Sunday, December 27, 2015

death of dance

Metallica admirer Roger Scruton deplores the asocial / asexual dancing of modern music, but gives a big big-up to formation dancing and paired dancing

from the essay "Dancing Properly", published in March as part of the collection Confessions of a Heretic 

today's clubbers

jerk on to the floor in obedience to the puppet master at the desk

 “tend to avoid contact with each other, since there is no agreed convention as to what form their contact should take”.

They are dancing at each other. The difference between ‘at’ and ‘with’ is one of the deepest psychological differences we know. It is exemplified in all our encounters with other people – notably in conversation and in sexual gambits … The decay of manners that we have seen in recent times is to a large extent a result of the loss of withness and the rise of atness in its stead. Rudeness, obscenity, the ‘in your face’ manners of the new TV presenter – all these are ways of being ‘at’ other people. Courtesy, manners, negotiation and deference are, by contrast, ways of being with.

in these older dance styles, partners “touch, swing around each other, move together in an attempt to recapture withness”.

whereas techno-type music is a “grotesque caricature of music in which rhythm is mere beat and melody mere repetition”, and which is "loud enough to make conversation impossible and, provided the pulse is regular enough, to jerk the body into reflex motion, like the legs of a galvanised frog

in the Guardian interview Scruton recalls how

In the traditional dances, physical contact was permitted in a way that it wasn’t in everyday life. The electricity of physical contact has gone therefore from young people’s lives. For us ageds, I can remember the tingle in your fingertips when you touched a girl’s body anywhere. That’s part of it, but also that touching as a courtesy has gone.”

I love Viennese waltzes and polkas, and especially cèilidhs and old-fashioned formation dancing... I like rock’n’roll too. Young women especially love the idea of formation dancing … Once it’s on offer, people go for it. There’s a kind of ignorance.”

on Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" - “There is no violent drumming, no amplified bass, none of the devices which – I am tempted to say – substitute for rhythm in so much contemporary pop. This withness is felt by the listener as an urge to dance, an urge to look around for the person whose hand could be taken and who could be led on to the floor.”

in a way, he's not wrong exactly ...  techno dancing is "autistic" but while it's asexual, maybe (some genres are pretty sensual) it's not asocial -  in the  massive-ification experience of being jointly subjected to overbearing rhythm, collectively synchronised to a pulse

despite loving Metallica (I'm assuming he's not ever heard metal in concert, at bodyshaking volume) Scruton also is unaware -  seemingly -  of the haptic dimension to amplified music, and especially to electronic dance music - sound as immersive, enfolding, penetrative, audiotactile..... this individualised (yet shared) surrender to overwhelming sound


Would Uncle Scruton approve of the dancing in this?

[via Karl Kraft]


Unknown said...

Sancing at raves/in clubs etc to electronic dance music (NOT EDM, I am talking the old fashioned kind being born 1979) is of course "autistic" in so far you don't dance with somebody (which is not completely valid either, I have had danced with females in such occasions, but - there he is right - never touched) but you dance together as a collective. He doesn't understand that a big part of the rave/club"Experience" was the feeling of being together, enjoying "The Puppetmaster" (as he put it) as a collective.

He states there is a decline in public manners and such. I tend to agree,but this has to do with the Thatcherist-dogma of "There Is no Society" which translates into Homo homini Lupus, that everybody has to fend for themselves. This dogma has subverted western societies for several decades now and is still strong. In fact, the club/rave experience (especially of the early to mid 90s) was sort of reaction towards this malevolent development.

Matt said...

This isn't exactly new territory for Scruton, he's been banging on about this since the 90s: - what's interesting about this piece is that he explicitly notes the communal elements of the rave but immediately discounts them as being inauthentic. One reason being that individuals choose how they dance rather than following "the rules" as in formation dancing. As a conservative, collective rules that govern individual behaviour are very important for Scruton. He is far more concerned with judging and policing than understanding. Hence his preference for aesthetics over sociology.

Flicking thru one of the few Scruton texts I have to hand (Beauty, 2009), two things stand out. One is that he is an avid consumer and interpreter of high culture. Secondly, he has a loathing of popular, kitschy taste that implies a fear of the unpoliced lower orders or arriviste new money (cf. the first few pages of chapter 6). Later on (chapter 8) he claims a link between kitsch and the holocaust. His work studiously avoids any discussion of the impact of class on aesthetic choice (N.B. Scruton himself comes from a lower middle class background).

The Prodigy? He'd hate them. But they wouldn't want to go fox-hunting with him anyway.

Of course, Scruton was a massive fan of Thatcher but it would be impossible for him to see any connection between the individualistic focus of Thatcherism and individualism in society that he so decries. He seems to forget that his fond childhood reminiscences came during the period when collectivism and social democracy were at their height in the UK.

Matt said...

BTW I assume this isn't Roger "Metallica" Scruton's latest collection of essays:


ha, that's funny about the other Confessions of Heretic

yeah, i know where Scruton is coming from politically / philosophically, although that said every time i've read an interview with him, it's well argued - clear, punchy - so on that level i enjoy it. it's good to read stuff by people on the Other Side - bracing.

i think what he really misses is that the spaces of rave formed as a sort of remedy to the very Death of the Community he mourns .... a kind of ad hoc, temporary form of sociality. rather than being in a community that surrounds in your daily life, you assemble based on logics of taste, sonic affiliation etc.... in these spaces that may be nowhere near where you live and work.... and get a little bit of the communitas feeling that once was got at church or the fete or whatever. but probably English musical hall in the swirling anonymous and anomie-ish city was the beginnings of that process.... a bit more neighbourhood or borough fixed than the rave or dance club, but still where a lot of people who didn't necessarily know each other in everyday life would gather to experience fellowship and festivity

Matt said...

"[In a letter to The Times in 1931] One moral reformer condemned the 'mania dancing' and blamed a compulsion for pleasure and excitement on the 'moral laxity caused by the Great War'" - - p.154

Community never dies but it is shaped by the material forces that work upon it. It certainly seems that urbanisation and the dislocations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries started to break down the formal structures and rituals of public dancing. And a rising standard of living allows young people to have disposable incomes for nights out.This isn't necessarily a "communal" space given the presence of gangs and frequency of fights.

What does seem relatively new from the 60s onwards is the notion of the dancefloor as an explicitly Spiritual place. In the UK, this ties in pretty well with the decline of Christianity as a source of collective meaning. Where else are you going to get the love?