WRESTLING WITH COLIN NEWMAN
When you interview someone, you're not used to being put on the spot but that's what happened. Colin was just being a little playful and drawing me out. Luckily, we didn't have to step outside to settle this kind of thing- would have been hard to do since we're on either side of the Atlantic right now. When you like to think that you're 'hip,' the last thing you want to hear is 'you sound like your dad' (I wonder what Colin's dad listened to). Anyway, peace prevailed and we managed to get an interesting conversation going rather than me just grilling him with questions.
PSF: As you work with electronic music, does it ever concern you about losing a 'human' element to it? How do you avoid this trap?
COLIN: A spurious argument. It's very hard for someone in London to imagine why anyone would want to ask this question, I'm being honest. This is an 80's question. We're nearly in the next millenium!
PSF: What you say is true but a lot of dance/electronic music that I hear on the radio here in the U.S. is not only soul-less but also brainless: it's probably my fault for trying to swallow this junk that they try to shove down my throat. To all these flim-flam 'artists,' they merely let the tape roll and laugh all the way to the bank. Even a lot of talented artists in this medium actually want their music to be 'machine-like' and 'mechanical' so I don't think this problem has been fully confronted and understood. Just my opinion.
COLIN: The problem is that you come off like someone who doesn't understand the language. If you expect new forms of music to conform to the aesthetic of previous forms then you have no chance to understand anything. Of course people will take up the gauntlett and throw it in the face of the previous generation (god save us from taste!!) Also I somewhat resent the idea that Swim is putting out "melodic techno." To a London person this just means "old fashioned crap". Sorry to be so tough.
I'm sure there is plenty of brainless techno etc. (and it's absolutely not news that US radio is full of crap) Some of the best is the most brainless! (and what did the Ramones ever do for intelligent music!!). You sound like your dad. "I can't make out this music, you can't hear the words and why can't they sing a decent tune"..
PSF: Well, my dad DID hate rock'n'roll (no big surprise from his generation) but I don't hate techno and electronic music. DJ Shadow, u-Ziq, Whale, Prince Charming and Utah Saints, for instance, are very accomplished and interesting artists I would say. A lot of what I've heard isn't necessarily 'bad' but I keep thinking that I would appreciate more if I was at a club or disco.
If a style of music does conform to previous standards of other styles, then it IS dead on its feet. No argument there. It's more a matter of personal taste and what you what to subject your eardrums to. I'd have no problem listening to Kraftwerk, Huun-Huur-Tu, Fela Kuti, the Fugs, Flipper, the Stooges, or the Chemical Brothers all day because there's some content or (maybe misguided) purpose behind their work: with all of them, I can usually never make out the words and they don't carry 'decent tunes' but I love them knowing that this isn't what I should be expecting from any of them anyway. On the other hand, I don't hold it against any group that does know how to carry a tune or enunciate.
COLIN: I'm glad I finally prompted you to tell me what you like! Don't take offense I'm just trying to stimulate a bit of discussion!!! Sometimes I like to play the devil's advocate to see what happens!!!
Although North America is finally embracing so called "electronic" music it's a cause of great distress & sorrow from many in the North American scene (many of whom have almost godlike status over here) that so many people know say Orbital or the Chemical Brothers but don't know Carl Craig or Marshall Jefferson or Jeff Mills or Mike Banks or Claude Young. This is quite an issue to us as we know some of these people and want to be careful to credit their influence. These are the contemporary bluesmen!!! You are right that dance music is often best heard "played out" as they say here although the music tends to divide between "floor," "chill" & "listening." There are loads of bad things about DJ culture but the fact that the front room or the rock concert are not always the best setting to hear the music does create cultural misunderstandings.
The thing is that Swim is a record company and we support many (often conflicting in some people's view) styles from the introspective listening of Lobe to the full on totally minimal floor of g-man & the g artists. The language really can be a problem. Especially as the web is a medium which does not respect national sensibilities.
I think my bottom line is that North America in 1997 is on the brink of a total sea change about the content of popular music should be. There is a huge challenge here because attitudes are changing from "that bloke from wire who went bonkers and got into all that horrible machine music" to a situation where we can be a genuine source for interesting contemporary music for a generation who can't stand the negativeness or bland middle of the roadieness that has charecterised so much of what has purported to be "the kids' " music over the last 10 years. This is all happening against a backdrop of close to blind panic in retail as the majors see their "big" releases "failing" (in comparitive terms), real sales are going down year on year in the USA whereas they are rising year on year here. The majors will go for lowest common denominator "dance" releases and won't succeed in this either. The oportunities for the right kind of music from the right kind of source are quite awesome. This is why I'm being so picky about the language!!!
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