|Cybernetic culture research unit|
So as you soon as you'd got that, you started listening again, and then you see that the actual beats started slowing down, become narco-totized. They became crippled; it's almost like someone had gone out and kneecapped the beats. This is what we call the gangster lean, where the whole gait of the tune limps and you find yourself slowing down, and you feel yourself being grasped by this terrible slowness, this pathological slow motion. And that's what hip hop started out in.
What I found most fascinating about that was the idea that, if you were smoking a lot, you had the idea that you were inhaling the present moment, sucking in the present time, then you'd hold it down and then you'd dissipate it, exhale it, in a slow, long [breath]. And it was very much like you were inhaling a suspended time; time started to dissipate; you could see time coagulating in smoke and you could see it dissipate above you. And that's what Cypress Hill gave to hip hop, this sense of a blurring between the exterior and the interior, between the subjective and the objective. And it was a very big break with hip hop before, which had been about grasping a solid distinction between past and present, between the reality of your interior and your exterior states.
I think what immediately happened after that was that hip hop started moving to even stranger ideas. As soon as you'd got this rhythmic psychedelia, if you move forward to 1995, you got [Cypress Hill's] third album, called Temple of Boom, and if you look at the cover - it's incredibly Gothic - you think: what's going on here? And obviously what's happened is that your audio perception is magnified by the grass, it's almost like Cypress Hill have been literally swallowed up the sounds they've created, so that they're now inside the audio state of the drug-tech interface. It's very much like they're actually inside it. You realise that what drugs have become is a kind of explosion; you smoke some grass and it's like you're bombed back to the stoner age. Literally. Your mind is exploded by the drugs inside your head.
The whole Gothic idea of hip hop has become much stronger since then, until now hip hop has reached stage almost like Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where, if you remember, the mutants are worshipping the bomb, they're literally worshipping the mushroom, the state where they'll achieve an ecstatic union with death. Or if you flick back and you remember A Canticle for Lebewitz by Walter E. Miller which is this 50s book in which there's a postapocaplytic, postnuclear scenario, and there's all these monks walking around worshipping the bomb. And then you start to think about drugs and the bomb and you remember back to all those 50s movies where all these kids are doing nuclear drills, the air-raid siren goes and all these kids get down on their hands and knees and they hold their arms over their heads. You think: what's going on here? and it's obvious - they're worshipping the bomb, they're like atomic Muslims, the mushroom has become this Mecca and they're pointing towards the East. The bomb is mutation and the kids are going "mutate me, mutate me", "melt me, meld me". And that's pretty much what Cypress Hill were doing with drugs. They really said: "mutate my mind", and hip hop becomes this huge vector of mutation through drugs.
I'm just going through a few examples of what happens with the darkside; you realise that the darkside doesn't just exist in hip hop, it also exists in jungle as we all know: we've all heard tracks by Flytronix, by Hyper on Experience, by Doc Scott, in which the darkside is a big force. It's a force that's almost tactile, where your hearing becomes almost physical, where your skin starts to hear and your ears start to feel. This is why when we talk about dance music the quintessential dance music idea is: "Can you feel it?" Because hearing has immediately become tactile, your skin is immediately hearing, and your senses are basically joined. It's not so much a synaesthetic, so much as that dance music is triggering all your sensory perception, so that your skin is starting to hear, your ears are starting to feel, your eyes are starting to hear, and your ears are starting to see, and it's almost like all the different senses, all the different sensory perceptions, are being shared around and being triggered simultaneously. And you suddenly start thinking, there's a darkside in all kinds of music.
There's a darkside in acid, if you go back to those acid tracks by Phuture. The first track by Phuture is a track called "Acid Trax", but if you flip it over there's a track called "Your Only Friend" and there's this voice going, "This is cocaine speaking" - and I call that the vox of doom because you've got this pitch-shifted voice and it's really low, and he's going, "I'll be your only friend, I'll be your wife, I'll take your life." This idea of drugs as this despotic force that starts out as this little thing but immediately spreads across your entire life continuum and immediately saturates everything. This is what drugs give you, this idea of a toxic, despotic drive that takes you over. And the fact is, this is the most exciting thing to listen to, the idea of losing control makes listening to records more fascinating. It's almost like you're being drugged by the beat, you're being beaten by the drug. And the fact is, you love it. There's nothing like it.
