Disco Critics Survey, Question 3
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Writing About Dancing: Disco Critics Survey


3. How much of a technical perspective about dance music (i.e., how it's actually made) do you bring to your writing about the music? Is a technical perspective even necessary?

SIMON REYNOLDS
Try to, while being aware that a) it's kind of dry and un-romantic and scientific so you need to be sparing 'cos you can lose the lay reader and b) it's simultaneously a crucial part of the way the music works and at the same time doesn't tell you enough, i.e., all that stuff about signature, aesthetic eminence, why one track is better than another even when using the exact same techniques...often resulting in relapse into the superlative, the ineffable, the imprecise...terms like 'funk', 'soul', etc...

Most dance reviews, when you boil them down, all they're saying is 'this is a funky record'. Or that the guy/gal reviewing it finds it funky which doesn't even tell you whether you'd find it funky.

FRANK KOGAN
My quick answer would be no. To drive a car you don't have to know how the engine works; to write an email you don't have to know how a computer works. My not-so-quick answer is that if a writer were to tell the story of a musician or a producer by focusing on the technical choices--why he hit this beat rather than that one, why he used this device rather than that, what adjustment he had to make to overcome a particular obstacle--the reader would get a better idea of what the music maker was doing in all ways, not just technical but social and emotional and intellectual. Just as if you were to examine why a writer uses an adjective here, verbs there, a particular sentence structure in a particular context, a certain rhetorical device, figures of speech, you'd probably get not only a good sense of his writing strategies but a much deeper sense of what he was saying.

TRICIA ROMANO
Not really very much. I mean, unless you are talking about an artist or a track that revolutionized a genre, or became known in the genre for using a specific piece of equipment to create an identifiable sound (like the 303 or the 909), I don't think it's helpful for most people. Most folks don't even know what a 303 is, let alone what it sounds like, (though you can break it down for them and give example of tracks that made the equipment popular). But again, I think these are exceptions. For certain producers, like Photek, or Thomas Brinkmann, the innovations they bring to the table technically are important, so you state that Photek's beat programming is unrivaled, he's the producer's producer in drum'n'bass, and Brinkmann gives new meaning to minimalism with certain tracks, but you don't want to concentrate too much on the technical aspect. It's not what they used necessarily, but the sound they got out of it and why that's important that should be stressed.

MICHAEL FREEDBERG
Well here again is a question like question one, that presupposes that "dance music" is a thing apart. But it is not. Techniques matter no less to the structure and motives of jazz than to "dance music." Maybe that is because "dance music" and jazz inhabit the same continuum. Jazz was "dance music" for all of its useful life, viz 1900-1960...Which is not to say that rock & roll is not dance music: because it used to be always that, and still sometimes is...

To me the techniques by which rhythm-structured music are made are crucial to understanding it, appreciating & judging it. In "dance music" those techniques begin with the deejay--and (almost) end with him.

CHUCK EDDY
I basically bring in none (unless you count the fact that I know my daughter's new drum kit is a Slingerland), and no, it's not necessary at all. It might even in some cases be detrimental, because I would quite possibly fall asleep while reading it.


On To Question 4