Real Music?

(This is a reply I did to a post on an online webforum that was criticising modern electronic dance music as being based on presets and lacking any real musical skill or worth. Well, I had to wade in, didn’t I?)

This thread is a philosophical minefield!

But first… the Ariston ad was either a license or a copy of ‘Da Da Da’ by German funsters Trio. The rhythm was a preset (Rock1) off the Casio VL-Tone VL1, as also used extensively (for its lead sounds) on Kraftwerk’s ‘Computerworld.’ It’s also the lead sound (Fantasy was the preset) on the Human League’s ‘Get Carter’ off ‘Dare.’ And I also used it on ‘Your Woman’ for the middle break. I’ve had a VL1 since they came out, after seeing one on Tomorrow’s World. They’re great little keyboards and you can program your own wacky noises in by entering a number in the calculator memory. I used to use the phone number of a girl I really fancied in the fifth year.


Now, on to dance music. I’m afraid I’m going to disagree with most of what’s been said even though I actually hate most of the house and trance I hear (I don’t mind garage so much). I’m with Marcel Duchamp on this one. The process of being an artist can also be about selection and re-contextualisation. But then, I would say that, wouldn’t I, since I had a hit from a sample I nicked from a pop classic recorded on November 29th, 1932? For me, there’s no difference between being Toploader and some dodgy preset-bashing trance act. Both of them produce soulless, machined tracks, merely regurgitating other people’s ideas. Just cos Toploader have learned to sound just like Reef doesn’t make them more original. What makes the music rubbish is not the technical process of its creation but the creativity of the
artist behind guitar/computer.

Otherwise all that counts is how technically adept you are on an instrument. And that means we should only listen to opera singers, jazz and Dire Straits. I *like* singers who don’t sing perfectly in tune, players who are sometimes a bit ham-fisted but who have *energy* and *passion* (this covers most great punk). I like people who have a great musical idea and get that across, by whatever means necessary. Nobody could accuse Bowie of being a virtuoso guitarist or singer but he had great ideas and hooky melodies.

Also, as I’ve said elsewhere, if it is that easy to have a pre-programmed, preset hit – go on, do it! I suspect what people are moaning about is a kind of guild jealousy. It’s like we’re all hand wood-lathers, spent all our lives learning how to make beautiful spindles. But now some bugger turns up with an electric lathe and churns out 50 in an hour. Of course, *we* know the difference, his are all the same. We’ve slaved for years over ours, crafted them lovingly. Now no-one wants the bastards! Waah!

But the truth is that most of the people who say ‘it’s easy, you just push a few buttons’ never go on to have instant number ones. Why? Because they don’t know the genre. It’s no coincidence that a lot of the artists being moaned about are DJs. Yeah, they can’t play a note but they know, far better than the average bedroom-bound musician, how to rock a crowd. They know how to structure a record to make people *dance*.

In other words, the average musician hasn’t got enough *musical knowledge* to get a hit record out of the *same presets* that the people in the charts use successfully. Just cos you’ve got a guitar, it doesn’t make you Hendrix. And just cos you’ve got a K5000, doesn’t make you Sash. You have to put in *years* of DJing to get this knowledge. For every hour a band spends in a garage thrashing out ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ or ‘Teen Spirit’, a successful DJ spends that in front of a live audience, learning what works and how to whip them into a frenzy. For me, that’s an apprenticeship that’s of equal value to us with our hand-lathes.

The other insidious subtext is that people are buying stupid meaningless records by idiots who can’t play —> therefore pop fans must be morons. I’m sorry, but we’ve had this chestnut since the 1920s.

Every new pop music movement was hailed as a descent into stupidity. Whether it’s jazz or rock’n’roll, they were attacked as being ‘simple’, ‘repetitive’ and ‘meaningless.’ Hey – that’s POP! I find it ironic that people in this thread are saying ‘let’s get back to real music’ when that same music was criticised when it was new for all the reasons now used against dance music (‘those aren’t songs’, ‘they can’t even play their instruments’, ‘it’s just a fad’).

I love pop music.

Some of it is ephemeral candyfloss, some of it is heartfelt sloganeering. Some of it is torn, note-by-note out of the artist’s heart. Some of it is written in the back of a cab on the way to the studio. I love it all. The reason I don’t like most trance and house is that the *song* leaves me cold, not cos of how it’s made. It only takes one Spiller or Modjo to make me go out and eat my words, though.

So, all I care about is how a piece of music sounds, what the lyrics (if there are any) say and can I pogo to it?

What else matters?
love and kisses,