Thursday, March 1, 2012


I just noticed this post on Blackdown last night, so I'm a few days behind here. I was pretty disappointed to read that "This Month in Grime/Dubstep" would be no more. It's even more distressing to read Martin Clark's narrative of events:
Before we get into any light messenger shooting, the column is being retired, I did not choose to stop writing it. I've been invited to pitch to other sections on Pitchfork but my grime/dubstep column doesn't fit into the new editorial strategy. I'll be honest and say this isn't something I really understand but naturally recognise their authority to make this call.
While Clark goes on to point out that in some ways the end of the column comes at a very opportune personal moment, something about the phrase "doesn't fit into the new editorial strategy" bothers me. Does this herald, not too far down the line, the end of "Show No Mercy," also (Pitchfork's metal column for those unfamiliar)? What about something like "The Out Door" (a column focused on outre/experimental music)? Is that destined to fall afoul of the "new editorial strategy?" I understand the desire to move away from a single genre/scene focused column--if that is what this new editorial strategy entails--but surely first grime, then dubstep, and now UK bass music more generally have demonstrated over the past seven years (the length of the column's lifespan) their vitality, vibrancy, and importance to contemporary electronic music. If nothing else, Clark's voice has been an energetic, excited (and exciting), and informative one. He closes his sign off with "If you took the time to read [a "This Month in Grime/Dubstep" column] in the last seven years and came across someone you'd not noticed, well then bigup: my work here is done." Trust me, Martin: your work here is definitely done.

I feel as if I've written about this a dozen times on this blog--I'm too lazy to check and see--but when I first got on the internet, my exposure to new music came primarily via reviews, interviews, and, had they existed (or I been smart enough to find those that did exist), columns exactly like "This Month in Grime/Dubstep." Sites like Pitchfork and Allmusic (and later Stylus) were incredibly important to me because they gave me access to new music even if I could only read about it. Up until just before I went away to school, getting music that I heard about online was an incredibly time consuming and expensive proposition, usually limited to a CD as a Christmas gift or a trickle of music found on bad P2P networks, music that was difficult to access given the speed of dial-up modems. Reading about music, then, and imagining what it sounded like, piecing it together slowly through networks of references, was what I spent most of my time doing. I didn't get to listen to a lot of this stuff for a long time, but in some weird way I knew it backwards and forwards.

In high school, probably as a result of the amount of time I spent reading about music on the internet, I decided I was going to be a music journalist when I grew up. What could be better than writing about music for a living? Not only would I still be able to read and talk about it, but, I gathered, as an actual journalist, I would get to hear it. I'd sort of vaguely had ambitions about being a writer before this, but puberty led me to the distressing realisation that reading, writing, and talking about science fiction weren't activities that were likely to impress girls (plus I was, and am still, pretty rubbish at writing SF). Obviously, I was not in any way farsighted enough to see that the idea of becoming a print music journalist was not the smartest career ambition for any number of reasons. That didn't stop me, though; I even remember asking my grandfather, with whom I don't particularly get along, about being a journalist (he was one--a financial columnist, I believe). He told me he didn't think that music journalists made good money on the scale of journalists' salaries. I ignored this.

This desire to be a journalist continued on and off throughout undergrad, and to a certain extent it shaped how I listened to music (and what music I sought out). I spent a lot of those four years catching up on all the music I'd only read about before. It was a little like doing my homework. I listened to (almost) all the things I'd seen referenced and tried to get myself familiar with them. I discovered a lot of the music that I now love and consider central to my concept of myself as a music listener by doing this. Equally important, I discovered a number of music writers whose work I found to be both inspired and inspiring as I sought out information on the bands, genres, and movements I felt I needed to become an expert on. I was taken with Stylus' "Soulseeking" column, especially those by Nick Southall, many of which seemed unutterably elegant and eloquent. Pitchfork's features like Tom Ewing's "Poptimist" and Mark Richardson's "Resonant Frequency" were also playing an important role in shaping how I was thinking (and how I wanted to write and talk) about music. Nitsuh Abebe's article for Pitchfork on early British and American post-rock was then and remains now one of the best pieces I've ever read: dense with information, but accessible, full of obvious affection for its subject matter and welcoming for those less familiar. It also introduced me to the work of Simon Reynolds, the man who coined--for all practical purposes--the term "post rock," and whose Energy Flash and Rip it Up and Start Again! proved essential reading (again, part of that idea of "doing my homework"--I'm still waiting to get a chance to read Retromania).

