lyrics of hip hop give you a reason.

A powerful combination – birth of a nation.

Drongomala
www.drongomala.com
www.myspace.com/drongomala

Romantic Interlude

I went into the Manchester Civil Art Gallery the other day and the one painting that transfixed me was this one of the Greek Legend Sappo – an 1877 painting by Charles-August Mengin (1853-1933).

…i bought the postcard and took it home for a quid – stuck it on the side of my peripheral vision on a box of unsold CD’s ..

I only just looked it up on the internet and the pictorial life of the character Sappo unfolded before me. I knew all the characters and the situations and the story felt like shoes and lives I had worn. Suddenly this simple postcard was like the wackiest tarot ever read out…

…. a romantic interlude in pictures…..I hate the ending though….but there’s no editing her story


drongomala

Romantic Interlude

I went into the Manchester Civil Art Gallery the other day and the one painting that transfixed me was this one of the Greek Legend Sappo – an 1877 painting by Charles-August Mengin (1853-1933).

…i bought the postcard and took it home for a quid – stuck it on the side of my peripheral vision on a box of unsold CD’s ..

I only just looked it up on the internet and the pictorial life of the character Sappo unfolded before me. I knew all the characters and the situations and the story felt like shoes and lives I had worn. Suddenly this simple postcard was like the wackiest tarot ever read out…

…. a romantic interlude in pictures…..I hate the ending though….but there’s no editing her story


drongomala

Hip Hop (Part 2 of X): Subverting the tools is cool

HipHop (Part 2 of X) : Subverting the Tools is Cool

other people do the person x and y did this or that track…this isn’t one of those articles..

Digital Watches Mark The Beginning…
The moon landing set the seed of the expanding future in our parents minds of outer space and endless possibility of technology. It truth though it seemed to have no relevance on earth other than B-movie plots about giant slugs. The science fiction was confined mostly to the public imagination and private government spending and research. A generation or so later we fast forward to the 80’s and the children aren’t looking up at the skies dreaming like their parents did. Instead they are looking at the game Pong on a TV screen – transfixed by it’s simple glow – it was like Stanley Kubricks monolith had landed among the apes once again.

The 80’s was pivotal because young people around the world began to own electrical shit that wasn’t a powertool and things were branching out quite alot since the digital watch creeped into the 70’s. We weren’t building outside the mind with engines and cars and architecture – now we began to build concepts and models that weren’t in stone or glass or paint – they were in 1’s and 0’s and we couldn’t even physically touch them. Computers and digital watches with big red led faces and a whole pantheon of consumer goods hit the stores – the future was back with a vengeance. It was now possible to make electrical and computer gear cheaper and that meant mass uptake. Television and media programming helped the birth of a new language and phenomenon containing silicon, storage, memory and other digi-related nouns. The children of the 80’s saw no reason for this surge of technology to stop and they were right. The birth of the digital age? The era of electricity? …..

Like so many sociological changes it must be mass change by definition. The chaos unleashed by letting loose the peoples of the world on this technology was a glorious thing. Only by trying all the permutations of these new tools would we even begin to find out what was possible. Do you think the first person to refine iron imagined the uses it would be put to – it ended up defining an age.

Now although we are all quite happy (my readers at least) with the concept of using an invention for something it’s not meant for that doesn’t mean everybody is happy about that. Those in power always own the current culture and they have built it using the tools and the social realities they understand. They have put money into radio being sent out in a certain way, running big studios with analog desks, charging for sending information back and forth….you get the picture….the music and the film industries seem to be the perfect example of this. Youth being youth don’t give a shit how their parents did things and thankfully this bucking at tradition keeps culture from falling into a big black hole called entropy. It’s important we try all the permutations and as there are billions of us it’s not too hard to do.

