I just want to need you / I just want to feed you

I thought this arti­cle, refer­ring to the lack of cat­a­logue sales of clas­sic hip-hop was of some inter­est. It seems the much talked about Long Tail is total­ly sub­jec­tive. When applied to music, it’s clear­ly genre spe­cif­ic, bear­ing in mind, of course, that hip-hop as a genre seems to be in a fair­ly hefty decline right now. Whilst I’m not going to pre­dict the demise of any genre its clear that the recent gold­en age of hip-hop sales is over. Albums such as the rather won­der­ful recent Hell Hath No Fury by Clipse, would have, in recent years, pos­si­bly, with its pedi­gree, sold in mul­ti-plat­inum quan­ti­ties, rather than the now sim­ply respectable, just under a mil­lion. And this week, in its sec­ond week on the US charts, the most acclaimed hip-hop album of 2006 slipped from 14 to 78!

There is an argu­ment, of course, that hip-hop has always been about the sin­gle, and that the dig­i­tal world has tak­en up some of the slack in phys­i­cal sales. But despite that, its pret­ty hard not to come to come to the con­clu­sion, that for the first time in close to two decades hip-hop ain’t sell­ing.

But that wasn’t what I want­ed to post about, it’s an inter­est­ing aside. I was more inter­est­ed in the phe­nom­e­na of a dis­ap­pear­ing her­itage. I was putting togeth­er the links for the Ama­zon store I’ve start­ed, after a request or twen­ty, and I was rather tak­en aback at how lit­tle music that exists out­side the main­stream, is read­i­ly avail­able, either phys­i­cal­ly or dig­i­tal­ly. I should qual­i­fy that. There is a lot of old­er music out there, its just that the “long tail” or what­ev­er you want to call it, seems to apply to select­ed gen­res.

Rock and pop are well catered for, as is jazz. It’s when you move out of those spheres that the prob­lems arise. Amer­i­ca seems bliss­ful­ly unaware of much of its black her­itage, espe­cial­ly in the more rhythm based styles. The big Hip Hop albums are out there but, man, there are some gaps. And when it comes to the genre which, arguably has had the most glob­al influ­ence in the past decade, house (and its slight­ly more twist­ed cousin, tech­no) for­get about it. Unless you want to head over to Europe, where the tra­di­tions and styles seem to have sub­stan­tial­ly more respect and pay sil­ly mon­ey.

Try and find Fin­gers Inc’s sem­i­nal, and mas­sive­ly influ­en­tial, album Anoth­er Side on Ama­zon – or a dozen oth­er clas­sics of the genre…

That in itself is not a prob­lem if the cat­a­logues are intel­li­gent­ly revis­it­ed and com­plied. But sad­ly, once again the Amer­i­cans seem utter­ly unable to do this with their her­itage (in vir­tu­al­ly any genre). It’s left up to the British and, increas­ing­ly, the Euro­peans to do doc­u­ment the Amer­i­can musi­cal land­scape. Wit­ness the recent Lar­ry Lev­an anthol­o­gy out via Rhi­no (or any Rhi­no col­lec­tion for that mat­ter) –not that it isn’t any good, it is, it just isn’t all it could be. It’s an anthol­o­gy of one their most influ­en­tial producers/mixers of the eight­ies, and it’s half-baked; no lin­er notes of any worth and half the tracks were only “played” by him. It was left up to the British to do decent col­lec­tions of The Mas­ters at Work, Der­rick May, and the only half decent look at the so-called gold­en age of hip-hop – let alone all the revis­its of the likes of Philly and decent Motown com­pi­la­tions.

So when they com­plain that no-one is buy­ing the music, it’s not that peo­ple don’t want to, it’s just that you need to invig­o­rate it, and no one has both­ered or seems to know how to any­more. Make it attrac­tive, rein­sert the pas­sion. The Euro­peans and the British con­stant­ly tell peo­ple how good this stuff is, via intel­li­gent use of the media and smart re-pack­ag­ing. They under­stand music is about pas­sion whilst the Amer­i­cans have for­got­ten.

Which brings me clos­er to home (well as close as I’m get­ting to home sit­ting in Bali) and a lit­tle bit of respect to the way, we, in New Zealand, seem to be want­i­ng to grab some of our her­itage of recent. I’m, of course refer­ring par­tial­ly to the mighty Fly­ing Nun box set. Whilst I tend to feel that Fly­ing Nun had a gold­en age from 1981 through to about 1988, and was a lit­tle bit the con­ser­v­a­tive old fel­la after that (and the last CD and a half con­firms that pret­ty much), it’s won­der­ful to see that peo­ple are actu­al­ly mak­ing the effort. An FN box set was a must-com­pile for a half decade or so and it’s warm­ing to see it done to so incred­i­bly well. I should also men­tion the rather cool thread of FN mem­o­ries over at Rus­sell Brown’s new-ish dis­cus­sion forum. And to Man­aku­ra who won the box set for his mem­o­ry of play­ing The Skep­tics (who nev­er real­ly felt like a FN band to me) A.F.F.C.O, Stu Page direct­ed, video in a meat works board­room – absolute­ly per­fect.

But, as cool as it is, I hope that’s not it. As a nation, we wax lyri­cal about our grow­ing cul­tur­al aware­ness but musi­cal­ly we have been absolute­ly remiss in recent years. Fly­ing Nun itself needs a swag of oth­er intel­li­gent com­pi­la­tions to excite peo­ple, anoth­er gen­er­a­tion, not just the odd great­est hits, with a few unre­leased tracks. Things like let­ting John Camp­bell loose on the cat­a­logue – or Rus­sell Brown – or Roi Col­bert. And then there is the rest of the musi­cal land­scape of the past thir­ty years or so. The slow col­lapse (and its demise was, as was appar­ent for years, the cul­mi­na­tion of a long steady decline) of FMR put a huge dent in what was avail­able, and more to the point, removed the only avenue for com­pil­ers to release albums like the excel­lent John Bak­er col­lec­tions, or The Scav­engers. I doubt if Warn­ers would’ve released the Toy Love album, but FMR did.

EMI has done a real­ly good job with its 60s issues, but what now? There is so much that has not been looked at, and is fast dis­ap­pear­ing as those of us that were there get old­er

Just toss­ing around a few ideas (and now that FMR has gone, god knows who would release or back these):

· The ear­ly days of NZ’s urban revolution….the stuff that was com­ing out of South Auck­land and labels like Southside…there was a huge wave of it. 

· An NZ post-punk album

· A Deep Grooves col­lec­tion based around the ear­ly dub and elec­tron­i­ca the label did so well, and which still sounds so good

· A trawl through the incred­i­ble Pagan archives

· A col­lec­tion of the best non-Fly­ing Nun Auck­land bands of the nineties (I’m think­ing of the Picas­sos, Semi Lemon Kola and the rest…there were dozens)

· And per­haps a remix project of the best of the ear­ly NZ elec­tron­i­ca.

Whether any of these would make mon­ey, who knows – prob­a­bly not, but they are impor­tant to restat­ing the musi­cal land­scape that we live and cre­ate in. And are as wor­thy of gov­ern­ment sup­port through its agen­cies as any­thing else.

Oh, and while we are at it, a decent audio tape library, both dig­i­tal and ana­logue, already rebuffed by the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, is essen­tial to keep the lega­cy that I’m talk­ing about intact. We’ve lost so much already. That we don’t even have the begin­nings of one, is crim­i­nal.

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