Thursday, October 14, 2010

What's (Not) Wrong With Electronica

Once again, supremely late, but once again I find myself unwilling to commit myself to sleeping (despite a severe lack of it) and so I finally now have the time to commit some of my thoughts once again...


Yes, I've always considered older music to be infinitely better than what's out now.  You get a true sense of soul from it, from Sam Cooke (i.e. Live at the Harlem Square Club 1963) to the wistful sighs of Richard Manuel and the way he, Rick Danko, and Levon Helm combine to tug at your heartstrings, there is always the sense of "soul" found in the recording.  It speaks, it breathes character, exudes emotions.  Those feelings are what let us connect to the music, and at least for me I find that older music fosters that in a much more meaningful way (let alone connect at all).  Modern music just always seemed to lack that "soul" that would draw me to it.  Until, perhaps, now.

Perhaps I had judged it incorrectly.  Electronica/dance is a different beast compared to rock and roll (though it can certainly be an analogous construct): it must be evaluated on separate parameters.  It's unlikely that electronica/dance will provide the payoff that, say, a Staple Singers track may provide with goosebump-causing moments, where Mavis and co. just pull off that moment of release with utmost mastery.  However, electronica/dance still can contain soul, but it's not in the same way rock and roll often stakes its livelihoods in those climaxes (ahem...Sigur Rós).  Electronica/dance contains "soul" once it establishes a beat: but it has to grab you from your "inner core," so to speak, and drive you to simply feel it.  A true track would likely simply cause you to want, or even need, to dance.

Case in point?  Daft Punk.  They can be classified as French house, which is apparently separate from Detroit house, from all other sorts of electronica, but at least when it comes to mainstream/crossover appeal, no one has had more success than Daft Punk.  And it's not especially difficult to see how and why.

Perhaps moreover known for being sampled by le Kanye West in his track "Stronger," it is impossible to deny that Daft Punk craft excellent tracks.  From "Da Funk" to "Around the World," "Face to Face," "One More Time," and "Robot Rock," Daft Punk essentially have mastered their form of art.  Their beats are uncomplicated, and perhaps therein lies the charm.  They utilize basic beats but the layers above add the character to the track, allowing for someone to simply be "grabbed" and pulled into the song (and, perhaps, into dancing).  Oftentimes, unlike other artists, they tend to emphasize the groove and tend to delve into "funk"-ier areas of existence, such as "Da Funk," which is essentially a clinic on how to groove like a master.

But it's really their live material where they shine.  On Alive 1997, they essentially DJ for 45 straight minutes, rolling through such prime cuts like "Rollin' and Scratchin'," the oft-mentioned "Da Funk," among other tracks.  The tracks are stretched, altered, and fixed up to match the length, with interludes and other bits providing perfect segues in between the more recognizable sections.  Then, on Alive 2007, Daft Punk essentially provide a "Greatest Hits" DJ-mashup attack, smartly and cleverly combining tracks to provide new glances at them and give them a fresh context and meaning.  "Television Rules the Nation" kicks off one track, and when combined with "Crescendolls" off of Discovery, gives both tracks strange new life as the tone of "Crescendolls" gets dramatically altered with "Television Rules the Nation" thumping under it.  "Face to Face" is also a prime example of such as the disco feel in the backbeat is replaced by the "Harder Better Faster Stronger" theme, giving the song a fresh backdrop and also a subliminal meaning that gels quite nicely with the intent of "Face to Face" before it segues into "Short Circuit."

While I certainly love Discovery, Homework, and Human After All to death, it is impossible to say that Daft Punk aren't a better live machine than a studio machine.  And that is saying quite a lot given that Discovery is at least a "masterwork +," Homework is a "masterwork" and Human After All is "reasonably good" (tracks off of Human After All benefit considerably on Alive 2007 with the mashups providing new context and life).

Regardless, after waxing at length about the prowess of Daft Punk, the point is this: after listening to them for awhile and finally getting into it, their records made me realize that perhaps electronica/dance could perhaps contain what I have always sought in music, that being "soul."  It's not the same sort of "soul" as I had been searching for prior, and that is the likely reason why I hadn't found it; I simply wasn't looking in the right place for the "soul" of the work.  Amidst all the rigidity in structure, form, and instrumentation, the "soul" was indeed possible in the energy of the work, that it infiltrates you and makes you unable of doing anything else but enjoying the work present.

I am no electronica/dance expert, but the existence of Daft Punk disproved my "technological advancement is bad for music" theory.  I had figured it was a sure way to wipe the soul straight out of a work, but I was apparently wrong, as a compelling counter-argument has revealed itself.  Daft Punk could perhaps be a rare exception to the rule, but an exception's existence makes the theory likely wrong.  Further examination will likely have to follow.  But that still doesn't mean that I prefer modern music to old-school music, it just means that I undervalued it.

PS. I have an odd question: is there EVER an inappropriate time to listen to Daft Punk?  I thought so.

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