May 29, 2003

Could an Experimental Electronic Pop Genre Exist?

In listening to recent Squarepusher, it has become obvious to me that he is taking a genre and essentially distorting its boundaries in a similar manner as Stravinsky with the Ebony Concerto (or other jazz-influenced works). The song, "My Red Hot Car" is probably one of the most innovative pop songs of the past 100 years. It is constantly re-structuring itself, and creating a genuinely disturbing progress of complex timbral and rhythmic changes which are as innovative as anything being done in academic experimental music now.

Square Pusher - My Red Hot Car - Go Plastic

I plan on writing more about this innovative song and another of Squarepusher's 'Do You Know Squarepusher' in the near future.

Posted by jeff at May 29, 2003 09:01 AM

Shit, experimental pop really is nothing new. Most of the great pop music of the 1960's was experimental (Beatles Revolver/Sgt Pepper, I am the Warlrus, Beach Boys Pet Sounds/Smile, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Van Dyke Parks) but now the language has been watered down and been absorbed into the mainstream. Now experimental is a self consciuous term which to me means absolutely nothing. As much as I love Stravinsky, the Ebony Concerto is really a weak work being neither here nor there. During the 1950's, there was an "unsucessful" fusion of 20th century classical and jazz called Third Stream. To my ears, many of these experiemnts were quite successful including music written by the great George Russel (A Bird in Igors Yard, Electronic Sonata which incorporated live band and tape) and Gunther Schuller (Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk, Abstractions both with Ornette Coleman). What will kill experimental music is usally the critics who will drop the hammer on an artist or movement because they are diluting and polluting the purity of the musics. Being that all critics are so hip, they must be right... :-}


Posted by: jbenzola at May 29, 2003 09:36 AM

As JB said, experimental pop is nothing new. I don't feel the need to reiterate his points.

Other than that, "My Red Hot Car" isn't experimental pop at all. Its a big giant pisstake at UK Garage - in fact, it sounds very much like some lost Artful Dodger or Dreeem Teem b-side. Critics like Simon Reynolds have long noted the incursion of "experimental jungle"-like effects, snare rushes, and beat mangles cropping up in UK Garage by major and minor producers alike. The UK's dance music culture encompasses these things and it has become, to a certain extent, the status quo. That is also one of the major criticisms of Warp's so-called "IDM" genre and all that has come since in recent years.

Posted by: Xii at May 29, 2003 12:12 PM

Thanks for your comments, which I'm sure are to the point, but irrelevant in my perspective. The hyper-genre-ization of popular electronic music, provides little or no perspective to somebody who isn't fluent in the ridiculously complex artificial history of a fairly simplistic (from a modernist electronic perspective) form of music.

To me, it's experimental pop, because it's blowing up the very simplistic boundaries of 4/4 pop music, R&B or rap into something akin to a cubist painting. It's not just the rhythmic expansion, but the fact that the cutting and chopping effects are so well-timed that the expectations of the next grouping of pop chords becomes a timbral event in a way I haven't heard in electronic music. The deconstruction isn't just a pointless tearing apart like many 'experimental' remixes, but a commentary on the simple patterns of the song itself. These commentary groupings are then re-grouped and chopped to the point that the return itself becomes practically a classical music event.

Don't get me wrong, about my criticism to your comments, I just feel that as the academic and popular forms collide that arguing about genres provides little or no perspective.

Joe's not to the point about commenting on my comments yet cuz he hasn't even heard the freakin' song!

Posted by: jeff at May 29, 2003 01:59 PM

Gotta agree with Joe about experimental pop being nothing new. There's always been an experimental aspect in pop music even if the vast majority of pop doesn't exhibit it.

To me music such as the Squarepusher track is part of a direct decendancy dating back to Les Paul's first experimentation with multitrack recording. Without this there couldn't have been the experimental pop of the sixties whether it be Brian Wilson constructing whole tracks from many short tracks or the Beatles and the rest (classical and pop) using tape loops.

The direct corresponance to these tequniques and modern sampling and the current audio "cut and paste" are pretty obvious (in my eyes at least).

As for "My red hot car" being "one of the most innotative pop songs of the past 100 years" I dunno.

First off it's only POP in that it's not CLASSICAL(which I guess is your definition). Squarepusher is not that popular. Which I think is important since it would be hard to compare it with say the X millions who have at least heard Revolution 9 (load of crap),Sgt Pepper, Smile etc.

Secondly I don't really think it's that much of an innotative SQUAREPUSHER track never mind pop as a whole. There's nothing in that song (musically or production-wise) that squarepusher has not done himself countless times over the years.

That said it's a fucking brilliant track and shows more creativity in its 4:42 that most people show in their entire careers.

If you want my example of innotative pop of the last few years I'd say Windowlicker by Aphex Twin. It made the charts and it also shows the same production techniques and styles him and Squarepusher and countless others have been using ever since. That wasn't a knock by the way I just think still calling them experimental or innotative is stretching a point.

Yah...nice site by the way...and I think I've said before if the pop and classical came together I think they'd find they have more in common than they think..apart from taste in music of course;)

Posted by: Goldlust at May 29, 2003 06:10 PM

I'm well aware of other experimental pop explorations; what has struck me in this song, was the formal and timbral deconstruction. It is so complete and creates such a unique sense of formal symmetry while maintaining its position as a pop song. Sure, Beefheart and Zappa and others did this, but because they were not dealing with sound at such a basic level, they don't achieve, what SP has done in this song, IMO. That is a complete deconstruction and reconstruction of a genre.

Posted by: jeff at May 29, 2003 09:35 PM

UK Garage isn't some obscure genre of electronic music known by a few. Its what's been pretty much owning the pop charts in Britain and has been shoving its face into R&B charts in the US.

As for: "To me, it's experimental pop, because it's blowing up the very simplistic boundaries of 4/4 pop music, R&B or rap ..."

Red Hot Car is in 4/4. FYI.

"Don't get me wrong, about my criticism to your comments, I just feel that as the academic and popular forms collide that arguing about genres provides little or no perspective."

Well, if you want to claim that a song that sounds like a halfrate track by another producer is "one of the most innovative pop songs of the last 100 years" ... I think it shows your shortsightedness. I'm not arguing about genres, just pointing out that its not nearly as innovative or out of the blue as you seem to think.

Posted by: Xii at May 30, 2003 11:05 AM

I'd love to hear more songs like this... what other songs do you feel achieve the same effect that SP does on this song?

Also, why do you think it's so 'halfrate'? And what producers is he stealing from? I have nothing against ad hominem attacks on artists, I've done that for years ;-) but a little concreteness might help your assertions appear more than the rather pointless 'I know more about this shit than you do' attitude I'm getting. Thanks...

Posted by: jeff at May 30, 2003 12:17 PM

In regards to other SP material which achieves this effect - I dig sides 3 and 4 (last half of the CD?) of Hard Normal Daddy. Lot's of constant self-reference going on, if that's the effect you're thinking of. That album, then Feed Me Weird Things and Music is One Rotted Note if you haven't heard those.

I always heard that constant self-reference/self-reconstruction to be a key parameter of SP's style; I hear it in most everything he's produced. If you hear it more in red hot car, cool, but I gotta agree with the guy who said basically this is not the best SP song ever ;)

Posted by: Ben McAllister at June 3, 2003 12:20 PM