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View Full Version : Why has Electronica latched onto Folk?



Woebot
05-04-2005, 10:55 AM
OK everyone knows Malcom McLaren described Planet Rock as a form of folk music, but why are Matmos, The Lickets, The Focus Group, The Animal Collective (new Vashti Bunyan Record coming out!) drawing on Folk music?

The argument that it's just hipster sequencing (ie whats the NEXT big thing?) seems a bit frail, I mean, isn't the leap to folk kinda surreal?

I have been nurturing a pet theory that it's due to the breakdown in communications between Electronica and the dwindling bastardised street avantgardisms of dance music that has caused this "necrophiliac" shift. The Shakleton Mordant 7" must be about the only record trying to create a "radical" bohemian Grime, but remember how many bohemian variants of Techno and Drum and Bass there once were!

It seems like a wilfully and strategically introspective move. Referencing Folk Music seems like a declaration of awareness of the death of dance music, signals an investment in what i'd (unimaginatively) call "Post-Rave Electronica".

francesco
05-04-2005, 11:03 AM
TechnoFolk is the new FolkRock?

Rachel Verinder
05-04-2005, 11:27 AM
30-year parallel to the only partially intentional interface between folk and improv? (the Joe Boyd/Nick Drake/Tippetts/John Martyn/Richard Thompson/Mike Heron/John Cale overlaps)

real precursor to fence collective = mike cooper's early '70s albums

suspected precursor to nu folk-electronica = martyn's inside out

droid
05-04-2005, 11:56 AM
OK everyone knows Malcom McLaren described Planet Rock as a form of folk music, but why are Matmos, The Lickets, The Focus Group, The Animal Collective (new Vashti Bunyan Record coming out!) drawing on Folk music?
Other then Matmos, im not really familiar with these names, but I do know that this is not a new phenomenon at all. Look at some of Rephlex's output down through the years... you can probably trace this back to at least 1995 with the release of Industrial Folk Songs (http://www.discogs.com/release/5119) by cylob, other Rephlex acts like Kyoshi Izumi and Leila also had a 'folkish' sound... and then theres Atom Hearts Latin stuff, Freeforms Audiotourism LP (http://www.themilkfactory.co.uk/music/freeform.htm), Pangeia Instrumentos (http://www.rephlex.com/2001releases/cat135/cat135.html) etc... you could probably compile quite a list if you had the time...


The argument that it's just hipster sequencing (ie whats the NEXT big thing?) seems a bit frail, I mean, isn't the leap to folk kinda surreal?

I dont think it is such a leap - isnt folk music 'the original' dance music? One thing Ive noticed from exploring the world of folk (or world ;)) music over the last few years are the similarities between the structures and even some of the sounds from each genre... Some of Autechres releases, (the last 2 LPs, and the Peel sessions spring to mind) sounds surprisingly close to some Balinese and Indonesian Gamelan recordings. And I think the structural signposts of (some) folk music ie: the buliding up and layering of short simple melodies, the 'reel' structures of looping melodies and rhythms, and the use of dissonance and disharmony and lack of strict compositional rules are all things that have been evident in Electronica for many years...


I have been nurturing a pet theory that it's due to the breakdown in communications between Electronica and the dwindling bastardised street avantgardisms of dance music that has caused this "necrophiliac" shift. The Shakleton Mordant 7" must be about the only record trying to create a "radical" bohemian Grime, but remember how many bohemian variants of Techno and Drum and Bass there once were!

You might have something there in relation to the overt folkism of the likes of Matmos, but I think this is something thats been around for quite some time, and in some ways is a core element in the development of (UK at least) Electronica.


It seems like a wilfully and strategically introspective move. Referencing Folk Music seems like a declaration of awareness of the death of dance music, signals an investment in what i'd (unimaginatively) call "Post-Rave Electronica".

Again - you might be right about this in relation to some artists, but, widely speaking, I dont think this is a strategic thing at all. Electronica has a much less cohesive scene than most genres of music, and I think (the good) producers are less influenced by whatever 'new sound' is popular at the moment than they are by whatever road their current interests and experimentations lead them down, it may not even be a purposeful or conscious process.. for example - people have told me that some of the stuff on The Fear (http://www.thefear.ie) reminds them of Irish trad, even though its totally abstract electronica, with no deliberate trad or folk influences....

Go figure!

