Sunday, 29 May 2011


This shit is pretty old I know, but the de-fanged version (sans Biggie lyrics - called "Symphonies") is currently audible on a noxious advert for a multinational that I won't dignify with a mention, and this reminded me that I had some stuff to say about it.

Anyway, I'm not sure how much attention it got at the time (2008-9?), but it is a truly inspirational piece of music, and here's why ...

Firstly, let's get the negatives out of the way. Dan Black looks like a total cock: an American Apparel model with an unfortunate fetish for those RIDICULOUS scarves that blighted the West in the mid-to-late noughties, and which now, thankfully, seem to have passed into obsolescence. Symphonies itself - his rewrite after Biggie's estate denied him permission to use the lyrics from Hypnotize - is an utterly risible tune, a purgation of everything great in Hypntz, and an obvious stab at "breaking" Black as a mainstream popstar. Every other tune I can find on the net by Black is diabolical. Just looking at his lightly-ironic-hipsterly-contorted face makes me want to vomit.

But, in Hypntz, he (or whoever produced it) stumbled on something extraordinary.

The accidental is integral to the pop art form as a whole. The pop song is the ultimate artistic expression of democracy and (true) populism because it is always at its best an affirmation of arbitrariness. It offers a suggestion that, potentially, anyone can attain to power. This is why the best pop songs - She Loves You, Wuthering Heights, Teenage Kicks, Express Yourself, Don't You Want Me - have a palpable feeling of heroic accident, of a beleaguered person or people somehow lighting on a magic formula.

Hypntz achieves its magic formula in a manner that is both arbitrary and obvious, which is a part of its brilliance. The Umbrella break + Starman soundtrack + a beautiful melodic rendering of a gangsta rap staple: we know exactly what has been done here, and this is why it sounds so good. It makes us think that we should be doing this too, that we should be participating, creating new syntheses with the aid of technology and the internet, appropriating anything to hand as we look for a new praxis.

Along with this radical democratic aspect, the hopeful quality of Hypntz comes from the fact that it demonstrates how a number of awful cliched elements (schmaltzy Hollywood soundtrack, gangsta misogyny, Shoreditch hipster archness) can be set off against each other to produce a transcendent negative version of the way things are. "Biggie, Biggie can't you see?": is it just me or is this line loaded with pathos because it seems to be saying: "Biggie, what if your verbal and rhythmic genius had been used to aggrandize something more than the thug aesthetic?" The lyrical peak of the track comes around 2:05:

At last, someone rapping 'bout guns and broads
Tits and bras, menage a trois, sex, and expensive cars ...

Isn't this such a clinical and extreme reduction of neolib culture that it almost buries it? Consumerism is emphatically linked to violence and misogyny, so nakedly and absolutely that we are compelled to try to think beyond it (see Destinys Child's Independet Woman Pt.1 for another instance of this sort of blatant exposure of radical individualism). The ugliest of of ugly sentiments is disarmed by humour and formal flair, and somehow comes to sound like an emancipatory exclamation (At last ...)

Dan Black's tune - probably unwittingly - brings this utopian potential out. Through its bizarre juxtapositions it tempers hubris with melancholy, and exchanges dystopian cynicism for romantic idealism. It has a sense of imploration about it, a sense of straining for something above and beyond existing materials. It is, like all the best pop tunes, the result of an idiot in the gutter juggling with rubbish and somehow managing to point the way to the stars.   

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