While reading and commenting in one of many fascinating conversations at Wayne's blog, I reminded myself of one of my interests that I haven't been able to pursue (yet) in music scholarship.
I've been thinking more and more about music's relationship to the body - both in terms of what people call "dance music" here in the US: primarily electronic stuff, often without lot in the way of vocals), but also in relation to hip-hop. Despite the emphasis on lyrics in most hip-hop-studies writing I have come across (except the IP-related stuff on sampling), Hip-hop is also the dance music of choice for many many people in America. I'm not talking about "b-boying" and virtuosic dance, although some of the same issues may be true, but more parties, clubs, school dances, etc etc. My impression is that discussions of hip-hop don't focus on dancing because there is such an interest in hip-hop as resistance, and it's hard to analyse how dancing is resistance, if it is. What's the value in dancing?
As a DJ, whose main goal is getting people to dance (although I won't compromise my music in order to do it), and also an academic type, you'd think I might have a well-thought out answer to that question. But I don't.
I know that after my raver past, I'm not convinced in the dancefloor-as-utopia language I used to come across, even though some folks even now discuss the current rave (the term feels different to me these days) scene using utopian or transcendent language. Perhaps its because so rarely does the dancefloor LOOK like the kind of utopia I could feel good about.
Then again, sometimes at Surya Dub, I do feel like we are building a kind of scene which is meaningful in some terms I care about -- not to be too grandiose, but it is one of the most ethnically diverse, gender-balanced, many-styled, broad-age-ranged, non-sizeist parties in SF. We can still do better (particularly on the queer side of things), but it means a lot to me that those characteristics have been consistent over the past year. Of course people are there to have fun, not to make a political statement. And they do! (witness our winning "best club night in SF" last year, which reminds me - anyone can vote in that poll again this year: right here page 2 is best party promoter and best dj if you are so inclined) But anyway... it matters to me (in a political way) that the fun ends up having political significance.
I'm not in the camp that thinks that pleasure in itself is political. Our effed-up-society and all its isms would not be so resilient and powerful if there wasn't some pleasure in capitulation to hierarchy. But making the political pleasurable... maybe that's something?
On a related tip, while in Chicago I had a fascinating conversation with Murderbot about the role of house & techno in the midwest, which he argues is akin to the role of hip-hop on the coasts. Coming from Boston, I find it hard to imagine club music as black music first (even though I know intellectually that's completely true). Electronic bleeps and bloops and serious loops were something I associated with white subculture much more than black. Maybe this is partly a regional artifact - since it's true that I don't associate a ton of hip-hop history with the midwest (or current hip-hop pop stars), and I do know that house & techno come from there and are still huge, and associated with black folk (more so than they are here out West too, I think).
But if house & techno are the hip-hop of the midwest, then what does that mean about the power and significance of lyrics, and the role of dancing? Because neither of those genres seem as lyrics-oriented, and they seem much more explicitly dance-oriented. If we put dancing at the center of analysis of subcultural music (and pop music), what would that mean?