Chapter 1: Introduction to the cultural context of electronic dance music

The disco era of the 1970s

Discourse on disco

The origin of club culture

The approach of the disco DJ, part 1: the focus on the dancers

The approach of the disco DJ, part 2: the obscure tracks

The approach of the disco DJ, part 3: the focus on good sound

The approach of the disco DJ, part 4: the underground position

The end of the disco era

The 1980s continuation of dance music culture

(Paradise) Garage and (The Ware)house

American dance music in Britain

The “Belleville Three” and the rise of techno

Acid house, rave, and ecstasy

The dance music culture of the 1990s

Myriads of genres

The post-rave club scene

A presentation of two dance acts


Chapter 2: Dance music production and the development of music technology

Dance music production from the 1970s to the 1990s

The production of disco music

The remix and the twelve-inch

The production of Chicago house music

The acid house sound

Dance music production in the 1990s

The development of music technology during the 1980s and 1990s


Drum machines

MIDI: musical instrument digital interface


Digital samplers

Music technology and issues of authenticity








No work is created in a cultural vacuum, and this study, like its music, is no exception. A music production nestles in a very specific historical and cultural context, and it is essential to acknowledge it in any relevant interpretation.[1] Pioneering popular music scholars revealed how traditional music analysis in fact seldom tended to position the music within a specific cultural setting – faith in the universal meaning of music, however variously defined, had blinded musicologists to the music’s cultural affiliations. Richard Middleton demonstrated how even early studies of popular music were influenced by this same faith, lacking a “concern with practice – how all these texts worked as culture.”[2] Stan Hawkins adds, “The analysis of music only becomes meaningful when positioned in relation to the social space it is received in.”[3] Similarly, Jason Toynbee asserts that “musicians work within a radius of creativity, or range of possibilities, determined by the prevailing discourses and practices in their field.”[4] The history of a genre (or the construction of the history or genre) and the music maker’s relationship to it, as well as the prior or contemporary contributors he or she identifies with, are likewise central to creative decision-making processes. Contemporary cultural contexts both absorb and reflect prevailing opinions and values that are themselves often situated within fields of tension.


The following two chapters comprise an introduction to the cultural context of the music that is dealt with in the analyses of this study. This context chiefly concerns the producer of electronic dance music in the 1990s dance music scene. Since many rock historians have offered rather shallow accounts of dance music genres and their historical roots, I see it as necessary here to offer a chronological narrative and present some of the central issues at stake within this culture. This introduction is intended primarily to enrich the following analytical discussions by providing a backdrop that links the music to its cultural affiliations.


I have brought together information from the relevant literature, my own clubbing experience, consultations with Norwegian DJs/producers, and participation on relevant web forums. In the first chapter I present a historical overview that extends from 1970s disco music culture to 1990s electronic dance music culture and identifies influential contributors, clubs, and events. Its main focus is on the historical developments that shaped expectations and fields of tension within the culture. In the second chapter I look at the same time period but focus on developments in the production of dance music and changes in music technology.





Chapter 1:

Introduction to the cultural context of electronic dance music


The rhythmic structures of dance music arise primarily from the genre’s focus on moving dancers, but they reveal other influences as well. The poumtchak pattern has strong associations with both disco music and various genres of electronic dance music, and these associations affect the pattern’s presence in popular music in general. Its status and musical role there has varied according to the reputation of these genres.


In the following introduction I will not present a complete history of related contributors, places, or events but rather examine those developments that shaped prevailing opinions and fields of tension within electronic dance music culture in particular. This culture in turn affects the choices that must be made in dance music production, for example involving the poumtchak pattern. My historical overview extends from the 1970s to the 1990s and covers predominantly the disco era, the Chicago house scene, the acid house/rave era, and the post-rave club-oriented house scene in England.[5]


The disco era of the 1970s


Discourse on disco


The image of John Travolta in his disco suit from the 1977 motion picture Saturday Night Fever has become an icon of the disco era and its popularity. Like Blackboard Jungle and Rock Around the Clock two decades earlier, this movie was an important vehicle for the distribution of a new dance music culture to America and the entire Western world, and the impact of its construction of disco was gigantic.[6] It became a model for local disco cultures around the world and comprised the core of a common understanding of disco in mainstream popular music culture.


