There probably are not many people reading this who genuinely care about the topic of this post, but I just stumbled across a live mix from one of my own all-time favorite djs, and it brought back happy memories of excited club nights and my own musical aspirations.
To the dismay of many of my friends and coworkers, I haven’t been able to shake by addiction to electronic music.
I am not a charismatic person, you will rarely find me on the dance floor, I am not a social butterfly/clubber, I don’t pop pills (anymore), I hate waiting in lines and dealing with the VIP list, and anyone knows that talking to other people in a club is all but impossible, (mostly because the music is so damn loud). But, in addition to all the other types of music that I require to live, I could listen everyday to techno, electronica, trance, house, deep house, sometimes jungle or drum & bass, ambient, and/or progressive house. Most people who get to know me at least on the superficial level are surprised to hear dance beats coming from my iPod, and just find it interesting, if not plain funny to see me bobbing my head to dance music.
It may be pretentious, but my appreciation of most types of music has always come from the perspective of the performer, and the resulting delusions of grandeur. I have played the guitar, with marginal success, for years. In the beginning days of learning, I always thought that I would play for people. I learned all of Dave Matthews’ music on the guitar and sang the songs (with debatable quality). I led jam sessions on bonfire-lit beach parties. I constantly copied popular and classic rock songs, with the help of my good friend Gabe, and vaguely planned to play them in front of people and maybe have experiences that would make dionysos proud. I suppose many people have some sort of version of this kind of fantasy.
I had neither the talent nor the balls to become a successful guitar performer. I dabbled in remixing, and then collected a fine set of DJ equipment. Technics turntables, Beringher mixer, PA system, Sony headphones… (man, I miss mixing vinyls on those decks). I had consant thoughts of pursuing a DJ career, but I eventually rationalized in my own head that I was in fact too old to begin a career in creating music for 19-year-old girls to dance to.
I, in fact, did grow out of clubbing. I would likely be dead or in an institution today if I hadn’t slowly drifted away from that horribly wonderful lifestyle. It was just a phase, but I found some of the best moments of my life in those smoky, clove cigarette-filled, glittery, warehouse-style clubs filled with lasers and, yes, glow-sticks. Those times, at 3:30 in the morning, when it seemed that everyone was experiencing the same emotions, hearing when the new song was being mixed in, crowded on the floor, allowing the DJ to lead us all to oblivion, those times were simply great. That, to me, was dance music. A dj acting a conductor, showing all willing participants on the dance floor the way to a short adventure, one that lasts only one night. It is an experience of complete detachment from reality. But my own tastes and reasons for listening have changed.
Another excellent mix live from Glastonbury, just a few days ago, from DJ Sasha.
To some, this kind of music is baffling and maddeningly repetitive. There is so much bad electronic music, that it seems impossible to sift through all the crap to find the good stuff. In fact most reasonable people wouldn’t bother. If its not boring and too ambient, it is obnoxious and cheesey like Bob Sinclair or Night at the Roxbury. Most people are annoyed with the pounding bass and treble, or falling asleep to the throaty female vocal and 80’s like keyboards. But, as with any hobby, one finds the nuances and develops an appreciation that only like-minded peers understand. It seems that most people who seriously appreciate or love (or obsess over) any one thing, they often proudly think of themselves as part of a minority. There is a man who lives two floors below me, and plays (at incredible volume), the likes of Slipknot, Motorhead and Hatebreed. I have met this man and he seems to be a well adjusted, pleasant human being. I suspect that he must search for people with common musical tastes and enjoy their company. But I will probably never understand how he can find anything likable in that music. Likewise, I can see in people’s eyes the pure contempt when I play what seems like a 35-minute song and I doubt they often hear nothing but that four-on-the-floor beat.
I am a music neophile, constantly searching for new tidbits of orchestrated sounds in almost all types of music. Electronic music for me is a sort of candy for the brain, but it is only one of the many musical genres that I find essential for life. Because of its sheer profundity, electronic music provides seemingly endless new branches and avenues of music, and long DJ mixes are like a collection of little aural sweets that can be enjoyed, if only in moderation. And they can be enjoyed between headphones or in a flashy night club under a giant mirror ball. Deep Dish, John Bishop, Kimball Collins, Nick Warren, Darren Emerson, Christopher Lawrence, Paul Van Dyk, James Zabiela, Rabbit in the Moon, Richie Hawtin, Sandra Collins, and (in the early days) Oakenfold, among many others, are part of my permanent musical collection.
My approach to this kind of music is not to go crazy in a club (although, being summer, I might be due for a good, long club night), but to listen and find the small pieces of sheer originality and tid-bits of aural pleasure. It is almost completely personal. I have very few friends that will sit and listen to electronic music and talk about it.
I find it impossible to discover this musical originality in pop radio. And I think that electronic music is one of the most promising aural paths to the future. That doesn’t mean that I think that the hundreds of other genres will die and loose relevance. For me, there are times when all I want to hear is a banjo or mandolin, sitting around a campfire. Sometimes, the crooning voice of Eddy Arnold in Cattle Call is the perfect thing to hear. Jazz, unlike electronic music, is food for my soul. I need it from time to time or I will starve in a strange way that is difficult to define. Rock en español satisfies a part of my musical appetite. Sometimes I want just to break something and turn Zack de la Rocha’s political rants up to 10. Other times I need the calm of M83 or Ulrich Schnauss. Chopin’s nocturnes or Rachmaninov’s frantic piano are only two classical examples of the eternal expressions of the human emotion. And electronic music is pure emotion, nothing more. But given the vast amount of tools available to the modern electronic music writer or dj, I think the potential for creativity is far greater in that “computer-generated” noise than in most other types of music. And I intend to listen, and not to perform, through the whole ride.
Thom Yorke had it right when he went down that electronic road in Kid A.