Monday, June 27, 2016

Social Climbing: There is Always Room for One More

Literally just got back from NJ visiting the fam and realized it was Monday/Blog day while eating corn on the cob so yeah... just no time for the weary.

So the below is something that I wrote for something that got published somewhere in Europe (I think) but I'm bad at keeping track of these things so not sure... But anyways, I think it's decent enough to post here and it was only written a month or so ago so still maybe topical. There was a theme and I was asked to write on the this theme so ya... here's a little thing on "Social Climbing."

Till next week where I won't be plagiarizing myself.

Social Climbing: There is Always Room for One More

What is the point of social climbing? It is to become an object. What does that mean? That means that you have orientated yourself to an external perception, which is about exteriors. How is this achieved? It is achieved by determining the end point/goal and to take the steps/climb to get to this point.

The structure in which the steps occur is within a social structure. It is literally a structure. Imagine it as a physical thing. It is not a landscape with its ceaseless horizon but rather like a building. You are at this building, at the bottom, and you want to get to the top but there are various ways to do this. You can walk, you can take the elevator, or you can get hoisted up without entering.

Inside this building there are distractions in the form of rooms. The rooms can be people, events, and moments of luck or burdens. They can benefit or hinder depending on the pull and sway these rooms have on you. They can accelerate or desist your ascension but do not get too stuck in one room because that is not why you are here. You are here to climb. To get to the top. Remain focused and always remember why you are here.

What you are born into determines how arduous the climb will be and although you may think being hoisted up with only the winch of nepotistic birthright would be best, it is not because when this happens you miss all those rooms. The more rooms you enter the more the building becomes yours. You can re-enter those spaces and those inside will remember you. Sometimes you might meet someone in a room who can help you skip a few floors. Sometimes when you are almost to the top you forgot something or need something and then you remember your pal from 3B who can help. But remember, you are here for a reason. The top is what you seek.

Stair after stair, floor after floor, you are getting there. Sure you may have had to burn some bridges/lock some doors to get there but you are close, so very close. You are tired, your body and mind have been dedicated to this one thing and as you get closer to the top you feel lighter, happier, more complete. You get to the final door. Your heart is racing not from the excursion of the ascent but in anticipation of what is behind that final door.

You open it.

It is empty.

You are outside.

You look at your hands because you have to remind yourself that you are still in your own body. You look out and you see only the sky and that ceaseless horizon.

You sit down. You are at the top and you are weary.

You realize that you cannot leave. You cannot leave this building because it was all that you know.

You go back down.

You enter a room.

You get a key and you wait for someone to knock on the door.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Jacky Connolly’s Hudson Valley Ruins

There are times when you see something and it changes you. It makes you feel differently and think differently in the same way one might feel when they suddenly realize that they can understand a language that is not their own. This happened to me last night while watching Jacky Connolly’s video Hudson Valley Ruins.

Having worked for over two years on this project Connolly screened it for the first time last night and it left me actually at a loss for words, which is both rare and delightful. I did not know anything about Connolly’s work so had little expectation besides the trust in the curators who were presenting it, Kimberly-Klark, and their vouching of it.

So here is what you see. You are in a place, a town, and there are suburban houses, trees rustling in the wind, sunsets and hills. You enter into these spaces, into rooms and into homes, and inside there are characters. Some are adult, some are male but mostly it is girls. As the video proceeds it is focused on two of these girls. Both are brunette, one adolescent, perhaps eight, and another a young teen, perhaps fourteen. We will return to them later but let’s go back to the general spaces. You are in environments, buildings, a school, a kitchen, a basement rec room, a Chinese restaurant…and you travel in these but you are also given shuffled first person views. The characters, when present, are both at points of being looked at and also the directional pull in which you travel through the spaces.

The spaces are sets. There is a precision to their details that is dizzying. The posters on the wall, the color of the couch, the texture of the carpet, they are all so specific and right. There is a minutia to detail that becomes both brutal and bland. The environment they are depicting is a replication of middle-class Americana which is both sterile and nauseous. Anyone who grew up in this knows this feeling to the core. It brings back smells and memories of these types of rooms in an almost revolting Proustian fashion.

These spaces are surreal as well. There are ladders that lead to bizarre places that feel more like psychological and emotional zones than actual spaces. There is a Lynchian quality to many of them in both staged presentation and also the pulsing ambience of the uncanny, unsettling and possibilities of violence.

