17.4.17

Why was dance music interesting?

There's the implication with a question like this that I don't find dance music interesting any more. I don't know if that's really the case. I do look at Resident Advisor occasionally, like just now, and it seems very sterile - maybe that's just the curse of contemporary graphic design? There is a suffocating sense though of here being a form of entertainment which is wholly codified, one which has ceased forming.

Thinking long and hard about what drew me into dance music, this genre I abandoned, and I came up with a thought. Looking at the long sweep of post-war music culture it seems pretty clear that the 1969-1996 stretch of dance music (bookended by Francis Grasso and Todd Edwards) was, at its strongest, the sublimation of the counter-culture. Sublimation defined by Freud as "a mature type of defense mechanism where socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are unconsciously transformed into socially acceptable actions or behavior, possibly resulting in a long-term conversion of the initial impulse."

Part and parcel of that is the notion that, in a way that often dance music afficionados find repellent, that it is miscegenated at root with the dionysian impulse of Rock music. Rock's yearning for a crystalline ecstacy is the virus that Disco can't shake off. At times this easier to see for stylistic reasons. Both Larry Levan and Ron Hardy were wide open to Rock and its overcast spirituality. Although I have yet to hear a set from either that wasn't pure disco, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that'd they play it. Certainly Arthur Russell is unmistakeably a Rock interloper in disco, from his background in The Flying Hearts through to his electric folk opus "World Of Echo".

I've always thought it significant too that Derrick May's first record was the Post-Rock talisman of The Who's "Tommy", that Marshall Jefferson who I fist met with Charles Bullen of This Heat, was a Led Zeppelin fanatic, and that Joey Beltram held a candle for Black Sabbath.

In the UK there's the detente between New Order and Arthur Baker, Be Music and the Hacienda. UK Dance music of course being flooded with the second-string of rhythmic Post-Punkers like Tony Thorpe (400 Blows) and Bill Drummond (Big In Japan). The Mancunian indie-dance of Happy Mondays et al had a degraded reputation of the time, of scallies jumping on a bandwagon - but over time I've come to appreciate their appositeness.

Rock's original conceit is that it functions as Agape, an unmediated relationship, not with social communion, but with nature and the universe itself. At its most spiritual, for instance in the nihilistic abandon of The Stooges' "Dirt", Rock requires its listener to be intimate only with their own body and the caverns within and without it. It's the same sensation people discovered in relative safety, sublimated in the womb of the dancefloor, at The Loft or Labyrynth.