February 17, 2004

Dance, dance, dance

Just received this email for an upcoming party in SF:

"White Out!
Friday, March 5th
Studio Z
314 11th Street at Folsom, San Francisco

Live Performances from
Gravy Train!!!
DJ's Disco Shawn and Mon Amie

An Evening of Booty Jams for the Rock Kids
B-Girl Anthems, Ghetto Trax, Old School Electro, Motown, & Funk Punk
Bump and Grind to artists like...
Salt N' Pepa/Afrika Bambaataa/ESG/Outkast/Technotronic/Chingy/
JJ Fad/Ludacris/L'Trimm/Le Tigre/DFA/Kelis/NWA/LL Cool J/James Brown
The Clash (only the disco shit)/Snoop/Dre/Grandmaster Flash/
Jackson 5/Fanny Pack & and a whole lot of other shiznit to get yo emaciated indie
ass groovin on the dance floor.

*Disclaimer: This evening will not contain difficult, challenging, or
esoteric music--this is a straight up dance revolution."

Have to admit, the whole thing stumps me a bit. Leaving aside the (ironic? unintentional?) racial reference hidden in the title -- because, let's not beat around the push, push, in the bush, this is black music for a white crowd -- what is it all about? More and more lately, it seems like I'm seeing indie/rock fans (or "kids," if you must) espousing the virutes of "booty jams" and the like. Which is great! I'm glad that folks are going out and getting swervy to good music of whatever stripe. But what puzzles me are the constraints and the aporia in the above list of records and artists to be spun.

How do the lines get drawn? Mainstream hip hop is in, old school hip hop is in, electro, funk/R&B, funk punk, dub rock, mainstream disco - all represented. Most of the artists are black, save for the white "dance rock" acts that represent the canon: The Clash, DFA, Le Tigre. Nothing wrong, of course, with white folk listening to black music, nor with setting aside one's collection of (mostly white) rock tunes for an evening of (mostly black) funk/hip hop/etc.

I'm curious, though, in the exclusion of any sort of house and techno. Maybe I'm just a sad old booster, but I'm baffled by the idea of a "straight up dance revolution" that ignores house and techno, two of the major contemporary genres of dance music. I know that indie kids tend to distrust house and techno, and perhaps in a context like this -- with a song-oriented playlist at varying tempos -- a set of 4/4 music wouldn't really work. But I can't help but suspect there's something else going on, a submerged set of preconceptions that's unflattering to house/techno and hip hop/funk alike.

(I still can't get out of my head the time that I gave a copy of my beloved Recloose's CD to a white indie rocker friend. "It's ok," she shrugged a few days later. "Sounds like something they'd play in a gay, black disco though." As though, you know, that were a problem. Dude, where do you think disco was born?)

Somewhere, somehow, in the collision of what gets included and what gets ignored, there's a logic at work. Funk is fetishized; fun is fetishized. The whole summer-vacation feel of the announcement -- that no "difficult, challenging, or esoteric music" will be played -- leads to my distrust. So this is a night off from the rigors of... Black Dice? Wolf Eyes?

I'm also sort of flummoxed that this is a night "of booty jams for the rock kids." What about the hip hop kids? Are they off throwing an indie rock party that night? Someone like Hollertronix, Z-Trip -- they bring folks of all stripes together. But the promoteres seem to want to keep this party segregated. If you ain't white, skinny, and wearing a torn blazer, you know, maybe you'd better move down the street, where the real hip hop party is. This is just, you know, a joke.

I note there's also no dancehall or grime in the list; mildly surprising, but not really. I think what I'm trying to identify is a kind of aura of reception around the musics included above -- a shared, and agreed-upon set of assumptions within a certain circle. And I really want to figure out how that works. Grime and dancehall, I would assume, are excluded because they're not perceived to be funny or kitschy in the same way as "old school booty rap" and other popular choices in Friendster profiles. (Shame they haven't seen Elephant Man, then -- they're missing out on some serious comedy, from what I've heard of his live shows.)

Or maybe I'm just a curmudgeon and I'm pissed that there won't be any house and techno and I'm jealous that all the cute indie rockers go to stuff like this but never the parties that I throw. Hey, that could be it. I never said I was a role model. But I don't think so. If anyone has similar thoughts, chime in below. And of course, if I'm off my rocker, feel free to let me know (gently, please, gently!).

Posted by philip at February 17, 2004 07:25 PM

Hey you aren't so young that you forgot what it was like when house and techno much less disco were loathed by the indie kids. The main epithat used to be music for fags.

Its kinda weird/funny/cool that DFA and others have made some inroads into what is essentially just an age market, but I think its wrong to assume that people will change overnight or over a decade.

