Best Music Journalism: May 2015

Lauren Martin highlights some of the best reads from the past month.

Honest Jon’s: London Is The Place For Me (Aaron Coultate, Resident Advisor)

Record shops anchor musical communities, and champion local and far-flung sounds: keeping them not just open, but active and wanted in a market dominated by online sales is a tough job, and it’s one that west London’s Honest Jon’s has been honing well. In this extended, in-depth report, Resident Advisor’s Aaron Coultate meets the people behind the enterprise and ethos of the physical and online store, and how they continue to sell records in a climate that can often feel stacked against them.

You Can’t Stop The House (Gabriel Szatan, Boiler Room)

Deputy editor and sometime Boiler Room host Gabriel Szatan nails some thorny topics within an oft-discussed subject – the house music history and scene of Chicago – with an outsider perspective that allows for some fresh, honest criticism. Having helped to shape the recent House Legacy special at Chicago’s Gramaphone Records, this impassioned feature manages to do a few things: take the reader on a hop ‘n’ skip trip through a loaded musical and social history, contextualise the issues at hand through insights from key players in the scene, and, interestingly, make a case for the involvement of platforms such as Boiler Room in getting the music and stories out into the world: beyond a video stream and a chat room, and towards an active, positive future.

Nice’N’Easy Listening: Why Jamaica Loves Celine Dion and Air Supply (Erin McLeod, Guardian)

The musical heritage of the Caribbean is so deep-rooted and far-reaching that to stress its importance now is as obvious a statement of fact as any sincere music fan can make, but this story by Erin McLeod takes a different, more contemporary look at how popular music is approached and consumed in Jamaica. Taking the loose idea that the only arguable difference between nostalgia and kitsch is received notions of “good taste,” McLeod looks at how multi-million-selling but culturally maligned acts such as Celine Dion, Air Supply and other “middle of the road” rock and pop escapes a dusty fate on cheesy radio stations, and is enjoyed across the island.

Miss Appropriation (Maya Kalev, The Wire)

The wordplay of the title is apt, as Kalev addresses the thorny issue of how gender is maligned, re-appropriated and, sometimes, abused in the underground techno scene: as a “pernicious chauvinism across the aesthetic spectrum.” Catty, though, it is not: more, it is the perspective of a woman who loves the music, but does so with a knowing side-eye at how her male counterparts can straight-up miss the point.

The issue of the aesthetic manifestations of sex work in more recent strands of the techno community – in using artist names that “actively reinforce destructive stereotypes and even revel in abuse… these artists make the reactionary, stigmatising implication that sex work somehow shares the music’s anti-social qualities” – is one that’s bee bubbling under the skin of the scene for some time, and to have it confronted is refreshing.

(Note: It’s not online in full unless you’re a subscriber to The Wire.)

From Teklife to The Next Life (Meaghan Garvey, Pitchfork)

While Gabriel Szatan’s outsider perspective helped to shape his story of Chicago, the reverse case can be made just as strongly for a (recent ex-pat) homebody, like Meaghan Garvey and her wonderful story about the footwork and juke crew, Teklife. Garvey’s voice has grown more confident and original in recent months, and From Teklife to The Next Life is perhaps her best feature to date.

Meeting with DJ Tre, DJ Manny, Gant-Man and Spinn, Garvey sees how the blood brothers have steered this fascinating sound and culture from the Chicago streets to worldwide stages, and how the sudden death of footwork pioneer DJ Rashad has impacted their lives. The strength with which the crew speak, act and work together in the year since Rashad passed shines through Garvey’s words. Musically, a crew like Teklife is a rare creature. But it’s their honesty, sincerity and love for one another that make this story so powerful.

Sing For Silenced Voices: Eurovision 2015 & The Armenian Genocide (Alex Robert Ross, The Quietus)

This recent article is a studied exercise in how popular music culture and socio-political issues go much deeper than many an outsider perspective would or could assume. Grounded by the on-going denial of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish authorities, Armenia’s complex histories with neighbouring countries and conflicting regimes are played out in the political and pop arenas with loaded imperative. For those who joke about how the Eurovision is “rigged,” and dismisses the “politics in play,” from their armchairs, Ross shows that there’s a lot more to this competition than high camp, and the cosy glibness of the Terry Wogan’s of the screen.

Kobalt Changed The Rules of The Music Industry Using Data – and Saved It (Kevin Gray, Wired)

Scene: you’re a musician in 2015. Your music is on the Internet, on the radio, in stores, on television screens and in movie theaters, and you’re not getting paid right. Why? The complexity of the music industry today leaves many creatives in the dark as to how their product turns to profit, if at all, and it’s a subject that’s currently being tackled – no, potentially revolutionised – by a company called Kobalt Music Group. In this report by Wired, writer Kevin Gray meets with CEO Willard Ahdritz to discuss the origins, mission statement and practical realities of this company.

PC Music Are for Real: A. G. Cook and Sophie Talk Twisted Pop (Simon Vozick-Levinson, Rolling Stone)

British weirdo-pop label and production crew PC Music have ferociously divided opinion in the music world ever since their first Soundcloud uploads filtered through the online miasma. But it’s been hard to pinpoint who, or what, or why. Is it all a high-concept joke, or are these mysterious individuals really subverting received notions of pop music’s sonic and cultural value? Grabbing the chance at a first, proper chance to answer some of these questions is Rolling Stone’s Simon Vozick-Levinson, who sits down with SOPHIE and A.G. Cook to discuss how they view pop music in 2015 and beyond, how they function as a creative entity, and how corporate alignment and sponsorship can fold into the seemingly avant-garde.

By Lauren Martin on June 1, 2015

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