Life Just Bounces don't you get worried at all. (A weblog of music and otrogenerica)

Monday, 1 August 2011

Song of the day: #37 Isaiah Toothtaker – "Intruder"

i alluded to Song(s) of the Year in my Jacques Greene post the other day, and this is another of my definite contenders. i keep returning to "Intruder" over and over.

Apart from just being a great record, part of what's so fun about "Intruder" is just how many layers of détournement have gone into making it what it is. In case anyone doesn't know the provenance of the music in this song, here's a brief memeology.

First there was Antoine Dodson, who went viral in July last year after a shit-talking interview with his local TV station in which he warned his sister Kelly's attempted rapist what was coming to him.

Then The Gregory Brothers, apparently a country/soul group but pretty much known for their novelty "Auto-Tune the News" series of YouTube videos, caught wind of the musical cadences of Antoine's voice (and what Wikipedia calls his "flamboyant delivery") and autotuned parts of his and his Kelly's interview and exposition from the news anchor, into an R&B song, "Bed Intruder Song".

This went even more viral, getting to number 89 in the Billboard charts on iTunes downloads alone and racking up, so far, 86 million YouTube hits. Détourne 1: from bad news story to pop smash.1 Then other performers started to do their own versions, 2,500 of them by this time last year, ranging from rubbish (the singer out of Paramore and someone from kiddy-punks New Found Glory; the human sigh that is Dane Cook) to ace (Afua's bass-based snippet; the shamisen arrangement). Then there's this brilliant version by the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Marching Band. Détourne 2: from pop smash to parade-ground anthem.

It was probably inevitable that there'd end up being a rap interpolation of the theme, but we're lucky that it was done by someone with the skills of Isaiah Toothtaker and Wavves drummer Jacob Safari, who produced "Intruder", and that they recognised that the marching band's huge, powerful version was the best (to sample, or otherwise), and furthermore that all the song lacked was a tonne of skittering drum machines and an MC as charismatic as he is casually menacing.

Toothtaker's repurposing of the song as a snitches-get-stitches warning is détourne 3, from light-hearted YouTube meme (albeit excellently done) back to urgent street-level threat. This is only emphasised by an excellent split-screen video, in which Toothtaker's performance to camera is mixed with a creepy animation of a clenching and unclenching hand, and scenes of shootouts, car accidents, fist fights and bits of Mark Hejnar's 1996 film Affliction2 (particularly Turbo Tom's eye-gouging, and hilariously unhinged gun nut Full Force Frank) edited together by experimental filmmaker Walter Gross. And the cycle is complete, with the salvaging of something concretely decent from a shifting sea of memetics. It'd be interesting to know if Antoine Dodson, who was able to move his family out of the projects from his share of the "Bed Intruder Song" proceeds, has heard this, and if so what he made of it.

1 Although the questionable power relations of affluent white New York hipsters bolstering their rep off the back of the sincere anger of a wronged black housing project resident didn't go unnoticed. NYU music professor Jason King told NPR, "It has a really good hook, but it's problematic, too. There's a way in which the aesthetics of black poverty—the way they talk and they speak and they look — sort of becomes this fodder for humor without any interest in the context of the conditions in which people actually live", while comedian/Onion web editor Baratunde Thurston elaborated that "As the remix took off, I became increasingly uncomfortable with its separation from the underlying situation. A woman was sexually assaulted and her brother was rightfully upset. People online seemed to be laughing at him and not with him (because he wasn't laughing), as Dodson fulfilled multiple stereotypes in one short news segment. Watching the wider Web jump on this meme, all but forgetting why Dodson was upset, seemed like a form of ‘class tourism.’ Folks with no exposure to the projects could dip their toes into YouTube and get a taste."
2 Worth a watch if you're into mental underground/transgressive culture, but probably only once.

No comments: