Thursday, June 18, 2009

Post Post Mortem on Minimal: undead (and loving it!)

(NB: fast forward to the bottom and hit play on the embedded clip for the PC-preferred soundtrack).
In 2002, Alex Petridis made his Twain-like report of dance music’s death to the bemused readers of the Guardian. By 2006, minimal itself had become greatly exaggerated, colonising the consciousness of House Nation and the dancefloors of Eye-Beef-Uh and forcing almost everyone I was interviewing at the time to say ‘something’ about the dreaded schminimal. Even Alexis Petridis went to Berlin to have a crack. But mostly, if you were making/playing/remixing/discoursing about minimal at the time, being minimal amounted to disavowing it. Never in all those years did I actually ever interview any minimal artist who openly avowed minimal. It was so reliable, but so weird – weird ‘cos it would seem ridiculous in the context of any other genre: ‘No, we don’t play drum’n’bass.’ ‘House? Nup, never did, don’t know what you’re talking about…’ ‘…Blues musicians?! Not us…’ Etc.

2009: now we know minimal blew up, then blew over the cuckoo’s nest – but not before everybody denied being in the midst of it. The rhetorical after-effect has been a triple ‘nothing’: a movement with no adherents, a genre with no claimants, a sound with no landmarks, no legacy, and no mourners. Minimal… any takers? Going, going, gone… never was.

But no! This is only for those who are over it. What remains is much, much weirder. In 2009, not only is everybody who was never into minimal over minimal; not only was nobody ever minimal (the most minimal least of all). In 2009, for the others, for those who must have missed that twitter… minimal is also more popular than ever before.

For those stalwart, still excited boom-click/plip-plop devotees, minimal isn’t dead, it’s undead. Undead and loving it. And how.

Indeed, how? Why for the love of god? And yet it is so. But before I tell you about why this is undeniably, enjoyably, profitably so, we need to ask: just what the fuck was/is minimal? Because to throw down a smokebomb of obfuscation before drawing a cape of disavowal across our minimal selves (before vanishing) would be to repeat what was already an extremely irritating gesture – so I’ll spare you.

So: minimal, in the sense in which I am going to talk about it - which is not the sense of minimal qua Studio Eins, Minimal Nation, or Plastikman – is music predominantly made on laptops using software sequencers, based on the structures of house, but with its sound palette drawn from the loops, synthesizers and (above all) the effects units of said software suites. Statistically, it is Ableton music, and sociologically, it is made by geeky boys in the first half of their probable adult existence in order to win recognition, label-mating, gigs and remix opportunities from other geeky boys who have the names, labels, and releases to justify (or at least prove) the extraordinary amount of hours they’ve spent looking at LCD screens and occasionally touching USB-connected knob-articulated control surfaces (all of which their pets, and even girlfriends, find enduringly inscrutable). If you subtract the content of what they are making, it is an activity that has more in common with World of Warcrack than with the Summer of Love.

In the early 00s, in the wake of clicks, cuts, and glitches, minimal was new, and fun. It was digital, it was networked, it was young, free and full of the devil, Pluggo, and its own importance, especially after the collective bandwagon decided, for combinations of the above reasons, that it was also… cool. And anyone could play. Trust me, the Warcraft parallel holds true right the way down.

Minimal was a subtractive synthesis, not least of all because it removed the history-bound, sex, drugs, colour and identity-obsessed genres of the 90s: house as house couldn’t, wouldn’t stop being black and gay (Terre, shhh, no more AIDS talk and Madge bashing, okay… ); while techno couldn’t, wouldn’t stop getting all paranoid-schizoid – am I black, am I white? Do I originate from Detroit, Berlin, Roland, Poland, or just amphetamine abuse…?! Golly, the confusion was enough to make you attack people with layer upon layer of snare loops… minimal's response was to wiggle its bassline-driven skinny boygirl ass out of this impasse by borrowing ‘as little as necessary’ from both: the boom click, the bassline (thank you, house), the sci-fi, and the mainroom dancefloor (thank you, techno/Richie). It was newly minted, fresh-faced, exciting: eighteen year old kids with laptops who didn’t know (or care) who DJ Derrick Jackmaster Levant was could send clubbers on down, down, down! past Fred Schneider and the Rock Lobster, right down into the k-hole, the coked hell, the e wasteland, right back into the emptiness of Berlin bliss, Tuesday 4pm: you could move to Berlin, get a Hitler Youth inspired haircut (vicious fade on the sides, long, asymmetrical fringe in front), start a label, print t-shirts, and be cool.

