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Who's naturalizing the fake folk? - click opera
February 2010
 
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Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 12:07 pm
Who's naturalizing the fake folk?

"What would Click Folk or Glitch Folk sound like?", the Other Music newsletter demanded of its readers back in January 2001. "What would Alan Lomax have said if, in 1965, the Newport Folk Festival had been invaded by geeks playing modular Moogs? On Folktronic Momus gives us an idea of what traditional folk music might sound like when married with modern-day electronics. The result is like nothing you've heard before."



Hype aside, the clickfolk, glitchfolk thing was, at the turn of the century, as startling as it was inevitable. Spurred on initially by an angry article in The Face entitled "Who's Faking the Folk?" (a riposte to Beth Orton and her ilk), I published an essay on the Momus website in September 1999 which neutralised the Face's rockist hypocrisy charges by proposing: "Let's imagine a variant of Folk style which, like Camp, loudly and proudly proclaimed its inauthenticity."



"Stars Forever," continued the manifesto, "with its Moogy shanties, forebitters, and broadside ballads, has already begun my efforts to build a catalogue of fake folk music. But I want to go further. I want to release a compilation on Analog Baroque next year of attempts to 'restore' this Switched On Folk which never really existed, but should have. I want to make a parallel world in which sincere jokers compiled a National Folk Synthesiser Archive composed of faked field recordings of hillbillies playing early synths, gap-toothed agricultural workers plugging in ARPs and Korgs for the village hootenanny while bearded, bespectacled researchers, sent by Marxist government bureaus to compile an Elektronische Volksarchiv of Folk Artificielle, set up UNESCO standard-issue ethnological tape recorders. The record will probably be called Fakeways: A Sampler. Anyone can submit material, with or without vocals, and those chosen will be paid in shetland wool and electronic sporrans."



Nine years later, this "click folk" or "glitch folk" or "folktronica" thing is no longer so outlandish, no longer such a novelty, no longer such a lonely trek. So many people (including me) have made chopped, darkfolk tributes to cult pagan horror film The Wicker Man that there's even a subgenre called "Wickerfolk". Everybody -- well, almost everybody -- now has Comus and Incredible String Band mp3s in their collection. Everybody's got some Four Tet, some Books, some Colleen, some Devendra, some CocoRosie. Some might have been to folk clubs like Bob Stanley's Swaddling Songs, or seen beardy young neo-folk artists like The Train Chronicles, Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts and Emmy the Great (okay, she's not so beardy) playing in Hoxton or modeling folksy clothes in fashion mags. Others are already booking their tickets for the Green Man Festival (named after the pub in The Wicker Man).

It's all been going long enough for bands to have started folksy, gone electro-glam, then come back to folk. Have a listen to Little Bird from the "folktastic" new Goldfrapp album Seventh Tree, for instance, and think of how some have taken to calling Madonna "Oldfrapp".

A decade is long enough for the popportunistic pop world to do to fake folk all the things we know it tends to do: to invent, to experiment, to hybridize, to accommodate, to imitate, to sell, to naturalize, to universalize, to kill, to revive. I'm -- naturally! -- much more interested in the first processes than the last ones, so I won't be buying Goldfrapp's newie or Oldfrapp's eventual tribute to it. But I'm quite interested in the "universalizing" bit of the process, because it's a bit like seeing your kids grow up and charm the pants off people. Right now, my favourite universalizers of the fake folk meme are Tunng.



Tunng started in 2003 as a duo -- Mike Lindsay and Sam Genders -- who worked in a studio under a girly fashion boutique (the entrance was through the dressing room, so they tended not to go out during shop hours). At first they sounded like The Books and did cover versions of "The Maypole Song" from The Wicker Man. Here's "Woodcat" from their second album, released in 2006:



"A quirky, distinctive blend of ancient and modern," said Andy Gill in The Independent, "its combination of acoustic guitars, folksy ruminations and glitch-tronica rhythms resembling a digital-age Pentangle. It's one of the more successful exercises in folktronica since Momus first coined the phrase back in 2001... The 10 songs here all sound as if they were composed on some remote Scottish island, then electronically interfered with en route."

