Michael Tencer responds to Laura Battle‘s piece in the Financial Times (30-v-2014) ‘It’s the sound of the left, all right’, an equivocal skit on a London ‘New Music’ scene limping behind the Art World by introducing ‘revolutionary’ postures. Her article began “What does Marxism sound like? The question could be the opening line of a tedious undergraduate joke …” and described a London Contemporary Music evening titled ‘Marxist Chillwave’, before moving on to other music events in London. Over to Michael, a text sourced from a personal email (with permission):
I kinda hate this article & all that it’s about, don’t you? I mean, apart from the conceptualist gestures (like the outsourced composition) and the multimedia documentary footage stuff that really beats you over the head with a message, isn’t this just appropriating politics for some half-assed music marketing?
It doesn’t help that the woman who wrote this article seems to have no interest in defining her terms or delineating what exactly might constitute ‘revolutionary music’. For instance, she gloms together Luigi Nono (Marxist activist and composer of extraordinarily strange & dissonant music that was performed in Italian factories & street protests), with Cornelius Cardew (British Maoist who insisted that ‘difficult music’ served imperialism and who intentionally dumbed down his compositions to better reach ‘The People’). Those are vastly different ideas of what music is even for – it’s like the difference between Finnegans Wake & Maya Angelou – but this writer is content to vaguely ‘admire’ it all as an aspiring scenester – without even touching on the questions of how political militancy might influence aesthetics & vice versa.
For that matter, “‘chillwave’, characterised by a faded, dreamy nostalgia”: it sounds fuckin awful, no? Nostalgia isn’t revolutionary, it’s only heavy rotation. There’s of course a vast pulsing universe of ‘revolutionary music’ outside chamber music concerts & operatic pretensions, traditions with nothing to do with nostalgia nor ‘accelerationism’, e.g. the spectrum of African American culture from spirituals to blues to jazz, funk, and hip hop, the many different kinds of indigenous folk musics and repurposed anthems, the explicit revolutionaries like Fela Kuti or Victor Jara, — all of which have been embraced in actual political struggles, not merely as ‘commentary’, and which still continue in manifold ways to resonate and influence — but Financial Times recognises only self-conscious Serious Composers, a conveniently compact metropolitan package in the financial capital of the world. And even confined to that shrunk mess, there’s still no finer considerations of composition vs. improvisation, audience participation, music that stirs protest vs. contemplative consumption, etc.
My two cents, Financial Times? The revolution will not be ‘chill’! Criticism, not consumer appreciation, is music to my ears, and converting a former carpet factory into a classical music hall is not anti-capitalist, it’s a form of gentrification. Down with hipsterism! Fuck these clowns!