|Are You Dancing? 'Cause They're Asking|
In the "olden days", dance music was disco music and what old men in suits played at weddings. Now dance music is, like, everywhere, the future sound of now, a cash cow for hep cats, and the saviour of many a backsliding "rock" act. So what next? One afternoon in late January we gathered together some people who might know: ten hustlers, players and pimps* from the heart of dance.
THOSE DANCE PANELLISTS IN FULL:
A Guy Called Gerald: Yes, he's back. Again. Recently rereleased his "Black Street Technology" album on his own Juicebox label.
Mark Rae: Head of Manchester's Grand Central Records, partner in Fat City Records, and sometime DJ and mixer and artist.
Clair Poulton: Co-director of Clear Records, and jobbing DJ in Truro, Cornwall, Clear's home-turf.
Damian Harris: Founder and director of Skint Records, Brighton. Remixes and records as Midfield General. Recently "done" the Boo Radleys for an NME/Creation tape, don't you know.
Vanessa Rand: Label manager and A&R for Concrete Records, an imprint of Deconstruction.
Janet Bell: Head of club promotions/dance press/label development at A&M. "An ever-growing role," she says. Right now working on, among others, Angel Morales, Patrick Prinz and Sounds Of Blackness, and the setting-up of a new label.
Rob Playford: Managing Director of Moving Shadow, and engineer, producer and writer.
David Hill: Founder and manager of Nuphonic Records and member of the Ballistic Brothers, currently working on their second album, "Rude System", to be released this summer.
Judge Jules: A&R manager at Manifesto Records, radio DJ, TV DJ and out-and-about DJ. So there.
Jean Branch: Club promotions manager for east/west records, covering publicity and artist development for releases on east/west, Elektra, Atlantic, Big Beat and Perfecto.
THE FUTURE IS NOW?
Vanessa: There are going to be more and more personalities coming out and more people having things to say. And there's going to be a surge of dance acts that can play live, and there's going to be a backlash. People have got to remember that live and recorded are two different things. Live is a rock way of doing it and it'll work against dance acts. America has just gone nuts - they're signing anyone that's having a good time on stage and there's going to be a hell of a lot of disappointed people as a result. The Prodigy have been around for years; you've got to I know how to work the crowd and it's a different way of thinking.
Clair: Anything that dance comes out with now is not particularly new; it's a conglomeration of a lot of things that have gone before.
Damian: You don't want to predict the future because that's the best thing about going out on a Saturday night: you know there's a possibility that there's going to be a tune that's going to change your life.
David: The beautiful thing with dance is that it reinvents itself. That's why it's so good... so fucking great.
Vanessa: But I think what we need are a few of the younger generation because we've all been around for fucking years.
Damian: The way the labels see it is in sort of a fashion way. They see one group and they want to turn it into a style, and they're not seeing that in essence these things are one-offs. The Chemical Brothers are a one-off, Daft Punk are a one-off, but you're going to get 25 Daft Punks now. This industry is so rock-based that they can't think of things in any other way. Hopefully it will change. It would be nice to think that it would...
SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALL RIGHT FOR MOVING HOUSE
Vanessa: I think a lot of clubs are back to that idea of sex and going out on a Saturday night, pulling someone and going home, which I think is a bit sad. In the mainstream it's not really about music at all.
Jules: To say it's suddenly about sex is ignoring the fact that it's always been about sex. It's only us that are more immersed in the music business that kid ourselves into the belief that even the more eclectic muso-oriented clubs aren't about sex as the primary motive.
Damian: For people in this country, house has been the easiest thing to dance to and to sell. But it's been done too much, and perhaps by people who don't have the music at heart, and that's why there's a backlash. Certain people get it on different levels - there are people who will go to a night and criticise and analyse every mix. There's also people who will go and just drink.
Jules: I think the phenomenon of dance and the phenomenon of house over the past few years - despite people trying to write it off - is that it exists on so many levels. There are underground house clubs which still exist, still flourish and are probably stronger than ever. Then you've got your so-called superclubs, and your Ritzys and your Meccas which are running dance nights. That it exists on those myriad levels is what makes it unique. You look at the other youth movements that have existed, they've started underground, gone mainstream, then petered out and disappeared and become naff. With house that's quite clearly not the case - it's become an all-encompassing lifestyle thing rather than being a phenomenon of youth movement.