Subverting the Tools?
So the revolutionaries, the new breed – how do they come into the mix and change things? What do you mean subverting? What about hip hop man? Okay…I promise I’ll get there 😉

  • 1835, Samuel Morse proved that signals could be transmitted by wire. It gives birth to the morse code industry which is then killed off in 1877 by a rival – the telephone. Same mechanism different concept about encoding signals.
  • 1877 : Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. He thought it was going to be useful for recording contractual agreements as they would be clearer…, of course it kick started the music industry and he only joins in because his competitors threaten to overtake him.
  • 1940’s cassette tape invented and soon after two French mentalists (Pierre Shaeffer and Pierre Henry) experiment with playing it backwards and forwards aswell as chopped up and looped – ‘musique concrete’. Definitely not normal behaviours but such irreverence to the medium gave birth to all sound ‘chopping’ of today.
  • 1946: ENIAC – the first electronic digital computer, is switched on and in 1957 Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson got a computer to compose a piece of music then played by a string quartet.
  • 1951: Sun Studios in Memphis, guitarist Willie Kizart dropped his amp and busted a speaker cone. The result was an “unruly hum” as heard on Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats – it’s the beginning of distortion as a legit sound and not an engineering mistake. Culture decides – fucked up sounding is like my life so leave the noisy bit in please….Hendrix lights up the 70’s using distortion – redefining guitar.
  • 1981: Kraftwerk develop bespoke instruments from random computer gear not intended for music such as mainframes , calculators and retrofitting rhythm devices to research gear.
  • 1989 Internet invented (or ‘running’) Web and hypertext itself. Originally, TBL just wanted to help physicists publish and share their works. Little did they know blah blah..

Good or should I say ‘Functionally Healthy’ subcultures fuck with the existing tools of the mainstream or current culture. They play with it like a child and sometimes they go ‘WAh!!” and break it. The inventors can never imageine what the children will really do. People invent things from other things. They have to – it’s what’s around. They take back the power by subverting and bending existing innovations to create their own subculture. They can’t invest in new technologies because they don’t have the cash – they have to use what is already around.

We should really think of the present and the future as waves that are crashing upon themselves. That’s a lot of noise and froth. Now digital technology was part of the sea. The Ying of our Digital Inventions to the Yang of the Analog World.

In the 1980’s there was a great wave called HipHop which rose to three times the height in the ocean – a culture tsunami – three waves combined to make one seriously big wave and subsequently a sea change.

A BIG WAVE MADE OF 3 WAVES

WAVE 1 : MUSIC : The tempo of revelation

One other element about the beginnings of this electronic music was that it allowed artists to have their compositions run at an exact tempo – over and over again with reliability. This was a very big deal and was a massive break from the analog world of flamenco guitar players, bagpipers and rock groups where the musicians would naturally move around the tempo – if they were excited they might play faster – and of course for compositional effect they may choose to speed up and slow down.

Let’s remember that music is physical – it’s waves (and particles) coming out of those speakers all over your body and into your ear. The ability to make the tempo run at exactly 80 or 90 beats per second for the duration of the piece meant that the audience were ‘hypnotised’ in a new way – an almost scientific way. Our body has tempo’s and clocks built into it (stomach, brain, eye, heart) and when we are subjected to music for a duration of time we will naturally tend to resonate or ‘merge’ with it. Same as you do when you bob around in the sea….it’s hard to avoid.

My contention is that a constant stable tempo is a good tempo to receive ‘programming’ while a varying tempo is a good fun for an ‘exciting ride’ of emotions – yes I do mean the difference between rap and rock ‘n’roll … kinda. James Brown had moved towards the repetitive metronomic funk in the analog world with his band that were fined wages for wrong notes and then it went even further with hip hop – dissecting real and unreal grooves like wizards of stereo sound and pushing and pulling the rhythms and sound collages back and forth by a measure of milliseconds.

One of my favourite images of Lee Perry is some video footage of him in the Studio where he sticks his head up to the control room window and shouts at the drummer “Play it like a Machine Man or I kill you…Do you hear me man!?” Lee Perry knew that the hypnotic effect of dub was better achieved by keeping the tempo or ‘spell’ constant.

