The latest Critical Beats forum/seminar has just been held. It would have been better had it been at "a secret London location" but everyone knew that Simon Reynolds, Joe Muggs, Lisa Blanning and Steve Goodman aka Kode9 would be at Startford Circus, so no surprises there. The general theme was "Aesthetics, Innovation & Tradition" in electronic music and it got me thinking, particularly in light of Andrew Rice's recent "Bass/House" piece in Resident Advisor regarding the relationship between house music and dubstep, of the relative non-intellectualisation of house music compared to other forms of EDM.
I also found it interesting that bass and not dubstep was used as the genre nom de plume in Rice's article. Interesting, but no more than that. It hasn't kept me awake at night. One of the most recent reviews I've written for Resident Advisor was for the Kris Wadsworth/Butane joint venture '. . . Present Team America' One of Kris's comments on his Facebook thread in reaction to the review was:
"But its being called house music. Again. With. The house music. What in the FUCK is not house music anymore? Do I literally have to fucking bang pots and pans together to not be thrown into the house music genre?"
As with those who criticise the term "bass" to describe the lumpen genres that cross-pollinate themselves into hitherto unknown niches, until you come up with something better, "house" is what it shall be.
It's true, as is pointed out in both the article and the inevitably far more entertaining comments, that the range of house does contain infinite possibilities and this is possibly the overriding reason why dubstep et al have moved towards it. Pinch's disclosure that he has always been buying house and techno, just not playing it out, is also telling. It wouldn't be at all surprising if he was in the majority. Call the sounds of house conservative and safe until your tongue falls out of your mouth; what can't be denied is if we are to still continue using the term "electronic dance music" as an umbrella to cover all forms of "club-orientated" genres, then the minimum we might be able to expect is that we can actually dance to it. This is certainly more true of house than any other type, and not true at all of so many others: jungle/d&b/dubstep/footwork etc . . . of course I generalise. You can move to these beats, but for some you will intrinsically lack any fluidity, for others you have to be a virtual gymnast.
Andrew Weatherall said a while back (I'm sure this will be almost as common a story beginning as "Once Upon A Time" in the future . . . ) " . . . I enjoy putting on the occasional jungle record just to watch people dislocating their shoulders as they try to dance to them . . ." or something like that. The truth isn't hard to surmise. It's also not a case that I feel needs to be justified, just continually pointed out. It also involves the reasons as to why we listen to this music in the first place' Are we dancing or listening? Does it really matter, of course not. It's a nice subject to debate; full of interesting possibilities and permutations, but it inevitably predictably boils down to subjectivity and innovation against pleasure. That doesn't mean that the two aren't mutually compatible, but there often comes a point when people stop enjoying what they always have because it becomes more of a buzz to find fault and pick holes in an argument. The idea that an artist may not be a serious one unless they develop themselves away from the dance floor has parallels in hip-hop. The use of rap as a springboard to bigger and better things, notably acting (Ice Cube anyone?), while still retaining respect and street cred is well - documented. House music constantly sees a similar, but to quite as dramatic shift from the club to the living, or chill-out room.
The other side to this argument, or one of many facets, is the subjectivity of house, for amongst it's many offshoots and varieties there are gaps in quality and certainly a range of tempos. One comment that's always stuck with me was made by Conrad of The Idjut Boys a good while back, While stnding (dancing I hope) at Space at Bar Rumba during a typically intense and effervescent set by Derrick Carter, I turned around to hm to ask him what he thought of the music and he replied (I can still hear his north-east twang now) "It's muppet music man." I froze for a minute and then it all suddenly made sense. The beat behind what Carter was playing really wouldn't have sounded that much out of place on the eponymously-named puppet-manned variety show. Granted, this was at the height of "G-Swing", that awful house-pre WWll jazz hybrid which was 'Doop!' for grown-ups, but the rug was well and truly pulled out from beneath the feet of a lot of Chicago house that night. . . and then we had minimal.
More magnificent, meaningless gibberish to follow.