Sunday, April 25, 2010



a different flavour of retrofuturism

glimpse of the stuff the headlining dj plays

youth today--how do they cope with knowing so much music?

including to my amazement: Saqqara Dogs



Saqqara Dogs were the band who (very kindly) put me up for several days on my very visit to New York in 1987--only a couple of blocks from where I now live

Saqqara Dogs's precursor band was Factrix as in the San Francisco chapter of Rip It Up


vintage anti-ardkore discourse from 1991

note freaky resemblance of the language to the anti-wobble/brostep memes in circulation at the moment as collated/added to a little way into this piece


pirate radio activity graph, Touch magazine, I think from 1994



my own pirate listings chart, also from 1994 -- and drawing on what I could pick up from Brixton in 1992-93, and then from 1994 when we moved back to London for most of the year but were living in Belsize Park -- so a mix of South London and North London data but probably missing a lot of the smaller-range East London pirates

Friday, April 23, 2010





RENEGADE SOUNDWAVE
In Dub
(Mute)
Melody Maker, 1990?

by Simon Reynolds


A smart move, this. The voices were always an obstacle to enjoying Renegade Soundwave, carrying as they did all kinds of unwelcome connotations: "street credibility"; a clenched, unsmiling masculinity redolent of The Godfathers; a blunt, thuggish menace that colluded with the confrontation-by-numbers subject matter (gangsters, drugs'n'sex, petty crime, nailbiting). Eliminating the human factor has the salutary effect of bringing to the fore Renegade Soundwave's forte: the science of b.p.m., the architectonics of dub-space, dance music as girders and gradients. More groups should leave themselves out of the picture.

This depersonalised dancescape is mirrored in ciphered titles like "Phantom Sex" and "Pocket Porn Dub". In the RSW universe, contact and involvement have been supplanted by voyeurism and the masturbatory pleasure of 'remote control'; "hot" desire (passion, narrative, motivation) has been superceded by "cool" fascination (surface sensationalism, the instantaneous, chance). The debut album dealt with these preoccupations explicitly; "In Dub" transmits the information non-verbally but just as effectively. Welcome to hyper-reality.

Apparently, CD players fill in the miniscule errors on CD's by making a considered estimate of what the missing fragment would have sounded like. And it's said that if you deliberately damage a CD you can trick the computer to compose it's own spectral cyber-music that strays further and further from the organic original. "Phantom Sex" sounds like such a computer impersonation of rare groove, the chuntering, clavinet-squelching bump'n'grind turned to geometry. After this, however, Side One doesn't quite zap the nerve nodes. "Bacteria" is stripped down too far, until all that's left is a skeletal grid-beat drained of funk, plus some Andean flutes and mandolins. "Transition" suggests a desolate, uninhabited dancefloor, but is just too remote. "Pocket Porn" is creepy and clammy, but ends before it gets going, sounds like an off-cut of a grander garment.

"In Dub" comes into its own on the second side. "Women Respond To Bass" is still low-key, but spiritual with it: an almost ECM guitar twinkles in the far corner of the horizon, intangible whorls and eddies of ambient sound flicker at the thresholds of audibility. "Holgertron", by contrast, is upfront, predatory electro, a stalking cyborg-tarantula. "Recognise & Respond" elaborates a fantastical dub-labyrinth of archways and corridors. "Air Hostess" makes the album's solitary concession to "heart and soul" with an interlude of lachyrmose chords, but is mostly disembodied and decentred: at times, it really does sound like the body of the song has been eviscerated, but the hacked-off limbs continue to keep strict time.The closing "Black Eye Boy" is the album's only outright dub reggae, with a mesmering cymbal pattern and horns that plummet lugubriously into the abyss between the beats.

