The sacred cows of Warp, Aphex Twin and Autechre each released records in the past year that were mediocre and incredibly abstract, respectively. Not to mention Squarepusher's attempt at vitality through a genre exercise. With these fine acts releasing subpar material in the past year, IDM fans have looked elsewhere for quality. Attention has finally been paid to the United States, of all places. After almost a decade of European superiority, the press began to look to the United States, California particularly, for the next mutation of the genre to appear.
In the group of labels that have sprung up in the area -- Tigerbeat6, Plug Research, and Othlororng Musork -- there is a sense of a movement brewing. It seems that perhaps the Americans are set to dethrone the European hegemony of IDM. In the past year, Matmos and Tigerbeat6 were even featured in taste purveyors Spin Magazine. Aside from Cex's stellar Role Model LP, which was recorded over two years ago, we have little indication that Kid606 and friends have much to offer us at all besides scatological humor (Blectum from Blechdom) and abstraction for abstraction's sake (Kid606 and Electric Company).
In the never-ending search the press has mounted for a new genre to "discover", however, Kid606's label has received almost unanimous praise for a myriad of reasons. Some of the reasons are well founded, admittedly, but they have nothing to do with the music. IDM, a genre renown for faceless producers and mystery surrounding releases and working methods, has received a sort of kick in the pants due to the Tigerbeat6 attitude of punk rock electronics and accessibility. The cult of personality crafted by the European sensibility that the music is more important than the person making it has fallen by the wayside a bit, in Tigerbeat6's attitudes. Cex maintains an online journal that details his journey as the "#1 Entertainer" in the world. That is what Tigerbeat6 is essentially about, in the end. Entertainment. Because behind all of the distortion, DSP, and the attitude -- what remains? Not much.
In this first release for the Violent Turd label, what seems to be an offshoot of Tigerbeat6, Kid606 has enlisted a group of friends to remix Missy Elliot songs. This is not unlike the release of a few years ago where a group of Kid606's associates remixed an entire NWA album. This sort of bootlegging has come into vogue lately. Either in the mix of Kylie Minouge's "Can't Get You out of My Head" and New Order's "Blue Monday" at the Brit Awards last month or the mix of Christina Aguilera's "Genie In a Bottle" and The Strokes' "Hard To Explain", we have a impressive mixing of genres and a new genre that is slowly being born with the rise of technology and its ease of use. Even with the brilliant ones rising to the top quickly, there are tons of failed experiments. In the end, the genre, if you can call it that, has either no staying power or all the staying power in the world.
Obviously groups will continue to make songs and bedroom producers, liking them or disliking them, will have reason to put them on top of each other in a gleeful deconstruction/reconstruction, all too reminiscent of the Cubist art movement. Unfortunately, no coherent statement is really being made here besides "I like this song, a lot. I like that song a lot. They sure do sound alike ... what if I put them together?" The unauthorized remixes of Missy Elliot are even worse, critically, however. Since there is no mixing, only remixing, what the groups that have undertaken remixes are basically saying, as Simon Reynolds so eloquently puts it, "We really REALLY like these Missy Elliott records. If only we could be this cool, if only we could pull off the avant-garde yet massively popular/potent balancing act too."
As any person paying attention to hip-hop will tell you, there has been an amazing amount of innovation in the production lately, initiated by both Timbaland and The Neptunes. Timbaland has taken the hip-hop paradigm out of the programmed four-four beats, into a syncopated territory rife with instrumentation that would sound absolutely absurd out of context, but within his framework ends up sounding new and fresh even with questionable talent rapping over it (Magoo? I know he's a childhood friend, but you could do so much better, Tim!).
Aside from the philosophical context and meaning behind the productions, it all comes down to the final product -- the music. There are six proper remixes contained on the disc, aside from the final seventh unlisted track which contains five minutes of silence and then approximately forty minutes of distorted static filled music that reminds of Merzbow. The first remix is by Kid606, himself. A large portion of the original is heard, with an amount of distortion and digital effects added on for good measure. The bleeps and bloops that are added are fun and interesting but only leaves the listener asking the question, "What's the point?" It certainly doesn't sound better than the original. Structure is destroyed in favor of keeping the listener off balance and ready for anything. At this point, however, the most interesting thing that any of these artists could do would be to actually write a straight up pop song. With the advent of punk rock, everyone and their brother decided that forming a band would be both easy and a good idea. Now that software has begun to be cheaper or easy to pirate; the fans of electronic music and, now, pop have begun to form their own bands posting their newest compositions on mp3.com in the hopes of being discovered.
The DIY ethic of the new American IDM is admirable, surely. Unfortunately, the ethic has been almost mythologized by the public and the press and, as a result, pop has taken a backseat in the minds of many music fans. Sometimes, however, it would seem that pop does much better for itself than the underground reworking of it -- as it does in this case. After all, pop matters, right?