The image of John Travolta therefore also evokes the enormous commercial success of Saturday Night Fever itself, and in turn the later exploitation of disco music and culture by those with economic, rather than artistic, designs upon it.[7] Disco fell from grace after only a few years (especially in the United States), overtaken by a constellation of disapproving notions about its commercialism, decadence, rigid rhythms, and deleterious effect on “real” music. Walter Hughes writes, “Few forms of popular culture receive the kind of opprobrium that has been lavished on disco music since its emergence in the seventies . . . Even at the height of its popularity, it was widely condemned, most vociferously by the admirers and consumers of popular music themselves.”[8]


Recent writers on disco and dance music have focused less upon Saturday Night Fever and its wider promotion of disco and more upon the underground dance music culture related to nightclubs, DJing, and dancing that arose primarily in New York City.[9] This new emphasis introduces fresh aspects of authenticity, integrity, and the resistance of subjugated groups (for example, African Americans, Hispanics, the working class, homosexuals) into the discussion. Yet the elevation of these overlooked cultural contributors has led also to new dichotomies between authentic and inauthentic appreciation within the dance music culture.[10]


Middleton observes that authenticity is used in discourses on popular music “to mark out the genuine from the counterfeit, the honest from the false, the original from the copy.”[11] Keir Keightley describes it as “the compass that orients rock culture in its navigation of the mainstream.”[12] He further notes that authenticity is not actually an audible feature in the music, but instead “a value, a quality we ascribe to perceived relationships between music, socio-industrial practices, and listeners or audiences.”[13] As Allan Moore has pointed out, the important question here is who decides upon this authenticity, with regard to tracks, performers, or whole genres.[14] The issue is as divisive in dance music culture as it is in popular music culture writ large, though the rules for what is considered authentic for the former arise from somewhat unique principles of value.


An important relationship with regard to those principles involves constructions of the “mainstream” and the “underground.” These constructions were very relevant to club culture in the 1990s but impacted disco culture as well. The hits of the Bee Gees represented mainstream appreciation, while the obscure disco tracks of Barrabas or Eddie Kendricks belonged to a more “authentic” underground disco culture. Disco dance music that has proven in time to be influential arose from both sources; Tim Lawrence, in his book on the American dance music culture of the 1970s, asserts that “creativity and innovation didn’t just emanate from the underground but also from the much broader downtown party network.”[15]


Writers on disco do agree that widespread ignorance of the original motivations and practices associated with this New York dance culture eventually doomed it. The real (and positive) trappings of disco culture gave way to mistaken but viral impressions of its hedonism, decadence, and acceptance of drug use, as well as to poor imitations of its music. Brewster and Broughton write that “many of the people involved with its early days blanch at using ‘disco’ to describe the music and clubs they knew and loved. They don’t really have an alternative name, but they have a strong need to distinguish their music – funky and soulful – and their scene – small, gritty and underground – from what disco eventually became and from how disco is seen by most people today.”[16]


Recently scholars have attempted to restore disco’s original reputation. Kai Fikentscher, in his study of underground dance music in New York City, argues that definitions of disco[17] have progressively distorted from “first referring to a specific musical environment, then to a type of popular music, and later to various styles of dress and hair and a leisure-time philosophy of extravagance, hedonism and, to some, decadence.”[18] Fikentscher prefers to return to a concept that denotes “a particular performance environment in which technologically mediated music is made immediate at the hands of a DJ, and in which this music is responded to via dance by bodies on the dance floor.”[19] This reclaims the term from its culturally pejorative connotations and places its music front and centre.