"In Dub" is neither feet-motivating nor heart-pumping, but rather a cerebral pleasure. At best, it provokes a detached, cold admiration; at worst, a blank feeling of disconnection. It's asocial, an event that happens only to solitary individuals: no dancefloors will be fired up by this 'dance music'. In the same way that modern cyber-technology turns the human mind into a screen, "In Dub" organises your headspace like a mixing desk. Prepare to have your consciousness remixed.



and

as sampled by Omni Trio:





Max Roach, talking to George Lipsitz, about hip hop/LL Cool J:

"The rhythm was very militant to me because it was like marching, the sound of an army on the move. We lost Malcolm, we lost King and they thought they had blotted out everybody. But all of a sudden this new art form arises and the militancy is there in the music".





VARIOUS ARTISTS
STILL SMOKIN'
Ganja/Frontline
Melody Maker, 1996

by Simon Reynolds


Ganja and Frontline are the labels run by two allies in the realm of ruffneck junglism: DJ Hype (a.k.a. Ganja Kru) and Pascal (a.k.a. Johnny Jungle, HMP,
P-Funk). Over the last four years Hype has pursued an unswervingly raw-to-the-core
trajectory, banging out killa tracks like "A Shot In The Dark", "The Chopper", "Roll The Beats" and "You Must Think First" with an almost scary consistency; Pascal's no slouch either. So don't expect any concessions to "intelligence" or soft-core smoothness on Still Smokin'. Packed with exclusive remixes and dubplates, Smokin' is an exemplary document of the kind of purist hardstep that's too moody'n'minimalist to win much affection from the non-junglist world.

Last year, jungle gradually purged almost all of its obvious ragga elements, but dancehall's influence persists in the basslines, which are metallic, atonal,and joylessly bouncy in a way that vaguely suggests Nintendo. With the disappearance of rude-boy ragga chants, hip hop gangsta-isms have stepped in to supply the ghettocentric menace. Hype's "Freestyles of Bass", for instance, has G-funk's sinister synth-melodies wafting wraith-like over the kind of miasmic, maggot-wriggly bass-frequencies first heard on Tek 9's "We Bring Anybody Down". Origin Unknown's brilliant remix of H.M.P.'s "Runin's" harks back even further for its gangstadelic vibe of trepidation, draping what sounds like blacksploitation era wah-wah guitar over an awesomely stark and stealthy groove.

As with the best in current jungle, a vague air of militancy pervades "Still Smokin'"; the rhythms are basically James Brownian funk tightened and tuffened
into strict-time martial percussion. But the renegade, Us-Against-Them politics
only get explicit on Hype's "We Must Unite", with its black demagogue sample: "what you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences... unite on the basis of what we have in common". Angry but apolitical, jungle offers its followers a grim-faced solidarity in oppression, apocalyptic paranoia (Redlight's "The Future Is Dark") and love-of-ganja. With its unstable beats and landslide/landmine bass, jungle creates a sound-picture of '90s reality in all its dread and tension; at the same time, the music's inexhaustible, remorseless energy gives the junglist street-warrior the will and the stamina to survive. The "resistance", if you listen with your nerves and your motor reflexes, is in the rhythms.









Tuesday, April 20, 2010

apocalypse then

fascinating article by Dave Mothersole (Ben Stud Brother's actual real life brother and the "somebody" quoted on page 186 of Blissed Out) on the Eighties roots of Goa trance, focusing on scene-shaping deejay Laurent, who mixed using cassettes not vinyl. Includes ultra-rare footage of Eighties Goa plus Dave's tribute mix to the Laurent style (EBM, Italo, synthpop with the vocals edited out, Hi-NRG slowed to 100 bpm etc)

(cheers to Jeremy Gilbert for the tip-off)

Monday, April 19, 2010




Chloe Sevigny back when she was a NYC club kid and a regular at NASA (did the coat-check for a while as i recall) (and isn't there in fact a NASA scene in Kids?), Drop being a clubzine started by Scotto (co-founder of NASA)

her Big Love role may be one of TV's least appetising characters, but having passed her in the street last year where St Mark's Place meets Tompkins Square Pk (she must have been doing an indie movie, looked "in character", there was a small film crew set up on Avenue A) I can attest she does have a certain je ne sais quoi





unpublished darkcore review submitted to Melody Maker -- a pox on you Arundel!

