You might like… The longbox

This instalment of the ever popular 99% Invisible podcast deals with 99invisible-logo-square-for_prx_mediumthe longbox –  or the most important album in US political history (if you believe the presenter), namely: REM’s
Out of Time. They make the case that the music was less important than its packaging.

You can stream the show from here or download the mp3 here

Check out the show notes below and decide for yourself:

REM’s Out of Time is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Because of its packaging.

In 1985, the pop charts were full of Prince and Sheena Easton and the youth of America were being corrupted. Tipper Gore and other elite women of Washington formed the “Parents Music Resource Center” (PMRC) to put pressure on the creators and distributors of “objectionable” music.

There were Senate hearings, and eventually those little black and white Parental Advisory stickers started appearing on albums.

1280px-Parental_Advisory_label.svg

This set off a wave of censorship across the country.

In 1990, a Federal district judge in South Florida ruled that the rap group 2 Live Crew’s album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” was so obscene that it couldn’t be sold or performed within his jurisdiction in South Florida. Three days after the ruling, 2 Live Crew played a show in a county within his jurisdiction, and afterwards two members of the group got arrested.

When Jeff Ayeroff, an executive at Virgin Records, watched this all play out on TV, he felt offended. Not by the raunchy lyrics or the twerking on stage, but by the arrests and the blatant censorship of the artists’ work. Shortly thereafter, he got the idea for “Rock the Vote.”

The idea behind Rock the Vote was simple: get young people to vote for politicians who wouldn’t censor music. Ayeroff got about sixty people together in a Los Angeles hotel to talk about launching Rock The Vote. Frank Zappa was there, past and present California Governor Jerry Brown was there, as well as a bunch of record executives, including Jeff’s friend, a record executive at Warner Brothers named Jeff Gold. Gold’s major project at the time was trying to figure out how to package CDs.

Compact Disc packaging was the hot topic in the record world of the late 80s and early 90s. CDs had been around for a few years, but record stores still didn’t have a good way to display them, because their shelves were formatted to display 12” vinyl LPs. The solution was to package CD jewel cases inside of cardboard boxes that were just as tall as a vinyl album but half as wide. This allowed the shelves to fit two “longbox” CDs side-by-side on an LP rack.

REM_LONGBOX_PHOTO front
Front of R.E.M.’s Out of Time

Artists, however, objected to the wastefulness of the longbox. In 1991, R.E.M. had a record coming out, and they did not want millions of trees cut down just to create this extra packing. The Warner Brothers sales department knew that this album absolutely had to come out in a longbox if it was going to do well in retail, and that’s when Jeff Gold realized that he could merge the two projects he was working on. Jeff Gold realized that he could convince R.E.M. to use a longbox if they could use the CD longbox to advance the Rock the Vote campaign.

Jeff Gold needed a concrete political cause to connect it to, and Jeff Ayeroff brought him just the thing: the “Motor Voter” bill, which been bouncing around Congress since the 1970s. If passed, Motor Voter would allow people to register to vote at the DMV when they got a driver’s license. It also allowed citizens to register by mail, or when they applied for social services like welfare or unemployment. Basically, the Motor Voter bill would make it easier for lots of people, including young people, to register to vote. By 1991 a few states had already adopted it, but Congress had never been able to get it passed nationally.

REM_LONGBOX_PHOTO back
Back of R.E.M.’s Out Of Time, complete with Rock The Vote petition

R.E.M.’s longbox, printed with a petition in support of the Motor Voter Bill, became a piece of political machinery. When Out of Time hit the record stores on March 12th, 1991, the petitions started rolling in. After 3 weeks, they had received 10,000 petitions, 100 per senator, and they just kept coming in in droves.

About a month after R.E.M. released the album, Rock The Vote’s political director, along with members of the hip hop group KMD, wheeled a shopping cart full of the first 10,000 petitions into a senate hearing.

