Cronin dismisses dance music in the European Cultural
Sadly, it's pretty much the standard rant by someone who has seen the
world pass them by and doesn't like it. (I've said much the same on
many occasions.) Sure, a lot of dance music sucks. A lot of
rock'n'roll sucked, too, and most “punk” music sucked, as well.
(And all disco, of course. ;-) ) Such is life.
When I saw Better
Living Through Circuitry (warning: Flash), I was a bit
surprised by just how boring the audience was, but I tend to think
that most people are pretty dull, so it wasn't a devastating
revelation. There definitely seems to be a lot of “let's dress up in
cutesy clothes, take drugs, and pretend we love everyone” going on.
On the other hand, I always thought that the whole business of
dressing up in torn-up clothes covered with band names and pretending
to be scary was pretty sad, too.
Punk qua punk had a pretty short life and a tiny audience.
It's not unlikely that punk wouldn't have registered at all on most
people's lives if it hadn't been so outrageous at a time when most
people were so very conformist. (The famous Sex Pistols interview on
Today is laughably tame compared with pretty much any
episode of any modern sleazy talk show.)
The punk bands that have survived best, it seems to me, are the ones
that evolved to incorporate other musical threads into their own work.
Groups such as The Clash and Siouxsie and the Banshees (to name two I
liked then and still enjoy) changed their sound completely, but still
had a razor's edge hiding just beneath their smoother, more complex
Other groups that were inspired by punk changed, too, often for the
better. Cabaret Voltaire, starting as experimental noise, with
grating guitars, tape loops, and distortion, incorporated funk and
synthesizer sounds into their music, evolving into what Cronin would
probably dismiss as a dance band.
Throbbing Gristle broke into Chris + Cosey (scintillating pop with a
dark underbelly), Psychic TV (pagan ritual dance music, then more and
more electronic, creating “acid house”), Coil (complex music with
pagan overtones, moving into dancier stuff), and so forth.
If dance music is mindless—and most of it is—at least it's less
annoying than most of the “new” crap that gets played on the radio,
MTV, and other outlets, much of which is totally derivative. I've
heard “new” music lately that sounds like it could have been
recorded in the sixties or seventies by some second-rate band.
On the other hand, there are plenty of groups (e.g., the Chemical
Brothers, Underworld, Single Gun Theory, the Grassy Knoll) that are
making music that I find interesting, creative, and, goddess forbid,
fun—music that builds on, rather than just copies, music
done by older bands—even if it doesn't necessarily have a political
or social axe to grind.
While I'm bashing Cronin, what's with his glorification of copyright?
While “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” can be taken too
far, it's foolish to pretend that newer culture doesn't build on the
old. The Sex Pistols used guitars and drums instead of inventing
their own instruments and covered Frank Sinatra tunes. Cabaret
Voltaire sampled freely from films and television. Throbbing Gristle
borrowed from ritual music. The Clash stole reggae songs and sounds.
Andrew gets the Negativland reference wrong—The Letter U and the Numeral 2 was the original version
of a booklet describing Negativland's battle with Island Records,
Casey Kasem, and their own label at the time, SST Records, over their
parody EP U2. Island Records claimed that naive U2 fans
were buying it in the belief that it was a new U2 album, and demanded
that it be recalled and destroyed. In the end, SST complied, even
though U2 themselves seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of the EP.
(Casey Kasem proved to be the sticking point—he was angry about the
outtakes from his American
Top 40 radio show that were used in the track.)
The Letter U and the Numeral 2 included a CD, “Crosley
Bendix Discusses the U.S. Copyright Act”. There's a transcript on
Negativland's site. I think the essay sums up the issues pretty well.
The Electronica Primer
has a good overview of “electronica”—what it is, where it comes
from, who makes it—that supports both my and Andrew's
interpretations of the term. (In that it includes some bands I
wouldn't have (e.g., New Order, although I'd agree some of their stuff
counts), but still emphasizes the danceability of the music.)
I apparently failed to bash Moby a bit over his new show on MTV, Señor Moby's
House of Music. We stumbled on this gem late one
weeknight, and were irresistibly drawn to it. Could Moby be lamer
than his live performance on Sessions at West 54th? He
I still like many of Moby's songs—they're not stunningly innovative
(Little Axe pretty well did the definitive electronica meets the blues
thing, if you ask me), but they hum well, and they're nice background
music for working or driving. But he really should stick to the
studio, as his attempts to make laid back songs exciting in live
performance are just sad. Give me Underworld any day.
One more music note—recording 120 Minutes and then
fast-forwarding through it on the off-chance that something halfway
decent might have been played continues to be the best way to watch
the show, nearly ten years after it started. It's much easier with a