Saturday, April 17, 2010





Geoff Dyer, inside the ride

samples from his superb Paris Trance

Thursday, April 15, 2010

the first 23 seconds of this is worthy of the Mover, and then it goes into straight-down-the-line trance, but as trance goes, good stuff



and here's another good one, check the writhing bass-spirals



somehow spiritually linked to this



and even more to this sickness

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

reeeeeeeeeewind


vinyl version w/o the MC, just so you can hear the artistry

anybody know what happened to George Kelly?











beliiiiiiiiiief

Sunday, April 11, 2010

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS
Come With Us
(Astralwerks)
Spin, 2002

by Simon Reynolds


It's a tough time for dance believers. Clubland chugs along with blandly efficient floor fodder (trance, so-called "progressive", filter house), deejayed by globe-trotting technicians marketed as pseudo-personalities. On the underground tip, you can choose between a deep house scene stifled by its own conviction that it was so much better back in the over-mythologized day, or the blink-and-you'll-miss-'em succession of leftfield subgenres (microhouse, clickhop, glitchcore, etc) whose frequent excellence is somehow diminished by their scene's hermetic seclusion from the wider world (this despite Bjork's best efforts as ambassador). 2step, still one of dance culture's few claims to edge, is bedevilled by the peculiarities of transAtlantic transmission, and remains stalled as a hipster clique pick in a few major American cities. As for drum'n'bass---believe it or not, some people have only just noticed it's dead!

And what of the class of 1997, the heavy-hitters of electronica's false dawn? Despite being chockfull of potential hits and rock-listener-friendly moves, Daft Punk's Discovery and Basement Jaxx's Rooty have not exactly set Billboard on fire. Like The Chemical Brothers found last time around (1999's Surrender), with American radio programmers sceptical or hostile, and video channels looking for stellar faces and bodies, the sales ceiling for the Anglo-Euro giants of dance music seems to be slightly lower than, say, the runt of Roc-A-Fella's litter, or a side project by Tool's drum-tech.

Right about now would be the right time for the original funk-soul Brothers to retrench. Come With Us follows not one but two bid-for-maturity albums---the second of which, Surrender, lost most of the commercial ground gained by the first, 1997's rocktronica-spearhead smash Dig Your Own Hole. So you could forgive a chastened Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons for getting back to (big) business as usual and offering a rote dose of block rockin' big beat. What makes Come With Us a modest triumph is that the Chems haven't fallen back on the fratboy-friendly formula that launched a thousand TV commercials. Instead they've gone one step beyond the under-rated Surrender by integrating like never before their two sides, high-octane thrust and airy psychedelic dreaminess.

Come With Us might actually even be their best album, in the precise sense of being their least bitty, most cohesively album-like album. It's like they've applied the mix-CD flow-motion aesthetic of track-to-track compatibility to an LP of all original material. No single song attains, let alone surpasses, their highest heights to date --"Setting Sun", "It Doesn't Matter" --but there's a superbly sustained wholeness of mood, feel, sensation. In a word: whoooosh! One of the Chems's fave tricks this time round is using delay and similar FX to create the audio equivalent of after-image trails and tracers. Tremolo is another constant: sounds that seem to physically shiver in your ear. And it sounds like some of the techniques they came up with during the drawn-out agony of the Surrender sessions have become permanently installed in their music-making arsenal: self-coined concepts like "implied music" (building up a huge density of multitracked sonic layers, then stripping them down until only Turin Shroud-like ghost-traces remain) and "acoustic trance music" (using "organic" sounds like woodwinds, but programmed and patterned in the ultramodern ways allowed by digital technology). "Trance" is a key reference point for this album: Simons & Rowlands have talked in the past about appreciating the populist appeal of DJs like Paul Van Dyk, and on Come With Us it's like they've assimilated some of the spangled kineticism of recent trancefloor monstertunes like Hatiras's "Spaced Invader".

