Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Label of the 'Week': Warp

This week, coming home from a job I hate, with a government being decided that I was sure to hate, I decided to indulge myself with something I love. And indulgence it was. Using Spotify's label search function I searched for 'Warp' and hit random. Given the much vaunted death of the record label, it's a miracle that I could think of a record label, but Warp sprung to mind

Warp is less a record label and more a style of music in itself - easily identifiable. Drum beats skitter, overlap, cut and stretch - none of the melodic instruments sound organic. Vocals, if present, are heavily distorted. In short, it's warped. Unlike the abacus experimentalism of 12-tone music, or the shapeless mass of free jazz, the vast majority of Warp's music offers just enough structure to box you in, then spends most of it's time bending the walls, wrapping space and time, unsettling. It is a music made almost entirely on computers, and in an era when every job seemingly involves staring at an often malfunctioning computer system for 8 hours, then travelling home past detritis (organic and man-made) it's a music made exactly for our time. Thom Yorke was not wrong in describing Autechre's grotesque and detailed masterwork 'LP5' as "the sound that's in my head". It's in all of our heads, whether we accept it on not.

The gateway to Warp is the music of Aphex Twin, who serves as a kind of Weird Al Jankovic comedy record producer and totem for the Warp ethos, having evolved from making slightly odd music for raves to making ludicrous drum'n'bass and pretty piano music. A lot of the music on Warp follows this pattern - this is a label that used to put out records by the cut-up artist Cassette Boy (who used famous people's words to make them say inappropriate things, a comedy trope surpassed only by old people swearing in its satiric power) and the avant-garde composer Mira Calix, who once performed live 'collaborating' with a tank of insects.

In short, childish and modernist, which is where the idea of the holy label comes in. Warp, for me, fits. This was the idea behind the independent music movement - to have a label that catered for a specific group of people - a social and musical sectarianism. Warp is my sect, and its haunting, fucked music speaks to me as Sub Pop and Rough Trade spoke to its secret following.

Well, I say 'speaks', it's more 'spoke'. In recent years, Warp has succumbed to what China MiƩville refers to as the "idiot logic of capitalism", the drive to expand, the drive to accumulate. It has broadened its musical palette, taking in flesh and blood bands with actual instruments, Americans and becoming involved in film production. So once again, I'm left in a corner, demanding ideological consistency, barking at the moon.

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