Agit-Tronics v. Freedom


The following is the beginning of a discussion which began here. It seemed like potential Dissensus material, so here you go...

So Freedom will be on the rampage for another four years. I'm hoping that, at the very least, we get some good Agit-tronic music out of this mess.

More DJ/Rupture and Mutamassik. Muslimgauze clones. <a href="">Go Croatan!</a> More capture of code: politicized relicks of the violently inert; new mash up scenes built on something more substantial than retro cred. Funny not dour. ADF, PE and Le Tigre offspring. More anti-war Hip Hop. Politcal Grime? Anything.

For the most part, electronic musics have tended to favour the apolitical route. During the Clinton coma, we Squarepushed, Auteched, Ovaled, etc. - making and consuming a lot of sound for its own sake. But I think its time the usually latent political potential of our musics was more fully developed. Instead of ironic cool lets have unabashed, earnest belief.

Let's not think in terms of scenes, authenticity or virtuosity. Agit-tronics can be all sounds of like mind. DJs, sound makers, video makers, first timers.

Explicit, or implicit in their potential - here my rushed and hugely incomplete preliminary list of Agit-tronics:

DJ/rupture and Nettle <a href="">@ Negrophonic </a>
DJ/rupture v. Mutamassik <a href="">"Shotgun Wedding"</a>
Muslimgauze <a href="">site</a>
Aaron Spectre/MashIt <a href="">"No More Destruction Mix"</a>
Slaughter Mob <a href="">"Saddam"</a>
Madvillain <a href="">"Strange Ways"</a>

I'll add more as I find it and have time. Please add, exapand, discuss.
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Robert: "Paul, what do u think of the idea that making sound for its own sake IS a political statement?"

Good question.

I would say it definitely can be depending on the circumstances. But in and of itself, the act of making sound is not necessarily a politcal gesture. It can even be a diversion - pouring all of one's energy into a "statement" that may not contain any referrents for listeners. Studio based musics have a tendency to breed an apolitical, boys-and-their-machines atmosphere. Simon Reynolds described it in terms of "the boy's-own aura of anal retentive expertise, the vague, ill-defined conviction that something radical was at stake in the music." I'm implicating myself here as well.

I think early Jungle is a good example of a music that was contestational on an aural level - a sonically vicious response to social conditions in Britain during the recession. Its politics were most definitely implicit in its sound. The problem with implicit politics is that they are more easily obscured by sonic fetishism. Recently, I've been into Soundmurderer but I've also been asking myself what is the point of these virtuosic drill and bass-isms and retro ragga gunplay samples. On one level it's fun and nostalgic. On another it's exoticising and wanky. But I when I heard SM's "Badman" set against George Bush samples in Aaron Spectre's "No More Destruction" mix it breathed new life into it for me. The empty violence of the track was captured and politicised.

What I'm hoping for then, is music with explicit, articulated politics that reduce the emphasis on auteurism and develop a sense of responsibility toward fostering a culture of resistance. This perspective may have something to do with my musical awakening coinciding with the rise of both political Hip Hop and Fugazi at the turn of the 1990s. I see something similar in some of the Electro-Feminist Punk bands (EG: Le Tigre, Tracy + the Plastics, Lesbians on Ecstasy - don't say "Electroclash") or a group like Asian Dub Foundation. But it's hard to come by.

I'm not saying that everyone has to do it. I'm not saying I dislike music that is not overtly poliitcal. But I do think that, given the political climate, some people might think of putting their beats where their mouths are. Including myself.


Mercury Blues
Inevitably, most of the best art is created under adverse political conditions. Crisis breeds response. I'm looking forward to the great stuff that will come out over the next few years.

But I have a problem here - why do you want such overt political statements? To me, the music of itself is a political statement. Look at acid house - didn't require any party-politic slogans: its methodology, sound and mere existence had strong political implications.

Sound/music is inherently linked to social mood, which is the determinant of politics. Generally more conservative (downturn/bad mood) times result in polarisation, causing undercurrents of rebellion and reaction. Listen to the last 6 months of US chart hip-hop. I mean, that shit is dark! Wintery, darker and colder than anything except maybe Mantronix. And who was in power in his day? I rest my case.


puretokyo said:
But I have a problem here - why do you want such overt political statements? To me, the music of itself is a political statement
That's what I'm saying about implicit v. explicit politics in music. You points about Acid House and current US Hip Hop (which I'm going to have to pay more attention to) are similar to my comment about the implicit politics of Jungle. These are all good things as far as I'm concerned.

But explicit political comment has been larglely relegated to the realm of the un-hip. I'd just like to hear more articulated belief in electronic musics. Seems like the perfect time.


