Hi, America. This year is supposed to be all about "change," right? Permit me one suggestion. Please change this:
There's a lot of encoded ideology in this goofy little TV spot. The point, obviously, is the binary opposition between masculine Middle American Greg and the flamboyantly effeminate European "techno twins." Ever hear the word "eurotrash," clearly the absent center of this ad's discursive world? An ugly term, as cruelly smug as the equivalent classist slurs that affluent liberal Americans use for their working-class countrymen, and as distasteful as the implicit cultural heterosexism that accompanies it here.
No one could blame Europeans if they accused us of being rather chauvinistic in our characterizations of European ravers. But I doubt they very often do, because they know that the joke is on us; indeed, the American role in the creation of dance music as a medium of cultural production, exchange, and reception is well known everywhere but America. I do not use the word "medium" rather than "genre" lightly; it's only by overlooking the DJ model of musical performance, absolutely crucial to dance music's development, that the majority of the credit for techno can be granted to Kraftwerk, for house to Italo-Disco. Besides, no disrespect to German and Italian techno ancestors, but for every Ralf and Florian there was a Larry and Fonce, for every Giorgio Moroder a George Clinton, and for all of them an Ikutaro Kakehashi--in other words, techno doesn't have a Mississippi Delta, as in a commonly drawn parallel. Its origin is international, fragmentary, and its subsequent proliferation equally so, but its historical nexus is the American midwest.
Today, it's strange that "techno" has become an umbrella term of some kind; the pummeling, invariant, obnoxiously "euphoric" sound that is too often associated with the word in the U.S.--refer to Exhibit A, above--is trance. The way most Americans use the word "techno" would be akin to calling Jack Johnson and Coldplay hardcore punk, or something. As Simon Reynolds has pointed out,
The urgent distinctions rock fans take for granted--that Pantera, Pearl Jam, and Pavment operate in separate aesthetic universes--make sense only if you're already a participant in the ongoing rock discourse. The same applies to dance music: step inside and the genre-itis begins to make sense.
What is it, exactly, about dance music that makes the majority of Americans so unwilling to step inside? Perhaps its aforementioned cosmopolitanism is irreconcilable with the widespread ideology of American exceptionalism? Perhaps its inauthentic, cyborgian subject positions are too antihumanist, too contrary to the whole "folksy" thing that the McCain/Palin campaign made scarily evident? Perhaps its anti-auratic network of exchange is too threatening to commodity reification and the spectacular model of monopoly capitalism? To be honest, none of these are entirely convincing, given American culture's complex historical engagement with all of these issues.
A frequent point of criticism of dance music by Americans--or rather, a frequent object of ridicule--is the beat that forms its foundation. The base to its superstructure, if you will (I would). By this I mean the BOOFTA or TAKA or OONCE or [INSERT ONOMATOPOEIC TRANSCRIPTION HERE] thump of the bass drum that is the rhythmic engine of house and techno. This beat is, of course, a legacy of disco, and is what has permitted the style of mixing that makes performance of this music so dynamic and exciting. What's critical about this subbeatomic division is the way it deconstructs the measure of western music, splitting it into discrete, equivalent bytes of rhythmic information. One is no longer of primary importance, nor are two and four subordinate. The new rhythm is not 4/4 but 1/1: a new musical language, with its elements running in code at a bitrate somewhere between 120 and 130. This is the sound of the information age.
So is there just something un-American about Roland, a Japanese immigrant?
Actually. Consider recently released year-end statistics on music consumption for the year. (Those of you delusional enough to think that chart music doesn't matter should report directly to David Ramsey's remarkable article on Lil' Wayne and schedule a follow-up appointment with jane dark.)
At the end of 2007, Rich Juzwiak noted the resurgence of house beats in pop and R&B, and regardless of contrarian interjections, the trend has persisted. On many key tracks of the past year, from the enjoyable (Rihanna's "Don't Stop The Music," aptly described by Juzwiak as "so housey, it might as well come with its own gay-pride float," Kanye West's magnificent "Paranoid," Ne-Yo's "Closer," even Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me") to the ordinary (Rihanna's "Disturbia," Chris Brown's "Forever," Britney Spears's "Womanizer") to the repulsive (Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold," Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," Kevin Rudolf's "Let it Rock"), it's been time to jack. In fact, the whole of Kanye's fascinating 808's and Heartbreak--produced almost entirely with analog synths, that dystopian electro voice, and our favorite drum machine--evokes electronic music in a more reflective, domestic manner.
Let's hope these really are signs of change--something like what Nick Sylvester has speculated on in a post about Hercules and Love Affair, a potential progression in which
industry moves away from (for lack of better) rock-type commerce (event-as-spectacle, non-functional one-way products, more overhead and initial investment, fewer but bigger acts) to something like a dance-type commerce (non-spectacle events, functional decentralized and debureaucratized two-way musicmaking, less overhead and forcefed "artist development" more but smaller acts).
Author as producer, from work to text, as the O.G.'s would say.
This year, with Juan Atkin's seminal Classics compilation, his mind-blowing Deep Space album (both as Model 500), and Derrick May's potent Innovator compilation finally reissued on CD and mp3, with some of Carl Craig's greatest productions collected on his excellent Sessions mix, and with the increasing infiltration of techno sensibilities into contemporary music both "alternative" and "mainstream," there's no excuse for all the bullshit anymore.
So fuck you, Greg.