 “Disco music” is often used as a catchall for various genres (funk, soul, Latin) that in fact share few common traits other than their role in a certain specific space (discos) at a certain specific time (the 1970s). Brewster and Broughton claim that an amalgamation of these musical styles took place upon the arrival of the major record companies to the disco scene:


As disco became a financial force, the music changed considerably. It had begun not as a genre, but as an amalgam of whatever danceable records the DJs could lay their hands on. Rock, soul, funk, Latin: there was no single style or tempo which characterized the music played in the disco’s underground years. In its commercial period, the opposite became true. Few major label A&R executives had any great understanding of the club scene from which this music had emerged, so they could only see it in terms of its most basic generalities. They looked at the records which had crossed over, noted a few common denominators, and concluded that there was a simple formula for making disco.[20]


While diversity characterized original disco music, at some point a formula surfaced for a particular “disco beat” and “disco bassline” that in turn became a self-fulfilling prophecy for disco as a musical genre. The poumtchak pattern was part of this formula and it promptly disappeared from most popular music production in the 1980s, probably as a casualty of its strong association to that stereotypical disco music of the late 1970s. 


The origin of club culture


All histories are constructs, and some are more reliable than others. This holds true for music as well. Joseph G. Schloss, for example, asserts that hip-hop “grew through a series of small innovations that were later retroactively defined as foundational.”[21] A list of these sorts of pivotal innovations necessarily involves a simplification of reality but can nevertheless provide a starting point for investigation. In the case of electronic dance music and its roots in disco, we might start our own history of small innovations with a singular New York nightclub: the Loft.


In 1970, David Mancuso started arranging parties in his own home (a loft) at 647 Broadway in New York; when he later changed homes, the parties went with him. Mancuso is not the first DJ, and the Loft is not the first nightclub, but the two would set the disco bar. Brewster and Broughton describe the Loft as “more influential than any nightclub before or since, it was the place where the music you dance to today, and the place you go to do it, were first envisaged.”[22] Its foundational principles included the following: a focus on dancers and dancing; an appreciation of the obscure track; a mediation of music through a dedicated sound system; and a distinction between members and non-members. These principles have followed club culture throughout its historical development and therefore merit further discussion here.


The approach of the disco DJ, part 1: the focus on the dancers


The Loft’s focus on dancers and participation in general was explicit. Mancuso considered the DJ to be a provider of good dance music, but not in any way a focal point for dancers. This dictate points to ways in which the experience of dance music culture diverges from a conventional popular music concert experience, where people do in fact watch the “performer.” Mancuso’s approach required a full commitment to the act of being moved by the music that was incompatible with a focus on the DJ’s performance. Nevertheless, the major record companies who moved in on this culture saw music exclusively driven by an artist or group: “to make disco work for them, they squeezed it into the star-based marketing structures which had worked so well with rock . . . Most major labels, used to marketing famous people whose poster you could buy and whose career you could follow, only felt comfortable with this club music if they could dress it up with all sorts of artists and group-based fronts.”[23]


Marketing fame and stardom did not coincide with Mancuso’s original approach, however; popularity interfered with the idea of the DJ as fundamentally beholden to the dancers. But when disco suddenly became profitable, avoiding recognition meant missing opportunities, and not only of the economic variety. A DJ’s natural ambition to expand his loyal followers (for his club, or a particular music genre) would likewise suffer. Lawrence describes a “contradictory and irresolvable tension between protecting oneself from overexposure while simultaneously transforming the world.”[24] The risk of DJ overexposure, of course, evokes constructions of underground versus mainstream and authenticity versus “selling out” – the perception that one has abandoned one’s principles for commercial success. This is a central theme in observations about corruption by commerce in popular music culture as well. But in a dance music context, it all comes back to the dancefloor.


