Beating back the Beats
Have you noticed a spreading blingtardtribe of rich primitives all around us? Wearing the cost of a cheap holiday on their heads at all times like a big neon "rob my shit" sign covered in diamonds and dumb? Some of them are even very good friends of mine. Normally sensible, smart specimens of humanity have been taken in by a cult of conspicuous cash abuse in the sacred name of music itself. This is the Bastardy of Beats, a twisted and desperate genius and here is the untold inside story.Andre Young is a genius better known as Dr. Dre. Now I was an East Coast hardcore holdout, who was horrified as often middle class Californians donned bad haircuts and Raiders cap gangsta gear, spitting sub Iceberg Slim (and Ice T) fantasies over an obvious re-recorded Best of George Clinton. Of course the white suburbs loved it - nothing scary like Chuck D talking about revolution over baroque rhythms built up hard and fast like a sacred mosaic. This was late 70s FM PopFunk with a new retread of street cred. Of course with age and bread things wear down, but the entrepreneurial itch that made Mr. Young hang-up his surgeon's costume and abandon sometimes ironic electro ensured a new dawn.Dr. Dre is first and foremost a first class businessman and branding expert. This is one of the key reasons his hippop crushed the admittedly sometimes tired East Coast approach with Corporate Californian magic. In 2006 he started to realise that they days of the cheap Walkman were dying and a new vista of faux personal hi fi, suitably branded of course, was opening up. Shops were filled with rubbish headphones made by Chinese prison labour with not much to choose between them. Too much product, too many brands, too cheap and all too often too rubbish. Or at least, that was how it seemed.He would no doubt have been aware of one of the biggest business turnaround experts of all time. Nicolas Hayek. Hayek was a Lebanese-Swiss banker (back when that term meant responsible rather than ratty and rapacious) hired by a desperate Swiss government to wind up what was left of the Swiss watch industry. The Swiss had ignored the coming of quartz and digital tech in the 60s, and new Japanese competition in the 70s. Responding by cutting prices and quality, offering more me too product than anyone wanted until even the boxes and wristbands were shit. Just like the German camera industry before it. The suits expected him to sell it all off and close it down in the classic crapitalist style. Instead, he shocked them with a new plan. Cut the number of brands, products and places they were sold down to the bone - leaving only the strong. Raise prices massively and realise "we're not selling watches, we're making jewellery". Invest in new technology to make the parts used by the new Japanese giants and everyone else. And make a great new cheap consumer product, the Swatch, to get young people interested in stylish watches again. Even get a £20 Primark special today, and it has a Swiss heart in it somewhere unseen.Dre looked at the sea of cheap headphones and copied the easy, vision free part of the plan. Headphones as head jewelry, with a strong brand. All the other major electronic firms had wrecked their brands to the point their best products no longer had any premium attached to them or even trust. Sure, Panasonic, JVC and Sony had headphones at just £40 and even top pros had trouble spending more than £100 getting the best kit. But a sea of disposable £12.99 HMV specials had turned all these great names into swear words. Dre saw this too. And his name was still fucking cool.The great names in Audio were starting to hurt, bad in a post MP3 cesspit era. Many of which you might not have even heard of, like Monster Cable.I remember reading a feature in the Financial Times, the last newspaper better than bogroll in the UK, in around 2008, about the whole dirty deal. Dre gave a lecture about how far music appreciation had fallen, and how kids no longer heard anything like what he intended. And how his new Monster made product intended to change all that. Of course, as above, an investment no larger than a couple of takeaway meals could get you a Budokan Headset tough and perfect from those old names. But no-one trusted them or cared anymore.It was a PR dream, perfect Key Messages around music and quality. But what did it mean? A new generation of very very very expensive well branded headphones tuned for the heavy basic bass and limited frequency ranges of today's plop pop. Fast forward to today and Monster is kicked to the kerb, with fifth rate Taiwanese smartphone slinger HTC owning the show, and rubbish non Apple laptops with slightly tweaked software also with the Beats bliss.The Branding Genius even extended to the Ughlympics. While this fascist display of atomic superpeeple created new crimes to the extent that if your favourite record shop had LPs by The Olympic Runners in the window during the time, a visit from the Police would be in store, Dre thought bigger. Rather than spew dumb gold in the trough with everyone from McDonalds to poison gas manufacturers, just give kit to the supermen. And then get on telly. Worked a treat. Our Brazillian Brothers and Sisters have had a better attitude about the whole thing, asking en masse why their great nation has first world single use stadiums in store and third world schools, but we had Danny Fucking Boyle's Guardian History Parody of kids bouncing on beds so that's all ok.We're far from as great today, even though we probably have more sustainable nappies available widely.Everyone is happy, except anyone who cares about music.Beats bling costs at least three times of anything proper, our own Philippe once marvelled that "professional DJs can't spend more than £100" on this kit. Note the word "professional" As in people that use their headphones not as a fashion statement, but as an everyday business tool. To reject this truth would be like trashing vinyl in favour of £400 USB dicksticks filled with Mp3s and covered in rubies.So what to do? Under £50 get hip with the Panasonic RP-HTX7AE-K. They look retro to the point some might be unfortable, but they are well built with great sound. Need more? Cap your budget at £120 and check out What HiFi's Best Buys.Just don't, and I mean don't, call the Doctor.