Natural space is debatable. What is it? Where do we find it? Does it matter? In this advancing world, we sometimes find people forsaking digital connections for the “real thing”. I have sat in classes with students who claim Facebook, Email and Twitter are evil and wrong and unnatural. They say “pick up the phone” instead. Huh.
But, I get it. I love sitting down with my favorite people for a home-cooked meal, a slow night of discovery and laughter. Put on some tea and stay awhile. Even those who despise the idea of conservation and ecological care like the idea of a weekend in the woods, time spent around a fire away from screens.
The argument goes that digitizing interactions of all kinds leads to a more disjointed and inauthentic community. We only really know each other and ourselves in “natural” physical relationships.
I’m not here to argue these feelings: I think they are valid concerns, but, ultimately, short-sighted. That’s not the point. The point is, many of us love and need our technology and, yet, feel somehow drawn to old-fashioned relationships. You know, like in the good old days of Mad Men, when business meetings happened in the same room over a strong gin. Hand shakes, smiles, eyes met.
And then we have our entertainment. The stories and art that drive our desire for connection. The things that “remind us we are alive” and often reveal our deep need for others. The music that reminds us of love. The movies that remind us of desperation. The books that remind us of hope. Many of our art forms are bound up in technology. Not necessarily computers (although most), but instruments, electricity, paintbrushes, tools of various kinds, paper and binding, etc. are all technologies we use to express ourselves (outside of “ourselves”).
Enter Little Dragon. Last Thursday (now many moons ago), they played to a packed house in Fresno at Audie’s Olympic. Tickets were more expensive than usual for a show at Audie’s but Fresno showed up with great excitement. As Little Dragon took the stage led by lead singer Yukimi Nagano, the crowd grew restless with energy. Little Dragon exploded with ambient beats, distorted drums, keys and heavily processed vocals. The drum rhythms (part R&B, part blues) drove the energy as the floor dipped and swayed with enthusiasm. By the time Yukimi sang “’cause we’re a nation of forgetters” repeatedly (“After the Rain” off of their self-titled 2007 album), the entire audience was in the palm of her small hands. She channels Bjork and Karen O for the club kids. Delivers lyrics without a hint of irony, believes in what she does as she plays her tambourine across the stage, twitching and dancing to the sultry tunes pulsating into the room.
Some of the most technology-driven music is the easiest to dance to in clubs across the world. As electronica, hip hop, electronic versions of pop and rock, and DJ’s continue their dominance of the young global music scenes, young (and old) folks are flocking to venues and festivals around the world to shake what their momma gave them. A physical and primal response to music made in a post-physical world.
Little Dragon produces sounds that are anything but “natural”. Heavily produced, electronic and digital, they somehow still connect most with our basic desire to move our bodies, to act in a natural and ancient way: to dance. The frenetic energy and creative sounds are gateways, encouragement to live without the constraints that we usually associate with technology and advancements in society.
The crowd reached its height during the encore. The last song they played was the slower-paced “Twice”. Yukimi encouraged everyone to “keep dancing” even as the crowd slowed to a gentle sway, no less enraptured. As the keys drove the melody and the wrenching vocals kicked in, the crowd hung on every word. The dark tone felt natural after the seductive beats and electronic heaviness that permeated their songs. The delicate lyrics rang true as Little Dragon gently let the crowd down from our high. An age-old tale of love and heartbreak, of misunderstanding and relationships, was used as a pillow to land upon after the wings of more club-friendly jams. Now we have new stories ad questions: what keeps us human in this digital world? How do we connect with each other in authentic ways? Little Dragon’s live performance gave us the possibilities, the courage and the soundtrack to start trying.