The smart hip hoppers get this and I remember hearing KRS-1 say that hip hop is the tempo of revelation. A good tempo for the narrator to get inside your brain. Black youth were rightly twitchy and agitated and when the tech democratisation of two turntables and a microphone allowed anyone to get involved – well a lot of people had a lot of things to say in the black community …this element in the music spoke to me…. the energy – the growls – the chaos – the truth

Check it

  • adult human heart, at rest, beats at about 70 bpm (males) and 75 bpm (females).
  • Hip hop tempo 70-110 bpm
  • House 110-140 bpm
  • Jungle 140-190 bpm. (But that’s really a half-time gig:)
  • 200 onwards – lunatics with drill samples

So hip hop is generally just above our natural ‘rest’ point and just before our shake out booty point. It’s pitched just right above your natural rest state – an incitement to get up…to be motivated…to kill inaction… to stand up – stop resting….that’s why when it hit in the US first it was the voice of revalation….the English language was being rolled and twisted and stuttered and presented back to it’s semi-owners….they didn’t understand it….the people understood it – never since the Celts and the Indians took a hold of the English language and shook some poetry into it had the medium of English speech been shaken. 1980’s baby. Forget shit like Ultravox….couple of good tracks but nothing that blasted a hole as big as this….hip hop was an explosion…..a verbal explosion at the tempo of revalation…..thank the gods the voice had became much stronger and not a moment too soon….

Lots of people were super unhappy about this new powerful voice. They had been in the mind games business long enough to know this was a powerful tool. They didn’t understand the language of the music and the lawyers didn’t really know how to legislate for the chopping up and sampling of the existing copyrighted funk tunes and rare grooves that were ‘liberated’. The content of the lyrics were confrontational – voices that have been quashed always shout when they can first make sound again. …and like a loud sound in a public place everyone turned their head to look.

The scene and ideologies galvanised people – the lexicon and approach spread and before you know it…..the ripples reached the UK and then into even further unchartered territory – the lost lands of Cowdenbeath…..me imploring relatives to bring back books on graffiti from their trips to New York….the ripple went far and it changed the ocean..

Stravinsky succinctly reminds us not to be precious with owt:

“the danger lies not in the borrowing of clichés. The danger lies in fabricating them and in bestowing on them the force of law, a tyranny….”

I remember hearing Public Enemy’s ‘Nation of Millions’ and ‘Fear Of a Black Planet’ for the first time and the human drama was as visceral as Mozarts requiems. What have I heard in the UK that’s done the same for me? Asian Dub foundation and after that on the polticial voice rising there wasn’t much….but now everyone has ‘settled’ in the West we are now discovering that we are still unhappy and can’t quite put the finger on it….oh yeah – we are all born into a world already carved up…;)

WAVE 2 – GRAFFITTI
The new houses are often built using the bricks of the old for reasons of pragmatism – it’s what was lying around. And for hip hop events that meant old records, bits of electronics, street sound samples and big sound systems cobbled together from multiple speakers.

There was also a counterpart to the gig or party that the music had going on which was the graffiti ‘happening’…where one day from nowhere a massive mural/piece would appear from nowhere throwing the whole context of an area into another dimension….it could have been a moving train or the side of a burnt out building. Andy Warhol is his biggest wet dream wishes you could have conspired poetic events such as these…..instead he fannied around safely indoors replicating expensive colours on top of expensive materials and fabrics. Graffitti writers nicked the paint and worked at night by torchlight and spoke with a visual style that the overstudied and frazzled Warhol could never plug into.

These burners could never be sold and after a while the graffitti writers got into business although the mainstream was onto it already. Beat Street and all kinds of movies helped graffiti blow up everywhere.

It’s a fact that you have to burn to want to do graffiti – it’s not easy – the proportions, the paint running, the speed of operation and the fact that it’s against the law and the stopwatch doesn’t last long from the first fence climbed into the yard makes. When you are not allowed to take part in the development of the way the cities and countries look architecturally then the under classes will always just do their thing on top of it….


