Fragmented Frequencies March 2012

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:

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.

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