I recently saw perform in Paris. It was a fine show, and leader Alex Zhang Hungtai is a magnetic performer, but there was something strange about it. I like Dirty Beaches' record from earlier this year, but at one point I was joking with some people that his approach to music could be summed up as: "I like Link Wray, Elvis' , Suicide, and David Lynch." (Of course, Lynch's presence in this particular list is in some ways redundant, because his aesthetic already overlaps with the references in the other three, but the twist he provides is essential.) And sure enough, when he took the stage in Paris, the first sound was him strumming the chords to Wray's (maybe you know it from , another cultural artifact littered with pop re-blogs). Hungtai has greased hair and strong features and manages to evoke the vibe of the 50s bad boy, and here he was up there with a saxophone player who had sunglasses and a beret. They were lit by spotlights coming from the rear of the stage, so they appeared in silhouette. The vibe was palpable. I thought for a moment of , grinding away on his horn as an outlet for his wife's marital infidelities. The reference was probably not intentional, but that's the way this kind of subconscious imprinting works. When I later heard a rumor that Dirty Beaches had talked to the bookers of the Lynch-designed Paris club about playing a gig, it brought everything full circle. "I like David Lynch" had become "David Lynch likes me" (Lynch doesn't own the club, so I'm speaking metaphorically here) and suddenly the world of music retro seemed caught in an endless feedback loop.
Also, this article Not Every Girl Is a Riot Grrl, was pretty good:
We are at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C., watching two male guitar techs set up the stage for . The girl continues in the same wide-eyed tone, "Look at these guys setting up the stage for a girl band-- that's how it should be." Quiet for a few moments, her boyfriend seems unsure of how to respond. Then he affects that sarcastic, jokey tone that you're supposed to coat most of your words in when you're 16-- lest you give too much of yourself away-- and says, "See? Sexism is dead!" No one invested in the discussion, myself included, seems sure what he means by this. The comment hovers for a minute, gesturing toward something bigger and stickier than anybody feels like getting into. Talk soon returns to the Harvest Dance.
I have a friend who likes to say that most people still talk about music as though "female" were a genre, but as today's wide stylistic variety of women making independent music attests, there is no "female" sound. There is only the sound of being perceived female: the same old assumptions, conversations, reference points, and language-- all-female, girl band, riot grrrl-- reverberating through an echo chamber, hollow and fatigued.