Underwhelmed And Overstimulated, Part Eight: What Happened When Skrillex Helped America Discover Rave

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Sound of the City's year-end roundtable, with contributions from Tom Ewing, Eric Harvey, Maura Johnston, Nick Murray, and Katherine St. Asaph, continues. Follow along here.

Thanks Katherine—though I'm afraid I'm going to kick the "defending Drake" can further down the road, and leave it to Nick or Eric. I don't enjoy Drake, and sad to say the main thing he makes me feel is "I'm too old for this shit": the world of gender, fame and power relations he's a window onto seems grim and thankless, even if playing it up is his game. Whatever emotions a man of 38 is meant to feel listening to a man of 25, relief surely isn't one of them.

But on the other hand, the first thing I thought of when I heard "Marvin's Room" was, er, my own teenage faves The Wedding Present, and David Gedge's habit of transcribing knotty, private half-conversations in songs—the woman's responses sometimes implied but never given trackspace. Nobody ever called his productions beautiful, but while the genre changes, the manipulative angst remains and will always find an audience.

This kind of automatic pattern recognition is the curse of listening to music too long: You identify things too quickly, it becomes hard to push ghosts aside and focus on what a piece of music is doing in the now. The most-cited book in music criticism this year was Simon Reynolds' Retromania, his attempt to tackle this head-on and ask whether our culture is addicted to its own past. The book touched a nerve with many readers, who intuitively agreed with Reynolds' sense that music's drive towards the future had sputtered and stalled. My feeling is that private retromania—the involuntary encroachment of your own memory—is more of a problem than acts reusing and referencing the '80s and '90s. Occasionally in 2011 I found myself unable to offer much comment on an artist, simply because I felt like I knew and had heard too much.

Do you know how much it matters, for instance, that the box of tricks employed to crowd-wrecking effect by Skrillex is drawn from twenty years of rave? The answer, to anyone in one of his crowds, is not a whit. Taxonomies are useful only to a point. If a "brostep"—hideous word!—fan were to hear the cream of 1991 dance music they'd probably find it bass-less, oddly structured, corny in all the wrong places. I can't help mapping the excitement I hear in Skrillex onto the excitement of two decades past and finding it wanting, ending up at avuncular approval rather than glee—but that's my problem, not his. And I'd like to get a bead on the phenomenon from the remaining panelists—is the discovery of rave by a young, emo- and rock-oriented American audience any kind of big deal?


Skrillex, "Rock N Roll (Will Take You To The Mountain)"

If the curse of knowledge stops me from really engaging with big communal movements, what are the other options? Hermitage, maybe? A lot of my 2011 favourites were instrumental records—electronic microworlds, bring-your-own-context parties and albums to get lost in. Jurgen Mueller's gorgeous Science Of The Sea was probably a fake—supposedly it's a late-'70s vanity project by a moony oceanographer—but the fiction let it be as obvious and acqueous as it needed. Far sharper was Hauschka's Salon Des Amateurs, a finicky, kinetic marriage of house and chamber music. And Blanck Mass, a side-project of English synth-noise outfit Fuck Buttons, put out a self-titled album of ambient synth music imbued with a cosmic, post-human sense of scale. Electronic music gets more attention if it can be wedded to a movement, even one as absurdly vague and generous as "UK bass music," so albums like Rustie's joyful, hypersaturated Glass Swords and Kuedo's grand and lonesome Severant got some of the attention they deserved.

For other records, some appreciation of the context was probably required: Nick's already mentioned James Ferraro's Far Side Virtual, a record of the year for avant-garde Brit magazine The Wire, but one so controversial the editor was moved to blog a lengthy explanation of the voting process. Some commentators see Ferraro's record—made using the sound-palettes of the early web, like AOL welcome sounds and MIDI music—as caustically satirical, other listeners might simply be vibing on the genuine prettiness of its glossy miniatures.

