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17 October 2007



Wow. Just. Wow. Thanks for the links. I'm going to have to let that one stew for a while before I can respond fully.


Also see clap clap's reaction.


Because Tv on The Radio sounds like early Peter Gabriel.



And by this you mean that Peter Gabriel isn't influenced by black music?

Anyway, I've seen a few people on a few threads suggest that TVOTR isn't really audibly inflected with what we'd normally consider "black music." I have to say, this does not strike me as a remotely defensible position.


those who suggest that TVOTR isn't audibly inflected with "black music" either haven't heard "whirlwind" or are f-ing deaf. blues, anyone?


I'm generally a fan of SFJ too, and was greatly disappointed in this article. I think his point about political correctness has some merit, but I also don't see this as entirely bad. In 50s and 60s, white performers imitated/freely "borrowed" from black performers and profited handsomely, while the same black performers labored in obscurity. A large part of the white audience, especially in the US, had never heard the sounds - the back beat, blue notes - white performers took from black music. Not to minimize the accomplishment of Elvis or the Stones or the Beatles in any way, but if white audiences were already familiar with Arthur Crudup, Muddy Waters, or Bo Diddley, the white bands may not have sounded so revolutionary.

So even though the fame and riches of many black performers makes the above unlikely to occur now (though maybe I just can't think of any examples - anyone?), there is a legacy of white musicians profiting off the backs of black musicians that some people may not want to touch or suggest in their own music.

But more to the point, I think a lot of white musicians are simply trying to do something different. There are a lot of rock and roll cliches out there that come from blues and R&B. They're cliched because millions of bands have used these sounds over and over. I think the reaction against those sounds began in the days of punk (to my ears the Ramones didn't really employ the back beat and blues scales) and continues today. It's understandable that a rock band wanting to sound original might eschew the sounds that millions of other bands have already explored.

Also, rock is, in theory, an inherently rebellious medium, so if kids in the 60s rebelled against church and classical music to play black-derived music, it isn't unexpected that kids today, who were raised on rock and roll, would go to sounds their parents don't listen to (classical, church music).

SFJ is free not to like what he is hearing, but he sort of sounds as if he wants bands to be original, yet still sounds like the Stones. That doesn't make sense to me.


People really need to stop using TV on the R as symbolic of this kind of BS. They are not trying to by symbols of race, they are just trying thier hardest to make great music despite all the tacky ways so many people in the press etc are doing. Remember that incredibly offensive VOICE cover? The reasons of why you don't see blackness in the visual form of indie rock runs so much deeper than anyone is touching on really.

Everything is a repeat anyway.



The (awful, I agree) Voice cover gets mentioned in that Voice discussion I linked to. For whatever it's worth, Rob Havrilla kind of half-apologizes for it, saying: "which I regret, and regret not immediately, if not apologizing, than at least reaching out to them about."

I'm not trying to make TV on the Radio "symbolic" of anything. I'm just pointing out that their absence from SF-J's article is extremely conspicuous. It would be extremely conspicuous even if they were an all-white band making identical music to identical popular and critical acclaim, since they would still be the most prominent exception to SF-J's thesis about the absence of obviously black musical influences in indie rock. (Especially if you are going to take a halfway sophisticated view of the scope of sounds that "black music" actually encompasses.)

There are certainly other counterexamples out there (LCD Soundsystem, !!!, Of Montreal) but I really don't think you can even begin to do justice to this issue if you're going to conspicuously exclude TVOTR from the discussion.

Chris Becker

Hey, Darcy. Speaking as a composer who has performed and produced his own work here in NYC for the past 10 years with musicians across the color line I can tell you that Sasha's article does reflect some of the frustrations of people I am close to and perform with from the indie-rock scene, The Black Rock Coalition, the so called "new music" scene, etc.

Speaking again as an artist, the notion of painting myself into a corner by consciously avoiding the influence of any kind of music and culture is frightening. But some musicians do this. They will try to avoid something that sounds "black" or "white" because it interferes with whatever image they have of themselves in their heads. It is a bizarre form of creative decision making that I can't relate to. I'm not sure I have a moral problem with it, but it does irk me...


Hey Chris,

I feel you. But I also wish SF-J had actually written about some of the issues you raise above, instead of the rather muddled piece he actually wrote.

You know, people have been kind of giving SF-J shit about the part of the article where he talks about trying to work this stuff out with his own band, but to me that was the most interesting bit. The problem is, he doesn't really follow up on that.

For example: Régine Chassagne (of the Arcade Fire) is from Haiti. (In case you missed this, she has a song called "Haiti.") I don't really know anything about her parents or her upbringing, other than they fled Haiti and moved to Montreal. But it seems reasonable to assume they were in some way connected to the sizable Haitian-Canadian community in Montreal.

Régine is also a jazz-trained singer -- before she formed Arcade Fire with Win Butler, she was a jazz major at McGill and singing jazz standards at clubs around town.

How do these influences inform what Régine brings to Arcade Fire's music? Is there some kind of a conscious rejection of jazz elements going on, a rebellion against the music she studied academically? Can you really reduce this to a black vs. white thing?

