11 August 2007

Urban Soundtracks Pt.1


Art ∕ Blurbanism

Cycling back home from work this evening I found myself singing the words to Goldie’s Inner City Life, as sung by Diane Charlemagne, a track which blew me away when I first heard it in 1996. I still have the 12″ and played it this evening and tried to remember a few images from the video, which was typically gritty and urban: a woman at the kitchen sink, piled up telephone bills, a supermarket trolley falling from a block of flats ”¦ The text is all about desire and longing.


Inner city life: it’s sepia-toned

This got me thinking about the word “urban” and its relationship to music. It’s roots in the US go back to 1970s HipHop and R&B, but in the last few years it has become strongly tied with London’s underground music scene. Artists such as Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Lady Sovereign or the Roll Deep Crew, all from East London, are typical proponants of a British urban sound and are usually lumped together in the genre “Grime”. On his 2004 track Wot Do U Call It?, Wiley pokes fun at the need to label music with simple catch-all terms: “What you called it? Urban? / What you call it? Garage?” he rhymes ironically.

The garage he’s referring to here isn’t where he parks his car, but rather the genre “Garage” – or more specifically, UK Garage – a British spin-off of the kind of dance music which got played in New York City’s Paradise Garage club in the late 1970s to mid 1980s. A close relative is of course “House” music which developed out of Disco, and possibly owes it’s name to The Warehouse, a Chicago club of the same era. The relationship between music and architecture in a post-industrial urban setting is clear, however odd such terms might sound.

Last week a friend introduced me to the numbingly addictive last.fm. This website is a depository for vast amounts of music which is searchable via artists names or, inevitably these days, user definable tags. Music matching your search is streamed to you via an in-browser player, but once your song is over, the software kicks in and automaically loads the next tune out of a relational database. The result is a stream-of-consciousness meander through a collective sense of “genre”.

So I’ve tried something out. Take a look at the sidebar and you’ll see a last.fm widget configured to play music tagged with the word “urban”. Give it a whirl. Next week I’ll reconfigure it and try out “Garage” or “House”. But I’ll have some fun too. In a rural parallel universe maybe there’s a Pastoral dance music scene which has spawned a plethora of sub-genres called “Shed” or “Barn”. I’d like to know what “Haystack” music sounds like, or how you might dance to the stuff people are calling “Silo-Style”. I’ll try these and other tags out, and see what happens.

But what I’m really looking forward to is a future breed of minimal-brutalist Brazilian HipHop called “el Slab”.