When I wrote the first part of this a couple of months ago, I had been giving thought to whether House and Techno were always going to remain linked with the dark confines of a club in the small hours, or whether – after three decades of evolution – there was a possibility that it could move on and explore new horizons. It’s a subject I feel nervous about discussing. Not particularly because I think the idea of House and Techno breaking free of its paradigm is a bad one, or especially taboo, but more for what it says to me about my own ongoing and constantly changing relationship with the music itself.
Lets put our cards on the table; I’m probably never going to be a regular club goer ever again. I’m not talking about the occasional visit here, but I’m past the age where I would want to spend every weekend night in the depths of some a humid sound-box. I’ve done it all and enjoyed it greatly. For me House and Techno has all but ceased to be something that is interfaced on a predominately physical level, through the movement of dancing and the kidney wrecking pulse of sub bass played through a huge system.
In a sense this is really no more than a return to the way I came into the music, listening to it late at night on a Walkman as I wondered around in the middle of nowhere. When I first started going to clubs it was actually strange to realise and understand the music as the soundtrack to a hugely communal and physical thing rather than in the fairly introspective way I had been consuming it. It was thrilling and a little bit disorientating, but it was also life changing in so many ways.
Since those days I’ve appreciated the music in very different ways. A sonic installation by Jeff Mills at an exhibition in Paris to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Futurist Manifesto, for instance, opened up entire themes and ideas within the music I had never really considered before. In many ways the music was as rich with the possibilities as the art Mills was mirroring (except, you know, with rather fewer of the fascist connotations). Richie Hawtin’s recent gig at the Guggenheim in Switzerland – derided by many, possibly because of who it was rather than what – also seems a good idea to me. In context, there is much common ground with the abstract nature of so much electronic music. Techno in particular, with its emphasis on sound design over song structure, seems to be a very contemporary and artistic genre that would be at home in galleries as well as clubs. In fact, it seems strange that this is a connection that isn’t made more often.
Some will say that there is a lot of music out there already that is moving in that direction. That is true. But there is also, in the current flood of represses and nostalgia heavy tunes, evidence of a pretty conservative mindset within a lot of the scene that suggests a lack of collective desire to take the music forward. Partly I expect this is down to miserable old sods like me trying to relive our lost youth, but the fact is there aren’t that many of us. Is it likely that after all the years of evolution the music has reached a stage where everything is a bit comfortable, where much of the appetite for innovation and reinvention has been sated? I’m not sure. Rediscovery has always been a part of music. Perhaps the current trends simply explained by newer blood examining what came before. Perhaps this is no more than a pause, the calm before a storm.
Part of the problem I had with writing a second part of this series was that it was the first one was based on a false premise. I don’t want Techno to grow up, or leave behind forever the things that define it. I just want it to be aware of the possibilities and the eventual need for change. What compounded my error was the fact I wasn’t really writing about what the music needs to do, but how I view it from the periphery as a bystander, as someone who buys the occasional record to talk rubbish about, and as someone who is every bit as in thrall to my own breed of nostalgia as any one of those producers currently knocking out 90s House.