POINTLESSNESS & DANCE MUSIC
(as it once was, at least)
"We touch each other with nothing, and it may be because we have nothing, no meaning, no message to communicate or send, that we are able to touch each other.”
What is the point of pointlessness? It seems something is driving us there, pushing us somewhere other than here – a place where we can indulge in the absence of meaning. We, especially us who have been immersed since childhood in the Western capitalist paradigm of life, have been imprinted with a very fixed, pre-defined system of values. In this Apollonian civilization of order and restraint, we are launched one by one down our individual paths, all in the single-track-minded pursuit of "success." But as Nietzsche pointed out, throughout all of human history, we have always been in need of some sort of disorder and excess – moments of Dionysian frenzy, a kind of manic euphoria that paradoxically stabilizes the self by decentering it.
Somehow it ends up that this pointlessness, this unwarranted and sometimes guilted for pleasure is what truly feeds the soul. It is through these “transgressions” that we are returned to the most fundamental, raw sensations and primal feelings we’ve lost in this new world of methodical existence.
The evidence is all over human history – spanning all ages, time periods, ethnicities, geographical locations and religions. Rituals of dance, meditation, spiritual exploration, ingestion of psychoactive drugs, and the inherent desire to explore the boundaries of our conscious states, are all elementary parts of the human condition.
Although suppressed in our everyday way of life, the Dionysian impulse is embedded deeply within all of us. Today, as we bear witness to the era of mass-media overstimulation, the outlet for escape has articulated itself in the form of a very unique party culture – a culture which uses modern technology to restore an ancient rite.
Electronic dance music (the ORIGINAL): A global mass movement that has, over the past 50 some-odd years, redefined sound, revived the spirit of dance, reclaimed the night (and often the morning, day, etc). The culture that has discarded the measurements dictated by time, reinvented the notion of space, redirected the pursuit of success toward the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment, reaffirmed the point in pointlessness, and lastly, restored a sense of connectivity among us. Like the global evolution of language, these sonic art-forms and their respective cultures developed simultaneously around the world.
The age of globalization and seemingly endless possibilities for intercommunication has made it possible for our worlds to collide so naturally, internationally, to become the definitive subculture that exists today. It’s almost like these musicultural subsets grew up together in immediate proximity, as if on the vast supercontinent of Pangaea, and now, spread across the world, a singular unspoken philosophy and language perseveres.
A BIT OF HISTORY:
Techno, influenced by the synthetic sounds of artists like Kraftwerk in Germany and Giorgio Moroder of Italy, really came to fruition in the 1980’s in Detroit. Techno was a sort of erratic response to the alienating and industrial wasteland that characterized the city. Simon Reynolds characterizes Detroit in Generation Ecstasy as a city in transition – once the leading capital of auto production in the US and now the leading capital of homicide. Forgotten, estranged, divided by violence, devoid of any sensory or cultural spirit, techno captured the broken identity of Detroit. Embracing in its very essence the sound of technology, techno reclaimed control of the machine.
House music was cultivated primarily by the gay and black communities in America who uprooted the soulfulness of funk and disco to nurture the dynamic, rich, underground dance music scene that came to be what it is today – house not only as 'music', but house as a 'feeling'. Amidst the mainstream Rock n’ Roll backlash against disco after its kitschy commercial peak, those marginalized cultures sought after preserving Disco’s hidden spirit, the soul of a rejected genre who’s essence, little did these Rock n’ Rollers know, harbored immense possibility. Disco introduced the concept of the continuous mix, transforming the nature of time spent by an uninterrupted flow of sound and movement, eliminating the notion of beginning and end. House is a full-bodied, four-dimensional sensation.
Of course the youth of every generation has formed its own ideological movement, pressing reformation through creative expression. Most notably was the hippie and free-love movement of the late 1960’s, whose blanket of communal identity was also sewn together by the threads of music. Their art, poetry, and behavior-as-one were a direct response to what was happening in the world and in politics. One nation under peace, this free-thinking community candidly addressed the social injustices of their time – their protest was an active one. While the dance music scene resembles a similar sentiment of unity, it has from its beginning developed as an autonomous culture, remaining outside the political sphere. It protests instead through a certain type of non-submissive passivity, what Antonio Melechi calls “collective disappearance” — a rebellion in which a parallel society comes alive after the rest of the world is sleeping.
