On a Sunday most people sit down with a pot of tea and read the Sunday papers as a way of killing a few hours of their precious time. And in a way I’m not that different, except i use Sunday to wade through my RSS feeder, parsing and analysing blog posts, mixes, observations etc.
On occasion i come across a piece that NAILS what many people like myself have been pondering and skirted around for a while now, but haven’t really gone at with all guns blazing.
Such a piece was on the excellent MNML SSGS blog today where resident poster Chris posted about the rise of the nu-trance-pop-rave phenomenon (or EDM as he calls it).
For a while now many people (including myself) have noted the inexorable rise of nu-dance music over the last couple of years. A style of music that has taken a vice-like grip on the balls of the music landscape in the US and to a lesser extent, in Europe, where it originated. Writers like Simon Reynold has written about both the Ibiza-fication of modern US pop and R&B music, as well as appropriation of Rock N’ Roll excess in their videos and songs. Heck, even i wrote a (unpublished) piece last year about how the rise of cocaine as the main party drug of the last decade has helped to fuel the rise of ego bullshit and both in dance music and the club scene, both in Iceland and abroad (I´ll post it at the end of this rant).
But the MMNM SSGS post goes much better to explain why we should be paying to attention to this new form of music, and why it’s potentially damaging to how electronic music is perceived by people. The piece really picks up on how warped the idea of a rave is in the US. In the US and the UK, while its getitng harder to go clubbing as it becomes harder for clubs to open and stay open with increasingly stricter licencing and environmental laws, the “new rave” has assimilated certain superficial facets of dance culture (especially glow sticks and paint), yet is more akin to a rock gig or festival like Lollapalooza. And this ties in with the rise of the Supergod DJ and dance acts who behave more, on stage and off, like strutting rock stars than the slightly anonymous acts of the past.
Take Skrillex for example. He used to be in a screamo band before discovering electronic music. But his take on dubstep has the dynamics found rock/hardcore/metal. When they linked him with old rockers The Doors in the following documentary, despite the oscillating blasts of noise, it really wasn’t that much of a leap into the unknown for him.
What seems to be concerning is also the fact that a lot of the acts that are currently riding high on this new wave really are not that much cop technically speaking. The MMNL SSGS post has two videos where “world’s greatest DJ” David Guetta commit a truly shocking piece of mixing, while the second piece has Steve Aoki effectively turn a DJ’s equipment into mere props.
Also what’s interesting is the way that much of this scene is incredibly objectified, the way that the party scenes seem to be a form of aesthetic hedonism. Many of these videos show women as mere eye candy that you would have expected in a Rap or R&B video. This has changed the way that a lot of the party scene is more concerned about looking good and being seen partying, instead of actually letting go of your ego and getting on with it. People look buffed, teased and coiffed so that they are more ready to take part in a photo shoot than something that actually appropriates itself as really fun. There is a major emphasis on coolness, on having a model’s look and body (for the women), or looking pumped, ripped and tanned (for the boys). Anyone who has spent more than a weekend partying in downtown Reykjavik will immediately recognise and understand this.
Of course there is a massive undeniable energy to a lot of this music. Stuff like LMFAO might be easily to ridicule, but in terms of music it’s almost breathtaking in the near cynical away it packs more bangs and hooks for you buck in under 4,minutes, honing the obligatory rave “rush” to near bludgeoning levels. It’s the quintessential music for Euroshopper energy drinks!
Am i showing my age? Probably. Maybe it’s just how things are evolving for a certain type of music to be accepted by a mainstream audience. But when it comes to partying? Well, i still have a few good years left in me yet, and since my looks were knackered at birth, i have no need to look good, just feel good instead.
(my unpublished piece for the Grapevine from 2011)
Bloody Hell, It’s All Gone Pete Tong!
Today’s dance music is a watered down pastiche of past hedonisms
Have you listened to FLASS FM recently? No, I’m serious about this. I started listening to it again a few weeks ago after a friend of mine posted a rant online about how most mainstream dance music had become this awful chimera of ‘boyband/diva singing, Eurotrance beats and frankly awful rap.’ I sat looking at the words thinking ‘surely things can’t be that bad!’ So I decided to change the dial to hear it for myself.