But the zeitgeist, followed by the bandwagooneers, hearts all aflutter, moved on: ‘cos there was a soul revival going on - somebody black/authentic said so - and dubstep was cooler. So was funky house. And bassline. ‘Cos the kids were even younger. And knew/cared even less about DJ Derrick Jackmaster Levant; either that, or they were now religiously collecting and possessively cherishing his Levant's records, and every DJ who played them. DJs no longer even felt the need to disavow minimal anymore. Now it was:‘I’m just so glad that, you know, people are listening to music that’s just much more soulful and funky than a few years ago… yeah, that was a bad period…’

But meanwhile, far below the Desolat planes of the commercial takeover of minimal by prog house, a fertile, stable community of laptops had taken hold of the imaginations of our impressionable youth… and, without ever strictly avowing minimal, they, now that those cool clouds had passed over, established a commitment to Rave Unto the Plip-Plop Fantastic - for as long as it took, by all beats necessary.

The plug outlet for this kind of minimal in Melbourne have been the Lab boys, who’ve been putting on small, well-organised parties in diverse locations in Melbourne for the last couple of years. A few things strike you about Lab: they know how to throw a party (in a good venue); they care about the sound quality; they recognise their own kind (and routinely book the acts that are the best reflection of their sound); and they couldn’t give a fuck about what’s happening outside their own network.

One side of this is excellent, ‘cos it means you can be guaranteed that if it’s a Lab party, you know exactly what you’re going to get: minimal, minimal, and more fucking minimal – with no alibis, no apologies, and no concessions to the fickle winds of fashion. The Lab guys that I’ve met are all excellent people, and they’re doing a great job at representing the sound they believe in: in other words, they’re dogmatists for all the right reasons.

Having said all that, they are dogmatists: and the sound they’re pimping is exactly the sound they were pimping three years ago. It barely changes, not over the course of an evening, nor over the course of years. And the impression I’m left with from going to these parties recently and speaking to the fans who dig it is that they’re actively, even aggressively, un-curious about the broader currents going around. It’s almost an anti-curiousity.

I’m not laying all this at the feet of Lab. This isn’t Lab’s problem, and I’m not here to diss one of the few crews that just gets on with doing what they’re doing with passion and commitment.

~ SSGs and other quiet grumblings from party-goers in NYC, London, Berlin, and Tokyo all report same or similar goings on, going on and on ~

Point is, it was bound to happen to anyone who was going to invest, and stay invested, in minimal as I’ve defined it above. This is minimal’s problem.

Why is it a problem? Well, maybe it’s not. Maybe, like goa trance, what we have here is a stable set of formulas that perfectly suits a dedicated community. Party on, partly people. So let’s be more specific and just say: I, personally, have a purely subjective/partisan beef with all this, which is that, when a group of people close in on themselves and stop being open to the possibility of opening themselves to new modes and forms of sound, they suffocate themselves and the music. What we have here is something between a choke hold and a cul-de-sac (which can be a form of foreplay, if you, like the person gripped by your sac, is also a likeminded pervert). Jiu Jitsu, performed with a full Brazilian. Great, if you like that kinda thing.

I’m not going to say I’m not a pervert in my own way – everyone who is passionate about particular, peculiar styles (as SSGS most definitely are) is practicing, as well as preaching, to the perverted.

But I’m going be even more partisan and particular and say, I don’t like minimal. So maybe that’s it. No, that’s wrong. I like it, I’ll dance to it, but I can’t love it. It’s not beautiful. It doesn’t quicken my spirit, stir my soul. It’s functional – it makes me nod my head, and if I’m off my face, it also makes me shake my arse. It does this, but that’s all it does. ‘Cos it’s one dimensional – and here’s the nub of the sac.