Janet: It seems to be such a part of everyday youth lifestyle now. You walk down the high street and look in Miss Selfridge and the clothing is club-oriented. It is mainstream now. It's not necessarily a bad thing. People who have music at heart will evolve, and their ideas will carry through an underground and emerge somewhere else.
Jules: It depends on the tide of musical creativity as well - when that tide has ebbed then the problems start. It does all stem from the music. Disco burn-out happened because it became "Stars On 45" and became a complete pastiche. Whereas provided there is some semblance of creativity... it's got to evolve or die. It's the same with all styles of dance music.
LABELS WITH LOVE
Rob: You have to have some hits in order to generate money. It's probably different for a major label to Moving Shadow. From AM/PM, Manifesto or Decon's point-of-view, it costs at least £50,000 to release every record if you're taking promos and the whole thing into the equation. It probably costs a major three times what it costs an independent, and that puts the threshold of profitability much higher.
Jean: It does, but then you've a much wider audience at that level - it's all tiered, and the more watered down it gets the more audience you get.
Damian: Our records sell on average about 2,000 a week and we get written about a lot, and for me that's successful.
Clair: I know what you mean, although for me the worst part of my job is having to read what the music press has written about our records each week. It's horrible sometimes...
Jules: From a label point of view, if you want to get press you need to get a certain amount of credible mixes. But from a personal point of view, I don't care what people think. I do what I do when I'm DJing, and if someone else likes it, great. When you reach a certain level of acclaim or income then you've got to knock all the insecurity on the head.
Jean: The whole reason why we all work in dance music is because we love it. The problem is when you work in a major and an A&R guy comes in with an act and says, "Right, give us some dance mixes of that then", and you're like, "N0000!", because that's not where their origins are.
Jules: You can buy a remixer's record which is effectively their record and ignore the act completely.
Janet: When Everything But The Girl are writing their stuff they're now writing them in that way. It's part of the evolution of their sound.
Jules: Music is about defining the moment. It's more like the soundtrack to what happens, rather than standing alone.
BUT THERE'S NO WORDS
THE FACE: Because rock has got this tradition of very clever people and cultural importance, a lot of those records come to be seen as having serious cultural value. There aren't so many people making those arguments for dance records.
Jules: Dance brought together a lot of social and racial groups who otherwise would probably never have socialised together. It brought about the end of football hooliganism. There's a lasting social impact, even if you can't look at individual records and say that was a document of the time because it isn't lyrical. Dance is more about tracks than personalities, so we don't have our own John Lennon.
Vanessa: I think that dance music is a reflection of what's going on sociologically with young people, I really believe that. The past ten years have seen a real demystification of the young, and there's far more people taking drugs now. Coupled with poor education prospects and nothing much to look forward to, I think that it's those people that are disillusioned and aren't interested in lyrics.
Damian: Dance music isn't really about songwriters - it's a sound. It's about crafting a sound that will sound good in a club. It's engineers knocking up tracks. It's sad but not a problem. When it becomes not just about a sound, it changes from dance to pop.
Jules: As a DJ I don't play that many songs, because there are so few good songs in any given month that it sounds really ridiculous to play one song in the middle of a night of instrumentals. It's only when there's a range of good songs that pop up that it fits into the fabric of what you would play as a DJ.
US AND THEM
Gerald: I think that countries learn off each other. The American rap scene and R&B can learn from drum and bass, definitely. Have you heard Aaliyah's new single? Well, I don't know who did the production but they're using the syncopation from drum and bass.
Mark: The key thing that's missing in a lot of European interpretations of America - which is, in essence, where the whole thing came from - is the lack of spirit. Europeans are particularly good at knocking the spirit out. I think they put a different spirit into it. That spirit can be equal but it is a dfferent flavouring.
THE FACE: Techno definitely enjoyed the fact that it was intellectualised. People like Derrick May and the originators of that music really loved the fact that it was seen as European music, and went on about Kraftwerk, and invited all those comparisons that were bandied about in the music press.
Mark: Which is interesting, because it's almost like two worlds - melody in the tradition of white music through classical, and the rhythm in African bass. And they aspire to each other.
Rob: I don't think a lot of people who have written about jungle understand its relation to hip hop or its relation to Jamaica with the bass line.
Jules: I think it verges on racialism to generalise that much and say that one country is better than another...
