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Adam Harper Interview (Part Two)

In part two, we explore hip-hop and ideas of the far East in music

The Internet has opened up the possibilities for listening to esoteric or obscure music; you often don’t even have to pay anything, whether it’s free songs on BandCamp, YouTube or illegal downloads.

“In a world where you can simply just take a sample and click on a link,” says Harper, “the distance between the mainstream and the underground might be one of large numbers of people listening or not, but in terms of a digital space, it’s nothing.”

Therefore, genres like southern hip-hop have had a wide-ranging influence. Taking this example, its use of chopped-and-screwed vocals have made their mark on online microgenres, notably witch house. This was new, in Harper’s opinion, because “it had the sort of goth mood, which was kind of already familiar, but it moved it into a hip-hop and synthesized place with a particularly different sound palette and a different set of reference points and it was more angular, geometrical.”

“[Southern hip-hop] has had all kinds of influence. That comes out from Houston through A$AP Rocky and this so-called ‘trap’ style; that kind of percussion has been absolutely everywhere. It’s been in mainstream hip-hop and it’s been right at the bottom… where people are putting these really kind of strange, cold instrumentals together. And I think in many ways that’s also a facet of hi-tech, because it’s a drum machine and that really characteristic hi-hat sound, it sounds like a kind of machine sound. Nobody would mistake it for someone playing the hi-hat with a drumstick. To me it sounds like a tazer… or like a money counting machine, which I suppose is pretty hip-hop.”

UK grime’s sound, in Harper’s opinion, can be seen less as an extension of US hip-hop, but (and he cites music writer Simon Reynolds) as a continuation of the UK’s tradition of electronic dance music: rave, jungle, garage and then grime – the so-called ‘hardcore continuum.’

Grime, says Harper, “was, I suppose… an attempt to get away from the glitziness, the sort Champagne-and-cocaine of two-step [garage] into a more gritty, angry, more realistic expression of the hardcore continuum, and that’s why they called it grime; because it’s mucky and horrible and weird.”

“But over the past few years you’ve seen people going back to grime from around 2003, especially the production of Wiley, and being re-inspired by its weirdness and pushing it even further.” This has manifested itself in several microgenres such as alien grime and Sino-grime.

“You keep seeing people say that Sino-grime is influenced by China. It’s not; Sino-grime is influenced by Western portrayals of China in computer games and films” – ignorance as much as truth.

Fatima Al Qadiri’s 2014 album Asiatisch (German for ‘Asian’ or ‘Asiatic’) uses Sino-grime to explore many of the same themes.

Harper has a few misgivings about these kinds of cultural appropriation; vaporwave “tends to romanticise this kind of exotic[ignorance]” and a “post-colonial gaze” can often be felt, and the line into “caricature” or being “a bit racist” is often blurred.

Indeed, vaporwave heavily utilises “Asian signifiers,” especially Japan. This is partly due to a fascination with “vintage Japan” at the turn of the 1990s and its hi-tech boom, when Japanese products from brands such as Sony and Toshiba entered the American market and therefore the public consciousness. Many Japanese people love vaporwave and create it, and have taken on “an exotic portrayal of themselves, which is very interesting”. To say the least!

With China, however, the music often tends towards accelerationism,” [imagining] a future where China is ruling the world’s culture.”

Before we begin to imagine what will flavour the music of the future, we must ponder the fundamental question of what music will become – Harper has a book dedicated to the subject; Infinite Music: Imagining the Next Millennium of Human Music-Making. He envisions a move away from the “engineer” approach of music-making to an interactive network of “users,” attempts at which can be seen in music-making apps such as Björk’s Biophilia and Brian Eno’s Scape.

Brian Eno once said: “I truly believe that our grandchildren will one day say to us: do you mean you really listened to the same piece over and over again?”

And if history tells us anything, it’s that when Brian Eno talks, you listen…

Recommended listening:

Dizzee Rascal – Stop Dat

TNGHT – Higher Ground



By Mitchell May

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