New Genre Alert
This is what I get for talking to anyone who looks like he might possibly be a cartoonist
Lately, I've been reading Tim Lawrence's disco history Love Saves the Day. It's a pretty great book, well written and thoroughly researched, but my favorite thing about it is probably its collection of playlists from different DJs and different clubs throughout the different stages of disco's gestation. These things have already inspired a whole lot of late-night iTunes-store binges. I'm hardly an expert, but it seems to me that the most interesting stage of disco's history was its very beginning, when a few DJs in a few clubs around New York were just figuring out ways to mix music continually and to make people dance, when they'd spin Curtis Mayfield and Led Zeppelin and James Brown live cuts and tracks from African drum-music compilations that some DJ found in a thrift-shop bin somewhere. Later on, producers and singers and record labels started to figure out that there were these things called nightclubs and that people would go out and buy the records that they'd enjoyed dancing to, and so they started making music that specifically catered to DJs and to clubs. A whole lot of that stuff was just unspeakably great, but it also represented the gradual creation of an actual genre, one with its own rules and aesthetics and signposts. For me, the most fascinating part of that genre's evolution was the beginning, just before these rules started to converge, when DJs were frantically grabbing whatever they could if they thought it might make someone dance. The drawing of boundaries is an essential part of the creation of any new music scene or sound, but I think it's a lot more fun to take a look at a scene just as it begins to reveal itself. Unfortunately, you basically never know when one of these things is taking shape until it's already come into existence, so I'm pretty much just taking a few shots in the dark here. There's not a whole lot out there right now that really seems to point to the beginnings of something new, but these things here are my best guesses at what might be taking shape. And if you think that I'm just thinking of excuses to turn a few half-baked and incompatible ideas into one finished column, get yourself a cookie. Skeet skeet!
• Nu-rave. We've already heard a ton about this from our excitable friends in the British music press, but no one seems to have any idea what the fuck it means. Thus far, all it's meant is the Klaxons, a fun-enough jittery dancepunk band who totally don't sound anything like actual rave, even if they wear butt-ugly clothes and cover "The Bouncer." I guess there are also a bunch of other British nu-rave bands, but none of them seem to have recorded anything yet, and all of them probably get all pissed when people call them nu-rave anyway. Closer to home, though, this new-nostalgia fascination with early-90s rave aesthetics has led to a whole lot of rave-themed New York club nights, and I really need to get to one of those things because early-90s rave is awesome. If this thing turns out to be the beginning of an actual viable scene, I won't be mad.
• Synth-emo. Already-popular emo bands seem to be dabbling a lot lately in programmed beats and whooshing trancey club-sounds, and they've been having some success with it; witness Hellogoodbye's "Here (In Your Arms)," which I love, and Fall Out Boy's "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," which I hate. If this leads to emo dance-nights, the world will be a better place.
• Swirly percussive post-noise. I don't have a catchy genre-name for this one, but a whole few survivors of the early-90s math-rock and noise-rock scenes seem to be simultaneously diving into hazy, formless puffs of sound and jittery, ecstatic dance-beats. The big motivators behind this wave are almost certainly the late-period Boredoms, who transitioned beautifully from anarchic barf-bursts to dizzy, beautiful reaching-for-the-clouds drum-circle nirvana. But the Boredoms haven't, as of yet, really made much of anything that I'd consider explicitly dancey. A couple of new records, though, make strong moves toward the club: Soft Circle's Full Bloom and Gang Gang Dance's Retina Riddim CD/DVD thing. Actually, Retina Riddim is more a tentative toe-dipping in the frenzied hippie-disco that GGD's recent live shows have plunged into headlong. But Full Bloom is a truly dazzling surprise. Soft Circle main guy Hisham Bharoocha was in Black Dice, and they started moving toward cloudy dreamscapes years ago on Beaches and Canyons. But Beaches and Canyons was totally ambient and formless and boring; I hated it. Now that he's actually making these rippling, pounding dance songs, I'm suddenly very excited about this guy. I don't pay enough attention to the local noise scene to know if too many more groups are moving dance-ward; I guess Excepter's been on this kick for a minute as well, but you'd have to ask Nick about that.
I didn't even realize this until I wrote everything out, but all three of these nascent maybe-genres involve non-dance genres doing things with dance music, which is pretty awesome. A couple of weeks ago, Noz sounded the alarm about trance-rap, which he seems to totally fear though both of the songs he posted are sort of great. So maybe that's the new thing for 2007: every single genre is going techno. We can only hope.