In May of 1992, after thousands of petitions and the Senate testimony, the Motor Voter bill passed Congress. Then President H. W. Bush, in the middle of his re-election campaign, vetoed it. Bush’s opponent, Bill Clinton, took up Motor Voter as a talking point, and after he won, he signed it into law as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

The National Voter Registration Act went into effect in 1995. From that year to 2012, the percentage of the population that is registered to vote went from 69.5% to 79.9%, and over 150 million voter registrations have been filled out at the DMV.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why no album in the history of recorded music has had as large an effect on politics in the United States as R.E.M’s Out of Time.

 

Reporter Whitney Jones spoke with Jeff Ayeroff and Jeff Gold about the creation of Rock The Vote and the death of the longbox.


As an aside, 99% Invisible from PRX is a brilliant show about design, presented by Roman Mars. You should subscribe to this podcast feed and follow them – you won’t be disappointed.

You might like… The House of the Windy City – Dance Music’s Forgotten Heroes

Grammophone Records

The city of Chicago has a rich musical history starting with blues and jazz (Louis Armstrong was big with his Hot 5 and Hot 7 bands), through the soul era (home to the influential Motown and Memphis labels), spawning the Chi-Twon style of rap epitomised by Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West. It was also one of the birthplaces of house music – more specifically Chicago house.

British DJ and radio presenter has just put together a quick and accessible history of the influence of Chicago on electronic music, addressing the legacy of people like Frankie Knuckles and venues like the Warehouse. It was first broadcast on Saturday July 16th on BBC Radio 4 and can be streamed here.

Here’s the BBC spiel:

Presenter and DJ Dave Pearce travel to Chicago to hear how a country traditionally resistant to dance music finally got it. The US invented it and then ignored it. Today with electronic dance music estimated to be a $20 billion industry, what do those who started Chicago House in the early 1980s think of this new scene?

House music grew out of black gay clubs in Chicago in the early 1980s. We hear from Robert Williams who started the legendary Warehouse club where the scene got its name. He brought in Frankie Knuckles to DJ and Dave Pearce hears how he would create his own edits to keep the crowd dancing all night.

In Chicago we track down Rocky Jones, founder of DJ International, who put out some of the very first records. What was his reaction when he found out the few thousand records he put out were driving a cult scene in the UK? With contributions from The Pet Shop Boys, DJ Marshall Jefferson and DJ Pierre we hear how the sound of Chicago topped the charts in the UK.

But in America a lot of house music wasn’t played on the radio because it was viewed as gay music. As Hip Hop became the dominant musical form, Chicago House was pushed out to the suburbs. DJ Black Madonna takes us on a tour of one of the few remaining house music clubs. While here in the UK a new generation of house music artists like Disclosure have found an audience and a following. They tour the world playing their own interpretation of Chicago House.

A Tonic Media production for BBC Radio 4.

This is a great introduction to the genre. Pearce has also picked his 10 favourite Chicago house tracks which you can read about here. I think all of these were played in the documentary. Here’s a Spotify playlist link

You might like… Explore rave and club culture with these 6 essential documentaries

If you’ve ever had a passing interest in the origins of electronic music/rave/hip-hop, the  surrounding culture, or its legacy then you might enjoy the following documentaries:

  1. Rave: The Beat Goes On
  2. Witness: The Haçienda Nightclub
  3. Stories in Sound: The Roots of Rave [mp3 here]
  4. Behind the Level: Ram Records
  5. The Amen Break
  6. Stacey Dooley Investigates: Ecstacy Wars

They are all available on the link below (hosted by the BBC iPlayer so there may be regional limitations for non-UK visitors):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/articles/21da87fa-8a5f-4531-bd8b-2ce98cb4c33e

 

You might like… The Grace of Jeff Buckley

For those that don’t know the music of Jeff Buckley he wrote an elegantly haunting album (Grace, 1994) before coming to an untimely death in mysterious circumstances. The son of famous folk singer, Tim Buckley, Jeff possessed a spectral voice and an enchanting stage presence.