What was great about minimal is also what killed it, which is also what is keeping it undead. Minimal can’t die, because it can’t get old. And it can’t get old because it has no sense of history, no sense of (or desire for) movement, for transformation. It is, in the truest sense of the word, repetitive. And also, therefore, boring. Which is why everyone else got bored, and moved on. Except everyone who’s into it. Who’ll still be into it in five years: undead - and loving it.



  1. That's a lot to dive into. What strikes me most is the notion of anti-curiosity, which is sort of terrifying - meeting someone (especially in 2009) who's a devout fan of a single genre. But to play backwards advocate for a minute (as well as totally derail the point), what thoughts do you have about the utter opposite? DJ's with boundless curiosity? Is it just taste and a knack for QA that renders one pole palatable and the other codeine?

  2. I guess the thing is - some people, choose to isolate themselves within one sphere or sub genre of music. Don't we ?

    Personally for me it's (mainly) techno - which many in the broader community just think of as pots & pan / doof doof etc. WE, on the other hand, are familiar with the many sub genres within the techno umbrella and see it entirely differently.

    In fact I was thinking about this earlier as I was dissing trance to a mate and then got to thinking whether there really is "good' trance and whether it has a core of passionate knowledgeable enthusiasts as techno does. I daresay it must - but we'll still reckon the music is largely shite.

    I really liked minimal and you nail it when you say it doesn't quicken your spirit or stir your soul. How many (modern day) minimal tracks can most of us name, that does indeed do that ? Very few - and I was really in to minimal and have a lot of it - and still not averse to buying it.

    Techno, deep techno, even the older looped, harder tech - had and has, a myriad of tracks and sounds that lift me; Really elevate me.
    (OMG - hello Dozzy / Nuel / Neel / Delta F - jeeebus !)

    Undead or not, minimal will in part feed the greater techno genre, and there will be crossover and influence, just as there is with dubstep, and god knows how many more genres of electronic music, that essentially have a beat, with layers & loops on top.

  3. @ James: what about Optimo's JG Wilkes. He still plays lots of minimal tracks, but also plays (and respects, totally) every other of genre he mixes. This is part of what makes him one of the best. This is only one strategy.

    ...I'm not sure that *playing* 'single genre' is even necessarily a problem... but *being* single genre, that might be.

    I wasn't wild about Sex Trothler's RA cast, but I appreciate that he made a mixtape and it was heartening both to know he's got good ('cos similar to mine) taste and that he was unafraid of using that platform to be broad and reach outwards.

    It's fine to draw a cirle, but keep it open, incomplete. Closed circles tend to tighten.

  4. @ Srdic: Dozzy et al... this is kind of trance, is it not? 'The continuation of trance by other means.'

    Trance got hijacked by some very dodgy, very closed circles. Tight loops over flaky floors. But trance was good. Old Speedy J, much of later Plastikman, LFO etc.. very trancey, also very good...


  5. hmmm...

    i liked minimal back in the day, i'm not ashamed to admit it. it was new and exciting, but then it got stale. and i moved on. i believe that the reason we love electronic music is that new sounds are always emerging, and back in 2003/2004 or whatever, 'minimal' was that sound.

    of course, the 'minimal' community is not the only community guilty of this. the mainstream dance / blog house community comes to mind, which has been mining the same exact 'justice' sound for years, one which was essentially taken from better artists like vitalic before them.

    i just find it funny that people can be so satisfied with a single sound.

  6. Don't really get your article to be honest.

    Clearly there's plenty of interesting music that came out of that scene that still sounds fresh and was pretty groundbreaking. Why do you have to group it all together and shove it in the bin?

    And there's obviously still a lot of that kind of music being made, it's just there's not so much media hype around it now.

    Sorry, your summing up just come across quite strident and pompous.

