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Three Songs No Flash

Meditate On Bass Weight: Why Sunn O))) Are A Dance Act
Angus Finlayson , June 16th, 2012 10:04

The mighty Sunn O))) returned to London this week for a scorching show at Koko. Angus Finlayson was there, and felt striking parallels with the physically overwhelming rituals of dance music and sound system culture. Photography by Maria Jefferis of Shot2bits

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My first experience of Sunn O))) live was at ATP's tenth birthday celebrations in 2010. There were a fair few bands I wanted to see, but I was mostly there to waft from stage to stage in a medicated haze. Having launched into my teenage years as a rock fan with delusions of grandeur, I was by this point more or less fully in thrall to the logic of dance music culture: the understanding that the singular hedonic moment (I'm having a good time) is of more value than the more abstractly significant one (I've always wanted to see this band); that music's functionality, its role in the pursuit of pleasure, is ultimately more divine than an artist's expression of their self-ness or the canonic importance of witnessing a great band perform. Seriously, fuck holding in a piss, silencing the cries of protest from your lower back and running sandpaper tongue round parched mouth for the nth time, just because this is so-and-so's first gig in a decade and you don't want to miss the encore. This was my view at the time, anyway.

Central to this logic - and by inference to the seductive power of dance music, its rituals and its unwritten rules - is the importance of sonic affect: the un-decoded materiality of sound waves impacting on and moving through your body. And central to that - whether you're talking about disco, minimal techno, dubstep or whatever else - is bass: those primal frequencies that are felt not heard, resonating through the chest and the bowels, vibrating the soul.

Julian Henriques neatly encapsulates the effects of high-intensity bass-quake in his concept of 'sonic dominance': the notion of a sound so loud and overwhelming that its effects tip over into some newly visceral realm. Drawing on Jamaican sound system culture as his example, Henriques identifies the effects of high-volume, bass-heavy sound thus:

"Sonic dominance is hard, extreme and excessive. At the same time the sound is also soft and embracing and it makes for an enveloping, immersive and intense experience. The sound pervades, or even invades the body, like smell. Sonic dominance is both a near over-load of sound and a super saturation of sound. You're lost inside it, submerged under it. This volume of sound crashes down on you like an ocean wave, you feel the pressure of the weight of the air like diving deep underwater. [...] Even more than music heard normally[,] at this level sound allows us to block out rational processes, making the experience imminent, immediate and unmediated."

Those who've been to a reggae sound system dance, DMZ at Mass, the Berghain, or any other of dance music's innumerable meccas, will identify with this description instantly. It's the loss of control, the submission (willing or unwilling) to frequencies that spin out your balance organs and crush the air out of your lungs - an experience at once terrifying and liberating, and one that's been intrinsically linked with electronic dance music culture of the past three decades or more...

...The full version of this article is available in Point Close All Quotes: A Quietus Music Anthology. Buy it now in the Amazon Kindle store.

Dan B
Jun 14, 2012 2:28pm

Next week: why S Club 7 and Whitehouse are essentially the same because of their use of the tonal system.

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Rory Gibb
Jun 14, 2012 2:47pm

In reply to Dan B:

To be fair, Dan, as has been proved so many times before, this kind of thing isn't your cup of tea - so what's the point in bothering to read/comment, especially when it's so spectacularly ill thought-out? It doesn't make the author look bad, but it does reflect pretty badly on you. Angus' piece is well thought out, entirely correct, brilliantly written and will resonate with a lot more people a lot more deeply than your swiftly tossed out, thoughtless one-liner that you presume passes for a devastating critique of his piece.

Common net etiquette says 'don't feel the troll' etc, so it's probably not particularly useful to engage you on this - especially because it's not like you don't post well thought out and insightful criticism on here (however occasionally). But your snide and hasty comment here speaks volumes about you, and anyone who's spent any time bothering to read and digest this feature will have very little truck with it (for a start, you're attempting to apply a ludicrously generalised example to this piece, which is actually very specific - and Whitehouse have in their time spent time attempting to move out of the restrictions of a standard Western tonal system).

