In the first part of my blog series ‘What Made The Early 2000’s So Great For Dance Music’ I discussed how the role of DJ’s and vinyl made that era so great. In this blog I’ll touch on how the focus of crowds on the music above the adoration of ‘stars’, as well as the crowds ability to concentrate for longer periods of time, made the early 2000’s such a great time for dance music.
One of the things that made the early 2000’s so great for dance music was that crowds were there primarily for the music and the vibe it created. Sure, some people had their favourite DJ’s and some DJ’s were more popular than others (and yes we were also witnessing the birth of ‘super clubs’ and ‘superstar DJ’s’), but the music itself, and the desire to be part of a ‘shared experience’, was still the primary focus of crowds in the early naughties.
Why is this? One of the main reasons is that the early 2000’s still valued the communal experience of dance music above the adulation of DJ’s (or at least equal to it). This was an idea inherited from the 90’s rave culture that preceded it. In many ways the revolution of early rave culture was that it rejected the ‘pop star’ framework of Western pop music and replaced it instead with the egalitarian idea of a ’shared experience’ (what Susan Luckman in her essay Party People: Mapping Contemporary Dance Music Cultures In Australia’ calls ‘the mooted breaking down of the “star” system of Western musical economies’). Although a little idealistic in some ways – and whilst there were always exceptions to this rule – it’s an idea that still beats at the very heart of ‘old world’ (non EDM) electronic music culture today, especially in Europe. Simian Mobile Disco in a 2012 interview with inthemix stated:
‘The thing that scares me is that it (EDM) pushes just one way of appreciating dance music, and that’s as you would at a rock concert. But for me that’s missing a lot of the point. The way a lot of European clubs and festivals operate, where the DJ isn’t necessarily the focus – he / she could be off in the corner somewhere – it’s more about the music and the communal experience…’
The early 2000’s, caught in a transition between the underground rave culture of the early 90’s and the mainstream EDM culture of the present day, was still strongly linked to this idealistic outlook on dance music. And that’s why I loved it. Fast forward 17 odd years and electronic dance music – especially at the more commercial end of the spectrum – has evolved into becoming just another form of pop music, dominating the radio and top 40 charts and creating mega events across the globe.
Whilst this shift from underground to overground has been great for artists on so many levels – increased fees, worldwide tours, mainstream music awards and so on – the knock on effect is that the revolution created by early rave culture (placing vibe above stars) has been reversed. In fact without a ‘star’ or ‘big name DJ’ many kids probably won’t bother going to a regular club night or event. It’s clear that DJ’s are no longer ‘off in the corner somewhere’, they are smack bang in the middle of a very big stage. As a consequence people now expect to be ‘entertained’ by these stars – be it by DJ’s wearing silly masks, throwing cakes at peoples faces, or standing on top of the decks pumping their fists. The the idea that dance music is about closing your eyes and letting the music take you on a ‘journey’ probably seems foreign to a whole new generation of kids who have come to know dance music as just another form of mainstream music delivered by stars on a stage.
In a nutshell, the utopian ideals of rave culture – the belief in community and shared experience above the adulation of DJ’s and artists – have been pushed to the wayside. And that’s sad to me. The ‘vibe’ of early 90’s raves is why I got into dance music in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for artists ‘making it’ (hell I was one of Australia’s first so called ’superstar DJ’s’) but in making the artists and stars more important than the shared experience of electronic music we have lost to me, what made dance music so great in the early 2000’s.
Another thing I loved about dance music in the early 2000’s was that people had longer attention spans! Yep, remember those? Because of this I could do things like take crowds on a two hour ’journey’ and they wouldn’t lose interest. My sets were always constructed in that way in fact, and still are. Everything was intended to lead from one thing to the next and each set was intended to be appreciated in its entirety. I’d often start slower and funkier, build to some peak time tunes, and then end with something a little bit deeper and more abstract. The great thing about the crowds of the early 2000’s was that they stayed with you on that journey, from beginning to end. That’s how DJ’s performances were intended to be experienced and to me, that was what DJing was all about. It wasn’t about hit after hit, but rather the experience of the set as a whole. And that required crowds being able to pay attention for the whole two hours.