The upshot of all this was that from high school to the end of undergrad, I started and abandoned (usually pretty quickly) a number of music blogs designed to emulate what I was reading. I was not successful about this, largely because the people I mentioned above are all quite good writers. In my final year of undergrad, I wrote a (pretty terrible if I'm honest) thesis on music, memory, and the interaction between the two for both musician and listener.* It was my last attempt at doing what I saw the people I admired doing. I did not find it an enriching experience, and I gave up the dream of becoming a music journalist, or even of writing about music. Clearly, I couldn't do it--at least not as well as the writers I admired could--and if I wasn't up to their quality, there was no point in writing. I still read and talked about music all the time, but I wasn't going to make that the central goal of my life. I was starting grad school and the idea of being a writer of any kind, but especially a music writer, sort of faded away.

Concurrent with all of that, I started listening to more and more new music. It's not that I ever stopped doing that, but now it was the primary focus. Starting about four years ago, I began to try to keep up to date and current with what was happening in the genres and styles I liked, rather than catching up on what had been going on five, ten, or twenty years before. This coincided with a move away from rockism toward more catholic listening practices (a move that had begun during my undergrad years but that has intensified over the past few years). I started to listen to (and, more importantly, to enjoy) things that I never would have considered in high school (electronic/dance music and electroacoustic/noise stuff) at the same time that I grew tired of some of the enthusiams of my teenage self (namely prog rock and krautrock, both of which sound pretty tired to me now, by and large, though perhaps I just need a break. I listened to a lot of that stuff). The fall of 2009 was a time of pretty significant changes for me, and my relationship to music--what I listened to, how I thought about it/talked about it, what I used to listen to it--was not immune to those changes. In a lot of ways, it was the point of maturation of the developments of the previous two to three years, and what led to me writing these words today.**

To bring this back to where I started, "This Month in Grime/Dubstep" was an important part of helping to shift and develop my tastes in that period. I would dip in and out of it, but at some point over the past few years I started reading each installment. I saw Burial's name pop up on a number of year end lists in 2007, so I picked up Untrue.*** I'm by no means an expert in grime, dubstep, or UK bass music, but they've been a healthy interest of mine ever since. I've found other sources since to discover more of this music--Fact, Resident Advisor, The QuietusBoomkat's product reviews--but I've always looked forward to Clark's columns. They were expertly curated, and guaranteed to turn up something interesting even when talking about things I otherwise didn't enjoy. I know there are Rinse FM podcasts and a simple search will turn up loads of people talking about this stuff, but that monthly digest was handy. It helped me feel like I was at least somewhat keeping up with what was going on half a world away.

So, RIP "This Month in Grime/Dubstep." You will be missed. I'm glad to hear that Clark plans to continue writing over at Blackdown. All I can say at this point, I guess, is bigup, Martin. You've done a fine job these past seven years. Thanks for all the music.

*This is obviously why hauntology so grabbed me. It was like a more interesting, less regressive version of everything I wanted to talk about in that thesis.
**I started this blog (in its first form, before I moved it to blogger) in the summer of 2010. I didn't know then that it was a blog--it was mostly just a bunch of stuff in a long word document--but I decided to formally make it one in the early parts of 2011. A couple months (and a few posts) later, it ended up here. Actually, the first thing in that word document was an anecdote about listening to "Hyph Mngo" (which I discovered via "This Month in Grime/Dubstep") with some friends while in the middle of the Redwoods.
***It feels very appropriate that I'm listening to Burial's Kindred--which I'm enjoying even more this time around--as I write this.

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