Feature » Music Feature

Al Qaeda Soundsystem

Who Needs an Army, When You’ve Got an iBook?



What struck me the most about 9/11 is how, thanks to the clever manipulation of modern technology, 18 of the world's five billion people could make every other human's life, to varying degrees, shitty. All it took was 18 dudes (that's about half the size of the Polyphonic Spree) who'd rather blow themselves up than sit around, drink beer, and bitch about their favorite band signing to a major label. There was a time when unleashing widespread misery, terror, and death required leadership, teamwork, and regulation of the often contentious interpersonal relationships that naturally arise in any large undertaking. Sadly, those days are no more. Our new reality is that, thanks to rapid advances and proliferation of technology, an "army of one" can unleash his or her singular vision on women, children, and even the ever so important 18 to 31-year-old readership of this paper.

This wasn't always the case. It wasn't until the United States took the jerk cake for nuking Japan twice that the necessity of using large, well-organized, and state-supported armies to further political ideologies began to erode. However, even those two atomic middle fingers to human life required the massive funding (26 billion in today's dollars) of a wealthy, bureaucratically sophisticated government. Today, fewer and fewer people, regardless of popular support, rational planning, or even well-designed uniforms, can change the way that we live—and we just have to live with that.

But the way most of us are entertained has also undergone a radical transformation as a result of the rapid and relatively affordable accessibility of new technologies, such as laptop computers, which allow every Beck with a day job to make music that was once only capable of being created through the employment of large groups of musicians or skillful tape manipulation. One of the unwelcome side effects of the routinely celebrated democratization of recording technology is aesthetic terrorism—usually the work of lonely, politically marginalized, and desperate young men. For example, Fischerspooner (the foot fungus that the Talking Heads left behind in the showers at art school) have, with ProTools, Logic, the stock drum sounds from Reason, and a trusty G4, transformed their inside party joke into the soundtrack for countless nights at every bar that wishes it was the place to be.

There was a time when music required actual living, breathing musicians who had to be treated with dignity, respect, or at least ample amounts of booze. But finally, the fascistic fantasies of bandleaders, from Brian Wilson to Billy Corgan, can be realized. Where once the '70s disco savants, Chic, had to unite as a social unit, resolve ego skirmishes, and actually play instruments in order to create the mindless vinyl grooves that helped Americans ignore the ascendancy of the even more mindless Reagan presidency, now James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem/DFA fame, needs only to fart into his iBook and mutter something about losing his coke high to become a faceless hero to countless potential give-a-shitters, who, rightly, enjoy dancing while they still can.

Aside from the proliferation of very bad art, perhaps this atomization of music is not such a bad thing. Finally the inherent contradictions of the Romantic (big R) ideal—that true artists live outside of material concerns, break social conventions, and are tempestuous, exceedingly handsome young men—can be put to rest. Even the Romantic composers themselves, some of the first propagators of this ill-conceived fantasy of how art is really made, required large, highly disciplined symphonies funded by the very moneyed establishment.

So let us not, so eagerly, defend the mythical ideal of the rock band—unkempt hair, electric guitars, drums, drugs, and STDs. These groupings were often nothing more than a necessary compromise among equally egotistical individuals who were willing to share a common identity, so long as success, adulation, and monetary rewards were achieved. Sure, the horror of our present-day terrorists' freelance, often-irrational destruction is frightening, but why should the alternative—our "rational" doctrine of mutually assured destruction, manifest destiny, and the three-fifths compromise—be any less so? Though the Postal Service is the apex of contemporary electro-poop, is anyone really eager to hear Death Cab for Cutie's new album? Perhaps it's best to let each of these prospective, aesthetic terrorists venture off into the world on his or her own. No matter how sick, twisted, and disastrous the result—no matter how many drummers try their hand at singing, it can't be nearly as bad as the Eagles—iron or otherwise.


Comments are closed.

Quantcast Quantcast