In fact it tends to be a feature of democratic states with fascist undertones (US…..northern Ireland, Spain…Paris etc….graffiti/burners/murals are common in all of these places …and now in Eastern Europe things are on the rise with excellent graffiti writers doing their thing – the context just as poetic as any…..it’s the resistance trying to lift the spirits of the people ….the democratic bit means that you don’t get executed for the graffiti….although Mayor Kotsch in New York was close to passing the law;)

It’s clear that graffiti (Greek for ‘writing’) as manifest in the Hip Hop culture saw the age old tradition of rebellious defacing of property updated to new heights – these pieces were not just the simple complaints of citizens with a a scrawl on a Colleseum wall – these we moving trains of steel covered on sometimes more than 2 cars – a huge rainbow going through the city…. Or Spitting demons on the side of a liquor store, cartoon characters from the nations youth were twisted and distorted on huge walls. The kids were having ‘their way’ with the mindset of the people.

Wildstyle graffiti was the epitome of this visual subversion and it was the most covert of codes – a complicated construction of interlocking letters often completely undecipherable to non-writers.

My uncle brought that book back from America and it was hot – he must have been connected OR things had went so mainstream that he picked it up at K-Mart or Macies more like. It was 1984 Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper, – Subway Art. It’s even got big gatefold pullout sections!

I’’ve watched these two resources below and they are solid and have been for years…ones for your favourites…tell em this article sent ye…

http://www.duncancumming.co.uk/photos.cfm
www.graffiti.org

WAVE 3 – DANCE

The paths to dancing before break dancing took the streets were :

1.Ballet -> jazzdance -> then solo improv’s where you might express your inner whatever. It cost a lot.
2. Life with a gypsy troupe doing flamenco and Indian dances, being hounded by the police and doing dramatic stuff round campfires.
3. ‘Ethnic’ Dance. Don’t get me started.
3. Tap Lessons from your Granddad.
4. HipHopRoute : Straight to a lino shop and then down your mates and expressed your inner whatever.

Those weird moves that came into being….all the shudders, and sine waves through the body and the ‘robot’ and the repeated movements were like the movements of the times….the tech mindset had entered dance….which made sense when you think about how ‘things’ end up in dance…

Waving your arms around your head and making a whooshing sound like a nonce happened because of the branches on trees swaying to our ancestors who mimicked it ……makes sense that the tech’ should enter dance at some point …..it wasn’t the trees now it was moves like ‘helicopter’, ‘colt 45’, ‘jackhammer’ and ‘drill headspin’. The floorwork of breaking, which is most like gymnastics, seemed to concentrate on the urban machine shapes while the dance moves of those popping and locking crew on the west coast were digital, electronic and spage age like : robot(tin), Strobing, Ticking, (energy)Waving, animation popping, gliding

Do you think the inventor of the strobe light thought that dancers would try and make it look like they were under a strobe light that wasn’t there – artificially cutting visual frames to appear stuttered under normal lighting…..no way – chaos was in delicious effect and the dancers were having it….the jazz and ballet dancers shat themselves and quickly aligned to include ‘street’ dance into the syllabus…..they might as well have called it tech dance.

My opinion on breakdancing…I think that breaking now in 2006 concentrates way too much on floorwork gymnastics and not enough on being the funkiest bastard in the universe….and that’s why my allegiance lies with the California poppers and lockers …… plus I’ve hurt myself in the past doing floor stuff way too many times. Check these typical break-dance injuries! My favourite times in hiphop clubs was never around when the best DJ was playing it was when a crew out of nowhere starts to get down in the club……breakdancing can occur anywhere and when it does….it’s unbeatable. …the ballet is nice but breakin is the shit.

The world of dance had changed overnight….finally the techno in our minds and our society melted into dance moves….. the progression of dance moved one step further from jazz -> breaking.

SUMMARY
It is the role of the sub-culture to subvert the mechanisms of the upper culture – it’s homely term is called ‘stirring the pot’ and the military term is storming the castle using the enemies guns against them. It comes out in all different ways in history ….. and in 1980 it happened as Hip Hop on three fronts of music, dance and graphics.

It had a synergy with all three elements happening at the same time and it’s impact is still felt today. It’s a spirit – I often think the punk bands have a bigger connection with the spirit of hip-hop than some of the current hip hoppers do….

Hip hop is almost a methodology rather than a genre.
Hip Hop’s genesis was about reinvention of tech and language for empowerment.
Young Black America spoke with poignancy at the right time and the right tempo of revelation for it to sink in right. Things changed overnight.

