Because giving last minute notice is what I’m best at: I will be on a panel at EMP today about music discovery and #THEINTERNET. Very excited about this as NPR editor Frannie Kelley, EMusic’s Editor-in-Chief J. Edward Keyes, Queen Bee / SPIN/everywhere writer Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Revive Music’s Meghan Stabile, and I will be part of a discussion led by Maura Johnston about finding/learning/caring about music in an age where the record industry and print journalism do not have the same kind of pull that they once did. I will likely rant on EDM, house, and techno and try to unpack how vying for shared dance culture has teens headed towards their social media outlets. And how the marketing/PR/branding of mainstream festival acts take advantage of that behind the scenes.
It’s an informal group chat/discussion and I believe they’re allowing people who didn’t (or forgot to) register to attend the panel to sit in if there’s room!
A little while ago I recorded a phone conversation between myself and two Brooklyn-based DJs that I adore - DJ Rizzla and Jubilee. Our original intent was to have a brief talk about “the state of dance music right now” with regards to specific trends, with the idea that I would then transcribe it for the world at large. Instead we ended up going way, way, way, way too long and deep and, thank god, because the opportunity to talk to smart, relevant DJs at length about dance music is something I will always welcome. So here I am, breaking this into somewhat manageable parts because I’m tired of it sitting in my Google Docs.
Seriously, so much love to these two. They will be playing at GHE20G0TH1K alongside Venus X, $hayne, and MikeQ this upcoming Friday at Santos Party House. You should go.
On Internet Dance Culture
Puja: More than ever before, there are these cultures developing and trying to sustain that are just straight born out of the Internet or Soundcloud. There have definitely been long discussions and criticisms of certain kinds of Internet-fueled fusion music on the basis that they don’t have a living real-world culture to ground them. Or that the idea of whatever real-world aesthetics you might attribute to a genre are severely skewed or entirely forgotten once you take to Soundcloud.
I’m not even talking about cultural appropriation. Rather that the current issue isn’t that there are DJs being inauthentic and/or stealing sounds anymore, but that there are new movements that might feel vapid because the way they were born makes it harder to retain the cultural authenticity of any member of its parts. Does that make sense? That many Internet-heralded genres might feel lacking because they don’t have a physical region, type of dance, or social/cultural norms that translate via Internet. Moombahton, trap, “rave.”
Jubilee: That’s important. So many kids have never been to the parties where people involved in the actual scenes are playing music. That’s just the way it is now and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. A lot of these kids have never been to a rave or been to a dancehall party or been to a club. I think it’s interesting.
Puja: So where do these kids go from here?
Jubilee: I don’t know. There will be trend after trend that disappears faster and faster, I guess. I mean, talking about moombahton right now. The great thing about innovators - guys like Dave Nada and DJ Sabo - is that they’re so talented and their crates go so deep that they can do whatever they want now and push it to so many more people. They can get all these kids to listen to all this stuff they would never listen to.
Puja: I guess it comes back to whether any of it will stick. These kids are definitely going to wild out to deep cuts in a festival setting or in a club setting while surrounded by people doing the same. But do they retain any of it longer than that?
Rizzla: There’s a bunch of different scenes that revolve around what we’re talking about. Footwork, juke, vogue, Jersey, and even twerk. I was going through Soundcloud the other day and there were so many tech-house songs labeled as “twerk,” but there wasn’t anything twerk-able about any of the songs. I wouldn’t even call it re-appropriating, I would calling it a sort of cultural lust. With moombahton there were all the art that was sexy and erotic and had this vanilla exoticism that we’ve seen before. There’s this yearning for these markets or scenes to have a legitimate dance cultural behind them.
Voguing became exciting last year because - at the end - it’s music made for dance. Footwork is music made for a dance. EDM - as far as its use-value in dancing - it doesn’t really have that anymore. Even old-rave or PLUR thing that kids have been Tumblring, they’re missing the feeling of dancing in an illegal kind of way that there was for other movements. Even molly and the references to it in newer hip-hop. It all seems like it’s a throwback to ‘90s rave. I think the current crisis is not having dances to go along with dance songs. Look at Diplo and his bounce song [“Express Yourself”] and how big that got. Let’s see what happens with Snoop Lion.
