Back in late 2001, when the good people over at North Williamsburg’s Broklyn Beats sent the fifth installment of their (sic) series of seven-inch singles to the pressing plant, they got back not a record, but a requirement. The image displayed on the inlay—a public domain shot of Dubya in the Oval Office, modified with a couple of pointy, overhanging teeth scribbled on either side of his mouth—had to go. “Copyright issues” is what the plant folk told the label folk, but they didn’t have to shout “post-9-11 paranoia” for it to be heard. Ever resourceful, Broklyn served up the labels themselves, color printing onto Avery sticker paper and inserting them, by hand, into each record’s sleeve.
If the plant folk had actually been listening to the records and not been playing Giuliani-style art critic, they might have registered their discontent way earlier. Broklyn co-founder Criterion Thornton was an anarcho-punk before he was a splicer of breaks, and it’s reflected in everything about his crew’s output, right down to the punk staple seven-inch format.
Amid the breakcore, post-dub, and hyper-jungle, previous Broklyn releases included Dick Gregory’s laceration of “white racist institutions,” bits of a Manning Marable lecture, and a collection of songs, titled Brutal Police Menace, that up-middle-fingered one-time. If anything, (sic) No. 5—Broklyn Beast’s “March of the Oil Barons”/”The Vampire Strikes Back”—was the series’ most politically innocuous entry, and least deserving of nervous hackles. Apparently, if you title it, they will censor.
But what if you don’t? Does agitronica really exist? More broadly, can it? Plenty of electronic artists have tried using their music as a platform for political or social statements—Herbert, Ultra-Red, and Christopher DeLaurentis among them—but what good is a message if you have to draw attention to it? 1-Speed Bike, whose real name is Aidan Girt and whose day gig is with apocalyptic noise-proggers Godspeed You Black Emperor!, titles one of his digital quickstep (sic) contributions “I’m a Pretzel on a Stealth Mission to Kill the President,” but it’s no more contentious than the B side, “Punk Not Dead, Cave Good and Strong.”
Music can certainly convey ideas without the benefit of words—just ask Wagner and Mahler, Cage and Glass. The trick is catching the listener who’s not listening, the one who didn’t sign up for the lesson. Using blatant titles self-selects an audience who fancies itself progressive. To Broklyn’s credit, though, the most potentially disruptive tracks in the series—the complete lineup has been collected on the recent (Sic): The Broklyn Beats 7″ Series CD—are the ones that don’t wear politics on their sleeves. Doily’s “2000dumb” (she’s co-label head with Criterion) twitters with propulsive, recombinant dub, layered with shoot-’em-up samples that sound like 1,000 Galagas played at once. Hailing from France, Rotator make precise, angry music, mashing up dancehall gabba-style and shitting on rednecks in “Chicken Boogie XXX,” which thunders almost as loud as the appropriately named “Help Me to Keep Up Destruktion!!!”
Best of all are “Rumbo Babylon” and “Descarriada,” a pair of pre-9-11 tracks by dj/rupture a/k/a the New England-reared, Harvard-educated, Barcelona-residing Jace Clayton, who releases like-minded material on his own Soot imprint and whose two mix CDs, Gold Teeth Thief and Minesweeper Suite, make 2 Many DJs sound a few hands—and records, genres, and countries of origin—short. These are meticulous rhythms, building on dancehall, stuttering up dead prez, and deftly laying down Middle Eastern arrangements. Then he runs them through with furious darkstep, making for a rumble fierce enough to destabilize and liberate. For a million ironic laughs, call it brown sound, and keep it out of the military’s hands.