His solitary solo album is a glimpse at his talent and what he was capable of – something which has frustrated fans who have poured through his demos looking for insights and hidden gems. Standout tracks include the Leonard Cohen cover of ‘Hallelujah‘ that Buckley made his.

This radio documentary charts Buckley’s transition from relatively unknown artist into legend following a visit to London in March of 1994. This was originally aired on July 24th 2014 on BBC Radio 4 [play here] but has recently been rebroadcast by KCRW to coincide with the recent release of an album of previously unreleased covers (You and I).

Show notes:

An oral history of a day in the short life of musician Jeff Buckley… A day in London begins with a memorable photo shoot in the morning. In the afternoon, a radio performance stuns the DJ and her audience. Then, that night after two concerts, one planned and one improvised, his legend had begun to be written. It’s a story told by the people who were there, manager Dave Lory, booking agent Emma Banks, photographer Kevin Westenberg and tour manager Steve Abbott. Featuring exclusive interview and music recordings featuring Jeff Buckley.

Produced by Alan Hall, a Falling Tree production for BBC Radio Four.

Producers:
Bob Carlson
Alan Hall

[[Sound Off]] Welcome to the Trap House

By Darryl Smith Jnr

It’s safe to say that hip-hop, specifically rap music, is here to stay.

After over 40 years of existence hip-hop has made its way into becoming, according to Spotify’s analysis, “the most listened to genre in the world”, proving that rap music has come far from its beginnings in the low income housing projects of America, to being a force to be reckoned with, within music. Naturally with a progression of a genre, you begin to see new forms of that genre beginning to place. In rock you have Heavy metal and Glam rock, or in R&B you had the New Jack Swing scene as well as the Neo-Soul scene. These new forms of old genres are often referred to as sub-genres and will usually last for a few years and eventually fade out due to various reasons.

Sometimes, one may look at rap music and believe it all to be the same, however just like with Rock and R&B music, this is not the case. Rap music has its sub-genres that range from socially conscious rap to gangster rap. Two total opposite styles of performing rap music that may or may not deliver totally opposing messages, depending on the artists you choose to listen to. Now here’s where you’re not-so-everyday rap fan may get confused. When it comes to the sub-genres of rap music, those sub-genres can have a sub-genre; this is the case with gangster rap.

When it comes to the sub-genre gangster rap you have another sub-genre, known as trap music. Trap music encompasses all of the basic forms of gangster rap music from telling the stories of the harsh realities of the urban life in America, to challenging social authority in a way that members of all urban communities can relate to. But what makes Trap music different from Gangster rap is deeper than just words. First and foremost the word and the culture originates in the southern part of America. Mainly Atlanta is given credit for the creation of the music and the word “Trap”, which speaks to a house in urban America that is usually occupied by individuals who take part in the selling of, as well as making, illegal drugs; mostly crack-cocaine. Therefore trap music speaks directly to those individuals who spend majority of their time in what’s known as a “Trap House”. Big Boi of the duo Outkast has a line in their song “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” from their 1998 album Aquemini that speaks directly to what the trap house is, what it does to an individual, and why one might choose that as their occupation. Big Boi states, “…the people at the post office Didn’t call you back because you got cloudy piss/ So now you back in the trap/ just that, trapped”. The line signifies the trap house as being exactly what it is, a trap for individuals who may have made the wrong choice earlier in life and now they have walked themselves into a risky situation.

Nevertheless, regardless of the risk that comes with being in the trap house, the music that has grown out of this culture is just as addictive and informative as its daddy sub-genre, gangster rap. However, artists who are of the trap culture rarely speak of it in a negative light and often times glorify the life they live inside of the trap, along with the things that come with that life, such as; death, violence, drug addicts, and even prison. One of the most famous trap rappers is a man who goes by the name Gucci Mane, known for his hit songs that detail life in the trap house like; “My Kitchen”, “Trap House”, and “Kick A Door”. In fact, Gucci Mane lives for the trap so much that he has been given the nickname of “Trap God”. As the “Trap God” Gucci has taken the culture to new heights inspiring other trap rappers like Future, Chief Keef, and even Fetty Wap whose hit single “Trap Queen” dominated just about every party and urban radio station this past summer.