Come back when you've got something useful to add - or, perhaps more usefully, mind elaborating on the reasons why you think this article is worthy of a slating? As it stands your argument is, shall we say, less than convincing.

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00VOID
Jun 14, 2012 3:15pm

It's Tos Nieuwenhuizen on Moog not Oren Ambarchi

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Dan B
Jun 14, 2012 3:31pm

In reply to Rory Gibb:

Rory: I enjoyed the article, though I did not agree with it. I like Sun0))). I like dance music (not all of it, obvz). I like Jamaican bass culture (not all of it, obvz. I was making a light-hearted joke based on the tenuous linkage contained within the article, not trying to rape the mothers of the Quietus editorial team. Perhaps I could have used a better example than Whitehouse, yes. You done got me. But I find it saddening that the website that encourages interaction through a comments section whilst posting provocative thoughtpieces (such as this! white drumless guitar = dance band is provocative, non?) starts flailing like scalded hyenas when someone actually rises to that. Quit the hysterics and thicken your skin. When I can be bothered to write reasoned critiques, they got ignored. Most of the time I can't be arsed to because I'm at work - but I like to at least say 'I read this' because you can feel like you're hanging in the wind having written a piece or performed something and the reaction is silence. Sorry if I'm not unctuous enough but I refuse to change because you think it makes me look bad. I'm secure enough in who I am to ride your criticism out. Are you?

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Rory Gibb
Jun 14, 2012 3:48pm

In reply to Dan B:

I'm not going to get stuck into a lengthy debate here on this, but cheers for elaborating, though I stick by my original comments. As I said, we're well up for criticism and discussion when it's actually constructive - as you say, that's the entire point of running provocative pieces that, say, compare Sunn O))) to dance music - but leaving a comment like that, in the way you did, comes across as little more than trolling.

Apologies if your light hearted sentiments were misread - the internet is the great flattener of nuance - but I don't think they "rose to" the encouragement of interaction so much as dismissed the thought and effort put in by the writer of the piece. Read from a position outside of you, they come across as snide and dismissive. But cool, thanks for replying, it is nice to know that you enjoyed the piece even if you didn't agree with it.

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Luke Turner
Jun 14, 2012 4:21pm

In reply to Dan B:

Nice rape comment Dan. if you want to use that sort of language, why not bugger off to UniLad.com? They love it there.

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Dan B
Jun 14, 2012 4:24pm

In reply to Rory Gibb:

That's fair enough if those are the things that you thought. To my mind not every thesis needs a counter-thesis. If Angus Finlayson thinks that Sunn0))) are a dance act (or more to the point, have shared correlative semiotics with a strain of contemporary urban bass music. Personally I think they have more in common with Comus and Richard Thompson) then more power to him Just generally-speaking, though, I think that I prefer a slightly less reverent and critical theory-informed music press - and I think what got me reading the Quietus was when Steven Wells wrote for you. I've stuck around for what I consider to be largely an excellent website contained with some really informative and insightful stuff on it. Yeah, I poke holes in things, and no, I'm not always attempting to do much more than amuse myself, but certainly I'm no more indulgent than some of the music or some of the writing on that music. But I genuinely come in the spirit of fun without malice and I think that's potentially been misinterpreted at your end, with me doing little to disabuse you of any notions of sentience at my end.

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Dan B
Jun 14, 2012 4:25pm

In reply to Luke Turner:

Luke, with his classic sense of perspective and balance there.

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Stephen Stamper
Jun 14, 2012 4:40pm

For some reason I'm reminded of Comic Strip presents... Bad News Tour: "I'm not going any further until I hear Alan say that.. that we're Heavy Metal..."

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Cindy Africa
Jun 14, 2012 6:02pm

In reply to Dan B:

I'm sure casual rape analogies will be conveniently excused next time The Quietus decides to crawl up WIlliam Bennett's arse...

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tenbenson
Jun 14, 2012 6:18pm

In reply to Stephen Stamper:

just you then...

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Rich-T
Jun 14, 2012 6:27pm

I was at the ATP 10th Anniv. and loved it. I've seen Sunn O))) twice at ATP (the 1st curated by Portishead) and still enjoy reminiscing how the Butlins fire alarm "staff to home base" warnings kept going off with all the fog!