Damian: Yeah, but there's also a truth.
DRUG IS THE LOVE
Jules: I think there's more feeling in the indie market and the likes of Paul Weller than there is in a lot of contemporary R&B and hip hop. When I listen to house records I can hear that all the noises in them are geared towards people who are on drugs. They don't make any sense unless you're on them.
Mark: It's about getting away from it all for a few hours at the weekend. People aren't permanently on drugs - they wouldn't buy the records if they were. People are quite capable of listening to this stuff when they're not on drugs. They might be for a few hours on a Saturday night, but maybe that's just the icing on the cake. That's not the reason for it.
Gerald: I think that the fact the drugs are getting harsher reflects in the music. I mean, Ecstasy's cheaper than it used to be, there's a lot of crack around and it's affecting music. Personally, I smoke a bale of weed, get down on one, start thinking weird shit, see the potential in things. It helps me understand. And I can see that drugs can take a lot of musicians to other dimensions. I think the more drugs the better really.
Rob: It would be a piece of piss to make records for people who are constantly on drugs. I do something that you can hear in a club and play at home and it stands up equally well.
Mark: For me melancholy is soul, and it's getting the two to meet. When you get something sad or happy and get a beat to it then it's going to hit people. The other thing is the hedonism, which I've got nothing against. I think it's great as long as people are enjoying themselves, but it's not quite the same feeling and that's what I'm attracted to - the soul in music. And that's why I'll argue against that Saturday-night hedonistic shit.
Gerald: I don't mind in the slightest. I've seen Ecstasy change people. In the late Eighties and early Nineties, especially, it helped a lot of football hooligans out. Now you see them and they're artists or writers or journalists... When I went to the Haçienda throughout '88 and '89, I would just watch people, people that I knew personally, change from week to week. They'd go to Ibiza and they'd come back totally reborn. Then I didn't do any drugs, but I could see the difference in people. People would let on to you, whereas before they wouldn't. Drugs led the way for a lot of people. The thing I don't like about it is that Chicago soul and spirit got left out of the equation. You can't go to a record shop and buy records like "Promised Land" by Joe Smooth: there should be someone on that vibe. The drugs thing totally took over from the Chicago sound. But there'll be a revival.
BEAT DON'T FAIL ME NOW
THE FACE: Can you think of anything where Mark's two components meet? Where you've got nasty, obvious dance beats with soulful content and meaning?
Jules: I think Robert Miles' "Children" is a good example of that. I think the music to that is very soulful and sweet but the beat's horrible and soulless. Designed to make you move in a mechanical way.
Mark: It's in every music - it's in Irish traditional music. It's whether people are putting a human experience into the instruments and you can feel it. Commercialism removes that because it's a formulaic attempt to lose it.
Damian: People will always dance; people will always want to take drugs. At the moment it's
Mark: There's a lot of stories that haven't been told rhythmically. And it's important that they're explored...
David: Yeah, at the moment I'm listening to anything bar contemporary dance really - Sixties R&B, Seventies jazz, hip hop...
Mark: ...but I don't expect the majors to do it. There's no money in it.
Jean: I don't think that's fair because I think the majors will find a way. We do something to make some money so that we can do something we think is a bit more exploratory.
Damian: We learned our lesson with Lamb, because we had them taken off us by a major. They had a manager who saw that the best thing was to go with the money and get as much money as they could. I went to the major and basically said, "Look, our label's better than yours, it would be good for the band to develop a few singles on our label and then we can work together on the album." They didn't want to know. This is possibly why we will be dealing with the majors because we've got a lot of acts that potentially need it.
Gerald: It was like a media spotlight was shone on house music at the beginning, then switched off and then switched on again on to jungle. But things didn't happen like that. There was a development. It wasn't just house music, then a gap, then jungle. There was a progression in-between. Jungle slowly developed through things like rave, you know, The Prodigy, there was a lot involved. When things got really dubby there was a bit of a media light and it's continued until today. It's easier to develop without that kind of pressure. Once jungle's in adverts on the TV, you can never write something without thinking about that. So you turn headstrong and go further underground. You want to do something new. I want to make shit to scare the children!
Jules: If there is a science to youth culture then house has defied that science. Because logically it should have played itself out now, but it exists at different levels.
[Author: JOHN McCREADY and MIRANDA SAWYER, Photos: DAVID BURT]