One of the best ways, in my opinion, to appreciate hip-hop as a genre is to listen to it in another language. By sacrificing the lyrical content, you can get a much better feel for the sound of the vocals themselves. You can get a hang of both the tone and style of the lyrics, without knowing a word of them. The rhymes and repetitions get interesting as well, as they still ring out, but this time without a lick of context. Coincidentally, you can replicate how I felt listening to any and all music in America at age 6, before I picked up on the language.
Here is Germany's Deichkind with “Limit”:
And here is Jack Parow from South Africa with “Dans Dans Dans”:
Finally, France's Syrano with “Matt l'automate”:
Last week’s post on Paul Robertson started as a wholly different animal: I wanted to explore music videos that resemble 8-/16-bit era video games. Consider this post a sort of tangential addendum.
We’ll start off with Syrano’s Ficelle. Syrano’s entire fanbase seems to lay in France; I’m not even sure how to legally obtain one of his albums in the United States (although, I have to admit, I have not looked very hard.) His instrumentation draws upon the during-and-post-Edith-Piaf chanson tradition melding it with simplistic electronica and hip-hop. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the lyrics are, and Google seems to be of no help right now. Fortunately, a few years ago, I asked a French (Canadian) friend of mine what exactly was going on in the song and I was told the plot matches the music video: a girl overcoming an eating disorder. The video’s style is classic platformer – the way each level ends is a direct reference to Super Mario Bros. 3. What really delighted me was a non-traditional addition that isn’t immediately noticeable, but serves to reinforce the content: note the degradation of the character model as she falls deeper and deeper into the disorder. We could have only wished that such attention to character-based atmospheric detail (not related to power-ups) was an industry standard in those days.
The other video I wanted to show off is Xiu Xiu’s Boy Soprano. Xiu Xiu are a …difficult… band to get one’s head around and even more difficult to enjoy. The vocalist does not make an attempt to appeal to General Audiences (whether he attempts to actively repel them is a different story.) The emotion he puts into singing is raw enough to rip your own nerves to match his. I could make (and probably will – STAY TUNED) an entire post on them, but I’ve found the best way to explain the music itself is with a formula:
Step One: Spend most of your life living a life of moderate means in New York City.
Step Two: Move to suburban Los Angele, car-less and broke.
Step Three: Despair at the utter, utter emptiness of all within and without.
Step Four: Walk into your town’s biggest cultural center (the indoor mall) through the parking lot and blast Xiu Xiu on your portable media player. Suddenly, every nails-on-chalkboard cringe you get from the music makes sense.
Sorry, got off track for a second. The video hits the same nerves as the music: pointless violence and Dadaist dialogue abound. The visual style is an interesting merger. There’s a definite deliberate choppiness to it that stems from lazy graphic piggybacking on Mortal Kombat’s successful use of digitized photos instead of drawn sprites. On the other hand, it also resembles the attempts to add reality to the platform genre through realistic scaling and movement that started with Prince of Persia and continued with games like Flashback and Out of this World/Another World. Halfway through, the game turns into a horizontal shooter that shows some definitely love (or at, at least, a good amount of research) for the genre.
(Controller image thanks to reintji)