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Sound

WHITE MEN CAN'T CRUNK.

I recently had the rare, once-in-a-lifetime pleasure of overhearing a middle-aged man conversing with his companion in a pub about R&B. "Did you know that, these days, 'R&B' doesn't mean Eric Clapton? Apparently those Black Eyed Peas are R&B now. And that Kanye whatsit. Yes, he's R&B now as well". If his drinking buddy had been mid-sip when this bombshell was dropped, I have no doubt he would've produced a violent, outraged spray that any early '90s American sitcom would've been proud of, such was his obvious disbelief. When he'd eventually picked his jaw back up off the floor and popped his bulging eyes back in to their sockets, he proceeded to excoriate the modern world for its slip in musical genre-classification standards. Despite what these two barflies would no doubt prefer, R&B in the contemporary music realm is - as a popular web-based information service tells us - 'a term often used to describe a style of African American music originating after the demise of disco in the 1980s'. Artists such as Michael Jackson, Kanye West, Kelis, Usher, and, erm, Jason DeRulo have kept charts and clubs buzzing with their various brands of R&B over the years, and you'd be a shoe-in for the coveted 'Understatement of the Year' award if you were to say the genre is easily one of the most widely popular in the world. But if you were to cast your gaze over certain areas of the music world recently, you'd think that R&B was the brainchild of some scrawny, sweeping-fringed white guy. One such scrawny, sweeping-fringed cracker is Robin Carolan, who has launched a club night in London called So Bones that is 'devoted to cutting edge commercial R&B and hip hop'. Now, don't get me wrong - Robin Carolan has done plenty of good in his life. He contributes to the influential 20 Jazz Funk Greats blog and set up the Tri Angle label, which has released some of the best music of 2010. However, you've got to question the wisdom of a man who feels there aren't enough club nights devoted to R&B and hip hop in London. There are definitely more than enough. So what's the logic behind So Bones? Could it be that, while those associated with the night - residents include Romy from The xx and post-dubsteppers Deadboy and Girl Unit - undoubtedly have a genuine love for R&B, they are just too, y'know, white and middle-class to actually attend the regular R&B nights? While I'm sure that these crunk-fans do enjoy listening to a bit of Cassie and Brandy on their iPods while strolling through Shoreditch of an afternoon, it's harder to picture them bumping and grinding alongside Brixton's finest on a Friday night. Is this just a bid by the nation's hipster honkies to wrestle control of a traditionally black genre from the clutches of its longstanding mainstream fan base? It's already happened elsewhere this year. Chicago juke, a style of music similar to ghetto house with BPMs generally sitting around the 150-160 mark, has existed in the Windy City for over a decade now. Notable for the 'footwork' dancing deployed by revellers at juke nights, it remained very much an insular Chicago phenomenon up until this year, when it suddenly become the genre du jour. Planet Mu seized upon it and have released material from Chicago juke artists DJ Roc, DJ Nate and DJ Rashad. Kingpins of the scene DJ Spinn and Murderbot have been invited over to tour the UK, including a date at The Harley, and the juke influence has crept into the work of British producers such as Ramadanman. While many who like to think of themselves as musically clued-up have hopped on to the ever-accelerating juke bandwagon in Britain, it's hard to imagine that over in Chicago they're all now footworking along to Ramadanman and Headhunter's juke alter-ego, Addison Groove. Of course, the world would be a sorry place if people felt any limit to the kind of music they are able to listen to. Ramadanman has been in the form of his life this year, partly due to that juke influence. The 'witch house' genre - combining halfspeed pop and hip-hop with ambient drone and pioneered by, among others, Robin Carolan's Tri Angle label - has provided some of the most innovative musical moments of 2010, including Salem's King Night LP, which features pitchshifted rapping by the lead singer to make himself sound black. But it's still hard not to see the So Bones crew's intrusion into R&B as somewhat like the Brazilian gang that tried to carjack Jensen Button and his F1 posse, attempting to steal a vehicle away from people who have vastly better experience of it, and always will do. Wouldn't it be better if Jensen had been driving a Nissan Juke? )

Next article in issue 33

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