22 October 2009

Hypnogogic Pop Versus Hauntological Pop

The "H" words are in vogue in recent years. First, music writers and theorists (particularly in the UK and Europe) deposit Derrida's idea of Hauntology in some of the more other-worldly and retro-futurist sounds coming out of Britain on labels like Ghost Box, Mordant Music and Trunk Records, as well as acts like Broadcast and Boards Of Canada, which use similar studio and musical raison d'ĂȘtre and wizardry/techniques to create music which goes back to the recent past without one being involved in the actual time era in question and thus it is basically a re-creation and re-imagining of the more esoteric and underground culture of the late 1960s and 1970s. So materials ranging from obscure psychedelic and folk records, library sound bites, proto-muzak/New Agey sounding tunes, pastoral musing of all sorts on vinyl and of course BBC soundtracks and background sonic-artefacts are all for the tapping and re-appropriating.

Then this year David Keenan wrote an article on Hypnogogic Pop in the Wire which, though not once mentioning the word "Hauntology" basically argues for a return of the post-Noise underground generations, who in their 20s, are hacking back to the proverbial retro well-spring of not so much that of the 1960s and 1970s but, alas, the 1980s! (Yes, yes, in Singapore, it is associated with mainly the current fashion trends, bad chart pop music, theme-based night spots and club nights as well as budget-priced compilation CDs from the major labels to try and regain some lost grounds from the ubiquitous downloads). The key flag wavers of the Hypnogogic cohort who revel in the 1980s are best represented by the Skaters and the individual projects embarked by Spencer Clark and James Ferraro. A potent mix of Californian beach balm, 1980s pop cultural detritus, the Reaganian dread of the decade and a shiny and bright psychedelic surface to boot.

The others tap into various sources and decades for inspiration and sonic raw materials: the late 1960s regional psych rock of Texas are re-channelled without much retro-gazing pose by Gary War and the Super Vacations (plus other acts on the Shdwply Records); the post-Goth/Industrial song re-structuring of Zola Jesus and Cold Cave; the Tangerine Dream/German Kosmische drone of Emeralds are all, according to Keenan, prime proponents of the movement.

So what is the big deal? I personally have some issues with the categorisation and classification of certain acts under the two umbrella generic names but I do agree that musicians in both camps are trying to get out of the cul de sac of the fields of practice which they originally came from: for the Hauntologic Pop acts, English pastoral-inspired music from the 1960s/1970s and electronica of the 1990s; while for the Hypnagogic Pop groups, Noise and Psychedelic Rock of the 1990s and 2000s. Instead of the simulacra of the various mere retro-flexing music products of the current rock/pop acts in the charts and radio/TV, these artistes are genuinely looking for a way out in creativity and musical expressions despite the deep-seated notions which many feel that in music all that can be done have been done before.

Thus, it is still pretty exciting though to listen to some of these stuff as music, despite being jaded and all, can still bring a smile on my face whenever I pop a cassette in, slip a CD in or position the stylus in place.

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