|Feeling clubbed to death? I’m not surprised. It’s the way of Pop.
The Club explosion of the late 1980’s in the UK was classically Pop. It was passionately rooted in the rejection of adulthood, the attempt to sustain the period of childhood or adolescence for as long as possible. As Huysmans might suggest, and as Richard Hell would agree, it was Against Nature, against the traditional expectations of time and responsibility, against sex even. It was totally Mod. The immersion in the sound, the driving force of Ecstasy, the withdrawal into the self, it was all magically Mod, all naturally Pop.
Those who stated that the Rave regeneration of the late ‘80s was the equivalent of Punk were entirely correct, but only so far as they were also saying that Punk itself was another stepping stone in the development of the Pop cultural idea and, ultimately, industry. The homogenising effects of the ‘entertainment’ industry had resulted in all the key elements of the Punk style and sound being subsumed into the Global Market as simply another marketable genre, and any thoughts that it would be different with the dance scene were profoundly naïve. What the Rave regeneration did succeed in doing, however, was ensure that a new generation were tooled and educated in the process of media construction and not just consumption. The DIY culture which allowed, say Thomas Leer to produce ‘Private Plane’ in his bedroom was mirrored in Orbital, the only difference being in chart success. Fanzines proliferated, with the likes of Boys Own being descendants of Sniffin’ Glue, and connections between obsessive behaviour, clothes and music were cemented. The Rave became the social demon, Ravers the new folk devils. It was no different to the treatment of Punks in 1976 or the Mods / Rockers collisions in the sixties. Even the use of the word ‘Rave’ was straight out of the ‘60s Pop Dictionary.
Just as the Punk explosion was absorbed and diluted by the mass cultural juggernaut, so did the Rave regeneration become a degeneration. With the moral panic surrounding the Rave culture, and specifically Ecstasy, the only way out was either Up or Out. Those who chose Up went the route of the mainstream populist response and ended up with the likes of Cream, corporate identity and all. Those who chose Out went back underground and would emerge later, like 4-Hero, as the harbingers of a new phenomenon within the cultural geography in Jungle. From which point, as you need no telling, the story repeats, as the sound of Jungle diluted and disinfected becomes the soundtrack to a million television advertisements.
The sound of Jungle has been the sound of a nineties fragmented to the state of fluidity. The fractious beats promised syncopated release, suggested some kind of potential for self-reinvention in the spaces, but have delivered, in it’s consumption within a public space, no more and no less than an equivalent of the mid ‘80s student Indie disco. Listened to in isolation, the sounds of, say, Optical, Matrix and Ed Rush remain invigorating and edgy. Within the public space they can remain to be so, indeed the feelings can be heightened, yet it is the feeling of dilution through mass consumption that remains most prevalent. If you want to make a Club night in my city profitable you simply need to say you are playing Drum’n’Bass, put the name of an obscure DJ in bold letters and watch the students pour in. Being distanced from the Capital, this is probably a state that is a year or so behind the fashions, but it marks out why I am so restless and unhappy with the state of the Club Culture. If You Play It, They Will Come.
Everyone and their pet dog is a DJ these days. This is no bad thing in some respects, (rather one million magazines with a readership of one than one with a readership of a million and all that) although in other respects it is the very essence of Bad Things. Imagine every bar you walk into with an idiot wielding a pair of Technics, a mixer CD deck and innumerable boxes with flashing lights. Imagine this dolt ‘spinning’ banal chart show tunes one after the other, interjected with lunatic whooping noises and suggestions that you ‘make some noise’. Open your eyes. You’re living in it right now.
I was scratched by Punk and the New Wave. I was scratched by Jungle and the Electronic Renaissance. I was energised by the possibilities inherent in both, and repulsed by the lazy dumb and dumber interpretations enacted by the masses responses to both.
The Age of Chance mimiked James Brown and sang ‘Free you mind and your ass will follow’, which is fair enough, but does the reverse also follow? ‘Fuck Art Let’s Danse’ said the Punk artisans Rocking Russian in 1979, but Postcard made more sense to me when they reversed it. And I think it’s time to make that statement again: Fuck Dance, Let’s Art.
I have no interest in the cult of the DJ. I have no sympathy for the fools who idolise someone who plays records. I have done it, I know how easy it is to mix together noise to make an interesting soundscape. I could beatmix if I could be bothered, but frankly what’s the point? I’ll say it again: Fuck Dance, Let’s Art.
I have respect for the obsessive sequencer. I have respect for the people who sit in bedrooms and mix their records and noises onto tapes of personal exploration and discovery. The realisation that you can put Red House Painters with Tek 9 and it can sound unsettlingly interesting and seductive. The Byrds and Optical. Belle & Sebastian and Tortoise. Not one after the other, but meandering within, mirroring the fact that being eclectic, being thoroughly Modern is about recognising your personal tastes, personal loves, and making some sense of them in a whole.
I have respect for those interested in taking this sonic sequencing and collision making out of the traditional Club setting, or at the very least altering the state of the traditional venue. I have respect for those taking the Club space and making it Art space. Let’s say it again: Fuck Dance, Let’s Art.
I’m not averse to dancing, but you can dance to the sound of the cars on the street, and you can dance to architecture, regardless of what Mr Coltrane may have suggested to the contrary. You don’t need a Club to dance in and you don’t need thousands of pounds worth of sound equipment to play records. One of the pretexts of Punk was that anyone could form a band, could buy a guitar for couple of quid from Woolworths, that it was what you did, how you did it and not what you used that counted. Remembering this ideal, and seeing kids more intent on their gear (in more ways than one) than on the tunes they fail to chop and warp with any interest and abandon, I wonder what needs to happen to change directions.
A few seem to be pushing envelopes, at least in their irreverent treatment of sounds. Techno Animal have made a punishing collection of soundclash mixes with all the right names on board, from Ui to Alec Empire. It’s Empire too who seems to be a beacon, with his Atari Teenage Riot technopop mayhem and solo space jazz strangeness. His ‘Generation Star Wars’ of 1994 remains a classic. You’d be pushed, however, to find a Club playing this kind of stuff on any kind of regular basis, preferring instead to go with the safety of easy big beatz and the bankable Krautrock phenomenon which cranks on with dreary staying power.
What we need now is an extended Wave of Pop Mutilation.
Turn your Technics to sculpture. All channels open. Drop the Bomb. One more time: Fuck Dance let’s Art… And make some noise.