It’s the throwaway lines that sometimes bug you the most. Anyone can rage against a thought out polemic where points and arguments are marshalled with discipline towards whatever horizon the writer has in mind, but the one liners – often glibly spat out in the heat of whatever emotion its creator was experiencing and usually existing with a half-life of a single moment – have the weird ability to sucker punch you, to leave you reeling in the fog of unfinished business.
In this case it was a single line somewhere on the idiot-band of social media, itself a concept that seems to have been entirely created to de-evolve ideas to their most base levels; Not so much hanging a masterpiece in a gallery as throwing shit against a wall to see what sticks. The words in question were simple: ‘Electronic music is all about positivity, man!’. Sure, as a day-glo slogan to live your life by, it’s not even up there with something like ‘be excellent to people’ but it got me thinking.
Having come through all the pseudo-hippy crap that used to infest house and techno back in the dim past, all that guff about 126 BPM and heartbeats, and the rest of the claptrap that existed so people could pretend they believed in a higher philosophy when arguing the merits of electronica because some twat in a Suede T-shirt sniggered at them about how techno didn’t mean anything, I’ve long had a thing about spurious claims made in lazy defence of the music I love. That there is positivity in electronic music is true, but I suspect what our random philosopher was meaning here wasn’t the righteous anger of Underground Resistance, say, or the delicate sound blooms of warmth and mood that are found in a host of tunes, but something closer to the chemical camaraderie implied in the old gurned call of ‘are you on one matey?’
There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess, not on a fundamental level anyway. But electronica has evolved, and part of that evolution has come about because many producers are exploring beyond the traditional emotional ground that early house and techno set up in. These days for every tune that promises no more than another hands in the air good time shoogle, there will be another that burns with a malevolent energy, that swaggers with discontent and isn’t so much interested in making you feel good as it is in simply making you feel. And in an era where any emotion other than the simplistic binary of happy and/or sad is treated with suspicion, and where any attempt to embrace higher thought processes is hooted at with derision, it’s precisely these tunes that we ought to be embracing.
Beyond that, techno is enjoying a sort of rebirth just now, and a major reason for that is the injection of people into the scene who have no history in it. They lack those trained responses to the music, to the history and, importantly, to the ongoing conservation of 30-year-old ideas. There is a healthiness that only the outsiders can bring, whether they come from dubstep, from jazz, from punk rock or any other genre. Smashing down the doors of the closed shop of musical ideas should be – always be – one of the very thing house and techno should be embracing instead of convincing itself that another round of increasingly conservative sounding disco throwbacks represents a way forward.
2015 is going to be regarded as something of a watershed moment, I think, just as the dividing lines are being drawn between the factions. It is the year in which the most techno thing I have heard in a long, long time – Container’s astounding album – also sounded like it couldn’t give a damn what you think house or techno is, or was. Last year one of the real stand outs was Nouveauree by James Donadio’s Prostitutes project. It was a flare of an album; gone before you could register more than a ‘what the hell was that?’. It didn’t ‘bang’ or build itself on tightly focussed grooves aimed at the dancefloor. Instead it seethed, and dragged the listener through a murky world where ‘Happiness’ and ‘Euphoria’ were just words on a neon board shining themselves forever into a puddle on the sidewalk. The fact that it mostly retains the traditional 4/4 framework makes it feel all the more subversive.
Electronic music needs positivity, sure, but it also needs to be something more than Friday night escapism or whimsical sonic sculptures. It’s a big, bad world out there, and it’s about time we faced up to it. And that I am positive about.