  7. minimal, by the definition we see it today, was intriguing when it first came to the spotlight around 2001. in detroit we were blessed with the "control" parties from richie, ushering in a new sound than we'd been usually hearing from him, and no one i know can deny how good "de9: closer to the edit" was. a lot of people i know jumped on the bandwagon, quite hard in fact, me included. any one of my friends that denies having scoured the net for villalobos sets and figuring out tracks is a liar.

    however, it hit its watered-down, ridiculous point so soon after (around 2005) that it was already destined to be the next electroclash if it wasn't careful. minimal and hipster became pretty synonymous, and fast forward to right now, the minimal junkies are all "deep-house" dj's (which is another discussion in and of itself), and they're spinning their wheels in a void of seclusion and apathy.

    you're dead right that people have found their hole and are planting themselves firmly in it, with zero desire to expand their minds. its pretty apparent here in nyc, its apparent in most cities i venture to to dj in - i often find myself faced with an emotionless audience when i play something outside of their golden circle of trusted producers and dj's and *gasp* throw in something deeper and headier (a la dozzy / van hoesen) or get a little more off-kilter (old house mixed with minimal confuses people).

    in any event, hopefully people shake this funk, but at the same time, i don't even care if they don't. it keeps the sheep in their pen and lets those who care stretch out and dance without tripping over a k-holed mess or getting e-puddle juice on your shoe.

  8. that video with nick cave, shane macgowen and fucking kylie is intense...

  9. You can say what you want about minimal, but cannot deny the fact it has revolutionized production techniques in all genres, for the best and the worse. For the best, because it means we have not stalled to classic techno and classic house sound (that I still love!). In some tracks, the main interest is in the sound design and such tracks couldn't have been done 10 or 15 years ago as it would sound different. Sometimes modern production technique work against the music - I'm thinking specifically about a lot of souless and dull so-called new deep house sound mostly european, vs the classic US deep-house sound.

  10. @ last anonymous: that's certainly true that it has revolutionised sound design - but was that minimal, per se, or just creative people applying what was enAbletoned?

    Without being a total technological determinist, we can see that most revolutions in electronic dance music come with creative application of new technology... ...seems like at the moment we're just going through a phase of maturation of an existing set of technologies, ergo there's no radically new sound.

    Having said that, I think the move away from sound design and technique is heartening and timely - is this not one of the reasons why Omar S' tracks 'sound' so great?

    For me at the moment, sound design is insufficient. Exhibit A:

    Got the new Kate Simko w/ the Pronsato remix, and, you know, it's just *not enough*.

    Her sound design is so perfect and subtle, but it just doesn't 'give'.

    ...then Pronsato's remix gives ten minutes of the same vibe re-coded using his plugins/imagination... all beautifully done, but where's that sense of WTF?! (to parrot Sherbs' rant the other day)

    ...I'm with Burnt Friedman (as far as minimal/tech/house [and all sound design emphasising sub-genres] is concerned):

    "Less is a bore... people need more!"

    NB I say this as I'm nearly half way through a very, very enjoyable and creative year for techno. But techno sets this year have been great, very dynamic, lots of storytelling, tension, pace, crescendo, without losing that sense of restraint which is so great about minimalist musik.

    ..but is that not part of the reason for Dozzy's deserved rise? He tells a huge, five hour story (his Labyrinth set on this site is a proud example of this). It's always moving, and it takes on sounds and influences that respect decades of open listening practices.

    I also get this from Steffi's sets, and Levon Vincent's EPs at the moment. So much care and knowledge... anyway, this is also 'cos I dig 'em, so I'm partisan, but...


  11. an interesting read as always pc. however, my head now hurts. listen, like. listen, dont like. discuss too much, get bored. either a) make better music. b) play better music (fair play eric). can you post some more good music please chris.

  12. @jonnyp: just collecting some new stuff. next ssg mix on monday and some new sets after that. for now you'll just have to deal with your head hurting...

    for me i just find it strange that minimal can continue to be so popular when it has become so bland, such a parody of itself AND there is so much amazing music going on in techno, house, dubstep etc.

  13. @ eric cloutier.

    exactly. house+techno=makes sense to me. perhaps you're biased do it well.;)

  14. nice read actually really rode, what i've been thinking for quiete some time now.

    every time i go to berlin and don't venture into the big black factory that is the berghain, i get pretty disapointed and surprised with the music.
    disapointed, because i always think, there might be some dj like eric, spinning some interesting stuff, but there never is and surprised to see people still digging the same old stuff...

  15. minimal kept house and techno alive, certainly in the UK. London was dead for techno parties, and I know for certain that Richie and Ricardo revitalised it over here. It's a shame that it got attached to hipsterism, but that's just the way it is.

