Lana Del Rey — who, seemingly seconds ago, was little more than a curiosity but now has fully inserted her streaking, ubiquitous presence into our collective sensorium — owes as much to the cresting wave of contemporary digital production technique as it does to star-making or a muscle-bound publicist. With apologies to all save the old or clueless (you know who you are) to the overarching phenomenon loosely referred to as "electronica" (sometimes doubling as "alternative"), we need to set the Wayback Machine to tally the metrics of how everything has come to be.
In the beginning (we’re talking the 1960s), artists, bands, and musicians found it easy enough to hone their stagecraft/sharpen their chops in front of an audience by throwing themselves into a station-wagon and beating it down the line, with gas costing 28 cents a gallon and Motel 6 really only costing 6 bucks (not to mention how cheap airfare was back then). That’s pretty much how the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, and all the other "live" bands got it going.
But what they couldn’t do cheaply, or at all, was make a record and get it out. For that, they needed “the man” — a record label — because that was the only way you could afford to go into a recording studio. It still boggles the mind that Jefferson Airplane recorded their supersonic Surrealistic Pillow on 4-track, but in 1966-67, even 4-track wasn’t cheap. And, for the next 30-35 years or so, artists and labels would spend — sometime millions — making the music we all came to know and love.
Then, a decade and a half or so ago, the generation that grew up on Apple and PCs and X-Box and Nintendo started making music. And digital sampling rates got robust, and hard drives started spinning at 7200 rpm, and holy smokes Batman, you could create fully articulated, high quality content ("content" — that’s what we call music now, by the way) on your laptop; and now, even on your iPhone or iPad, as Gorillaz and Bjork did last year. We are smack in the middle of a boom the likes of which hasn’t been seen since they dug up some yellow rock at Sutter’s Mill in 1849. To be sure, both established super popstars like the Gaga Lady and Katy Perry as well as those at the forefront of the one-man show (assuming the incorrect appellation) of the DJ scene — artists like Deadmau5, Bassnectar, Kaskade, and Tiesto — owe much, or all, to German software manufacturers Ableton and Native Instruments for providing the sonic tools to manipulate waveforms with the same dexterity that Louis Armstrong did with his horn in the last century. When old pals of mine elbow me and say, "They sure don’t make music like they used to, eh?" — I can only gently pat them and say, "There, there — they’ll look after you at The Home."
Yet it’s not an issue of technology alone. In the same way that The Eagles didn’t invent the G chord or vocal harmonies but milked them for all they’re worth, instrumental hip-hop and earlier paradigms of sampling pointed the way for recombinant musical DNA to create new loops from old schools. The Bay Area’s own legendary DJ Shadow was such a pioneer in this regard. His 1996 debut, Endtroducing, was lauded by The Guinness Book of World Records as the first recording ever to be totally comprised of samples, and it’s a classic that stands the test of time. Shadow’s early work utilized samples derived from homemade loops off old 45s, which is both an analogue process and mind-bogglingly complex — both intellectually, and physically — as you well know if you’ve ever seen him spin.
Now that we’re all on the same page, we are better equipped to share, in coming weeks, what’s in store and in stores. We’ll call this section of picks "What's Up."
Mimi Page — an artist worth watching — drops her debut, Breathe Me In, in stores Feb. 14. This L.A. Dream Pop composer/producer/artist has been a darling over at Sirius XM Ch. 53 Chill for many months...and that was all on the strength of demos! Mimi also appears on the upcoming Bassnectar release and is heard on his free mix tape available here: www.bassnectar.net
Choir of Young Believers, from Denmark, drop Rhinegold March 20, following their assault on SXSW in Austin. But you can grab some tracks here: http://ghostly.com/releases/rhine-gold
mc2 is a manager, producer and electronic artist living in Hollywood, CA