One of the interesting side effects when a new musical form comes into being are the reactions it faces from other, more established genres. I’m not so much talking about something like prog rockers getting their knickers in a twist when punk rock came along, but the arrival of rock n roll itself. It seemed like the devils music, a terrible affliction on the younger generation that would lead them astray and into a world of floppy trousers and bad haircuts in comparison to the nice suits and lovely haircuts worn by the Swingers and the crooners. A Generation before that Jazz suffered from much the same sort of over reactions. Go back far enough and you would probably find a couple of pagan priests full of grain alcohol sniggering about the younger lot and their primitive flutes and chanting. Not as good as banging one bit of wood against a slightly larger bit of wood, was it, and you probably couldn’t even work out what woodland deity they were singing about anyway. Bloody kids.
When House music first arrived in the British conciousness in the mid eighties the reactions were every bit as extreme. It didn’t take long before Acid House was public enemy number one with questions asked in Parliament, and the Red Topped defenders of British morality getting properly upset by the idea of people dancing for a long time. Sometimes they had a point – the clothes were awful: dungarees should never ever be worn by anyone old enough to actually spell ‘dungarees’ – but mostly it was much the same sort of silliness that had always been the home ground of inter-generational angst.
One of the often forgotten hallmarks of the Acid House explosion, though, and one that continued to seep into the mass stupidity, was that it wasn’t always the grown ups who were getting shirty about it. I’ve lost count of how many times I put up with jangly indy kids, or metal heads trying their damnedest to slag off a musical form I had fallen head over heels in love with. I remember playing a house party one night in the nineties and getting endless hassle from a jazz funk fan who wanted on the decks because he ‘wanted to play music that people actually wanted to hear, and not that computer music’. And he was wearing a stupid hat, the idiot.
As a result of this sort of nonsense there was an equal rise in silliness from people who should have known better as they tried to counter it and explain why they liked it. You got a lot of stuff about the ‘reptilian side of the brain’; of the Beats per minute of the Human heart, and about the spiritual transcendence of the consensual experience. Personally, I thought back then (and still do) that it was so much guff. But then, I am all but allergic to a lot of metaphysical gubbins. I am not a very spiritual person. My reaction then, as now, is that I never thought any of us needed to justify the music. I couldn’t have cared less what a Morrissey fan thought about Techno any more than I cared about what Morrissey himself thought. And for a long time I took this attitude into any discussion on electronic music. But gradually I’ve started feeling that there was something missing from it. Rock music has had some truly fantastic stuff written about it over the years. Something like England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage about the birth of punk is as interesting and important a historical document as anything by John Julius Norwich on the history of the Church or Byzantium and I began to realise its something House and Techno lacked. Sure, we had fanzines and magazines like Jockey Slut or Mixmag, but these were essentially reviews and listings, with the occasional interview. Nothing substantial, nothing important. Nothing interesting.
So where is our language for our music? Where are the Griel Marcus’s, or the Lester Bangs of Techno and House and Jungle and Dubstep? Was it that the general consensus of electronic music being of mass extroversion in the setting of a club or warehouse was less likely to excite the intellect than the more personal introspection of dwelling over the meaning of Lyrics in a Scot Walker song? Or was it that electronic music lacked the personalities, the singers in feather boas at the front of the stage, transient Christs getting their share of the adulation before the next messiah arrived? Was it a lack of political nous? It’s admittedly difficult to make a zinger of a point about the Bedroom tax on the back of a seven minute Acid wriggle.
Although their have only been a handful of truly good books written about electronic music over the years, there have been a few attempts to do more, most often – fittingly perhaps – through electronic means. I was never a fan of a lot of the editorial that was to be found on the now departed MNML SSGS, for example, but there isn’t any doubt it was a place that encouraged thought and conversations about the music that transcended the mundane and typical ‘Great night. I wuz so mangled…LULZ!’ but such places are far too few in number. And that’s a shame.
Criticism, whether it’s literary, or musical, or about the plastic arts, is often viewed with suspicion by the artists and their fans. There has always been a feeling of the Can’t-dos assaulting the integrity and the talent of the Cans. But this isn’t fair. There have been many critics over the years who have provided us with the language to understand and appreciate ideas of otherwise bewildering complexity (and, sometimes, strangeness.) They have given us the means to build an intellectual frame-work for the emotive nature of art that can compel us to search out even more bewildering and complex ideas and, as a result, charge us with becoming better thinkers and better people.
At the end, I still don’t care if this process provides arguments we can use against the metal-heads or the indy kids when they snigger about the music, because the music transcends the need to defend itself. But I do care about reaching for concepts that allow us to better understand the forms and functions and feelings of the only truly original musical movement to emerge since rock n roll itself. Step forward Technos Marcel Reich-ranicki – you’ve got some work to do.