Uniformity breeds content breeds conformity… What were the 80’s? What was 80’s music? When D’arcangelo throw an acoustic psychogeographical spanner into the works everyone behaves like Pavlov’s dogs. I’m told that one side of their ep is “a joke” or “a waste of time”, that I should go for the noise side and ignore the other. O.k. So the label might be Rephlex, who wear their jokes to a veneer thin-ness, but now D’Arcangelo (under the name Centuria) have gone and done the same thing on that well respected label Zero Tolerance. What’s worse is that these ‘80’s mixes’ or ‘80’s compositions’ draw me in.
As with all assessment of music and musical impact there is a great deal of subjectivity, and much of this subjectivity is tied into youth and its subsequent nostalgia. Being a teenager at the start of the 80’s it is useful to comment on electronic music and the general existence of this music as a cultural force in the wider picture. In the 80’s much of everything became symbolic (so the philosopher Baudrillard informed us). Wealth mutated to symbolism (the rise of the yuppie), its opposition took a similar path (the rise of Class War), and eventually critical theory accepted what it ‘critically’ forecasted and declined into the realm of the symbolic (Kroker, the advent of cultural studies, Nick Land, etc). In the ‘real’ world the 1980’s saw the defeat of the miners and so the opinion was spread that the sleeping giant of industrial unrest had been effectively tranquillised. So the ‘virtual’ world had free reign – and it is here that culture (and music) had most importance. The onslaught of advertising, the retreat into individualism, lifestyle programming, and personal technologies (PC’s, game boys, electronic diaries, walkmen, …). Electronic music was obviously tied up in this – primarily in a celebratory and promotional capacity. I remember seeing the possibilities – glimpsing the start of the decade through the eyes of an underage drinker watching Throbbing Gristle launch into “Weapon Training” – only to see electronic music become the theme tune for the digitised spectacle with Human league / Simple Minds / Depeche Mode / etc being the willing puppets. But this was the music of an ecstasy that cleverly defined itself in its own context – an ecstasy of individualised communication – where every chord and drum programme was teased into a harmonic and symphonic perfection. In many ways (to many musicians) techno is an extension of this attitude – a celebration of the smoothness, obedience and (tunnelled) capability of the computer (of course there are divergences – particularly the arcade funk of electro and its re-emergence as clonking and bleeping, where one is taken back to the collective (yet ultra individualistic) atmosphere of the arcade; where early synth noises and pulses compete with each other to indicate to others that you are pushing for the hi-score – Gorf, QBert, Firebird, Missile Command, Tron, Scramble).
So is this ‘80’s revisitation’ the realisation and suppression of techno? A realisation and suppression in its pure musical form. the art of driving your boss insane through irrelevant, hyper obedient yet strangely playful behaviour, rather than directly punching them in the face (it could be argued that hardcore – the (punch) in your face approach – emerged as a social force in an effort to reclaim the social aspects of dance music – that musically it was part driven by this social and rejective force : harder, faster, more nihilistic, more resistant to recuperation)
D’Arcangelo’s 2 releases, along with the excellent ‘Module 2’ by Bochum Welt (Rephlex) combine an 80’s dreamy ultra clean living room electro with vicious reverb, off-centre hisses and distorted sub-bass. Check out also the Jega ep on Manchester’s Skam label, and much of the material that spans the 2 eclectic releases from V/Vm – there is a utilisation of dischord and delay that throws the whole plot into confusion…until eventually the background becomes the foreground and you are immersed into some kind of nightmare. On a different tangent is Oval’s ‘Systemisch’ which is the equivalent of hardcore porn in electronic perfection: amplified samples of icons switching on a computer screen and jacked up sounds of windows closing provide a soundtrack to the smoothness of these toys…but the microscopic intensity of the sounds allows a sub-atomic ugliness to creep in, like the films of bed bugs and parasites that dwell under your covers. Equally weird is the Austrian flavored ‘fonk’ of Sabotage, or the prowler-alarm-meets-crack-den electro of the Hague’s Acid Planet. In a similar vein what distinguishes the techstep of Panacea with the hordes of other releases are the HAL infested bad computer noises that reconjure up Mark Stewart’s “Veneer of democracy…” rather than any classic dance tune.
There is no doubt that this material has some powerful critical faculty (music changes minds, listener as operator, etc) but stripping out subjectivity is always the eternal problem. Is it necessary to have ‘been there’ to have an opinion, and in what capacity? For now all we can see is what went wrong and know deep down that things will always go wrong (the career of Cabaret Voltaire – and we must use this word career – illustrates this beautifully). The next stage is to understand the rules, the codes and the micro-systems with an aim to change, disrupt, reclaim, subvert, autonomise,etc. This music (whether consciously or not) is part of this process. These words are not necessarily so… don’t ignore them at your own peril.