The Null Device

Burn down the disco, and hang the blessed DJ: An aging rocker on why dance music is rubbish:
The dance craze is the very antithesis of what punk stood for. Punk was iconoclastic. Its gigs were exuberant and unpredictable. The Pistols and The Clash lifted two fingers at some of the worst aspects of British society, with its class-ridden inequality, nauseating obsession with the Royal Family and penchant for vile-tasting beers. Dance, on the other hand, is contrived and controlled. John Major's government gave it an undeserved outlaw appeal by trying to curb large raves through public order legislation. The little grey man need not have worried his funny-looking head. Dance culture is about as big a threat to the governing classes as Val Doonican or Celine Dion.
A friend of mine, a former punk who claims to appreciate the underlying aesthetics of dance music, explained to me why I am a dance philistine. "It's very simple, Dave. You don't take E." Taking ecstasy "gives you a great buzz", my friend informed me. After popping an E tab once, he stayed up all night reading gardening books, planning his shrubbery in minute detail. Hearing that an ex-punk resorts to rave drugs, to improve his gardening, convinced me that something is seriously wrong with the world.

I must confess that I don't entirely disagree with him; I listen to more music played by live musicians than pre-sequenced electronica (though a bit of the latter), I don't have much time for the sorts of homogeneous, repetitive records that you can only appreciate when on drugs at a club, and on most of the times I saw "live electronica" acts, I found them boring (with the exception of the more theatrical acts like Down Town Brown).

OTOH, I wouldn't write off all electronica in the same vein; some of it (such as Negativland's The Letter U and the Numeral 2, which he rubbishes in the article) has more in common with his beloved punk genre's core ethos than he gives credit.

The punk rebellion started because music in the Seventies had become mind-numbingly bland. As we approach the millennium, the dance music promoted by the style gurus is even more infuriating. Any attempt at a punk rebellion now would probably be ludicrous. Yet we urgently need something with similar vitality and imagination to challenge the mediocrity stifling European club-life.

I think the problem is not that there is no challenging, vital music, but that the industry and market ignore it and select for easy-to-digest blandness instead. (link via 1.0)

There are 13 comments on "":

Posted by: Claire http://www.eskimo.com/~c/ Thu Mar 7 21:43:43 2002

Hmm. Isn't _The Letter U and the Numeral 2_ the booklet explaining the controversy over Negativland's _U2_ EP and their lawsuit against SST Records? I have it (a couple of thousand miles away), and the CD included with it is just an audio essay about copyright infringement and fair use. I wouldn't call Negativland electronica at all -- more like experimental/industrial/culture jamming.

Posted by: Graham http:// Thu Mar 7 23:06:19 2002

95% of everything is crap. big deal.

Posted by: memphet http:// Fri Mar 8 00:51:39 2002

I like aphex twin. I'm not a big fan of electronic music in general.

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org Fri Mar 8 03:16:06 2002

That's nice. Have you thought of setting up your own blog?

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org Fri Mar 8 04:11:35 2002

As for Negativland being electronica, it is if you mean "electronica" as anything put together with computers, samplers, tape loops or any other method not involving a band playing live instruments.

I suppose it comes down to two approaches to making music: playing it live in realtime, or assembling/sculpting it in non-realtime for future playback, with the latter being what is now conveniently called "electronica" (though dating back to musique concrete and Italian Futurism and such, if not further).

Posted by: Claire http://www.eskimo.com/~c/ Fri Mar 8 18:50:54 2002

Hmm. I had been under the impression that electronica was dance music, period (most likely due to the way music is sorted in the shops).

David Cronin seems to be talking about dance music, though, and he obviously hasn't heard Negativland's ``U2'', which is decidedly *not* dance music. (There's also way more to the story than copyright infringement, especially since the song could easily be seen as a parody, which is an allowable fair use in the States -- Casey Kasem turns out to be the big meanie here.)

In any case, while I agree that most dance music lacks any message at all, I'm not sure you can blame the musicians for giving people what they want. Punk music died for lots of reasons, not least of which was the fact that the vast majority of the potential audience never cared, and most of the rest grew up, got jobs, and moved on. The bands that survived were the ones who either sold out completely or evolved and started playing more complex, less politically oriented music. The bands changed, bu

Posted by: Jimbob http://the-fix.org Sat Mar 9 06:16:50 2002

I refute your contention that electronica is "dance music". I like electronica, but i hate so-called "dance music". On top of this is, of course, the fact that you can damn well DANCE to whatever music you like, whether it's house music or buddhist chanting. If I go to a punk show and "slam dance" to the music, is it not "dance music"? Musical genres suck ass.

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org Sat Mar 9 15:20:35 2002

The term "drug music" makes more sense than "dance music", though it's impolitic to admit it.

I once saw a theory that every established genre of club electronica is associated with a pharmaceutical substance. Acid house (which is a misnaming, btw), the theory goes, was E, house these days is E or amyl nitrate, trance is ketamine/mushrooms, drum & bass is marijuana, and big-beat and such is lager.

Posted by: Claire http://www.eskimo.com/~c/ Sat Mar 9 18:56:39 2002

Hmm. I had been under the impression that electronica was dance music, period (most likely due to the way music is sorted in the shops).

David Cronin seems to be talking about dance music, though, and he obviously hasn't heard Negativland's ``U2'', which is decidedly *not* dance music. (There's also way more to the story than copyright infringement, especially since the song could easily be seen as a parody, which is an allowable fair use in the States -- Casey Kasem turns out to be the big meanie here.)

In any case, while I agree that most dance music lacks any message at all, I'm not sure you can blame the musicians for giving people what they want. Punk music died for lots of reasons, not least of which was the fact that the vast majority of the potential audience never cared, and most of the rest grew up, got jobs, and moved on. The bands that survived were the ones who either sold out completely or evolved and started playing more complex, less politically oriented music. The bands changed, bu

Posted by: sam http://yallara.cs.rmit.edu.au/~izzo Sun Mar 10 10:57:30 2002

But if they're giving people what they want, you have to ask "why do people want it?". I mean really.. a lot of it is so mindless, and that's what people seem to like about it; the getting-out-and-just-jumping-around-mindlessly thing, which in itself is very mindless. :) I refuse to believe that everyone who likes to do that sort of thing (the clubbing thing) is a mindless automaton. Although when you consider things like music charts.. hmm.

Posted by: dave http:// Mon Mar 11 17:53:30 2002

From the outside looking in, "electronica" is techno & drugs, and punk is long dead. From the inside though, both scenes are dynamic & wide ranging. (I've been listeneing to punk since 81, and it's never been better than rights now.)

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org Tue Mar 12 01:29:52 2002

From the outside, "punk" these days is mallrats in Big Yellow Shorts, brought to the suburbs by AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal. (I.e., Blink 182 and such.) The neo-Dadaistic spirit of the original is nowhere to be seen in what the mainstream (which includes any magazine not made on a photocopier, it seems) calls "punk".

Posted by: dave http:// Tue Mar 12 12:39:48 2002

http://fortthunder.org/music/lb http://arabonradar.com http://thelocust.com Melt Banana "These are a few of my faaavourite things..."

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