Saturday, January 22, 2005

Me in the New York Times on dance music's struggle to work through its midlife crisis/identity crisis, i.e. work out what it is actually about or for these days, now it's neither mainstream nor underground.

Some paragraphs that got lost but give some context and nuance:

[picking up from the knifehandchop/soundmurderer bit]
"In many ways, though, these retro-ravers are no different from contemporary rock groups like the Hives who hark back to the garage punk of the Sixties. Dance’s equivalent to the Sixties is the period 1988-92, the era of the first raves, when everything had that euphoric flush of happening-for-the-first-time excitement about it, and the well of immortal anthems seemed like it would never dry up. Next came the “1970s,” in dance music’s accelerated schema, the half-decade from 1993-1997. This was a phase of genre fragmentation, of darkness creeping into the music as drug excess took its toll, of increasing musical complexity (including concept albums) countered by punk-like attempts to get back to basics. Like rock in the Seventies, this was the period of electronic dance music's biggest sales and widest demographic reach. From 1998 onwards, dance hit a postmodern, self-referential and auto-cannibalizing phase akin to rock in the 1980s. The electronic scene became rife with revivalisms, fads for electro and synthpop, for acid house and jungle. Today, electronic dance music has reached a strange moment akin to rock in the Nineties, when it feels like there’s no clear direction forward. Grunge, to take just one example, didn’t dramatically expand the boundaries of rock form, but nor was it a straightforward revival or retro-eclectic pastiche."

and this bit about why hipster familiarity bred ennui and the cool kids moved on:

"In the hipster underground, the next generation of cool kids turned away from the "facelessness" of electronic music in favor of more, er, facefull styles--garage punk revivalists, neo-postpunkers, the new folk scene. Rather than fiddling with laptops or deejay turntables, these groups either put on a show or provided a charismatic human presence to latch onto."

and this bit from earlier:

"Despite its recent setbacks, the dance scene is enjoying a resurgence in energy after a couple of shaky years, with a spate of excellent releases boosting the morale of its dedicated hardcore following. But it’s not clear if the new stylistic shifts like 'electro-house' will be enough to pull in fresh converts or change the general perception of it as a scene that’s stalled and stagnant. To grab attention again, dance music really to come up with something startlingly new. That’s what it did over and over again in its Nineties heyday. Even if you couldn’t stand a genre like jungle, it was hard to deny that it was a radical departure, like nothing you’d ever heard before. In contrast, the new subgenres generated within dance music these past five or six years tend to have a kind of 'plausible deniability,' meaning that skeptics or lapsed believers can dismiss them as tweaks of an established formula, strolls within terra cognita rather than journeys into the unknown. Until a new piece of sound-generating technology or non-musical sociocultural factor (a new drug, a new behavior) enters the fray to shake things up, it feels like the frontiers are going to stay closed. There's still plenty of future left for dance music. It just won’t necessarily scream “the future” in your face at full volume like it used to."
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