So we can see a darkside in virtually every kind of music. There's a darkside in techno, there's a darkside in acid, there's a darkside in hip hop, and as soon as you locate it and you find that intensity, you can really grasp what dance music's about: the idea of losing control, of losing sense, of being abducted, snatched away by sound. If we really want to find what that's about, we have to go to the darkside.
So if we move forward a bit from Cypress Hill to Method Man. 1995, Method Man did this album Tical: it's a classic album. If you listen to it, what's really changed is that, whereas back in '92, Cypress Hill still had this a beatific, blunted idea of inhaling and exhaling, by now that inhaling has become painful, like someone being jabbed with a needle. It's really scary. What's happening is that sound has become detached from sources, effects are arriving before objects. It's like what Murray Schaffer used to talk about in the 70s Murray Schaffer was an old acoustic reactionary who coined the term 'soundscape' that everybody uses now. But he also coined the term 'schizophony,' which simply meant sounds devoid of sources; we could almost say, beats decapitated from drummers. And of course all sampledelia is schizophonic now, all sounds are separated from sources, but again its the darkside that makes you particularly aware of all this. Because if you listen to the Wu Tang Clan, you hear all those sounds separated: you hear these groans, but their's no one to attribute them to, you hear all these effects without causes, and it's incredibly frightening and its incredibly exhilarating simultaneously. And that's where hip hop had reached in 1995,96, it's become diabolic, it's become infernal, it's become perpetually paranoid. If you listen to the tracks of Tricky and Gravediggaz, in particular "Psychosis", if you listen to tracks of Wu Tang Clan - [or even] the name Wu Tang Clan: "Wu Tang Clan" is an onomatopoeic name. "Wu" is the sound of the slash of the sword as it scythes through space, "Tang" is the clash of the swords, and the "clan" is the feudal, Gothic, millennial feel that hip hop has as it retreats further and further into the fevered darkside of its own sonic audioscape.
The whole idea of hip hop as this paranoid, infernal space, as this darkside, [has] a visual analogy. And the visual analogy, we should look back to is Jacob's Ladder, which is a film that came out back in 1991. We're all very familiar these days with Predator 2, that's a key film for a lot of us these days, but Jacob's Ladder is a kind of hip hop equivalent of Predator 2. Similarly, you could say that The Empire Strikes Back is an 80s equivalent. If you remember The Empire Strikes Back, the darkside in that: you've got Darth Vader, who's James Earl Jones, an African-american actor whose voice is pitched down, and it's narrow. And the narrower the bandwidth of the voice, the more emotion you project into the voice. So Darth Vader was always my favourite character. Not because of him especially, but because of his voice, which was so rigid, so pitch-shifted and narrow. And I always imagined that Darth Vader was secretly making electro tracks, because you could hear he had this vox of doom, which was really grim.
Why Jacob's Ladder appealed so much to hip hop was because it's the film that really grasped this idea of audio hallucination. There's one fantastic bit where Tim Robbins is lying in bed - he's completely losing it and his mind is completely going, and he's going, "Oh, how I wish I was back with my family, how I wish everything was like it was" - when suddenly this voice out of nowhere from the right side of his body just goes, "Dream On." And you just look and there's no voice there at all; it's a complete audio hallucination, it's incredibly frightening. What the film presents is New York as this infernal audioscape where sound is detached from sense, and kind of roams around. And you suddenly realise why it is that hip hop producers and artists like Method Man, like Wu Tang Clan, like Redman and Tricky, talk so much about devils and demons and angels, why they talk in these feudal and apocalyptic terms. And the reason is that as soon as you detach sounds from source you start to attribute invisible causes to those invisible sounds, you start to attribute sounds not to effects and not to instruments but to invisible demons, to inanimate objects, to inanimate machines. You start to get into the weird cross between an inorganic life and a pantheist life, where everything is potentially threatening, everything is potentially out to get you, everything is potentially menacing. And Jacob's Ladder really pinned that down, with the idea of New York as this potentially infernal soundscape in which everything could always at any point be ready to menace you and threaten you and basically snatch your soul and take it away from you. And that's the kind of thing that really appeals to hip hop now, so we can say that hip hop has gone really far into the darkside. That's why hip hop really matters in these days.
