February 1997
s m u g
smoking jacket
by Jack Smith

Bird In the Hand

So goes another trend in radio-friendly pop pabulum. Rock is dead they say. We all know this is only for a season, however. It'll come back, but for now we'll have to carefully watch the new stuff out there and just be content listening to Tad when you need a little taste of the goods. Like all flavors du jour, the guitar/bass/drum thing ended up being soured by the record companies. It's the world where one successful (and talented) band -- Nirvana, for example -- releases a brilliant record -- Nevermind -- and the record weasels scramble to sign all the idiots who sold their "Norton Anthologies" to the university bookstore in order to buy a Fender Mustang. Now, this alone is enough reason for Kurdt to have blown his own head off. Could you live knowing that you were directly responsible for a legion of Silverchairs? Makes me want to load the Remington 870 just thinking about it and I personally had nothing to do with Silverchair. But the death of Curt Cobain while signaling an end to the creative period of the most significant rock movement in the past 20 years also gave second commercial wind to a genre that would've faded far sooner than it did. Ironically, Cobain fueled the monster that partially drove him to his ultimate demise. Now, I'd like to think if Kurt had it to do over again he'd put a word up to all of us in the know and end the suicide note PS. Sorry about Bush.

Dancin' On the Ceiling

So, we're finished with rock for now and the next big pop movement is dance. There's some decent poppy dance out there Garbage for one. The -- ahem -- AL-ternative stations want to go gangbusters on this stuff because the current rock product they've programmed since the inception of that particular format sucks. And the kids want something new. That brings us to the beat. And while we wish the future of mainstream dance was Tricky or Beck it's more likely to be someone that offers far less than two turntables and a microphone. Like U2. Heard that new U2 single? It's called "Dishwasher" or "Disaffection" or "Dishwalla" or "Discotheque" or something. While Bono et al have always fancied themselves out front on all the latest trends co-opting things that are just about to happen then copping their unfair share of the glory, this time they've managed to sample some early 80's Herbie Hancock records and overmodulated the dub. In the process Bono made industrial music safe and palatable for you, the record buying public. God bless their little Irish hearts. It's got a good beat, you can dance to it, and the best part is, you don't have to wear those unsightly baggy pants.

 bono speaks

I haven't read any of the Bono/Edge interviews that you know are going to come cascading down like so many an ego avalanche when the full album is released, but mark my words: They're pissing on themselves to drop the name Chemical Brothers. They could come right out and say, "We ripped off everything on this album from Prodigy's Firestarter." (And if you've heard "Discotheque" this is a distinct possibility.) How could they get away with this? Other than the fact that U2 is THE record making behemoth of the past decade, they know that when the dust clears and this dance thing ends, no one will remember Chemical Brothers or Prodigy. No one EVER remembers dance artists especially ones that make music with machines. You know why? Before I answer let me pause and say I'm prepping myself for some hate mail here from some yahoo with too much free time who tries to convey the nuances of some Underworld sample. I say, "I'm begging you before you start. Don't send me the email." Because you know in your heart of hearts that all this technology driven dance music all sounds the same. Anyway back to that answer. We'll only remember that U2 were the innovators because U2 is a rock band. People love rock musicians. People don't love computer programmers. And -- Eno excepted -- innovators play instruments. They don't play computers. Anyone can play a computer.

Where It's At

Here's an exercise to prove my point. Take a drum machine. Any old 808 will do. Get that going at about 160 beats per minute. Now get yourself an Eno record. I like to use "Swastika Girls" from Fripp and Eno's No Pussyfooting. Crank it up really loud so your neighbors will think there's a plane crashing into the apartment building. Here's the tricky part -- no pun intended -- you need a megaphone. Now, read any McLuhan book through the megaphone over the din. Throw in a sample of Chuck D saying, "Bass" every 10 seconds or so and voila, you, my friend, are a techno auteur. Begin referring to yourself as such.


You probably think I'm joking, but I tried my little experiment today in my office jamming a Yamaha DD-5 drum machine under "Swastika Girls" while reading excerpts from Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life through a paper cup with the bottom cut out. The hallway outside my office suddenly turned into a nightmare rave. Kinda like a George Romero movie where the zombies had zits and wore Airwalks and hooded oversized sweatshirts. Unfortunately, someone tried to sell my boss X, so I had to stop. But I'm digressing. Not surprisingly, my little dance song sounds like everything you hear in the -- ahem -- AL-ternative clubs all across America. My point in doing this was prove that it's fairly easy to make music with little more than two turntables and a megaphone.

There is another problem with being an electronic musician and this is the biggy. There is one reason why guys form bands and it's NOT so they can be a rock star. It's so they can get chicks. Period. And, trust me, you don't have to be a rock star to make it work for you. Don't start with the feminist rant on me because you read Pam DeBarres and you know it's true that grrls dig musicians. Because rock stars are sexy. You know who is not sexy? Computer programmers, that's who. And it's not a stretch all to say that some low level rock frontman like Mudhoney's Mark Arm gets more pussy than, say, Moby, arguable the biggest name in techno.

If you take away that driving force, what kids are going to want to start making dance music? And a better question is if it all sounds the same now at the beginning who is going to inspire this generation of samplers? It's pretty easy to see why every flannel wearing frat boy lined up behind Curt like he was the Pied Piper, he had a gift. But instead of leading the rats off the cliff he jumped himself and left the rats to start playing the flute. You'll see no such inspiration for the techno crowd. It's hard to be inspired by someone who can't jump around onstage, especially when you know that all this geeking isn't going to get you laid. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention, U2 is already there. But, they'll serve as an inspiration for someone. They'll lead someone to the promised land. You'd just better pray to your god that it's not Steven Tyler.


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