Monday, April 23, 2007

Pop goes what?

I spent the past weekend in what I considered to be great weather, until I returned back to my beloved Montreal only to find that it had transformed into wonderful spring. My trip was to Seattle and the Experience Music Project's 6th annual Pop Conference to present a paper, alongside the talented Mr. Dave Stelfox, entitled "'Screwing up the world': Hip Hop Slows Down And Makes Do In Houston, Texas."

I've been forcing people to listen to plodding hip hop and R&B for quite some time, insisting that everything really does sound better slow. Dave and I had a bit of a time of it trying to figure out how to bring together a journalist (him) and an academic (me) to cook up something that might explain the whys and hows of a genre of music that, upon first listen, defys explanation. If I may say so myself, after much consternation, we did a good job.

There were some spectacular papers at the conference. I'll prolly tell all of you about them when we sit down and have a glass of wine on a terasse. Soon.

Until then, here's Dave's and my abstract:

Michel De Certeau speaks of divining "ways of using the constraining order of place.” In the case of Houston, not only do we find oppressive heat, the city’s hometown rap scene also comes under similar pressure. Texan hip hop is squeezed between the east and west coasts. The "art of being between" and the "unexpected results" of which De Certeau speaks, are evidenced here—in the form of gorgeous tonalities and deep, vulnerable strains, all created by taking regular hip-hop and simply slowing it down.

Far from being an underground phenomenon, slowed music represents a genuine “alternative mainstream” culture, enjoying massive audiences throughout the Southern states. A rudimentary, yet dazzlingly effective way to recontextualize existing records in a truly original way, it also lays claim to this region’s own special place in wider hip hop culture. Taking into account the spatiality of these recordings, this paper will explore what happens when the world turns slow.

DJ Screw, originator or slowed or “Screwed” remixing, becomes not simply a turntablist, but a revolutionary. The desire is not to rework a track, but to let it breathe, to open it up. The integrity of the song is maintained—it is the same product as before, but the way that it is experienced changes. It's filtered through heat, through drugs (don't think that the screwed and chopped style isn't also a manifestation of the codeine cough syrup so popular in Houston), through America, through hip hop, until it begins to "function in a different register." If Paul Virillio believes that speed is the essence of American life, screwed tunes present a response.

The legendary story of DJ Screw's accidental discovery of the transformative power of slowness is a profound act of "making do." That screwed music has become a genre now entering the mainstream demonstrates the momentum of a movement, or a need, as opposed to a considered idea. The existence of hundreds (if not thousands) of Screw's mixtapes is evidence of this need to make do. Screwed and chopped music, as representative of a reaction to a space and place is essentially an example of just doin' it because they are, they can and they do.


Terrance said...

Of course D.J. Screw and the whole hip-hop thing could be owing to an incredible lack of talent, lack of education, laziness, endemically broad-based exploitation and group-think. These people continue to be opressed - it's that simple. When I was a kid and had not yet formed an identity, my mother thought the noise I made with pots and pans was beautiful too. However, she did not praise me so much that I kept making the racket into my teens, nor did she soliliquize or tell the neighbours all about it so they'd think she was really with it. And she certainly didn't hang out with me ad nauseum just so that I would like her. As my identity continued to be formed through healthy human relationships, interactions, exposure to a variety of situations and education in general, she did not hand me more pots and pans. Instead, she encouraged me to play a real instrument.

Deep think that one. But as consilation, at list all yer lerning has ya able ta writ stuf reel good. Simbody's made monee off'n ya thaz fir sur.

erin said...

oh, terrance. "that whole hip hop thing" is a lot more interesting and less threatening than you think.

if it's so illegitimate, why bother to complain? just ignore it and hope that the rest of us will one day wake up and start playing "real instruments".

Terrance said...

Ya. You're probably right. Slavery's pretty cool too isn't it?