Off The Record: Why Don’t We Treat Electronic Music Seriously?
Discourse and discussion on the many-headed beast that is electronic music* seems infinitely couched in rose-tint, reverence and revisionism.
Even as electronic music continues to seep into our greater cultural consciousness – one way or another – academic representation in this field has, for the most part, barely scratched at its many surfaces.
One potential reason is that other genres of music, be it pop or rhythm and blues (and their extensions) are a more familiar and established marker in the lexicon of Western popular culture. Or perhaps it’s more comfortable to recycle the same old, tired tropes about Kraftwerk et al. But it’s a bit lazy, and it’s not really offering anything new.
The discussion appears forever caught in ultimately circular debates on the physical mode of production (analogue versus digital, laptop versus turntable); on the obsessive distinction or retrospective on genre and subgenre (is it outsider house? Insider house? Dew-droplet house? Full House?); or on rosy references to musical icons or institutions (Larry Levan, Ron Hardy, Frankie Knuckles, The Warehouse and so on) that border on full-blown hero worship.
I’m not arguing against their necessary legacy or importance. It’s important to recognise and respect where we come from. This is more an attempt to identify a glaring lack of attention afforded to a broader critical discourse on electronic music. And, to a lesser extent, to identify the problematic nature of the rapid commodification of subcultures. What are the social conditions that surround and sustain the music? What are its effects, what are its ramifications? Why do we listen to it?
Luminaries and musicians such as Brewster/Broughton, Tim Lawrence and Simon Reynolds have shed light on DJs, disco and its (dis)contents, while identifying the multitude of other genres that have contributed directly to electronic music’s development. What we’re missing are the critical voices. Terre Thaemlitz [above] is one such example (she is wonderfully eloquent and her writings and interviews are well worth a read), Kirk Degiorgio another. Ethnomusicologist Dr. Luis-Manuel Garcia has also contributed significantly to furthering the greater discussion, with his texts available online.
This is as good a time as any to be engaging in meaningful research and public discussion about electronic music, ethnographic or otherwise. In as much as club culture, for example, has its similarities, so too does it have its idiosyncrasies – idiosyncrasies and qualities that make Sydney’s nightlife distinct, the hopeless inadequacies of the lockout laws aside.
* I’ve persisted with this disastrously awkward generalisation in this column, but it’s still better than cringey labels like ‘EDM’.
This week’s playlist
Sons Of Kemet’s Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do. They’re a four-man jazz outfit featuring the supremely talented saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, some great tuba work on the basslines and two drummers – think Afrobeat/Arabic-inflected jazz. Also see Terre Thaemlitz and her Soulnessless EP 1 (K-S.H.E remixes) – it’s deepest house boasting Thaemlitz’s mastery of sampling, space and atmosphere.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 18
Bondi Beach Radio Presents – Is That Fair? @ The World Bar
Picnic One Night Stand w/ Kali @ Secret BYO Location
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 26
Tall Black Guy @ Cake Wines Cellar Door
SATURDAY MARCH 4
Mad Racket Mardi Gras Special w/ Christian Vance @ Marrickville Bowling Club
SUNDAY MARCH 5
Soulection: The Sound Of Tomorrow w/ Jarreau Vandal, DJ Sosupersam @ Pier One Sydney Harbour
MONDAY MARCH 13
Nicolas Jaar @ Metro Theatre
[Terre Thaemlitz photo by Ruthie Singer-Decapite]