January 21, 2003

The Kids Are Not OK

One of the reasons I enjoy reading Pitchfork is that they are single-mindedly young. None of your crusty old anoraks round their offices, thanks, it's all new and energetic. Which is a good thing, in my book. Who wants to read endless reviews which begin "Back in 1990, when music was good..."? If I wanted that, I'd stay in Chi's backyard and listen to myself talking.

The thing about Pitchfork's relentless yoofism though is that it can add some really odd angles to their backwards gaze. As every good record nerd knows, you can only get cred by knowing not just about every good record currently out, but every good record that ever influenced all the current ones. So like the rest of us, Pitchfork is wall-to-wall back-catalogue exploration and bargain bin diving. It's the putting it together that makes it funny.

Much like Pitchfork's campaign to make Sonic Youth drop the Youth because they're old, this review comes up with some truly weird cultural perspective. In the Sonic Youth case, Hoboken's finest were compared unfavourably to the dynamic, new and young scene in Chicago, a scene packed with fresh young bands like, er, Tortoise, and fresh young players like, er, Jim O'Rourke. Hey, isn't he in Young Turtle? Or was it Sonic Tort? Whatever, Thurston's an old guy, unlike David Pajo.

So in this case, poor old Jean-Michel Jarre gets the once-over by a young fellow whose point of reference is Richard D. James. Unsurprisingly, the conclusion is that while Jarre can certainly plug in more than one analogue synth, he's basically a boring old frog who flew too close to new age to have much to offer to present day listeners. The last couple sentences ought to give you a flavour: "So while Jarre has the distinction of showing up early in the game, armed with a studio full of toys and the aloof egotism of his homeland in tow, his music may not be enough to save him from relegation to the footnotes of electronic music history, no matter how many archeological sites he plays, no matter how many keyboards he links together". There's even an unflattering comparison to Yanni.

Even as I was chuckling over the sort of world which enables an American to write that the French suffer from aloof egotism, I was struck by just how historically stuck this perspective is. It's roughly akin to saying that while John Lee Hooker had a couple of good tunes and could boogie a bit, he's pretty much a non-starter because he played the same song for fifty years and didn't really have too many lyrics. Cause, you know, John Lee didn't have all that much influence on the blues. So what we have here is the kind of history that says it don't sound like it do now, hence it ain't no good. Richard D. James is more complex, so Jarre is a footnote. I'll bet that the reviewer is a fan of the incredible depth and complexity that Kraftwerk worked into every one of their seven notes. I'll go further - I'll bet the revewer thinks Kraftwerk were a composition outfit while Jarre is an effects jockey.

My point is that it's interesting to see how an entire stream of compositional electronic music has pretty much died in the dark. Try and find the person who admits to liking Vangelis or Giorgio Miroder. So poor old Jarre, with all of his multi-keyboard conceits, falls prey to people who miss the point. In 1976, it wasn't all Kraftwerk. In fact, it was a hell of a lot more Can and Tangerine Dream and Jarre. So here's to Jarre and what he represented, which was a multi-layered, orchestral approach to electronic music. It can't be that long since (French Band ) Air were around, can it?

posted on January 21, 2003 at 12:30 PM by darren.