I love how divisive the Sunn O))) shows are. Two of my friends who both enjoy Sunn O))) saw them with me at ATP. One absolutely hated it & left after 10/15mins which surprised the hell out of me as he's an avid fan of heavy sludge/doom. The other sat on the floor and zoned out and eventually fell asleep with a pint of Guiness in his hand. He loved it too & he's favours music with a electronic bent. So there must be some truth in the comparsion eh?

As an interesting similarity; Wolfgang Voigt's legendary ambient techno project GAS has very little in terms of beats & uses the wall of sound / texture technique too & nobody would ever refer to him as metal, which Sunn O))) are so often lumped in with.

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Matt S
Jun 14, 2012 6:49pm

I was at the gig and saw one guy dance. He was slowly swaying from side to side with his arms out to his sides like he was an end of level baddie in a computer game absorbing the sound in order to transform into a monster. They really aren't a dance act though, I find them interesting due to their complete lack of "the funk".

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Jun 14, 2012 6:52pm

In reply to tenbenson:

Obviously! Sunn O))) are Heavy Metal, get over it...

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John Doran
Jun 14, 2012 7:19pm

In reply to Cindy Africa:

If you think Whitehouse do anything "casually", you're a bit of a nob, tbf.

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tenbenson
Jun 14, 2012 9:45pm

In reply to :

ok, whoever you are (maybe the original poster that i commented on, maybe not), there is nothing i need to "get over". i totally understand the metal background of sunn 0))) and steven o malley and greg and all the rest, i also understand the comic strip reference, which is something, like spinal tap, that i enjoy. i just fail to see the relevance here and see it as a short-cut to an original witty put-down, if that was the idea. yeah, metal = funny. we get it. "get over yourself".

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Angus Finlayson
Jun 14, 2012 9:53pm

Hello everyone, just skimmed the comments really so sorry if I misconstrued them, but I find it bizarre that you think this is controversial at all. Obviously I'm not arguing for Sunn to be booked in room 1 of fabric post haste. Obviously I'm not recommending that people pop Es and dance to Sunn on a terrace in Ibiza at dawn. Obviously I'm not suggesting that Sunn should start a boutique white label 12" series exclusive to boomkat. I thought that was obvious

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James Galley
Jun 14, 2012 10:24pm

In reply to Angus Finlayson:

"I'm not suggesting that Sunn should start a boutique white label 12" series"
Now there's an idea...
Top read. I had a similar thought when seeing My Bloody Valentine a few years ago, not had the pleasure of seeing Sunn 0))) live yet but I'm sure it's doubly applicable.

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James Galley
Jun 14, 2012 10:25pm

In reply to James Galley:

re MBV: should've been more bass, basically

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aaroninky
Jun 14, 2012 10:50pm

I think Angue has (yet again) relied on critical theory here to (another) mixed result. Insofar as identifying the shared tendencies towards sonic affect and ritual, yes, Sunn O))) and dance music share aesthetic (and perhaps hence also political) goals. But to link their max-volume drones and physical assaults to the forms and tradition of dance music through these shared characteristics is to extend the syllogism a little too far. Sunn O))) and dance music belong in very different little musical boxes because of all the other parts of the formula which are equally important to 'bass weight'; to say that bass frequencies are operative and significant to both forms is not quite enough. It's a bold bit of writing though, and should probably be read as a bit of fun. It coincides nicely with this month's WIRE magazine bass-special, so I guess we can see where he was getting his ideas/aspiration from...

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Jun 14, 2012 10:57pm

In reply to aaroninky:

Apologies for the typo on the name as well... Angue sounds like some sort of vernacular-euphemism for a sexual disease.

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Jun 15, 2012 12:15am

In reply to John Doran:

How thoroughly decent of you to mention it, fatso.

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John Doran
Jun 15, 2012 7:07am

In reply to aaroninky:

Yeah, thing is, I kind of get the impression that you wrote this before really reading the piece as that isn't what it says. And if you want to be slightly less of a cunt and point out exactly where this plagiarism has taken place I'll so something to deal with it. Although the idea that the WIRE writing about bass music in 2012 is somehow a radical thing that we're all going to have to play catch up on is so hilarious I think I've shat myself laughing and may have to change before I deal with it.

