"Imagine rock music as a beached whale's carcass," suggests pop critic Simon Reynolds. "What seems like intense activity is really necrotic vitality -- a maggot horde of bands living off the rotting flesh of a moribund culture. In their teeming tediousness, rock books exist on an even lower plane, microbial parasites that live off the maggots." Reynolds posits it's no accident we're currently drowning in a sea of tribute CDs, theme concerts, VH1 documentaries, and dueling biographies. "Rock's current crisis of overdocumentation suggests there's an inverse ratio between the vitality of a popular music and the amount of book-length analyses it generates. The book departments at Tower and Virgin overflow with rock tomes while rap and rave, the two most vital forms of modern music, each occupy barely half a shelf. Coincidence?"
Naysayers looking in turn to place the first nail in electronica's own coffin can now gleefully point to the new sprawling retrospective six-CD box set (one-third influences, one-third classics, one-third remixes of its own releases) put out by the pioneering Warp Records, a self-congratulatory stack of electronic music wherein the British label fetes itself on its tenth anniversary. Launched in England's bleak northern industrial city of Sheffield (think of a British version of Cleveland) by Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell, Warp quickly made a name for itself by releasing tracks from that nation's second wave of acid house, an exhilarating response to the explosion of interest in American artists such as Derrick May and Larry Heard. "Bleep and bass" tunes on Warp from Sheffield acts like LFO, Sweet Exorcist, and Nightmares on Wax were everything the genre's newly coined moniker and its artists' names would suggest: harsh, caustic, and sinister takes on the fusion of robotic funk and slinky rhythms being advanced by the stars of Detroit techno and Chicago deep house. In an interview with the British press, Beckett recalled that the concept driving many of those early records was the notion of pushing the music's frequencies beyond the normal limits of human response, a process that came to the fore during the vinyl's mastering stage.
"Basically it was about taking off all the filters on the cutting heads [devices used to make the mold from which individual records are then pressed], all the compression, and just pushing the levels up as far as you could," Beckett explained. "The engineer, this guy Kevin, would be sitting there sweating as he watched the temperature gauge go right up -- because your cutting heads get really hot if you haven't got the filters on -- and he'd be saying, 'You're gonna fuckin' destroy me, ya bastards!' If the heads blew, he'd be sacked."
In 1992 Warp reinvented itself with the release of Artificial Intelligence, a compilation that heralded the label's new direction in championing the work of postrave experimentalists, including Aphex Twin, Autechre, and Squarepusher. Increasingly termed "intelligent dance music," the form is better suited to headphones than to the dance floor, owing to its gleefully tortured relationship with clubland's emphasis on melody over timbre, and its upturned nose toward listener-friendly, easily palatable grooves.
If it seems notable that Warp's output has had a profound influence on the leading lights of Miami's avant-garde electronicists, there's also a special irony at play. These local artists have in turn flipped many of the theoretical notions advanced by Britain's school of idm, namely reintroducing the very source elements of hip-hop, electro, and galloping Miami bass from which artists like Aphex Twin originally ran screaming.
Consider it a harbinger, then, that to lead the remixes component of its box set, the Warp honchos chose Miami's Edgar Farinas, a.k.a. Push Button Objects. Alongside Phoenecia, Farinas stands as one of South Florida's most internationally recognized electronic talents, creating a singular B-Boy bouillabaisse over the course of several twelve-inches. But while Phoenecia seems to revel in pushing grooves to their breaking point, triggering beats that often lurch into spasmodic heart arrhythmias, Farinas favors his New York City rap roots. No matter how off-kilter and fuzzed-out affairs may stray, there's always a crunchy, head-nodding hip-hop shuffle poking through.
For his remix contribution, Farinas says he was given free rein to choose any song from the Warp catalogue. His selection was Boards of Canada (a British duo that released its debut album last year) and its chirpy, wistful "An Eagle in Your Mind."
"I bet you're wondering why I chose that song out of everything," says Farinas suggestively. Was it something in particular he heard in its childlike skipping melody? "It's not what I heard; it's what I didn't hear," he replies, citing the track's sense of airiness, the way it seems to literally breathe. "I knew there was room for me to get in there."
Indeed. Farinas's remix creatively dirties up the original with bouts of hip-hop backspinning and scratching, adding some flavorful grit to the template's pastiness. Warp apparently agrees: They've picked up the European distribution for Push Button Objects' forthcoming Dirty Dozen CD, which collects earlier work, much of it originally released on now-out-of-print vinyl on the Miami-based Chocolate Industries and Schematic labels.
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"It's weird looking back on that stuff," Farinas continues. "You're always growing and changing as a person, so when you listen to an older track, it's like looking at an old portrait of yourself." And just who does he see in those faded snapshots? "That's a deep question," laughs Farinas. "I'm not a philosopher; I'm a musician."
Next up for Push Button Objects is a twelve-inch collaboration on Chocolate Industries with Miami's èminence grise turntablist DJ Craze under the guise of Ko-Wreck Technique, as well as a live date Wednesday, November 17, at the Meza Gallery's (275 Giralda Ave., in Coral Gables) weekly Exedra party. On tap for that evening is an improvisational jam with two of Farinas's percussion-playing pals, recently returned from studying in Cuba with the legendary rumba outfit Muñequitos de Mantanzas. "Before I moved down here I really wasn't up on my own Cuban culture," the Cuban-American Farinas notes, describing a childhood in New York City where Puerto Rican styles were dominant in the air. "But here," he adds warmly, "Cuban culture is everywhere!"
Also on deck for Exedra this Wednesday is England's electro deconstructionist Mikey Dred, and a cast of the usual suspects. Music starts at 10:00 p.m.
Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org