THE BEST DAMN DANCE MUSIC WRITING OF THE MONTH: FEBRUARY 2016
It’s easy to assume that dance music journalists spend the majority of their time going to music festivals for free and sipping complimentary cocktails at assorted nightclubs. In reality, however, that’s only how we spend some of our time.
While there are certainly job perks, most of the time we’re glued to our computers, banging out thoughts about what is arguably the most exciting genre of music. Sometimes, those stories and ideas are particularly resonant. Here then is the best damn dance music writing of February 2016.
Best Trip Into History: Ambient House: The Story of Chill Out Music, 1988-95
In Red Bull Music Academy Daily, writer Matt Anniss takes a deep dive into the history of chill out, which has roots extending back to the British dance scene of the early 90s. Via interviews with early genre leaders including The Orb (!) and Mixmaster Morris, Anniss captures the rise and fall of a music scene in which lying down in the dark with one’s eyes closed was preferred over getting down under the bright lights of the dancefloor. The story also recounts how the chill out parties intersected with psychedelic culture as a function of the substances that were being consumed at the events, with psychedelic thought leaders including Terrence McKenna and Timothy Leary delivering speeches at parties before the scene ultimately met its demise in the late 90s. The feature also includes a dynamic infographic breaking down the chill out family tree, from The KLF to Aphex Twin to DJ Food.
Choice quote: “‘Chill out’ had become tarnished as a term, partly due to the rising number of major label backed compilations filling record shop shelves. The sound’s commercial appeal was, ultimately, its downfall.”
Best Cultural Fusion: How a Historic Black Queer Disco Became the Unlikely Epicenter of Los Angeles’ Industrial Scene
For Thump, Jemayel Khawaja digs into the past, present and future of Jewel’s Catch One, one of the country’s first black gay discos and the former nexus of Los Angeles’ industrial music scene. For more than two decades, the venue, located in a largely non-gentrified part of Los Angeles far from Hollywood clubland, was was the home of Das Bunker, the city’s signature industrial party from which power noise, cold wave, and other industrial sub-genres emerged. As the the club fell into disrepair, however, Das Bunker was forced to leave for safer digs. That is, however, until the venue’s recent purchase and renovation by a local nightlife impresario who is breathing new life back into the space and continuing its legacy of being a home for “outsider communities brought together by electronic music.”
Choice quote: “A neon sign emblazoned with the word “disco” in a curly block-font welcomed a community that favors pentagrams and black leather over sequins and flared jeans. It was a beautiful thing.”
Best In Memoriam: Dilla Day
In honor of the 10th anniversary of J Dilla’s death, writer Sam Valenti re-shared the “fan’s memoir” he wrote on February 10, 2006, the day the revered Detroit hip-hop producer passed away from a rare blood disease. Valenti uses poetic prose to describe how Dilla’s 13 years worth of output paralleled his own personal evolution, with the writer even crossing paths with Dilla a few times, first as a fan and then as a music industry professional. He recounts Dilla’s quiet impact on the world of underground hip-hop, and of the confidence it took for him to perform from the confines of a wheelchair during his final days.
Choice quote: “My girlfriend that summer would insist that any making out would be to a solid rotation of the Slum Village album. In fact, I knew there would generally be no movement unless Jay Dee was setting the tone. It’s enough to give any young man a complex. I consented, and the music would be etched in my brain forever.”
Best Be Yourself Story: Octo Octa: Between two selves
Resident Advisor’s Shawn Reynoldo tells the story of Brooklyn-based transgender house producer Maya Bouldry-Morrison, who performs as Octo Octa, and who has recently gone public regarding her transition. Reynaldo tracks Bouldry-Morrison’s career from the time she was a teenager growing up in New Hampshire, to releasing her debut album on 100% Silk, to her struggles with anxiety, to her eventually coming out as trans to her family. The decision, Reynaldo says, is not only triumphant, but challenging, considering the the recent attacks on trans people in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.
Choice quote: “Moving forward, she recognizes that being transgender will likely be a major focal point for those evaluating, promoting and consuming her music, but she’s also clear that she’s not looking to trade on her identity for work.”
Best Travel Marketing: Destination: Amsterdam
Crack Magazine’s 22-minute video piece on Amsterdam explores the city’s dance massive music culture, from Trouw to Dekmantel and beyond. Interviews with local artists, producers, and admiring outsiders such as Seth Troxler tell the stories of Amsterdam’s emergence as one of the world’s dance music capitals, and why there’s nowhere else in the world quite like the Dutch destination.
Choice quote: In the words of techno don Dave Clarke, “It’s a city; it’s not an event. Ibiza is an event; it’s a pantomime; it’s a cabaret, whereas Amsterdam is a city and it has a culture and the culture keeps moving forward and changing.”