However, there’s more to it than just the music coming out of the trap house. One can argue based on what I given you so far that trap music has been around since the 90s, maybe even before, with groups like the Wu-Tang Clan who talk about houses in which drugs would be sold out of, going to jail and committing various crimes. However, I would argue that Trap music doesn’t come around till about 2004. What makes Trap music different from what was being done in the 90s is the actual sound of it. This is why artists like Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy are often noted as the beginning of trap music, as they produced lyrics over these beats that were edgy, hard hitting, and quite frankly gave you the feeling of being just as gangster as Gucci Mane & Young Jeezy.

The production of trap music is basically the sound of the brass, triangle, triplet hi hats, loud kicks, snappy snares and low-end 808 bass samples. This all work around a rapper’s voice, whose lyrics usually lack depth and just cut straight to the point. An example of this is Gucci Mane’s song “Trap House”. Where the beat is a basic 4/4 time signature with a heavy bass, consistent snare kick, and very energetic melodic synths to work around Gucci’s simple lyrics. Some example lyrics from the song “trap house” are, “Choppa on the floor, pistol on the coach/ Hood rich so I never had a bank account/ Junkies goin’ in, junkies goin’ out/ Made a hundred thou’ in my trap house”. The lyrics are straight to the point as Gucci Mane describes the basic lifestyle that comes with the trap house as well as the reward. However, the lyrics are only 50% of the song, what’s most captivating is the beat which has a bounce to it that both hypnotic and addictive when listening.

As stated earlier, trap music is a sub-genre of a sub-genre. It is another form of gangster rap, however, it differs when it comes to sound and subject matter as trap music often times glorifies the things that someone would see as evil or just plain stupid. For example the lyrics above where Gucci Mane actually brags about not having a bank account, something that can be looked as being financially irresponsible. However, what matters most to regular artists doesn’t really matter to a trap rapper as they come from a world that is dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, and most young men don’t live to see the age of 18. The sound that comes with this often times is so hypnotizing that an individual can completely ignore the words and be swept up in the bouncy beat and hard hitting bass, feeling like the sound of a champion rather than a drug dealer. Trap music invites all listeners into the trap house and completely ignores all of the opinions one may have of their lifestyle as the music creates both revenue and an outlet for an artists to tell a more gruesome side of the “ghetto American story”.

Works Cited

  • Mane, Gucci. Trap House. Gucci Mane. Big Cat Records, 2005. MP3.
  • Spottieottiedopaliscious. LaFace, 1998. CD.
  • The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
  • “What Is Trap Music? Trap Music Explained | Run The Trap.” Trap Music Blog Run The Trap The Best Hip Hop EDM Club. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound off]] Electronic Catastrophe: The Questionable Misuse of EDM and IDM

By Liam Swan

With the terms EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) so liberally used in contemporary music journalism to segregate electronic music further than ever before, one inherently important question comes to mind; are the terms EDM and IDM legitimately defined and are they required?

Even in the early formations of progressive rock, Jim Morrison of The Doors undertook a very bold speculation on the future of music in the 1960s, claiming that eventually there would be ‘one person with a lot of machines’  to produce popular music. Ironically, the dawn of electronic music started ever so soon with the birth of artists and bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hailing their use of synthesisers to produce melancholically progressive tracks such as “Autobahn” to what could perhaps be perceived as colder, more robotic sounding tracks like “Numbers.”

With such artists eventually circuiting Europe and beyond, a popularisation of producing music through a heavy use of electronic equipment emerged quite rapidly leading up to the 1990s. Take “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division for example. Although defined by post-punk aesthetics of rock, the song essentially owes itself to its heavy use of synth to maintain its melodic rhythm throughout the song. Stephen Morris, the drummer of Joy Division, even went as far as stating that “if I ever start a band, I’d like them to sound like this” in reference to his first listening of the Krautrock band, Neu!

