March 23 2009 2 23 /03 /March /2009 14:43
The Beastie Boys are at music what Barack Obama is at politics : the demonstration that black people are able to do as well as white people… and conversely. It presupposes two things: firstly, that Barack Obama confirms huge hopes pinned on him (do we have to specify that the majority of people who praised him to the skies, specifically on the rest of the world, don’t know nothing, or however little, about his political program?) ; secondly, that we consider Beastie Boys as a Hip-Hop band, and it’s far from being obvious….
Thanks to Paul’s Boutique, the Beastie Boys prove they are not only a particular band but they transcend gender delimitations. They reach a different status, a dimension that consecrates the New-York band one of the greatest rock band of last decades, a kind of commercial Suicide. In order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this second album, a remastered version of this Unknown Soldier is released. It gives us the possibility to realize that, 3 years after Licensed to ill, the “3 idiots who made a masterpiece” (dixit Rolling Stone) do it again: maybe not so haphazard, certainly not so idiots.
Looking closer, we can find on Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique album, some similar strategies to Kelley Walker’s work, another whitey dealing with racial issues. Beyond the usual and already known similarities of appropriation (Walker prefers the term of recycling), linking the simultaneous reuses of images extracted from newspapers by Walker to sampled vinyl’s sounds by the Beastie Boys, the Americans share, into their respective practices, the exploration of the same lands. The “minimalising” approach of Walker, reducing his intervention to the maximum: the toothpaste on the scanned magazine covers (schema; Aquafresh plus Crest with Whitening Expressions [Regina Hall]) echoes back to controlled (sampled, scanned) bass / drum rhythm sections of the Beastie Boys. The Pop emerging from Walker’s raw materials (magazines, ads) sends back to band’s lyrics. Between lightness and hidden meaning, the texts of the Beastie Boys on Paul’s Boutique enlighten on a singular way the American society of those days. The Pop reasoning leans on the society and its consumption of a music filled up with images and images filled up with sounds. The fury of Mike-D, MCA and Ad-Rock is completed by the silent screams of Kelley Walker’s pieces. On the reversed and astounding Black Star Press (rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise): Black Star, Black Press, Star Press, we sense a violence constantly ready to explode, a muffled howl, covered with chocolate softness, like the rock heart in the middle of the rap wrapping of the Beastie Boys. We recognize then the racial struggle Walker is deeply concerned about, from riots to drifted visions of its representation. Following the example of Rock, black music played by a white guy (the first Elvis, not the resuscitated one), the Beastie Boys lay down to rap a demonstration of crossover that will create a gap into musical domain during the 1990 (Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun). The mix is working.
Finally, artist and musicians play with the constitution of stratums. The Beastie Boys multiply the sampling layers, pill up references, defy the interpretation when Kelley Walker superimposes chocolates, toothpastes, dots, stars, on a choice of highly referenced images. Kelley Walker and the Beastie Boys appear as culture proponents (Nine Disasters), challenging authority (the Beatles samplings), distorting the frontiers. They simply decide to redefine the United States, a country that abolished segregation and elected a colored man to the head of the most powerful country in the world in no time (less than 50 years!). So, don’t forget, especially nowadays, that politics goes through culture…. And, unfortunately, conversely.
[Pictures : above, The Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique, 1989, Capitol Records. Below : Kelley Walker, Schema; Aquafresh plus Crest with Whitening Expressions (Trina), 2006. CD Rom; scanned image and toothpaste; digital print on archival paper. Dimensions variable. Courtesy : the artist & Thomas Dane Gallery, London]