Come With Us starts fast, as if to banish the mellow aura of Surrender, their self-conscious attempt to leave behind over-adrenalized Big Beat and blatant crowdpleaser dynamics. The first three tracks are urgent but serene, like a car chase on Prozac. On "Galaxy Bounce" and "Come With Us," rippling arpeggios hurtle backwards in the mix like landmarks receding in a rear-view mirror. In this propulsive context, even "It Began In Afrika"--which seemed lame and nondescript as a single--works great. Things take a very slight shift to the pastoral with "Star Guitar," a serotonin supernova of calm elation, and then "Hoops," a perfect meld of the duo's B-Boy and psych-rock tendencies that entwines 12-string folkadelic guitar and a woozy "I'm too high" vocal around a warm pulse of 808 bass. In contrast, "Denmark" harks back to early Eighties punk-funk and "mutant disco" with its heavily processed slap-bass, trumpet, and skittering hand-percussion: Pigbag on pills. And the endlessly ascending crescendoes of "Pioneer Skies" puts some Rush in their rush, achieving (a la Daft Punk's "Digital Love") a grandeur oddly poised between kitsch and kosmik.

Only the obligatory guest-vocalist spots interrupt the seamless joy-ride. Yet another collaboration with Beth Orton, "The State We're In" resembles a Jesus & Mary Chain ballad (over)produced in the Brian-Wilson-for-Generation-E style of Screamadelica (the 1991 album by Primal Scream that defined a rave'n'roll epoch in the U.K., but means nothing over here except for a handful of diehard Anglophiles). Come With Us's climactic closer "The Test" draws on the blowhard talents of Richard Ashcroft, formerly of The Verve--another one of those groups, like Primal Scream, The Charlatans, and Spiritualized, who serve as a token rock band for Brit rave kids who otherwise have low tolerance for guitars. With Ashcroft declaiming quasi-visionary vagaries like "I'm seeing waves breaking forms on my horizons/Lord, I'm shining," "The Test" veers perilously close to transcendental bombast. Moderate, essentially Anglican at heart, it's hard to imagine Ed or Tom uttering the words "now I think I've seen the light" themselves, and generally you can't help thinking they'd be better off keeping any mystical tendencies implicit in the music. Minor defects aside, Come With Us is an almost perfect-thing, and an invitation not to be refused. So, er, go with them.


VARIOUS ARTISTS
Junior Boys Own Collection (Junior Boys Own)
Spin, 1994

by Simon Reynolds


The cover of this compilation of releases from one of London's hipper dance labels features a gallery of loveable rogues, including Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Patrick McNee (from 'The Avengers'), Mick Jagger, Pete Townsend and Phil
Daniels (star of 'Quadrophenia'). The last two are the giveaway, since the whole Junior Boy's Own ethos is a '90s update of mod. That '60s scene was about boys and their obsessions with the sharpest clothes, the obscurest dance singles and the pills that allowed them to skip sleep and spend the weekend dancing and posing.

London club culture today really isn't that much different from Mod. Ecstasy has replaced speed, but it's still a boy's own affair. Cultural studies hipsters use the term 'homosocial' to describe this kind of male bonding, which nicely captures the way that boys divert their passion for each other into shared obsessions like sport, music, motors et al. In fact, Junior Boy's Own origins stem from a
fanzine, Boy's Own, which combined two laddish passions--rave music and soccer.

Well, obsessiveness is the spice of pop life, up to a point and so long as it doesn't get too anal-retentive. And there's no denying that JBO's Terry Farley
and Steve Hall have managed to define and foster their own distinct club music aesthetic. Most of their releases are slanted towards smooth, sophisticated elegance. This is music for self-proclaimed connoiseurs that cuts a swathe
midway between the 'hands in the air!' euphoria of populist house and the frigid frenzy of trance techno.

