Americans should get out more

I’m so amazingly fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to travel out of this country a few times. To experience other cultures first hand is just a great life experience, and I can say that it definitely changed my life. I’m far more interested in international affairs and cultures than I would ever be if I hadn’t visted overseas. The MASSIVE amount of excellent quality music overseas blew my mind away. There are so many artists that I really enjoy now only because I’ve travelled and lived overseas for a little bit, just long enough to be introduced to these things.

I lived in Spain (Barcelona) for a semester in college. Now that was an amazing experience. I had taken Spanish for 2 years in college prior to going, and Georgia Tech College of Computing was offering a study abroad experience at UPC, so I jumped on the opportunity. I enjoyed it so much, and I was fairly fluent by the end of that trip, that I tried to find a job in Spain so I could further foster my love for Spanish culture. Anyway, the job market over there for Computer Science sucked at the time, so I couldn’t do it, but that’s neither here nor there. Back to my discussion…

While in Barcelona, I discovered an abundance of really good music. And when I say really good, I mean _really_ good – stuff that made you want to dance, but still had sophisticated melodies and rhythms, as if talent was still required to create it. This is in contrast to most American pop music where the major purpose is to propagate a business model – to make money via a marketing machine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like some 50 cent now and again, but I think the core function of music is to invoke feeling through genuine empathy, using sound as the medium. American pop music is more about the money than empathy (well, unless one considers sexual tension as the empathetic goal). This is often through no fault of the artists themselves, but instead because of the mega mogul music labels (kiss my ass RIAA).

Now, I’m not some self-proclaimed nutso musical elitist. I like the ‘down ‘n dirty dirty Southern hip-hop as much as the Strauss Liebesleider waltz. I like the Beastie Boys as much as I like chamber music. I really like Cassie’s new single “Me and U” at the moment. I’m pumped with energy by Reggaeton’s primordial overtones. I’m utterly blown away by Yo Yo Ma and his $3 million dollar Siren of a cello in the Memoirs of a Geisha soundtrack. I absolutely love anti-nihlistic Japanese Pop (JPop). My musical interests span a rediculous repertoire – I’m weird like that.

This interest is in part due to my exposure to European culture. Barcelona was a great gateway in this regard. Barcelona (and nearby neighbor Ibiza) is like ground zero for Europeans under the age of 30. So many people from all over Europe in one place, with the Catalunyan and Castillian background, make for a recipe of lots of partying, fantastic food, and a blend of all styles of music. When I was in Port OlympĂ­c (seaside Barcelona), there were no less than 20 small music/dance clubs lining a 1/4 mile strip, all of which played different styles of music – Salsa, Brazilian beats, Trance, House, Hip-Hop, 80′s Rock, etc, etc, etc. You name it. Ahhh, the memories…..

Anyway, it was in Spain that I found a first love for Spanish acoustic guitar – from the classical Baroque style to the raw but sophisticated Gipsy Kings and more. I was introduced to my first dose of European Trance (Ibiza), which later became a big part of my regular music-listening routine. I heard and saw Spanish Flamenco for the first time. And, because Barcelona is so close to the French border, I heard a wild array of French pop and rock, all of which was pretty cool. This melting pot really opened up my eyes (and ears) to music on a global scale. Now I’m really into JPop and my future wife Tomiko Van (yeah, I wish. Ok, no otaku tension there….yeah, right.)

Now there is NO WAY that I would be listening to Tomiko Van, Utada Hikaru, and Teriyaki Boyz today if it wasn’t for me getting out of this country to see the world a bit. I recommend to all my fellow countrymen to take a trip and learn a little. At least your musical life will be far more interesting.

To finish off this post, here are some groups that I was listening to today. I was on what I call a “Euro-chill” trip today, and these two groups fit that description nicely:

Royksopp (Norwegian group):

Only This Moment:

Epple (won MTV award for best video of the year):

Phoenix (French group):
If I Ever Feel Better (_really_ popular when I was in Spain):

Too Young:

2 thoughts on “Americans should get out more

  1. I think it’s interesting to see some of the ways in which tastes differ between the US and Europe, or Japan, or wherever. In Europe, techno is much more popular than it is here, and I think that can contribute to Europe’s greater sophistication in that regard. I mean, sure it was Gershon Kingsley that introduced the world the magical Moog in the late 50s, but it was Kraftwerk that began really pushing the envelope of what electronic instruments could do in the early to mid 70s. And beyond the major European artists to gain mega-success in the US like Prodigy or Chemical Brothers, there are really important “techno” bands – though techno is the wrong word, I use it only to show emphasis on music created primarily through electronic means – such as MeatBeat Manifesto (at least, imho).

    And yet, American music is focussed elsewhere. It’s true perhaps that many modern hip-hop artists seem to be overly commercially oriented, but artists like 50cent and Outkast wouldn’t exist without experimentalists like Diggable Planets, RunDMC, US3, and others who, despite their (sometimes short-lived) success, clearly added a musical sophistication that plays well even today. But this focus is less on dance music per se, than it was on re-incorporating jazz and blues into popular music (which of course is itself almost always dance oriented). Thus the emergence of sampling, which has today become almost ubiquitous.

    Too, much of American music exists in a genre for which there is no ready analogue in Europe. Roots rock, to misuse a term, is a good example: I would include in this category the emergence of “alternative country” bands in the nineties like Uncle Tupelo, Grant Lee Buffalo, Golden Smog, and others. This coincided with a renewed interest in the actual roots of American popular music, from the resurgence of Johnny Cash to the explosion of the “Country” genre to the “Down from the Mountain” tour and the renewed interest in Bluegrass.

    And all this existed behind the scenes of the major explosion in American popular music in the nineties: Grunge. Grunge itself evolved from the power-rock of the seventies, fused with a punk mentality (particularly in the case of Nirvana) but which could hardly be called overly commercial, despite unprecedented commercial success.

    So to me the interesting thing about international music is the way in which it reveals the culture which produced it. Though France, for example, has restricted the amount of airtime non-French musicians get on the radio, the influence of hip-hop and r&b is inescapable. Miki Fujimoto displays a real interest in and influence by Motown, and the trappings of a particularly American 60s context, but she is uniquely Japanese, and some of her most sensitive work (that I’ve heard) are covers of traditional Japanese folk songs.

    Perhaps the ultimate example of the influence the US has on international music, and the ways in which that influence is sublimated by other countries whose artists subsequently return to influence American music, is Gorillaz. Brit-pop, British/American rock, American hip-hop, Euro hip-hip – it’s all in there, like a gift given long ago by American artists which has been thoroughly reworked and returned in a package which is inescapably familiar, and yet undeniably new, different, and completely international.

  2. Great post, thanks. I travelled too, and picked up alot of spanish musical tastes, the only problem has been identifying the artists and songs! This is because I heard the songs on the radio whilst at work, in buses, in the street, in restaurants etc. Can I recommend you to listen to “Juanes – a dios le pido”, “Juanes – Fotografia”, “Mana – Oye mi amor”, “Julieta Venegas – Andar Conmigo” as some of songs I’ve been able to identify since coming home. Please make a blog entry with your list of recommended latin songs – e.g. you can’t just mention “gypsy kings” and think that everybody knows what you are talking about! Also, I’ve found that “internet radio” is a great way to get new musical tastes without travelling. Its possible to find live latin radio stations in windows media, real audio, and “plain mp3 streaming”. The latter is preferable because its non-proprietry, and you can visit http://www.shoutcast.com for a list of radio stations, download a .pls/.3mu and drag it on to winamp 2.x or any other media player that supports mp3 streaming audio. You’ll be dancing in no time! saludos desde inglaterra.

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