Audioccult Vol. 30: War on Subculture?

Words by Daniel Jones

 

Light a candle. Draw the required sigils. Now, raise your arms above your head and slowly, gently, exhale your soul. You won’t need it here. This is Audioccult, and it’s time to get low. Illustration: Simone Klimmeck

You probably know about the Rihanna/Azealia thing by now. If not, consider yourself lucky. People even remotely connected to Internet culture spent most of yesterday bellyaching about how both artists jacked the #seapunk aesthetic. Meanwhile, those who would claim authorship of repurposed Myst graphics and No Doubt regurgitations are fuming that a mainstream artist (or their stylists, anyway) would dare to pop their unique feel-special bubble, along with… well, a good chunk of tumblr.

I’m not saying I approve of subcultural swaggerjacking, but can it really be a surprise to anyone that pop culture is once again appropriating imagery, themes and sounds from other aspects of social culture? This is what pop does. Not well, and usually late, but there’s nothing new here. I’ve seen posts up and down a dozen social networking sites, all acting as if this were the first shot fired in a subculture war. It isn’t. It’s a blip. It’s Elton John wearing ripped jeans. If every Miley Cyrus fan started buying camo spiked jackets and Docs tomorrow (available at your nearest Urban Outfitters) it’s still not cause to fume about it. This is what trends are, and have always been. You can’t hold an aesthetic captive, and hey, at least mainstream people with no creativity of their own can be inspired by aesthetics that are a pleasure to look at instead of complete trash. And, of course, everyone looks silly no matter what they wear anyway. We’re just kind of all agreeing to think otherwise.

In the meantime, let’s get back to what makes subcultures really interesting—the music. As 2012 comes to a close, I’m busy doing what most other music writers are: putting together my Year’s Best list. After careful consideration, I’ll spend several days compiling and editing an article full of every sound in 2012 that truly moved me, heart-or-feet-wise, and that I think are worth your time as a reader to browse through and then complain that it isn’t what you would have put. The latest Clicks & Whistles single doesn’t make the grade, but it has been on heavy rotation. Love it or hate it, trap-influenced productions have infested music this year. I’m not in the naysayer camp; if there’s some thought put into it, I think it’s some of the most fun music to throw down to, though I still get a bit overwhelmed by the steady flow of boring attempts (and there’s a lot). “Southern Slaw” is every neo-trap cliche combined into one big, barreling, air horn-blasting monster that’s impossible to ignore on the dance floor.

The list will hold at least two Hospital Records artists, I can guarantee that. Nothing has been a surprise more than the emergence of actual techno in my life—albeit in inky-black experimental form. Vatican Shadow (along with a few other key groups and labels) has shifted my views slightly and made me delve deeper into Sandwell District and the like, though further listening suggestions from friends have been met with some frustration and, occasionally, bafflement on my part… Apparat, Mark? Seriously?

 

I can’t go too much farther down this path now or I’ll blow my entire List-wad early, but I’ll end today with a selection that honestly surprised me. While I wouldn’t rate Crystal Castles‘ III in my top albums of the year (though it still has some strong points) I feel that it has earned a place in at least the top 50 tracks. “Pale Flesh” showcases the strong balance CC have finally found between their old noise aesthetic and their evolving fragmented bleakpop. It’s impossible for me to melt for the likes of Purity Ring when here is that same luscious sub-R&B vibe, those pitched-down vocals ping-ponging against Alice’s familiar scream—finally controlled, but hardly tamed. It’s just as harrowing as the rest of the album, yet gently sensual. Plus it sounds like she’s saying ‘Listen to Beyoncé’, and that’s a pretty good point.