The Collection ranges from bumpin' garage and tuff house to the pop techno of Underworld, who have since become rave/rock crossover stars with their excellent
Dubnobasswithmyheadman LP. It's worth buying this comp just for their hard-to-find track "Rez", a sublime roundelay of synth-tones that chase each others tails. The trouble with techno is that it's virtually impossible to say why one
oscillating sequencer-riff is sublime where another isn't (then again, it's equally hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes the riff to, say, "Smells Like Teen Spirit", so exciting). Underworld are also in fine form (as their alter-
ego Lemon Interrupt) with the throbbing and twinkling "Big Mouth". Other highlights include the runaway train rhythms of X Press-2's "Muzik X-Press" and "London X-Press" (the latter spirals off into mad sirens and hollers of "raise
your hands"--a police officer, a preacher, or just an MC?),and the Dust Brothers' thunderquaking hip hop "Song To The Siren" (which has absolutely nothing to do with Tim Buckley).

Nowadays, London's clubland is ruled by jungle, a ballistic blend of hip hop, dub and ragga that's ruffer, blacker and more ferociously experimental than the tasteful
but rather mild garage scene with which Junior Boy's Own are affiliated. And so "Collection" is an excellent summation of one particular strand of London dance culture, but one that's already history.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010



Human Traffic and Groove
Village Voice, May 3 - 9, 2000

by Simon Reynolds


Why has the rave movie been such a long time coming? Truth is, nothing really happens at raves. The basic nature of the experience is repetition leavened with randomness. Sure, there's a feeling of adventure—ephemeral incidents, ultra-vivid tableaux, strange encounters, being on a mission to the end of the night. But dialogue is fragmentary or nonexistent, because Ecstasy allows people to feel connected without needing to talk. Real life, with all its dramatic potential, is elsewhere. That's the point of raving, and the reason why it's been so hard to film. It's no coincidence that ravers boast of "losing the plot."

"I felt it was the details of rave culture that were the most elusive and yet most evocative," says Greg Harrison, writer and director of Groove (opening June 9), one of the first movies to rise to the challenge of making a story out of the scene. Documentaries like the new Better Living Through Circuitry (opening May 26) can show the eye-catching surfaces of rave with groovy footage of frenzied dancers in their freakadelic clothes, but only fiction can take you inside the madness. "All these things happen that are transitory and nonverbal and kind of inconsequential," says Harrison. "So it became a question of trying to put this truth of the scene on screen while also having characterization, dialogue, narrative. When we were looking for backing, people would invariably say, 'This is refreshing. But can we have someone die of an overdose?' "

Justin Kerrigan, who wrote and directed Human Traffic, the U.K. counterpart to Groove that opens Friday, faced similar pressure to adopt a conventional narrative arc. "But it would have been a complete sellout to put guns or gangsta shit in the movie, or have someone die through drugs," he says. "Human Traffic's based on the real experiences of me and my friends, and we never saw anyone overdose or jump through a window while tripping. That's what the financiers in Britain wanted, though, some moral message about taking Ecstasy." The you-must-pay-for-having-too-much-fun narrative is what marred Go, a recent attempt to use rave culture as groovy backdrop: Although nobody actually dies, the boy who reaches the highest heights on Ecstasy collapses by some garbage cans and the girl who dabbles in drug dealing is left for dead in a ditch.

