Thursday, October 15, 2009

Melbourne pt. 1, & Babylon (betcha didn't know that was in Australia)

Only two short sweet days in Melbourne, but I think I pretty much made the most of it. Big thanks to Unsoundbwoy first, and The Sockmonster/Foundation Stepper, plus the one like the BassBin Laden for the links in the first place.

Flew groggy-style Thursday morning out of Brisbane, with the help of one of the Sound Summit (Newcastle) organizers, who is based in Brisbane and was generous enough to get me to the airport at 6am. Whew! After fumbling my way through various buses and trains, was kindly shepherded towards really tasty coffee in the Fitzroy area, which, apologies to the OZ Nationalists among you, looked a lot like the Prenslauer Berg/Friedrichshain area of Berlin. Trams, cafes, boutiques, scruffy hipsters, hippie scruffsters, sleek boys with chin scruffs, etc etc.

My hosts had quite the advertising campaign:
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 Luckily I didn't have a gig that night, instead it was pretty luxurious: we had a chill(ish) dinner with Foundation Stepper and his amazing partner and their kid at this Moroccan soup restaurant. They kept bringing food out, and I thought we'd never get through it all but it was so damn tasty. Especially this dish with almonds and toasted bread and garlic and yogurt and stuff, so savory and chewy and good. And then we hung out & listened to music, and then watched Babylon, which I had heard about but never seen, about the dub music and Jamaican scene in London in the late 70s. The film was really good.


STarring members of Aswad, plus Jah Shaka and other London-Jamaican luminaries. The picture above is from a super fascinating "making of" piece where they interviewed lots of the folks involved in it, courtesy of BBC channel 4 here. Interesting facts - The screenwriter also wrote Quadrophenia, and the filmmaker worked with one of my favorite Brit filmmakers Ken Loach, and the producer also worked on TIME BANDITS one of the funniest movies ever, wow.

I've since learned there was a bit of a controversy about the dynamic of the soundclash in the context of Jah Shaka in London at that time - the interview suggests that Shaka at least didn't see his system as participating in a contest in the way the film builds it up: One of the two strains of tension in the film is the buildup to a clash between the Lion system affiliated with our (anti)hero, and Shaka's system. My experience in Jamaica more recently was that soundclashes between dancehall crews are at least sometimes that competitive, but maybe it was different with dub? or in London, or just w/r/t Shaka? Also it's entirely possible that outsiders latch on to the competitive narrative more than people at the time? Or that Jamaicans build up the competitive aspect to make it seem more dramatic to outsiders? The interview with Shaka also suggests that he doesn't like the competitive aspect of soundclashes, and so his desire to minimize that aspect of them may be normative rather than descriptive. In the end it sounds a bit like those battles over the definition of hip-hop where you have on one side "hip-hop is the good, positive stuff and the bad stuff isn't hip-hop" and the other side you have "hip-hop is bad and nasty and real music is something else" and then you have the people who say "hip-hop is complicated and hwatever calls itself hip-hop is at least engaging with the hip-hop tradition in some way." Okay so you probably can tell where I stand on this, but hey, I'm an ethnographer that shoulda been your first clue..
Anyone involved in dub in London in the 70s or 80s want to chime in here (oh please let such a person read this blog)? Or anywhere? were dub soundclashes more or less about competition?
(Also, if you are not talking from first-hand experience, whose testimony are you relying on and what do you think their stance would be on whether competition is good or not? my god I am a huge nerd)

Anyway the other controversy is less interesting, basically some folks objected to the violence portrayed in the movie, particularly that the main character ends up being violent himself, which those folks seem to read as the film itself endorsing violence. I think it's pretty clear that the film shows the futility of violence and its tendency to lead to further violence, but it also shows how hard it is to escape violence when you are trapped in a violent and dehumanizing system. Interestingly, the film predates the Brixton riots of 1981.. but it prefigures them pretty explicitly.

There are apparently some licensing disputes over uses of music in the film as well. Big surprise there.

While in Melbourne I also got a bit of a graffitti tour, which was awesome. the prevalence of street art, graff and wheatpaste. This also kept me thinking of Berlin, particularly the alley in Mitte where Haus Schwartzenberg bleibt (right? still?)

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1 comment:

  1. The top 2 graffiti/wheat paste pics is a guy called 'Reka' one of Melbournes finest :)

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