Channel Four tried to be innovative and cutting edge this bank holiday weekend, offering up an eight hour spectacle of ‘house’ music and telling us how the whole thing had changed the world and then having six deejays play one hour sets [without advertisements – radical, I know] with ‘twisted visuals’ and a ‘clown’ shouting out shit and sexist remarks in between as deejays changed places, swapped position and sounds. Whilst I wanted to admire the broadcaster’s spirit - it all felt very flat. Well perhaps not completely flat – but there was a documentary before the DJ sets presented by ‘an actor, deejay and clubber’ that was lamentable in every sense. Another countdown of the arbitrary 40 ‘pivotal’ moments that typify and extend our understanding of how ‘clubbing’ changed the world. It ended with ecstasy. When that was where it should have started.
It was out of sync and out of place.
When you have a detailed, analytical [in places] and well researched book in ‘Altered States – The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House’ by Matthew Collin – it would seem a logical starting point to make a ‘documentary’ about the social and psychological impact of the 303 and 808 on our mindset, play and morals using that as a reference guide. But instead we got the usual fair – the talking heads and random sequences taking in Chicago and New York cityscapes, queues for Studio 54, a touch of travellers, swaying masses, The Hacienda, da police and The Sun, strobe lights, lasers and smiley faces. Yeah, just like I remember it. Okay – I didn’t watch it all – but I think I could fill in the gaps between number 37 up to number 5 – it was hardly rocket science was it? I guess my only thrill came from seeing DJ Pierre turn on the actually 303 used on Acid Trax and let it bubble and squelch in what seemed to be a record store – but was more likely his own collection in his house.
Funny that the documentary was the actual product of how ‘clubbing’ changed the world, a shortened attention span and lack of depth, anecdotal musings, devoid of politics and meta-narrative and pretty much vacant. Also this substitute of the word ‘clubbing’ as opposed to ‘House’ or ‘Rave’ or ‘dance’ – you know people where fairly wild before Atalantic Ocean released Waterfall [ironic ] I do believe my mum and dad went to clubs – they danced to Elvis and Eddie Cochran. The masses frightening the establishment –oooh scary maaan. Commodification and consolidation – take it under your wing my friend and exploit it for all it’s worth. Make a documentary about it and reduce it’s edge – package it up – put a logo on it [I don’t know – something ‘ministry’ like – sort of official] and sell it back for late nights in lounges and car rides, or nostalgia trips and fancy dress [School Disco – anyone?]
That’s what pop music is. It is a package of this and that – sold to us all.
It does what we want when we want it to. As Adorno said all those years ago popular music exists to fulfill the needs of the ‘emotional listener’ quickly – a hit for the moment. This standardization of popular music means that we have already pre-accepted it even before we have heard it. Our ears are trained to hear the music in a standard form whether it is pop, rock, dance, drum and bass or death metal, we already have an expectation of the music, it is ‘pre-digested’ through the structure of the songs. Thatcher must have rubbed her hands together as we ‘put our hands together’ as the music which radiated defiance and difference was slowly reigned in and accepted. Rendering it redundant.
I was wondering round Hirst’s exhibition this week – with the kids – they wanted to see the shark and it was the same there. Empty, devoid of comment and all about the money. That should have been number one – in the C4 doc – how ‘clubbing’ changed the world – it made a lot of people rich at the expense of camaraderie and equality we all thought we were having in the queues and on dance floors as we embraced and gurned our way through the night and emerged ever ready to right the wrongs through euphoric songs and repetitive beats.
I remember when suddenly you weren’t welcome in clubs – you know ‘promoters’ wanted you to ‘dress up’ - pay twenty pound for a ticket – because ‘house music’ was only for a certain swathe of the masses. These ‘strictly’ sounds were strictly for certain kinds. Clubbing changed the world by ghettoizing the sounds and shutting the doors. By subsuming the boredom and frustrations of 1980s Britain it did the Tories a favour – it took us all off the streets and made us sleep through the day.
Now don’t get me wrong. [or do – it doesn’t really matter]
I don’t want all my music challenging but I do want to be challenged. I’m only here once. I want to think. And ‘house music’ can make you think – it can ‘open up’ the mind [body and soul] Through hearing those manipulated beats and synthesized sounds in Orbital, Black Dog, Luke Slater, Beaumant Hannett, Mark Broom, Carl Craig, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Marshall Jefferson, Todd Terry – you understand – the list goes on and on and on – brought me to ‘musique’ concrete, Cage, Glass, Ligetti, Satie and Stockhausen. To Can, Neu!, Tangerine Dream and Eno and other musical forms beyond the four on the floor. It made me listen to news reports about space, developments in science and technology. It made me question post modernism and the rethink Marx. It politicized and spoke with understanding.
It changed the world a little bit.