Considering all the times, all the long evenings I’ve spent in various sweaty subterranean basements and packed halls over the years, it might seems strange – perhaps even a little ungracious – to admit this, but I don’t really like clubs all that much.
Sure, there is a certain thrill that is fed by elements of the clubbing experience that I will probably always love: the tug of dry ice on the back of the throat; that inky darkness washed by strobes that only seems to exist in concert with a really good DJ hitting his stride late on in a set; the feel of nervous excitement being fed by the dulled thump of a kick drum as you wait outside to get in. This is all part of the fun, no doubt about that, but there is the down side as well. The costs; the minging toilets; the bouncers ( a good bouncer is worth his weight in gold, but there is too much settling for Pyrite around); the overpriced, nasty lager and even more expensive shots; and after the night, the cold of morning and the hunt for a taxi amongst the spill out from a hundred other evenings.
None of these things are entirely tied to clubbing of course, but my interest in clubs has always been substantially less than my interest in the music. Had it not been for Electronic music, I doubt I would have ever gone into a club. In my final year or two of regular clubbing, the only times I ever went to one was if I was DJ’ing, or if someone I really wanted to hear and support was DJ’ing. The actual fun of going out had lessened, and eventually so did my links to the music. When it becomes problematic, or unimportant to hear a form of music in an environment to which it has become natural, it seems equally natural that hearing it anywhere else will rid it of much of what makes it what it is. We are creatures of both habit and learned response, after all. Getting older probably didn’t help either. Neither does adult life – who wants to be in a club until 5 AM when you have to be at work for half past eight?
Does this have to be true, though. It’s a question I’ve asked myself repeatedly over the last couple of years. Is there any need, in this day and age, for electronic music to remain tied to a performance model that began, in it’s modern British form, during the Northern Soul explosion at the tail end of the 60s? As House and Techno ages – and as Detroit legend Jeff Mills once so astutely pointed out, it’s audience ages too – is it not time to drag it out of the darkness of the old night and into a bright new day?
Part of the problem is that these genres are so bound to the clubbing experience it has become difficult to imagine them in any other setting. Some of this is down to perception: Dance music is, well, for dancing too, it’s only natural that when we want to listen to it we gravitate to places that we can also dance to it. This has an obvious down side, again linked to perception, that if a form of music is first and foremost regarded as body music, there cannot be very much for the head, for the mind.
That might seem slightly insulting (even I think it is. There is so much evidence to the contrary I feel slightly dirty in writing it,) but it is a real enough issue for a lot of people. Back in the early nineties we had the rise of what became known as IDM, or Intelligent Dance Music. Acts like Autechre and U-Ziq created music of a more experimental nature that was certainly not focussed on the dance floor. But one of the reasons for the tag is that it seemed to fence it off from the rest of Electronica so it could be picked up and championed by elements of the music media who never had the slightest interest in electronic music in general, or dance music specifically. I’ve always hated the tag, in fact. The implied sneer of the name always got my back up; what was it supposed to be more intelligent than? And, more pertinently, why?
Papers like NME and Melody Maker could get behind it because it was music they could sell to their massively predominantly Indy and Alt-Rock listening circulation, most of whom where unlikely to ever set foot in a club. It was, essentially, taking Techno and marketing it for a non-Techno crowd. This is not to attack those bands. They were often making some quite breathtaking music, and were listened to by the clubbers as much as anyone was. But the fact remains it was the Indy music crowd selling the music on their terms, not ours. It was damning us with feint praise that carried upon it a whiff of not just snobbery but other, even less salubrious odours. I suspected then, and still do now to an extent, that there was a slight desire to whitewash a musical form that was largely, in origin and practice, African-American, to make it palatable to white, middle class kids. (It wouldn’t have been the first time: Pat Boone’s fey cover of Tutti Frutti battled it out in the charts with Little Richard’s original – guess which got more radio play and exposure? Guess which sold more?)
So here is the crux of the problem: Is it possible to take House and Techno from a world that is their natural home, and transplant them elsewhere, without the music, without its nature, its history and its legacy becoming diluted? Is it even needed, or is it even desirable? Essentially, is it possible to do it on our terms and not those of people who merely want to sell it to as many otherwise disinterested parties as possible? The answer, I think, to all of it is ‘yes’.
The next question, though, is where do we transplant them to? I’ll try to answer that, and more, in part 2.