Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Saturday, April 21 2001, 5:55 PM
One argument concerning laptop rock has concerned its supposed privileging of individualism. When a musician is no longer part of a group, goes this argument, then a crucial vitality disappears. When musicians lose the interaction of ensemble music-making, then their music suffers. Or as one reviewer wrote regarding a recent Kid 606 album, the group sex of rock music has disappeared into private onanism. A better argument might lie with the qualities of digital sound, but that one has been well rehearsed and this is an aesthetic-technical dispute rather than explicitly political territory. Some of the antagonistic socio-political discussion of laptop rock as a phenomenon may simply cover an aesthetic repugnance towards a perceived typical DIY indie electronic album and its computer-driven chords.
French PC notebook enthusiasts DAT Politics challenges some of these antagonistic terms. This is a four-musician indie electronica group from Lyons, one that emerged as a sub-group of another post-rock electronica band, Tone Rec. Their work is determinedly based on a collaborative ethic, of the sort that uses shareware music programs out of firm principle. Two members of the group reportedly have given up the guitar and bass for laptop computers. These are not musical monads with a temporary performance agreement. Rather, DAT Politics explores how to rock through their computer collaboration.
This album is not for those with a limited taste in electronica: it demands an affection for synthesized tones that not all have. Nor is Tracto Flirt the sort of disc that you can buy from Amazon.com if you are curious. Like much indie electronica, it lives on very small record labels without consistent access to mainstream retail outlets. DAT Politics lives on the Tigerbeat6 label in the US, the A-Musik label in Germany, and the SubRosa label in Belgium. My samizdat copy arrived sleeveless in a plain black Memorex wrapper. This is the far, far end of the distribution system, but yet it is also characteristic of how fresh indie electronica is shared as much as it is distributed.
Cooperation permeates production in this music scene, and that translates into knowledgeable and cooperative re-pressing and distribution arrangements. The image of the Lone Ranger laptop rocker is a myth, one that hypothesizes isolation in front of a computer (forgetting that acoustic guitar practice is a form of monasticism) and disregards the potential of Internet networking. The sociality of musicians did not suddenly disappear because some of them began using computers as compositional and performance instruments. Reading human sexuality into machines --- pace Donna Haraway's hot cyborgs --- or any musical tool speaks to cultural anticipations more than realities. If laptop rockers are onanists, it has nothing to do with their computers.
How did DAT Politics choose their name and why did they call this album Tracto Flirt? Possibly someday I'll get an album copy with notes and learn the answers to such silly questions. In the meantime, it's an enjoyable record without these answers.
Tracto Flirt is Available from Tigerbeat6 Records