FoHDiary Day 5: We Built This City
In the film Amelie there's a point where the protagonist, in a gesture of good will, grabs the arm of a blind man. She carries him down the street narrating everything she sees in exquisite detail. At the end of the street she leaves him, wishes him well and runs away. The camera pans down on the mans face and the entire screen fills with a mandala of beautiful moving colour. I feel like that happened today.
David Depino was kind enough to let me interview him. And I'm the most enthusiastic I've ever been from my time in NYC. His wealth of experience, hilarious anecdotes, and general pragmatic outlook on the state of dance music as it was and as it is is refreshing. "Spiritual? Fuck off!".
His answers were insightful and offered a wealth of detail I've not had access to with the limited resources that were available to me. I now understand the floorplan of the Paradise Garage, and the musicological makeup of garage music, where the intersection is between that and house music proper, how the garage connected to the vogue scene (David is an Xtravaganza!), more about those forgotten places like Sanctuary, and how the map of it all works together. I understand those connections much better, and the links and fluidity with which it all worked.
On my travels across the city I've been listening to a lot of different music. Some of it as research, some of it to try to understand how the music connects with the places and spaces, some of it playing with the history of New York's musical output, some of it simply because I tend to romanticise certain things (see the pizza thing in Personal notes below). One of the things that's been occupying my ears is the rather famous Laurent Garnier Mixmag Live 19 mix. It's a blend of acid jazz, vocal house, minimal techno, and heavy heady acid from the mid 90s. Some tracks, the more cosmopolitan, groovy numbers (St. Germain and Davina) fit particularly well with the city, with the subway, and with the environs in general. Others clash with the place entirely. This reminded me of something I was considering late last year. Auditory mimesis.
Certain tracks fit mountaintop vista, others suit a romantic tryst, others wide expansive deserts at night. Musicological features seem to map across to visual imagery. Huge, slow reverberant guitars do not work in an intimate bedroom, and minimal techno does not befit a coral reef. This has certain implications about the music here, and the city. A few days ago I asked the question if a city can have a groove. I'm starting to think it can. I'm aware this is drifting into critical theory whiffle but stick with me.
Much has been written about "the city as an organism" or "the city as a body" over the decades from hundreds of different perspectives and authors. The idea of roads and infrastructure as arteries and nerves, public spaces as organs, and public design as motivation for the body's movement/change have all been expressed in numerous manners. It stands to reason that a city, based on its size, scale and morphology has a natural tempo or rhythm. Human bodies find dancing and movement at specific tempos most comfortable based on their size and morphology, so why wouldn't a city have a preferred tempo? If I groove best at a certain tempo, why not a city?
Beyond that there are ideas of sonic mimesis occurring in the palette of tones and timbres within music. As an example: techno IS Detroit. Hard, metallic, rhythmic, mechanistic, motorik. Regular repeating patterns like any machine. Techno is built in Detroit and from the same material as Detroit. You can dance to the sonic palette of your own city. It becomes possible to celebrate who you are as people, tribally as people, and you celebrate your spaces through your music. It could even be considered devotional. Rietveld said in house music the object of devotion isn't god, it's the community. In techno perhaps the focus of worship is the metropolis itself.
It's nothing new to say that techno is mechanistic and sounds like machines. That's the point of it! But the idea that it's reverential and devotional? The idea that we worship machines? That's not usually the state of play.
I've found my favorite coffee shop. I also think the girl on the counter has a thing for me. She's hot too. Shame I'm not that way inclined. I've taken to grabbing a coffee and a pastry and wandering the streets of FiDI with my New York Morning playlist soothing me (a bit of Environmental Control for those of you who've been reading Andrew Williams). I share this playlist for your delectation. But I'm not sharing my chocolate hazelnut swirl. That's all mine!
I also ticked something off my bucket list tonight. Wandering the New York streets on a cold autumn night listening to Miles Davis' Flamenco Sketches (alt take) eating pizza without a care in the world. TICK.