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March 3, 2012

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Music with subtlety and richness is still being created

OBVIOUS answers to perennial questions: Thought and expression in art and entertainment have become more limited thanks to the consumer culture need to put out as much product as possible.

Along with that is a rapidly depleting attention span of audiences, and contemporaneous delivery systems (laptops, MP3 players, phones) that don't reward deep reading of the music, writing, or cinema of artists. Therefore, we have supplanted quality for quantity of product.

And while that sounds fancy and rings of truth on a macro scale, it's also a load of baloney. There is plenty of movement going the other way: a callback to entertainment that rewards a more intense attention span and appreciation.

For movies, anyone can look at the recent winner of the Oscar for best film, "The Artist," which was a return to the silent films of the early days of cinema.

In the world of hip-hop music, there is a similar counter-trend, away from DJs who don't utilize records and rappers who are more interested in crossing over to pop success than gaining respect in the hip-hop community.

As with everything in hip-hop, there has been a very vocal and volatile response to this gentrification. To quote Canibus, a rapper who has been especially vocal in protest, "Since (hip-hop) became a lucrative profession / There's a misconception / That a movement in any direction is progression."

Another hip-hop artist who follows in a similar vein is Los Angeles DJ Cut Chemist. He'll be appearing at local club Shelter (5 Yongfu Road) on Saturday.

That's quite the distance from the much heralded performance space the Good Life Cafe, a place where many of the most critically acclaimed of the Los Angeles music scene sprung from in the early 90s.

Cut Chemist has worked with everyone from (recent Shanghai visitor) DJ Shadow to Shakira, and was a member of cult favorite hip-hop group Jurassic 5. He's also been known to collaborate with rock bands and symphony orchestras.

One of the most skillful DJs in the world at scratching, he's been known to work with 45 RPM records, the smaller variety to more popular 33 1/3 records. Because 45 RPM records spin faster and are lighter, to work with them requires immense dexterity.

While there's no indication, Cut Chemist is a Luddite of any sort, by using tangible materials as opposed to more regulated computer technology, his work is able to gain an edge by having a more personal touch and by being more impressive in performance. His work awards those interested in craft and necessitates multiple listens to really get the subtleties of what's going on.

While mass media may have more hold on us than ever before, these same technologies allow us to find others who avoid their accompanying entertainment. Even more ironically, that same mass media may lead us toward those who utilize technology that predates it, and entertainment that towers over it.


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