Something about the concept of the deejay just felt right in the mid-’80s and the ’90s. First of all, sampling mimicked appropriation strategies of early and mid-’80s visual artists, critiquing the romantic idea of the genius author making sublime work inspired by higher callings that we laypeople couldn’t hope to understand. Secondly, MTV added a new layer of superstardom to popular music, requiring its musicians not only to have the right sound, but also to have the right look. And of course, the economy boomed in the ’90s and corporations made a killing, subsequently spreading their version of dumbed-down, repetitive homogeneity to all corners of America via logo-centric advertising and image proliferation.
In this climate, the deejay almost felt mildly subversive. He (let’s not kid ourselves: unfortunately women were and are as much a non-presence in electronica as in any other genre of music besides jazz) was the anonymous auteur, making repetitive music that mocked corporate America’s repetition and made music for people to take drugs to. Naturally, like every once-subversive movement, electronica has been swallowed up and reprocessed by the mainstream. DJ Spooky vs. Twilight Circus’ Riddim Clash just sounds a little too entrenched in ’90s-style electronica to sound particularly viable right now.
This collaboration is essentially limited to the duo of DJ Spooky and Twilight Circus Dub Sound System, although collaborators appear on scattered tracks throughout. For the most part, the songs struggle for identity. The general formula is an echo-y, dubby beat over a loud bass line with some laptop noodling for good measure. “Other Planes of Dub,” starring the terrific violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain, is a nice exception. Roumain’s screaming violin is a great compliment to the tightly-wound bass and drum pattern, which threatens to echo right out of control, evoking a misty, late-night walk over the Manhattan Bridge. “Dust Storm on NCC 7023” sounds something like Bowery Electric on their self-titled first album, while incorporating a thudding drum machine like they would on their second album, Beat. This is droning, slightly depressing electro-pop with a very mid-’90s feel, like a remix of a Lush song.
Other than these two totally serviceable, head-nodding drum and bass tunes, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about. The drum/bass/sound effect interplay is smooth and develops into a consistent sound, but it’s not necessarily interesting enough to justify its own consistency. Riddim Clash isn’t “bad” or cheesy music — just probably best utilized as background music, since it’s not particularly rewarding of a focused listen. Originality isn’t necessarily a beacon of good or progressive music, but it feels sort of essential to have an element of originality right now.
Unoriginality remains a persistent trend in so much rock music today, and laptops and other new electronic devices offer new technological capabilities at increasingly cheaper prices. Current guitar rock has already mired itself in regressive mimicking of a prior decade — there’s no reason electronic music need do the same.