A Case of Nostalgia: David Bowie & Visuals

Feelings of nostalgia are ripe within the music industry and community. While nothing truly new in music has occurred since Beethoven, much of what we like in the latest artists and songs is that they sound like artists of the past – like “him”, “her”, or “them”. That is to say, these are two sides of the same coin. When I came across the mysterious band Visuals recently, I found that there was more cache to the nostalgia coin than I’d previously thought. Signed to Nicolas Jaar’s Other People label, the band hails, purportedly, from either Berlin or Brooklyn. A somewhat fitting origin considering their influences. Visual’s cover of David Bowie’s transcendent song “Space Oddity,” is worth all the borrowed nostalgia my few shekels of writerly interest could purchase.

Speaking of borrowed nostalgia and Bowie, lion of the downtown scene, Mike Doughty, gave a telling critique of the sentimentality and referencing in music at the recent Downtown Literary Festival. Doughty’s point, to put it roughly, is that we’re misguided to think we missed out if we were not at CBGBs in ’82 or Berghain in ’12. The legendary scenes, shows, and artists of yesteryear are subject to the continual production of newer, albeit highly referential, jams and tunes. Indeed, the historical record of music is awesome. But a desire for time that’s either waning or past, leads us to forgo the great music and musicians working today. This is partly why we groan a little when Bowie or say, The Strokes come out with a new album, but get giddy when SOHN or Washed Out release a single.

In this soundbite from a live show at Hammersmith in ’73, Bowie claims “Not only is it the last show of the tour, but, it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.” Yet, I’m listening some 40 years later with mixed feelings. It’s not the best Bowie song I’ve heard, but it’s certainly the most sentimental. I want both to be in sweaty, frantic, and big-haired Hammersmith, as well as to be here in the present day, where I can listen to Visuals and be pleased with the limits and breadth of the Internet era.

Something special to electronic music is that it morphs, changes, and dare I say evolves in a manner that rock n’ roll cannot. The remixing, editing, and other forms of manipulation keep electronic music dynamic and vibrant. Whereas rock n’ roll’s beauty is in improvisation during live performances. Where those two come close to meeting, as in the above Bowie cover by Visuals, is where nostalgia exceeds itself and a sublime moment awaits.

Here’s one last track from Visuals and then I’ll be out of your hair. Thanks for reading and listening. -François of The Aftermath

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