Thursday, January 26, 2012

So-So Feeling: Flo Rida, Copy, and the Weaknesses of the Pop-Techno Breakdown

By Techno School, Vertigo Shtick contributor and dance/electronic correspondent 

I have been write about Flo Rida. For months now. Really.

Yo ho
Every time I sit in front of this computer, though, my mind goes blank. It's like the literary gods are saying “No way, Techno School. You are not ready to write this piece. Not yet.” Even now, I have to exert incredible effort just to remain focused on my own text. But I will not give up! This is too important! The zeal with which radio stations are overplaying Flo Rida's “Good Feeling” is starting to die out (or am I finally just sick of hearing it and keep switching the station?) signals the beginning of an exit from the radio mainstream of this song. Therefore! I will make haste and write about this song before it becomes last year's news. You can thank me later.

But first, let me please introduce you to one of my favorite techno acts: Copy (I promise this will all make sense in a moment). Copy is a one man show born out of the Pacific Northwest that I came across in my very early days of techno discovery. His music is layered and complex (and mostly performed on the keytar, which is pretty sweet all on its own), and in my opinion his true talent comes in the resulting airy sound that makes his songs much more than the sum of their parts. This is the first song of his I ever came across on Pandora, called “Zipper Problems.”

In “Zipper Problems,” the techno is intricate, but clean. The notes all stand apart despite being piled on top of each other. Now just keep that song in mind, and maybe you'll start to get a sense of why some frustrating force has made me unable to write about Flo Rida until now.

Flo Rida is one of my many guilty pleasures. Something about his rap has always been so catchy and dancey. I just can't quit it. And I was so guiltily pleased to hear “Good Feeling” the first time it played on the radio. A guitar riff of all things opens the song, innocently enough, only to be faded into the background, technology ironically making way for the insertion of the late Etta James' poodle skirt-era voice, tapped from her 1962 hit “Something's Got a Hold On Me.” The electronic presence of this song heightens when James takes the backseat to Flo Rida himself, who raps about the good life and, like any good pop artist, talks down his naysayers. Is it any coincidence that this artist is rapping about a new beginning to his career while, simultaneously, the original guitar we heard earlier in the song is replaced by something that sounds more like it came out of a DJ booth?

Probably, but I'd like to think it was one of those gift-from-the-literary-gods kind of coincidences.

What follows in the music video is a hodgepodge of footage including shots of Flo Rida's global travels and concerts, some awkward Rocky Balboa references, and the obligatory hug-with-a-more-respected-rapper, in this case Snoop Dogg. Catchy, dancey, but still pretty run-of-the-mill. UNTIL:

Was that an electro bridge? For reals? Damn. Too bad this particular sample of techno was all muddled up and crudely folded on top of itself. What results is not the light-sounding, energetic music we hear in songs like “Zipper Problems.” Instead, we get a rushed collection of notes that unnecessarily cut each other off. We listeners are hurried up to the next musical statement before we can enjoy the sound of the previous one.

Don't get me wrong: there is something truly uplifting about hearing sounds you expect to hide from the mainstream floating their way up to Big Daddy Radio. But, the more I heard “Good Feeling,” the less impressed I was. It's a shame that the particular quality of techno that is getting featured is so mediocre, especially considering the plethora of capable DJs out there who would jump at the opportunity to collaborate (think of Calvin Harris in “We Found Love” and Skrillex in “Narcissistic Cannibal”). Rather than call upon the masters, it seems, pop producers like Dr. Luke slap together uninspired collections of somewhat random techno sounds all on their own and throw them into the middle of songs. It just sounds...bad.

And the shame of it is that nobody knows! The pop crowd doesn't know about Copy, and they're being robbed of perfectly legitimate music! I can't help but think of how much more incredible this song would be had a more capable DJ lended a helping, er, turntable.

You can imagine the similar thoughts that ran through my head when Britney Spears' single, “Hold it Against Me,” premiered. The mere inclusion of a dubstep bridge in a hugely popular pop song left me awestruck at first. But, the more I heard the song, the more its faults creeped to the surface. The bridge lacked the loud, defined grittiness that I think of when I listen to dubstep. There wasn’t enough power to the music, and power is exactly what defines the kind of dubstep that the pop producers were imitating. It’s like the speakers go to 11, but they only cranked em up to 5.

Could you turn me up?
What “Hold it Against Me” really needs is the in-your-face techno scream of a beat, more reminiscent of Nadia Oh’s “Taking Over the Dancefloor.” I can say for a fact that, had a dubstep-savvy producer like Wolfgang Gartner - who by the way has collaborated with other big names before - been on board for that one, “Hold it Against Me” would have rocketed to an entirely new level of epic. The same goes for “Good Feeling.”

And, speaking of epic, is that a TRON motorcycle that Flo Rida rides away in at the end of his video? I want one!

Techno School is currently based in Detroit.
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