It’s the old persons lament. Where you start with the nauseatingly hackneyed “back in my day,” and begin to grumble that once upon a time music used to be music, and now it’s just intelligible noise. But fragmented frequencies doesn’t see it like that. If anything the lament goes the other way. Back in my day music used to be unintelligible noise, now it’s only music.
From the ten or so email press releases Fragmented Frequencies receives every day trumpeting hot young cats from Minnesota, with their tribal synth party jams, or Brooklyn experimental art noisenicks, or even local folk with super cool band names, who’ve supported every hot act that’s toured in the last few months, it’s all the same. A link to a soundcloud and you can trainspot the influences. Talking Heads, or James Blake, or Coldplay, you know, but with killer faux tribal rhythms that they stole from Vampire Weekend. It’s music that you’d consider to be indie; in the same way you’d consider the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to be alternative.
The message of the music is that everything has been done before; all we can do is bite off a chunk, accept defeat and subtly vary the genre to put our stamp on it. It’s defeatist.
Fragmented Frequencies blames the global financial crisis, the evil of the interwebs, and Ben Lee. In that order.
There’s no doubt that labels are dying out. No one without a purple rinse is buying cds anymore, and as a result, most of the weirder wronger or orignialler music simply doesn’t get distribution here. Yet that means much less than it did in years gone by, thanks to a high Australian dollar. These days it’s cheaper to order online than wander in a store. Then of course there’s the illegal downloads. These two factors have gutted your local corner record store.
Running a record label these days too is a risky proposition. You’d have to be very concerned in this climate about remaining financially viable. So the choice between a weirdo noisy art ensemble that is highly unlikely to make its money back or catchy hook laden revisionist pop with easily identifiable reference points so formula driven radio stations like JJJ will play it, becomes increasingly more difficult if you don’t have a rich uncle backing you. Sure you’ve got labels like Chapter who’ll put out Bum Creek or rerelease the Primitive Calcuators, but some labels simply can’t afford to make these kinds of decisions anymore if they want to remain solvent. People seem to want the ‘edgy cool’ of an indie label without the edge or cool of the music that goes with it.
The best you can hope for in this world of immediacy, of pre packaged disposable sounds designed to entrance immediately before our short attention span sends us off looking somewhere else, is confusion. Where the reference points aren’t so immediately obvious. It’s such a rare commodity these days that the intrigue alone will pull you in.
Fragmented Frequencies doesn’t understand the music of Melbourne DJ and producer Lewis Cancutt. A member of topical electronic outfit Congo Tardis, he’s on an exotic electronic trip, with sharp artificial beats and a Caribbean island feel. He’s just released a three track EP, Social Mixer on the Coco Bass label and it’s just so hard to place. It’s a peculiar kind of clipped carnival music, clean and precise, club music, but only if it’s really hot and the dancefloor is outside. I don’t know the reference points, there are elements of everything from Baile Funk to dancehall, but to be fair they’re vague, blurry and will take some time to unpack. If you’re curious you can download it for free here: http://cocobass.tumblr.com/post/18365650593/social-mixer.
Clingtone is another example of weirdness that’s been allowed to flourish in this difficult time. There’s a real mash up quality to their second self-released album Dr Zupan & His Incredible Gliding Sonicvox, filled with synthetic swirls and spoken word samples. It’s based on a dark children’s fairytale, and it’s too many red jellybeans sweet, yet also confusing as the sugar seems to have gone to their heads, as structures appear and evolve, songs half form and everything progresses in a haltingly jaunty canter.
So what’s the answer in these troubled times?
Well, it’s like Public Enemy said “Don’t believe the hype.” Embrace the confusion. And for God’s sake buy something.
In cinema lore when a horrible gut-wrenching act of depravity occurs to some poor victim, the partner has the right of revenge, and anything goes. No amount of sadistic violence is too much when your cause is righteous. It’s torture porn as an expression of grief and loss, the more brutal and depraved the actions the greater the love. So when a secret agent’s pregnant fiancé is brutally murdered by a rampaging serial killer in Korean Kim Jee-Woon’s I Saw The Devil (Beyond), our hero wants to make the murderer suffer, and he wants to prolong it. So as he slices an Achilles heel or batters a groin in with a hammer, appearing suddenly out of nowhere cat and mouse style, it’s really an expression of how much he misses his beloved. It’s vicarious and unapologetic, making us complicit in his depravity and though this incredibly stylish thriller does eventually stretch the boundaries of credibility, that’s part of its bloodthirsty charm.
1991’s Sex and Zen received a certain degree of renown thanks to its imaginative use of two women and a flute, though subsequent sequels quickly descended into plotless dry humping and calculated nudity with little to no artistic merit. Sex and Zen Extreme Ecstasy (Eastern Eye) attaches jumper cables to the nipples of the franchise with a knowing eye towards both the erotic, and the ridiculous. We’re talking giant penis fountains, erotic mist that render even pious monks as sex crazed as us viewers, phalluses that can lift and spin a wagon wheel, and a gorgeous beauty with a mans voice. It’s a wholesome orgiastic assault on the senses, the most sumptuously shot sexploitation you’ll ever see. Despite the excess its message is surprisingly romantic. Sure orgies with 10 women using your recently attached donkey phallus are fun, yet it wont hold a candle to true love. Watch it with your special someone, or if not your right hand will suffice.
Italian gore maestro Dario Argento always placed style above substance, taking a concerning delight in the mechanics of murder, devising meticulously sadistic methods for characters to be dispatched in films like Suspiria. But times have changed and he’s foolishly reigned in the more hysterical aspects of his filmmaking in an attempt to compete with the current crop of torture porn schlockmeisters. Giallo (Eagle) is Argento lite, without his customary excess or inventiveness, and even the presence of Adrien Brody isn’t enough to resuscitate this turkey. He does himself no favours by calling this flick Giallo, not only drawing direct comparisons to his earlier work, but also implying it’s a definitive statement on the seedy slasher genre that he helped create. It’s not.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Madman) is a strange film. It’s David Lynch’s prequel to his television series, yet it dilutes the soapier elements in favour of a darker more absurd feel. There’s real bleak brutality in Laura Palmer’s final self-destructive days, making it a little more difficult to enjoy than his other bleak brutal films. In particular there’s a scene in a seedy backwoods nightclub barn where the grinding music is impossibly loud and they have to resort to subtitles. It’s nauseating, near intolerable to watch, primarily due to the bombastic use of sound. Ditto for Lost Highway (Madman), also released on blue ray, the first 20 minutes are pure domestic terror, before it descends into a confusing meditation on transformation; yet again it’s the sound that does the damage. “Dick Laurent is dead.”