The Genre With No Name
- Published on Friday, 08 November 2013 00:11
2013 has been a tumultuous year for dance music. Daft Punk’s return topped the album charts, America’s mainstream has invested in ‘EDM’ and the ecstasy-related baggage that comes with it, social media has precipitated rows between the newly wealthy ‘press play’ DJs and the purist old guard, while from dubstep drops to deep house, pop music has embraced electronic sounds.
The beauty of the dance music industry is that it keeps chugging along with or without the various spotlights that are shined down upon it from time to time. Genres have exploded into the general consciousness on as many occasions as they have been written off for dead. Amid all of this, and perhaps as a reaction to it, those less bothered by the big time keep on making music and DJing for a smaller, but far more loyal group of clubbers and audiophiles.
One movement that exemplifies this rejection of the dayglow and digital is the more indie and analogue house and techno being made by a ramshackle group of producers and DJs in the UK. The sound seems neatly bookended this year by two albums, Andrew Weatherall and Timothy J. Fairplay as The Asphodells with Ruled By Passion, Destroyed By Lust, and Daniel Avery’s long-awaited debut Drone Logic. It’s probably fair to say that Weatherall is the elder statesman of this scene, as the man who gave Primal Scream some electronic oomph and started the legendary Boys Own fanzine, while Avery is the young pretender, growing up on Death in Vegas and My Bloody Valentine before being seduced by the genre bending of Erol Alkan’s Trash night.
Both albums were formulated at Weatherall’s near mythical Scrutton Street studios, where an axis of artists use the synth-strewn rooms to exchange ideas and create weapons to play at nights like Sean Johnston’s A Love From Outer Space. “We’re all drawing on the same sort of influences, I think originality comes by accident when you start doing approximations of things, so maybe we’re channelling the things we love, trying to use the original equipment as much as possible,” says Weatherall. “It’s taken me and Ivan (Smagghe) probably longer to not get hung up on originality than Dan (Avery), I don’t think he’s set out to be original, but he has by default because he’s channelling the music he loves using the equipment that was used to make it in a lot of cases. If you do that you begin to stand out from what may be more of the moment and by default you become more original.”
Avery’s star has been rising for a couple of years now, from a slew of fine mixes and remixes in his own name and under the early moniker Stopmakingme, to widespread plaudits for his own fledgling productions, culminating in his drone-y, acidic and assured first LP in October. He believes his sound and that of his peers has always been around in some respect, so it’s not necessarily a reaction to anything else. “One thing I’ve noticed is that kids at the moment are wanting and willing to dig a bit deeper into electronic music and some are discovering this sound,” Avery commented. “This is underground music: it’s not based on recognisable R&B vocal samples or bottle service drops. It’s not for the masses, but there is a level of depth there for people to explore; sometimes scenes just take a while to come into view.”
For his part, Avery believes that while analogue equipment is increasingly used, it’s not the sole defining factor. “To me, I hear a certain attitude and spirit running through these records; it’s psychedelic electronic music with a dusty, human soul,” he suggested, adding that DJing has regained its excitement and signing to Phantasy seemed like a natural move. “Sharing the label with individualist minds like Erol Alkan, Babe Terror, Ghost Culture, Connan Mockasin and In Flagranti makes sense; we don’t make the same music but are all something of outsiders when it comes to club music and I’m more than happy to occupy that position.”
Author of authoritative dance music history Last Night A DJ Saved My Life and webmaster of crate diggers paradise DJ History, Bill Brewster is well placed to assess the trend. “It’s sort of the people that are not involved directly in the orthodox house scene I suppose; those on the periphery of it,” he suggested. “I mean when I go and watch Weatherall he’s playing whole sets at around 115 bpm, that kind of chuggy sound is very en vogue in certain areas of dance music.” It’s hard to define, but tempos seem to be around that 115 beats per minute mark, there are plenty of references to old Krautrock and psych indie bands, and whilst digital processes inevitably come into the equation, many eschew protools and plugins laptop production in favour of vintage equipment and live instrumentation.
Another veteran of the scene is Justin Robertson, who these days produces under the Deadstock 33s moniker, but has guided the path of British dance music for over two decades under guises like Lionrock, Revtone and The Prankster. He is nervous about codifying the current trend for fear of creating another progressive house/minimal/dubstep backlash. “I hope it’s not a movement, because any orthodoxy tends to strangle itself with self righteous rules and restrictions,” Robertson opined. “think what we have in common is that we don’t want clean precision; we dig a raw but soulful electronic primitivisThere does certainly seem to be a group of producers and DJs who value a certain visceral, primitive, psychedelic aesthetic, a raw stripped back sound that draws its influence from drone, dub, psych and the motoric vibes of Chicago, Detroit and Dusseldorf. It’s really quite a broad church, from Factory Floor through to wigged out psychedelic disco, taking in the whole universe of out there vibes, but I think what we have in common is that we don’t want clean precision; we dig a raw but soulful electronic primitivism.”
Whilst talking to these proponents of the genre without a name, what is striking is that nobody’s willing to criticise the other electronic music trends currently crossing over into the mainstream. “I’m not a fan of the EDM sound, whatever that means, but fair enough if people are moved by it that’s their scene, that’s cool, but that’s not what I like in dance music, so I kind of plough my own furrow; what Andrew (Weatherall) once referred to as the path of most resistance!” commented Robertson. Brewster sees it as all just another cycle in the constantly evolving world of dance music. “It’s exciting to imagine all of those young teenagers now who are being introduced to dance music through the EDM boom, what they’re going to be doing in five or six years time with their cheap programmes like Fruity Loops and Garage Band; when they’ve gone through EDM and are looking for something more interesting.”
By Peter Walker