April 1998
s m u g
ear candy
by Leslie Harpold

Techno-Logic

If I hear one more time that the future of music is techno, my pretty blonde head may fly off. One of the most disturbing trends in popular culture today is the view that the future only has space for answer per category, when a quick glance around you will confirm the opposite is true. The future is wide open with infinite possibility. Music is no different.

Just as Lounge music did not take over the world (as I predicted), Techno also will not. The first myth that needs to be debunked is that techno is anything new. With itís roots in the late 70s, modern techno-dance-acid house - call it what you will music owes a debt of gratitude to artists like Kraftwerk and Thomas Dolby. Yes, that "Blinded Me With Science" guy who invented a plug in for the Internet.

Before you send me more of that "You old geezer!" hate mail, which I so dearly love letís all take a deep cleansing breath. This isnít going to be one of those articles where I go on and on about someone who really did something first. Today, Iím talking about phenomenology and music. Mostly music, although the two are very closely tied. Having them tied is a good thing too, since without that I wouldnít have a column.

Back to my point about Techno and how itís not taking over.

In the simplest possible terms it will meld and influence, and already has. The advances in technology in the arena of music production were felt throughout the 80s with the New Wave scene. Synthesizer and drum machine driven, the music was - to borrow from The Art of Noise "Looking for the Perfect Beat". All that perfection was a little much to bear too long, and thatís why things got grubby. Iím sorry, grungey.

There is a law of physics that says "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". Thereís another natural law called coincidentally called "The Law of Homeostasis" that my chemistry teacher Mr. Heald impressed upon me diligently in my youth. Roughly, it says that everything is constantly trying to stay the same. Striving toward a constant even state of sameness.

I donít like hating records. I love loving them. Unfortunately when music goes through an ugly teenage period, which it is wont to do every five to seven years or so, itís hard to get excited while I sit around listening to one average record after another, waiting for someone to break out of the box with something to get my attention. It happens far too rarely and I wish I could have it happen say - 26 times a year. Any more and I would have my head explode for different reasons, too much candy will make you sick. I need time to obsess after all.

Near Bristol in England is a town called Portishead. Not much happens there, as best I can tell without going myself. So, Iíll take the rumors as truth for now. (Unless youíd like to sponsor my journey, in which case Iíll be happy to explore for you.) One notable citizen of this down is Geoff Barrow who wasnít all that enchanted with the extreme homeostasis that that town was going through. So he decided to start a band.

Thatís where Portishead (the band now, not the town) was born. With vocalist Beth Gibbons, and band members Dave McDonald and Adrian Utley they form the foursome that actually managed to break me out my recent ďwhere have all the flowers goneí funk. As a matter of fact, it took me into a whole new realm of funk altogether.

The eponymously titled album has shreds and innuendo of older tech but not in the tired Ďdrag out grampa for gigglesí sense. Shades of James Bond themes past, samples of old half forgotten guitar riffs melt seamlessly under smooth highly stylized vocals. Distinctly techno sounds meet rough edged guitar riffs and create a new level of enlightened homeostasis, the mixture of action and itís equal and opposite reaction to achieve the perfect state of homeostasis necessary to shake up my hears and get me humming something new. Finally. So, techno isnít taking over, but itís getting added to the mix. No, no donít use the melting pot metaphor, grrls, theyíre British, remember?

Just go get this record. Even if you hate Chumbawumba. (Did you know heís been making records since 1983, by the way? Just another notch in my Ďtechno isnít newí bedpost. Chemical Brothers since 1982 hello!) Iíll remind you one more time that itís called Portishead and itís by Portishead. Buy it if you hate techno. Buy it if you hate to dance. Buy it if you sweat that one day Zeppelin is gonna make a comeback. Really. If you love techno and canít wait to rave, and you donít already have this little gem, get it. If you do, listen to it one more time and right at the point your left hip slides out to make that little move before you throw your head to the side so you can make your nose ring move in that really cute way you do, grab on to your bigpants and admit that this isnít all about techno is it? Itís about music and songs. Itís a good record, not just a couple good songs with some other stuff thrown in for good measure.

Can I give a more direct endorsement? No. Zero sum in the world of science means you have a perfect balance. Portishead, just like the town they named themselves after achieve balance and homeostasis. The band just gets it on a higher, more thoroughly modern plane. For all the whining about records I hate and artists I am bored by, I am that excited and that enthusiastic about Portishead.

All that science and no quiz? Of course, because I like you, specifically - (your name here).

*


leslie@smug.com

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