As the temperature dropped, though, my favourite wordless album of the year resolved itself: In Dust, by Swedish duo Roll The Dice. I kicked myself for missing their apparently savage live shows, but their record is statelier—long, stoical pieces hammered together from drones and old keyboards, building through repetition into something powerful and sad. The record culminates with the fluttering, pretty "Way Out"—a hopeful note to end on, except Roll The Dice follow it with the gloomiest title of the year: "See You Monday."


Roll The Dice, "Calling All Workers"

Which also means it's time for me to return to my day job and end this commentary—it's been a lot of fun and thanks to Maura for inviting me and everyone else for being so stimulating. Looking forward to Eric and Nick's last pieces and perhaps—finally—some fuller comment on the hip-hop year...

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11 comments
Proteaness9
Proteaness9

Dubstep is a relatively new electronic musical genre. Raves have been going on here for 20 years. How does a brand new artist of a new genre get credited for bringing an already 20 year old sub culture to America and what information in your article even supports your entitled claim?

Subtle
Subtle

Yes, really, do return to your day job. Is your article's chosen title supposed to act as a provocative hook? Saying this artist has helped "America" discover *Rave* when "Americans" have indeed been *Raving* since the late eighties, early 90s is senseless. If anyone should be credited with a statement such as you have made, it would be Frankie Bones, from Brooklyn. Are you unaware that as a writer (or an aspiring one perhaps), it is your responsibility to research the foundations of your intended work before you make grand sweeping statements such as this? If your intent was to shine a light on the new generation of rave culture, then perhaps you should have said just that... "he has played an influential role for a new generation of rave culture"and backed it up with some relevant information regarding the sub cultural underground roots from which this seedling has sprouted. Egads, man.

Spike
Spike

your article is trash. just saying. Dubstep is another evolved flavor of the month. and another piece of the puzzle that is Electronic music.

HouseTechnoTranceGarageDrum and Bass

shall we continue?

but yeah, just maybe skrillex exposed rave to another generation of sheltered kids whos parents would never admit partying in a lowly lit, foggy, warehouse party while lit up on pills.

Jasonsauro
Jasonsauro

First of all Skrillex is nothing but a 20 yr old emo punk who does nothing but Pre record his sets and redlined his shows. I'm assuming the people who wrote this were either just born or have had there head up there asses there whole life. Rave culture in America started in 89-90 with the GOAT that's right Frankie Murha*%*•IN Bones END of Story. We had these things called StormRaves maybe u heard of them if that was Skrillex who started them he was 2 yrs old at the time.. ClueLess

Neo Initiative
Neo Initiative

Sonny(Skrillex) is 23/24... actually... @9c1970b80ddf832981a5adab9e73dee9:disqus 

And all due respect, I know this article is not completely aimed at "Rave", but seriously, the comments directed to "Rave" it in, basically invalidate the rest of this author's work. And I am also incredibly surprised and taken aback by someone referencing Simon Reynolds' work when they have obviously never read his book Generation Ecstasy which is indeed about none other than "Rave."

Neo Initiative
Neo Initiative

And Simon indeed interviewed and quotes both Frankie and Heather (<3) in that work...

Shaftxxl
Shaftxxl

Seriously? Wow. I have been listening to electronic music for something like 15 years. I have friends that have been spinning or making EDM for 20 plus. I have been to some massive parties in my day I heard my first Skrillex tune a year ago. This article is not very good. Skrillex is a stand out producer but deserves no credit of this calibre.

Bobby Dommer
Bobby Dommer

skrillex helped America discover rave? Is this a joke? Since when? This article is complete garbage.

Neo Initiative
Neo Initiative

This current era of EDM isn't "Rave". It's the Bass Heavy Movement.

I wish people would hire someone (like myself) that actually has been and still is a part of the scene, who also conducts research and studies on it, and who won't misnomer anything and get people even more confused than they already are, to write about such things. You just butchered a term, in many more ways than just being way off on correct time for usage (cerca 20-10 years ago at it's largest possible relative time existence).