Within these settings the characters exist but there is a claustrophobia to every space, even those depicting outside landscapes. When the characters are in a room together there is at times interactions but even in these there is a containment and isolation. This is further compounded by the lack of any talking. There is none at all and only once, when the teenage girl is at the psychologists, is there even a donating that words are being said. The only sound throughout the film is the sound of wind and at moments rain.

What is happening to the main characters is revealed in the habitations and the interactions they bare witness to or take part in. Seeing parents (or a new dating partner) getting spanked on the family room couch or giving a blow-job to the boy from school while wearing a Red Hot Chili Peppers tank top. All the actions and inactions feel like tight screws in the brain. You also question the possibilities of everything including time. Are these two girls the same girl? Is past/present/future simultaneous or are they discreet? The ambiguity and tension is unrelenting and the banality of it all makes you beg for some form of release.

But no. You don’t get that. Connolly does not give you an easy way out by handing you some arching narrative or visual gateway. You would think that this type of tightness would make you want to leave the room but you can’t because what you are looking at – the visual depth, skill, and technique – anchors you down into place.

I should probably mention at this point that this video was made using the characters, settings and programming of the video game Sims. This is a game in which you create a world and build a society, community, whatever you may wish. I have never played this game but knowing that this is the source for this visual fantasy/reality left me even more impressed by Connolly’s capacity to imagine and cull. The static expressions, the clothing, the lamp, the dog, the sunset, these may have been prototyped in some fashion but in the hands of Connolly they are surreal in their exactness.

Watching this video makes you not think the words ‘video art’ but rather ‘film.’ The quality and the completeness of vision being displayed is something that teams and teams of producers, designers and fabricators would have had to do on a movie set. Connolly has created her own type of film using a technology and source that allows her to delve and articulate her story maximally by using minimal means. The combination of all the elements and the obvious labor and care that was taken into making this work is a bit mind numbing but in the best way. Seeing this work left me awed as it shows how much is possible in art right now and gives me a taste of what will be coming which I hope leaves me as dumbfounded and amazed as this did.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Palmistry in The New Yorker


I am d.e.a.d. after this weekend. That thing I had to throw was a success and now I am bracing myself for another blitz of a week. That being said I can barely feel my eyeballs let alone think. While I was in crazy mode last week I found slivers of calm. This usually happened while in the shower or in the subway. In the shower I would listen to WNYC and in the subway I would read The New Yorker. Both are quintessentially New York things as the pledge drives say so it was a sheer surprise and delight when one of the critic’s pieces in the recent issue of The New Yorker featured Mixpack (a music label based in Brooklyn) and one of its artists Palmistry.

Palmistry (Benjy Keating) is one of my favorite musicians for the past ~2 years and he is based in London. When I moved there last-last fall I made it a self-anointed point to meet him come hell or high water. Luckily I linked myself in with certain crowds and he is friends with them so yes I did meet him. I was too shy and trying to be too cool to actually say how much I liked his music so instead I just stared at him and nodded my head a bit and said “hi,” then immediately turned around to avoid complete embarrassment.

Anyways, it doesn’t matter that I met him or that he and I were in the same room/party many a night. I think it is always better to keep at a remove those who you “like” in an artistic way to some degree. But ya, seeing him in The New Yorker while riding in the M train to work made me smile and feel happy because the world felt both wonderfully large and small.

Below is the article in full. It is well written by Carrie Battan and for those that don’t know/haven’t listened to Palmistry, find, download and take some time to listen to it. It has been the backdrop to my life on many solitary walks.

Dancehall’s vivid new sounds.

By Carrie Battan

In 2012, Snoop Dogg set out to refashion himself as a Rastafarian named Snoop Lion. He travelled to Jamaica, where he called on a number of artists to help grease his transition. In a three-week recording session for an album called “Reincarnated,” he worked closely with Diplo, the swashbuckling d.j. who spearheads the dance-pop group Major Lazer. The pairing seemed natural: Diplo had the Midas touch as a producer and was becoming a star in his own right, one who had built his reputation chiefly by playing the role of an outsider turned liaison to Caribbean music.

But Snoop also enlisted the help of a soft-spoken d.j. and producer named Andrew Hershey, who has developed a standing as a kind of anti-Diplo. Although both musicians are white American men who are fascinated by far-flung cultures and sounds, Diplo has used his access as a platform for success and celebrity, while Hershey has remained a background figure. Diplo transcends his outsider status with brazen force; Hershey, who performs as Dre Skull, tends toward assimilation, dutifully experimenting within the existing framework of reggae and dancehall music.

