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Friday, March 10, 2006

Simon Reynolds

Simon Reynolds is one of my favorite popular music critics, and a preeminent historian of electronic dance music. I recently discovered that he has a blog. He also has a new book out, Rip It Up & Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984.
Punk's raw power rejuvenated rock, but by summer 1977 it had become a parody of itself. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84 is a celebration of what happened next--bands like Joy Division, Gang of Four, Wire, Contortions, Talking Heads, The Fall, Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League--who dedicated themselves to fulfilling punk's unfinished musical revolution. Based on over 125 interviews, Rip It Up offers a panoramic survey of the seven year period following punk, taking in everything from PIL to ABC to SST to ZTT, and dealing with genres including industrial, 2-Tone, synthpop, and goth.
I'm very much looking forward to reading this book. The postpunk era produced some of my very favorite music, but I am much too young to have experienced it firsthand. Fortunately for me, Reynolds is an author capable of spinning a written history into something that feels like an experience. His 1999 book Generation Ecstasy : Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture was written so compellingly that while reading it I began to feel nostalgia for something that I was not a part of (the original UK rave explosion of the late 80s). Almost too compelling. Fishing around for links, I found this Amazon.com comment on "Generation Ecstasy":
In an effort to disavow his own bourgeois status as music critic and connoisseur, Reynolds routinely sides with the more "populist" sub-genres out there. Jungle and gabba are good. Trip-hop and IDM are snobby. Hardcore and house get the thumbs up, 'intelligent drum and bass' and illbient get the thumbs down. While he often has a point, this siding with what 'moves the masses' turns too easily into apologetics for the culture industry (the mass manufacture and consumption of musical cliche).
This is a harsh way of putting it, but a fair point. I suspect that reading Reynold's passionate argument for the populist genres contributed to altering my previously close-minded ideas about how far into the "mainstream" (or at least the popular) I was willing to wade. This sullied my cherished outsider perception of myself, which led, I must admit, to quite a bit of silly fun. It wasn't just "Generation Ecstasy", but the book did help provide an intellectual framework to help me explain to myself the changes I was already making in my lifestyle and tastes.

It's for the best, of course, but I'm afraid that I may have gone too far in this direction, to the point that I can find something to like in even the stupidest dance music, I can listen to the most ignorant, offensive gangsta rap without even really noticing what is being said, and I can write a post praising someone like producer Scott Storch while completely glossing over the inane, ego-fueled foolishness he spews. I'm glad my mind was opened, but I need to make more of an effort to keep this tendency in check -- sometimes there's a legitimate, extra-musical reason to dislike something, even if it moves the people's asses. There is something to Reynold's ideas (as I remember them) about the inherent purity or authenticity of body music, but it's up to our brains to make sure there's still room for meaning and reflection.

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