So we can think a bit further about why it's grasping to devils and angels and demons, why it's possessed by these things. You think back to the Middle Ages and the whole idea of the seven deadly sins was the idea of the pyschomachies which were these internal cathologies which would plague the pilgrims. The whole idea was that the pilgrims had these fevered imaginations - they'd starve themselves terribly - and these plagues, these internal psychic states, would come out and menace them. And that's what hip hop is like now; it's this apocalypse, internally swarming with these states that are always out to get them. It's like the streets have melted, it's like the hip hop sensorium has become this porous border. It's no longer the idea in Public Enemy that you could be vigilant, that you could hold out, that you could be strong, that you could be a nation of millions against white supremacy, against the white system. Now, the hip hop sensorium is this leaky border, this toxic flow, these terrible sensations crossing between your body and your brain. If you listen to someone like Jeru the Damaja, he has great lines, he says things like: "My mind C3 H5 N3 O9, like nitro-glycerine. " And then Tricky, Tricky's famous line, which everyone now knows, he says, "My brain thinks, my brain thinks, my brain thinks, bomb-like." And you think: what's going on there? The idea that sampladelia is this pressure, that the perennial infosphere that surrounds us all has leaked into our brains so much that information is literally blowing up inside our own minds. The classic example is Jean-Michel Basquiat's painting "Pegasus". If you go and have a look at that, it's this fantastic, huge painting that's a disassembled picture of machine parts.
You've got machine parts for tape recorders, for cars, hundreds of machine parts all laid out on this huge picture. It's like the instructions for this giant particle accelerator that anyone can assemble and that you can reprocess reality with if only you knew what the code was. It's like the operating instructions for a machine yet to be built. You look at it long enough and you can start to convince yourself, "I know the secret of this machine". What hip hop has done is swapped its normal state for an eso-terrorist state, this idea of secret knowledge that only they possess.
Another example is Cypress Hill's "Illusions", a track that's really popular. If you listen to the harpsichord mix of that, what's fantastic is the way they've blanked out words like "chronic" and "fuck"; they've blanked them out just for a tiny bit, so that when you listen, you think, "My God, is that the record or is that my head?" You genuinely can't tell, because the blips, the deletions are so small that you think, "is that happening on the record, is that happening in my head, or is that happening in the environment?" And this kind of three-way deletion, this blurring between these three states is definitively what's scary, because it's a psychogeographic blurring that triggers what we could call the fear-flight principles. The brain has a thing called the thalamus, which is basically the fear sentinel which lurks in the brain, and that's operating faster than the speed of thought, so that as soon as you hear a sound you can't identify, a sound that you can't locate, that you can't immediately attach back to a meaning, then fear-flight thresholds kick in and you start to panic. But what music does is it translates these fear-flight thresholds into something else.
