Saturday, September 09, 2000
Gareth talks about trance, and very interestingly too, eventually drawing it into a general discussion of how all dance musics inevitably divide into the sell-out and the impenetrable.

Personally, I think the problem with the deliberate austerity of late-period techno and jungle is not so much the grim cheeselessness of the music so much as the self-consciousness which dictates how that grim cheeslessness is expressed, and what rules control it. Both scenes had been making serious, commercially unviable and outsider-unfriendly music from their inception.

Where both scenes eventually got it wrong was by actually coming to some firm idea of what the ideal serious, unfriendly (and yet, within the scene, deserving of anthem-status) music was. In the case of jungle, you can point to a couple of tracks: Jonny L's "Piper", Dillinja's "Acid Track", Krust's "Warhead", Ed Rush and Optical's "Bacteria", Ram Trilogy's "No Reality", Shy FX's "Bambataa". In the case of techno, it begins and ends with Jeff Mills.

I actually like all those tracks listed, and a fair chunk of Jeff Mills (mainly though the Waveform Transmission stuff). However, by being so good at achieving their uncompromising goals, the effect they have had on their respective genres is to limit other producers' creative visions to choking point. I can't speak with any great authority on techno, but certainly for jungle you suddenly had an enormous glut of tracks working solely within the limits set out by the above tracks, using the same tricks relentlessly.

Of course this sort of thing happens in every genre, but in the case of serious genres like techno and jungle, instead of turning into "cheese", the intense lack of creativity being used has an air of "refinement" to it which becomes just as stale. I'd say that techno is now burdened with this for good (being hedged in on all sides by trance, acid, tech-house etc., its refinement is pretty much its defining aspect these days), while jungle, still being defined by its use of breakbeats and bass, has a chance of working its way out of its cul-de-sac. Indeed, jungle right now is the most populist it's been for years, it's just that no one really cares anymore.

There's other considerations at work here too - sometimes whether a style is "cheesy" or "serious" is merely a matter of perspective. When techstep first started appearing it was in its own brutal way cheesy, the populist choice (after all, it was reviving Belgian techno of all things). However the superficial similarities to techno within the music allowed it to gradually evolve its own scientific, self-conscious internal discourse which eliminated the perception of cheese without actually changing the style of the music in any fundamental way.

With this in mind, it's easy to imagine a similar thing happening within garage, which actually has the chance of killing itself a couple of ways. Either the MJ Cole sound could take over completely (unlikely), or the song-light, bass-heavy "underground" sound could link up to jungle, techno and nu-skool breaks and become devastatingly anal.

In fact, listening to tracks by Stanton Warriors or The Wideboys (especially the "Break & Bass Mix" of their "Hustler", which sounds a revving motorbike), I can easily see this happening. The way the scene's taken to the Timo Maas mix of Azzido Da Bass's "Doom's Night" (surely just a breakbeat version of "Flat Beat"?) also points to this. Either that or there'll be a 2-step backlash and the scene will revert to four to the floor, which there has been some support for.

Just on the matter of trance, yes it's overwhelmingly "teutonic metronome music", but, er, isn't that the point? You can always put some garage on afterwards if you need to. Anyway, I've recommended to Josh that he check out psychedelic trance, which of all the style's subsets seems to least emphasise the four/four beat in favour of all the crazy acid twirling.


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