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Rory Gibb
Jun 15, 2012 7:37am

In reply to aaroninky:

Interesting you mention The Wire - I was reading this and thinking it coincides quite nicely with a lot of the magazine's stuff on bass this month, though as this piece was pitched in full to us as soon as the gig was announced over three months ago, it's certainly far from being wholly inspired by the magazine. However, I think it's fair enough to have taken some inspiration from some of the essays in there, if indeed that's what has happened (don't know if Angus has read it or not) - there's some great writing in the Wire this month, and a lot of pretty thought provoking stuff. That's wholly different from stealing ideas wholesale, which, having read the new issue pretty much from cover to cover, definitely hasn't happened here.

In terms of 'Why Sunn O))) are a dance act' - that's kind of a red herring, the title's probably the only thing in the piece that really implies they ought to be considered an actual club/dancefloor band. I'd say all the links in the piece made between the importance of physical impact in dance and sound system music, and the similar approach taken by Sunn O))), ring true. Critical theory-wise, as I said above, you could take the quotes from Hendriques out and not diminish the central thrust. I'm interested in your saying that "to say that bass frequencies are operative and significant to both forms is not quite enough" - how would you go further, out of interest?

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mrg
Jun 15, 2012 7:38am

Excellent piece, really well written and thought-provoking, but don't really buy the argument, largely because the central point - that dance music and Sunn o))) have in common 'sonic dominance', implies that this factor is absent from, say, heavy metal, with which Sunn o))) also share lineage, instrumentation, musical idiom, stylistic detail, cultural tropes, etc. On the contrary, it's exactly the 'sonic dominance' aspect, as beautifully described above, that attracted me to metal in the first place and keeps me going back 20 years later.

If I may take the horrifically self-regarding step of quoting my own piece on Sunn o))) from a few years back (http://ocularonions.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/two-splurges-about-sunn-o.html):

"We are gathered here to worship. And the divine object of our pitiful, wretched adoration is the first two seconds of the opening riff of Black Sabbath’s ‘Black Sabbath’. It’s in that moment, the first charred chord, a wrecking ball striking a tomb wall, that metal was forged. Many claims have been made for the diabolical influence of the whole tritone riff, but the real startling power lies in the pure intestinal impact of that single chord strike. Sunn o))) take this insight, and extrapolate it to infinity. Lower, slower, louder. Lower, slower, louder. Repeat until dead, deaf or immortal."

Further, Sunn o))) are a "concentrated distillation of the proper heavy stuff: pure mainlined Melvins tar, only without the distracting fripperies of, y’know, actual songs and words and beats and all that extraneous crap."

In other words, they're the Platonic form of metal.

More importantly, regardless of to which camp they belong, they're really good. And really, really heavy.

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John Doran
Jun 15, 2012 7:42am

In reply to :

Every time we get a slack jawed comment like yours or aaroninky's above I have to console myself by eating a biscuit, so it's no wonder I'm slightly tubby. Although, I may have to sprint round the block once every time we get a righteous comment like mrg's above.

Although I think this thread is going to cost me two whole packets of fig rolls by the time it's done.

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Dan B
Jun 15, 2012 8:39am

In reply to John Doran:

Fig rolls have more in common with Cornish pasties than their biscuit brethren.

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Stephen Stamper
Jun 15, 2012 9:22am

In reply to tenbenson:

The comment wasn't aimed at you, nor was it a 'short-cut to an original witty put-down' - I guess I was just venting my frustration at this constant need to distance Sunn O))) from Heavy Metal...

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jeez
Jun 15, 2012 9:43am

bickering like a bunch of thirteen year old girls over here... interesting article, not worthy of creating a squabble about genre definitions, it's 2012, that shit is slidin'... as for the quietus editors getting all huffy puffy, chill out, the comment was clearly a joke, dan b aint a troll, n if it wernt for readers like him maybe you wouldnt get as much advertising revenue to help fund the site, which we all appreciate.

