17.4.17

Why did dance music die in 1996?

"Dom Phillips insists that, even more than the 1988 acid house revolution, the real turning point in dance culture came in 1994 when clubbing got dressed up and turned its back on the sweaty rave movement which had spawned it. As if to prove his point club promoters recall 1995 as the year when they made the most money ever." 
Brewster/Broughton "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life"
Imagine a very large maze. Fill that maze with mercury. The mercury rushes into the structure but it fills the deepest corners last. Then quite quickly the mercury starts to seep into cracks and holes. The first places that empty are the large central corridors. Those corridors are House and Techno. The deepest corners, where for a while the mercury lingered in pools, stand for genres like Two-Step and then Grime in the early noughties where the ramifications of acid house house are still being worked out.

The first and most blatantly obvious thing to me as a rabid consumer, a passionate disciple of the music between 1990 and 1996, was the shocking precipice the entire culture fell off mid 1995. If you look at the dates on those mixes alone: 1983-19961986-19941985-1995 that pretty much tells the entire story.

I sat up when I read the quote above in Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton's book because it shon a bright and very unforgiving light on the reason the dance music culture died. There's defintely a distinction between the continuum of music that leads slowly up to the earliest House and Techno and the music in these mixes. That continuum is most easy to witness in the New York music where Disco and Electro flow easily into the new music. Again in Chicago, Frankie Knuckles came directly from the Paradise Garage and Disco. On the other hand in Detroit, Detroit Techno was an updated form of Electro - purely and simply, with Derrick bringing some esoteric Disco flavour back from Ron Hardy in Chicago.

But, yes, as Dom Phillips alleges the real turning point, the true break in the continuum comes in 1994, with the after effects slowly filtering their way through the culture. You can HEAR it in the music. Suddenly in 1996, whatever the major genre, the music sounds dreary, long-winded and the energy has disappeared. I struggled to find great later tracks for all of these mixes.

Of course, the Phillips quote is shorthand for "when it all became about money", when dance music culture became capitalised. That's certainly the inference. It's difficult for me, a debit-card-carrying capitalist, to approach this even-handedly. On the one hand I hear it, but equally when was dance music not engaged in a scruffy and unseemly quest for money? That was certainly what the alliance between organised crime, drug dealers and promoters was all about. Without getting bogged down in nuances I think I'd rather view it as a more subtle and profound shift. It seems to have all been about an adoption of "the culture of money" rather than the involvement of money itself per se.

That's one way to re-order the readings that the critics of the left have woven around culture. Cultural death is not so much about the reduction of everything into the terms of its validity within a capitalist model, a loss of purity of motive; as a frequently misguided, blind belief in the power of capitalism's de facto structures and the sickeningly bland, soul-destroying shit that follows in the wake.

My friend Paul Arden used to complain alot to me about the death of creativity within advertising agencies. The reason was that the producers lost confidence in creativity, an unpredictable chimera that they could never control, and instead placed more and more emphasis into planning and control groups. Into ways in which they work out marketing solutions based on a pseudoscience of what would appeal to their target audiences. The massive irony is that in advertising, raw, entirely crazy, passionate creativity is about 1000% more effective in the marketplace than creativity massaged by committee. Remember the bonkers and luminous commercials of the past?

The same applies to any database-led surveys though. Like those ridiculous massive, double-blind, placebo-controlled medical trials which yield less significant information than well-designed, tiny, control groups. Or even, to chose a wildly different example, how one person's list of great books for teenage boys can be more illuminating than a database collating the habits of millions of readers.

With Dance Music here was a cultural arena which had proved through its vibrancy and popularity that it could make money. The suits got involved. Oh you THOUGHT you were making money, they said. No, no, no. You need to attract a more upmarket group of people. We need to involve BRANDS. Et-bloody-cetera. It probably worked for about 6 months.