February 9, 2011


I think I was fair to James Blake in my album review (not to mention the two other pieces I wrote about him), mostly because I made a point to rate it based on solely on the music rather than any preconceived notions about the guy. For the record, FACT and Resident Advisor, two publications that know a thing or two about electronic music, had their ratings in the same ballpark. Then I woke up to Pitchfork’s blowjob (pause) this morning. Dear Lord.

Race and music is a complicated issue and pardon the stupid pun, it’s not black and white. I heard Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix on the radio as a kid but never James Brown or Parliament. That’s not because of skin color, that’s because the first two, for lack of a better term, sounded whiter to programmers and listeners. That’s also why Eminem is the most popular rapper of all time, why dance music among many people my age (but not our younger siblings!) is still “gay” and why lily-white rap critics will promote just about any emcee that drools on himself as long as he’s embraced by the black teen demographic*. So when Pitchfork, a website that otherwise relegates UK Bass music to 6.0 reviews and Martin Clarke’s column, suddenly gives the most singer-songwriter influenced dude in the scene a golden 9.0 rating a week after he got American major-label distribution, it brings up a some major issues in my mind.

I get why they did it of course. Blake sings, displays none of the scary darkness of his predecessors and on the album, he does away with dance music as a form, transforming his sound into a rockist confessional. Indie snobbery loves all of those things, but the problem is those are the worst fuckin’ elements of Blake’s music! I didn’t want to throw the kid under the bus but I’m not going to tolerate a bunch of neckbearded, bespectacled interlopers stepping in and imposing their values on someone else’s music that they don’t have a fucking clue about the second time around. The Source never went around giving 2.0’s to Neutral Milk Hotel and 5 Mics to I dunno, Korn so what exactly gives the Indie scene the right to rate someone else’s music according to their own values? That may not be “racist” but it sure as hell stands as cultural appropriation and in 2010, that’s pretty fucking awful in my book.

So I stand by my review: good album, shitty crossover elements. Go buy it. But buy a copy of Digital Mystikz’ Return II Space along with it. Buy a copy of Headhunter’s Nomad, Plastician’s Beg to Differ, Ikonika’s Love, Contact, Want, Have and Guido’s Anidea. Most importantly, listen to Rinse.FM, buy some singles and go to a dance. Hear the music how it’s meant to be heard, don’t just integrate it into a pre-fab rockist worldview. That’s the gauntlet, I’m throwing down: if the indie scene is as progressive as it says it is, then the people buying this James Blake album should have no problem appreciating the music that shaped it on the same terms as he did when he was making it. Otherwise, maybe I can interest you in a mid 60s Elvis record?

*Also why Douglas Martin has to answer stupid fuckin’ questions.

MP3: Gemmy – Watta Down Sound

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