"It's Safe To Say, At Least For The Time Being, That Electronic Music's Futurist Impulse Has Run Its Course."
From Carl Craig's remix of Faze Action's "In the Trees" to the Sahko records on the wall at Hardwax, it does occasionally feel like we're back in 1997 all over again. Minimal techno still rules (except now it's just called "minimal"). Acid and classic deep house are so deeply entrenched, it's like they never went away. Recent remixes of Cybotron's "Clear" remind us that electro is less a genre than a kind of rhythmic time capsule orbiting the earth, beaming back coded data at regular intervals.
French house, which in its cellophane gloss might have once seemed the most disposable of genres, has spawned an entire subculture worshipping at the base of Daft Punk's pyramid. So many of the subgenres that sprang up in the last 10 years, meanwhile -- glitch, electroclash, U.K. garage -- have disappeared more or less without a trace.
Ten years isn't that long, in the grand scheme of things. But enough has happened in electronic-music culture since 1997 that any attempt to gloss the last decade will inevitably feel like an absurd generalization. The paths of electronic music's many subgenres feel as tangled as the subplots of a 19th century novel. And far beyond mere aesthetic form, the technological and cultural underpinnings of the way that people experience and consume music have probably changed more in the past 10 years than they did in the 30 or 40 (or 50) before them.
From Kraftwerk and Cybotron through Chicago house and Detroit techno, electronic music has always rooted itself firmly in a futurist continuum stretching back to the beginning of the 20th Century. Acid house began with a project called Phuture, after all, and throughout the '90s, electronic music generally mirrored Western culture's technological optimism, secure in the belief that advances in hardware and software were creating a better world one circuit at a time.
Since glitch, however, self-conscious futurism's influence has waned, from the design of album covers and flyers to the nomenclature of titles, labels and artist aliases. Software tools increasingly mimic classic hardware synthesizers and drum machines; new hardware synths themselves are likely to be contemporary replications of machines that became obsolete years ago.
I'd argue, in fact, that glitch lost its progressive impulse as artists turned away from the project of creating a new musical vocabulary out of digital tools, and began reconfiguring the clicks and pops into the familiar grammar of house and techno. And as the DJ's trade slowly but surely goes digital -- that is, as it shifts from a practice based upon playing vinyl records to one utilizing only digital files -- the most popular digital DJ applications, like Final Scratch, Serato Scratch, and Traktor Scratch, remain dependent upon the turntable.
Increasingly, for producers within a given scene, a single idea or two seems to dominate the conversation every season. Two years ago, it was the blippy chaos of minimal techno at its most color-free; today, it's shoomping house chords borrowed from Carl Craig that animate producers' imaginations. A few years ago, each of these formal shifts might well have spawned self-identifying subgenres, with message-boards to back them up.
Perhaps it's a sign of the times: given political unrest, economic instability, and a global sense of dread, maybe we simply don't have time to parse the differences between microhouse and minimal techno, or between Schaffel and a swung 6/8 rhythm. Is this only a temporary phenomenon? Who knows -- which direction the pendulum swings next depends upon the course of technology, the health of the music industry, and even geopolitics. Perhaps come the year 2017, electronic music -- now downloaded directly to flash drives implanted in our skulls -- will have regained its futurist impulse, and we'll be back to an era of subgenres that are famous to 15 people. Whatever the case, I'm betting Carl Craig will still be on top of the charts.
Posted by dean
at 08:02 PM