Straight, no chaser

In the 1980s, electronic music was, for the most part, a very rigid and deliberate art form. Musicians would use sequencers, a tool that would let you record information and later play it back, to synchronize and automate their various electronic instruments in order to orchestrate modern feats of funk. And I am, of course, over-simplifying the process. These sequencers recorded events in even spaced intervals and would often quantize events to the nearest subdivision when recording. This feature, while allowing extreme rhythmic precision not usually available without highly trained (and paid!) musicians, in effect erases the subtleties and nuances of a human performance; the continuously changing volume levels and slight rhythmic variance that gave many genres their signature feel.

The style of electronic dance music was heavily influenced by these capabilities/limitations. Commonly providing the pulse of the groove were drum machines, which played patterns with consistent and regular timing. (this is the 808, a particularly famous and mega-badass example of a vintage drum machine. )

Most by the mid 80s offered some tipe of swing or shuffle, which would delay every other beat of a chosen subdivision in order to imply a more relaxed, natural feel. It was a welcome and rad addition,but still sounded decidedly robotic.

“Jam On It” by Newcleus, a classic example of killer boogie funk using vintage drum machines

tr-808 and 909 drum sounds all but flooded the clubs and dance parties. I dare generalize once more and say that some artists in other genres criticized the rock solid rhythms played by machines and the often homogenized 80s and 90s dance sound. In resistance not only to critics but to a looming possibility of stagnation, electronic musicians began experimenting with ways to bring life to their compositions and coax believable, human, or even outrageous rhythms out of their machines.

The track is “Cheesecake Backslap” by Samiyam. Loose almost to the point of hilarity. This blog will, each week, take a look at the stages that fall in between these two examples; the evolution and inter-musical influences that gave rise to this slanky fresh funk, the likes of which had rarely been accepted until this last decade. And artists continue to push the limits of acceptable deviation! What is it that ties a groove together? How far can you take rhythm from the warm and cozy animal rug that is western popular music culture, without leaving all potential listeners wondering if you actually know how to use your tools? Stay tuned to find out…

I leave you with Jay Dilla’s remix of  ” Those Dreamin’ Eyes” by D’Angelo (props to Dave Grusin, namsayn)

tell you what i love me some dilla

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