Friday, April 06, 2007

Criticial Conservatism

Theo is complaining about the continuing unacceptance of electronic dance music by mainstream journalism. He is right, but as always there is a rather simple explanation. You see, electronic dance music is highly abstract music. As such it mirrors the ever increasing abstraction of our environment (which is of course in turn - as always - closely related to capitalism's ever forward marching stride). And most people just do not want to be reminded of that when they are 'enjoying' music (as I have stated many times before the music that most people are subjected to from daily radio transmissions is "music for people who do not like music"). They would rather rely on the eternal formulae of pop music with its recognizable lyrics about so-called everyday life.

It is the by now dreary postmodern story of people not wanting to accept the society they have created themselves. So when it comes to entertainment they instinctively shy away from the mechanical and cold aspects of electronic dance music, not realising that nostalgia always leads to sameness and ultimately fascism (that last one I have nicked from DeLillo's profetic White Noise I think, but I am convinced it is true nonetheless).

Worse is that those who call themselves underground journalists also continue to gobble up the structural hypes that are forced upon them by record companies and big broadcasting companies. You just have to casually read two or three so-called independent magazines to realize that week after week, month after month they, too, fill up their columns with the same artists and currents. The critique may be different but the names are all exactly the same. That way a lot of really good music is hardly visible and gets ghettoised toward niches and fragmented interest groups.

There may be, as Theo remarked, a market for niche-music and indeed there is. But the fact that they will forever remain niches also entails that the margin for true innovation continues to grow smaller and smaller.

But then again, true innovation does not let itself be stopped off by the narrowness of its manoeuvring space. It thrives on exactly that. So, in the end, there is always hope.

Addendum: I am wondering though why Theo thinks it is that much different in other countries than Holland. I think this has ultimately more to do with the wider public they are reaching, because most of the magazines he is - I think - talking about are written in English. Relatively speaking I am guessing the difference will not be all that great.


Anonymous said...

Theo here..

as you know, Vincent, I've lived in Berlin and Cologne for over a year. In magazines like groove, De:Bug, Spex and even Intro (all written in German) there is a continous flow of argumentation and critical journalism about electronic dance-music.

the same there in the clubs, galeries and public spaces. PopNoName, on the the most talented young producers in Germany, exposed himself a week in the Galerie für Moderne Kunst at the Aachenerstrasse in Cologne. everybody could 'see' him making his new 12inch for Kompakt, talk to him, discuss with him.

to go even further: the website of the City of Cologne takes the dancemusicscene of the city as one of the most important selling point of the city. don't know if you have been in Cologne but the innercity simply breathes good dancemusic.

I remember discussing the new Madonna record on the a party near the river Rhine. back in the taxi with Tobias Thomas, who used to be editor with Spex and just released his mix-album on Kompakt we talk about it some more and the next few days everywhere I went people talked about dancemusic, the evolution of it and the link with modern society.

I can tell you by experience, that is much different then the situation in Holland. dancemusic is considerd a serious form op popculture/art in Germany. in Holland it's only music for the dumb masses and a good way to make lots of money with huge danceparties. I am living in the wrong country, that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

theo - again,

I don't think that who issue has anything to do with nostalgia (Bauman poses it in his masterpiece Intimations of Postmodernity) but more with the Liquid Modernity like Bauman calles the current state of constant searching for nothing (liquid and stable at the same time).

there is no centre, no truth anymore. that keeps bothering oldfashioned journalists. they ignore undergroundculture because they are looking for something that can become big, but always have to search for something new in the end.

this is very Dutch, in the way that Dutch culture and Dutch journalism always have been about the facade rather than content. I know, that is quite a claim, but my year working with German journalist made clear they are doing things different.

it isn't ofcourse only journalism. for OOR I talked to both Serge Verschuur (owner of Clone) and I-F (he doesn't need any introduction, does he) saying that there are enough spaces in Holland that give room for underground(dance)culture with a large audience but that those niches are not represented in Dutch media AT ALL. thus creating a situations where larger clubs don't dare to program dance that is on the verge of underground/mainstream.

as I also published in OOR: the interconnection between media, clubs, galeries, musiclovers and the dancescene in both Cologne and Berlin is very tight.

needles to say I think media plays an important role in shaping a (sub)culture. Holland, not only according to this, the main example to justify Bauman's theory of liquid modernity: when nothing matters it is irrelevant what to write.

my emailsignature qouting good old Marcuse says everything:

"In the realm of culture, the new totalitarianism manifests itself precisely in a harmonizing pluralism, where the most contradictory works and truths peacefully coexist in indifference."

it is us, critical journalists, to change that situation. meaning: creating local media that can represent undergroundculture.

Esco said...

I'm only living in Hamburg since two months and a half, but I completely agree with Theo. I'm buying magazines like Groove and De:Bug (I'm trying to improve my German with them) and the depth, knowledge and substance of the writing on electronic music is refreshing, to say the least.

What Theo describes in his story about Tobias Thomas I experience myself: it's actually possible to have interessting conversations with a lot (!) of people about the link between modern/electronic music and society. My favourite starting-point for these kind of discussions nowadays is the whole 'German Wasted Youth' thing.. but that's another story...

After living the last three years in Belgium, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Italy and Germany, I must say that the latter is definetely my favourite.

Fire in the Mind said...

I envy you guys (and no smiley included this time)

Fire in the Mind said...

but then again, it would seem that germany is THE big exception.

Martijn said...

Some more straightforward explanations:
- It's easier to make a magazine in Germany, because it's a bigger market.
- The Netherlands has always been very westward looking for its cultural influences. Dance was at its most popular when Detroit and Chicago were still at its heart. When the epicentre moved to Germany it moved to the back of the Dutch cultural outlook. It also means that urban Dutch hip-hop is much better than the German variety.
- Because of Mental Theo, Paul Elstak and Tiësto dance in NL very much became a blue collar thing with anti-intellectual tendencies. Even someone like I-F presents himself like a working class hero. The niche Kompakt has in Germany was taken in NL by Excelsior. The German equivalent of Sensation Black are the huge shows Manowar and Blind Guardian give in the Ruhrarea.

Fire in the Mind said...

i think a smaller geographical space should not make any difference and i think it does not either. it is just a question of guts and not wanting to underestimate the reader/consumer, which is done all too often.

Anonymous said...

i'm with vince on this: market is big enough.

funnny you mention blue collar, martijn. the whole idea of blue and white collar never really existed in Germany. since the Wanderjeugend back in 1780 there has a link between workspace and intellect. the biggest dancecities in germany: hamburg, berlin, frankfurt and cologne are workingclasscities.

also Kompakt can't be compared to Excelsior. I mean, dj's and dancemusicculture is everywhere in the big cities of cologne. is has, in a way, become alternative mainstream like Franz Ferdinand over here, but in this case: next too FF.

German music - music produced in germany or made in germany - is very big over there. it is taken very seriously also by the press. the general idea amongst musicjournalist - I know them - is that german music is as good as foreign music, often even better. the also don't have the 'oh help it's not from America or the UK!'-syndrome like we have. an amsterdam based group - in this case: lefties soul connection - gets as much attention as acts from the US.

there is much more a culture of openess towards cultural production. that's what I think ;-)