And I’m sad to report he’s completely right. Listening to the station’s playlist was being witness to a car crash of brutalist synths, pedestrian techno beats and big time chorus singing that’s completely autotuned up the wazoo. What started harmlessly enough with the Black Eyed Peas, over the last the last 18 months has spread like a virulent form of foot and mouth. Rap and R&B stars such as Chris brown, Kelly Rowland Nicky Minaj, Pitbull, and even Snoop Dogg are queuing to have their music transformed by the likes of Benny Benassi and the Gallic Voldermort of Euro dance, David Guetta. Meanwhile Techno warhorses like Pete Tong and DJ Tiesto are taking up residencies in Las Vegas, where, according to the Swedish House Mafia, ‘they come to rave for two to eight hours. It’s not unusual for the best table at top clubs to have a minimum spend of $50,000 (5.75 million ISK).’ Just what the hell is going on??
It seems that techno music is finally making it big in mainstream USA several years after everyone else. Americans are now wanting to feel the rave experience for themselves, and the mainstream rap and R&B acts are getting in on the act in manufacturing the party feel and ‘rush’ of 90’s dance culture. It’s a shame though that all their efforts to target our musical pleasure centres are completely removed from the original context and atmosphere of what rave culture at that time was all about.
One of the main factors in all of this is down to drugs. Now before I continue any further, I’m required by law when talking about drugs to consult the Kastljós handbook on discussing drugs in a serious manner. Let’s see… (Puts Portishead’s ‘Mysterons’ on the stereo, lowers lighting and voice, pixelates face). That’s better. Right, now if you were around during the ‘90s, then there was one major catalyst in generating the atmosphere associated with rave culture. And that catalyst was ecstasy. Whatever your feeling about drugs in general, the use of ecstasy contributed to a communal, inclusive effect as hundreds of thousands of people from different backgrounds and social strata turned away from the mainstream culture of the day and experienced a form of ‘hivemind hedonism’. Everyone dancing and experiencing the same rush of the techno music’s ‘soar’. And while the hedonism wasn’t political or focused, it certainly was radical, radical enough for the government of the time to pass numerous laws to ban it all. Even when illegal raving gave way to legal clubbing and the superclubs, ecstasy was still prevalent in its use.
But at the beginning of the last decade, the UK (and to a lesser extent the US, which had the likes of crystal meth) became awash with cocaine. So awash in fact that in the UK alone, its use quadrupled from 0.6% to 2.4% of all 16- to 59-year-olds in 2009-10. Despite a marked decrease in use last year, it’s still the most common illegal drug after cannabis and is now the dominant drug (allied with copious amounts of alcohol) when having a night out.
As a result of the change in drug use, the game changed in clubbing. Despite the price drop and varying purity, cocaine is still seen as a ‘players’ drug, a drug of exclusivity that invites self-aggrandisement and bullshit instead of inclusiveness and sweaty hugs. As time passed, group hedonism made way for a pseudo ‘chic’ hedonism that was, along with celebrity culture, commodified and packaged to the masses as the pinnacle of an ‘edgy’ good time. Most clubs and bars became have become tawdry affairs as people seemed more prepared to hang around the toilets and go through the motions of being ‘on it’, but with extra aggro and nobody connecting with each other.
And the change in clubbing created an echo chamber effect on the music. The dance pop of now may sound similar to late ‘90s techno, but it has a more aggressive, braggart feel that reeks of ego and roid rage. Instead of lyrics about losing yourself to the experience and ‘taking yourself higher’, nowadays it’s all about drawing attention to yourself, while finding ‘where dem girls at’. Looking at their videos, it seems they’re trying to tell you that they’re having THE BEST PARTY EVER IN THE WORLD. Yet these party shots look empty, with a lack of real togetherness and soul. It looks for all as though they’re doing it through gritted teeth, trying to convince themselves that they aren´t leaving lives of quiet desperation.
And this new trance-ified pop and the associated lifestyle is acting as the perfect blueprint for Iceland’s VIP chode party scene. With its emphasis on the fashion, the makeup, the blank faces and pinprick eyes, the self-importance and stiff poses, the puffed up barely concealed acres of orange flesh and the whole ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ dance of banality, you can definitely say that the sounds of David Guetta and Flo Rida have found their spiritual home on Laugavegur and Austurstræti.
The soundtrack of summer 2011 is not powered by water, E and a feeling of togetherness, but coke, steroids, expensive champagne and separation.