Besides a lot of people that will go to that night might not know more about music than those big names and care less who is playing what.

Don't be defeatest.

Posted by: hector at February 17, 2004 09:03 PM

I think your picking up on something there Philip. Alot of indie rockers seem to be uncomfortable with dancehall, house and techno. I'm not sure if its out and out racism but it could be the inheritance from past generations. I find alot of indie rockers I know, at least the younger ones are very self-conscious and are sort of traditionalists when it comes to music and only follow the new trends that somehow get 'indie certified'. I think there is a very herdlike mentality going on here that keeps indie-rockers segregated from other music cultures.

Posted by: at February 17, 2004 09:50 PM

You've defintely hit on a number of points here. The other thing is the implicit snootiness and racism. "this isn't serious music" almost means "hey it's okay, we can listen to this stuff ironically (coz that's all it's worth - a bit of a laugh) and then go back to 'real' music (by white people) afterwards". i'm sure they don't mean this at all but it can be read this way.

Posted by: Stelfox at February 18, 2004 08:41 AM

not sure where the issue is here, that looks like the standard issue post electroclash set list. Toss in the crunk and it *is* a Hollertronix set list. House and techno don't make the cut because unless you've spent years learning the microcodes its impossible to dance to *while drunk and coked up*. Note that nearly all artists listed have lyrics and lots of them. The beats are secondary, beat matching irrelevant, the dynamics diametrically opposed to those that drive house and techno.

As for the title, yeah the racial subtext is inescapable, but lets not forget they are straight up yelling to the world that its a cocaine party. Nothing challenging, you know?

Posted by: Abe at February 18, 2004 10:25 AM

Hi Philip! I think your observations here are on point.

Although these kinds of events reek of irony, I think a lot of indie kids genuinely enjoy old funk and disco, which we shouldn't lose sight of. They've just managed to recontextualize the music in a setting that, to them (if not to us), makes sense.

A few years ago when the backpacker hip hop scene was practically non-existent, there was nary a mention of funk/soul/hip-hop within indie circles. The emergence of indie hip-hop has not only helped to increase the popularity of mainstream rap amongst this group, but has also generated curiousity in the hip-hop lineage. So undie rap has almost legitimized the hip-hop canon with its roots in black music amongst the indie crew.

House and techno don't show up on the radar because the connection to its black roots is less explicit. The only indie people I can think of who are remotely champions of dance music in the indie community are the DFA. Do they even talk about house and techno when interviewed?

Ultimately I think some group from indie community, most likely the DFA, is going to have to connect-the-dots for indie kids to show them what a "straight up dance revolution," ought to look like!

And, yeah, what the heck is the deal with all the cute girls at indie shows!!?

Posted by: Philippe at February 18, 2004 11:44 AM

I feel that microhouse, for example, has social-class issues of its own. Compare with Grime. uptown, downtown; there will be no microhouse producers collaborating with grime artists. The only musical situation where class dissolves is pop. IE. dizzee rascal w/ lucky star.


look at "idm" and "ambient" vs. the techno scene from which it emerged. a sudden balkanization set in that segregated it. In constructing its history, it had to reach back past recent music to "detroit" and other roots ie. stockhausen.

or am I way off base?

Posted by: charles at February 18, 2004 12:21 PM

You've hit on something that's been stewing in the back of my mind for a while now. I'm not sure what exactly is going on... It's like genres that are removed from current black music, or "old school" if you like, are safer to appropriate. Also, maybe white kids are a little more secure busting the "ironic" black dance moves when they know black people will likely not be present. Hmmm... I'ma marinate on that, dog. Ba-dum CRASH!

Posted by: Matt Wright at February 19, 2004 04:33 PM

Dude: tonight Simply Jeff totally flipped some "Erotic City," "Fight for Your Right," "Word Up" AND "Milkshake." The breakbeat versions, but still. CAMEO? How safe is Cameo? And: the b-boys went nutzoid.
On the other side of things, there is a whole section at Platinum dedicated to newly remixed '80s classics, like the house version of Sisters of Mercy "First and Last and Always"--which I actually heard at the last CMJ DFA party, incidentally. In addition to the race music familiarity = non-threatening argument, I think maybe there's a sub-happening where techno/house producers can now reconcile their early synth music roots (/goth leanings?). More evidence that it takes time for certain cultural/musical languages to be deemed "okay" by outsiders (irt those languages).

