By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
On KaZaA, a file-sharing network that puts Napster to shame, I download some strange version of John Digweed‘s ”The Unexplained“ and dance to it, alone in my apartment. It’s trance with all the same conventions as Oakenfold, but fleet-footed, unpredictable trance. Even in this packaged version, I‘m never quite confident I know where Digweed’s headed -- themes sneak in as if through some sort of electronic back door; his beats fall in and out of sync like the systole and diastole of a packed dance floor, like interweaving strands of a double helix. ”Rabbit in the Moon,“ an airy mix of ethereal voices and articulate drumbeats, has a build, all right, but it escalates steadily over the entire tune, not in the violent bursts of electronic pulse for which Oakenfold is so ridiculously famous. It scares me a little; it makes me think of spinning planets, dying stars, death.
It also makes me inexplicably sad, as if so much music that once, for whatever reason, struck me as obdurately noncommercial is lost somehow; as if by nudging its way into the mainstream, electronic dance music has given up its magic to automobile ad campaigns and computer operating systems. But Robert Fink insists that music is not so delicate. ”Are you saying you don‘t want any music to be associated with any product?“ he asks me. ”If you can’t know things about a piece of music and choose the context in which you want to listen to it, then you‘re very vulnerable. Every piece I’ve studied is encrusted. Look at it this way: In an ad, people get to hear this music. People will go to AdCritic.com and say, what was that music in that BMW ad? It is in fact the case that people strip the ad away and use the music. They get the goody in the middle.
“We‘re to presume that the ravers thought they had managed to escape all this,” says Fink. “Everybody understands that when you get the hair extensions and pick up the Fender, you know what you’re getting into. But people who picked up the turntables thought they might have been avoiding the pitfalls. ‘We’re going to be into the music and the collective. The rules are going to be different for us.‘ I think rave culture fooled itself that the economics of the music business didn’t apply to them, that rave could be ubiquitous yet anti-establishment, lucrative and not commercial. The self-righteous part was, ‘We can change the whole world without compromising with the powers that be. We’re going to change the entire world without selling out, without blowing our cool.‘ That’s what died -- that fantasy that rave has remapped popular music without getting a record contract.
”I‘m perfectly aware of the absurdity of walking into Tower Records and seeing this huge section called ’global undergound,‘“ Fink says. ”Well, I guess it isn’t, is it? But the present historical moment is not the one and only crisis point where the forces of good and evil line up for the final battle.“
It‘s Saturday night, and I trudge out of the house to see Irene spin at Spundae. For the last two Saturday nights I haven’t been able to get into Spundae; the club was full when I arrived, and the line of hopefuls spilled despairingly out of the gate. Tonight I arrive early, wangle media credentials and watch other DJs play, some to nearly empty rooms. Jason Bentley is playing across the hall to a sparse group of men; Kazell precedes Irene on the main stage with the same progressive house he played back when Dave Dean‘s Giant defined Saturday nights at Circus. It’s all right to dance to, but nothing to watch. But by the time Irene takes the stage, the club is packed, there are girls screaming her name, and the night has become a show. Her short dyed-blond hair is done up in spikes; she‘s big-eyed and baby-faced, and flashes her smile like it’s part of her mix. Her glamorous girlfriend is standing behind the Plexiglas of the DJ booth, and Irene is happy. I think of her telling me about how she has ”faith in God.“ She has faith in fun. She dances hard. She Frisbee-throws free CDs into the crowd‘s outstretched hands. She even throws out a T-shirt or two.
Close to the stage, the crowd is moving in sync like a single creature, and it stays that way to the back of the room; there is no place here for standing around. At around midnight, two guys in mesh T-shirts arrive with a bevy of girls in spiky sandals and high heels, one in a white bustier and feathered cover-up, her lips deftly lined with a precision you can spot 10 feet away in a dark nightclub. She dances by moving only her knees and elbows, but she dances until Irene is finished. On the floor in front of her are five young Asian men, jumping and spinning, crossing their feet in the air and landing in a twist, dancing in intricate patterns like the raver boys they are.
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