Ness Rowlah
05-04-2005, 12:09 PM
From what I heard of these folktronica bands/artists it's hardly "folk" they collect/sample/are inspired
by - more what I would call "acoustic troubadours". Ie they are more likely to sample a
lowkey John Martyn/Nick Drake song (surely this is not "folk"?)
than say a rousing Steeleye Span or Maddy Prior track.

jwd
05-04-2005, 03:09 PM
I sometimes wonder if it's another misguided grab for (interpellated) 'authenticity' or somesuch - which is clearly misguided as a) folkrock is in itself quite an intensely 'inauthentic' form and b) why does it matter (to anyone other than a bunch of insecure 'tronica bedsit dudes)?

Electronica seems to be constantly going through a crisis of confidence/relevance. Quite justifiably so I should think.

A lot of the electronica that's latching onto folk is maybe going for some kind of inferential pre-modern-world thing which would maybe parallel the pre-Symbolic order childishness of their arrangements, tunes, etc. - kind of, pre-linguistic, kids playing in the sound-dust, that kinda thing. Map that semiotic/symbolic thing onto pre-/post-Industrial revolution. It's a shit theory, I admit. And I certainly don't ascribe to it, or approve! But you know - 'eee, weren't it grand when we was all troubadours walking with our guitars? Jus' strumming away? Hey nonno no, fol-de-rol etc.'

I'm just waiting for Woebot to lash out at Four Tet again (c'mon Matt, please? ;) )

jwd
05-04-2005, 03:30 PM
Sorry that last post was ill-thought, crap and bonkers, I am waaaay sleep deprived at the moment, get me away from this computer.

carlos
05-04-2005, 06:37 PM
i always took the folk fixation as something that has more to do with an idea of being "pastoral"- which gets interpreted by the artists literally as "using acoustic instruments"

matmos used acoustic instruments in "The West" to great effect- that original EP came out in 1999- which is really a long time ago.

greg davis' "arbor" included a pretty blatant nick drake sample (to great effect) and that was in 2002. people like greg davis (and hrvatski- they toured together around 2001/2002 and i got a chance to talk to both of them around that time) have degrees from music schools- and started out playing "real" instruments- so i just thought they were trying to incorporate some of that into their music

which makes them even further removed from the "street avantgardisms of dance music" i suppose. matmos both have academic backgrounds also.

i know that hrvatski was a huge fan of early uk hardcore and jungle- for whatever that's worth

to me- most of the "folk" in electronica ends up sounding more like orchestral pop anyway- the beach boys and zombies, that sort of thing

jenks
05-04-2005, 06:58 PM
i always had a soft spot for the electro pastoralism of ultramarine.

isn't part of the folk/electronic interaction also about silences and spaces - folk is invested with breaths and silences, the slide of fingers on stings etc and a sense of simple sounds being created in an unadorned manner and the electrofolk stuff is often about the click and glitch stuff - sounds softly buried and an allowance that not all the track has to covered in sound, that absence is appreciated in some way - they seem obvious bedfellows to me - not that i have heard much which fills my heart with glee (would be interested to hear a recommendation from the more sonically knowledgeable)
this is rambling and a bit imprecise - sorry part of what discourages me from getting involved in the great pop debate is the coherence with which people argue their positions - i am nowhere near as intellectually organised, i have no 'position' to defend and am much less absolute in my attitude to stuff.

mms
05-04-2005, 07:55 PM
isn't it just the pastoral meme that runs thru quite obviously afx and boards of canada etc plus slightly hidden in the hardcore continum coming into focus.

also the cracked soundscapes of glitch/basic channel etc having some semblance and cross generational relation to the old shellac recordings celebrated on the harry smith type recordings.

those guys are also fixing the sort of bare theft of vintage bluesgrass and blues that more popular artists like moby are responsible for too.

Dubquixote
05-04-2005, 10:07 PM
Conversely, has anyone noticed the reverse happening?... Folk(ish) artists going electronic. I'm thinking things like The Album Leaf, Carpark Records, etc.

Like the singer/songwriter combination of voice and acoustic guitar, looking for inspiration, has mined electronic music for fresh sounds and forms. Not to mention the laptop as instrument compliments folk's Romantic vision of artistic creation: written by a lone artist working in private.

michael
05-04-2005, 11:47 PM
isn't it just the pastoral meme that runs thru quite obviously afx and boards of canada etc plus slightly hidden in the hardcore continum coming into focus.