Following this circulation of what has been formally labelled as Krautrock & electronically infused artists from Germany, the production of music through an electronic means, to me, seems like a fusion of differentiating, or even similar genres to form new styles of sound through electronic instruments; the likes of which can be seen in bands experimenting with genre, much like Joy Division throughout the post-punk period of rock. However, although this defining structure of genre may hold true, for example, with rock being a fusion of country and blues music, the popular use of the terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ as genres promotes a certain ignorance of genre classification the music industry has never seen before.

When I say ignorance however, I don’t necessarily mean to undermine the intelligence of certain electronic music journalists, but instead to promote a certain awareness to the origins of artists placed under these umbrella genre definitions. As an example, FACT published a list relative to the usage of the ‘IDM’ term with what they claim to be the best ‘IDM’ tracks to have emerged from the music industry since the genre’s supposed conception.  One of the many artists thrown into this pile, known as Apex Twin, made it abundantly clear that he finds such a term to be “really nasty to everyone else’s music” and that “it’s basically saying ‘this is intelligent and everything else is stupid.’”

To an extent I believe Aphex Twin is correct. Labelling one kind of music as ‘intelligent’ and another outside the genre creates a certain snobbishness surrounding what could be seen as a ‘higher’ form of music with a much more acquired taste. That’s not to say the genre was born with no reason. I can understand why the music journalism world required such a term when artists such as Aphex Twin emerged with tracks like “Come To Daddy”  and even Squarepusher with “Come On My Selector.”

Tracks which, although produced through electronic means, do not conform specifically to genres such as ‘Detroit Techno’ or Chicago House’ which were becoming popularised around Europe during this period. Genre terms such as ‘Drill n’ Bass’ have been used to an extent in relation to such tracks, but when referring back to such artists, the term IDM is unrightfully so used as an umbrella genre term. With the term being so liberally used in music journalism today however, a certain skepticism surrounding such a dumbing down of genre classification comes to mind.

It is this, I propose, which is stifling musical growth inside and outside of the mainstream music industry. Think of it through the eyes of a massively popular artist like Aphex Twin; if you were a musician of such a calibre, would you like to be thrown into a pile of other musicians, whose music may not even remotely sound like your own? Or be labelled as ‘intelligent’ compared to other musicians who you may enjoy listening to?

When EDM as a genre term is considered, it fall under the same problems which IDM suffers in terms of classification alone; why is EDM labelled as ‘electronic’ dance music rather than just dance music? If this is such a concerning feat, why aren’t most popular forms of rock considered just dance music rather than rock? I alone have been to countless live rock gigs such as Echo and The Bunnymen this year and there were countless people dancing. Although I’m understanding (to an extent) of the genre classification of dance, it serves as an injustice to, once again, label certain artists under an umbrella genre when they may not sound remotely similar.

Artists such as Emancipator are more often than not labelled under the EDM genre term, when their sound is much more ambient and atmospheric than the kind which you’d want to get up and dance to. Seeing them in 2013 in Leeds, everyone around me demanded an encore of “Soon It Will Be Cold Enough To Build Fires,” which may seem strange based on the fact they don’t project a ‘dance’ sound through their tracks, but this is essentially why these people came to see them; to become lost in their music. Drug culture played an inevitable role in this through the smell of weed lingering in the air near the stage, but this aspect alone rejects the notion of the all-encumbering EDM classification through a relaxed vibe in the crowd. There was even a rejection of what is often seen as a mindless set through a willingness to be physical with their instruments; one playing an electric violin, and the other furiously hammering buttons to produce ambient drones.

In my personal opinion, as totalising terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ seem counter-intuitive to what they set out to achieve. Music journalists who use such terms should be ashamed of their own lack of respect and knowledge of the genres of music which they classify as these terms rather than what they’re actually influenced by. It’s a massive shame to see artists like Aphex Twin and Emancipator be viewed through a lens which distorts what their music is about, to what it’s not.