….and here it is in 2006 – i recorded a record called Elemental with a buddy 4D in sanfrancisco. We used an ipod as our hard-drive and did it in a kitchen on a laptop. New orleans had revealed just how the government felt about black folks when in a crisis and the rappers that came through the kitchen had no real problem in getting heat….we didn’t do rehearsals – it was … here’s the beat and go….that’s punk, that’s jazz, that’s hip hop and the truth of the matter is on the record – yes this is a plug but it’s a righteous one. We hope to do some shows in the summer.

people – if you got to the end of this then thankyou…..it’s been on my mind you know?

Drongomala
www.drongomala.com
www.myspace.com/drongomala

Hip Hop (Part 2 of X): Subverting the tools is cool

HipHop (Part 2 of X) : Subverting the Tools is Cool

other people do the person x and y did this or that track…this isn’t one of those articles..

Digital Watches Mark The Beginning…
The moon landing set the seed of the expanding future in our parents minds of outer space and endless possibility of technology. It truth though it seemed to have no relevance on earth other than B-movie plots about giant slugs. The science fiction was confined mostly to the public imagination and private government spending and research. A generation or so later we fast forward to the 80’s and the children aren’t looking up at the skies dreaming like their parents did. Instead they are looking at the game Pong on a TV screen – transfixed by it’s simple glow – it was like Stanley Kubricks monolith had landed among the apes once again.

The 80’s was pivotal because young people around the world began to own electrical shit that wasn’t a powertool and things were branching out quite alot since the digital watch creeped into the 70’s. We weren’t building outside the mind with engines and cars and architecture – now we began to build concepts and models that weren’t in stone or glass or paint – they were in 1’s and 0’s and we couldn’t even physically touch them. Computers and digital watches with big red led faces and a whole pantheon of consumer goods hit the stores – the future was back with a vengeance. It was now possible to make electrical and computer gear cheaper and that meant mass uptake. Television and media programming helped the birth of a new language and phenomenon containing silicon, storage, memory and other digi-related nouns. The children of the 80’s saw no reason for this surge of technology to stop and they were right. The birth of the digital age? The era of electricity? …..

Like so many sociological changes it must be mass change by definition. The chaos unleashed by letting loose the peoples of the world on this technology was a glorious thing. Only by trying all the permutations of these new tools would we even begin to find out what was possible. Do you think the first person to refine iron imagined the uses it would be put to – it ended up defining an age.

Now although we are all quite happy (my readers at least) with the concept of using an invention for something it’s not meant for that doesn’t mean everybody is happy about that. Those in power always own the current culture and they have built it using the tools and the social realities they understand. They have put money into radio being sent out in a certain way, running big studios with analog desks, charging for sending information back and forth….you get the picture….the music and the film industries seem to be the perfect example of this. Youth being youth don’t give a shit how their parents did things and thankfully this bucking at tradition keeps culture from falling into a big black hole called entropy. It’s important we try all the permutations and as there are billions of us it’s not too hard to do.

Subverting the Tools?
So the revolutionaries, the new breed – how do they come into the mix and change things? What do you mean subverting? What about hip hop man? Okay…I promise I’ll get there 😉

  • 1835, Samuel Morse proved that signals could be transmitted by wire. It gives birth to the morse code industry which is then killed off in 1877 by a rival – the telephone. Same mechanism different concept about encoding signals.
  • 1877 : Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. He thought it was going to be useful for recording contractual agreements as they would be clearer…, of course it kick started the music industry and he only joins in because his competitors threaten to overtake him.
  • 1940’s cassette tape invented and soon after two French mentalists (Pierre Shaeffer and Pierre Henry) experiment with playing it backwards and forwards aswell as chopped up and looped – ‘musique concrete’. Definitely not normal behaviours but such irreverence to the medium gave birth to all sound ‘chopping’ of today.
  • 1946: ENIAC – the first electronic digital computer, is switched on and in 1957 Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson got a computer to compose a piece of music then played by a string quartet.
  • 1951: Sun Studios in Memphis, guitarist Willie Kizart dropped his amp and busted a speaker cone. The result was an “unruly hum” as heard on Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats – it’s the beginning of distortion as a legit sound and not an engineering mistake. Culture decides – fucked up sounding is like my life so leave the noisy bit in please….Hendrix lights up the 70’s using distortion – redefining guitar.
  • 1981: Kraftwerk develop bespoke instruments from random computer gear not intended for music such as mainframes , calculators and retrofitting rhythm devices to research gear.
  • 1989 Internet invented (or ‘running’) Web and hypertext itself. Originally, TBL just wanted to help physicists publish and share their works. Little did they know blah blah..