Yep, things moved a lot slower in the early 2000’s. Even the tracks themselves were longer, with most tracks being between five and seven minutes long! These days tracks can be as short as two and a half minutes! Seriously, thats as long as I’d mix for back in the day! Ha ha. I’ll be honest, listening back to some of my mixes from the early 2000’s I’ve often wondered how I managed to hold peoples attention. But that’s just it. Back then attention spans were completely different, which is one of the reasons you could take people on a journey without them getting bored so easily.
Why is that? In all honesty I blame the internet! Ha ha. Yep, the internet! But seriously, as brilliant and essential as it is, the internet has also contributed to a form of cultural ADD. To me the link is too uncanny to ignore. ’Surfing the net’, for example, has taught us to go from one entertaining thing to the next without having to spend too much time on any one thing in particular and without any of these things having to be in any real kind of order. It’s the antithesis of having to have a long attention span. The same thing could be said of scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. It’s all about getting a series of short entertaining fixes.
By contrast I grew up in the 80’s, without the internet. I grew up reading books from beginning to end, I enjoyed listening to albums the whole way through, I didn’t mind playing an album over and over again for weeks at a time, I loved going out every week to watch my favourite DJ’s perform from start to finish, and I was accustomed to club tracks being four times the length they are today. Having an attention span was the norm. In fact it was a perquisite. But this, it seems, is the complete opposite of how the internet is teaching us to digest information and experience entertainment these days. Everything is speeding up and everything is on demand.
Take my daughter watching cartoons for example. As a kid I only had five television channels to choose from and cartoons were only on TV for one or two hours a day. By contrast my daughter can choose whatever cartoon she wants to watch via Netflix, Youtube, or Apple TV. In turn she can watch them whenever she wants to, as many times as she wants to, and – thanks to the invention of smartphones and tablets – wherever she wants to. What she has come to expect from being entertained is completely different from what I expected as a kid. In many ways she’s never had to practice patience the way I did. One could even argue that she doesn’t value cartoons in the same way I did as I had a more restricted and less flexible access to them. Either way this kind of ‘easy access’ has taught her that instant gratification is part and parcel of being entertained. People have gotten so used to getting what they want, when they want it, that if they don’t get it then they may just switch off. I’ve found the same thing on the dancefloor.
More often than not these days if kids aren’t getting what they want quickly enough (i.e. big tune after big tune), then they too are most likely to switch off. Getting what they want, when they want it, is how their brains have been trained. And no doubt this is where some of the tension between the early 2000’s and the present day lies. On the one hand you have old school DJ’s like myself, wanting to take kids on a long drawn out ’journey’ (building to the ‘big tunes’) and on the other you have kids who have become accustomed to instant gratification getting bored and restless because the DJ’s aren’t playing their favourite tunes right now.
Yep, this ’shift’ in thinking has made it harder to play a set that takes crowds on a ‘journey’ like I would of in the early 2000’s. In fact despite ultimately still constructing all my sets as a journey I can’t recall the last time I played a proper set in that way. Most of the time it’s about feeding that ADD beast, trying to meet the crowds constant demand for instant gratification, cutting my tracks down as short as possible so they aren’t ‘too long’ and ‘too boring’, and mixing out as quickly as possible so the crowd doesn’t click off my set and onto something more interesting like a cigarette, the bar, or a selfie.
Needless to say such an environment makes it extremely hard to practice the old art of making crowds look within and go on a journey that builds and builds to the peak but doesn’t give it to you all straight way. It’s just one of many shifts in thinking in the last 20 years that have really changed for me, what made dance music so great in the early 2000’s. Like I said, some of these have been great for artists, but some may require another cultural revolution of some form to really break us away from the clutches of a shrinking attention span and the constant need for external stimulation. Thankfully the growth of bush doofs and inner city warehouse parties suggest that dance music may well go back underground again. All I can say is that hopefully these events take place somewhere without reception, in a dark room, so we can all remember – or perhaps even learn for the first time – to get lost in the music again.