Links
[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS3dIyHpAgc
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-G28iyPtz0
[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vhNRl9N9R4
[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuuObGsB0No
[5] http://thequietus.com/articles/05413-joy-division-new-order-stephen-morris-interview-favourite-records?page=4
[6] http://www.factmag.com/2014/09/22/the-100-greatest-idm-tracks-100-51/
[7] http://www.residentadvisor.net/dj/aphextwin/biography
[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-9UvrLyj3k
[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_SkJb7LPYE
[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRgPIbSX1mg

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

Week 11 Lecture B: Glamorous indie rock and roll?

Listen

Reading

Matthew Bannister (2006) ‘”Loaded”: indie guitar rock, canonism, white masculinities’, Popular Music, Vol 25, Iss 1,   http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S026114300500070X

Matthew Bannister (2006) White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Indie Guitar Rock, Aldershot: Ashgate [Google Books link]

Samantha Bennett (2014) ‘Explainer: indie music’, The Conversationhttp://theconversation.com/explainer-indie-music-28321 

Stuart Borthwick and Ron Moy (2004) Popular Music Genres: An Introduction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (especially chapter 10) [Google Books link]

Wendy Fonarow (2006) Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music, Middletown: Wesleyan University Press (especially chapter 1) [Google Books link]

David Hesmondhalgh (1999) ‘Indie: The Institutional Politics and Aesthetics of a Popular Music Genre’, Cultural Studies, Vol 13, Iss 1, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/095023899335365

Ryan Hibbett (2005) ‘What is Indie Rock and Roll?’, Popular Music and Society, Vol 28, Iss 1, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0300776042000300972 [alt link .pdf]

 

 

 

You might like… Where is music tech going next?

Over on the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast was a germane discussion of the future of music technology. It also covered some of the historic ways in which music tech has changed our relationship to the media we consume. Check out the show notes:

How can we make sure artists get a fair deal in the age of streaming? Can electronic music ever be truly live? Tech Weekly goes under the bonnet of the latest tech developments in music with Imogen Heap and Tim Exile

From the gramophone to the iPhone, music has always had a symbiotic relationship with technology. But with the proliferation of streaming services and the collapse of sales, the digital era has increasingly disenfranchised those making the music itself. Now with the rise of musician-developed apps and software, artists can take back the reins creatively but what about economically?

We talk to musician Imogen Heap about her visions for “fair-trade music” enabled via blockchain technology; electronic artist Tim Exile talks us through his latest software, Flesh, which injects an element of chance into electronic music performance, and Peter Doggett give us a whistlestop tour of some of the biggest tech innovations that transformed music over the last 100 years.

You can find an link to an mp3 file of the show here

You might like… The Pop Star and the Prophet

 

Apple’s recent foray into digital music streaming points to dramatic shifts in the digital music landscape.  This time last year iTunes saw a 13-14% decline in sales revenue while service like Spotify were pushing for growth (even if they aren’t yet making a profit or paying all artists exactly what they think they deserve). Indeed, many commentators are proclaiming music sales to be dead as we shift towards a perpetual access model over ownership.

The current state we find ourselves in was predicted 40 years ago and the BBC have a podcast addressing this topic that you may like to stream (naturally).

Check out the show’s description:

Nearly forty years ago, French polymath Jacques Attali wrote a book called “Noise” which predicted a “crisis of proliferation” for recorded music – in which its value would plummet. As music sales went into freefall at the turn of the century, his prediction seemed eerily resonant to up-and-coming singer/songwriter Sam York. Now struggling to earn a living as a musician, York visits Attali to help get an insight into his own future, learning that music itself may hold clues to what is about to happen in the wider world.

Along the way, York meets Al Doyle from Hot Chip and folk singer Frank Turner, who reveal that – despite being relatively well known – they still find it difficult to earn a living from their “stardom”. Doyle says he struggled to afford a one-bedroom flat in London. It’s a world away from the rock-and-roll lifestyle we might think successful musicians enjoy.

You can find a related BBC magazine article on this topic here

The home of med332 – a module about popular music culture