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Jun 15, 2012 9:54am

In reply to John Doran:

If I'm slack jawed it's because I'm amazed-slash-horrified by your corpulent girth, Dozzer.

p.s. RAPE.

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John Doran
Jun 15, 2012 10:13am

In reply to Stephen Stamper:

I agree with this completely by the way. SunnO))) are 100% heavy metal and I dislike all the 'transcends the genre' bullshit that goes with it. I'm a fan of heavy metal, if it bothers you that you like some metal it's your problem, not mine.

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John Doran
Jun 15, 2012 10:14am

In reply to :

"P.S. RAPE" Christ, is that Boyd Rice? I'm so shocked I may have to temporarily stop eating biscuits while recover myself.

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John Doran
Jun 15, 2012 10:17am

In reply to jeez:

We work with someone who went to college with Dan B, is mates with him and has seen his band a few times, and lo and behold, his word on the situation is: "He's a troll." If you think we're in this for clicks and money you're demonstrably wrong as well. Where are all the listicles and daily click through galleries? Where are all the click bait news stories? We're obviously not about that. That said, we're not deleting anyone's posts so feel free to carry on if you like.

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Theo Adorno
Jun 15, 2012 10:23am

Great piece, but pretty irksome reading these comments to find yet another poster moaning about the writer's use of 'critical theory', when they really mean the scribe is either 'being too clever', or worse, 'not using commone sense'.

If people want to attack the divergent forms of critical theory that accept Marx's theory of labour and value as critical apparatus with which to analyse culture, then fine. But there's really very little of that in this piece and elsewhere on The Quietus, which is essentially a left-leaning liberal publication, with all due respect.

If you want to criticise people for using other theoretical appartus, then WTF are you doing reading cultural criticism in the first place? Isnt' it enough to criticise a writer for being pretentious or depending on other people's words without this sort of reactionary anti-intellectualism?

And if you're response to that is one that yearns for the aforementioned 'common sense' then I would refer you to Descartes, for who there was nothing 'common' nor 'senscial' about it. Oh and, you might want to a have look at this link as well:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory

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Jun 15, 2012 12:02pm

I'm just gonna skip over the lazy dispute in the comments section and say I really really enjoyed the article and find it exactly the sort of interesting, theoretical writing on music that I really enjoy. Thanks.

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Dan B
Jun 15, 2012 12:36pm

In reply to John Doran:

LOL! Desperate!

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Allan J Begg
Jun 15, 2012 1:07pm

In reply to :

I would like to register the fact that I read and thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful and wonderfully written article. I concede that unless I subject myself to the full live experience i'm unlikely to "get" the whole sun0))) thing. To be honest I suspect that even if I did it wouldn't really be my thing. I'm a delicate thing you know. I fear tinnitus apart from anything else. As always though, I love the fact that they exist and are doing what they do. I always enjoy reading these dispatches from the cutting edge of sound pressure level experimentation. Plus, robes are never a bad look.

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Allan J Begg
Jun 15, 2012 1:08pm

In reply to Allan J Begg:

thing thing thing. i love to type the word thing. apparently.

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aaroninky
Jun 15, 2012 1:40pm

In reply to John Doran:

John I didn't mean any offence by my comment about it coinciding with a renewed interest in 'bass' this month in music journalism. The slip of as/inspiration certainly didn't help my case - but even then I'm not sure how you're taking umbrage to my comment! It certainly wasn't made in any negative light at all. The editorial staff really are up in arms with this article! I thought I was just trying to commend a well-written, fun piece of writing that is "bold" - which is a serious compliment when it comes to music criticism, no? Really didn't mean to offend or trigger any defensive stance by mentioning the Wire. I'd say sorry and apologize but I'm not really sure how to go about apologising for leaving a positive comment.

