Is dance music over, yet again? There certainly seems to be a lot of online discussion to this effect.
Like many interesting music blogging memes, Simon Reynolds seems to have prompted this with a Blissblog post stating: "I don't believe in beats anymore" and suggesting that he was losing the "quasi-mystical faith in beats as somehow figurative: a belief that the tremors that each breakthrough by auteur-producer or scenius alike sent through the state of pop somehow correlated with or could be equated to tremors through society... After a good decade at full-tilt, that particular structure of affect and belief has faded away for me now, or for now (something could bring it back, possibly, but what that would be I can't even begin to imagine). Beats are just beats again: cool, funky, useful, invigorating, inventive."
At Pitchfork, Philip Sherburne has followed up with a fairly pessimistic assessment of the state of techno, mourning 'the atrophy of a particular sense of optimism, of possibility, that once seemed encoded in particular rhythmic structures and the ceaseless advancement of electronic music's shifting stylistics. Dance music is once again a lifestyle product, a soundtrack for entertainment'.
I think Simon at least is talking about the changing impact of beats on him, rather than making a general pronouncement on the state of electronic dance music. And personally I feel much same the way. It would be very easy to find objective reasons for this - maybe it was true that in the 1990s, dance music scenes (at least in the UK) did feel part of a wider shift in society. With the Criminal Justice Act we had specific laws against raves and mass demonstrations in central London against them. There was a beats-fuelled circuit of road protests, Reclaim the Streets parties and outlaw festivals like Castlemorton. On the other hand, maybe some of us expected too much of mere music which is why some of the more delerious and apocalyptic writing from that time feels quite dated (see some examples I've posted here from ***Collapse and Here & Now magazines).
But there's another dimension here, which involves taking on one of the great taboos of blogging. I am not talking about sex, politics or religion, all of which people seem happy to go on about regardless of how out there their views may be (nothing is occult anymore, in the sense of hidden). The final taboo is age. The internet allows us to create a disembodied virtual self where we can reveal what we think without ever having to reveal what we look like or how old we are. Partially this is a positive thing - we can make connections with people on the basis of a commonality of interest or enthusiasm without prejudging whether they are cool enough to hang out with us (or we with them).
The problem comes when people universalise from their own limited perpective. Let's face it, in terms of dance music anybody who was there in 1988 is going to be at least 36 now - assuming they were a pretty clued up 16 year old. Anybody whose history goes back a bit further to the post-punk period (like me) is going to be into their 40s. A lot of music blogging is done by people in this age bracket, partly because many of us have kids and don't have the time or perhaps the inclination to be going out every night any more.
I am not saying that makes us too old to dance (I am sure we will still have our arms in the air when they play Promised Land in the old folks home) or to have an opinion. But beats no longer have the same centrality in our lives. Our relation to new music is often via the internet rather than hearing tunes on a sound system, even if we are going out more the novelty of throbbing bass and watching the sunrise has certainly worn off. So we need to be careful about dismissing scenes just because they are not primarily our scenes anymore. For teenagers running round East Anglia in search of a free party the beats are still fresh and the summer of love is now, not twenty years ago.
Growing old gracefully means recognising that you are no longer 18 or even 28. If you are not going to be a sad old git (and if a male, a dirty old man) you have to reach a point where you can appreciate that there are young and beautiful people in the world without trying to sleep with them. Equally you have to be able to recognise that there are people dancing and making music without thinking that you are always the best person to judge what it means - sometimes it's better to pass on the torch than to piss on it.
"and we don't care about the young folks talkin' bout the young style
and we don't care about the old folks talkin' 'bout the old style too"