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Writing About Dancing: Disco Critics Survey


8. Overall, do you think dance music is in healthy shape today? Why or why not? (Feel free to talk about this in comparison with the rock and pop - or any other - world.)

MICHAEL FREEDBERG
Despite the rise of the DJ to featured artist status, "dance music" is, no, not in good shape. At least not in the U.S.A.: overseas and in Quebec things are wholly different: there, "dance music" IS the pop mainstream. But not here in the U.S., where most "dance music" genres remain cult items at best. Some genres are actually declining. There hasn't been a noteworthy diva-style CD since 1998, Eurodisco--which circa 1995-97 looked to be taking over--has lost its self-confidence, and even house music--the fundamental principle underlying club tastes--has shrunk down to one or two flavours only. 7 or 8 years ago there were "garage," "hard house," "deep house," "Eurohaus," and "traxx." Today, except for hard house, you'll listen long before hearing any of the above house styles in most U.S. club sets....

The disappearance of diva style is a drastic and unhappy development. Disco cannot exist as we know it without Divas soaring: think Loleatta Holloway, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner. Yet where are the great divas of house music today? Barbara Tucker...Ultra Nate...Liz Torres...Sabrina Johnston...

The trouble with diva-style is that when the genre reigned it was SPECIAL, now everyone's a diva. The word in its dance-music context (a show-off, a fashionista, a "Miss Thang") had a place in the genre, as a danceable expression of self-esteem ("I am beautiful damnit"); today it just means anyone with an attitude. Well. If anyone and everyone's a diva, who needs cult-music singers??? In addition, diva-style, like the rest of "dance music," simply does not sell big numbers here in the U.S.A. Singers need to be paid. Ergo...Most dance-music record labels have barely enough money to pay the DJ, much less a chick singer too. Ergo: goodbye divas...(back in the early 1990s, when divas reigned, they barely got paid. how else could Strictly Rhythm or Champion have afforded to use Barbara Tucker & Sabrina Johnston?) Where there is money to pay a diva singer, as in a Danny Tenaglia session, they sometimes still appear...

Lastly, diva style has declined, like most of house music and all of Eurodisco because the dolts who program FM music radio here in the U.S. don't think it plays to "their audience." Like the people who like "dance music" are aliens or something...I go out to the clubs here in Boston A LOT and the 1000s of folks I see there look no different to me from the folks who go to "rock" shows. If anything, there's MORE of them these days than there are of "rock" people. But the slick music magazines say "buy Radiohead. Buy Pavement. Buy Eve Six." Or "buy Destiny's Child. Buy 'N Sync." So...is it any surprise that the dolts who program U.S.A.'s FM music radio buy Radiohead, Eve 6, and Pavement or Destiny's Child & 'N Sync rather than Danny Tenaglia, Ultra Nate, and La Bouche? Hell, it's hard even for Madonna to get her new MUSIC onto FM radio., much less club stuff. Of course this is true only in the U.S. In Montreal, Milan, Barcelona, Paris & Bologna things are just the opposite...

CHUCK EDDY
My favourite dance music tends to rock and pop, and my favourite rock and pop tends to dance. So again, Scott, why you're accepting all these silly false dichotomies is beyond my comprehension. But anyway, I do like that so many producers have ripped off Timbaland. And I bet I heard 50 or 60 really good electronica CDs last year, and calling them "electronica" can still piss some people off. So yeah: good shape.

SIMON REYNOLDS
I'm not sure if it's any more healthy or unhealthy than rock or pop or rap--90 percent is shit is the general rule--if it has an edge, in terms of being alluring to youth, is that the drugs-loudmusic-brightlights-bizarrelydressedfolk combo of clubland is still an unbeatable leisure paradigm--and also, because the music is functional, even hackwork and clones can play their part by providing DJs with grist to the mixing mill, whereas lame copyist rock or pop is just lame...

TRICIA ROMANO
I am hating dance music right now, mostly because there seems to be little of substance or longevity coming out. I am tired of the dance music industry, which builds mountains of hype around the worst stuff, only to knock it down three months later in favour of promoting more crap. I hate the trance movement, I wish it would go away, and I'm tired of the disposable aspect of dance music. But it's a double-edged sword. I used to love the fact that every week I could go into a record store and a whole new world was waiting to be heard. Every week, I would ravenously attack the record store and blow way too much money, but these days, the whole DJ scene just depresses me. (I mean, what's the world come to when PERRY FARRELL calls himself a DJ!!) But that said, even though I feel things have stagnated with too many of the same old DJs holding on to the throne (Derrick Carter, Sneak, Doc Martin, Carl Cox, etc., etc.), as long as there's dance music and raves and club culture, there will be some kid sitting in his (or hopefully, her) basement making tracks, learning how to spin, and hopefully coming up with the next shit. It all goes in cycles, like anything else--I mean, I can't wait for Britney Spears and all of that to disappear, I just hope she takes Paul Oakenfold and his cronies with her someplace far, far away.

On To Question 9