The Kind of Music I Listen to, Part 1: Me and the Music
“So uh… what kind of music do you like?” asks my new acquaintance, desperately trying to cling to conversation as the evident common ground between us shrinks with each awkward word. “Surely this ol’ standby can’t fail to ignite debate?” he thinks to himself, “After all, everyone likes music!”
For the longest time though, this universal truth, like so many others before and since, just didn’t apply to my contrary ass.
“Music?!” I would say, my disdainful tone rapidly dissolving any hope of pleasant conversation from my friendly victim’s features, “You mean that whiny repetitive garbage that punctuates the pain of every annoying commercial? That self-satisfied screeching of the bastards responsible for the pointless music videos that so intrusively intersperse my beloved cartoons? That virulent tool of the diabolical Spice Girls that inspired my friend’s older sister to subject me to a unique performance of ‘Tell me what you want, what you really, really want’ in which she threw ACTUAL SPICE directly into my EYES? That shit?”
“Uh, yeah. So you don’t like any of it?”
“No. No I do not. You monster.”
In my defense, this was the late 90s: The likes of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and the aforementioned Spice Girls had reached a critical mass that granted them total audio dominance until the blessed day that they stumbled drunkenly out of our ears and into the tabloids. The last wheels of Cobains’s mopy revolution were grinding loudly on in a desperate facade of relevance. R&B had gained mainstream appeal. It was a dark time.
Understandably I feel, I went through the first 15 or so years of my life just tolerating music as the inexplicably popular vice of the society that I’d already devoted my existence to abandoning in favor of the “Democratic Republic of Me and my Damned self Alone.” They could keep their music, I thought, just as they could keep their sports and their friends and their unreachable goals of happiness and love. I had my books, I had my videogames, and to the acceptable exclusion of all else, I had myself.
This is about as true today as it was then, with one obvious exception: I have my music now.
I’m not sure when it was exactly that I was born into my new glorious world of audible emotion, but I do know what it was that set me on my way.
I was a listless teenager (as I imagine most of us are as we have our first accidental stumbles into the selves we shall ultimately become), surfing the vast HTML oceans that my new broadband connection afforded me. One of my regular internet haunts at the time was Newgrounds.com, a site both famous for its Flash Portal that hosts tens of thousands of user-created flash-animations, and infamous for the fact that among these are the birthplaces of the “Numa Numa” and “All your Base” memes. Anyway, one of the prominently featured animations on that day was a fun little music video called “Yoshi’s Island Jam”, which was a tribute to one of my favorite childhood videogames. For me, the most striking thing about the video (aside from the disturbing image of an adult-sized baby Mario bobbing his head to the music while the words 1-UP flashed epileptically across the screen) was the music itself. While I wouldn’t call this little electric ditty anything approaching a masterpiece by my current and (I’d like to think) refined sensibilities, it intrigued me at the time with its clever mixing of melodic layers and its relieving lack of the obnoxious lyrics that had so far soured me to the medium. I clicked on the “audio” link in the video’s credits in hopes of finding a new mp3 to inhabit the barren memory card of my new N-Gage (Disclaimer: I regret nothing), which at the time boasted only Strauss’ Blue Danube, an mp3 that I used solely for demonstrating the wonders of technology to old people. Fully expecting a flood of spyware to ooze forth from whatever dark alley of teh interwebz that this professional-sounding track could be illegally downloaded, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the link simply led to another section of Newgrounds.com: its oft-overlooked Audio Portal.
Much like its Flash counterpart, the Newgrounds’ Audio Portal allows independent artists to submit their creations for grading and categorizing by their peers. The key difference being that users are actively encouraged by said artists to freely download, remix and/or use the tracks in their own flash creations (as long as proper credit is given, via such aforementioned “Audio” links).
After guiltlessly listening to the Yoshi’s Island track (actually called “All of the World”) to exhaustion and downloading it for what would prove to be years of use, I checked out another of API’s (the author’s) more popular works, which was another techno track called “Paradise on E”. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I opted to ignore the song title’s colorful serving suggestion and immediately find what wonders the track would hold for my tragically dope-free mind to soak in.
I’d say this was about the point that life became worth it.
This track, a fantastically paced and coordinated mix of measured anticipation and intense euphoric release, was my first pure experience of beauty. I mean, before that I had a vague idea of what beauty was supposed to be: the pleasantly coalescing features of the women who scorned me, the epic vastness of nature that I could never quite force myself to forget was just air and sticks and dust, a singer’s sincere vocal expression of a love I would never hope to understand, let alone feel for myself; the reason the true nature of beauty always seemed to elude me was that it was always something that belonged to someone else. But as I sat there, listening to the beautifully inhuman melody glide from the quietly emboldening set-up to the masterfully controlled explosion of unrelenting joy over and over again, each time focusing on a different melodic aspect or layer of sound so as to experience it with renewed virginity, I knew I had found a beauty that was mine. The track forged a connection to my ever waning acceptance of my existence that has since been an invaluable conduit for the world’s redeeming features to pull me back from the brink. I had discovered a fundamental truth about myself…
I fucking love Techno.
Not the mindless obscenely repetitive droning of three-note tunes, brain-boring phrases and clumsy, artless bass that tragically seems to represent the genre in the wider public sphere, mind you. I’m talking the proverbial good shit here. I’m talking about a natural evolution of classical music that uses modern tools and sensibilities to produce art with the same intentions that Mozart and Pals had when they defined their cultural eras: music whose myriad audible aspects are meticulously crafted to convey the purest representation of the artist’s emotions and musical talent, while remaining unrestricted by petty lyrics that would tie our interpretations down to a single perspective that only the artist could ever truly embrace.
Like you, I love my music, and like you, I want to share my music and the feelings it invokes in me with the rest of the world. Usually one could just trust the radio or MTV or whatnot to do this work for you since most genres are given a fair shake by the mainstream media, giving the casual listener enough opportunity to whet their appetite for the really good stuff even if said stuff is pushed into obscurity by the auto-tuned whumphing horror of Lady Gaga and her ilk. As I’ve mentioned though, techno has been unjustly misrepresented by the polarizing mindless extremity of the bass-drenched 20 minute atrocities and keening Europop gibberish (which I imagine could only be marginally enjoyed through a filter of nigh-fatal doses of ecstasy) that you’re likely to think of when someone tells you they’re into techno. This is an injustice I hope to help correct.
So join me as I present The Kind of Music I Listen to, one artist/style at a time, and listen as I describe just why each track is as amazing as it is. Each part in this ongoing series will contain a set of mini-reviews for individual tracks that I feel best represent a particular artist (or particular style if one artist’s work isn’t enough to go on) starting with my current favorite artist, NemesisTheory (whose list of freely and legally downloadable music is linked) next week sometime.
In the meantime though, here are links to the musical libraries* of some of my favorite artists (in no particular order) if you’d like a taste of their greatness before I cover it with my own strange definition of depth.
*All music is uploaded personally by independent artists and intended for free distribution and even sampling provided full credit for the original artist is given in either case.
>Next time, Symphonic Storms and the majesty of NemesisTheory