Puja: When you talk about a vanilla exoticism it’s probably worth mentioning that most of these regional dance genres that have gotten some sort of attention this year also come from urban areas that have deeply rooted socio-economic issues that influence their music directly. Bounce, footwork, trap, whatever. You can’t help but feel that there’s totally a Footlose mentality running some of these trends. “We’re rebels! We like or identify with this kind of dancing or dance music.”
Jubilee: Yeah, it’s like, things have always been like that. Look at a Raekwon album, he’s making crack on the cover. I was a 14 year-old Jewish girl listening to Raekwon and knew nothing about crack. That’s how it was in Baltimore in 2005 for you and Baltimore Club I’m guessing. That’s how it’s always been but now there’s the Internet.
On Vogue and Modern Ballroom
Rizzla: Mainstream gay culture has been lagging really hardcore for the last 10 years. Things in the mainstream gay world - in whatever aspect of it - has really not been that progressive. When it has it’s only really succeeded through the underground. That’s the only reason anyone would even call a club night a “queer night” instead of a gay night, because they’re going to hear DJs who might play to a regular BLGT community frequently. I refuse to put Gheto Gothik in this bubble but that was a huge party because it allowed people to be part of this dance culture that was foreign to them. Even with vogue music and gay DJs in particular, there was still a lack of mainstream awareness.
I remember that, years ago, when you would go out, if the DJ played something with a vogue sample, it was like a secret code for the gay people in the room. That’s what the sketchy side rooms in the clubs were for. They’d play big house songs in the main room and then in the back room they’d play dancehall, reggaeton, Bmore Club, and vogue music. This was ten years ago! I feel like it’s all about the “side room” mentality. Side-room gay culture has become much more accessible and embraced idea. I think that producers and MCs like Le1f and House of Ladosha are only getting recognized now because the consumers’ ideas have changed more than the music. It’s not like all these gay artists sat down and decided “Let’s be gay rappers.”
Puja: And like you point out, some of this is a mixed-genre, side-room subculture rather than the explicitly gay subculture. It makes me think about this loft party I went to in Newark where the Brick Bandits were playing. They played rap and club, there were twerk contests, and MCs that asked that “all the bitches and the queens” come to the dance floor.
Rizzla: That’s what New Orleans is like too. There isn’t separation of straight versus gay or anything. It’s more part of the same culture than people realize. It’s the consumption trends that have changed.
Puja: Right, so, my original aim was to figure out whether you think whether music and media consumption by the gay mainstream has anything to do with the gay underground that has recently been spotlighted. Or vice-versa. Like the wild and relatively recent popularity of Ru Paul’s Drag Race means something, right?
Jubilee: In Miami it was completely separated. I don’t think they have anything to do with each other. I mean before Ru Paul’s Drag Race there was Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.
Puja: The difference there would be the drag aspect, right?
Rizzla: The thing is that these are the most accessible, nightlife-friendly components of gay culture that are being put out there. It’s not like leather jackets and fisting clubs are suddenly where all the hip straight boys are going. It’s all these things that were never designed just to be for gay people. Drag culture?! Drag culture from back in the 1920s has a long history of straight people going to shows. Even balls, straight girls would go and walk face. In New Orleans, bounce features people wearing street clothes. It’s the aggressive, feminine performative aspects that are really the popular thing. It’s a throwback to Moi Renee “Miss Honey” or Miss Tony or all of that sort of ‘90s “I’m talking shit on this queen,” vibe. I feel like Zebra Katz is channeling that more than vogue. There’s the chanting on vogue but then there’s just a queen with a microphone. That’s not necessarily ball, you know what I mean?
I like this way more than I probably should because TRAP VIBES are not yet played out for me. Wrote a little thing about how much I like it for Pitchfork.
I initially texted Scottie (aka Godfather of Baltimore Club aka co-founder of Unruly Records) about the release year of Tapp’s “Shake That Ass.” I thought it came out in 1996 and he corrected me (it was 1993). And then this happened and thank goodness it did. Everything was cooler back then; before I had the capability to screenshot my group text on iPhone and then Tumblr (and probably Tweet) it.
THIS IS THAT PIC. As described further by Scottie: “That’s Ty Flexx and our friends Kevin, Ryan, and Dominic. Don’t know the girl or the dude with glasses. Oh… and Harry Kutz. I mean Harry Nutz, not Kutz. No really, that’s his name.” Also pictured are Scottie B and Shawn Caesar (front and middle) and Labtekwon looking like a child.