    I'm wary of people saying "This is dead" or whatever. It's easy to make proclamations and damn a genre, but things never truly die, they just submerge for a while, just like techno did in the late 90's when too many people got obsessed with copying Jeff Mills. Give it time and it'll emerge with a new coat.

  16. well said Bleep.

    Why the need for drawing the line under things?

  17. Alexis Petredis proclaimed the death of dance music in 2003, here was my response.

    I am perhaps slightly more offended back then.

    And bleep 43 well said. How was Dozzy? The guy is a genius!

  18. Maybe the problem arises because of two things:

    1. people think valuable minimalism can be achieved through lazy simplicty.

    2 we have a natural tendency to seek out recognisable patterns in music.

    And maybe there is a third thing. I'm becoming more and more convinced. There is a swing in drum machines that is absent in computers.

  19. Gosh I drifted in and out of that Article. I simply found it difficult to penetrate, what with all the referencing and punctuation. It was rather like having a conversation with a flat mate who you had lived with for years, communication via references and one liners.

    Funny enough that reflected the point of the article. How minimal excludes the world and is rather impenetrable.

    Perhaps you are minimal than you think.

  20. So: minimal, in the sense in which I am going to talk about it - which is not the sense of minimal qua Studio Eins, Minimal Nation, or Plastikman – is music predominantly made on laptops using software sequencers, based on the structures of house, but with its sound palette drawn from the loops, synthesizers and (above all) the effects units of said software suites. Statistically, it is Ableton music, and sociologically, it is made by geeky boys in the first half of their probable adult existence in order to win recognition, label-mating, gigs and remix opportunities from other geeky boys who have the names, labels, and releases to justify (or at least prove) the extraordinary amount of hours they’ve spent looking at LCD screens and occasionally touching USB-connected knob-articulated control surfaces (all of which their pets, and even girlfriends, find enduringly inscrutable).

    What a snotty attitude you have.

  21. Yeah, what a load of condescending bullshit. You could apply the "and sociologically, it is made by geeky boys in the first half of their probable adult existence in order to win recognition," to bloggers like yourself. I think your treatment reflects more on your own cynicism than any generalizable truths about people who make a particular style of music.

  22. @ Anon & Tom:.... umm.... humorous tone? No, couldn't hear it?

    Personally offended?

    Twenty-something male geeks into minimal/warcraft, I guess.

  23. Agree with Anonymous and Tom, this is an arrogrant, obnoxious article. I know for a fact too that at least one of the ssgs plays warcraft.

  24. @ Jason: as the author... why do you presume I exclude myself from those things that I mock... I am not above the fray, but in the midst of the things I speak of...

    ...the common factors are notions of arrogance, condescension etc... as if I could speak from any perspective other than my own, and as if I could look down on the debate if I tried (a dwarf like me, with an armour class like mine).

    ...could you at least be descriptive? Sometimes it's hard work keeping these comments sections open when we get so many nasty little anonymous, or throwaway, catty comments on the site. We want to be open, but this also means we expect you to be open to us, and if you take exception or offense and want to say something about that, then please, be descriptive, make an argument.... these mere assertions and contradictions appear as people who are catty/snooty/defensive but just want to drop a poo on our porch, ring the doorbell, then piss off.

    ...the point of the article is just to make you laugh, make you think... the enemy is complacency, not minimal, or geeks.

    But no, none of the SSGs play Warcraft. That's in the contract.

  25. Yeah, I'm a twenty-something (for a couple more years) male-geek and some of the stuff I like could certainly be considered minimal (no thank you re: Warcraft though ;), but the process PC describes in the paragraph I quoted and especially the motivations behind them do not apply to me. So no, not personally offended at all.

    My point stands that PC comes off like a snob. Maybe I took him too seriously, but he certainly seems to mean everything he wrote.

    "why do you presume I exclude myself from those things that I mock... "

    I think it's the know-it-all attitude that pervades your post and which, along with your cynicism, leads you to oversimplify everything in its path.


    you can't tell me the above doesn't make you want to smash your own brain in.

    this is the pathetic tripe that is being caned as "bomb ass minimal" by stupid europeans, watering down the entire ethos of "minimal" to complete drivel.

    and that dj is apparently the new wunderkind of m_nus records...

