I tried to approach Planningtorock’s, All Love’s Legal in a purely musical context, but it is impossible to expound on any objective experience without taking into account the strong content held within the concept of the album. Not since the punk era has western popular music carried so much socio-political weight. I knew from the opening line, “Fall in love with whomever you want to” that no matter the arrangement or production of any of the songs contained within, the album could not merely be appraised on its musical merits alone. Yes, the artist has always peppered her music and performances with gender issues. Her pitched down vocal that negates any sex classification, her androgynous appearance and her album W (which is also an upside down M), have all confronted these issues before, but never have they been approached in such a direct and comprehensive manner. Every element of this album is made to askew your perception and that’s even before you get to the lyrics. From the slightly offbeat rhythm of Misogyny Drop Dead to the detuned synths on Beyond Binary Binds, these elements are all woven into the fabric of the album’s palette in an attempt to “queer sonics”. It’s an attempt that comes off well. And not just for the theme of the concept but for the musical package as a whole.
The album comes at a time, when the world’s media is focussing on the regression of homosexual policies in Africa and the music industry’s still ever- present gender inequality tactics. The ratio of men to women in executive positions was 2/1 in 2013 (according to Creative & Cultural Skills) and Nigeria’s very recent senseless persecution of people on the basis of their sexual preference has reached extreme proportions. This album has been in the works for some time now, and the first singles were released in the early part of 2013, but the issues it addresses are nothing new. Opening track, All Love’s Legal, would have been reactionary to prop 8, but it sees correlation to the sudden increase (or at least in media attention) in LGBT persecution around the world including Russia’s very public confrontations. At no point can you listen to this album and not take into account the current situation of gender politics. Even the beat-driven Public Love, whose vocals are nothing more than the repetition of the line “Public Love”, brings this message across. The horn that fronts the track is obtrusive and confronts its listener with a statement on public displays of affection, which is still illegal in 83 countries between people of the same gender. I suddenly recall something of my university days and of John Cage’s sexuality. For most part a closeted homosexual his works and commentary on silence is thought to be the result of not being able to speak publicly about his sexual orientation. Jam does not work in the lack of sound but rather in the profusion of it.
And what a pleasant sound it is. It would be easy and obvious to question these issues with aggressive elements, but Planningtorock wraps it in a completely accessible package for us. Let’s talk About Gender is a great disco track complete with a catchy melodic hook. I’ve been singing the words, “let’s talk about gender baby” all day after hearing this and I’m sure whoever comes in to contact with this song will do the same. Jam repeats the line so often in the song that it’s impossible not to talk about gender after hearing it. And yet, some people still don’t get the message. The issues are still there and especially rife in the music industry. The Nina Kravitz matter that arose a year or so ago is a perfect example. Some male commentators could not believe that a female DJ could be as good as their male counterparts and as justification they assaulted Ms. Kravitz with an onslaught of remarks referring to her sexual prowess as the only intrinsic worth of her musical career. The poor delusional fools have now made it even worse by exploiting femininity in marketing strategies, by featuring female artists only events. You are still implying and perpetuating gender inequalities in your strategies and you are turning it into a sales gimmick! Its what Rostron believes is a “sickness in society, the genderisation of intellect and skill in almost any profession”.
It’s inevitable that most that listen to this album, understanding its context will feel the same, but I fear she might be preaching to the choir. Will it open up discussions about gender where it matters? Amongst the execs of famous music brands for instance. Jam has a huge platform from which to sing it from and there is no doubt that many artists will support and extend her reach. Will it ever reach where it has to though? The fan base around Planningtorock and her contemporaries are not the audience who needs to hear this message. Will the message reach those Nigerian policemen attacking the LGBT community in AIDS support groups? Will it reach the promoters of HARD, who are using female DJs as a sales tactic? I fear not unfortunately. This is being released on Rostron’s own, Human Level recordings label, and not a major. It’s even unlikely that the majority male stake in the recording industry will be singing ‘let’s talk about gender baby’ as they stroll their corridors.
It’s a shame though, because it does need to be heard. Planningtorock has foregone the modesty, which artists like Lady Gaga still observe when approaching this subject. It’s an excellent example of contemporary electronic music, and will act as perfect gateway to confront the issues held within for those willing to listen. If only Putin could hear this. Maybe he’ll eventually put a shirt on and re-evaluate his stance on P-u-b-l-i-c L-o-v-e !