Well-known member
the only concern i have about really overt political statements in music is that it can degenerate into dumb sloganeering really easily

i think Muslimgauze are AMAZING at being both overt (album covers are expressions of extreme sympathy with the plight of Palestinians/Muslims) and covert (Arab voices muffled all throughout the music)

one of my faves Knifehand Chop integrates political statements in a way that i think Paul wld usual, he's ahead of everyone else :)

captain easychord

i think i'm with pure tokyo on this one. form and process for me define the political content of music rather then any kind of authored statement designed to foment change. (politics as implicit not explicit) i think you have to examine if music with an explicit political message actually AFFECTS change before you can delve further into the discussion though...

what happens when formal/process rebellion gets compromised in favour of 'the message'? e.g. le tigre in a recent interview stated that they'd be using their major label deal to get out the good word about feminism to a larger audience. but doesn't the signing fundamentally shift their politics in actual terms (i.e. - they're not playing artist run co-ops/benefits cos' they're obligated to play arenas - the process fundamentally shifts. the sound gets cleaned up so that it can move more units/ the album-making process becomes less DIY as the teams of photographers and stylists swoop in... and although they may still advocate DIY politics they're not living them)

or rage against the machine? U2? what do you guys think?


Re: Robert on empty sloganeering - It's definitely slippery. And apparently we've all seen it enough times to have become extremely skeptical about the prospects for 'message music.' It's only somewhat recently that I've actually wanted to hear such a thing again after Hip Hop took its thuggy turn ca. 1994. But I'd like to see people take the risk and follow through with it.

Have to check out this Knifehand Chop ;)

Re: Easychord on majors v. DIY - I think that's a valid concern but that the dichotomy is false. Public Enemy was on a major from the start and I think their playing arenas was very positive in terms of spreading the word (flawed as it may have been in a number of respects). That degree of prominence (afforded by corporate backing) is what made that music available to Brits from Shut Up And Dance to Doc Scott to Asian Dub Foundation, and to me when I lived in remote, racist part of Ontario.

Of course it comes down to the artist too. ADF are on Columbia and they put a lot of money into community arts projects. PE too.

At the same time, I admire Fugazi for not becoming Nirvana and for doing exactly what they've always done. Interesting mix of communalism and DIY capitalism.

I'm waiting to see what's up with Le Tigre. It seems unfashionable to like them but I think LT has been one of the most important acts in the last few years. They've done more than their share of 'community work.' They've also inspired a lot more women to get involved in making electronic music and just start playing without worrying about conforming to dominant standards. So actually, in this case, I agree completely with Easychord's "form and process" argument, but with the caveat that any inherent politics are circumstantially contingent. IE: it depends who, when, where and how.

I recently saw a cell phone ad using a Le Tigre song with the (edited out) line "let me see you depoliticize my rhyme." Worrisome. I haven't heard the new album apart from a few clips. I'm hoping/assuming they have a plan, like when Kathleen played the majors and Time or Newsweek for resources and exposure during the Bikini Kill era. (EG: free flights, telling a major weekly that riot grrrl chapters existed all over the States thus causing rg chapters to spring up all over the States) But in that case BK didn't sign any contracts. I'm hoping LT have a plan. Kathleen has been one of the most with-it people in the biz over the last decade. Even if they do something wrong, I still see their first five years as being intensely positive.

As for Rage Against the Machine, I'm really not sure because I've never paid much attention to them (though probably that's the result of me not buying their image).

U2. Can't really think of much that redeems U2. U2 is The Body Shop of political rock.


Also, in conditional support of the "form and process" and political sonics arguments raised by others, I'd point to the Croydon/dubstep/faux grime that everyone seems to dislike so much, as being pretty similar in a lot of ways to 'Torque' era Techstep. Confrontational sound reflecting lived conditions. But these politics are just as slippy as the articulated-then-co-opted ones. Techstep became just a sound, and a boring one at that.

captain easychord

you make some excellent points. you're completely right when you say these kinds of things need to be evaluated on a case by case basis (although i actually never generalized about the indie / major divide, i was actually talking about le tigre specifically in that case... ;) ). and i can acknowledge that major label dollars/influence can be used for explicitly political, good ends, you're definitely right there.

i love le tigre and i'd hate to see their message and effectiveness compromised by choosing to work within a corporate enviornment...

on croydon dubstep... is anybody except for critics maintaining that the aesthetic has to do with sonic politics et al? (not posing the question to be accusing, just wondering). i know kode9 is particularly into the idea sonic warfare...


captain easychord said:
on croydon dubstep... is anybody except for critics maintaining that the aesthetic has to do with sonic politics et al? (not posing the question to be accusing, just wondering). i know kode9 is particularly into the idea sonic warfare...
Good point. I think I actually saw Plasticman or Mark One make a comment on how it's like a sonic representation of current London as social void. However, I may be making this up. It could well have been someone in the blogosphere. I'll try to find it.


manos de piedra
hamarplazt said:

i have an LFO Demon / Retrigger split 12" on Restroom which is pretty good- the politics are more implicit than explicit

Restroom also released a 2LP comp called full of left-inspired noisy breakcore. i just got this record over the weekend- haven't had much of a chance to digest it yet. compiled by Eiterherd and - "breakcore politics information experimental extreme electronic music"

i noticed a NIHIL FIST 7" on that sprengstoff page- i have their 12" on Praxis (which i like a lot) very political graphics and titles


100% No Soul Guaranteed
Yeah, the Restroom split is a bit different from what LFO Demon have otherwise made. Well, actually, most of what he have made is a bit different from the rest. But the politics are usually made explicit by the covers and not the music. His new 2LP on Sprengstoff, Genocide Memoria, is covered in political/personal musings.