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Electronica Music Today


You don't have to be a formerly wide-eyed raver to mourn the complacency behind today's dance music-- or more precisely, to mourn the atrophy of a particular sense of optimism, of possibility, that once seemed encoded in particular rhythmic structures and the ceaseless advancement of electronic music's shifting stylistics. Dance music is once again a lifestyle product, a soundtrack for entertainment. That's not entirely a bad thing; lord knows we could use some distraction these days. But even dance music's hedonism feels perfunctory, pre-programmed. I used to be enamored of Berlin techno's never-ending parties, but these days I wonder if the obligation to defer closure isn't hurting the music itself. Unless you're talking about a ritual music like gamelan, music isn't really intended to be consumed in 12-hour shots. A party culture (and drug culture) predicated upon parties that never end can only result in a music that thumps dully away without surprise or meaningful variation.

Last December, Ewan Pearson - a formidable producer and one of my favorite DJs-- confronted a number of dance music's maladies in his monthly column forGrooves magazine. Titled"The Supreme Overlord of Dance Decrees...", the column was a 13-point manifesto addressing everything from economics to aesthetics to clubbers' etiquette. The proclamation was at least partially tongue-in-cheek and certainly suited to Pearson's own tastes ("No house or techno record shall exceed 122 bpm in tempo, and, further, every other release must contain at least one track that is 118 bpm or slower. There will be no exceptions"). But even in its self-effacing pomposity, Pearson's manifesto serves as a telling diagnosis of the ills plaguing the decade's dance-music scene.

Dance music has plenty of rules - some of them good, some bad, all of them unwritten-- but where are the manifestos? Inspired by Pearson's column and Matthew Herbert's"Personal Contract for the Composition of Music", I decided to solicit similar manifestos from a number of DJs, producers, critics, and label owners. Out of 100 or so artists contacted, only about two dozen got back to me; I don't know whether the low voter turnout stems from a sense of complacency, a distrust of manifestos, or neither. (Thinking about the quantity of unanswered emails in my own inbox, I can hardly get mad at the non-responders.) Those who did reply, however, offer valuable insight into contemporary dance-music culture. Their answers are variously perfectionist, prejudicial, economic, historicizing. At least one of them, I suspect, is viciously ironic. (You decide which.) But what I appreciate most is the way that all their answers underscore the ethical dimension of aesthetics - the belief that a track is never just a track, a reminder never to take anything for granted.

Electronica Music Today

By: Natalia Kobseva
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