The Wire

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The Mire: Tangents, threads and opinions from The Wire HQ

Return to the fairground

Mark Fisher

"Minimal, of course, was the straw that overflowed the glass of Red Bull," writes Philip Sherburne in his jeremiad on the state of electronic dance music.

Scapegoat or no, in the last 18 months, the ubiquitous and yet strangely ephemeral genre has become a lightning rod for every conceivable critique. It's too soulless. It all sounds the same. It's lost touch with the roots of "real" dance music. It might not be surprising to hear a DJ like Diplo tell Pitchfork, "I go to a club in Berlin and I want to kill myself." But even within the scene, everyone complains about minimal, leveling complaints that often seem indicative of a much wider unease.

But the problem doesn't really lie with minimal itself. (One difficulty, though, is defining what minimal "itself" is; and it's questionable whether everything now labeled 'minimal' can now usefully be defined as belonging to one genre or sensibility.) As Simon Hampson argued in The Wire 293, it is the position that 'minimal' occupies in dance music, rather than any properties of the music itself, that is the issue:

[M]inimalism and austerity in dance music work best as counterpoints to more ebullient fare - a short, salty shock to set the scene for the climax to come, or to open up space for you mind to go wandering. But now minimal Techno rarely plays off against anything else; it is the main event.

There's a direct analogy with dubstep - more than an analogy, actually, since dubstep and the empire of minimal are converging, what with Villalobos and Shackleton remixing each other, the 2562 record, etc. What is needed is the confident reassertion of a dance music mainstream. That's related to Simon Reynolds's comments in Philip's piece:

Whenever, as a producer, you feel yourself flinching a bit from using an idea or a sound or an effect, hesitating on the grounds that it's maybe a wee bit cheesy, then I would say just to push right past that feeling and go for it. Do it twice over, even. There can never be enough monster riffs or cheap tricks in dance music; there can definitely be a surfeit of just-so subtleties.

Could minimal be defined as 'devoid of cheese'? Maybe so - but it would be a mistake to equate cheese with a retreat from innovation, just as it would be an error to align tasteful restraint and austerity with experimentalism. Hearing XL's rerelease of The Prodigy's first LP recently, with its its vertiginous jump cuts and bizarre angles, brought this home with E-flashback ultravividness. The barrel organ-like cartoon euphoria of Experience has always sounded like fairground music, and indeed it was at home pounding out from a fairground as it was at a rave. Wandering around a fairground in Kent recently, I kept being drawn back to the ride that was pumping out Bassline House, the genre whose hectic animatronic ebullience is at home in the fairground environment as rave once was. Is it time to forget the austere appartments that minimalism is so often reminiscent of, and return to the fairground?

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