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Electronica News: A Guide to the Guides

URB positions itself at the center by aspiring to encompass the whole: URB as field guide, URB as chroniclers of ”tribal past“ and ”techno future,“ URB as lifestyle purveyors and happy advisers. Exhibit A: the ”What URB likes“ section -- Rav‘n Party Light glowsticks, Boca vegetarian sausages. Exhibit B: a piece on a DJ who whips out his own minidisc midinterview to record himself being recorded. Welcome to the URB-iverse, a vibrant space populated by creative individuals doing fascinating things with light and sound, specialist naysayers be damned. As editor Daniel Chamberlin says in the opening ”Diatribe“: ”It’s not our job to be cultural snobs, assuming that our taste is somehow superior. It‘s our job to discuss cultural snobbery.“

Hunkering at the fringe is Outburn (Subversive + Post-Alternative Music), which covers the end of the electronic-music spectrum that verges into goth-industrial. An interview with The Cult snuggles next to one with Orbital. Beyond the cut-up type, the demonesses peering through the mist, interview questions are straightforward and unpretentious, prompting artists to consider their work within the personal context: ”Do you think your music reflects your personality even though you sample a lot of other people’s music? Do you have any fond memories of music from when you were a young child?“

XLR8R (Accelerating Music and Culture) has a sassy sense of humor that makes URB seem positively earnest. In Issue 50, founder Andrew Smith describes the history of the magazine: ”‘93-’94: What the hell were we doing? . . . ‘95-’96: The ‘Fuck You’ Years.“ They ran ”editorials about the evils of wearing backpacks to parties and themed issues about goats.“ Now, it‘s more of the same -- reviews, music features, plus gear and fashion -- only bigger, glossier, and no more ”fuck“ on the cover. Each issue is a gorgeous piece of design work reminiscent of old RayGun. It’s like hanging out in the brain of a laid-back hipster who‘s well-versed in electronic music in all its permutations. Who likes to do strange things with typography. Who’s fixated on fluorescent orange ink.

In contrast there‘s U.K.-based The Wire, whose recent editorial goes as follows: ”You can tell the mags that are fun to work for: they’re the ones which have goofy job descriptions (‘Reviews Geek,’ ‘Senior Breadhead,’ etc.). You won‘t find any of that nonsense here, because we’re all terribly serious people.“ Their editor, in fact, is at pains to justify their coverage of Radiohead in a recent issue: ”It might surprise some readers to see a group the size of Radiohead in The Wire. Without pleading too hard here -- Simon Reynolds makes an admirable case for their presence in these pages.“ Every month, in a section called ”Invisible Jukebox,“ The Wire ”plays a musician or group a series of records which they‘re asked to identify and comment on -- with no prior knowledge of what they’re about to hear.“ Britney Spears on Paul Oakenfold? Please. Try Laurie Anderson on Ryuichi Sakamoto. Clean, minimalist layouts let the writing take center stage. Reviewers pull no punches. About the compilation CD for DEMF: ”Techno is allegedly obsessed with the future, but the stagnant, retrograde, back-patting bohemianism on show here won‘t win any new converts.“

”How do you measure the beauty of a dance song?“ asks DMA (America’s Dance Music Authority): ”Is it measured by the number of hands in the air during a crescendo or by the number of weeks it stays in your crate?“ Album reviews! Radio playlists! Industry updates! No need to question the ”credentials“ of any chart-topper (”Voulez vous coucher avec . . . whaa?“), just keep the crowd out on the floor.

If XLR8R and The Wire are electronic music‘s critical theorists, then MC2 (Music-Computers-Culture), Remix and MB (Mobile Beat) are its grammarians. They’re not out to influence social consciousness. They‘re about the nuts and bolts -- the samplers and sequencers and how-did-you-do-its -- of the DJ biz. The gizmos. The etiquette. The steps to the Hustle. Unless one knows -- or wants to know -- how to operate a Technics SL-1200MK2, how the Crystal Method creates its drum patterns or how to read beat tablature, one has no business tangling with Remix. It’s the source for ”underground music production“ and ”DJ performance,“ where an article called ”DJ Food“ is not a piece about buffet chicken but about an artists‘ collective. MB has tips for DJs spinning at elementary school parties (limbo poles, fog machines, how to get a better boy-to-girl dance-floor ratio). MC2 has ”How To Program Phat Beats“ and ”Itching To Scratch.“ DJs have a relationship with their gear the way mere mortals have one with dates -- or pets: ”There’s a lot to consider when you‘re looking for that one sampler you want in your life . . . Can it handle my abuse? Is it user-friendly? Can I take it with me everywhere I go?“