1.10.2009

Deep House (For)(N)ever

SR adds to his earlier thoughts on the "dance is dead" malaise that has attacked a few prominent writers recently, including RF and PS, whose websites, along with SR's, are linked to here.  

I sympathize with Reynolds' concern, at least partially, with the regressiveness that has, depending on your perspective, either intermittently or perpetually plagued dance music since the beginning of this decade, but I disagree with his locating the past that is being regressed to so far back. Rather than a back-to-1989 initiative, the current scene reminds me more of the mid- to late 90s. Dance music operates, it seems, on closer to a ten-year "retro cycle", and is usually a step ahead of indie, which is somehow a compliment, I guess(!). 

Rather than the new German deep house sounding like Ten City or Jomanda, or even Mr. Fingers (that revival already happened!), the sounds that have been returning to prominence since around 2006 belong to 1995-1999. In that period, the second wave of Chicago represented by Balance, Prescription, Guidance, Cajual and Relief co-existed with Basic Channel and Chain Reaction, the still-not-quite-too-fast minimal techno of certain Detroit and European producers, and the reconfigurations of those sounds that eventually became known as tech-house. This was also the period when many of the currently-in-vogue Detroit house DJs first made names for themselves. Pick any of those sounds, and recently-formed and "hip" labels such as Smallville, Ornaments, Ostgut Ton and Yore are covering them figuratively and sometimes literally. Since many of the aforementioned historical sounds laid the groundwork for Perlon, Playhouse, M_Nus, etc.,  the current revival is less a revival and more the sound of minimal (d)evolving back to the moment right before it was birthed. The clock has not been turned back past the 90s, nor past Europe, but the clock is mostly being turned back by Europeans admiring earlier European innovations that were more consonant with Detroit and Chicago than the European innovations that weren't.

I also disagree with Reynolds' idea that there is some fear of or revulsion towards "the hardcore". First off, if minimal was ever hardcore, it was, as Reynolds himself notes in the latest revision of Energy Flash, a purely middle-class one. No bourgeois propriety was being subverted (drugs and casual sex are mainstream now, self-indulgence, not pragmatism, has been the ascendant ethos of consumer capitalism for decades), nothing truly transgressive was happening. The records were and are excellent, but the world changed around them. Moreover, the hardcore continuum that Reynolds so brilliantly described in Energy Flash was one of expansion, of explosion. Acid, breakbeat hardcore, jungle, etc., were truly musics one could not imagine before they happened. Even the creators of those musics couldn't conceive of them; the evolution was quick but not abrupt. Minimal, on the other hand, was and is a refinement of all of the different ideas embodied by the labels mentioned above.  

If minimal is a refined music, not an expansive one, contingent on past styles, yet independent of them, and caters to a global coterie of middle-class pleasure seekers, than its closest analog is actually progressive house. If progressive, like minimal, was ever any good, it was because of the clash of standard house sounds and trance. However, when it broke off and became its own genre, the gene pool narrowed, and all of the genetic mutations of the techno/house endeavor were slowly bred out*.  The same thing happened with minimal. Circa 2004, "minimal" was maximal, encompassing a huge arrange of sounds and ideas, until, gradually, the music purified itself to too high of a degree, hence the backlash. If minimal is more akin to progressive, the idea that the "hipsters" of techno are somehow anti-'nuum, doesn't work. The current reconfiguration is an attempt to expand the gene pool once again, and this attempt may or may not lead to new configurations. 

The caveat is that the new configurations that may arise will be contained within a fairly circumscribed aesthetic context.  

* Further writing on this to come.

No comments: