(Semi) Final Thoughts America’s Dance Through the 90’s

As I begin to study the transition of American Dance Music from the 90s to the 2000’s, I think it may be worth giving dance music’s trajectory from disco until the millenium one final look. I recently read Kai Fikentscher’s history of Underground Dance Music (UDM) in America and I particularly like the way he succinctly phrases something I may have been implying without mentioning it outright: the “disco concept”.  For Fikentscher the “disco concept” refers to how “in the context of the discotheque playback equipment becomes a musical instrument capable of both musical mediation…and of musical immediacy.” In essence, he is referring to the beginnings of the “cult of the DJ” which refers to the audience’s acceptance of the DJ’s means of performance as an authentic live act.  As time progressed, especially since the seventies, it is somewhat easy to see how the initial acceptance of the DJ as some form of live performer transformed into the total acceptance and, even lust for, the DJ/Producers’ current live performance.  The lust for the so-called “live performance” evolved as in the 80’s DJ’s moved from being curators of other producer’s songs, to composing their own “tracks” live which relied heavily upon MIDI technology, hardware such as synths, and sequencers like Ableton Live (112).  Whereas rock music always played to human notions of an “authentic” live performance–just a man and a guitar–dance music for years was weighed down by the idea that its beginnings, those of disco, was entirely inauthentic, something that led to it “killing itself”(29)  However, with the rise of technology in popular music, the line between a singer singing along to a vocal tape and a DJ composing MIDI notes live gradually blurred, bringing us scenes today, where artists such as Pretty Lights control all aesthetic aspects of their performance, maniuplating sound and light through custom built controllers:

Another point Fikentscher makes in regards to the evolution of American dance music concerns its relationship with the AIDS epidemic.  As pointed out before, even before the glitzy “materialism” of disco, dance music was a music primarily enjoyed by racial and sexual minorities, particularly the gay black and hispanic crowds in New York City.  Coupled with many early gay clubs and bathhouses’ tendencies to mix music and sexuality, the outbreak of AIDS, coupled with the lack of information that about the disease  helped destroy the group of hardcore clubbers that kept the subculture going after the “disco sucks” movement brought it out of the mainstream.  Ironically, while Fikenschter spends some time discussing the similarities between being black and being gay (marginality, conceptions of community, etc.) he doesn’t mention the inherent homophobia present in a great deal of hip-hop culture.  While he talks about disco music as part of the process of the “Africanization of America” it was an “Africanization” undertaken by minorities even within the African-American community. Perhaps one might argue that the real Africanization of American culture, especially its music didn’t occur until the rise of Hip-Hop as the predominant form of rhythmic music in America in the 90’s…

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