I had the weird luck to be in Las Vegas during the US Memorial Day weekend. I hadn’t been there before and honestly didn’t know what to expect. Even now, from thousands of miles away, I’m still not sure. It’s a place some people seem to take to, reveling in its idea of a slightly shop-soiled 50s glamour and the way it so aggressively tries to part you from whatever money you have. The ride in from the airport was as illuminating as the lights of the strip; huge billboards along the road advertised the entertainment for the approaching weekend – Tiesto, Steve Aoki, Disclosure. You know: bellends. Anywhere else on earth these billboards would have made the blood freeze, but laying against the vast, metallic pyramid of the Luxor casino in the distance they seemed strangely, horribly, right.
It took half a day of wondering up and down the strip to fully realise that this EDM stuff fitted Vegas’ conscious hunger for disposable culture like a glove. The kids in Martin Garrix t-shirts; the pill-popped girls in tiny bikinis always a footstep away from walking into traffic; the stray, hollow, beats drifting down on the thermals from a rooftop pool party. Detroit and Chicago might be our meccas, but EDM feels like it could have been invented in Vegas so perfectly did it match the psychic landscape.
That phrase is one of my loves. Psychic landscape – that tangled web of emotion, memory, imagination and place; a mass of sensory captures that gives physical weight to thought and lends the flesh and blood world an ethereal glimmer. It is, as someone brighter than me once said, an authentic illusion of reality. Over the last few years it has been hijacked here and there by tools. Not long ago I heard it uttered by some Britain First knob as a means of explaining why mosques shouldn’t be built in Oxford (apparently, calls to prayer wouldn’t fit the psychic landscape of that city of church bells and hushed learning.)
I wasn’t in Nevada for the EDM, the casinos with their endless puggies, or the lobster & fillet dinners. I was actually there to spend a week rafting through the Grand Canyon – that vast tear in the fabric of the earth which runs for more than a quarter of a thousand miles through the desert of Arizona. On the 6 hour drive from the hotel to the boats I listlessly flicked through my Ipod, trying to find something that matched the emptiness we passed through but time and time again I came up short and moved on to something else.
It didn’t get any easier in the canyon itself. From the narrow ribbon of the river, below the shear, mile high walls of blood-red rock, music – all music – seems an intrusion; the whispering of man against a landscape that drowns out such noise with the wash of the water, the symphony of the wind, and its own majestic indifference. At dusk, as it grew dark, I would blast a few minutes of music out of the pod, but usually gave up. Nothing fit.
And nothing did fit until the second last night when I put on a wee mix I’d done a while ago and totally forgotten about. I thumbed my way through most of it until suddenly I was confronted with sound of everything unravelling; raw, acidic frequency that felt so jarring and alien and immense it almost perfectly encapsulated the psychic landscape of the canyon. The tune, Create/Objects 1, from Hieroglyphic Being’s Methods Of Transfer Book 1 release on Tabernacle, a tune I’d liked but never really listened to that closely before, just connected. I listened to it five times as the sun slid behind the walls of rock.
Back in Vegas a couple of days later, under a roof once again, with the air conditioning running and the Memorial Day weekend guff in full swing, the mix melted away into the noisy background hum of humanity doing what it does. It no longer worked; it no longer fit. In the canyons of neon light the transcendent fluttered down to the sidewalk and the noise of money being folded drowned out everything else across the garish Strip. Still, the pill-popped girls looked like they had fun; the fear medicated away, and the loathing still to come. All the EDM still fit like a glove, of course. But then, in the land where the one-armed bandit is king, it’s easier because you only need one.