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aaroninky
Jun 15, 2012 2:04pm

In reply to Theo Adorno:

Dear Teddy: first of all, thanks for coming back from the aether to defend critical theory and its application to Sunn O))). My problem is not critical theory - at all - it's a toolkit that I'm sure most savvy Quietus readers have used to bludgeon various pieces of academic research at various stages of under- and post- graduate work (myself included). Nowhere am I giving off the 'cross my arms and huff when interlecktual stuff comes up' tone; it's just done here to mixed success, imo. That's simply because if you follow the line of argument with Angus' logical inference - that, using ideas of sonic affect and socio-cultural notions of the ritual, Sunn O))) share properties with dance and therefore transcend their genre somehow - what you are in fact saying at the end of the day is probably, at the crux of it, another platitude about music being a'transcendent' force, regardless of genre. Whereas I think Angus is - again - bang on the mark in identifying, for instance, that Sunn O))) and dance music both have an aesthetic that relies heavily on the performance and live function of music (which q.v. the likes of Reynolds and Muggs), other people above have - rightly - pointed out that bass-weight and physical affect are not the core elements of dance music (however contemporary trends may indicate). So sonic affect and ritual are used to transcendental ends, yes, but it sweeps under the carpet a whole bunch of antithetical categories in their aesthetic: escapism/inescapism, euphoria/dysphoria, the unified/dominated self, etc. I feel these are pretty major parts of both Sunn O))) and dance music that make the ambitious title - why they are a dance act - something open to critique. Hence my comment about using critical theory but to mixed results: you can't just pursue one part of, say, affect or the musicology/sociology of ritual with no greater concession to the aesthetic whole. Again, I hardly meant to come across as a philistine in my comments. It was bold, interesting, and excellently well written. I'm just unsure about the rigour of certain crit-theory tendencies in music criticism. Still love it at the end of the day, though, otherwise I/you/we wouldn't be here commenting on it!

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Dan B
Jun 15, 2012 2:32pm

In reply to aaroninky:

Whatever mate, you're just a troll. Joke. Anyway. I agree with what Rory said to someone else farther up this thread; that taking out the Henriques doesn't damage the piece - I'd go farther and say the piece reads so much better for the experiential insights rather than the jammed-in theory. I don't think it works because ultimately we're talking about a pleasurable simulation of tyranny versus a real opportunity for ecstacy (if we're going to accept transcendence as a thing). There's nothing at stake to lose and everything to gain. The robes and the smoke are the cartoonish evil of metal rather than the machinations of real evil, which exists in offices of drudgery and the tapping of keys and bank accounts and small cells on the sites of rendition. What pushes them closer to dance music, for me, is the surrender of self to something more colossal and frightening: not the loss of control in the here and now, but in the potential for that 'weight' to recontextualise weights and experiences that have gone before, to experience something that feels more 'real' - and ultimately realise the past was fake or sub-standard. Something like that.

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Wally Benjamin
Jun 15, 2012 2:45pm

In reply to aaroninky:

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for your reply. Your concerns are not unreasonable. I shall deal with them by directing you to XVII of my essay, 'These on the History of Philosophy' (below), which will clearly explain my position.

XVII

Historicism justifiably culminates in universal history. Nowhere does the materialist writing of history distance itself from it more clearly than in terms of method. The former has no theoretical armature. Its method is additive: it offers a mass of facts, in order to fill up a homogenous and empty time. The materialist writing of history for its part is based on a constructive principle. Thinking involves not only the movement of thoughts but also their zero-hour [Stillstellung]. Where thinking suddenly halts in a constellation overflowing with tensions, there it yields a shock to the same, through which it crystallizes as a monad. The historical materialist approaches a historical object solely and alone where he encounters it as a monad. In this structure he cognizes the sign of a messianic zero-hour [Stillstellung] of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for the suppressed past. He perceives it, in order to explode a specific epoch out of the homogenous course of history; thus exploding a specific life out of the epoch, or a specific work out of the life-work. The net gain of this procedure consists of this: that the life-work is preserved and sublated in the work, the epoch in the life-work, and the entire course of history in the epoch. The nourishing fruit of what is historically conceptualized has time as its core, its precious but flavorless seed.

