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Dancing off the Edge
  • April 08, 2013 : 14:04
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Yet a counterargument runs that the older rave generations are on shaky ground complaining about the commercialization of dance music. We were the ones, after all, who, having had our fill of cold fields and disused factories, started to pine for proper toilets and bars. You can’t have enough in the capitalist world of entertainment, only too much. So then came the VIP lounge and the velvet ropes of the superclub, another precedent of EDM.

The good and bad aspects of EDM were summed up by Chicago house legend and articulate observer of the American dance-music scene Tommie Sunshine: “I love the fact that this music is where it is. If you say differently, you’re either lying or you never got it in the first place. House music to me was always inclusive: I always wanted everyone to come to the party. We lost a lot of that inclusiveness when the whole bottle-service and dickhead-doorman thing became a cliché. But this subculture wasn’t made up of people playing by the rules. And now people want to put rules on it. It’s showbiz, and the love of music has been tragically lost.”

Kids need their heroes, and as an old anti-house purist who grumbled about DJs stealing music before I succumbed to the power of the beat (and the pill), I’m in no position to bemoan the rise of musicianship and technological spectacle over DJ performance in dance music. But I also want people to know about the history and spirit of the rave. As Baker says, “No one is educating the kids on its underground ethnic roots, the forefathers of the old school, the gay DJs who were wiped out by AIDS. The cycle of history on dance music is about five to 10 years—before that the kids are clueless for the most part.”

Here in America, Larry Levan is long gone, but some of the giants of techno and house such as Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Frankie Knuckles are still strutting their stuff. It would be great if today’s EDM kids were checking them out. If you are investing heavily in something in terms of your time, money and social life, you should know about it. Why? Because it’s yours: It’s your culture and your history. If you don’t, you’re just another passive consumer in the supermarket line, waiting for the next tune before doing the hamster-on-the-wheel routine. And yes, since we put our own spin on it over in Europe, I also want people to know about Shoom, the Haçienda, Ibiza and the free party scene, culminating in Castlemorton and the Blackburn arrests.

Worryingly, there are signs of an imminent U.S. crackdown. The swaggering machismo of spring-break frat-boy culture has moved dubstep toward the harder sound of “brostep,” which has been embraced in the States. There’s no doubt the EDM experience is heavily packaged, less about music or even dancing than just about being a face in this huge extravaganza, partying hard and getting as fucked-up as possible. Another element of contemporary American EDM, one it shares with some of the harsher European techno scenes, is that under the veil of celebration there is often a tangible sense of anger and alienation. Members of the EDM generation are the first Americans who will be poorer than their parents, and they often carry a palpable sense of frustration associated with that status.

While the tragic ecstasy-related death of the teenager in 2010 illustrates that the scene perversely grows on notoriety, in the long run such incidents can only make it more visible to the authorities. The event illustrated the unavoidably symbiotic link between EDM and ecstasy. The Los Angeles Times, reporting on the Electric Daisy Carnival, stated that “about 120 attendees were taken to hospitals, mostly for drug intoxication.”

There are only so many ways you can sanitize an experience that is, in essence, largely about the interface between a sound and a drug, whether you are celebrating or hiding by doing so. There will be people who say that drugs are irrelevant, that it’s all about the music and they can dance themselves into a transcendental state. But with a few new-age nerdish or rehab-case exceptions, this is bullshit. If there’s a party in the penthouse of a tower block, 90 percent of people, or more, will opt for the express elevator rather than 60 flights of stairs. Ecstasy, by increasing sensitivity to light, touch and above all beat, made the U.K. and European rave explosion, just as a more generic cocktail of drugs, led by MDMA, is now doing for dance music in America.

As I write this, there are moves by the city of Miami to restrict the Ultra festival, a magnificent three-day party that turns a sterile downtown into a tropical carnival. Inevitably drug use has been cited. Never mind that every single weekend, in every city in America, just as many drugs will be consumed by unsupervised people who will then likely come into contact with sober citizens going about their business. An EDM festival packed with dancing, drug-fueled, sexually liberated youth is a soft target for a reactionary politician trying to hog headlines.

So, sadly, EDM seems almost custom-made to be shunted into the firing line, contested in an America increasingly divided by age and ideology. The threat to Ultra shows that right-wing, Tea Party–driven legislators, with their seemingly relentless quest to control the uterus and to proscribe through certification where the penis can and cannot be inserted, now have such events conclusively on their radar. EDM has changed America and is changing it still. Hang on tight; it could be a bumpy ride.

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read more: entertainment, music, issue april 2013


  • Anonymous
    i have loved electronic music since i heard about it in 2000. This article has really helped me put some roots down. I have loved electronic music since i heard my first mix. this article is not just for the history of "EDM". it is for all of the "ravers" that have no idea how this subculture began, and how it has really influenced the electronic scene today.