YEAR IN MUSIC 2012: Digital scraps and analog curiosities

Hype Williams and the Internet wild

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Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland sparking a spliff, sandwiched between Tony Blair and Oasis' Noel Gallagher
PHOTO COURTESY OF HYPERDUB

arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN MUSIC Are we being punked? Is this all some kind of stupid joke?

Upon first listen, the sound-world of Berlin-London duo Hype Williams (not the music-video director, mind you) is practically guaranteed to provoke a bewildered response. Incorporating half-baked hooks, brutishly cut-and-pasted samples, apathetic vocals, inept musicianship, crude effects, and grainy production into a gnarled, genreless mishmash, its approach gives off a superficial whiff of laziness and inconsequence.

After further inspection, however, Hype Williams reveals itself as a vital, innovative force in modern music, paving the way for a new form of artistic synthesis in an age when information flows like unchecked tap water.

The impulse to pillage the art-world for scraps and fragments, and reassemble them within a new framework, (see: postmodernism) has a diverse history, from The White Album to the writings of Thomas Pynchon; yet, it was once widely perceived as a snooty, elitist activity reserved for outsider artists, avant-gardists, and other seemingly unreachable, black turtleneck-wearers.

Hype Williams operates at the forefront of what I like to call "new postmodernism," recycling musical idioms as a kneejerk response to the Internet's constant outpouring of accessible information. Whereas pre-Internet postmodernism required relative effort, calculation, and resources to connect the dots between musical forms, anyone in 2012 with a laptop, a WiFi connection, a pirated copy of Ableton or Logic, and a Bandcamp account, was a legitimate artist, granted easy access to an infinite sea of musical possibilities.

You know how Brian Eno said his instrument of choice is the recording studio? In 2012, the people's instrument was the iTunes library/MIDI keyboard combo: easier, and cheaper, to learn than the guitar, with a wider sonic range, to boot.

Given the declining relevance of record labels, studios, expensive gear, marketing campaigns, and other barriers preventing would-be artists from crafting and distributing their work, it was easier and cheaper to be a recording artist/collagist in 2012 than ever before. Hype Williams explored the potential of this new musical landscape more relentlessly, and enthusiastically, than perhaps anyone else this past year, rendering it, in my view, 2012's most essential musical entity.

Within the context of new postmodernism, Hype Williams' 2012 output sounds less like goofy amateurism than an unfiltered current of creative energy. On this year's Black is Beautiful LP, released by Hyperdub under the pseudonym Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland (which may, or may not, be their real names), haphazard beats and keyboard melodies are seemingly recorded in one take, prioritizing creative flow and forward movement over the refinement of previously committed ideas.

The tracks are generically titled ("Track 2," "Track 8"), opting to skip ahead to the next project in lieu of assigning an identity to the last one. Each of the album's 15 pieces is a non sequitur to the one before it, evoking the scatterbrained impatience brought on by the Internet age.

"Venice Dreamway" (the only properly titled track of the bunch) slaps a rollicking, free-jazz drum solo over an ominous synth drone, while "Track 8" strongly resembles an underwater level from Super Mario Bros.; "Track 10" is an extended, weed-addled dub workout, spilling over the 9-minute mark, while the 35-second "Track 6" consists of little more than a shambolic MIDI flute melody. "Track 5" is a reckless, sloppily executed take on an otherwise competent vocal pop song; and, interestingly enough, "Track 2" is a cover of Bobby and Joe Emerson's "Baby," a '70s R&B obscurity that Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti also reinterpreted on this year's Mature Themes.

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