Liebe und Gute,

WB

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aaroninky
Jun 15, 2012 3:11pm

In reply to Wally Benjamin:

I'm fluent in Benjamin - sadly - and I don't really see the relevance. OK so yes, Benjamin built critiques using marginalia and cultural detritus, picking up on the particular to comment on the whole. I'm not sure that works in pure aesthetics, though, discounting all the other parts of Sunn O)))'s act that make them undeniably metal and honing in only on affect/ritual. My caution about the tendency to theorize is that sometimes it's more restricting of an argument than enlightening; it's like writing with blinkers on. The problem with crit-theory (or more like one of its difficulties) is that people who surround themselves and their writing with crit-theory have an over-propensity for 'big analysis': seeing examples of big thinking everywhere, drawing lines of connection and seeing cultural confluences where, to be blunt, they probably don't exist. It subtly alters one's mode of thinking and perception. Just like if you beef up on your Lacan or Deleuze/Guattari you're going to be analysing 'the Real' in everything, or seeing rhizomes bloody everywhere (not that there is particularly anything wrong with this). In this case I just feel some interesting thoughts and writing about sonic affect/ritual have been explored - very well, I must keep insisting - with the critical blinkers on, so to speak. Sunn O))) are patently not a dance-act: they are ur-metal, echt-sludgers. This article dissects a performance using some astute crit-theory, but at the expense of every other (equally important) aesthetic category involved. Benjamin took a cultural materialist approach - honing in on the monad, if you will - with a clear view of the wider dialectical whole; his thinking, though particular, was Marxist and Hegelian. My central critique of this (very well-written, interesting, thoughtful, entertaining, etc.etc.) piece is that it sacrificed the 'whole' of the experience, so to speak.

And sorry Dan, I can't join in with this touching moment of comment section quasi-comradery, because I still maintain that I didn't intend any offence in the first place. Far from deserving to be called "slack-jawed" because I pointed out both the Quietus and The Wire have run pieces of bass this month. If Angus is aware of the cultural currents in music journalism, and if he wants to partake in them and leave his own mark, more power to him. He does a great job of it.

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Dan B
Jun 15, 2012 3:21pm

In reply to aaroninky:

Neither did I to be perfectly honest. Oh well.

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George Lukacs
Jun 15, 2012 3:58pm

In reply to aaroninky:

There is a difference between critical theory and theory. Your thoughts on this matter could better be articulated by saying 'his argument is inconsistent', rather than blaming a nebulous area of thought you refer to as 'criticial theory'. This is a specious use of the term; please desist.

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John Doran
Jun 16, 2012 3:53am

In reply to Theo Adorno:

You are my brother.

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Johnny Nothing
Jun 16, 2012 11:25am

Angus, old chap, terrific piece. Your description reminded me of a Leftfield gig I attended (way back when) where the first oh five or ten minutes was just sub bass at colossal volume. Convergent evolution I guess.

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tenbenson
Jun 16, 2012 1:43pm

In reply to Stephen Stamper:

fair play

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Jah Schmidt
Jun 16, 2012 1:51pm

I went to see Sunn when they played Brighton the night before Koko and the last time I got such a huge ecstatic rush from the power of sound was the Wighnomy Bros closing set at Mutek a few years back.

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Vincent Romain
Jun 17, 2012 9:33am

As I was going to see the band on the same day as this piece was posted, I did not want to read it beforehand. Now afterwards I find that it describes painfully/ecstatically accurately what the experience (because that's what it is) is all about. And that is what good writing is, isn't it?

All other considerations are 'commentology' for frustrated people who lead a very uninteresting life (scroll down for proof) or who think they are the reincarnations of Frankfurter Schule protagonists (scroll down for more proof). Boring, boring, don't be boring. Just be glad there are still places on the net where you can go and have a good read.

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Jun 17, 2012 10:45am

In reply to Vincent Romain:

Yeah, let's all make up & be friendly. TWAT.

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aaroninky
Jun 17, 2012 8:21pm

In reply to Vincent Romain:

I lead a boring life because I find the piece interesting and provoking of some further thought/critique? It's a high-minded piece of writing that invites proper discussion. We're boring for having a different take on the matter? You are the worst kind of commenter in the 'commontology' universe. Lazy recourse to personal insults for anyone that doesn't have fawning praise. I've been very appreciative of the article, and think it is an example of top-rate writing. I just disagree with some of the critical points made. Grow up fella.