Much of this experimentation has taken place on Mixpak, a small but influential Brooklyn label that Hershey founded, in 2009. Years earlier, he had begun poking around on the Internet, attempting to forge relationships with Caribbean artists, when he connected with Vybz Kartel, the most celebrated musician of the modern dancehall era—and eventually the most notorious, thanks to a murder conviction that resulted in a life sentence in prison, in 2014. Prior to Kartel’s conviction, Hershey went to Kingston to join him in the studio; these sessions generated a modest hit called “Yuh Love,” along with Kartel’s 2011 album, “Kingston Story.”

In the years since Mixpak launched, its catalogue has grown to include a wide range of styles—the label is home to an all-female Japanese post-punk band called Hard Nips, as well as to a suite of club-minded electronic musicians—but it has focussed on dancehall, reggae’s thunderous digital stepchild. Hershey describes his path to the genre as serendipitous, a logical extension of his longtime obsession with hip-hop. With Mixpak, he has assembled a cross-cultural, high-low list of records from established heavyweights, like Kartel and his softer-sounding protégé Popcaan, along with lesser-known and more outré newcomers intent on upending listeners’ expectations of Caribbean music. Mixpak is surely the only label that offers a raucous Beenie Man single and an ambient electronic producer from New York on the same SoundCloud feed. The label has become such an exalted brand that unaffiliated dancehall artists have released music with fake Mixpak stamps attached.

At one extreme of the Mixpak spectrum is Benjy Keating, a young producer and vocalist from London who sees dancehall music through a long-focus lens. His début album, “Pagan,” released under the name Palmistry, offers a hyper-specific version of the genre. It feels almost like a hallucination—blurry but vivid, its sorrow and pleasure twisted tightly together. The songs are dancehall tracks distilled to their bare essentials, with the music rarely consisting of more than a plasticized synth line of buttery chord progressions and a spare bass drum. Anything more would overpower Keating’s voice, a feminine lilt that hardly registers above a whisper. The result is a sense of hushed intimacy, and yet Keating keeps the listener at arm’s length, perhaps out of necessity. He is cognizant of the complications of being a white British guy singing dancehall, a situation he tiptoes nimbly around by obscuring himself, slipping in and out of a light patois, using Auto-Tune, and varying his phrasing until the meaning of the words begins to drift into oblivion. Sometimes disarming lines will float to the surface: “Daddy was a pastor / Mommy was a pastor / Son, son was a pagan,” he sings on “Paigon,” one of the only moments on the record that reveals biographical details.

 “Pagan” is less a collection of songs than a slow-moving accretion of sensation. Keating is not concerned with trying to replicate any one style of music; instead, he explores what happens when he takes familiar elements—in this case, chord progressions and rhythms burned into our senses by dancehall and soca—and presents them in an uncanny way. The result is often quite affecting, an emotional blend of recognizable and alien pop music. At the album’s heart are sorrow and loss. On “Sweetness,” the stickiest and most conventional pop track, Keating reels off a list of enticing sensory details: smoke, silk water, jasmine, blood amber, bubbling tea, blackberry cream, cinnamon sheets. “The sweetness is a malady,” he sings, on one of the album’s rare choruses. “The sweetness / I love your malady.” Given Keating’s accent and the airiness of the album, it’s easy to hear this line as “I love your melody.” There’s a darkness to his sound that suggests that joy and affliction are not unrelated.

“Pagan” has a meditative, hymnal quality; its songs could work well as background music at a spa, at a dance club for shy people, or as objects of study in a semiotics seminar. It is a dancehall record at heart, but it’s not the product of nostalgia or respect for tradition. Rather, it’s born out of the hungry energy of someone realizing that the elements of long-established styles are at his fingertips, available to be remolded. And yet the effect is never parodic—when Keating sings a line such as “Do the wine like it’s happy hour,” he’s sombre and worshipful enough to avoid sounding silly.

There was a period in the early and mid-aughts when dancehall artists carried their own water in the American market. With the help of the major labels, Jamaican musicians like Sean Paul, Sean Kingston, and Elephant Man broke into Top Forty radio. You couldn’t go a day in the summer of 2003 without hearing at least one single from Sean Paul’s irresistible pop-dancehall album “Dutty Rock,” two of whose songs hit No. 1. Unless you count Rihanna’s mush-mouthed Bajan triumph, “Work,” which had a recent stint at No. 1, those days are behind us. Today, Caribbean styles are used in pop music like giant sandwich boards, announcing an American pop star’s desired effect in crude block letters: Here is a summery song. Here is a light song. Here is a song that is designed to make you feel happy. Take twice a day with sun.