Chris Becker

I hear you. Maybe I'm just so glad to see an article out there trying to tackle these issues that I'm not seeing it as "muddled." I think I'm having a slightly different reaction to it than you and Andrea...although we three share similar creative concerns...we all operate at the edges of rock, jazz and contemporary whatever (I'm familiar with your and Andrea's ensembles via the web) and as a result of being so eclectic might have to be reminded (by an article like Sasha's) that a latent sort of ignorance (not necessarily racism) lurks in the indie-music scene...

I don't know the answers to your questions. But I can say that I've had conversations with fellow players where we expressed some frustrations with the current rock scene similar to Sasha's.

Henry Holland

Hi, found your blog via Matthew Guerrieri's blog.

I think the reaction against those sounds began in the days of punk (to my ears the Ramones didn't really employ the back beat and blues scales) and continues today

No, that's not correct. It began with prog rock, specifically King Crimson's song 21st Century Schizoid Man from 1969, which was once wonderfully described by Steve Hackett as "musical karate, it didn't swing in the slightest".

The great prog bands (ELP, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Yes and Genesis from 1971-75) explicitly rejected overt blues/r&b/soul influences (ALL rock guitarists, even Robert Fripp, use the blues scale); prog arose, in part, out of a total rejection of the aesthetics of the British Blues Boom, which was huge in England in the late 1960's (see: pre-Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac doing perfect imitations of Elmore James--they were enormously popular in England at the time).

Just the use of the rhythm section alone by the classic prog bands is a refutation of the blues/r&b/soul aesthetic: the drummers and bass players were lead instruments, equal to the guitars/keyboards/vocalists, not just there to "groove" or "play in the pocket" or whatever.

As Keith Emerson memorably put it: "We're British, we don't want to imitate plantation workers from the American South, our roots are classical and folk". The only "black music" influence that's readily detectable in the classic prog bands most fertile period is jazz, as Emerson, Howe, Bruford, Palmer and others were jazz fanatics first and foremost.

Being a prog head, I guess it's why I like cold, robotic, totally not-at-all funky Goa Trance over the more obviously disco/soul influenced House style when it comes to electronic dance music too. Viva la music that doesn't swing! :-)

Chris Becker

Yo - Henry. Your Goa trance has its roots in Jamaican dub music. I recommend Michael Veal's wonderful new book Dub as a guide to the Caribbean influence on a staggering number of popular forms of music.

Richard Kamins

Darcy - Having grown up on AM radio in the late 50s and 60s (living in Central Connecticut), I lived through and relished the way African American music came into the mainstream (and into my ears.) "Pop Music", especially music that sells to lots of young people, goes through cycles, influences come and go, and there's always so much more music than one ever hears (even in the 60s - the New Orleans scene, for example, was very active but not too many artists got national distribution.)
So, SFJ doesn't like "prog-rock" and he has a healthy respect for the artist/producer relationship - there's still a lot of music he does not cover and probably doesn't even hear (He just happens to write for a "BIG" publication and lots of folks get to read his opinions.)
I don't pay much attention anymore to the charts - my daughters grew up, moved out and I'd rather listen to creative contemporary music. When I need a "rhythm fix", I go back to Stax/Volt or Sly or Weather Report. And there's plenty of action in Dave Douglas's Quintet (I really like Clarence Penn) and Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life Group and The Bad Plus and Wayne Shorter's Quartet and the occasional Secret Society bash - SFJ says he's a rhythm "guy", well, musical miscegenation certainly still exists, just got to expand your horizons.


While I agree that there are issues of race that need to be discussed, I feel that setting up this black/white musical dichotomy opens up a can of worms. The use of the word 'miscegenation' is a prime culprit, because it carries so much negative baggage. Applying that to music creates associations that can trip up your thinking -- I'm reminded in particular of Susan McClary's excellent exploration of the use of the terminology 'masculine' and 'feminine' endings and how it tripped up some of the best theoreticians, causing them to make bizarre judgements. The new 'feminine ending' is the authenticity/class/race trope. One of the worst examples of this happened in a review of ASM's first record (here, scroll down: http://flagpole.com/Music/RecRev/2006-02-01), in which we are commended for being authentic by playing rich-white-people music instead of pretending to be poor (and perhaps black?). I don't think SFJ falls into this kind of trap, but he teeters awfully close.


Hey Andrea,

Wow, is "Emerson Dameron" a pseudonym or what?

Anyway, it seems to me that SF-J is actually saying the opposite of the (kidding on the square a bit, I think) Flagpole review -- that the middle-class and melanin-impaired ought not be so deathly afraid of the miscegenation. Just go ahead and get with the funk if that's what truly moves you.

(And maybe it's just me but that word -- "miscegenation" -- seems too archaic to be a truly loaded term. It feels to me more like an old-timey thing, like "cripple" or "strumpet." Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I don't think even the most virulent, overt racists today are actually using the word "miscegenation" in earnest.)

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