If this were "Rave", the I'd gather Infiltrata/12th Planet wouldn't be the one TEACHING Skrillex to mix while on tour, which vast people in the scene today have attested to and there are Youtube video's and internet records of. http://republicliveaustin.snap...

"Rave" DJ's talent was banked on their skills of mixing their track selections, as well as how great they were at being able to entertain MASSIVE crowds of people for hours and hours on end telling stories with their sets. If this were "Rave" Skrillex wouldn't be playing only hour or two hour long sets, switching back and forth from track to track, doing "spoken word" (or whatever that is) in between and not mixing. Once upon a time, the music played and  while it might not have always been mixed well, that was the whole intention as opposed to "melting faces" with heavy bass lines. All of this is easily reflected in the music and makes me wonder, if you've ever even listened to a track from the "Rave" era compared to the works of what Skrillex and others alike do today. You, if you truly knew anything about EDM, how it's made, or where it came from, would hear the evolution it's gone through!!!

Also, DJ's weren't "Gods" back then (maybe headed in that direction, which is a lot of the reason why some believe "Rave" does not exist today), they just provided the music scape for the magic and madness to ensue. This sits in vast contrast to shows today where "DJ's"(if you can even call them that these days, at times) are center stage and people go to see them, instead of going to dance with one another. Much like people go see Skrillex, stand in front of the stage and bang head, instead of going to just listen and dance with one another. If you look at any simple video from a "Rave" (cerca it's actual time frame) compared to any Skrillex or Bass Heavy Movement show of today, then you'd see there are some HUGE differences, even past the one's I've just mentioned. I could go on and on and on. His music has a place and definitely is part of the Bass Heavy Musical Movement, but it is not Rave.

If you knew anything about anything about anything, you would not be making the horrid mistakes in your writing that you are! Frankie Bone's himself made next to immediate commentary about this article on Facebook. Granted he might be old school and it might be just Facebook, but you just made yourself look like a complete idiot writing this article and mis-labeling things (which if it were "Rave", wouldn't have labels anyways, by the way...). 

It's like saying STI, Disco Biscuits, and Phish are all part of the Dead Head or Hippie Movement. While they might play music and instill values and meaning in their music that is similar to such, they are not one and the same. Especially to those within the musical culture itself! Just like people who are deeply into Hip-Hop do not consider what's on your local rap station anything akin to what they call Hip-Hop. You're just way off, and I could keep giving examples from other genre's to let you know how...

Guaranteed if you spoke to anyone who lived and experienced that era of "Rave",  they would agree with the statements I just made. I would know... I speak to them all the time. From old 80's/90's and beyond party kids and "Ravers" (most don't even like this label) and my recent specialty of Jungle/Drum 'n' Bass heads to the Dupstep (NOT *DUB*... there's a big difference there too!!!)/Bass Heavy Movement scene-sters of our current era in EDM, that I might again remind you, is NOT "Rave!"

RAGE is more like it, and that's probably why the "kids these days" are always saying "Let's go RAGE." No one "raves" anymore. Raves are long gone and do not exist, except for a few magical events/parties here and there wherein the old feeling described to me by anyone who was ever there for it describes. I'm sure that the scene-sters of the Bass Heavy Musical Movement are experiencing a similar Communitas but alas, because the music, the language, the set up, and basically, the culture is different, in your future writing, you should probably make major delineation between the two! 

PS Skrillex is 4 years younger than I am, so I know, that if at age 27 (about to be 28) I missed the boat on "Rave", then that leaves him way out of the loop. 

Get yo facts str8! 

909 creative media
909 creative media

it's the decided lack of interest by dumbstep/brostep of edm history that annoys me more than the shite they listen too and claim is "rave" music when it's hip-hop/top40 based garbage...but like you, having a 20yr knowledge of the rave sound, i hear things that have been done before (and better) being re-treaded into these crass club bangers and no one in the crowd is aware or really gives a whit...i will continue in my own personal retromania i guess...

oldskoolraver95
oldskoolraver95

uh...not sure what America you live in, but "rave" in America already came and went in the mid 90's. might want to do a little research there buddy.

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