So it looks at first that the only new bits of the bootleg scene are the stripping away of earlier contexts and pretexts. Bootlegging isn’t about DJ skill, like Flash’s mixing was, and it isn’t about any kind of commentary or point-making, either – at least not in the macro sense that Negativland’s records are. All you’re left with are the songs and the way they fit together. That means – great coinings like “bastard pop” notwithstanding – that there’s a purity to bootlegging I quite like, a concentration on the track, how it hits you, what it makes you think and feel and do. Discussion of Negativland, of Grandmaster Flash, and even of the KLF, often concentrated on how skilful they were, or how fab their ideas were, and so sidestepped how the records sounded and why people kept playing them rather than reading about them.
Osymyso’s “Intro-Inspection” has been chucked in with the bootleg scene but – for all its ear-boggling properties – it’s more a throwback to the old cut-up days than anything else around right now. What Osymyso has done is knitted together 101 pop intros into a 12-minute piece, for no apparent purpose other than making something that makes you laugh and sounds cool. Even starting from the assumption that using software to mix tracks together is fairly easy (and for the record I’ve no idea myself) the skill and effort involved is obvious. Or rather, it’s obvious when I think about it. When the record is actually playing I’m lost in a pop funhouse and I don’t really care who made the thing or how it was done.
“Intro-Inspection” is a dream pop is having about itself. Familiar snatches show up, then recede just when you recognise them, and everything seems connected but it never really is. The disconnection, the rejection of any kind of message or point, is what I like best about Osymiso’s opus – after a few listens you stop wanting the intros to trigger their parent tracks and just enjoy these happy shifts and couplings. “Intro-Inspection” is best explored yourself so I won’t give examples, but the fourth minute of the shorter seven-minute version is particularly superb. (This short version is actually the better one, because Osymyso resists some of his more obvious gags or stabs at irony – the Sex Pistols into Aqua, geddit? – and the samples get more room to breathe. But they’re both great.)
When I first played “Intro-Inspection” I thought it was a shame there wasn’t a steady tempo – now I’ve come to love its odd rhythmic tides, the way just when you get a handle on the beat it fades out or changes up. This sounds, maybe, like the sort of baffling, neurotic changes IDM puts you through, and the density of “Intro-Inspection” is on the first listen easily as wearying as anything the most rigorous glitchmasters have served up. But Osymyso’s relationship to pop is different – he obviously loves it, he takes it apart like a kid with a toy – and when his track plays in clubs, people always try and dance.
GIRLS ON TOP – “Being Scrubbed”
GIRLS ON TOP – “Warm Bitch”
FRENCHBLOKE AND SON – “Craig Spooner”
One thing you notice about “Intro-Introspection” is how heavily it relies on 1980s tracks. This is a function of Osymyso being – I’d guess – about my age, but it’s also because the long-promised and long-feared 80s revival is finally in full swing. There are two strands to it – one is the School Disco-esque wave of clubland nostalgia, a country-wide recreation of some (totally idealised) pre-E provincial nite klub. Osymyso might seem to be tapping this, but his track would be way too frustrating for anyone actually looking for retro fun – if anything it underlines how ungraspable the pleasures of the past are if all you’re going for is nostalgic escapism.
The other strand is a renewed appreciation for the sounds of the early 80s – and for synthesisers in particular. The ‘new new wave’ of alternative synth bands getting positive press currently – Ladytron, Fischerspooner, Adult, The Faint – like their synths to sound precise but a little harsh. They have the programming and sounds of 1979-81 down pat but they mostly avoid the pop engagement that was a central part of the records Phil Oakey or Giorgio Moroder or even Kraftwerk were making at the time. The results for me are modish and enjoyable but never very exciting. DJ Frenchbloke’s “Craig Spooner” works because it takes Fischerspooner’s mastery of the sound and does something more useful with it, letting the throbbing backing to “Emerge” point up the yearning in Craig David’s “Fill Me In”. David’s original is all about self-justification, and his smooth R’n’B backing lets you think that the mutual seduction and the dealings with the girl’s folks are, hey, an everyday part of a guy’s life. “Craig Spooner”, though, recasts David as a horny, hustling, unsure adolescent. (And the Freelance Hellraiser takes the same vocal, some Eurythmics and yet another beat and sets David up as a lovable party rogue!).
The most interesting 80s revivalist around, though, is Girls On Top’s Richard X. He’s released two singles, with two tracks on each, and all four have used harsh early synth tunes for their backing – The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” and the Human League’s “Being Boiled” on these two bootlegs, combined with Missy Elliot and TLC respectively. The backing tracks still sound cold and nasty – and yes, they still sound exciting too, these early, stumbling attempts to imagine what ‘hooks’ might mean in a more mechanised world. This music got called ‘futuristic’ – a word which settles on anything that uses new technology for imaginative ends. You can be ‘futuristic’ of course without having any bearing on how the actual future turns out – but the new-new wave bands are not. Richard X is.
For one thing he’s presumably using new, cheaply available tech to sew his tracks together and get them heard – pirate MP3s, warez and shareware are the bootlegger’s tools of choice, and this is as far away from a cosy fetish for analogue synths as you can get. For another what he does on his tracks is to mesh two kinds of android pop – the all-too-human robot music of the earliest 80s, and the chromium diva perfection of the late 80s and 90s. The results are doubly cyborg, and can make for hard listening. “Warm Bitch” takes one of Missy’s least forgiving tracks and gives it a hydraulic refit, making both sources yet more aggressive. “Being Scrubbed” sees TLC’s social Darwinism become crueller still with its sympathetic, catchy backdrop switched for the Human League’s Year-Zero primitivism. The most effective “80s revival” tracks yet conceived, then, are not even imitations, but full-on steals of the original material, and they still sound fresher than the music their sources have inspired.