19 April 2012

Tanz der Lemminge (Fugue in 'E' Minor)

Airport Through The Trees chimes in on the running debate about EDM (Electronic Dance Music) that's been making the rounds these past few weeks.

Dunno...as far as the "underground" vs. "overground" dialectic is concerned, I don't have a dog in that race. But yeah, certain aspects -- certain sounds, at least -- of dance culture have gone mainstream in a big way recently; what, with the ascent of "the soar" via the flood of euro-trance cliches that have become such a staple in mainstream pop.*  Add to that the coinciding emergence of "brostep." The latter turns up on my local college station a fair amount, all of it of the "WWE anthem boner wobble" sort -- stuff that's more or less in the same vein as Shrillex, which is the exact sound that fills up the format of what purports to be the station's drum'n'bass show. Since I've avoided all of this dross the past couple of years, I'd missed Shrillex and Guetta. Reading Chris's post on the topic at mnml ssgs last week, I quite frankly couldn't imagine that Shrillex must be as godawful as Chris described, but then when I played the clip...fuckin' hell if it isn't actually worse than the description. O, but if ears could puke.

At any rate, a couple of people commented at mnml ssgs that this is nothing new and I'm inclined to agree. Yeah sure, there was the business with Justice and all that similar Ed Banger revved-up electro that was so de riguer with the Vice magazine, urban hipster clubrat set some 4-5 years ago. But I remember this going back far further than that. But at least one commenter at mnml ssgs seconded what I was already thinking, which is there were similar things in the offing as far back as the mid-late '90s. Among a number of things, there was the "Big Beat" craze; which sounded to me at the time as electronic/breaks & beats type fare designed to appeal to listeners in the "rock" camp -- people who otherwise didn't listen to/bother with electronic music. Around 1997 it was as all over the place for a season or two, only to find all those Chemical Brothers and Propellerheads and Fatboy Slim CDs started piling up in the 'USED' bins about 18 months later. And then was DJ Keoki and the string of shite "superstar" DJs that followed in his wake -- always promenently featured/promoted in the pages of URB magazine, when word had it that a good many of them spun the most calculatedly pandering of sets while consistently trainwrecking the transitions between tracks.

But ultimately I guess you could blame all this on Daft Punk.

At any rate, the big difference this time around -- as the NYT article makes clear -- is that it's got far more appeal and that there's much, much more lucre getting behind it than any time before. And the complaints from the subcultural side of the matter runs the expected spectrum -- chiefly that the "gentrification" and bastardization of a particular form of music/lifestyle as corporatized mega-buck pile on to get a piece of the action. But the concerns are not (for some) strictly about music but also about the social dynamics that are often connected with it. More specifically, that the EDM boom -- as a mass-appeal, moneyed-up popular phenomenon -- destroying the club/rave communal ritual by turning it into an arena-friendly, face-forward spectacle.**  Not that I'd disagree, but I can't help but wonder if it has an upside. For instance, I can't count how many times in the past I've been out clubbing and the dancefloor was being cluttered-up and obstructed by dullards who just stood around the entire time, locked in place watching a DJ that they could only see from the shoulders up. So maybe this EDM craze means that that sort of person can now fuck off to other venues that're more suited to that sort of thing, leaving more space on the dancefloor for those who are there to put it to proper use.

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*  Yes, I actually do partially subscribe to the polemic that the mainstream often has a parasitic/piggybacking relation with the so-called underground, and that the latter often defines itself via its opposition to the former. But I also think that its far more complicated than that, and that it involves too many contextual-specific variables to discuss in such pat, either/or terms.
**  Is it just me, or does the Deadmau5 concert pic that heads the Times article look it might've been revised & updated after something found in one of Albert Speer's sketchbooks?


David W. Kasper said...

'Big beat' was when 'club culture' started to suck big time. Drunken Oasis fans stomping on your feet and scaring all the cute girls away. 'New lad' bullshit, as dictated by the emergence of middle-shelf titty mags, hooligan retro-chic and cockney gangster minstrely.

No surprise it ended up the soundtrack du jour for football results and alcopop adverts. The best resting place for late 80s indie has-beens churning out that shit, who nevertheless made obscene amounts of money from that garbage.

Greyhoos said...

It was an imported and peripheral (and immediately forgotten) fad over here, rather than an indigenous thing. But yeah, I can easily see how it could be folded into some "new lad" testosteronic thing over there.

David W. Kasper said...

I think retro-electro was the 'genteel' answer to big beat, but unfortunately that brought with it a big element of class snobbery (both can be directly associated with 'Tony Blair culture'). They were quite sterile for nightlife subcultures anyway. But by that point, UK club marketing & licensing meant even minor innovation wasn't as welcome as it was just a few years earlier.

David W. Kasper said...

"the mainstream often has a parasitic/piggybacking relation with the so-called underground"

- Do you not find it's the other way round now, especially since the 80s? In nearly every artform or subculture? As though postmodernism has turned the telescope the other way round?

Greyhoos said...

Yeah, I do. Which is another reason I'm wary of that sort of yadda.

One example: Hip-hop, circa about 2000. Some critics cited Busta Rhymes and Missy E & Timbaland as examples of how forward-thinking, next-isht innovative experimentalism could exist in the commercial mainstream, and meet with commercial success. Contrasted with the then-concurrent "underground"/"indie" hip-hop (such as People Under The Stairs, Rasco, et al) which was aesthetically conservative in how it was hopelessly mired in "keeping it real" with its backward-looking midskool purisms. But a few years later, no one could make that claim...because Missy and Busta had (each in their own way) faded, and the likes of 50 Cent et al had come to define the mainstream.

So no, I don't have much truck with that sort of talk about half the time. It's the sort of thing that begs too much parenthetical qualification in the first place. So why even bother?

Julian Bond said...

Albert Speer's sketchbooks Dance Village at Glastonbury has long felt to me like a Hitler Youth rally. Goose-stepping white youth in lockstep rhythm on a mission to get somewhere else, NOW, after being pummelled by flashy WHITE light. Either that or Dance East and Dance West were Scylla and Charibdis and your mission was to shoot the rapids between them without being turned to mush by the competing and just slightly out of sync 4-4 donks.

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