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Issue 22


Dan De Norch, of the Berlin music platform Janus, presents four instances of radical aesthetics

BY Dan De Norch in Critic's Guides | 15 NOV 15

1 Mark Mulligan

Awakening: The Music Industry in the Digital Age (2015)

There’s not much editorializing in here. Mulligan is a researcher and media analyst, so his book is mostly music industry data­-porn: pages and pages of graphs, tables about every type of revenue stream, format, attention span and bandwidth that shapes the industry now. The ghost core of the book is the fact that our relationship to music (and, crucially, recorded music – which should be classified as a discrete category) is being radically restructured along with the business itself. Some of the take­-aways are clear: the album as a dominant format is over; con­venience is king; tech companies are the new record labels (sort of); access will inevitably supersede ownership (so, streaming); and, generally, no one really knows what will happen next. You read a book like this and it makes the entire culture of vinyl and much of the electronic music ‘underground’ (which most business-facing experts would say is a really dull fairy tale at this point) look like a cargo cult praying for ancient technology to bring back ancient profit margins.

2 Bill Drummond/The KLF’s
1992 Brit Awards Performance

I keep an oversized thumbnail on my desktop of Bill Drummond/the KLF’s final performance with Extreme Noise Terror at the ’92 BRIT Awards, where they had just been voted Best British Group. During the performance, Drummond shot blanks with a machine gun at the audience while their publicist announced: ‘The KLF have left the music industry’. It’s always good to remember that someone felt compelled to burn a million pounds, throw away a lucrative and functioning pop career to run around the Schengen zone graffitiing slogans under bridges and wheat-pasting posters on brick surfaces in Northern England, all in an effort to abolish recorded music. It’s pure unadulterated righteousness. Very admirable; kind of inadvisable.

3 Lynn Garafola
Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (1998)

This is one of those super-crucial social and economic histories of art, the ballet equivalent of Baxandall’s Painting and Experience in 15th Century Italy (1988). Garafola spends only the first third of her book addressing the actual programme and aesthetics of the Ballets Russes. In his 20-year run, the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev collaborated with every hot Belle Époque artist/poet/freak. It’s eye-popping stuff: Hugo von Hofmannsthal(!), Picasso, Braque, Stravinsky, Nijinsky, Leon Bakst(!!), Debussy, Matisse, Balanchine, Coco Chanel, Miró, Natalia Goncharova, Erik Satie(!!!) and Maurice Ravel among many, many others. The book’s second and third acts, titled ‘Enterprise’ and ‘Audience’, cover the com­plicated enterprise of managing, funding and promoting the Ballets Russes. It was an unorthodox and unprecedented challenge playing out right at the end of patron-led arts and the birth of mass entertainment. Diaghilev’s inno­vative and dangerous deal-making allowed him to run a full-time ballet company that burned through piles of money and which, despite runaway success, was always on the brink of insolvency. As we approach the age of the ‘new’ Volksbühne, Armory super shows and a host of other supranational, cash-bloated and ego-birthed ultra spectacles, it’s worth revisiting a previous (and creatively successful) model of high-production value, col­la­boration-based art. Bottomline: radical logistics and radical aesthetics go hand-in-hand.

4 Ron Hardy
Home Studio Mix ’85 – ’86

Ron Hardy is the hardcore, maniacal godfather of house music (with all due respect to Frankie Knuckles). While it’s true for basically all of his extant mixes, something about his Home Studio Mix (in particular its first 20 minutes) seems so completely essential that I’ve been revisiting it for the better part of a decade. It’s a recording of Hardy practicing at home, experimenting with blends using multiple versions and covers of Isaac Hayes’s I Can’t Turn Around (1975). It’s literally hearing the guy build an entirely new kind of music out of a few records and a tape deck.

Dan De Norch is an event producer who lives and works in Berlin where he runs Janus, an experimental platform for music and live performance. De Norch has collaborated on events with Berghain, fashion label Eckhaus Latta, MoMA PS1 and Texte zur Kunst.