Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Speaking in Code

There's been a little bit of chat recently about upcoming electronic music film "Speaking in Code". Revolving around a group involved in the techno scene, it looks (from the trailer) like an attempt to do some contextualising of techno - almost like an attempt to answer the "what is the point" question.

Pipecock over at ISM takes issue with the selection of artists in the film as shown on Philip Sherburne's blog, on the basis that the film appears hugely Eurocentric and misses out most of the American forefathers of the modern techno sound. He (Pipecock) singles out Mad Mike Banks, but I'm presuming that the criticism extends to the rest of the first couple waves of Detroit artists such as Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Eddie 'flashin' Fowlkes and so on, who also look very much like they are not included in a major way.

Pipecock is right in one sense - if the film is meant to be a definitive history of techno, then the Detroit guys should for sure be in it - and that's not counting Chicago house or the NYC/Jersey Garage thing, which were (I think) as critical to the future of dance music as anywhere else. However, I'm not sure I completely agree with the point - while the film does look massively skewed in a Euro direction (most of the artists mentioned seem to rotate around the central European scene), I don't think it's the case that every film that aims to give a glimpse inside the world of electronic dance music has to be an exhaustive history of its roots. The story of Detroit has been told so many times that it's a matter of record at this point, and there's nothing wrong with moving on a bit and giving a snapshot of people's experience of the scene as it is at the moment. That's not withstanding the fact that a lot of the German/minimal stuff that is all the rage at the moment completely does my box in - but that's another rant for another day. The point is, every film about techno doesn't have to be reverentially focused on the original Detroit artists.

One interesting thing that I did notice on Sherburne's blog is the quote from Akufen, where he alludes to techno as a means of "speaking in code", referring to the feeling of the electronic scene being one which is very marginal to mainstream life, and in effect a semi-secret subculture. While I understand what Akufen means, to me the idea of techno as some sort of secret code is a major can of worms. Taking pride in the secrecy of an experience smacks of elitism for one thing - it's almost like saying, "the great masses don't deserve to have this experience", which is an unspoken contradiction of the "come one, come all" ethos that makes the best dance nights so special.

The other factor is that the experience that a great night engenders is one which breaks down the barriers that society puts between people, breaks down the barriers inside your head, and quietens the analytical mind which would prevent us from directly experiencing the world without constantly trying to analyse what we are experiencing. Mankind has long understood the power of rhythm in transcending the basic analytical state we need to survive the hazards of daily life - modern culture has simply obscured this understanding with layers of possession, debt, occupation, and "must have" physical artifacts.

Akufen's analogy is actually back to front: modern life is the abstract and unbreakable code, and music and rhythm is the open door to what is really real.

1 comment:

kryptoknight said...

Yeah he is missing the point. The film isn't a "history" of techno.

It revolves around the Berlin scene of the last 7-8 years.

It has nothing to do with Chicago house or NJ Garage or Detroit techno.

It's Berlin.

If you know, you know. If you don't, your scratching your head right now.