Thursday, August 29, 2013

Feminist Oi

My daughter and I have been listening to Hard Skin's Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear all week. Hard Skin are an oi band that have been around since the mid-nineties. The band plays in the vein of classic oi/street punk bands like Sham 69 and the Angelic Upstarts, while both celebrating and taking the piss out of skinhead culture. From what I can tell, the members both sincerely appreciate early street punk, but also realize how ridiculous it often is, not to mention the latent chauvinism and racism of the scene. (Most street punk bands describe themselves as "apolitical," but they tend to be apolitical in the same way that Tea Party Republicans aren't racist.)

Hard Skin's lineup includes members of 90s punk bands Wat Tyler and Thatcher on Acid, and their original drummer was in 90s shoegaze band Lush. Their first album was called "Hard Nuts and Hard Cunts," and contained songs like "Oi! Not Jobs!" and "Bunch of Pissed Up Cunts." They have the mix of punk rock, pub rock, and glam rock that are the cornerstone of oi, complete with shoutalong choruses and hooks. Lots and lots of hooks. For their latest album, they've released two versions. The first, Hard Skin on the Balls, contains twelve songs with Fat Bob's gruff vocals. The second version, Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear, contains the same twelve songs with a rotating lineup of female vocalists singing instead of Fat Bob. It's pretty amazing.

First off, the vocalists range from obvious (Beki Bondage, who's band Vice Squad was part of the original wave of Oi in the 80s), to really surprising (folk singers Joanna Newsom and Alela Diane).  The female vocals soften some of the rough edges of the songs, and add an ironic twist to the lyrics. Some of them are kind of stunt-ey: Joanna Newsom doesn't totally sell herself as a cockney punk, for example. But most of them are spot on. Veronica Falls singers Marion Herbain and Roxanne Clifford's sweet voices work perfectly with opener "Council Estate," the one millionth street punk song about council estates. Lush's Miki Berenyi proves that she could have been a punk singer on "You Still Here?" My favorite song is "Another Terrace Anthem," sung by Fucked Up's bassist Mustard Gas. Her vocals have a tunefulness that Fat Bob's version is missing, and add a lot to the song. It's not that the female vocals make the songs softer, it's that they offer another opinion, another take, another example of what it feels like to be pissed off about being marginalized. Diversity has become a cliche, but it is important not because it is politically correct, but because it makes life richer and more interesting. As illustrated so beautifully by Hard Skin.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oh Miley, Up Yours!

It is traditional for young women who have come up through the Disney machine to slut the fuck out when they come of age as a way to show the world that they are no longer innocent little girls. Cristina did it with her Dirrty video, Britney did it over and over again, Vanessa Hudgens leaked nude photos of herself, and then starred with Selena Gomez in Spring Breakers. But no one has slutted out quite like Miley Cyrus. The former Hannah Montana star first raised eyebrows for her video for "We Can't Stop,"  which showcased her newfound love of molly, black people, and strippers. Then during the MTV self-congratulatory strokefest Music Video Awards Sunday, she danced like a gakked out 19-year-old who just had her first lesbian experience at a strip club in the bad section of Baton Rouge. This has gotten the internet all worked up. Her dad is convinced that she is possessed by the devil, liberals are proclaiming her act as a "cultural appropriation at its worst" (to quote the Guardian), while Fox called her act a cheerleading squad for hookers. 

If Miley wants to do a bunch of drugs and ho the fuck out, that's her business. Go have some threesomes. Dance like a stripper. Slap some asses. Kiss your girlfriends and make out with a dude you just met. Try lesbianism. Go crazy. That's what being 19 is for - to act like an ass and explore your sexuality. Some people have said she's too young to act like that, but I think if she was much older she'd be too OLD to act like that. And let me be clear: as long as people are being safe and respectful of their sex partners, I don't care how many people they sleep with. I think labeling a woman as a slut because she likes sex, or thinking a woman can't have self-respect if she chooses to be sexual is bullshit.  Some of the strongest, most together women I know had phases of major promiscuity. A woman can be sexual and not have self-esteem or daddy issues. She can just like sex. So if Miley wants to sleep with hella people, go for it. That's a perk of being young, beautiful and rich.

And if she wants to appropriate black culture to rebel, whatever. Yeah, it's problematic yar yar yar, but she didn't invent the rules, she's just playing by them. She's not the first white kid to embrace hip-hop as a way to freak her parents out. Hopefully she is genuine with her black friends, but if she's treating them as tokens I'm sure they are smart enough to know whats up and are doing just fine with letting the white girl buy the drugs and booze in exchange for being cool by association. I'm a little concerned that she's such a terrible singer and dancer, given that has been her job for years, but that's nothing new either.

What really bothered me about the event, beyond the fact that everyone was freaking out about something so calculated, is the fact that there you had Miley, in her undies freaking on anything that moved, surrounded by half-naked women, while the three dudes on stage were fully clothed and not sexualized at all. What the fuck is up with that? THAT is what I hate about mainstream pop culture, and especially mainstream hip-hop and R&B. The girls are all in booty shorts gyrating while the guys are in their fucking football jerseys acting like they couldnt' give a shit. I'm not offended by the half-naked women, but let's make the stakes even, for crissakes. Robin Thicke coulda taken his shirt off, at least, or did some Magic Mike stripper moves with Miley. THAT woulda been amazing.

What's ironic is that before the VMAs MTV released a video of Grimes and Kathleen Hannah talking about what it means to be a feminist musician. Grimes had a wonderful point in which she said that she never considered herself a  feminist when she was starting out in her insular scene because her gender didn't matter. It was only when she got out of her liberal, supportive bubble into the terrible world and all of a sudden her gender was the ONLY thing that mattered that she started getting pissed off about how unequally she was being treated, and got into feminism. How rad would it be if Miley's next move was quoting bell hooks and doing a duet with Peaches?

Friday, August 09, 2013

Zomby Review

I reviewed Zomby's latest at RapReviews this week. With Love is a two-disc set that combines drum n bass, techno, ambient and Southern trap instrumentals. I've heard that trap was the latest EDM fad, but I hadn't heard much of it. In my head, EDM/trap sounds like With Love: moody ambient music with rolling hi-hats and snapping snares. In reality, it sounds like your typical bombastic techno only with a some hi-hats.

I can imagine Juicy J or Rick Ross rapping over "The Things You Do."

Compare that to the stuff on Into The AM's list of best trap artists of 2012. It sounds to me like it is hitting the notes that all stadium dance music hits. I think that is amazing if you are gakked out at a club or festival, but there is no subtlety or artistry to it at all. It's like watching hardcore porn - all sensory overload, no nuance or thought. Awesome if you are 20, not so great if you are a 38-year-old dad. I'll settle for Zomby.

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