View From The Side: Never Assume - The Future Brown Debacle

Have critics been fair to dub Future Brown art school frauds?

View From The Side: Never Assume - The Future Brown Debacle

Have critics been fair to dub Future Brown art school frauds?

I don’t do these comment articles often. Frankly, I believe there’s a braying deluge of daily thinkpieces spilling out of every imaginable corner, working every feasible (and unfeasible) angle on every turn of event; an endless Armageddon of 'content'. Discerning the useful information above the volume of competing noise is becoming increasingly difficult. The internet – although liberating on an unprecedented scale – deceptively creates the fallacy that its reserves of data and information equate comprehensiveness. Sometimes it can lead you down corridors of misinformation built on shaky suppositions.

I say this because, in the light of the recent, fairly heated conflict of opinion between writers Alex Macpherson and Meaghan Garvey and the Future Brown project - specifically the quality and intent of their self-titled debut - it seems worthwhile to take stock. It’s a nothing friction really, a short- lived tension which is always going to be transient and surreal, considering the fact that the channels of communication are exclusively virtual. Still, those same channels are the fundamental ones that have led to this inconsequential ‘beef’.

To recount the root of the issue, Fatima Al Qadiri was irked by an article written by Macpherson – initially circulated by Red Bull but then quickly retracted – in which he bandied about accusations at FB of appropriation and exoticism founded on smartarse art school theorising and pretension. Basically a bourgeois process of co-option, mainly of global urban styles, and a dilution of them for middle class palatability, something apparently made more unfair by the disproportionate attention Future Brown have received compared with their collaborators, who Macpherson portrayed as more authentic ambassadors of their generic variants. Garvey expressed a similar set of sentiments in an album review for Pitchfork, disparaging the vacuous overreach at quasi-profound postmodern lingo and aesthetics that she saw as a focal aspect in the FB project.

To start in a roundabout way, there’s burgeoning controversy at the moment regarding Red Bull and its patronage of ‘underground’ music and whether its sponsorship amounts to an uneasy relationship. That’s an issue for another day, for someone far more versed in the necessaries to make an astute case for and against. From a personal perspective though, I’ve never really seen Red Bull as a critical bastion upholding notions of devil may care journalistic provocation, more of an optimistic resource, somewhere to discover routes into artists, labels and scenes. Its commentary doesn’t seem to interrogate or question, its wholly positive, approving, constantly championing, which isn’t a bad thing, especially when there are plenty of other sources for an alternatively provocative line of analysis.

In light of this, it doesn’t seem surprising that the article was pulled. I don’t really understand the conflict regarding where the article was published and whether it interfered with the favourable, promotional article that Red Bull had intended (and later ran). Macpherson’s ire doesn’t seem to chime with their overall tone anyway. Notions of why the article was pulled aside, I feel Macpherson’s article and Garvey’s review showed an unstable reasoning in their dressing down of the album, built more on assumption rather than measured deduction. The basis of FB’s condemnation is formed of references to other projects of Al Qadiri, and the links she and the fellow members have with the art and fashion worlds. Certainly this is an unavoidable part of the surrounding context, but surely this new project should be judged on its own merits and underpinnings, not past or peripheral ones. The nails in the coffin have proved to be the collective’s attachment to theory, but it's hard to see that statements made by Future Brown are really worth of such contempt. I mean, I consternate over Derrida as much as the next fool, but a dash of theory doesn’t perturb me to the point that I have to slap a great flaring fuck off ‘ART SCHOOL PRIVILEGE’ label on anyone who makes the vaguest passing reference to it.

To clarify, before I risk falsely conflating each writer’s points, although this branding is made more explicit in Macpherson’s article, there is a claim in Garvey’s review that estimates FB as a ‘thesis’ led entity; an element that’s portrayed as a predominant source of unnecessary distraction.

Anyway, however contrastingly barbed their comments are, on this occasion both writers seem to have manipulated their underwhelmed reactions into unfounded bloody-mindedness. Both comment on the inherent artiness and ‘post-internet’ ideas that accompany the collective. Implied in each review is that FB are guilty of a condescending, one-way, acontextual siphoning off of the vitality of the street scenes it heralds as inspiring touchstones.

Yet in harshly criticizing FB’s supposed lack of concrete engagement with the styles and scenes they lift from, have the critics been guilty of the same dearth of consideration when assessing Future Brown? Nowhere is it mentioned the process FB took in their collaborations – how they came together, the approach, where cohesion was found. The collective have previously revealed that the project comes with no manifesto and all of the collaborations were conducted in a studio. It doesn’t appear that the collective remained anonymous, lofty outsiders to those involved, namely Tink, Prince Rapid, Shawnna, Timberlee, Sicko Mobb and more. Are FB really culpable in passively hovering over each scene, utilising a haughty, unengaged process of stylistic cherrypicking?

The simple notion of direct contact and interaction in the creative process seems to contradict the accusations levelled at them. Perhaps it does not absolve them completely, these are complex issues after all. But it does bring into question how FB are depicted, a depiction which also doesn’t testify to the creative agency of the artists FB have collaborated with; who needs critics to defend the chastity of certain, less recognized artists? I’m sure these artists have enough will and clout to discern whether a proposed project is rooted in the wrong conceptions. How FB control their own apparently superficial assimilations is through art speak, according to the reactions of both writers; tryhard poseur talk exclusive to the entitled, whitewashed-gallery set. Again this strips the collaborators of agency, as if FB are the domineering, conceptual orchestrators and their collaborators mere extras; passive condiments flavouring their high-minded, high-flown productions.

There is a point touched on in Macpherson’s article that’s worth outlining at this juncture. To paraphrase, it mentions the differing fates of FB compared with Shawnna, 3D Na’Tee and Timberlee in a ‘largely middle class music press’. Essentially the former assured exposure and the latter neglected. To lay the foot of the blame at the door of Future Brown, and to dismiss some of the ideas they’ve indulged in, as an indication of some kind of vague complicity in this state of affairs seems an overstep. Perhaps the fault lies with the media - and maybe Macpherson and Garvey should look to critiquing the prejudices of their colleagues before firing barbs at young bands. 

Fundamentally I think it’s a stretch to portray FB in this way. Of course, in all of this, I don’t dispute the quality of the writing. We all want the outspoken and the uninhibited of us to be encouraged, but for the right reasons, based on accurate justifications. To my ears the album sounds underwhelming but it doesn’t sound like the work of fair-weather appropriators, imperially and superficially exploiting others and engaging in the phantom nothing- speak of art and theory for the purpose of dressing up 'street' scenes and irresponsibly distilling them. We’re all too quick to see the pernicious in the well intentioned nowadays, it makes for more gratifyingly salacious reading. But here the accusations feel unwarranted. Whatever you think of Future Brown, that’s your bag. To me it sounds like an uninspiring album, ambitious yet lacklustre, though nothing more insidious than that.

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