- Resilience and Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism by Robin James
Winchester: Zero Books, 2015, 223 pp.
During the final episode of their thirty-ninth season, sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL) spoofed the electronic dance music (EDM) scene in a digital short film entitled When will the Bass Drop? The short centers on a fictional EDM white DJ named Davvincii performing for a multiracial audience at a New York City dance club. As Davvincii plays the opening record, club-goers frantically dance to and excitedly proclaim their love of the track (screaming at each other, for example, "This is music!"). Such adoration is the result of Davvincii's ability to capture and exploit the audience's anticipation of the bass entering the song (i.e., the bass "dropping"). Indeed, the hook of the song, "When will the bass drop?" is not only joined by Davvincii teasing the audience with deliberately failed attempts to press the bass button on his turntable set, but also, and more importantly, the song's building intensity. The rhythm seemingly moves faster as the repetitive synths rise practically beyond the limits of aural legibility and, instead, toward unintelligible noise. These are audible heights so high that the only other direction, the only way out, is down—dropping the bass. As the song intensifies, patrons prostrate to Davvincii and willingly and uncritically give him cash, jewelry, and credit card payments. Finally, at the song's most sonically intense moment, the music stops and African American hip-hop producer turned EDM DJ, Lil' Jon, appears on Davvincii's [End Page 179] DJ Mac screen and screams, "Get turned up to death!" The bass drops and the audience rejoices, with some patrons dying from excitement; their heads literally explode. The film short ends with Davvincii levitating from the DJ booth and telepathically incapacitating the remaining live audience members.
The SNL digital short, in spirit, execution, and popularity (it's garnered over twenty million hits on YouTube), captures the central themes of Robin James's most recent book, Resilience and Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism. In it, James seeks to grapple with the ubiquity of certain contemporary pop music aesthetics (like the soaring synths and bass drops). She brilliantly argues that the prevalence of and pleasure in these pop aesthetics are intertwined with, shape, and are shaped by neoliberal logics, and in particular, the discourse of resilience. For James, neoliberalism "upgrades systems designed to secure against, conquer, or otherwise 'cover' (to use James Snead's term) damage . . . Instead of expending resources to avoid damages, resilience discourse recycles damages into more resources" (7, emphasis in original). Neoliberalism, and by extension resilience discourse, organizes social life in ways that necessitate and desire rather than exclude and disavow injury, risk, and fragmentation. It uses and recycles such disruptions for profit. James draws on Nietzsche's famous "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger" narrative, in addition to Naomi Klein's theory of disaster capitalism (2007), in order to illustrate the discourse of resilience underpinning the logic of neoliberalism, and how its ultimate goal is to create surplus capital—to "end up ahead of where you initially started (one step back, two steps forward)" (5). As such, the club-goers in the SNL short are most euphoric when Davvincii heightens the intensity of the EDM song because this moment demands that they engage and withstand (read: become resilient to) the noise.1 And the crowd rewards Davvincii, affectively and financially, because of his incitement to noise and musical mandate to resiliency; Davvincii produces resilient subjects who in turn (re)invest in him, and by extension, neoliberalism.
While resilience anchors the book, James is particularly interested in exploring the racial, gendered, and sexual manifestations of the neoliberal logic of resilience. James argues that as neoliberalism has "upgraded" (her term) political economic systems to include damage, it has also, drawing on bell hooks (1984), upgraded its attendant "classical white supremacist capitalist patriarchy . . . into multi-racial white supremacist patriarchy, or MRWaSP" (11). And it's here that James makes a key contribution into how...