Peripatetic Postcards

On Breasts and Public Behavior

The picture above may seem familiar, since I posted it yesterday. Today I want to talk a bit about it – about what is most perceptible to the naked eye, and about what is not. In particular, about the things that flow from one to another -- from the "is" to the "isn't clear" (but is there nonetheless). How physical evidence out in the social stream provides information that announces thoughts and tendencies and behaviors of people and how this information tells us, by extension, about the society that people live in. And how such information may also communicate whether or not such a society is writ small, or large: on a micro or a macro scale.

But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. Why don’t we start at the top, which is to say, with the breasts. Because that is, after all, where this disquisition begins.

This statue – set in stone – was crafted by Gustav Vigeland. It sits at the base of his monolith, constructed of writhing human figures, massed atop, astride, akimbo and otherwise in articulation with one another. This figure, a female form, squats at rest, below the great social drama rising overhead; eyes closed, body inert (it's a statue stupid!), turned away from a male figure. One presumes the guy is her lover, though there is little evidence that this is so. Perhaps it is her nakedness that suggests as much – possibly because it is only with lovers that we bare our bodies. It might also be posture: the woman has allowed her head to fall back and rest on the shoulder of the man behind. Connected, trusting, content.

Aside from position, what one notices almost immediately is the discoloration in the stone. And, particularly, that the discoloration is localized: the darkened patches are confined to the woman's nipples and breasts. These demarcated zones stand in stark contrast to the uniform grey that comprises the rest of her physique. Her thighs, arms, shoulders, face -- no other spot on her body is darkened in the way that her mammories are. And why the dark hue? Not an attempt by the local moral police to cover her up. No. More precisely, the taint is due to the oils transferred from human hands pressed often and with pinpoint precision against stone. In a word: the tint inheres in the fact that other's hands have worked assiduously to cup, enfold, fondle, handle, experience and explore the statue's chest.

This set me to thinking -- as breasts sometimes do. But thinking less about anatomy and more about human behavior. Why is it, I wondered, that folks who visit this shrine would touch this particular body part? Compulsion perhaps. Curiosity, maybe. A simple joke or will to be "bad"? Is that why there are marks only on this part and (if one reads the evidence of absence) no other? What is it about a breast that makes one want to reach out and touch? Why not the mouth? or the fingers? Or the knee? Is it a "I couldn't help myself" kind of impulse? Is it a chemical thing -- an "it was there and I was inexplicably drawn to it" deal? An organic physics -- lodged in infant memory -- akin to the law of gravity?

Or does the answer lie in the realm of social contract? A "I would never do this if she was real, but since she's not . . . why not?" Is there something about the model's inanimate state that suspends the rules of human conduct, that absolves us of adherence to our collective compact? Why the disappearance of restraint? Simply because she is helpless? Because "she" can't complain? Were a real human to be seated before us, naked, on a pedestal, would we reach out and grab her flesh? Squeeze and stroke and render as our own, between insistent fingertips? Do we take her nakedness as a signal of openess, a green-lighted sign to proceed without caution, to act as one wishes, free of social sanction?

Such questions led me to wonder: "what kind of person grabs a breast in public?" Whether a representation or not, it is still a breast. And, given the circumstances -- the immobile stone seated pliantly before us, a simple chiseling which possesses no nerve-endings, no processing brain, no emotions, morality, or sense of shame -- the human act perpetrated against it -- this physical touching -- may strike some as innocent; as inoffensive. Fully excusable, free of opprobrium. Yet, consider this. As the breast is a simulation, so too, is anyone's act of grabbing it. Their clutch is an enactment of violation, a miming of physical taking, a rehearsal of aggression. It symbolizes transgression of demarcated personal space, a breach of consensual social rules. This public groping is behavior that underscores the tenuous nature of social control. Denuded is our contrived decorum; exposed is how evanescent public restraint can be.

One might argue that the blackened breast serves as a green light of sorts: a signal to subsequent travelers that prior others who have trod on these steps have transgressed; that identical behavior will be condoned. Possibly so. But that is the Nuhrenberg defense; the Nazi excuse. I was just following orders. Or maybe it is the Nanking Effect. I just acted as everyone else around me did. So, we ended up raping 20,000 women and killing 300,000 people. What else could I do but follow suit?

Well, maybe that is a little over the top. But, as social psychologists tell us, there are all sorts of factors that lead humans to commit egregious acts: "variables, constructs and processes at a more macro level, sociological and political, that must be included when we move from individual to collective violence."

To be sure, none of what I have just said could hold up in court. It is not empirical -- I didn't camp out by the monolith and make a detailed record of fondlers, typing them by age, gender, nationality, degree of embarrassment or public awareness. Still, given my rough scan of faces, clothing, skin pigmentation and the like milling about the statuary, it is most probable that these were not all Norwegian hands engaged in groping behavior. And if this is so, then we are not talking about any one society of transgressors; rather, we are talking about ALL society as perpetrating a public bad. The human world writ large, our all-inclusive public, living amidst and reproducing a comprehensive collective consciousness. We behold a milieu where reaching out to clutch a boob is not considered a big deal. A mental state where one can declare: "hey, look at her tits. The marks don't lie. Everyone else grabbed her, too . . . so, why not I?"

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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