Good or should I say ‘Functionally Healthy’ subcultures fuck with the existing tools of the mainstream or current culture. They play with it like a child and sometimes they go ‘WAh!!” and break it. The inventors can never imageine what the children will really do. People invent things from other things. They have to – it’s what’s around. They take back the power by subverting and bending existing innovations to create their own subculture. They can’t invest in new technologies because they don’t have the cash – they have to use what is already around.

We should really think of the present and the future as waves that are crashing upon themselves. That’s a lot of noise and froth. Now digital technology was part of the sea. The Ying of our Digital Inventions to the Yang of the Analog World.

In the 1980’s there was a great wave called HipHop which rose to three times the height in the ocean – a culture tsunami – three waves combined to make one seriously big wave and subsequently a sea change.

A BIG WAVE MADE OF 3 WAVES

WAVE 1 : MUSIC : The tempo of revelation

One other element about the beginnings of this electronic music was that it allowed artists to have their compositions run at an exact tempo – over and over again with reliability. This was a very big deal and was a massive break from the analog world of flamenco guitar players, bagpipers and rock groups where the musicians would naturally move around the tempo – if they were excited they might play faster – and of course for compositional effect they may choose to speed up and slow down.

Let’s remember that music is physical – it’s waves (and particles) coming out of those speakers all over your body and into your ear. The ability to make the tempo run at exactly 80 or 90 beats per second for the duration of the piece meant that the audience were ‘hypnotised’ in a new way – an almost scientific way. Our body has tempo’s and clocks built into it (stomach, brain, eye, heart) and when we are subjected to music for a duration of time we will naturally tend to resonate or ‘merge’ with it. Same as you do when you bob around in the sea….it’s hard to avoid.

My contention is that a constant stable tempo is a good tempo to receive ‘programming’ while a varying tempo is a good fun for an ‘exciting ride’ of emotions – yes I do mean the difference between rap and rock ‘n’roll … kinda. James Brown had moved towards the repetitive metronomic funk in the analog world with his band that were fined wages for wrong notes and then it went even further with hip hop – dissecting real and unreal grooves like wizards of stereo sound and pushing and pulling the rhythms and sound collages back and forth by a measure of milliseconds.

One of my favourite images of Lee Perry is some video footage of him in the Studio where he sticks his head up to the control room window and shouts at the drummer “Play it like a Machine Man or I kill you…Do you hear me man!?” Lee Perry knew that the hypnotic effect of dub was better achieved by keeping the tempo or ‘spell’ constant.

The smart hip hoppers get this and I remember hearing KRS-1 say that hip hop is the tempo of revelation. A good tempo for the narrator to get inside your brain. Black youth were rightly twitchy and agitated and when the tech democratisation of two turntables and a microphone allowed anyone to get involved – well a lot of people had a lot of things to say in the black community …this element in the music spoke to me…. the energy – the growls – the chaos – the truth

Check it

  • adult human heart, at rest, beats at about 70 bpm (males) and 75 bpm (females).
  • Hip hop tempo 70-110 bpm
  • House 110-140 bpm
  • Jungle 140-190 bpm. (But that’s really a half-time gig:)
  • 200 onwards – lunatics with drill samples

So hip hop is generally just above our natural ‘rest’ point and just before our shake out booty point. It’s pitched just right above your natural rest state – an incitement to get up…to be motivated…to kill inaction… to stand up – stop resting….that’s why when it hit in the US first it was the voice of revalation….the English language was being rolled and twisted and stuttered and presented back to it’s semi-owners….they didn’t understand it….the people understood it – never since the Celts and the Indians took a hold of the English language and shook some poetry into it had the medium of English speech been shaken. 1980’s baby. Forget shit like Ultravox….couple of good tracks but nothing that blasted a hole as big as this….hip hop was an explosion…..a verbal explosion at the tempo of revalation…..thank the gods the voice had became much stronger and not a moment too soon….