Posted by: jshep at February 20, 2004 02:17 AM

GOD things like this make me sick, and for reasons a lot less polite than you're allowing yourself to be on here. How many ways are there to step around "body fear," "submerged racism," "completely unearned snobbery," "total fucking cluelessness," "sheep," etc.? I know you contribute and everything, but this flyer is exactly as embarrassing as that idiotic-as-fuck year-end issue of XLR8R (where we learned that the Neptunes are bad because they're--oh no! OH NO!--COMMERCIAL! before reading the sky-high praises of whatever laptop doinking around bullshit that's impossible to remember five minutes after it's over we're supposed to herald as the next miniscule thing). (haha, can you tell living in the PNW is affecting my bearings?)

Posted by: M Matos at February 20, 2004 09:55 PM

p.s. Gravy Train!!!! fucking sucks

Posted by: M Matos at February 20, 2004 09:57 PM

there's a night like that in London and you've totally summed up how I feel about their PR stuff on their website.. I'm reluctant to go cos though I like "black" music.. I get the feeling that it's too much of an ironic thing with the people behind the club. Especially the (white, indie) promoters constant use of ebonics.

Posted by: don at February 21, 2004 10:19 AM

While the title and tenor of this event is clearly offensive, we should cut some slack for the indie folks who don't acknowledge "black music." The reason for this indie attitude is largely a historical inheritance that most of the kids probably don't even understand. "Indie" (whatever that means) has its direct roots in 80s bands like Husker Du and the Replacements who themselves have their direct roots in early hardcore, diy, and punk. Punk was all about destroying the excesses of hippies, prog, and the demon disco. In certain (essentially non-art, no wave) circles, to maintain your punk credibility you had to reject all that isn't punk. That inheritance holds over to today where it is necessary to reject everything without the appropriate indie cred. It is funny that the kids today are essentially fighting a 27 year old battle against hippies and disco without any idea that that is what they are doing, but we inherit the tastes of our forefathers. I find something refreshing in a total belief in your music such that no other music can be considered viable. Although there were certainly racist elements of punk, this general attitude discriminates equally against white hippies, proggers, and all sorts of black music (except Bad Brains).

Posted by: Michael at February 23, 2004 04:46 PM


the scary part is i have lots of friends who will PROBABLY be there.

and there are a lot of arguments to be made about that... and yes, it is submerged racism, and yes it is elitism.

BUT, i'm gunna throw in this idea too:

the skinny/white-as-all-hell/indie-hipster crowd is a crowd with NO self esteem. They're ONLY comfortable being around eachother. But they've learned to love dance music. Becoming a minority (like crashing an ACTUAL hip-hop night for instance) is simply NOT an option. And yes, it is about race, and class, and simply any sort of OTHER-ness is out of the question. The lack of house or techno isn't about anything other than fashion. Go to the Arrow Bar on a Saturday if you want to see white hipsters dancing to disco. Dancehall is well on it's way too... but as I was explaining to a friend (last Saturday at the Arrow), most of those kids just want to hear the hits they already know. They can go to Amoeba if they want something new. The vapid 80's dance music isn't so much about IRONY as it is about NOSTALGIA, because that's what was on the radio when people who are now in their early and mid-20's were JUST beginning to hear music.

Posted by: ben at February 24, 2004 12:09 PM

i suppose they should get a few points for at least acknowledging the contradictions of what they're about in a really upfront way but unfortunately the name White Out only seems to make it worse somehow

if it weren't for the inclusion of ludacris and chingy i'd say it was straight up that standard timelag syndrome where white folks get into a particular black music only a good ten years or more after the black folks have moved on to something else ... sonic gentrification

it's like they've gone through Stage One of white indie engagement (the IDM-nerd missing-the-point a bit 'timbaland's rhythms are really complicated and weird and glitchy') and straight onto 'it's all about partying down' which unfortunately gets translated to a 'it's just stupid dance music but we're down with that' stance

and yeah you're right phil that house and techno, which has claims to both Afrofurist-intellect-weird-and-avant and stupid-fun-lets-great-crazy, gets written out -- although they do plan to play some technotronic and that's almost house music right?

a fascinating slab of discourse

Posted by: simon r at February 27, 2004 08:21 AM

elephant man will you please do me a favoire come over to the bahamas and sing your new song plasa because people over here real love that song

Posted by: antanico rolle at April 24, 2004 09:46 AM

ladies and gentlemen, will you please remove your hats and bonnets for a decade-long 21st century rendition of "taps" played by the confused and ultimately scared-as-shit unknowingly neo-conservative allstars of gentrified urban america...hey, don't hate 'em, there's a lot of making up to do from the painfully "uncool" musical/cultural memories of their adolescent past (not to mention family gatherings) in quaint lil' towns without sidewalks...only irony and strategery[sic] (and sick) is welcome...that is, until Vice says otherwise.

Posted by: avw at September 5, 2004 04:20 PM
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