Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hot 97. Last Bastion of Love -or- Get That Paper

O! Very fond memories have I of driving around suburban, and sometimes urban, Detroit with my friends in, usually, a black Pontiac Trans-Am, listening to music of various styles and qualities. 101.9 FM WDET, the NPR affiliate in Detroit, had a show on Saturday nights which we would often listen to because, obviously, that was where the scene was on Saturday nights. The DJ in charge of this show played contemporary Carribean music ranging from dancehall, to the strange soca tunes of bands like Burning Flames, to stuff that, looking back on it, was probably just really weird dub.

We had our minds blown. Nothing in our lives had prepared us for this music, which we referred to as techno reggae.

What we were after at the time, more than anything else, was disorientation. Of course, we weren't really agressive about seeking it out - LSD was out of the question and it was too much work to try and get into dance clubs which, in Detroit, all carded. So we started to listen to hip hop, noisy rock and electronic music. But, as weird as Aphex Twin can be, and as foreign as the likes of "B.O.B." can be for white suburban kids (or it least it could back then - suburban white kids right now probably identify with hip hop more than they do with the Barenaked Ladies: scary) techno reggae was the real outer space music. And thus we ate it up.

Later, I of course turned to other disorienting musics, but gradually began to lose the sense of wonder that had so transfixed me when listening to DET. Enter Hot 97. "Oh," you say. "Just another hip hop station." Well maybe I'm out of touch, but what I've been hearing, granted, only periodically, on this station has confused me in particular ways, has tickled parts of my aesthetic conciousness rarely touched since the days of techno reggae.

My impression from listening to Hot 97 has been that when a DJ is really spinning, really in the zone, when a show is hitting it's hardest, there are multiple people talking, there are sound effects, there is often a beat or a hook, looped beyond recognition, which is cut out of and into at random, there are sampled quotes from various sources, shout-outs, and this constitutes the radio experience. The idea of the song is destroyed and replaced with sonic thing. No song, no commercials, no moments at which the DJ is holding court. Options, for the DJ, become myriad, and decisions become confused and confusing.

Obviously the nature of disorientation is slightly different from that which I felt when listening to techno reggae. This disorientation stems from a lack of context not for the music itself, which is easily recognizable as a hip hop beat - at worst, pedestrian - but from a lack of context for the entire enterprise. The goal, it seems is the party. But even in this context, why the explosions, gun shots, substandard hooks that loop for 10 mins +?

It's hard to be shocked by music anymore, but, I guess what I'm trying to say is, Hot 97 has reminded me that there are ways that music can be listened to that are still very much not anything my mind has previously had anything to do with. More than anything I've heard in a long time, this can sound like noise. And that's a challenge I gladly accept.

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