That dialectic between nature and artifice is a delicate one to maintain, and I'm a little worried by the gradual disappearance of the disruptive electronics in Tunng's work. For instance, despite a general (and not unpleasing) Simon-and-Garfunkelness, Jenny Again still dares to glitch things up in an interesting way midway through:



But the newest single, Bullets (half a million views on YouTube, not bad, boys!) goes all Mungo Jerry, while the video recalls Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" or Tears for Fears circa "Sowing the Seeds of Love". It's still nice, very nice, but it doesn't offer quite enough delay, enough challenge. Same goes for the band's engaging live version of Fair Doreen, set in front of a green VW Westfalia Campmobile. It's got nature, sure, and that's good, but it's also got naturalized, and that -- in a genre which derives a lot of its power from setting the manmade and the pastoral somewhat against each other and watching interesting contradictions emerge -- might sap some of the power rather than power the sap.

37CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC)
Folk coming out of my ears these days

I posted about radio 2 yesterday, and on the show there was a quite a bit about folk. It dawned on my yesterday how much i like the genre and the new stuff.

Emmy the great is just that, great - and from her i somehow, can't quite remember how, but i somehow got onto Orillia Opry, who are sublime. Especially the track 'I lied'

i'd recommend them to anyone. Go google / myspace

wewillbecome.com


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cielo_terra
cielo_terra
cielo_terra
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC)

Tunng played SXSW last year, pretty much the best show I saw there. I distinctly remember thinking at the time "this is new and old at the same time! How wonderful!" I hope I stumble upon similar work in two weeks. Any recommendations?


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC)

I have to say that a lot of the framing for the debate about folk leaves me cold. As does the idea that it can be reduced to aesthetics (using moogs not acoustic guitars, continuing from the old debate on Dylan using electric in '66...)

for me this all misses the point : folk culture is far more than just guys and gals with acoustic guitars. It can be found everyday, but beyond the 'media machine'. This has been going on for a long time. One example: Zappa used to include snippets of recordings from the tour buses and backstage, documenting the 'tour bus' folklore which no other artist really did. Listen to almost any track by Half man half biscuit and you have millions of minute references to elements of contemporary UK culture and events, in song form. For me this is serving a valuable function, a continuation of the old folk song tradition.This clearly goes way beyond aesthetics.

with regard to folk's 'documentary' value, nowadays we also have people posting home recordings on youtube thanks to the democratisation of channels of distribution the internet has spawned. This sort of stuff bypasses any subssytem of legitimation and as such is perhaps a more meaningful, direct document of modern day 'folklore', attitudes and tendencies.

Personally, i like to think of some of the stuff i produce as a kind of 'folk music' - found tapes and home recordings, often from answering machines, blended with other cast off and sounds from contemporary society. fragments of real lives which would have been lost forever otherwise.

In the pre-industrial past, the 'folk song' form was common amongst classes who had no education and no other form of documenting and spreading reports of events. 'History' was written largely by and for the upper echelons of society who had access to the tools required. The folk songs of the era filled in the gaps from the 'offical' or legitimate version of history. Nowadays, we have a sort of parallel in the multinational media organisations and news gatherers with their partial view of the world, serving certain interests, on the other hand the likes of you tube which is accessible to all. I think it is more productive to focus on this contemporary folk-in-the-making, rather than debates on the merits of cover versions of stuff from the wicker man, etc.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)

Well, certainly. That was very much what I was trying to say a couple of weeks ago in YouTube as folk music!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)

The Jenny Again song sounds quite simply like a common pop singer over an old Tarwater out-take. My ears don't see the "challenge" at all; perhaps I simply just knew the solution years ago?
-John FF


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)

AND...That being there is no solution, and perhaps the challenge for fluff like this song (Jenny Again) is in fact making it fluffier. Adding the folk element seems to have become a new way of excusing the lack of experimentation while still shaking-hands with those that want all the invites for ideas not used...in other words it is like a rehash of the benign elements accepted in the after parties of the art-scene after parties; but no one is making the art.
-John FF


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tinyfolk
tinyfolk
xxxx
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)

I really like reading about this, because while I've definitely been aware of a number of the bands and of the style you're discussing here (would even say my own music is part of it in a lot of ways), I never would have thought about it in this way, or constructed this narrative.


