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Theo Ploeg

Theo Ploeg is a writer, lecturer, researcher, jounalist and more. He loves pop culture and new media, teaches and researches at the 'Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology', 'iArts' and 'Institute of network Cultures' in Amsterdam. For more information on Theo and his writings., check his website at:

www.theoploeg.net

Theo Ploeg

Column

Theo Ploeg

On this page you can find an overview of the different columns that Theo Ploeg has kindly written for our monthly programme booklet.

June

(Un)real Beyoncé

Poor Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. Releases a musically daring album, only to have it burnt to the ground by the alternative music community.
“Lemonade’s” launch on the 23rd of April didn’t go unnoticed. It wasn’t just the traditional media outlets that couldn’t get enough of all the turmoil surrounding Beyoncé’s sixth studio album. The alternative media also praised the American singer for her waywardness. First and foremost it was her second visual album release that premiered on American network HBO.

The music was then released exclusively on Tidal, JayZ’s streaming platform.
Jayz in turn, was an important inspiration for ‘Lemonade’. The theme for the album being a coloured lady struggling in a world dominated by white males. Black males are not exactly supportive either. Beyoncé can speak from experience. In 2008 she married Jay Z who still can’t manage to keep away from other women. Recent threats from Beyoncé that she will divorce him notwithstanding.

Then there’s the musicians she’s cooperating with on ‘Lemonade’. Marcus Miller, Jack White, James Blake and Kendrick Lamar all take part. Still the album sounds unarguably like Beyoncé.
Justified attention?

Alternative music fans have a different opinion. Those who show up on my Facebook timeline anyway (trust me, there are quite a lot). According to them Beyoncé couldn’t produce a decent song to save her life. Lemonade only sounds ok because of the guest musicians who play on it. They say her fight for a good cause is a farce and she takes up too much space in the alternative media that should have been reserved for real alternative bands with a real and sincere message.

Well, American music webzine Pitchfork has a very simple retort: “But who cares what’s ‘real’ when the music delivers a truth you can use.”

Amen to that.

May

THE POP KIDS

The best pop music is made by folks over sixty. Last month ‘Super’ was released, the Pet Shop Boys’ thirteenth album. To be fair: ‘Electric’ released in 2013 was slightly disappointing. Did the British duo finally hand down writing the best pop songs to the New Order? It definitely seemed like it.

Until “The Pop Kids”

‘We are the pop kids because we love the pop hits” Neil Tennant (1954) and Chris Lowe (1958) sing. And you believe them. You want the song to continue on forever. “Super” contains more great pop songs. Yes they are super sweet. Shamefully commercial also. But that’s ok. Pet Shop Boys can almost get away with murder. Single ‘The Pop Kids’ is even better. Pop on a totally different level. Pop as only the Pet Shop Boys can make it.

What makes the song so unbelievably awesome?

The way in which the duo manages to incorporate subversive nostalgia and the ultimate ‘present’ into one song. At first glance “The Pop Hits” sounds like a Swiss Watch. Production is super tight. Tooth enamel destroyingly sweet. That’s not a problem since there is more to it than just this first layer. Whiningly, mockingly Tennant and Lowe pay tribute to the start of the 90ties. The golden age of rave, electronic dance music, and pop. The times where pop was still subversive and the clubs in London were still worth visiting.

Nostalgic? Sure, but you can taste that typical Pet Shop Boys cynicism in every sentence sung. It’s the combination – sugary sweet pop according to the rules and subversive lyrics- that makes ‘The Pop Kids’ such an amazing pop song. Music with a smile and a tear. That makes that the Pet Shop Boys would fit in at Intro so excellently. They would probably also enjoy it themselves: performing at a location where quality and attention for the music are central. Maybe Intro can book them as The Pop Kids?

April

Underground

The VPRO has lost its way a little bit. 3voor12, the once so progressive broadcasting network’s pop platform, bombarded March to ‘month of underground’. Editor in chief Atze de Vrieze almost apologizes for it in the announcing article. Underground doesn’t really exist anymore, he writes. He gives Blaudzun, artistic director Vincent Koreman from Incubate festival in Tilburg and popsociologist Gert Keuen as examples to support this.

At the end of last year, 3voor12 refused to add the 3rd nameless album of Rooie Waas to the ‘Luisterpaal’, a sort of display cabinet of music approved by VPRO. (one can stream music for free using this service) Too extreme, was the verdict. De Vrieze didn’t try to hide his repulsion for the music. Unfairly,  the Amsterdam based trio recently proved at Intro. Back in the old days the VPRO would have loved it. Not anymore. 3voor12 has become mainstream. Focuses mainly on the bigger stars and rarely dares to venture into the fringes of pop culture.