Avoiding cheap moralizing isn't the only thing Groove and Human Traffic share. Both are inspired by personal experiences (early '90s San Francisco for Harrison; Cardiff, Wales, 1995-96, for Kerrigan); both feature pointless cameos from superstar DJs (Carl Cox as a menacing club promoter in Human Traffic, John Digweed as himself in Groove). There are crucial differences, though. Groove follows the trajectories of various ravers as they converge on an illegal warehouse party and then return to everyday life, in some cases transformed by their experiences. But the rave itself is the focus, the star. Human Traffic has been hailed as a definitive document of British clubbing-and-drugging culture. But strangely, the movie seems to put off getting to the club for as long as it can and then quits the dance floor as swiftly as possible, as if trying to evade its alleged raison d'être—the rave E-piphany, the white hole in which narrative incandesces. Instead, screen time is lavished on the twentysomething characters' commonplace problems and romantic woes. Only Moff, the Cockney "pill monster," corresponds to a clubland archetype: the born-again convert who proclaims that "raving's better than sex."

Moff's confession that he's got no real interest in relationships right now is one of the few moments in Human Traffic that actually tells you something about rave. It's the first youth-music movement where sex is not a primary motor. And this has everything to do with Ecstasy's peculiar lovey-dovey but anti-aphrodisiac effects. On E, many men experience George Costanza's "significant shrinkage"; most find it hard to get hard. The buzz, for both genders, is a hypertactile sensuality that's decentered and goal-less. Sure, people meet and get off with each other, but mostly the "loved up" energy coheres around the collective—the crew you came with, the dance floor massive of friendly strangers. Above all, there's an erotic relationship with overwhelming, engulfing sound—which is why ravers hug speakers, and why Moff declares, "I'm having sex with music, mate—and believe me, I can go all night." It's sad and suspect that Human Traffic lumbers Moff with two semicomical masturbation scenes. The one person to escape the heterosexual fix that encloses the other characters is dissed as a wanker.

Human Traffic's relentless bawdy banter contrasts with the film's coyness about drugs. Amazingly, the actual procuring and ingestion of drugs is never shown. Even in the scene where protagonist-narrator Jip and his best mate Koop talk stoned shit while chopping out coke lines, they never actually hoover any powder up their nostrils. Kerrigan concedes that "you don't see anyone taking anything harder than a pint of lager. If I'd put a close-up of someone dropping a tab, it'd probably have got cut out anyway." All tell and no show, Human Traffic flaunts a script caked in down-with-the-scene drug slang and we-are-the-chemical- generation rhetoric. There's a cameo from British cannabis crusader Howard Marks talking about "spliff politics" and a fantasy sequence in which Jip jousts with a neurologist about Ecstasy's drawbacks and dangers. Even the film's brief trippy sequence of dance-floor nirvana is overlaid with a blissed Jip voice-over: "we're thinking clearly yet not thinking at all. . . . We flow in unison. . . . I wish this was real. . . . "

Groove largely avoids depicting the actual consumption of drugs, but it deals with their effects much more deftly. Ecstasy virgin David's ascent through trepidation, the panic rush as the E comes on strong, to flushed and woozy rapture, is nicely captured. Groove's ethical center, its low-key message, emerges when David stumbles into the company of Leyla, a jaded veteran raver who finds herself moved by his born-again bliss. Leyla achieves a painful breakthrough herself, realizing how she has used parties and drugs to avoid going anywhere with her life. "I wanted to convey the more subtle dangers of this scene, not the real but rare risk of overdose," says Harrison. "You can get lost behind this screen of chemical happiness and become unwilling to deal with the bad in your life. The very epiphany that's opened David's life is the thing that's trapping Leyla."

Rave isn't just about Ecstasy, it's about the synergy between drugs and music. Even the most addled participants in dance culture are incredibly picky about what soundtracks their frenzy. But Human Traffic transmits little sense of the urgent distinctions and dissensions that animate your genuine club-culture fiends—which DJs are cool, which tracks rule, where the vibe is to be found scene-wise. Groove gestures at this pure passion for music, showing the dedication of the DJs and the fans obsessed with John Digweed.

