Sometimes, the best music is the fruit of a dare made between two people. Daring someone else to make music distills the business of making music itself (whether this business is for filthy lucre or not) to its purest essence. Everything is reduced to two people — the solicitor of the dare (a.k.a. the Darer) and the creator of the music (a.k.a. the Daree).
For example, Darer says to Daree, “I triple dog dare you to write a song telling the world how much you love the female posterior.” Daree goes home, writes the song, it’s released, and it’s still played in crap nightclubs around the world. Or, Darer dangles a $100 bill in front of drooling Daree, promising her the crisp Benjamin if she writes a song about that skater boy she’s always talking about. Some months later, they’re talking about making that same song into a Hollywood film.
As might be obvious from these (fictional) examples, what’s eliminated is the brainpower wasted on thinking about anything outside of the relationship between the two people: i.e., potential audiences for the music, potential promotion of the music, or potential marketability of the music. Art in a vacuum: what an amazing concept.
However, as might also be obvious from these (fictional) examples, what’s unfortunately not addressed in this vacuum is the potential quality of the music. If you’re the creator, and only dealing with one other person’s challenge, what happens if that person’s aesthetic sense isn’t worth a damn? Or, what happens if you sacrifice your own personal aesthetics in a mad rush to fulfill the terms of the dare? Well, one way of making the vacuum stronger — and to potentially avoid this tricky question of aesthetics — is to reduce the equation further, so that Darer and Daree become the same person. This is an even more closed system, known as “the solo venture”, where asses and holes in grounds are sometimes confused with one another.
Having said all that, the Soft Pink Truth’s Do You Party?, which is absolutely the province of Drew Daniel, is equally and emphatically three things: (1) a solo project, (2) the product of a dare, and (3) a positively revolutionary house music record. To address the first two in one fell factoid: apparently, Matthew Herbert, the brains behind Soundslike (and himself a sampling genius), dared Daniel, one-half of San Francisco’s experimental-minded sample kings Matmos, to make a house record. And, happily for us, Daniel complied, releasing the “PromoFunk” 12″ in 2001.
Fortunately, the potential downfalls of a solo project, born out of a dare, no less, haven’t blunted this record’s impact one bit. Do You Party? is revolutionary in the ways that Herbert’s and Matmos’s music are. In fact, the aesthetic shared by all three artists is similar to the one shared by hip-hop’s earliest deejays: these jocks — by using old funk and soul songs, from scratchy and dusty LPs — created a new kind of music, erected on the pop cultural building blocks of their lives. However, the Soft Pink Truth is closer than his two compadres (one of whom samples the sound of capitalist consumer culture, and the other, who creates twisted compositions out of the sounds of liposuction, to name but one example) to these deejays, in that his record uses samples from unidentifiable dance/house music records as its cement.
But I think what’s revolutionary isn’t just the fact that Daniel is making music out of older music; reading this tactic in and of itself as revolutionary is fraught with problems. Is the 2 Live Crew reworking “Doo Wah Diddy” progressive? Is Puff Daddy remaking “Every Breath You Take” as “I’ll Be Missing You” imaginative? What makes this record more than cursorily sample-heavy is the way that Daniel uses these samples. Just as Matmos makes glitchy electronic music from amplified spinning coins (to name but another example), Daniel has added literal and figurative glitches to dance/house music clichés, deconstructing the clichés in the process. This doesn’t mean, though, that the Soft Pink Truth is just the house music version of Gravy Train!!!! and Hawnay Troof, both groups who, in their own funny ways, deconstruct booty rap by reproducing its scatological/sexual obsessions. What is important and refreshing about Do You Party? is that the clichés are paraded not as objective “truths” inherent to the genre but are shown to be clichés, ultimately empty of any real meaning beyond their situatedness in the genre.
“Gender Studies” perhaps works best as an illustration of the way the album emphasizes how the genre is both inescapably about gender and sexuality, and how these two qualities are never as fixed as the genre would like them to be. The song, like many house records before it, uses the voice of the diva to vocalize the otherwordly feelings the music is trying to convey to its listeners. Although how the diva is used is the crucial difference here: Daniel samples androgynous (male) voices grunting and intoning “girl” on top of a stutter-stepping beat, synthesizers, and squelching bass. The lyrics, as such, perhaps overdetermine the heterosexuality of the singers of the song (we’re led to believe that it’s all about the “young ladies” or “girls” or “women”) at the same time that their effete quality (not to mention the fact that song ends with a voice declaiming, “I wish I was a lady”) undercuts their sexual orientation. (I would argue that “Big Booty Bitches” attempts to do the same, although this looks and sounds more like a crunked-out version of an Ice Cube song that samples — ad nauseam — the word “bitch” for giggles, than a post-modern comment on gender and identity.)
Musically, (and for sheer visceral house music pleasure) “Soft Pink Missy” is a good example of the non-lyrical aesthetic here, as the song both percolates and whams with the squiggy force of the best acid tracks, all the while derailing itself from that track. “PromoFunk”, too, is a joy. In this song, we’re in a disco on Uranus, and what starts as a dead night on the floor — one Venusian dancer tentatively jerking her various tentacle-like appendages next to a hydraulic droid — ends as a pumping and bumping orgy with all cylinders pumping and all orifices being filled. The sweat has barely dried on the limp bodies on the dancefloor when one of rings around the planet explodes.
From the Soft Pink Truth’s polymorphously perverse logo (drawn as a composite of lips, muscles, and, yes, a penis dripping dewdrops of diamonds) to the crown jewel, a cover of Vanity 6’s “Make Up” — sung here by Blevin Blectum as a repersonalized femmebot discovering the simple joys of appearing sexy for her creator and finding it incredibly funny at the same time, Do You Party? is an intelligent dance music album, perhaps as ground-breaking as the Human League’s (wait for it) Dare. If only this one was as well known!