Some self-indulgent, self-reflective ramblings...
I was thinking about the similarities and differences between my article on breakbeat garage and my entry on progressive house. In some ways they sound contradictory - I defend the garage scene's reigning aristocracy while dissing the monarchs of prog house - and in others they seem symptomatic of broader prejudices against whatever is touted as the "next big thing". My varying reactions to both are however probably motivated primarily by a distrust of scenes and artists that self-consciously attempt to delineate themselves as somehow superior (especially when they do so by semantic division).
When I was discovering garage last year I was much more excited by the dark underbelly side that would later become "breakbeat garage" than I was by the pop tunes. In my review of the Ministry of Sound compilation mixed by The Artful Dodger, I lauded the darker edge of garage that seemed to be emerging through the pop structure, while attacking MJ Cole as being too smooth and sycophantic to the establishment. What changed? A couple of things: I fell in love with pop music this year for one, and when garage nights started up in Melbourne it was the pop songs that the uninitiated crowd responded to, so I did too. On the other hand (and this may be due to Melbourne crowds more than anything else) I invariably found that the darker tracks fell flat and seemed needlessly minimal and "difficult", even when they sounded fantastic through my headphones. Meanwhile MJ Cole surprised me with a decent album and a brilliant single ("Crazy Love") and remix (the "Y2K Dub" mix of his own "Sincere").
More specfically, I started noticing that it was the underground aspect of garage that was getting all the cred in mainstream magazines (Mixmag, Ministry, Select), usually accompanied by backhanded insults for the "mainstream garage" sound they'd been attempting to ignore for the prior two years. Coupled with the fact the fact that the tracks being held up as supreme examples of this new sound ("Doom's Night", "138 Trek" - both excellent tracks I'll add) were made by outsiders, it occurred to me that the hype around this new scene, while worthy, was probably more a result of the dance cognoscenti trying to assert control over a scene in which they felt powerless.
As with jungle's ascendancy, the UK dance press missed the boat by a wide margin, and as with jungle it isn't surprising that they would jump on any new development within the scene (with jungle it was Bukem-style intelligent drum & bass) in order to erase the memory of their prior bungle. It doesn't hurt to disparage, patronise or ignore any producers who got to the top without their blessing, while simultaneously handpicking who would be the "new heroes" of the scene. I react instinctively against these sorts of attempts to manipulate with a scene, despite the fact that for the large part I love breakbeat garage.
Why I dislike the term progressive house should by now be obvious. I suppose the differences between the rhetoric around progressive house and that around breakbeat garage follows a classic British imperialist structure. I reckon that the dance media consider their beloved club music (house/trance/prog... basically whatever's being played at the Ministry of Sound at any given time) to be synonymous with Britain herself, while all the 'subsidiary' scenes - jungle, garage, breakbeat, minimal techno etc. - are colonies. For club music the overwhelming policy of the dance press press is self-preservation, while for the various colonies the policy is one of orderly regulation and control. The mission is to normalise each scene at all costs and not allow the "natives" to run wild.
Another example of this is the whole "trip-hop" furore. For a long time I didn't understand the whole fuss-and-bother over the term, especially the anger that the artists who fell within its brackets felt. But ultimately the inappropriateness of trip-hop is not the name itself the but the associated ideas it embodies. Hip-hop as a genre is a way of life much like dance music is. Trip-hop however was not only hip hop for intellectual white guys, but also merely a Sunday morning alternative for clubbers, the new ambient house. Trip-hop as a term then has the double effect of being both elitist and patronising.
I guess the hostility that I feel towards this party-line attitude of much of the UK dance press is a result of me being a post-Generation X brat. From the vantage point of being eighteen, I can see how the generation immediately above me has had its voice stifled by the looming presence of the baby boomer generation. Nearly every cultural movement of the last thirty years has been narrated and interpreted by the baby boomers, regardless of their proximity to it or its relevance to them (most infuriating perhaps was the smug American journalist who wrote that the saddest aspect of Kurt Cobain's death was how it detracted from the death of the far more important Jimi Hendrix). People between the ages of twenty and about thirty-five are still waiting for their views to be regarded as worth considering.
However a sizable proportion of the following generation have obviously attempted to console themselves by becoming the permanent tastemakers of all the 'alternative' cultural movements considered beneath the dignity of the babyboomers and their Beatles collections. And of course their elitism doesn't just operate along lines of age (although in dance music if you don't remember acid house then you're not worth your salt), but also race, gender and in certain senses class. It's not so much a direct dismissal of all the musical movements these elites weren't originally associated with, but rather a refusal to believe that they aren't necessarily the people who should be presenting and interpreting these new sounds for the masses. Why are scenes like UK Garage always "this year's thing" rather than a legitimate musical scene? Because it suits the dance press to keep it that way, while reinforcing the sound they created or discovered first as the perennial "people's choice" - the quality music that's in it for the long haul.
I know that my generation are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, but I wish that more people would stop clutching their copies of "Where Love Lives" to their chests and fondly remembering the first time they heard Paul Oakenfold spin and just enjoy the here and now for a change. It's really not that hard.