Books

Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession

Hector Tobar
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

This is most noteworthy as a record of Americans’ emotional reactions to the new economic truths, including the feeling that it isn’t our right to get rich easy; and the realization that justice and fairness are not necessarily hard-wired into the American economy.


Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Length: 288 pages
Author: Barbara Garson
Price: $26.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-04
Amazon

In the official estimation of government economists, the Great Recession ended in 2009. But in Barbara Garson’s new book, it lives on. And for the people whose stories she tells, the Great Recession may never die.

“They didn’t retire, and they didn’t find jobs,” Garson writes, describing the four New York professionals whose stories open i>Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession. They call themselves “The Pink Slip Club”. It’s a group that never loses any members, because no one ever lands permanent, full-time work.

Down the Up Escalator is best read as a kind of travelogue through a beaten-down but-not-broken United States. Garson is the author of three previous books about real people and economics. She’s witnessed and written about downturns past. Her tour of the recession that’s earned the label “Great” begins in Manhattan and takes her to the Midwest, California and many other places.

When she arrives in Indiana, she finds people living with uncertainty, even when they have jobs. There is “Chuck Kenny”, a 50-something warehouse supervisor in Evansville, Indiana, who works for a big-box retailer she calls Big Box. (Most of the personal and company names have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity).

Having seen so many others lose their jobs, and with restructuring constantly looming at his company, Chuck knows his own job is hanging by a thread. And Chuck’s college-educated adult son, Michael, can see that his own life will likely be less comfortable than that of his father.

“Michael was born on the down escalator,” Garson writes. “Since childhood he’d watched his parents running to stay in place.” His mother still has her job, despite a corporate takeover and downsizing, but “she now supervises more people and works longer hours for the same money.”

Down the Up Escalator is an engaging, insightful account of the changes that have swept through an America where good, hard-working people are learning to make do with less money, less opportunity and less free time. It’s not quite as successful or original as a work of economic analysis — the book’s central conclusion can be summarized in four words: “The rich get richer.”

Garson interviews call-center operators, boutique saleswomen and mortgage brokers. To all she is a generous, open-minded listener. And Down the Up Escalator is most noteworthy as a record of Americans’ emotional reactions to the new economic truths, including the feeling that it isn’t our right to get rich easy; and the realization that justice and fairness are not necessarily hard-wired into the American economy.

As for the younger American generation: Garson suggests living with less is easier for them, because they don’t know any other reality.

Garson came of age in the ‘60s. Now she sees a hippie ethos taking root in the generation that came to adulthood in the Great Recession. Chuck’s son Michael keeps his 10-year-old dreadlocks rather than shaving them off, even though it makes him less employable. “My energy is carried in my hair,” he says. He spent a year out of work and shows little interest in jumping on the treadmill required to keep up a middle-class lifestyle.

“They don’t have the option of well-paying, steady jobs,” Garson writes of Michael and his generation. “But they do have the option of not feeling bad about that.”

A willingness to portray the complexity of Americans’ personal responses to macroeconomic disaster helps make Garson’s book a lively read, despite its grim subject matter. So many books that treat the subject of economic restructuring portray working Americans as hapless victims. Garson is too sharp an observer, and too honest a writer, to do that.

The four unemployed, single New Yorkers she meets at the beginning of her journey are rarely maudlin, despite having endured the politely cruel ceremonies by which US companies lay off people. They use all sorts of creative strategies to keep their spirits up, including attending a “prosperity ritual” led by a witch in Central Park.

Ina Bromberg once made a killing as a sales associate at a company Garson calls “Boutique” on Madison Avenue. Now Ina’s hours and commissions have been cut. But the executives at Boutique “haven’t stopped hiring people,” she tells Garson. The Great Recession is an opportunity for the business to get more workers for less pay.

Garson notes, again and again, the way employers and financiers benefit and profit from recessions. Each downturn, she illustrates persuasively, ends with a bit more American wealth shifted upward.

Only one of Garson’s subjects suggests a radical solution, saying that one day people might “storm the White House” in anger. Most simply accept their new realities and adapt. They decide, for instance, to have one less child. Or they take jobs they never imagined doing, like Tracy, a woman with a law degree who finds herself doing construction work.

“How many more recessions and jobless recoveries can we cycle through?” Garson asks near the end of Down the Up Escalator. “How many times can we emerge with the rich richer, the poor poorer ...?”

Garson knows these are questions she can’t answer. Instead, her lucid book makes it clear that with each new crisis the American people will survive by digging deeper into their supplies of creativity, courage and humor.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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