Bad Taste and the "Sublime" in Music


Beast of Burden
Back in the days when we simply read other people's blogs, one of the most interesting exchanges that I encountered, on K-Punk, Woebot, Blissblog, concerned "bad taste" in pop music. For the most part, the discussion centered on how it was considered in "bad taste," circa 1985 to 2000, to like Ultra Vox, Tears for Fears, Visage, etc, but that with the electroclash movement of the early 2000s it became hip to reference these bands . . . . What made the taste for these bands so bad, seemingly, was the gay edge to their sound. That is, back in the early 80s, beyond the edge of good taste, there were "gay" haircut bands and "gay" sounds. Constituting the other edge were "street" sounds, the ruff, "masculine" sounds of hip hop and dancehall . . . .

K-Punk then analyzed bad taste in terms of the Kantian category of the sublime. Unfortunately, I forget what he said, only that it struck me as brilliant at the time. Something, perhaps, about how sublime art lacks proper proportion, sends a jolt of displeasure, an intimation of death . . . .

I am familiar with Robert Klein's treatment of the sublime aspects of cigarette smoking. About how the first few cigarettes always taste shockingly bad. Disagreeable, bitter. How smoking is positively bad for one's health, linked to death and disease -- and therein the key to its aesthetic appeal.

What comparisons can be drawn between the aesthetic experience of smoking the first cigarette and the experience of hearing new & strange sounds? Is it the jolts of displeasure? And how does what is first experienced as "displeasure" become, over time, the source of intense pleasure?

Also, if "gay" sounds and "street" sounds were edgy during, say, the 20-year period from 1975 to 1995, what sounds are edgy today? Where does one encounter bad taste in music today?

Or rather, what are the regions where good taste does not extend? I can think of perhaps three regions. First, sounds that are associated with gay club culture, everything from Cher to Pet Shop Boys to Britney Spears to Euro Trance. Second, sounds that are associated with the street, such as 50 Cent, or "hyper masculinity," such as Eminem and heavy metal. Third, sounds that are associated with juvenelia, such as happy hardcore, and, again, Britney Spears, Eminem, and heavy metal.

Also, how is it that some sounds that first appear in "bad taste" come to be viewed as good, while others remain sheer garbage, beyond critical rehabilitation . . . . That is, how is it that bad taste is sometimes (if rarely) prescient?

And how do matters stand with good taste? Does good taste simply reflect the consensus of "knowledgeable" middle class consumers? Is good taste necessarily middle brow, safe, boring?

And what to make of Black good taste? Black guys who are into Norman Jay, jazz funk, Mr Fingers, broken beats, Nu Soul, organic grooves, Rae & Christian, bossa nova? . . . . If we accept the notion that some examples of bad taste are in fact "good," may we not also make room for the proposition that not all examples of good taste are "bad"?

ALSO, where does Reynolds' theory of vibe migration fit into this scheme?

I realize that I'm returning to old ground with this post, but I think the ground fertile for discussion
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If someone wanted to recuperate musical works of SERIOUSLY 'bad taste' from the early '80s, they'd be better off avoiding electro pop groups altogether and heading straight for Buck's Fizz, Chas and Dave, Scarlet Fantastic, Sheena Easton, Blacklace, Dollar and Joe Dolce, all of whom would be considered 'beyond the pale' and highly undesirable in any capacity. I find it interesting that while some recuperators are happy to champion the output of Sinita and the 4-Skins, the above bands remain mired in the shit (though I will admit to liking Chas and Dave. I also liked Wham, purely for the reasons that a) George Michael comes from Burnt Oak, like me, and I've always thought you should support your neighbours when they do well, and b) I used to fancy the living fuck out of Pepsi)

BAck when I used to hang out with anarcho punks (admittedly they weren't very committed and anyway, I was a Sadean Maoist ie- I wanted to nail the rich to the shithouse door, but along hedonist lines) I used to get laughed at for liking "Two of Hearts" by Stacey Q. To be honest, I can't see any difference between this hi-NRG classic or 'Do they owe us a living' by Crass (incidentally, there's a grime version of this doing the rounds now)

As for areas completely lacking in good taste right now, to me the most naff area is all these classical music / trip hop crossovers that somebody did a post about recently on this forum.
its a interesting topic for sure. you can break bad taste down along two separate lines. there's bad taste as prescribed by the default middle-class position (which as dominic correctly observes is your heavy metal/gabba axis) then there's the cross-the-board bad taste (highlighted here by martin)

middleclass aesthetes like WOEBOT (i can say that about him he's an old 'real-world' mate, worra monkey) make play infuriating their fellow middle-classes foisting the vein of working-class "bad taste" on their mates. that pretty much tackles "taste" as it refers to the body of old music. spelt out like this it isnt such a mystery.


what IS a mystery is soothsaying music journalists! they must be practising some mystic art, picking up the pre-echoes of the cosmos. this is "taste" as a precognitive art. its the ability to "call" something, to name and pre-evaluate.

its a sensualist's talent isnt it? and i wonder if that's explicable from a cold rationalist perspective.....
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