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Angus Finlayson
Jun 17, 2012 11:17pm

In reply to Allan J Begg:

thanks everybody for the comments.

Allan - I fear tinnitus too! I wear moulded ear plugs to every gig I ever go to. They are expensive and I live in terror of losing them but in my view they're an essential purchase. they are particularly good for balancing out harsh/ear-splitting sound, as they are very effective at softening high frequencies but don't attenuate the bass much (cos that comes in thru the bones, not the eardrums). So yeah, good if the sub is your favourite bit.

Aaron - I'm just as sceptical as you seem to be about music writing which relies too heavily on critical theory. As you say, it often leads to a kind of tunnel vision approach. The older generation of crit theory music writers these days seem mostly intent on hammering home the same tired agenda. I do think, though, that if every feature (or to narrow it down further, every live review) tried to convey the 'whole' of what a band was trying to do then music writing would very quickly become homogenised. This article aimed to draw a very specific comparison, nothing more, and I'm glad to see it's been thought provoking for some people.

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Tim
Jun 18, 2012 1:33am

In reply to Angus Finlayson:

I often skip over comments sections, but I'm glad I read this one. I predict that eating MDMA on a rooftop at dawn while listening to Sunn will be the most pleasurable musical experience of my lifetime.

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Pavel Godfrey
Jun 18, 2012 7:03am

Wow, total comments massacre! Let me wade into the fray with two battleaxes, er, remarks.

First, this is a beautifully written piece and I'm quite envious. The physicality of music is something I'm very interested in as well, and I agree that dance may be THE supreme validation of music. While we can argue forever over exactly much Sunn is like dubstep, the comparison was meant to show us something about how these two kinds of music work, and what they do to bodies. I think Angus achieved that admirably, and everything else is just quibbling. I'm convinced, and this review rules.

Second, my own quibble. When Angus notes that rock acts tend to "rely on excoriating hi-end and a general sonic indistinctness as [their] shorthand for heaviness," he's missing something crucial. Heaviness is not about PA quality/production values/whatever. Or, more accurately, those things are just a bonus. Heaviness is, essentially, about the harmonic and rhythmic relationships between sounds. It's the riff itself, and less so the effects/volume/bass frequencies with which it is presented, that really matters. While Sunn were exercising deafening sonic dominance for the whole night, it's telling that A.F. started dancing as a response to the emergence of a discernible pattern, a "loping rhythm" and (presumably) a fluctuation in tone. THAT is where the power lies. THAT is the heaviness, and the command to dance.

I'm not trying to suggest that there's not tremendous power to Sunn's music, or that there's no point to it--surely the pure physical PRESENCE/volume/texture of sound is worth appreciating in itself--but I honestly think Mayhem riffs played with passion on an acoustic guitar will always be heavier than this band.

I could also frame this as a response to mrg's thesis on metal. Where he sees heavy music embodied in the single opening note of "Black Sabbath," I think for me it's summed up by two power chords, a minor third apart, opening The Stooges' "1970."

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Pavel Godfrey
Jun 18, 2012 7:13am

In reply to mrg:

btw, while I disagree with you on heaviness, I second your broader point on behalf of metal--sonic dominance is hardly a concept unique to dance music. relevant anecdote: in college i lived on the same hall as a jamaican-american guy, and we were the two assholes who'd routinely blast our music at insane volumes. he turned me on to some gnarly hard dancehall shit, and i got him into Slayer and Venom.

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liam rhatigan of barrow on trent
Jun 21, 2012 9:21pm

Do any of you have jobs or anything?

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AVFN
Jul 23, 2012 12:43pm

Sorry, but whilst this article is well writ, it's just wrong. It reminds me of how my mate tried to argue the other night that dub music was the root of all electronic music. Afraid not. More research required. And perhaps also a lesson in subjectivity/objectivity? Id est: just because a Loefah gig is the only personal experience that you can compare to a Sunn gig doesn't make the latter a dance band. Sunn are very heavily and very obviously (embarrassingly so, sometimes) influenced by several different music traditions, none of which would be the current trend of bass-heavy dance music.

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