De Vrieze does have a point though: in growing up, pop music has gotten increasingly interconnected with underground. Underground as a counter culture has lost a lot of its value. However, this doesn’t mean that all pop music is equal. At 3voor12 sales and figures are the focus these days: a band that can be heard on the radio all day, or gets a lot of Spotify plays deserves attention. Because of this Dutch pop culture doesn’t always get credit it deserves. During the last 5 years, the Dutch alternative scene has been blooming. Exciting bands, independent labels and small clubs and halls form a network of people that care more about creating meaning then they do about the figures.

You could call it underground. Or new Dutch indie,  as I did in the Flemish magazine Gonzo (circus). Fact is that 3voor12 has lost touch with the exciting regions of Dutch pop culture. Despite trying to be hip for a month. 

Theo Ploeg

March

‘The artworld revolves solely around money and celebrities’; British journalist Robert Hughes argued in his documentary series “The New Shock of the New”, released 12 years ago as a sequel to his classical artdocu “The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change” which was released in 1980. His consideration hit like a bomb. Hughes died a couple of years ago. The artworld is till the artworld. A world full of money, and even more money. This month it’s a coming and going of privat jets. The passengers are the 1%, the super rich of this world that hope to get a good deal at TEFAF. Recently the organisation spent a 7 digit figure to aquire two art fairs in New York. Reason enough to become a bit cynical and to raise a glass to Hughes. There is however also a different side to the artworld. One in which artists and art lovers share their passion for the beauty of art and the beauty of making art. One of these artists is Piet van der Linden, who exposes his works at Intro during TEFAF. Beautiful spacious work that falls in the category Generative Art; The spring blossom kept artificially alive by him, constantly changes through injection of colours. By using randomly selected colours in each work an interesting colour palette is generated, without Van der Linden having influence on it. Composer Jesse Passenier composed a piece based on the same concept. Art with a capital A. Art that is not afraid of experimentation and randomness. Try finding that at TEFAF.

Theo Ploeg

February

DIRECTED ENDING

The push message suddenly appeared: David Bowie died. Bad joke, I thought, just like everybody else. Soon I realised the musician’s master plan which he started one and a half years ago. Started to understand the pessimistic lyrics on his new album ‘Black Star’. Luckily I didn’t write a review of it. I would have described the dark content as social criticism. Bowie about the horrors of the antropocene, the age in which humans create inerasable scars on the face of the earth. The scars that Bowie was singing about however are not about the earth at all, but about his own body. And about the cancer, that just like humanity, grows uncontrollably and takes hold of everything surrounding it. Interpreting Bowie’s lyrics is like interpreting complex math. There are three different perceptions of ‘Blackout’ from the album ‘Heroes’. They could all be right. Which one is the right one? We can’t ask Bowie anymore. Not that he would have answered. He never did. Bowie was a special case. Loved, admired and worshiped by everybody. The pop aficionados sang along to his songs, the pop connoisseurs lauded him for his courage to experiment. Bowie was always a step ahead in the world of pop, knew what was going on in the darkest caverns of musical culture. In avant-garde improvised music, electronic counterculture. Bowie processed these influences into pop songs that were embraced by the masses. The Berlin trilogy ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’ are generally regarded as the zenith of his work. Yet, I would like to strike a blow for ‘Dark Star’. Yes, the album just got released and Bowie just died. Yet: the way Bowie, fighting against cancer, walks ahead of pop music aged 69, is inimitable. ‘Dark Star’ is an album in which pop and avant-garde mix seamlessly. An album to treasure. Not in the least because there will never be another David Bowie album.

Theo Ploeg

January

This year’s best album? It was released in the beginning of December. ‘LIX’ by Glice sonifies our current times perfectly. Doesn’t try to find a connection with recent events, but gives an idea of what the world will sound like in the near future. Or maybe even, how it sounds already, for those willing to listen.
Glice is Ruben Braeken – one of the leading figures in the Amsterdam Indiescene who plays in a.o. Apneu Katadreuffe –  ,and Melle Kromhout,  the future noise professor who is currently finishing his studies concerning ‘noise ‘ at Amsterdam University. He is no stranger in Maastricht. During his last visit iArts students were glued to his lips. The duo combines multiple worlds: practical as well as theoretical, pop and noise, higher and lower culture. Not that you can recognise it as such. Glice doesn’t do pigeonholing. It’s an all in one deal. The separate parts are not hearable anymore. They probably weren’t there when Braeken and Kromhout were recording the album. The sessions must have been exciting. Glice’s music connects well to accelerationism, a theory in which the idea of an ever accelerating capitalism is a central theme. Only embracing it provides us with relief. Letting curiousity and tension win from fear. That’s what Glice expresses: noise, rythms, shreds of lyrics, beats and weird sounds move past in a kind of neo sjamanistic ritual. Glice seems to want to evoke the essence of noise: the primal power to break through the status quo. They themselves call their music ‘cosmic noise’. I prefer to call it ‘new weird ambient’. Alas, definitions don’t really matter. Glice is something – like any good ritual – which needs to be experienced without thinking too much about it.

‘Lix’ is on Bandcamp: https://glice.bandcamp.com/album/lix

Theo Ploeg