Monday, November 27, 2000
Here's an interesting article by Dennis Romero on The Politics of Progressive House (sounds like something I'd write, really). I find the article's point (that progressive house has been rejuvenated by influence of the slightly more funk-tional Tenaglia-style tribal house) intriguing, but its method of getting there annoying. I'm sick of American articles self-consciously defending Moby's importance within the rave scene for one, while the suggestion that Karl Hyde of Underworld is some sort of maverick who revolutionised dance music is patently absurd (he only sings on the records, for heavens' sake). And who the hell uses the term "e-music" to describe dance music?

Anyway, I enjoy a lot of progressive house - I like Drum Club, Spooky, Sasha & Digweed, Leftfield and the Hardkiss collective - but that's partly because I missed it the first time around. In the early nineties the "progressive" part of the term was used to distinguish it from the mindless music of the ravers - hardcore techno. Since for me hardcore techno constitutes perhaps the creative highpoint of nineties dance music, I would have probably found the unqualified smugness of progressive house unforgivable. With the benefit of hindsight however this seems less of a crime and more simply typical of dance music rhetoric, as similar forms of opposition have existed between intelligent drum & bass and ragga/jump-up jungle; nu-skool breakz and big beat/2-step garage; trance and gabba etc. etc. Progressive house was an inevitable consequence of rave rather than the great alternative to it, but that's no reason to ignore it completely.

Freed from this context, prog house becomes a quite enjoyable (if limited) little corner of dance music. There's a lot of very nice aspects to combining a house beat with elements of dub, ambient, trance and an overall sense of production finesse. Romero's mistake is to once more try to erect the barrier between the "cheddar" and the "progressive", "soulful" sounds he favours. This time the cheesy stuff is eurotrance and (I'm assuming, though he doesn't mention it) hard house, which are both sufficiently devoid of creativity as to not require me to defend them, but one would think the lesson would have thoroughly been learnt by now.

It's the side-swipes at jungle, big beat and speed garage however that really give the game away, because it's clear that Romero isn't really dissing "cheesy" trance, which he quite likes. Rather, he sees the resurrection of prog house as the final, glorious consolidation of power in the hands of a certain club of elite dance DJs and producers - Sasha and Digweed, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Tenaglia, Nick Warren, BT, Faithless, etc. The sudden explosion of euro-trance returned to these guys their commercial weight, and now by replacing it with a supposedly more respectable version of the same they hope to permanently entrench themselves as the dance music aristocracy.

This is the true "politics" of prog house: the fiction that it ever went away, when in fact it has existed under various names since its demise in about '95, from BT's "epic house" to the "progressive" sound of the Global Underground DJ series, and of course Sasha & Digweed's hugely successful mix cd series. It does of course regularly throw up excellent music, and will continue to do so under the new guise Romero identifies (Deep Dish's Tenaglia-influenced "Yoshiesque" DJ mix from last year is a favourite of mine), but it hardly needs to be the next big thing. I don't protest against its existence, but when the other side of the dance coin (the underground side, that is) is constantly developing radically new sounds, the minute tectonic shifts of progressive house hardly seem worth celebrating. On the other hand, I thought the same about the resurgence of trance 2 years ago.

Really this fabricated excitement is a reflection of the fact that today's celebrity DJs and producers are getting older and growing increasingly worried about their relevance. You can tell it in the way that Faithless's main guy complains that he doesn't understand how people could possibly like UK Garage, or how Sasha wistfully remembers the glory days of Guerilla records. Their mission is to entrench this strain of electronic music as the definitive form of dance music, while warding off any newcomers (all the sounds that hatch among the varying "hardcore" scenes across Europe) whose freshness would upset their power.

Overall, liking progressive house is not such a bad position to take - it will probably be around long after UK Garage has been and gone - but there's something annoying in the way that Romero attempts to identify what he sees as the overarching narrative of nineties dance music (including those whom he considers its major stars) that suggests an unwillingness to engage with dance music in and of itself. Perhaps he just needs to go to a rave.


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