Broadening out from hip hop to make some more points about rhythmic psychedelia. Part of the assumption that still exists in music is that futuristic music will somehow be beatless, somehow there won't be many rhythms, somehow it'll be weightless. It has a long heritage, going back from Holst's Planet Suite through to Kraftwerk, this idea that music will be transcendental and weightless, that somehow the beats will just slough off and we'll just kind of float through space astrally. But we know better now. After drum 'n' bass has retroactively switched us back on to the presence of rhythm, we know that the future will not only be just rhythmic, it'll be hyper-rhythmic. So in this sense when cyber-people keep talking about, "What's the fate of the body?", when they keep on moaning, "the body's going to wither away, the mind-body problem, it's so depressing," as far as I'm concerned rhythmic psychedelia is the opposite. The body's being triggered, the body's being switched on. Sensory perception is being triggered at a furious rate and, as far as I'm concerned, it's much more interesting to look at the idea of rhythm. Look at any piece of music writing and you'll notice an incredible absence about rhythm. So many people are unable to talk about rhythm. Music writers will talk about anything except what the beats are doing. It's actually very difficult. Rhythm is this terra incognita, it's this continent we've yet to land on. So you've got this strange dichotomy, what we call a gulf crisis: on the one hand, music is getting hyper-rhythmic, more rhythmic and psychedelic; on the other hand, the writing and the way we discuss it is more impoverished than ever. It's the most incredible thing.
That's where I see music going: it's getting much more rhythmic, much more rhythmically psychedelic. We really have to start thinking about what rhythm does, how do we explain it, what is it, how does it work? The first thing to do is to acknowledge that rhythm isn't really about notes or beats, it's about intensities, it's about crossing a series of thresholds across your body. Sound doesn't need any discourse of representation, it doesn't need the idea of discourse or the signifier: you can use sound as an immediate material intensity that grabs you. When you hear a beat, a beat lands on your joints, it docks on the junction between your joints and articulates itself onto your joints, it seizes a muscle, it gives you this tension, it seizes you up, and suddenly you find your leg lifting despite your head. Sound moves faster than your head, sound moves faster than your body. What sound is doing is triggering impulses across your muscles.
That's why drum 'n' bass talks a lot about the stepper, because sound is literally articulating you as a kind of exo-skeleton It's almost like your feet are gaining an intelligence at the expense of your head, or your arse, or your back, or your shoulders are gaining intelligence at the expense of your head. Anywhere you have a sense of tension, that's the beginning, that's the signs of a bodily intelligence switching itself on. And that's what rhythm is doing. You can foresee a point where the body is mutated by rhythm to the point where the head becomes completely superfluous, becomes this flabby muscle bouncing around, aimlessly lolling around, while your muscles go twenty to the dozen. In fact, of course, this already exists; its jungle. That's the whole point of it.
That's why jungle seizes us so much. That's why everybody all day has been talking about jungle; we're obsessed by it, we can't help it because we sense somehow that our bodily intelligence has been grasped by this, has been mutated by this, and that we're in the grip of something that's far stranger and far weirder that we really have any sense to comprehend. Maybe the Beatles are a good way of diverting from this, diverting us back to the good old days of music we can relate to and all this kind of crap, but the fact is that rhythmic intelligence is a lot weirder, a lot stranger, and a lot more fascinating and we're obsessed with it for reasons we can hardly begin to imagine. And this seems to be the task of the future: to understood rhythmic intelligences and hyper-rhythmic music as something that's happening to us we can't yet understood, that we can only begin to grasp. And as soon as we do this we start to realise that what happens with rhythm is that it amplifies tension. For a long time, people assumed that music's job was to orchestrate a series of tensions and then cathartically release them, or to provide a respite from the modern world, from the grim world of sensory overload and information overload, but actually, no, that's not the point. Part of the reason we enjoy jungle is the opposite, it increases interference, it increases tension.
A lot of the best tracks at the moment in jungle , tracks by Ed Rush, tracks by Doc Scott, they have this harsh, roaring noise like the sound of a thousand car alarms going off simultaneously. It's like these peripheral sirens swarming at your head. And I swear to God it grips you so much you can't believe it- you think, "what the hell is this?" - and your fear-flight thresholds are screaming, it's like your whole body's turned into this giant series of alarm bells, like your organs want to run away from you. It's like your leg want to head north and your arm wants to head south, and your feet want to take off somewhere else. It's like your entire body would like to vacate.
Basically, you want to go AWOL from yourself. But you can't, so you stay and enjoy it.