  27. Again, the bit that is condescending and arrogant is "and sociologically, it is made by geeky boys in the first half of their probable adult existence in order to win recognition,". I don't see that it is somehow self-evident that the above is true. Crazy thought, maybe they make it because they.......enjoy it! Perish the thought. And if, as you say, "I am not above the fray, but in the midst of the things I speak of", this would imply that you are a geeky boy looking for recognition. Fair enough, I just don't think you can assume that's other people's motivation.

  28. @ Tom: if people were making music for enjoyment, then why release it on key labels, why hustle across the Atlantic on a plane, why appear in key clubs? Why promote? Why sell?

    ...if you never, ever recorded anything, and if you only made music for yourself and your friends... (see the 70s movie Diva for an interesting riff on this) then I would take your point.

    Certainly, a desire for recognition does not exhaust human motivation, not at all. But it is a constant factor, if you ask me.

    Speculatively, if you removed

    a) profit


    b) recognition many fewer people do you think would be producing it?

  29. @ eric coultier - wow that is just aweful!

    At the others who criticise PC, it seems to me fairly obvious that mnml ssgs seek to publish blog pieces that intellectualise the state of play. I think you need to at least accept that if you intend to read the blog. Music doesn't need to be intellectualised, but it can be, and that process can be interesting. If it doesn't interest you, move on. (Although I do agree at times it does come across as a bit jaded.)

    It might be somewhat of a revelation to you, but the great majority of people who seek to get up in front of people and perform enjoy the attention, and indeed seek that attention.

    Maybe it's true that Ritchie Hawtin stole minimal techno from Detroit, ptiched it down, removed the funk and handed it to the skinny white geek guys who hide behind facial hair. The month I spent in Berlin last year proved to me that it's all become a bit weird.

    Fortunately we still have people like Ricardo and Zip who know what it all should mean.

  30. @ eric: excellent example!

    @ noel: very well said.

  31. the aforementioned video that i posted reminds me of this one...

  32. "a) profit


    b) recognition many fewer people do you think would be producing it?"

    a) You can probably remove profit already. Very few people make much money from techno. I think most people know there are better ways to go about getting rich.
    b)if i were to accept that a component of the motivation for putting out music and playing out is for recognition, then this could applied to the entire history of recorded music and concerts. It wouldn't be anythng that's remarkable about the micro-genre of electronic dance music at hand.

  33. Too many words about nothing. Everybody agree that most of the so called minimal is shit. However is it so unique situation? Most of the everything made by people is shit. Don't understand what's the problem with minimal.
    I was at Sonar by Night last saturday (seen Orbital live but that's not the point :)). There was a small place hosted by Sobieski vodka company near to the entrance to the Sonar Pub. DJ hired by Sobieski played minimal all night long till to 4 a.m. Besides Orbital it was best performance of this night. I'm seriuos. There were a nice acts from Shed, Dettmann, Mills and others but this Sobieski DJ exactly knows what is minimal.

  34. I think people are taking the post way too seriously. I've never commented on a blog before, but I love the site and the music that is shared with us. That post was an interesting read, during which I ate my chips and salsa.

    You don't have to be "jaded" by the scene or fully enveloped in it. Just listen to whatever the hell you want.

    But honestly, I don't know how Ive managed to be interested in the same repetitive beat for so long, but somehow I have. And I wear a suit every day and dont play would never suspect me.

  35. "no one i know can deny how good 'de9: closer to the edit' was."

    it goes without saying that you don't know me ;)

    anyway, what i took from this piece is basically what i have been saying for a long time: this "minimal" has little cultural relationship to the techno and house music i have been down with for many years. i do agree that the methods of making it have influenced it in many ways, but you can't leave out the methods of PLAYING it. the Serrato/Ableton/etc "performances" and "DJ sets" are wildly different from what you were getting from vinyl sets and hardware live PAs.

  36. @ eric
    they call it minimal? seriously? sounds like the equivalent of electro house here state-side.

    @ tron
    i LOVE chips and salsa too.

  37. I would suggest re-reading the post with a hefty serving of chips and salsa in front of you. I prefer medium. It spices up the internet!


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