But reggae and dancehall are especially fluid genres, well suited to experimentation. Artists like Palmistry and others on the Mixpak roster show that Caribbean music can be more than a loud statement piece to be discarded at will—it can be a foundation for a new sound. The clever Egyptian-Canadian singer Ramriddlz, on his new EP “Venis,” has melted down these styles to a sensual syrup, swirled with cheeky lyrics and hybridized slang. (In the earlier age of playful new genre taxonomy, someone might have named this “Reggae & B.”) A few months ago, his breezy single “Sweeterman” captured the attention of Drake, who proceeded to release his own version. Drake’s unofficial riff attracted millions of listens on the Internet, both accelerating and muddling Ramriddlz’s trajectory.

Drake, in fact, has demonstrated a keen and growing curiosity about Caribbean music, owing partly to the influence of the many immigrant enclaves in Toronto, his home town. For Drake, dancehall has been an effective way to raise the temperature and the mood of his otherwise chilly, downcast style. He has also used the vocabulary of dancehall to shield himself from accusations of theft. When asked in an interview to explain his use of the rapper D.R.A.M.’s track “Cha Cha” on his hit song “Hotline Bling,” Drake invoked the “riddim,” the tradition in which Jamaican artists endlessly iterate on a single rhythm. “In Jamaica, you’ll have a riddim, and it’s, like, everyone has to do a song on that,” he said. “So sometimes I’ll pick a beat . . . and I just try my hand at it.” Weeks before the release of his new album, “Views,” a track called “Controlla” leaked online. That version of the song, a sweet spritz of dancehall, sampled a Beenie Man track from 1995 and featured a verse from Popcaan, Mixpak’s marquee Jamaican vocalist. But by the time “Views” came out the Popcaan verse had been discarded, the limits of a pop heavyweight’s curiosity plain to see. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Every Time I Have To Throw a Party I Get Sick


It must be some sort of pathology. I feel ill. I feel feverish and my body feels like it is going to collapse on itself. It might be too many nights sleeping where one shouldn’t and going out too much but I think it's because I have a big event coming up and every time there is some big event I get some sort of vague illness that incapacitates me.

My grandmother used to get chronic stomach aches just before some sort of undesirable event or confrontation. I must have imbibed this social reflex because my body seems to screech to a halt when something vast is around the corner.

Why does one do this to oneself? Throwing themselves on the line for one reason or another when life can easily be lived as some sort of backdrop or prop. I wish I was a prop sometimes. Maybe a broom, one of those handmade ones that look like a witch can hop on to it. Or maybe a teapot no one ever uses. But yup, I’m not a prop.

Organizing events is easy most of the times. I actually enjoy doing it in some ways but when it is actually about to happen I feel perplexed as to why and what I’m doing. Perhaps what makes a difference is when something is planned for oneself or for others. For others there is more pressure in some ways but I think planning something for one’s own behalf is the most grueling because there is a level of embarrassment that hovers too close.

I’m literally having some sort of fever episode, so why I’m even trying to write or make any sense is beyond me. I guess I’m just trying to be honest even in this state because I tried to conjure or copy paste some thing from somewhere but that just seemed to require too much actual brain power. While this lacks any at all.

I guess I’m edging around the idea of having to do things that one doesn’t want to do and having no option but to do it and having no one to blame for that conundrum then oneself. Life is a series of having to do things we don’t want to do and I despised and still in many ways despise the falsity of it. Nothing made me want to explode more then being told to ‘smile’ as a child during family events. Regardless, we do a whole bunch of things we don’t want because there is a form of value and exchange. Expectation and reward, even if down the line. Obligation is a strange animal that we have domesticated and call baby when no one else is looking.

But we silly humans need this. It gives us structure, social ties, fills the boredom of our days and distracts from the impossible, dreadful question of who we are and what the hell we are all doing here.

So yes I have to throw a shin-dig in a few days and I hope that my horizontal corpse-like repose today will allow me to be in full fit form by then. I will have to be because even if I am about to pass out from a real or made-up illness I will ‘smile’ and make sure that the party goes on because that’s exactly what I'm supposed to do.