Looking at the April 17 Malcolm McLaren issue of NME (and I must say the redesign is a vast improvement--although in its clarity and black-and-whiteness it's now oddly redolent of, I dunno, The Spectactor or something) my eye was caught by a piece on James Blake. At the end of the one page featurette he says "Some girl came up to me once and said she was at a club with her friends, then heard [my] Untold remix and was in tears. That's the best thing anyone's ever said to me."
This is the meme of the season, isn't it? I've lost count of the number of times I've read Ikonika say in interviews that her ambition is to make people cry on the dancefloor. And when Blake ("the new crown prince of electronic soul" according to NME) says "dance music has more to offer emotionally than just euphoria", he's chiming in with similar statements like one I came across the other day ("dancing is overrated. It takes more thought and effort to move people's emotions than it does their bodies on the dancefloor").
What I'm wondering though is, what kind of MC-ing would go with this new approach to nuum-not-nuum DJing?
This one going out to the long face massive
And we're feeling absolutely glum and pensive in the place tonight
Big up ya chess
Pull out yer hankie in the air
Biggin up the sniffles crew
The Kleenex crew
Wipe it on your sleeve crew
Get mizzy crew
The boo hoo crew
You know the coo
Tears down your face
X-Amount of Snot
Boo hoo selecta! Reeeeeeeegret, weep and come again
No but seriously--imagine, you're heading off for a night out, it's been a hard week's work, you're really looking for release. And then some deejay forces you to confront your, like, buried emotions...
I'd ask for my money back, I would.
No but seriously seriously, I do have some points to make
1/ Way folks are carrying on, it's like emotion in your electronic music is some staggering unprecedented breakthrough into terra incognita. Erm, actually, there is a fairly, um, substantial tradition of the stuff you know! Electronic listening music, IDM, "machine soul"… Carl Craig, The Black Dog, the A.R.T. label, Global Communications, Aphex, that whole vein of Nineties-into-Noughties idyllictronica (Casino Versus Japan, Takagi Masakatsu, Morr music etc etc), in all honesty there's a surfeit of the stuff.
2/ It's not like the dancefloor end of things is devoid of human feeling either. Blake looks down on mere "euphoria", but last time I checked, euphoria was actually an emotion, and nothing to be sniffed at. For sure, dance music's about primary colours, not subtle shades. But its palette is wide, from euphoria to amorousness to exuberance to aggression to darkness (the last two are emotions, believe it or not). When Rouge's Foam contrasts the "emotionality" of Ikonika/Starkey/Joker/Zombey/Hudson Mohawke/Darkstar with "the coldness of most jungle, garage and old dubstep", you have to wonder if he has actually heard any jungle or garage. (UK garage--cold?! It's some of the most delirously sexed-up, ardently amorous, yearning music that the global dance culture has ever produced). Oh but you're wanting pensive, introspective emotions from your dance music? Well, Blake, who in NME says "I was never a scene kid, my whole musical existence has been playing on my own" is your man then. (Alternatively you could dig out some albums by The Cure). But actually even this kind of sadness and longing has had its place in dance: 10 years before Darkstar's "Aidy's Girl", Dem 2 described their "Don't Cry Dub" of Groove Connektion 2's "Club Lonely" in these terms: "whimpering, wounded droids crying out in desolation"
3/ Finally… well the funny thing is, if you had asked me to pinpoint a deficiency in the New Music, it would be precisely in the area of emotion. Rather a lot of it strikes me as affectless. All those blankly whimsical song titles about kestrels and shrews, all those Autechre-like encryptions, give the game away rather. Either that or you get references to earlier eras of music, indicating that it's meta-music, music whose emotion is towards other music (and nothing wrong with that, particularly--it's the general condition of much musical production today). Joker, for instance, is great to listen to, but the dominant mood is a kind of snazzy insouciance that's vaguely evocative of some bygone groovadelic funk era. Emotion, in the sense of stuff that comes from your life, does not honestly strike me as this music's strong suit. Texture, yes, indubitably. Hyperspatialised production (especially in Blake's case), yes, sure. Rhythm--often, albeit in a sort of edge-of-grooveless, test-the-dancer manner. Melody--if you're into games I suppose. (I've often heard things streaming out of my son's Nintendo DS that sound like if you stuck one those staggering lurch-beats underneath it you'd be Boomkat-ready). But emotion? Really?