It is in this invisible space where feeling is finally liberated, where nothing means everything. Though virtually unarticulated, this culture has nevertheless conducted a revolution by defining its own parameters without trying to redefine those of the rest of the world. While our parents put forth a ground-breaking ideology in their action-based rebellion, it seems we are still asking, what are we left with? What were we born into? A disenchanted generation of children, we are seeing now that political protest has proved little change in the fundamental nature of how we live – it is inevitable that we propose new ways and paths for existence.
The dance revolution is not part of a grander scheme pushing toward any sort of end result; the party is an end in itself. A pure and genuine expression of the ephemeral, we surrender completely to the moment which is now, and that’s all that there is, as if that’s all there ever will be. The party allows for the momentary loss of identity, both for us as individuals and for us as a collective whole. It enhances the id by eliminating the ego. It revives the body in action, just as artists had aimed in 1970’s conceptual performance art, only this time there is no audience, only participants. The body is becomes free from the burden of self-consciousness. There is a phenomenon present here, one in which self-abandonment ends up bringing us closer to ourselves, and in turn, closer to each other. We bond, authentically, over the shared pointlessness and non-goal oriented nature of our present doings as these modern sounds return us to a primitive sense of pure enjoyment.
The whole nature of dance music and dance music culture is that it is not based on didactics. It is not supposed to be a spectacle, it is not objectified art. It is a fully integrated experience. It is the presence and interconnectedness of our bodies, our minds, and the energy in between us all which are necessary to complete it. The music: continuous and evolving, with a consistent rhythm in sync with the beat of the heart, instantly engages and welcomes the body, even before the mind enters the equation. The music, the lights, the disorienting environment – it is a peripheral experience. Juhani Pallasmaa in “The Eyes of The Skin” discusses the phenomenology of architecture and the power of an interior space to either alienate or envelop us. He juxtaposes the notions of direct and indirect vision, focused versus unfocused. The objectifying nature of direct vision distances us from what we are looking at and therefore designates our role as voyeur, as spectator. Indirect vision, on the other hand, connects us to our surroundings, fulfilling the peripheral experience which lies at the core of architecture in its role of creating a sense of belonging, of promoting an equality between human and space.
This too is the nature of the club concept. The disorienting atmosphere of the smoky spasmodically lit dance floor immerses us in an alternate, dream-like reality fostered by a dream-like environment: a vast, glowing, dematerialized sculpture in which we dwell and move within. Juhani explains that with the loss of focus comes a type of liberation from the objectivating eye. This exchange takes place upon enrapture in a wholly incorporating space like the night club. The focused eye is sort of like the ego, our fixed identity, in which when placed in this environment is forced to surrender to an essentialized, reduced version of the self. A self which coalesces into space, and therefore, into other selves.
Pallasmaa also points out that because of the eye’s dominance over the other senses we have become somewhat deprived of experiences engaging the entire sensorium. Things are measured and therefore valued by their capability of showing and being shown. For example, when going to see a band perform, the concert experience is essentially validated by getting as close to the stage as possible to watch the performers in the flesh. The music is listened to, but this is almost secondary to the eye’s mission of seeing what the ear is hearing. This is another fundamental difference between rock and roll or hip-hop and dance music. The latter is decentered and not authenticated by watching the art-creator. It is more about the music which emerges from the artist and how that music shapes the atmosphere rather than the artist him or herself, or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Surely every art form is subject to commodification, but the party itself continues to, or at least should continue to, resist this urge. Pallasmaa explains, from an architectural standpoint, that memories of spaces and experiences are retained when they have affected our entire bodies. The mind thinks, the body remembers. And it never forgets.
Beki Powell © 2009