An article for Crack Magazine, October 2011 about mytholgy in modern music. Co-written by me and Adam Corner.
STORIES WITH MUSIC TO TELL
Have you heard the one about Aphex Twin being Welsh/dead/responsible for every piece of unattributed electronic music for the past half a century? And what about the ‘real’ identity of two-steppin’ masked producer Sbtrkt? (Clue: it’s a bloke called Aaron Jerome, but don’t let that stop the rumour mill).
Electronic music loves a good yarn – be it fact or fiction. And if it isn’t implausible myths and racy rumours doing the rounds, there’s plenty of elaborate characterisation to get your teeth into. By night, Drums of Death is a bizarre voodoo techno clown with a drum machine and a winning growl. By day, he’s an amiable, chubby Scottish guy. MF Doom has built a career on being a masked mystery (although having a suitcase full of killer rhymes has helped too).
Alter-egos and stage personas are nothing new – for bands or electronic acts. But electronic music has always seemed to lend itself more willingly to secrecy and anonymity. Why is it easier to hide behind pseudonyms, aliases, multiple recording names, masks and banks of equipment when playing with your computer than thrashing around with a guitar? Why do myths and elaborate, fictional back-stories have such an appeal in electronic music?
New label Dramatic Records shows just how far the blurring of fact and fiction can go – it only puts out music from fictional artists. All the releases come with elaborate, embellished and totally made-up back-stories, and whether or not the label even has different artists is questionable.
Endless House Foundation, for example, is supposedly an act dedicated to a club that only existed for a few weeks in a Czech forest. The fact that the club never existed in the first place for anything (let alone a further fictional creation) to be dedicated to, only adds to the fun. And in an age where a perma-avalanche of information is available around the clock – tweeting out at you from the blower in your grubby mitts, or seeping in by osmosis through the ether – a bit of made-up nonsense is a strangely refreshing antidote to the hyper-reality of the cold light of day.
The clean lines of a carefully constructed lie make the hodgepodge of truth look boring by comparison. You can clog your brain with the most tedious titbits about your favourite celeb: what they had for breakfast (Twitter); where they went out for lunch (FourSquare); what songs they listened to on their Ipod (Last.FM). With a bit of digging around on Google you can zoom in and peer through their window.
Some argue that this level of access to artists is a good thing for music fans. It means you get unprecedented access to people you admire and look up to. It means you can track them as they disappear from the ‘scene’ for recording sessions that can take years – follow their blogs, see how their work is progressing. You can listen to demos as they’re worked on, see artwork and behind the scenes shots of videos. You can send them messages on Facebook, and sometimes they’ll even reply. The distance between fan and artist has reduced to the click of a mouse button.
But is this empowering? Is it fuck. The banality of the hero under constant observation makes you long for a dose of make-believe, where nothing (and everything) happens. Artists have lost their intrigue. No longer are they mysterious, ethereal beings – connected to the creative source of the universe through their talents. There’s no space any more for us to create narratives around our favourite artists, or around the music they make. Everything is spelled out for us, letter by nauseating letter. And the closer you get to your favourite artist, the more you realise how very far apart you are.
There was a mystique that surrounded artists before the age of the internet. A mysterious fan club at the end of an anonymous PO Box address in Leamington Spa was the closest you could get to obtaining personalised news about your favourite band. But lest this sound like Luddite nostalgia for an age of badly tuned FM radios and a packet of salt n shake crisps, consider how much we seem to lust after the lure of the fictional, the fantasy information that can never be fully assimilated because it doesn’t actually exist. Part of art is appreciating the work without the overbearing influence of the artist. Without hearing about their moans and groans about public transport, wiring plugs, or various fungal infections. Leave us alone to love you from a distance: or at least make up some bullshit and let us roll around in that for a while.
The potential for getting lost in a fake Czech forest and stumbling across an imaginary club is more interesting than a 24 hour live feed from Bono’s beach pad. But what’s even more fascinating than the fictional biographies of the Dramatic characters is that like it or not, actual-factuality is gradually bleeding in. The press and blogosphere are actively developing the Dramatic storylines, blurring even further the boundary between fact and fiction. One blogger claims to have covered the opening of the fictional club that Endless House Foundation is ‘dedicated’ to: it is low-tech augmented reality, constantly evolving as people join in the conversation.
Intentionally or not, labels like Dramatic have stepped into the zone of unadulterated fan-dom, reacting against the banality of the overly familiar by removing entirely any sense of reality from their artists. And in ditching all the excess hyper-reality, fans can once again insert themselves into the narrative. As Dramatic Records put it, they’re stories with music to tell.
Words: Helia Phoenix & Adam Corner