Lots of people were super unhappy about this new powerful voice. They had been in the mind games business long enough to know this was a powerful tool. They didn’t understand the language of the music and the lawyers didn’t really know how to legislate for the chopping up and sampling of the existing copyrighted funk tunes and rare grooves that were ‘liberated’. The content of the lyrics were confrontational – voices that have been quashed always shout when they can first make sound again. …and like a loud sound in a public place everyone turned their head to look.

The scene and ideologies galvanised people – the lexicon and approach spread and before you know it…..the ripples reached the UK and then into even further unchartered territory – the lost lands of Cowdenbeath…..me imploring relatives to bring back books on graffiti from their trips to New York….the ripple went far and it changed the ocean..

Stravinsky succinctly reminds us not to be precious with owt:

“the danger lies not in the borrowing of clichés. The danger lies in fabricating them and in bestowing on them the force of law, a tyranny….”

I remember hearing Public Enemy’s ‘Nation of Millions’ and ‘Fear Of a Black Planet’ for the first time and the human drama was as visceral as Mozarts requiems. What have I heard in the UK that’s done the same for me? Asian Dub foundation and after that on the polticial voice rising there wasn’t much….but now everyone has ‘settled’ in the West we are now discovering that we are still unhappy and can’t quite put the finger on it….oh yeah – we are all born into a world already carved up…;)

WAVE 2 – GRAFFITTI
The new houses are often built using the bricks of the old for reasons of pragmatism – it’s what was lying around. And for hip hop events that meant old records, bits of electronics, street sound samples and big sound systems cobbled together from multiple speakers.

There was also a counterpart to the gig or party that the music had going on which was the graffiti ‘happening’…where one day from nowhere a massive mural/piece would appear from nowhere throwing the whole context of an area into another dimension….it could have been a moving train or the side of a burnt out building. Andy Warhol is his biggest wet dream wishes you could have conspired poetic events such as these…..instead he fannied around safely indoors replicating expensive colours on top of expensive materials and fabrics. Graffitti writers nicked the paint and worked at night by torchlight and spoke with a visual style that the overstudied and frazzled Warhol could never plug into.

These burners could never be sold and after a while the graffitti writers got into business although the mainstream was onto it already. Beat Street and all kinds of movies helped graffiti blow up everywhere.

It’s a fact that you have to burn to want to do graffiti – it’s not easy – the proportions, the paint running, the speed of operation and the fact that it’s against the law and the stopwatch doesn’t last long from the first fence climbed into the yard makes. When you are not allowed to take part in the development of the way the cities and countries look architecturally then the under classes will always just do their thing on top of it….


In fact it tends to be a feature of democratic states with fascist undertones (US…..northern Ireland, Spain…Paris etc….graffiti/burners/murals are common in all of these places …and now in Eastern Europe things are on the rise with excellent graffiti writers doing their thing – the context just as poetic as any…..it’s the resistance trying to lift the spirits of the people ….the democratic bit means that you don’t get executed for the graffiti….although Mayor Kotsch in New York was close to passing the law;)

It’s clear that graffiti (Greek for ‘writing’) as manifest in the Hip Hop culture saw the age old tradition of rebellious defacing of property updated to new heights – these pieces were not just the simple complaints of citizens with a a scrawl on a Colleseum wall – these we moving trains of steel covered on sometimes more than 2 cars – a huge rainbow going through the city…. Or Spitting demons on the side of a liquor store, cartoon characters from the nations youth were twisted and distorted on huge walls. The kids were having ‘their way’ with the mindset of the people.

Wildstyle graffiti was the epitome of this visual subversion and it was the most covert of codes – a complicated construction of interlocking letters often completely undecipherable to non-writers.