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tinyfolk
tinyfolk
xxxx
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)

and p.s. you can be my brian eno anytime.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)

Oldfrapp, haha. What a great name.


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 08:08 pm (UTC)

I'm still mad about having to describe you to Mormons and having to compare you to Simon and Garfunkel. Now they probably think you sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and have a fro.

I'm also mad at Madonna for sampling "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" by ABBA. I will always be outraged. Every time I go into a clothing store and hear the intro I think "OH MY GOD THEY'RE PLAYING ABBA!" but it's always Madonna. >:O


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 11:00 pm (UTC)


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xkolliox
xkolliox
xkolliox
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC)

I love Tunng, and Bullets might be my favorite song of the year, but it's already a bit exhausted. I long for new, fresh stuff right now.
Couldn't you recommend something, bands you like from this genre?

By the way, you should drop by in our bar again, last time you were there with your friends we didn't have any chairs left, so you left (it was the SilverFuture in Weserstr, don't know if you still remember)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 26th, 2008 02:17 am (UTC)

Oh, you're from SilverFuture! Good bar! Sometimes a bit smokey for us non-smokers, but I like it! I think that evening we went to the Lebanese pipe shop next door and played backgammon.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 25th, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)

Isn't anyone interested in the emotion of folk music, that cannot be faked. Try you might.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 26th, 2008 01:04 am (UTC)
Where does "alt.country" end and "fake folk" begin?

What about Smog and Neutral Milk Hotel and all those other pricks who should be mulched and pissed onto Saturn?


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 26th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)
Marxist Neanderthalus: when does ‘selling out’ occur in a MySpace world?

When the band earns more than you do? When they get column inches in magazines bought by people you wouldn’t personally invite to lunch?

We need a more considered tipping point than this. The use of personal caprice is the kind of sharky hidden agenda that the Smart Right has accused Marxist Neanderthalus of in the past.

There is no reason why a band’s third album needs to be intrinsically less worthy than their first. That’s a belief in ‘authentic’ in itself. So I’d propose it occurs when they sign the recording contract. That is ‘naturalising’, ‘dispersing’, ‘agreeing to exploitation of your works catalogue’. It is the ‘popularity seeking’ moment.

Beyond that, when the ink dries, naturalise away, I say. That business is successful or not is neither here nor there to anyone’s actual eardrums.

The Pro-Bling Turbo- etc
p.s. Who said capitalism has to be ‘authentic’? I’ve witnessed boardroom posturing camper than at Camber Sands.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 26th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
Re: Marxist Neanderthalus: when does ‘selling out’ occur in a MySpace world?

We need a more considered tipping point than this.

Maybe that's why I'm not talking about money or column inches or even rockist authenticity, but the precise relationship of the manmade and the pastoral:

"It's got nature, sure, and that's good, but it's also got naturalized, and that -- in a genre which derives a lot of its power from setting the manmade and the pastoral somewhat against each other and watching interesting contradictions emerge -- might sap some of the power rather than power the sap."

Do you see how different what I'm actually saying here is from what you're saying I'm saying?


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anglerfish96
anglerfish96
anglerfish96
Tue, Feb. 26th, 2008 02:31 am (UTC)

From the small bit of what I've heard and seen of Emmy, I think I have a new crush.

Tunng have about as much in common with the The Books as early Bee Jees had with the Beatles, though. Texture-wise I can kind of see it...

Still, who can argue with the VW bus?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 26th, 2008 02:52 am (UTC)

I was trying to explain to Hisae why Emmy is so hot, and after a couple of false starts involving bare legs and the young Joan Baez I found the explanation that worked best was "She looks like you".


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murmurants
riff metal
Tue, Feb. 26th, 2008 06:51 am (UTC)

The Magic I.D. release recently made me revisit the wonderful abstract folk of Margareth Kammerer.


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