2.4.17

Elders

One of the key dynamics within music's adoption and dissemination is one in which questions of sound itself are almost entirely absent. It always strikes me as one of the most mystical qualities of music as well. It relates to to both a very sensitive perception of the "grain" of characters as well as a profound understanding of one's own location upon the river of time, one's own mortality. I'd argue that a connection with it implies, too, an implicit sanction of concepts like Jung's Universal Unconscious. I'm talking about "elders", the music made by those people who are older than one which has some intangibly charismatic quality to it, like the bunch of grapes just out of Tantalus' reach.

It's inevitably always a personal thing. It relates to who one's own "elders" are. For me, something like this set by DJ Hype on Fantasy FM (I could have chosen any number of different things to illustrate the point) has the fingerprint. I would have been nineteen but, yeah, Hype would have been unmistakably senior, of an earlier cohort, like the kids only two years ahead of one at school who seemed like distant deities. Possessing of a different but subtly evolved consciousness, of a seemingly unattainable confidence. And that dynamic, in a nutshell, is what drove the "nuum" for twenty years. Young people aspiring to the community status of those two or three years older and the sanction that a nod from these elders imparted. Fabio plays your dubplate. Wiley includes you in Roll Deep. To my mind it also explains the nuum's self-referential quotes, the snatches of earlier nuumological music.


Of course it's precisely the same in Reggae. That's the drive of Shabba's epochal "Respect", on the face of it is a call for building on the foundations of Reggae, the importance of understanding your roots and culture; but I read it more as a clarion call for the youth to respect the dynamic of the "elder". Shabba is saying this sociological system only works, can only continue to work, if we feel the same magical empathy for our seniors. It's the same system which led Dego and Marc Mac to run Reinforced records like a community outreach project. Or indeed like Underground Resistance has always run in Detroit. Or even like the tradition of influence that through Disco from David Mancuso through Larry Levan to Tony Humphries.

At the same time as there exists these organic traditions of seniority in music there will always be examples of hucksters who try, occasionally successfully, to short-circuit this time-honored dynamic. I would argue that grasping the rope of a sonic tradition immediately implies the existence of something greater than one that reaches back in time before one was born, into the mystical realms of the universal unconscious. Recycling a Studio One bass-line, by implication, opens a channel into another realm. What these confidence tricksters, or perhaps they are simply magicians, do is invoke those earlier phases of consciousness. Frequently LSD, or other psychedelics, play a part in their cosmic games.

My favorite example of this must be Van Morison's "Astral Weeks" which, although the work of a young man, time-trips back, sometimes to the very present itself, with the zen-like simplicity of a higher enlightenment that always characterises the insight of an elder. Another perfect example would have to be The Aphex Twin of the early nineties, of Selected Ambient Works 1 and 2 when he was dreaming of the future. Though in Aphex's case I sometimes think his key contribution to twenty-first culture was tonsorial.

If there was ever a proto-hipster beard it was Richard's. Tied up in it from the get-go was a Dr Who-like subterfuge to disrupt time. It was a blatant stab at being the "elder", the one of wisdom and expanded consciousness. That strategy, to disrupt the traditions of secession is precisely what has characterised the Hipster. In many ways that's what Retro is, and was, about. As a cultural marker it denotes enlightenment just as it, somewhat ignorantly and arrogantly and ultimately ineffectually, seeks to tears apart the fabric of time and social justice.