Soundtracking the emergency: Is there space for climate change in dance music?
Writing for Resident Advisor yesterday, Angus Finlayson performed an effective takedown of the new EP from the unknown producer, Unknown. Unknown’s tracks are all titled numerically, and released on a plain white label vinyl, in order to return a degree of mystery back to music in a world where an artist’s entire biography can be gleamed in seconds. In the emails that s/he sent to blogs and sites, Unknown wrote: “this is my new project, I want to remain anonymous and let the music speak for itself”, alongside the attached tracks.
I’ve always been a firm believer that to “let the music speak for itself” is impossible. Partly this is due to the contradiction of the whole thing – that this anti-image becomes the artist’s shtick, thus distracting the listener from the musician’s initial intention of hearing their music ‘plain’. But it’s mainly because, whilst the idea of hearing music without prejudgement is a romantic one, it’s impossible to form any real emotional connections without something to attach yourself to – even getting a sense of an artist’s attitudes or intentions, basic as it seems, can add layers of appreciation to music that you might not have any interest in otherwise. Anonymity, despite being a useful way to initially draw attention to yourself, rarely makes a listener want to return to your music. Unidentified artists seem to pop up on an almost weekly nowadays, coming in forms that range from enigmatic new talents to established producers adopting an anonymous pseudonym to the countless techno white labels that line the shelves of record shops, but longevity in these artists tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Whilst mystery worked to draw attention to Unknown – who would honestly care about their tepid, derivative post-dubstep mush if it weren’t for the veil of secrecy about the whole thing? – it’s unlikely that they’ll have much staying power.
When Bayou got in touch with us recently, their email contained very little in the way of solid information. There was a line or two of preamble and a link to a Youtube video, and a follow-up email confirmed that they were from London, but that was all. Cherry Cola, it turned out, was a stunning, fully-formed piece of work that seemed to come out of nowhere – a lush, minimalistic and incredibly well-crafted piece of bedroom R&B based around Bayou’s outstanding vocal. The accompanying video was made from recut footage from Japanese cinema because, according to Bayou in a follow up email, “it’s the furthest place I can imagine [from London] and the song is about escape”. It instantly begged comparisons to artists like Jai Paul, not just for the musical similarities but also due to the sense of enigma that came with it.
It’s hard to say whether Cherry Cola would have grabbed the attention of Dummy or other sites like The Line Of Best Fit and The 405, or if the song’s Youtube hits would have increased from the initial hundreds to the thousands, if it had been sent out by a PR company with an attached copy – are we drawn towards it because of its lack of context, or simply because it’s a very impressive song? For whichever reason, the song was effective, but it does beg the question of what happens next. It’s a double-edged sword – with a soulful vocal in the middle of Cherry Cola, it’s as if Bayou is demanding a human presence behind it all, otherwise it is little more than empty image-making. But at the same time, removing the veil can often take away what it was that initially made an artist seem alluring – this time last year, The Weeknd was one of the most discussed new artists on the planet, but now that the curtain has been pulled down, critical interest in his recently released ‘Trilogy’ compilation has been slight and the release has failed to meet the sales figures that were projected.
With Cherry Cola, though, Bayou has become an intriguing prospect. Whatever their next move is, it will need to ensure that this level of interest can be maintained; if Cherry Cola is anything to go by, I’m sure that it won’t be a problem.