Saturday, November 16, 2002
Like, other than American Gigolo my favourite electroclash compilation this year is definitely is Miss Kittin's Berlin is Burning, which mixes her stuff with Michael Mayer with Felix Da Housecat with Ellen Alien with Pan Sonic. The point of this wonderfully brittle, prickly collection is not electroclash's radical break with 'proper' dance music but its continuity. In his article Simon talks about the link between dance music and ecstasy (and drug-use generally), and suggests that electroclash severs this link with its return to songs and personalities. This seems fairly natural to me: apart from the commodity-rave approach of the superclubs, the "club culture" of the last decade has rarely focused around ecstasy - I'm sure my older sister, who is much more focused on "club culture" as a social force in and of itself, would consider ecstasy to be quite prole. For the drinkin'n'dancin' elite, cocaine has been the primary social lubricant for ever and ever - witness its role in phased disco & French house, speed and 2-step garage - and as such the coke-primed electroclash sound represents not a hyped alternative to club culture but rather its ultimate conclusion, a triumph of "club" values over "rave" values that has been on the cards ever since the club/rave split.

So far so good, but knowing that the cocaine vs ecstasy conflict was a staged beat-up, the concept of ordinary dance music and electroclash being separate and distinct seems odd (BTW if you're wondering this is no longer a critique of Simon's piece but some general thoughts on the subject) - as Simon notes, the return to songs is hardly a phenomenon exclusive to electroclash, and as Miss Kittin's mix suggests, electroclash "values" in no way entail a denunciation of delirium or psycho-physical abandonment on the dancefloor. The implication of an adherence to songs is an adherence to sobriety (ie. songs entail (control of) consciousness, purpose, meaningful narrative); on Berlin is Burning this adherence is not nearly so clear-cut. Yeah, there's "songs" like Dot Allison's "Substance" and Miss Kittin's "Rippin' Kittin" and "Frank Sinatra", but they're mired within stretches of stark, almost harrowing minimalism and eroto-compulsive groove reflexes, coalescing as moments of relative of clarity before sinking back into murkiness. For a literal example, see how the burbling "Substance" slides down into the amusical grind of T Raumshmiere's "Energiekrisse" - a dirge that wouldn't be nearly so interesting out of context. Michael Mayer's "Love Is Stronger Than Pride" equates song with dirge, its whump-whump sonic sizzle and ghostly male monologue not merely depriving Sade's composition of its songfulness, but actually taking the song into a no man's land of anti-songfulness.

And anyway these are rarely "songs" in the conventional sense - electroclash largely reverses house's traditional preference for emotion over meaning in vocals, but the results can be oddly similar. Stripped of the emotional peaks and valleys that accompany "proper" singing, the empty monotone chant-speak of the typical electroclash vocalist evokes a sense of detached infinity, coupled with an unconcerned suspicion that these songs could go on forever and never arrive at a conclusion (a perception not hindered by those endless-hook looping bass riffs). In this sense it's like house; the difference is that detachment implies isolation, ossification; and indeed I get the impression that the delirium on an electroclash dancefloor would be a peculiarly discrete and private one - losing yourself in the dancing but not with the dancing. But as any fan of minimal techno to hard drum & bass to 2-step will tell you, feelings of anti-connectivity are hardly uncommon on the dancefloor.

My favourite sorts of delirium on Berlin is Burning are those where the psychic disconnectivity is translated into a more literal musical disconnectivity. The Barbara Morgenstern's remix of Ellen Allien's "Stadtkind", draws on microhouse and don't-call-it-IDM to create a skittering, chimeric brand of electro-pop that sounds impossibly open-ended, all compulsively stabbing rhythms, glistening synth textures, distressed cut-up vocals and allusions to the abandoned fleshiness of house. The structure of electroclash survives, but it falls prey to such divergent impulses that the music seems on the verge of ripping itself apart. Away from Berlin is Burning, Ellen Allien's own tracks like "Data Romance" and "Edbeermund" walk a similar tightrope between IDM abstraction, electroclash frigidness and house groove, while her mix cd Weiss.Mix casts its net wider to take in any sort of uncomfortable, wired groove it can find (Archetype's "Track B1" is wired electro soca-beat!). I'm not saying electro has to be as fucked-up (and IDM-ish) as Weis.Mix to be worthwhile - far from it - but it seems to me that there's a hell of a lot of margin-walking going on, which can only be good for this by-all-accounts strictly retrograde scene. At any rate, while not pooh-poohing the song-focus of electroclash at all, I think an investigation of this inherent tendency towards delirium is the way to go. Need a blueprint for delerious songfulness? 2-step, of course.

...And then of course there's Sascha Funke's "When Will I Be Famous?", which combines electro, house and pop so consummately that you almost wonder why anyone else is still bothering.


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