A Portrait of Eliane Radigue (conducted by the Austrian Institute for Media Archeology, 2006, watch on vimeo)
Santana’s Town (Juelz Santana music video, dir. Jimmy Jones, 2003)
The other night, I checked out a short documentary on Eliane Radigue. For those unfamiliar with the name, Radigue is a legendary figure within experimental circles for her work with modular synthesizers, creating recordings that were early precursors for today’s electronica and drone scenes. Importantly for the viewer, the eighty-year-old Radigue is a loveable presence whose warm, impish energy is infectious.
If it wasn’t for a recommendation from a friend, I would have honestly avoided this film like the plague. I have nothing against quote-unquote experimental music (it’s hard to when you spend most of your time playing Jean-Claude Vannier and Ulver at work) but I still have a weird knee-jerk reaction to a lot of it, dreaming up images of balding guys dressed in head-to-toe black librarian uniform poo-pooing the bourgeois concept of “the chorus”. But Radigue is one of those people who makes you believe that there’s still something inviting about musical deconstruction and waves of sound, and playing instruments the wrong way, and adventures in music…
Listening to a mixtape in my car today, I rewound the second verse of Juelz Santana’s “Santana’s Town” about seven times, finding myself lost in a blur of words I’d heard a thousand times before but had never thought of as wild experiments. Juelz barks his opening line like a drill sergeant (“jump! stomp! move! breathe! we! in! too! deep!”), immediately speeds up his diction, pauses for what might as well be an hour against skittering hi-hats that bellow KEEP RAPPIN! KEEP RAPPIN JUELZ!… when really it’s one second that’s passes. Then he’s fighting against the beat in weirdo bursts - “oopsy-dais”, “Nazi Nazi, copy, papi”, “co-co mane” - in between more of these deeper-than-they-seem pauses before returning to barking for the unfinished final line: “I jam proper/your man’s not a—” The entire verse feels like the audio equivalent of watching Usain Bolt hit the track and stop to jog on the spot over and over, again and again. It’s bewildering and amazing, the perfect example of what Radigue (see above) explains her sound experiments to be: journeys towards “a completely extraordinary richness of expression”.
It’s hitting me daily just how undervalued rap culture is at messing with our heads. “Santana’s Town” is not a normal song, Juelz and the rest of Dipset weren’t (and still aren’t) normal rappers, but wide swathes of pop culture decided neither the song or the artist could be considered adventurous. In the car today, I found out that’s wrong. We’re still catching up with the fact wild experiments are already ingrained in the things we love.
(related: Noz’s still-amazing piece on hating Gnarls Barkley and recognising hip-hop’s adventurous spirit. You should read this.)