I reckon. Small-f folk just quietly shifting towards big-F. Similar moods, not strategising on a scene level. After all there are many electronica nerds not touching the stuff, and the few who are mentioned are not necessarily examples of much more than parallel evolution, given their geographical and social separation. For every artist who may be taking on some folk things you have others borrowing from hip-hop or dance forms... Sometimes in the same group, thinking of Matmos & Drew's solo Soft Pink Truth project.

Sometimes the decisions behind a change in direction are as simple as "I'm bored, my flatmate's got an acoustic guitar here, I might learn it... hey teach me some songs, hippy." ;) Or Greg Davis and Keith Hrvatski are great examples of people who were into this kind of thing for ages. All I'm trying to suggest is the reasons can be very personal, in the sense of not being easy to generalise rather than being arcane (I'm not trying to be all Romantic here).

Don't know Matt's history with Four Tet bashing, but his latest album has taken acid (as in aciiiied not Roky Erickson ;)) as its starting point. He was pissed off with the "folktronica" tag when I interviewed him last year.



also the cracked soundscapes of glitch/basic channel etc having some semblance and cross generational relation to the old shellac recordings celebrated on the harry smith type recordings.

I read a press release for a new Stephan Mathieu CD on the weekend, which mentioned he'd recorded one of his earlier tracks onto an old phonographic drum and jokingly pointed out that the requisites of modern electronic music were all there - "noise, crackle, aspects of field recordings, glitch and dub".

Mmm cracked soundscapes. :)

daren
06-04-2005, 12:52 AM
For Animal Collective, I feel like they have their folk inspirations and electronics are well meshed and seamless. I get a great feeling that both genres are really non-separate in their music.

Also, they seem very spiritual in an earthy sense (see Sung Tongs linear notes and the titles of their previous releases or hell, see their band name). I've had the pleasure of listening to the Vashti Bunyan & Animal Collective EP and the electronics are quite minimal and there's quite a bit of strumming.

I am not quite familiar with any of the other groups mentioned other than Matmos, but it's sort of odd grouping Animal Collective as electronica seeing how their electronics set up is similar to a lot of noise bands'. Meaning, most of their effects pedals are through a soundboard, chained with themselves and are controlled more spontaneous. I imagine most of electronica as computer based, relying heavily on programmed beats and sequences.

turtles
06-04-2005, 03:20 AM
I have been nurturing a pet theory that it's due to the breakdown in communications between Electronica and the dwindling bastardised street avantgardisms of dance music that has caused this "necrophiliac" shift. The Shakleton Mordant 7" must be about the only record trying to create a "radical" bohemian Grime, but remember how many bohemian variants of Techno and Drum and Bass there once were!
I like this idea, but I'm not sure if you can't just flip it around sort of: are electronica people moving into Folk stuff, or is it just that the electronica meme has infected people who like to fool around with Folk? Or to rephrase your question: why has (neo- weird- freak-) Folk latched onto Electronica?

I mean, for people like Four Tet the path is definitely more Electronica->Folk, but I get the feeling that for others like Animal Collective the path is more Folk->Electronica. Given that Vashti Bunyan actually decided to do an EP with them, I think you could certainly argue that there are elements of folk (or people interested in folk) that have become attracted to the more pastoral side of electronica.

I think it's part of a larger trend of "electronic" productions styles (however you wanna describe that) infecting a lot of previously not-so-electronic music styles (if this trend is not a figment of my own imagination), as well as electronica musicians branching out into new areas.

mms
06-04-2005, 09:46 PM
well there is also the industrial linage going thru it,
coil, current 93 etc .
no one has mentioned the pastoral and folky sides of krautrock, popol vuh etc and no one ha mentioned the third ear band who i'd like to mention just then.

i can see where the pastoral folk meme in boc and afx comes from especially the cracked version cos when local radio started in down home, all they played in the morning was folk songs.

i reckon some of this stuff shares a similar aesthetic as v/vm's excursions into technologically disturbing old ballroom dancing music as the caretaker.
they share the same memory/false memory aspect.
i think the warning from those 3 artists is that it shouldn't be swallowed wholesale.

differs a bit from moby or even 4 tets excursions.

Woebot
07-04-2005, 06:23 AM
half forgot what a pre-hisory all this has. Ultramarine! (kicks himself)

jenks
07-04-2005, 11:35 AM
in one of those lovely moments of sychronicity - the ipod threw up an ultramarine track whilst i had it on shuffle the day you posted the original question - have now gone back and listened to the rest of their stuff i have got - a lovely trip to another time!