My uncle brought that book back from America and it was hot – he must have been connected OR things had went so mainstream that he picked it up at K-Mart or Macies more like. It was 1984 Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper, – Subway Art. It’s even got big gatefold pullout sections!

I’’ve watched these two resources below and they are solid and have been for years…ones for your favourites…tell em this article sent ye…

http://www.duncancumming.co.uk/photos.cfm
www.graffiti.org

WAVE 3 – DANCE

The paths to dancing before break dancing took the streets were :

1.Ballet -> jazzdance -> then solo improv’s where you might express your inner whatever. It cost a lot.
2. Life with a gypsy troupe doing flamenco and Indian dances, being hounded by the police and doing dramatic stuff round campfires.
3. ‘Ethnic’ Dance. Don’t get me started.
3. Tap Lessons from your Granddad.
4. HipHopRoute : Straight to a lino shop and then down your mates and expressed your inner whatever.

Those weird moves that came into being….all the shudders, and sine waves through the body and the ‘robot’ and the repeated movements were like the movements of the times….the tech mindset had entered dance….which made sense when you think about how ‘things’ end up in dance…

Waving your arms around your head and making a whooshing sound like a nonce happened because of the branches on trees swaying to our ancestors who mimicked it ……makes sense that the tech’ should enter dance at some point …..it wasn’t the trees now it was moves like ‘helicopter’, ‘colt 45’, ‘jackhammer’ and ‘drill headspin’. The floorwork of breaking, which is most like gymnastics, seemed to concentrate on the urban machine shapes while the dance moves of those popping and locking crew on the west coast were digital, electronic and spage age like : robot(tin), Strobing, Ticking, (energy)Waving, animation popping, gliding

Do you think the inventor of the strobe light thought that dancers would try and make it look like they were under a strobe light that wasn’t there – artificially cutting visual frames to appear stuttered under normal lighting…..no way – chaos was in delicious effect and the dancers were having it….the jazz and ballet dancers shat themselves and quickly aligned to include ‘street’ dance into the syllabus…..they might as well have called it tech dance.

My opinion on breakdancing…I think that breaking now in 2006 concentrates way too much on floorwork gymnastics and not enough on being the funkiest bastard in the universe….and that’s why my allegiance lies with the California poppers and lockers …… plus I’ve hurt myself in the past doing floor stuff way too many times. Check these typical break-dance injuries! My favourite times in hiphop clubs was never around when the best DJ was playing it was when a crew out of nowhere starts to get down in the club……breakdancing can occur anywhere and when it does….it’s unbeatable. …the ballet is nice but breakin is the shit.

The world of dance had changed overnight….finally the techno in our minds and our society melted into dance moves….. the progression of dance moved one step further from jazz -> breaking.

SUMMARY
It is the role of the sub-culture to subvert the mechanisms of the upper culture – it’s homely term is called ‘stirring the pot’ and the military term is storming the castle using the enemies guns against them. It comes out in all different ways in history ….. and in 1980 it happened as Hip Hop on three fronts of music, dance and graphics.

It had a synergy with all three elements happening at the same time and it’s impact is still felt today. It’s a spirit – I often think the punk bands have a bigger connection with the spirit of hip-hop than some of the current hip hoppers do….

Hip hop is almost a methodology rather than a genre.
Hip Hop’s genesis was about reinvention of tech and language for empowerment.
Young Black America spoke with poignancy at the right time and the right tempo of revelation for it to sink in right. Things changed overnight.

….and here it is in 2006 – i recorded a record called Elemental with a buddy 4D in sanfrancisco. We used an ipod as our hard-drive and did it in a kitchen on a laptop. New orleans had revealed just how the government felt about black folks when in a crisis and the rappers that came through the kitchen had no real problem in getting heat….we didn’t do rehearsals – it was … here’s the beat and go….that’s punk, that’s jazz, that’s hip hop and the truth of the matter is on the record – yes this is a plug but it’s a righteous one. We hope to do some shows in the summer.

people – if you got to the end of this then thankyou…..it’s been on my mind you know?

Drongomala
www.drongomala.com
www.myspace.com/drongomala