Monday, January 23, 2006

More random musings about tastes, kinks and identity

Since my recent re-immersion in music began I've been thinking a lot about the question of how identity is contructed. Specifically, I've been thinking about how one's involvement in a particular subculture affects one's sense of identity.
I had a wierd conversation with a co-worker about my fondness for the Japanese visual kei scene. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, "visual kei" is a catchall term for a bunch of bands most of whom are broadly at the heavier end of the rock/punk/industrial spectrum (though there seem to be more and more annoyingly poppy ones recently) and who also tend to place a very heavy emphasis on their visual style. There are a lot of goth influences,frequent hints of BSDM, an abundance of eyeliner, very tight leather pants, and frequent cross-dressing. One of the biggest stars of the scene has literally never been seen in public not dressed as a woman as far as I can tell (and he makes a rather pretty girl in an ice-queen kind of way), which is a bit disconcerting given his deep and noticeably masculine voice. There's also a great deal of homoerotic imagery, though most of the musicians say that they're straight.
I have always had a deep affection for the visual kei scene. There are a few bands who I don't like at all, and some whom I adore, but my fascination for the scene in general has remained constant for many years. The strange thing for me about the conversation I had with the co-worker was the fact that she kept using the word "exotic" to describe the scene, and my interest in it. The reason this struck me as odd was that the scene is so appealing to me not because it's exotic, but because it feels utterly familiar. I grew up in the goth and punk scenes in the UK, and my entire adolescence was spent hanging out with pretty, androgynous boys in eyeliner. Nothing could be more familiar to me. I've always felt most at home with the people who the mainstream regards as kind of freaky - skinny punk boys with tattoos and piercings are extremely sexy to me, and the classic All American Boy may as well not exist from a sexual point of view as far as I'm concerned. That's the wierd thing about the visual kei scene - it doesn't feel strange, foreign or "exotic" to me, it feels like home.
This got me thinking about the way in which we all contruct our identities. I think that those of us who feel strongly drawn to a particular subculture identitfy much more strongly with those who share that affiliation than with others whom we may superficially appear to have more in common with. It's a particularly thorny issue for those of us who also have strong political affiliations. In a conflict between feminists and BSMD people, which side am I on? Do I have to pick a side?
I've also been thinking about how much, for me at least, sexual orientation plays a part in the subcultures that I'm drawn to. I'm leaning towards saying that BSDM, or kinky in a more general sense, should actually be regarded as a separate sexual orientation just like being straight, gay or bi is. If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that nearly every subculture I've ever become involved with, I was initially drawn into by an encounter with a person who I was attracted to. In the case of the visual kei scene, it was a Japanese girl who I used to know in London and whom I most definately had the hots for. She introduced me to her friends, all of whom were art school/visual kei kids, and thus an obsession was born...
I've also been thinking about how easy it is for people who do have a particular kink, for lack of a better word, to identify each other. I've always been able to spot another person with a strong sense of kink at 1000 paces, and subs are even easier for me to identify. I'm just not quite sure why. Is there some sort of gaydar equivalent for kinky people? What would we call such a thing? Any suggestions?
I'm curious to hear if any of the other strongly subculture-identified people on here have experienced the same thing as far as being able to spot other members of one's own in-group. Thomas? Arwen?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Cool new technology for music fans, and my recent absence.

So I've been neglecting my blog again. My bad. The reason for my recent spate of benign neglect is that I've been going through one of my periodic phases of not being interested in anything except music. This happens on a fairly regular basis, and it's one of the reasons why I make a lousy activist. The reality is, I eat, sleep, and breathe music. When I'm writing fiction I always have a song or an album in my head that goes along with the mood of what I'm writing. I'm a music junkie, in that I actually use music as a mood-altering substance the same way other people use booze or dope. I like to think that my way is healthier, for my body if not for my bank account.
(Right now I'm listening to The Charlatans - The Only One I Know, by the way. It's good upbeat blogging music. See what I mean?)
Given my music addiction I was very interested to hear about a new online application called Pandora that claims to be able to analyse music by its components, which it refers to as "DNA", and use that information to make recommendations. This is an intriguing idea. Most people give up listening to a lot of music once they leave college, and according to the people behind Pandora the most frequent reason given is that they can't find any new music to listen to once they aren't immersed in a culture where other people are giving them suggestions any more. This has not been an issue for me, as I go out of my way to seek out new music all the time, but it would seem to offer a potential cure for the music blah's for the general listener. I was interested to see how well the engine works and if it would make suggestions that would actually work for me, so I checked it out.
The way it works is that you enter the name of an artist, album or song and it creates a "radio station" that plays music that shares the "DNA" of the artist or song you chose - in other words it searches for music with strong structural similarities. It also tells you what the "DNA signatures" of the artist/song you entered are.
(Now we're on to Ministry - Stigmata. MUCH faster, kind of industrial meets speed metal, but with a catchy, hooky chorus.)
I cannot praise this tool highly enough. Even for a music geek like me it brought up stuff that I liked and would probably never have found otherwise, so I can only imagine how much of a revelation it might be for those who don't do as much active exploration as I do.
(Now I'm listening to Dir En Grey - Increase Blue. Metal, more or less, with yet another catchy chorus - I seem to be particularly fond of bands who can take heavy stuff and make it catchy. Also worth noting the rather kinky lyrical edge to both of the last 2.)
I entered a bunch of different stuff into Pandora, and apparently there are some distinct patterns to the music I like. This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that I deliberately entered a number of artists who would not typically be considered as belonging to the same genre or musical movement. There may well be something to this DNA idea.
(Now I'm listening to The Manic Street Preachers - From Despair to Where. Much less heavy and more melodic, with complex harmonies and gloomy but darkly ironic lyrics, and strings in the background. Weird but it works.)
Apparently I really like mild syncopation, complex vocal harmonies, a mix of electric and acoustic elements, prominent guitars, and complex instrumentation.
(Now listening to Kaggra - Yousai. This one is much less "rock" and much wierder than the last few songs but, now that I think about it, it does indeed have syncopated beats, complex harmonies and instrumentation - this song must be a bitch to play live - and a mixture of electric and acoustic elements.)
I feel like a kid with a new toy. If you're at all interested in music this is way too much fun not to share. Check it out - I'm curious to see how well it does at predicting what other people will like.
Finally, a modern American female celebrity who I don't want to smack in the head with a chair...
I'm talking about Felicity Huffman. If any of you get the chance to catch her 60 Minutes interview I highly recommend it. The interviewer/ patriatrchy-worshipping bimbo asks her if her 2 kids are the most important thing in her life, and she says "No! And I resent the question".
I wanted to kiss her. She goes on to explain exactly why that's such an offensive question, starting with the fact that anyone who says no is assumed to be a bad mother and a bad person in general. TV bimbo also asked her how she could have possibly empathised with the character she plays in "Transamerica"'s sense of not being at home in her own skin and deep emotional angst, and she said "Doesn't everyone?".
It's wierd how rare it is to see anyone being honest on American TV. We're all so used to hearing the officially mandated bland platitudes that it's quite startling to see someone saying anything real, or answering a question like a normal human being. How depressing.