Monday, April 20, 2009
GFC A-Ok? We need a new house notion...? [Unplugging 'dance music' with a big douche called Bankrupt]
You might have noticed that SSGs has changed in the past few months, with a heavier emphasis on live sets and less editorializing, ranting and wanking on about various micro obsessions. ‘Good!’ I hear you say. Ahem… well, we’ve all been ridiculously busy, it’s true, but for me personally, another key factor has been my own disengagement from that understanding of electronic music known as ‘dance music’. I’ll explain.
My initial transition into electronic music came by way of electronica, especially Sonig, Warp and Sub Rosa. But by 1999 or so, when I was a first year undergraduate, it was all about the parties and the drugs: I had discovered drum’n’bass, acid techno and minimal techno, and I would head out into the night with a head full of kick drums at least once a week. It was a fix, one I enjoyed, one that connected me to the music in a viscerally embodied way. In those days, I didn’t trainspot, I just danced my anonymous dance to the anonymous beat, often being laid down by an anonymous DJ (I really mean it. I’m not sure even she knew who she was at times). Coming out of rock (noise/indie/post) it was the largest of liberations finally I was freed from the musically masturbatory cult of personality that I saw on stage accompanying almost every singer/songwriter/guitar-based musical group. A side-effect of rave culture had been the invention of a completely new and different way of relating to music, and I was young, full of the devil, and loved it.
Five years on and not only going out to listen to music, but also studying and choosing the event with the utmost care (the lineup, the venues, the soundsystem) had become integral: provoked by Tokyo, my standards had gone through the roof, and I came to demand and expect what the Eastern Capital could provide – world-class talent playing to dedicated crowds in great clubs with outstanding sound systems. I got spoilt.
Europe was a partial disappointment: Fabric was (is) an overcrowded shithole full of coked up muthafuckers; Rex is a sleazy hangover from the seventies where talent and a great system are wasted on a daggy dancefloor full of out-of-towners and Erasmus students on the pull; Berghain was fine, but everything in Berlin seemed intimately tied to getting very, very, very, very wasted for a long time…. even though it was often almost impossible to score pills. Very frustrating.
In all these places, something was ‘missing’. Or, to put it another way, the precise problem was that ‘the proper way of listening to dance music’ in the Euro understanding was intimately tied to binge culture, to hedonism, to getting wasted. Escape was inescapable, even (especially) in Berlin, where I thought a significant minority would be there for the music. And sure, a minority were… but they were wasted too. But the majority? They were only there for the drugs. Hell, I was there for the drugs too, and I still enjoyed the ‘party’ aspect of it… but the music bit had seemed to fade into the background, replaced by a scene that was driven by visual/fashion cultures – haircut techno. Was it me? Was I just getting old and crotchety? Was I sentimentally romanticizing the past, or just painfully shedding it, only to discover that the present was too cool to touch without shivering. Whatever the reasons, it was impossible for me to capture either the dance connoisseur/auteur/otaku culture I’d enjoyed in Tokyo, or the anonymous rave oblivion of the 90s. I could try if I wanted to, but once the drugs wore off, I’d remember where I was, and it wasn’t ‘then’ anymore. Worse, it was like the ‘Eels’ song from the third season of the Mighty Boosh:
‘Elements of the past, and elements of the future, combining to make something – not quite as good as either.’
Returning to Melbourne accelerated the Eels experience by a factor of five… I could certainly enjoy going out to get wasted (which I still did, but not as much, and not as often), but it was getting nigh on impossible to get back… and slowly (with the preternatural onset of middle age) my urge to go out was beginning to be met with an urge not to go out. That my Melbourne friends were overwhelmingly uninterested in staying out past three and doing drugs with a bunch of mostly cliquey, dull, unfriendly clubbers in second rate clubs might have had something to do with it… I found the whole malarkey actively alienating, and I’m convinced that ‘it’s not just me’. Even factoring in the fact that I’m spoilt, picky, snobby and over-the-hill, something has changed, and not for the better. ‘Electronic dance music’ (that particular way of relating to and understanding electronic music) had dug itself with a groove into a rut of no return. It was stuck on loop in the late 90s, with the same signifiers, the same venues, the same stale ideas about ‘the proper way of listening to dance music’: added to that was all the ‘neo’ stuff, a horrible hodge-podge of new rave and surf wear, the perfect outfit for another weekend’s worth of corporate raving and outer suburban glowstick waving, jagerbombs, methed-up bouncers, and Trentemoller. It's true there are still some good parties, some good DJs, some good events... but fewer and farther between, and overwhelmed by what has become a particularly nasty culture of hedonistic consumerism based on being glossy and getting fucked and bombed on drugs designed to reinforce ego.
And now there's just such a massive disjuncture, because production community has moved on: these days Martyn and Flying Lotus have no problem meeting and collaborating; Seth Troxler begins to snap at the heels of Ricardo Villalobos… and listeners are listening, too: even died-in-the-wool Pitchfork listeners at least try to ‘get’ Skull Disco; Mount Kimbie listens to DJ Koze, Koze plays Mount Kimbie and Animal Collective… but where the fuck is your local clubland? At 10:15 on a Saturday night, it’s waiting for its baggy to arrive is what (purchased on cash advance). And you have to have pretty strong powers of repression and denial not to see the chains of equivalence between this moribund and morbid culture of sniffing, snorting, and strutting about and its enormous toll on the earth itself, whether it’s the ridiculous number of air miles the DJ jetset culture uselessly ‘racks up’, or the current drug wars (and associated instabilities) taking place in Colombia, Mexico, in Jamaica, in West Africa. Meanwhile, back here in la la land, behind the walls, the sad old beast still has a few sniffs left in her.
To wit: 'dance music' always involved drugs, and fashion and fuckwits, no question. But at some point, a music culture that took a lot of interest in drugs became a corporatised drug-taking culture that took some interest in the brands of certain 'names' in 'dance music'. In retrospect, I think it will be associated with the worst excesses of the pre-bust era. With this in mind, I suggest keeping some happy snaps lying around to show to your grandchildren. You can say, 'beware children, for it can all go so terribly, horribly wrong.' Or, more directly: 'the planet was destroyed for this.' We can leave it up to them to decide whether it was worth it.
I have a very strong (and slightly tingling) feeling that the current economic contractions will squeeze a lot of this tired old detritus out, and as far as 90% of them is concerned, this is something I heartily welcome. Hopefully a whole parochial industry lousy with VIP laminates, redundant ideas and third-rate cocaine will get washed out into the Bay… but what’s gonna take its place? Who gives a fuck, actually. But no, as a matter of fact, I have a feeling that something good, something young, something rooted in its locality but with an ear to the world of now will grow up in its place. No doubt it will be quickly modulated, managed, and subordinated to a profitable and marketable imitation of former/same, but in the meantime, something good might happen. Something interested in what, I trust and know, all you ssgs are interested in: music.
...or please tell me that 'business as usual' is okay, and I'm just a jaded wanker... what say you?