Music

  • Charles Long and Stereolab

    WITHIN MINUTES OF TAKING A SEAT at Bubblegum Station, 1995, I enjoy a little epiphany. The centerpiece of “The Amorphous Body Study Center,” a collaboration between sculptor Charles Long and soundscaper Stereolab, Bubblegum Station is an enormous mound of plasticine that the viewer is invited to mold and mark. I’m hacking off some pink stuff with one of the scalpels helpfully provided, and this guy gingerly sits at the next stool and starts grinning shyly at me. I take off the headphones (through which Stereolab’s soundtrack is piped) and the guy asks, “Are you the artist?” I should have said

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  • Rappers' Redux

    HIP-HOP’S RELENTLESS modernity is currently in doubt. It’s not that the fierce competition to reinvent rap year by year has weakened any—viz. the recent emergence of Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and Jeru the Damaja as claimants to the East Coast title of leaders of the Now School. But the art of representing true hip-hop is no longer the only game in town. A wave of reminiscing has flooded the house with Old School memorabilia, and back-in-the-day yearnings are the flavor of the moment.

    The most visible symptoms of this backward-looking mood are the reunion of crews like the Treacherous Three and the

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  • the Palace Brothers

    I FLEW TO NASHVILLE. It rained a lot in my hotel room. The room filled with rain as a lung fills with air. The rain looked like sweat on the body I hired to dance before me, which shimmied with a twang and left the way a river is said to crest. On my bed, I prayed, paced between the coils, and sang “No Man Is an Island” to myself as the waters rose, a song for which I know neither words nor tune. It was a tuneless singing I did as it rained in my room in Nashville, and I rewrote War and Peace between the storms.

    Streets in Nashville were desolate, storefronts downtown desolate. Desolation seemed

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  • Drag City

    THE CHICAGO INDEPENDENT RECORD-LABEL Drag City has two major claims to fame: 1) it discovered critics’ darlings Pavement and Royal Trux, only to weather the inevitable cannibalization of those bands by bigger labels (Matador and Virgin respectively); 2) much as Sub Pop was considered the home of grunge, Drag City is known as a hotbed of lo-fi, the kind of cheaply recorded sound that dates back to the Velvet Underground and was revived by Beat Happening in the mid ’80s. Technically, “lo-fi” refers to the process of recording songs on inexpensive four-tracks, like Liz Phair did before she signed

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  • the Remix Generation

    DANCE MUSIC HAS BEEN associated with young people and with youth culture throughout modern times. Dance music gets you through your teens, 20s, and beyond, and through the working week. Intrinsically hedonistic, it is closely tied to the body and to sexuality. Dance music brings people together across all social barriers. Sometimes it also constitutes barriers of its own, including some, excluding others. It is going-out-late-afterwork music, weekend-in-the-city music, and its themes are simple and direct—love, loss, lust, dancing. As Sheryl Lee Ralph sings on her 1994 dance-floor remix of her

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  • Pavement

    Chaque époque rêve la suivante . . . consciousness or unconsciousness cannot simply depict it as a dream, but responds to it in equal measure with desire and fear.

    —Theodor Adorno, letter to Walter Benjamin, 1935, in Aesthetics and Politics

    Out on tour with Smashing Pumpkins/Nature kids, they don’t have a function/I don’t get what they mean/And I could really give a fuck./Stone Temple Pilots, they’re elegant bachelors/They’re foxy to me/are they foxy to you. . . .

    —Pavement, “Range Life,” on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, 1994

    THE ERA IN QUESTION IS MERELY a moment after all—1994, months after

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  • the Plastic People of the Universe

    THE SCENE IS RIGHT out of a dialectical fairy tale: a band that once upon a time became a subterranean legend, an avatar of freedom and refusal, reunites to record a live album. The group reaches back almost a quarter century into its repertoire to dredge up the now-quaint signature tune “Waiting for the Man.” Only this isn’t the Velvet Underground finally paying a call on a stadium-full of adoring fans somewhere in Europa, but a much more obscure and mysterious outfit that sprang from such fandom itself in the waning days of 1968: the Plastic People of the Universe.

    Born in the wake of the

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  • Melvins

    Every three to five years there seems to be one band that artists, intellectuals, and cultural critics gravitate toward as symptomatic of the moment and, on a higher level, as a symbiotically beneficial organism. A few years ago it was the expansive fucked-upness of the Butthole Surfers that entered/altered art-world consciousness; and now it’s Melvins. Nearly ten years after escaping the redneck logging town of Aberdeen, Washington, and spawning the so-called Seattle sound of Mudhoney, Nirvana, et al.—the current “loser’s revolution”—Melvins seem to have arrived, and right on time.

    The

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  • the Pet Shop Boys

    For more than a decade gay men have responded to the presence of HIV and AIDS in our personal lives in a wide variety of ways. At one end of the scale, some, sadly, have been terrified into celibacy or loveless monogamy; at the other, some evidently find Safer Sex difficult to sustain. Yet the great majority of gay men have found ways to feel confident about sex. Community-based HIV education has insisted that Safer Sex is an issue for all gay men, regardless of our HIV-antibody status, and a remarkable collective response has emerged that is intimately informed by our awareness of the epidemic

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  • New Wave

    THE HELLENISTIC GREEKS INVENTED historical self-consciousness as we know it when, five hundred years after the original efflorescence, they revived the Archaic style for contemporary markets. This ambiguous advance in the history of taste was not without detractors—“Cessavit deinde ars” proclaimed the Elder Pliny of Greek art after Lysippus—and a general disapprobation of revivalism has persisted to this day. For every Renaissance there’s a half-dozen neo-Gothics. But what are you supposed to do when all culture is revivalist?

    On the threshold of the millennium, revival culture is the only thing

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  • My Bloody Valentine

    DREAM POP—THE WORDS CATCH in your throat like swallowed bubble gum. Which is why they summarize so well the music they’ve been glommed to. Eventually popularized by such bands as Ride, Lush, and My Bloody Valentine, the sound that inspired dream pop originally lofted up from the clubs of Manchester, England, in the mid ’80s, where an emerging generation of teen alchemists patched strobe lights and fully cranked guitar noise into acid-house sequencers, wrapping rock metal around house’s sensual yet faceless motifs of process and repetition. Opposed to the civic-mindedness many postpunk acts had

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