For a long time now I’ve been wondering whether the value of influences isn’t so much in helping to shape and sculpt the music than to make the producers sound important in interviews. It’s always been an issue. Back in the early days there seemed to be an infinite line of bald techno people queuing up to describe the many ways in which their entire musical outlook had been irrevocably altered by a fearsome krautrock band from the late 70s who only ever released a single 12″, most of which ended up in landfill site outside Hamburg. In some senses it was a similar situation to all those post punks in the early 80s who all claimed that their lives had been turned by being present at the 100 Club for the Sex Pistols’ first gig even though the science involved in squeezing thirty or forty thousand people into a 300 capacity venue has never been empirically explained.
Nowadays we may have a wider range of influence claims on offer, but they tend to remain just as telling, especially when you pause to consider their uniformity. Is there a job application you have to fill in before you start producing electronic music? is claiming that your music incorporates elements of the free wheeling exploratory disco of Arthur Russell, for example, akin to saying you went to the right school? Is larging up your love for Sun Ra (especially if the only Sun Ra record you listened to is Headhunters) any more of a guide to your skills, taste and abilities than filling up the Personal Details section of the application form with a broadly fictionalized account of your Scuba-diving escapades, even though you only did it once, on a family holiday?
I choose these two artists not because I have anything against their music – Arthur Russel is alright, just not really my thing, and I’ve always been more Son House than Sun Ra in musical outlook – but because there is something dreadfully predictable in their choice by so many people as the prime instigators of their musical evolution. That there are people out there who live and breathe the work of both artists is absolutely true and utterly correct; both are incredibly important proponents of their respective genres who managed in many ways to actually transcend those self-same genres. But the massive explosion of people claiming a life time affinity with them points to the sad and basic fact that there is some epic fibbing going on.
I’ve always shrugged when I’ve heard the tales of borderline obsession people have with esoteric industrial bands or noise artists who existed more as an ideal than a real act, particularly when it comes to techno. I’ve known a fair amount of techno people over the years, both producers and DJs, and the simple truth is the music many of these people had in their collections tended to be as daft, random and fickle as the rest of us. How many techno bods REALLY bought some incredibly influential krautrock LP the first time they went into a record store clutching pocket-money in their sweaty palms? how many actually bought INXS’s first album?
We lie about our tastes. We all do. We do it because most of us don’t like looking the oddball amongst the cool kids. This is especially prevalent in Our Thing where the politics, the taste in clothes and the nights out might seem wild and branding free but the influences, the music we all claim to listen to, remains subject to a conservatism which is difficult to shake. Often times we even believe our own bullshitting. It’s difficult to admit that we don’t always enjoy the stuff we tell ourselves we love.
The real problem though, and the real danger of this form of conservatism in the music is when it feeds into a desire to create sounds which conforms to those mythical paradigms we convince ourselves exist. Suddenly we have a thousand records all stealing the same influences from the same sources. In a sense, this is what killed electronic music for me back in the early years of the millennium – going into record stores and finding hundreds of records which were all copies of each other because all the music the producers listened to was exactly the same. Failure to expand our tastes is one thing, but failure to admit our real tastes is just as dangerous. I’d rather a techno producer come out and admit they don’t enjoy Jeff Mills, say, and do something different that bang out replication after replication because it’s what might sell. You know what? The new stuff might or might not sell, but until we hear it we aren’t ever going to know.
I doubt Jimi Tenor has ever been kept up at night trying to make sure his listening corresponded to current trends, and this is a guy who has always had one large foot permanently rooted in the avant-garde. In many ways Tenor is the embodiment of the idea that the really individual musical talents are those who remain true to their own musical vision, taking what they need or like from other sources but folding it, warping it until it because part of them. Take Me Baby has always been an incredibly individualised shot of techno brilliance because it screws so successfully with conventions and expectations. It is a rave era shot of sleazy, irreverent easy listening, powered by energy generated by walking the line between cheeky, cheesy, convention and breathless experimentalism. I often claim a tune sounds like nothing else but it’s really true in this case. It’s brilliant, and it’s brilliant because although a thousand influences have fed into Tenor’s mind, the music sounds like it could only, ever, have come from him.
What can I say? I’ve had more than enough of conservatives this week. Stop listening to stuff because you feel you have to and start listening to stuff because it makes you happy, or sad, or angry or daft. Let’s do it, just this once, and see what happens.