1947 performance ofSalt Peanuts
by Dizzy Gillespie
Tempo is a mysterious thing. In music, the word refers to the speed at which one plays a piece of music. In the world of classical music, Italian words such as "largo" and "prestissimo" are written above musical staves to provide clues for budding musicians as to how slow or fast they should set their practice metronomes. But one musician's adagio is another musician's moderato. The tempo of a piece of music is ultimately determined by "feel," that is, what speed feels right as one plays it. But of course, what "feels" right to you might feel completely wrong to someone else. Tempo is not a static concept. It's elusive, worthy of its own department in a music conservatory in our humble opinion.
Husker Dü,Something I Learned Today
from the 1984 album Zen Arcade
Bob Mould, guitarist, singer, and songwriter for the seminal hardcore trio Husker Dü has said the tempos of Husker Dü's songs were at times played so fast the music would start to "swing" in the bebop-post-bop-no-dancing definition of the word. Which makes us wonder, how can we talk about Husker Dü and not talk about Dizzy Gillespie? Or Bad Brains but not John Coltrane? Were the break neck tempos in American and British post punk / hardcore / thrash music of the go-go 1980s a reaction to that decade's politics of fantasy and fear? Or was the pendulum swinging back to the beginning of the Cold War when the music popularly known as "swing" developed into an unprecedentedly fast style called "bebop?" Miles Davis, meet Napalm Death.
Napalm Death perform the 1981 Dead Kennedys standard tuneNazi Punks F--- Off
Tempo isn't the sole defining characteristic of bebop. But from around 1945 to 1960, "jazz" did indeed increase its tempo to a speed that discouraged dancing and encouraged listening. But that doesn't mean the music wasn't pleasurable to listen to. You couldn't Lindy Hop to it. Slam dance? Well, maybe. But something different would come along to corral that form of physical expression. Check out below the elegantly arranged, melodically sophisticated, and pretty damn fast track Move from Miles Davis' ground breaking 1949 to 1950 Birth of the Cool sessions:
Like the bebopers, in performance, post punk bands weren't interested in creating a tempo that one could dance to. However, their audiences created a form of choreography that would allow them to physically and communally bond to the soundtrack provided by sometimes irritated and bewildered musicians. At a Houston show in the late '80s, Husker Dü pleaded with its audience to refrain from stage diving as they were concerned for the safety of their equipment. Their request was ignored, of course. Slam dancing, moshing, and crowd surfing (although thankfully not gobbing) are all still with us, along with plenty of artists in all genres of music who continue to explore the extremes of tempo and performance.
As we heard in the Shakespearean introduction to Dizzy Gillespie's Salt Peanuts, all the world is indeed a stage, and we are merely players. Carried away by the speed of life, and either moshing or beboping our selves silly to keep up.
The Minutemen'sThis Ain't No Picnic
from the 1984 album Double Nickles On The Dime
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