Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spiriting rave

I’m adding to the noise around the 20th anniversary of rave, the summer of 88 generally credited with its birth as a mass movement. Twenty years, that’s a lot of anthems. By going overground and then splintering into a million different if not mutually hostile factions, dance music was able to constantly regenerate and replicate, keep going without lapsing into a cult. Hip-hop may have lasted a lot longer but apart from a very few artists still flipping the script, that scene has long been unable to bring anything new and vital to the mainstream. The ‘I was there and this is my two pennorth’ articles will come thick and fast – avoid most if you can and concentrate on archival stuff like this on house in the US. The Guardian of course is so cool that it started this off a year earlier. Like, yah, I was bang into house in 86, it was so liberating back then.

Twenty years on, and if you say you’re going raving that’s still a statement of intent, of plausible difference. It doesn’t sound like a niche, nostalgic night out like, say, a northern soul or a mod night might, because it has never gone away, never been satisfied that the first emissions from Chicago and Detroit were the perfect template. In 1988, my older sister was going down the local town venue to listen to ‘acid house’ (dance as a close friend of pop has always been in and around the charts), I, still a year away from GCSES, was waiting for my moment.

Even the most enthusiastic heads will be sanguine about any revolutionary-transcendental effect it has had, and cynics will say that the dance music culture has just made societies more addictive, more in thrall to appetite and desire, chasing the chemical hit over any quotidian reality, falling thrall to narcosis. It’s a pity, because the music does sound better on drugs, the communal high of a rave or club puts other leisure options into the shade and invariably those who have been on the rave turnmill are politically more progressive than those who only left the public house to go to nightclubs and pull. And of course the great thing about the wide-scale diversity of the movement that a definitive history of rave is impossible, you may have stalwarts of one scene or one place but this was transnational and nobody’s been through all the scenes for that long. After the techno boom of 88-90, you had to choose one of many paths.

Further proof of rave’s vitality is seen by it’s feeding through to parasitic cultures wanting to take a bit of that spirit. The indie-rock scene is the obvious example, and not for the first time. For those still keeping check of the emissions from the corporate bedfellow, I find Marc Riley’s Brain Surgery by far the best, bullshit and hyperbole-free, constantly teaming up new quality with older selections. The last show I heard rave motifs were being appropriated in at least a couple of new tunes – Cheeky Cheeky & the Nosebleeds’ trying the best part of the Pacific State out on a guitar for their Slow Kids, XX Teens’ latest dependent on one of those queasy, uncanny 93-94 jungle riffs. Most bands, even defiant indie like the Courteeners (yes it’s Cortinas) are willing to put space into their tunes now, let the kickdrum do the work just like a four-four beat would. Even Semitic for his first remix has gone back to the avalonian Then for inspiration, remodelling Playing With Knives. It’s nearly done.

Depending where you look, indieboyband doyens are apparently having a whale of a time in their indie discos (ever since Sonic Mook and others they have been done properly). That scene has depended on a certain application of rave mores – in the primacy of the beat, the pushing up of the tempo, the losing one self, the never say sleep spirit and the drug taking. Don’t let that be your only port of call (patronising alert), kids! To be fair, arguably these have more connections to the electronic dance scenes, if the link-ups, diversity of nights and collaborations are anything to go by, than the rock-soul regression of Ronson, Winehouse, Duffy et al and the mainstream names of Killers-Coldplay-Editors (anyone up from Bloc Party). I dream of a radioshow which pays deference to the rave history, in the context of new output. This is still unlikely while the media owners still think rock (which died with punk) still rules and disco sucks.
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