Immortal lines, and ones with a surprisingly deep subtext. My editor was telling me about a program he watched recently regarding the rise and fall of Disco. It was relevant to him for a number of reasons, but foremost in his mind was the concept that underneath it was this bubbling cauldron of talent; the underground scene, and that what we see in the headlines and comment on in social media is in fact the pop fodder at the apex: All that talent goes undetected.
Most of you wouldn’t remember the carnage of the Disco Demolition night in 1979. Disgruntled rock DJ, Steve Dahl, annoyed that he had been sacked from his radio station after they made a change in musical direction, blew up a box of disco records during a break at a doubleheader Baseball game between home team Chicago White Sox and nearby rivals the Detroit Tigers. Billed as a publicity stunt, it ended in a mass riot where records were tossed about like frisbees, and the ground was so torn up, the second game had to be cancelled. That kind of mass hysteria for a musical genre has blighted modern music for years. Before that were the mods and rockers fights in the UK famously glamorised in the cult classic brit flick – Quadrophenia, and after disco of course were punks, new romantics, emo, goths, acid housers… many genres and many scenes, all with their own ‘bitter enemies’.
When you find your musical elixir and become ‘one of the gang’, it’s like no other music makes any sense, and you find you pray on the differences between them like the weedy kid in the playground at school that always got beaten up at recess. And yet there’s a better way to all this keyboard warrior led negativity.
Many of us DJs started out in bars and shitty clubs playing to a handful of mates, and the local drunk. We aspired to the dizzying heights of Tomorrowland and such like, but for many of us, it never became the reality. We, therefore ARE the underground. The bedrock on which everything is built, because without that base love; that desire to go record shopping every week and make mixtapes for mates, and hunt for gigs, and have a Soundcloud account, and a Mixcloud and all the other stuff. Without that, the David Guetta’s and the Avicii’s are JUST LIKE US. I’ll pause for a moment and let that sink in.
Music is cyclic. It is. Look at the latest ‘phenomena’ of deep house. To the untrained eye, it’s a new form of music, but for anyone in to dance music for more than five minutes, it’s a lot like UK Garage in the late 90s. That sound came from a proliferation of pop RnB that ran for a few years before it, and from UKG came Grime and Dubstep and they rose to fame for a while, only to become parodies of themselves much like EDM has now and Happy Hardcore and Euro-dance did in the 90s.
Let’s not forget for one second that we already have a few ‘nursery rhyme’ type tunes out there, like Urban Hype’s ‘Trip to Trumpton’, Shaft’s ‘Rhubarb and Custard’, or Bang’s ‘Shooting Star’, not to mention Bob the Builder – Can We Fix It? `that stormed the charts globally and made number one in the UK and Australia. Cheesy music sells. Fact. So don’t be surprised if a scene deteriorates in on itself once the money men jump onto the bandwagon. The underground is always running alongside it ready to pick up the pieces.
Carl Cox was right to call EDM a gateway into more underground music, it’s how I got into progressive house all those years back. I was a raver who listened to Britpop, Hardcore and Drum N Bass. Up until I was maybe 16 or 17, I’d never heard of Sasha or Digweed, or knew the Ministry of Sound wasn’t a real ministry. It wasn’t my scene, I didn’t care and I didn’t have the internet to fill my every waking moment with propaganda campaigns, pictures of cats or the meanderings of some kid in Alaska who thinks some pop star is ‘sick’ or ‘an asshole’ or… well, you get the idea.
“Underground is easy.” Says Tim Sheridan, “It’s not about being cooler-than-thou or better than other people or even really about being in the know. It’s an unwavering standard. It’s a benchmark of a degree of quality and care that says what is going on is the pursuit of art before money.”
And that’s the real point of any underground scene. It’s not to be superior to people who like pop music and lord over them with your opinions, it’s about having respect for one another and realising there is enough music to go around. For too long mass media has controlled the way in which we view the world – got to have the right clothes, the right car, the right shades, be with the right partner… difference is frowned upon and we have let them manipulate us. The underground IS difference, IS change. The underground is a group of friends finding new friends and sharing experiences, allowing more than what’s force-fed to us by corporations; open-mindedness, and open-heartedness.
“For me, the whole scene is polluted from top to bottom – with agendas – angles – or subversive help from unbiased onlookers. Those bystanders are the people who usually move on to become promoters, agents or go to work in the city within the Music Machine.” Says Ally Mac, “Let’s be honest, for 25 years club music became popular from the underground because of the mixing and interaction from other people you had just met for the first time. You take away the variation and the exposure to different genres, and you introduce exclusion and Isolation.
The underground was a sharing experience; a shared dance floor full of people who really didn’t care what was playing at that moment as THEIR moment would come at some point in the following proceedings – shared stories with strangers – shared mix tapes at the afterparties, beginning new friendships, some lasting lifelong. You also shared anything else you had in your pockets that hadn’t melted or became crushed – money or such like to get the taxi/train or bus home. That coming together made the Underground, it also made some people a LOT of money… Music & Money… One brings us together, the other drives us apart.”
And I think that’s the place we are today. Driven apart by our choice of musical camp, despite all being connected by being of the underground scene. It’s a shame we got here really. Dance musics’ roots have always been based on acceptance and coming together for a common goal, and it’s a damning vision for the future of our scene as we seem now to lurch from one hateful comment to the next.
Underground will live forever baby, we’re just like roaches, always living, never dying. And on that note, let’s get back to the program.
(Note, this article first appeared in 2015)