The Digweed thing—a Wayne's World if-you-book-them-they-will-come fantasy, given that this superclub DJ would never deign to play an illegal party—is one of a handful of unrealistic notes in Groove. (Free water? DJs who smile while spinning? C'mon!) But the slightly idealized version of rave is forgivable, since the film is about the culture in its most romanticized underground form (the break-in warehouse party). Groove also documents the early-honeymoon phase of the S.F. scene, says Harrison, before polydrug abuse darkened the vibe. Groove is about rave as counterculture, as DIY autonomist activity, about outwitting the law with pluck and planning. Human Traffic is about something more modest and ultimately conformist—young people letting off steam at the weekend, like they've always done. "Every generation goes through the same things—McJobs, sexual insecurities, not sure what you're going to do in life, thinking, 'Fuck it, I'm gonna live in the present rather than work for a tomorrow that's never going to come,' " says Kerrigan. When he wrote the script, there was a huge media panic about Ecstasy in Britain, but by the time Human Traffic got its U.K. release last year, there'd been a turnabout. "We got no negative commentary at all, because the media's beginning to realize that Ecstasy is not a threat to society." Indeed, the movie can't make up its mind whether all the drugging is just harmless fun, or whether it's edgy, subversive, naughty. This vacillation mirrors the fact that British rave has become a leisure industry, with only the illegality of the party potions providing a vestigial veneer of rebellion.

Ultimately, Human Traffic is just a lively post-Trainspotting youth movie with club scenes as backdrop. There's even an anxiety-of-influence nod to Trainspotting, when Nina and Lulu tell a documentary TV crew that they don't do E anymore, but "jack up on heroin and float about the club. . . . We saw Trainspotting and it just made us want to do it. . . . We seem to be so impressionable." This also works as a riposte to any possible accusations that Human Traffic makes drug culture glamorous and seductive. Actually, it's more likely that the movie's five friends—an irritatingly feisty and manic bunch—will turn kids off big time. More subdued, and more true to life, Groove conveys the joy, devotion, and weird energy this culture has magicked into being in its 12 years of existence. It might even make you wonder what you've been missing.
Better Living Through Circuitry (Directed by Jon Reiss, A Seventh Art release)
Village Voice, Tuesday, May 23 2000

by Simon Reynolds


By far the most exciting part of the recent U.K. club-culture movie Human Traffic is the opening documentary-footage montage of illegal street parties, joyous protests against the British government's anti-rave legislation. Jon Reiss's documentary about the American rave scene, Better Living Through Circuitry: A Digital Odyssey Into the Electronic Dance Underground, similarly thrills with its tableaux of overexcited crowds doing the swirly Mandelbrot-limbed dance known as "liquid." But when it comes to making you understand the culture rather than just feel the vibe, Better Living is less successful, featuring platitudes about "positive energy" from a middlebrow selection of DJs, producers, and bands (Atomic Babies? Electric Skychurch?!). Still, its dancefloor orientation makes it a useful complement to Iara Lee's Modulations, which focused on home-oriented electronica and lofty auteurs rather than having-it crowds.

Highlights here include an amusing appearance by ex-Kraftwerk percussionist Wolfgang Flur and producer BT discoursing fascinatingly on "photic and auditory driving" (tribal techniques of inducing an alpha-wave trance through flicker patterns, unwittingly reinvented by ravers with strobes and oscillating keyboard vamps). Rave DJ stalwarts Frankie Bones and Keoki are charming, and a couple of paramedics outside a rave confess that they've started getting into the music despite themselves. On the minus side, Genesis P. Orridge repeats the self-serving myth that Psychic TV catalyzed the U.K.'s acid-house revolution and drops his well-worn rave-as-nouveau-tribalism insights like they're mind bombs.

Better Living's cursory segment on drugs is something of a whitewash (possibly out of a forgivable desire not to give the Enemy any ammunition, what with the major crackdown on raves from Toronto to Florida). The film comes through in its home stretch with interesting stuff on rave's utopian spirituality and "implicit politics"—kids who "make for themselves some of the things that are missing from their lives," according to one talking head. By the end, I was even feeling a little teary-eyed.

Saturday, April 3, 2010