1.20.2009

RA Critics Discuss 2008 Part One

RA has posted the first of two sets of exchanges between Peter Chambers, Ronan Fitzgerald and Philip Sherburne here.

I will comment further as the rest of the exchange is published, but what struck me most upon my first reading was the weird tone of regret that has become so predominant in dance discourse. While there were certainly disagreements in the past of this music as to what was good, what was forward-thinking, what was bland or repetitive, I can't help but feeling that there is something unique about the way in which past ideas, past genres, in this case both minimal, and now nu-deep-house, are considered somehow as mistakes. Ronan's use of the word Catholic is entirely apt: there seems to be so much guilt associated with the past; self-abandonment to the pleasure of the historical moment is something to be atoned for later.  

This is perhaps another reason why online writing hasn't, for the most part, created an explosion of new ideas, but has instead contented itself with smaller and smaller refinements of pre-existing ones. Within the collapsed narrative of the postmodern, the constant availability of the past, any ardent passion is preserved in perpetuity. The truth of the moment of belief is not allowed to take its place in history, not allowed its integrity, and must be accounted for years later, must be seen as wanting in light of new information, read as if this new information was available then.  All belief becomes foolish in hindsight, all commitments and convictions unworthy.  

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Peter seems content with house and techno as genres, ie specific collections of aesthetics to be endlessly reconfigured with occasional breakthroughs and mutations. I will attempt to dismiss this style of thinking in a later post. 

The fact that Ronan calls his online collection of writing "House Is A Feeling" denotes the possibility that there can be feelings, beliefs and thoughts that are, on the one hand, part of a genre but also able to be discussed separately. Although he acknowledges the music is still functional, writing "Of course you could go to a club and just enjoy it. Hell, you could go to several clubs and just really fucking enjoy it...", he rejects the idea of the music being defined in such a small way, and maybe even understands the redundancy of this position, ie dance music is something you can dance to. Instead, he laments the lack of new blood, and the seeming powerlessness of dance music to entice this new blood in. The constant hand-wringing of the discourse seems to either reveal weakness or create it, or both.  

While I will address the issue of evangelism, and the process of expanding dance music in a later post (there are two really big ones coming up that will run me dry of ideas for months!), I do want to point out one difficulty that Ronan's words raise. If we identify genre here as both aesthetics, sounds and sound-ideas, and also the feelings, beliefs, etc. mentioned above, what genre, what world of musical thought, could techno and house borrow from? Whatever problems techno and house are facing now, other genres are suffering even worse. Electronic dance music was the last of the uber-genres to evolve. There is no more-vital uber-genre to borrow from. Collisions with jazz, with classical, with rock, with rap, with "world", will, for very different reasons in each case, do little to improve techno and house music as it is now. Something different is called for.  

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Ronan writes:

Perhaps a coherent dance discourse is increasingly impossible and irrelevant, as an online world which allows users to inform themselves finally seems to have stabilized? In 2009 there may be even fewer stories to tell. For the vast majority of fans, this probably doesn't matter in the slightest.

All I can say for now is that context is important, perhaps even more important now than it ever was, and that perhaps the most important route of inquiry the writer must take now is to figure out why there is no desire for it. In other words, what is wrong with these so-called fans? Especially in a genre where the idea of the collective was and is so important, the willingness of the fan to have the entirety of experience reduced to their own is problematic. This is not unique to techno and house of course. This is a global problem.


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