Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable that indie kids would have ‘taken dance music seriously’, but what with the likes of Kompakt and the DFA (with Pitchfork betwixt and between them tine after tine) all that’s changed. It’s been a long time since James Murphy (or his character in ‘Losing My Edge’) ‘first played Daft Punk to the rock kids’, but one of the things that’s remained fascinating for me after (and despite) all the cross-pollination and debordering is that you effectively have two communities listening to each other’s work’s with vastly different ears and expectations… or do you?
Witness the indie reaction to Hercules and Love Affair. A DFA dud, apparently… I confess I speak as someone who genuinely and deeply wondered why people liked Sound of Silver so much. And guess how much I’m digging H & LA? But I digress (in order to engage in a wild and unsupportable generalisation): the people who loved Sound of Silver probably also thought Gui Boratto’s Chromophobia and the Field’s From Here We Go Insipid were the dance albums of 2007…
And so here we are, in a place and time where people with vastly different soundmaps have converged upon a common field (however insipid or sublime)… and from here we go mutually misunderstood…?
One of the ways this shows is when slacker boys bang against amphetamine subcultures. A lot of indie kids who talk/think about dance music have never taken ecstasy in a club or danced all night to techno – and they don’t care to. Take, for example, the friend of a friend of mine. He had eagerly pre-purchased his Superpitcher ticket… but when he got to the gig, he was the only one there. Why? Could it be that Kompakt was reviled in Melbourne… ?!
‘What time is Superpitcher playing?’ he asked the bartender, checking his watch and thinking, sheesh, it’s ten o’clock already.
‘About five AM,’ replied a pierced fellow polishing a glass.
‘Fuck that,’ he said, and went home.
A lot of indie kids dislike house and are deeply suspicious of the gay/disco/gospel culture that is one of its foundational tropes (so are a lot of techno 'men' too though). This is ‘bad’, ‘cheesy’ music that is made using ‘soulless’ machines, instead of ‘real musicians’ (and Steve Albini). And besides, who wants to take E and listen to ‘doof doof doof’ when you can get drunk and dance around with (admittedly better looking) indie girls on the sauce while the DJ plays the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Maps’. You can mouth ‘they don’t love you like I love you’ at her while you crack fat over the thought of Karen O’s sweat, torso and lipstick.
But (on the other hand) indie kids became curious, or, at the very least, it simply won’t do to dismiss dance music anymore… you might lose your preciously accumulated cred if you sneer at the wrong cat, if you don’t form some kind of opinion on Ricardo. Basically, the contemporary indie consensus seems to be that one ‘should’ listen to some electronic music ‘in some way’ (but only ‘the good stuff’). This has meant that ‘the good stuff’ has been reviewed, usually by half-decent writers with half-baked literary pretensions, who can hide their ignorance and perplexity behind a whole bunch of very prettily phrased phoney baloney.
But what’s ‘the good stuff’? Look out! Here Comes Love… was one of the albums that perfectly captured the condensation point. Indie kids (who’ve never been to a rave) raved about it; dance kids (with some exceptions) just thought the ‘pitcher was raving mad… man, did you hear his cover of ‘Fever’? But, however much Aksel and Kompakt committed ‘credibility suicide’ in danceland with Here Comes Love, both artist and label got a helluva lot of indie kudos from it, and roughly since then Kompakt invariably gets ‘taken seriously’ in reviews from indie rags and websites in a way that Perlon, say, would never do in a million years (Ricardo excepted).
Clearly, it’s not just that ‘Here Comes Love was crap’, even though, I freely concede that I think so, due to my expectations as well as the aesthetic prejudices that I hold (and cherish). What it was, really, was a whole new soundmap (with its own expectations, its own aesthetic prejudices) being brought to bear on ‘dance music’. And this is significant because it is this ‘indiemap’ that has become one of the decisive filters of new electronic dance music, shaping the understanding and response of new releases.
Recently, I read a review that typifies this way of listening to (and talking about) dance music. I want to dismiss it, but I can't, although it smacks of egregious misunderstandings (to me, to me) and is riddled with lazy, ignorant comparisons and non-sensical rhetorical flourishes. But why not dismiss it, if I diss it? Well, simply, it’s because I immediately recognise the indiemap, with its implied audience and the buttons it’s trying to push with them. I should add that this isn’t a Pitchfork review, and that although ‘the fork’ have been responsible for some of the most outrageously stupid and misguided dance music reviews, that they also ‘employ’ (I use the word with the looseness of empty pockets in baggy trousers) writers like Tim Finney, Phillip Sherburne and Mark Richardson, all of whom know their shit and write very eloquently about electronic music. Check out Sherburne’s review of H & LA, or Mark Richardson’s review of Quaristice, which was much more thorough and informative than the one I wrote for RA.
These are all great reviews, and nothing like the one I’m griping about – XLR8R’s for Sascha Funke’s Mango. Now, to these ears, Mango is an all-hat-and-no-pants harmonic/atmospheric tech-house workout as thin and underwhelming as Funke’s moustache. But I never ‘got’ Funke, never liked much of what other people said was his best work.. I never even felt the need to keep Bravo on my back-up drive after I’d wiped it off my mp3 player and sold the CD copy, let’s just put it that way. Anyway, you can read the whole XLR8R review here, as well as RA’s review here, but it’s not the artistic merit of Mango (or lack thereof) that I’m interested in. Anyway, to the chase!
Here’s the opener: “Somewhere between dancefloor utility, lazy-time pop music, and an audiophile’s workout lies the perfect techno album.”
Leaving aside the dubious truth-value of the claims the writer makes, what’s striking is the embedded assumption of ‘what techno is for’, which is, as the concluding sentence reinforces, “listening, dancing, and sleepwalking.” It is these three frames (and Funke’s success within them) that, for the reviewer, “reaffirm(s) Funke as a current master of the minimal techno form” as well as confirming “that the genre still has much more going for it than just its benchmark thup.” Well, I’ve never even heard a ‘thup’, but, unlike most dance music (Perlon) – which just goes thup – Mango is good because you can listen to it, dance to it and fall asleep listening to it (but not in a boring way). This listening, dancing, sleepwalking idea (the 'good things' forever threatened by some kind of unfortunate backsliding back into the land of thup) get expanded on in the next paragraph:
“At times, Mango just feels like an incredibly somnolent rock record, something Morr Music might deliver in a particularly ballsy release cycle; in other spots, it’s full of blinds-shut, bell-toned – oh, how he loves that sound – brooding ambience. Of course, there are plenty of Funke micro beats, perfectly placed, always developing in some way, like compass points leading from a wet winter street into the club that never sleeps yet never really pulls out of its dream state.”
Indie kid A: So, how’d you like the new Villalobos track?
Indie kid B: Yeah, well, I rate it for dancing and listening to, but as far as lazy-time pop music goes, this one sucks, man…
Indie kid A: Yeah… and it keeps on going ‘thup’ - but I *did* like the microbeats.
Indie kid B: Mmm, totally…
Just behind the blossoming bush of adjectives ornamenting the three categories of merit that can be awarded to techno (‘listening’, ‘dancing’ and ‘sleepwalking’) are a pair of tiny little screaming symbols that look like this: ‘?!’. They’re the symbols of a person totally out of place and depth, lost, scared, and worried moreover that they might reveal the at any moment the truth and depth, nay, the 'thup' of their perplexity… but they’re also howling symbols of non-recognition that can easily shift shape into cooing, soothing sighs of contentment, once the categories it blesses and recognises are re-introduced. Witness the ‘relief’: Nathan Fake makes ‘shoegaze techno’. ‘Pop’ goes the dance producer; ‘Scha-wing’ go the indie-kids. Meanwhile, back at the thup cave…
But this is ungenerous piss-taking (as much fun as I'm having with it) – at least this guy’s got his understanding of what the music is/does for him, an understanding that his friends will comprehend and relate to… and this, precisely, is what music is about to most people. Sociability, soundmap, bonding entwined memories and values – the empire of like. There is an idiom (?indieom?), and to me the Mango review was an exemplary form written in this dialect… the fact that I think it’s crap is beside the point… almost... 'the point' (or the question) to me is this:
Why don't techno kids have an idiom for discussing indie music?
Well, it's like Rik from the Young Ones once said to a senior citizen:
'Well, I've got news for you. I think old people are boring. And the only reason you don't understand our music, is because you don't like it.'
....over to Chris...
Chris’ two cents:
When Pete forwarded me the review in question, it immediately made me think of the Big Lebowski. And this scene in particular:
“Donnie – you’re outta your element”. Exactly. The indie kids and the reviewers they read lack the frame of reference to be able to understand and comprehend techno (broadly understood). I don’t have a problem with this when it comes to those who listen to indie; that is unless they start trying to have an ‘informed’ conversation with me. Of course, it is completely an individual’s choice how they engage with music. I must admit, I sometimes struggle to understand how compatible a love of techno is with indie (or when people say their favourite djs are Richie Hawtin and Tiesto). But at the end of the day, it isn’t my call.
Reviewers, however, are a different story. Doctors have to sign up to a hippocratic oath, reviewers really should follow a policy of ‘if you don’t know, don’t say’. When it comes to Funke, the reviewer’s only frame of reference is the Supermayer experiment of ’07, or as he so ineloquently puts it: “Supermayer’s super-minimal-cum-electro-pop/rock effort Save the World”. “Donnie. Shut the fuck up!” “Super-minimal-cum-electro-pop/rock”? Surely a phrase like that should get any writer fired on the spot. Anyway, I digress. The point is this – what exactly does the Supermayer album have in common with the Funke one? Very little, beyond the fact that it is probably one of the few dance albums the reviewer has listened to in recent times and is thus able to compare Funke to. I really can’t see any other decent explanation for this stupid comparison. Again, this kind of (il)logic on a personal level is fine, but it does not cut it for a reviewer.
On a deeper level, what frustrates me about this is that it helps to (re)construct a completely inaccurate frame of reference for those outside of techno – indie kids/whoever – whose understanding is influenced by those lacking even the most basic comprehension of what our music is about. It is exactly these kind of Donnie reviewers that reinforce the (mis)perceptions that surround techno and lead to some feeling the need to justify/explain the love for techno/house/mnml (as I felt I needed to for a long time).
Personally, I don’t give a flying fuck about indie. Never had, never will. I am an unabashed techno purist through and through. Saying that, an undeniable overlap/crossover/interest between indie and dance exists and will surely continue. Given this situation, the best we can hope for is having the frames of references expanded, challenged and pushed. And to do this, it is important that peeps with techno knowledge talk to the indie crowd, rather than leaving it up to a depressing large crowd of Donnies…