Writing About Dancing: Disco Critics Survey

10. What are the greatest challenges and obstacles in writing about dance music these days?

Er, not being boring? Actually, not being bored is more like it.

Avoiding boosterism and developing a truly critical language for dance music. Most dance reviews are 7 or 8 in essence even when un-graded. there should be 3's and 1's and zeroes. Of course, the boosterism is based on feeling like the scene is underground and needs support, so it's sort of understandable to an extent.

Resisting nostalgia for the early, less professionalized and more anarcho days of rave, before it became an industry. Things can never stay the same. Don't fall into the Meltzer trap!

Learning that "vibe" migrates and that you can't keep looking in the same place for your bliss. Knowing when to leave the party (and find another, more pumping one)

Retaining the capacity to be astonished. (So much stuff comes out that the landmark releases don't stand out so starkly against the plains of lameness).

For one thing, major mags and papers play a fucked up sort of "affirmative action" with their sections, and apply this in a particularly heavy way to dance music coverage. I.e., an editor will tell you they can only run one dance music CD review in an issue, or that they can't cover 2-step this month because someone wrote about it five months ago, or that next week we're featuring the Chemical Brothers and so we can't have another dance music article two-weeks running. It's utter crap, and these same editors would never ever think of applying these asinine rules to rock or pop music. "OH WAIT, we just ran a Teeny Bop piece this week, can't run another one for six more months!!" Or, "Wait, we can only slot two indie rock artists per section." You get the drift. Am I annoyed? Yes.

I guess you could argue that the audience for dance music is not as large as the audience for rock, but it's a two-way street (and I would argue that if you started running electronic music pieces/features on a regular basis, you would discover a whole new audience, which is larger than you think). I mean, NYC raves reach capacities of 10,000 with flyering as the sole promotion, and Twilo, the Tunnel, and the Limelight pack outs thousands of people on a weekend, yet can you find me a rock show that's not Bruce Springsteen, that would be able to pack out a venue of that size with only word of mouth and hand-to-hand flyering and one month (or less) of promotion!!?. Most of these clubs don't even bother taking out big ads in the papers, because they don't have to. And considering how many venues are dedicated to dance music not rock music in NYC, I think the argument that there's no audience and that no one will read it, and that it's not important, is utterly absurd. There's an audience, they just don't buy records, they go raving or clubbing, instead.

See my answers to Question 9 especially. One of the greatest challenges for a U.S.A.-based writer is that we live in a kind of "no-dance music zone." We have to travel, usually overseas, to hear the best "dance music," to see it in action, and sometimes even to buy the music. Then there are the other challenges. The preconception most rockcrits have that dance music doesn't count, because Spin, Gear, Vibe, etc. don't write about it. The editors are often a challenge. One editor (at a publication other than the Phoenix and Village Voice, mind you) once told me I was not on his preferred dance-music assignment list because I'm not gay. Which is like saying that because I am white I cannot write about music made by blacks. Unhappily there are some editors who think that way too...

Sometimes one breaks through the fog of ignorance. Back in 1994 I wrote a scathing letter to Tower Pulse! complaining about their Dance Music column, which was being written by an enemy of the style, one Lorraine Ali. They called me, told me my letter was better written than any of her columns, fired her & gave it to me. (I wrote it for four and a half years, until a new, "typical" editor took over the magazine and fired me.) During that time I wrote about "deepest house and highest Euro," as I told Pulse! that I would. Wrote about it and was glad of it! (Of course Lorraine Ali had no trouble making it to Rolling Stone, natch, and then on to the big time, where writers of her outlook are especially well received.)

Didn't you already ask this question?? (See number five above.) I actually suspect the rock press is, if anything, more open to dance critics in the post-techno/post-hiphop era than it was back in the disco era. Which is definitely an improvement. Though I don't know that most dance critics reek any less than most rock ones do.

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