In the electronic dance music scene of the 1990s, this tension around influence persisted as DJs grew ever more popular. Their numerous performing aliases perhaps represent an attempt to avoid focus, and most CD covers and music videos of dance music acts avoided a lot of face time for the performers. But acts did begin to happen in traditional concert venues as well,[25] despite the fact that they were simply not as visually interesting as a rock band or pop artist. Because these later audiences saw themselves as spectators rather than participants (and were largely unaware of the cultural codes of the dancefloor), dance acts had to provide (often artificial) visual focal points,[26] such as background movies, slide shows, light shows, dancers, vocalists, or instrumentalists. Tony Langlois, in his article on house music from 1992, affirms those producer-DJs as largely unassuming characters, despite the drawbacks: “Even when showcasing their own material, perhaps on television pop shows, they tend to remain in the background, usually in ‘groups’ fronted by ‘featured vocalists’ who give the music a visual and compositional focus.”[27] A DJ who sought approval from original fans and cultural insiders had to avoid attention at the risk of being deemed arrogant by new or potential fans. In production processes this dilemma may be reflected by choices of auditory focal points that can double as visual focal points in performances (or the lack thereof).


The approach of the disco DJ, part 2: the obscure tracks


To find obscure dance tracks and to introduce them successfully to dancers was another of Mancuso’s dictates. At the Loft one would often hear music that was played nowhere else. Though Mancuso was probably not the most inventive or influential of DJs, – for example, he insisted on playing tracks in their entirety rather than mixing them – his taste in music established a powerful precedent for the disco scene. Brewster and Broughton in fact point to Francis Grasso as “the first modern DJ.”[28] Grasso started DJing in 1968, and he was renowned for his ingenuity in keeping the beat going, forming his music sets in a narrative manner using mostly rather obscure tracks: “Grasso stormed the profession out of servitude and made the DJ the musical head chef. DJ Francis didn’t follow the pop chart menu, and he didn’t meekly bring the customer what he’d ask for. Instead, he cooked up a nightly banquet of new and exotic musical dishes which the diners, though they devoured them eagerly and came back for more, might never have known to order.”[29]


A similar attraction to obscure music arose in the northern English club scene at the same time. The “Northern Soul” scene accommodated a new passion for dancing to early Motown soul music and the like, and DJs competed to turn up old or underappreciated recordings. Brewster and Broughton observe that “northern soul’s most significant contribution to the DJ’s trade was to introduce the idea of connoisseurship . . . until soul, dance music had been largely about playing the hits of the day. Since the northern scene thrived on rarities, it made the DJ’s profession as much archaeology as record playing.”[30] This knack for “archaeology” came to characterize the successful DJ of any musical style, and it found even more momentum in the subsequent era of digital sampling. Of hip-hop producers, for example, Schloss writes: “The process of acquiring rare, usually out-of-print, vinyl records for sampling purposes has become a highly developed skill . . . Individuals who give themselves to this quest are held in high esteem.”[31] Consequently, the DJ who tries to please the crowd with likeable, popular tracks may garner less respect than the DJ who presents his or her individual taste in music (provided it is good).[32] Brewster and Broughton agree: “The real work of a DJ happens behind the scenes – searching dark record stores, devouring endless lists and daunting stacks of vinyl, and sniffing out the wonders they contain.”[33] Playing popular tracks, on the other hand, carries risks. These tracks have the advantage (or disadvantage) of being recognized and thereby evoking associations, either good (linked to earlier positive dancing experiences) or bad (seeming lame or predictable). If dancers come to expect to hear music they have not heard before, they may be disenchanted by the choices of the less progressive DJ.


Playing popular tracks may get the crowd dancing, then, but it can also harm the DJ’s reputation. The lure of obscurity remains strong in the digital era in the choice of material for sampling or copying[34] as well as in less obvious decisions concerning rhythm patterns (like the poumtchak pattern), basslines, specific sounds, melodic themes, and the use of effects.


The approach of the disco DJ, part 3: The focus on good sound


The sound system at the Loft was constantly upgraded and refurbished to offer the best experience to the dancers. Mancuso collaborated with sound engineer Alex Rosner to improve sound systems particularly for nightclubs, with “Mancuso supplying the visionary ideas for Rosner’s practical expertise.”[35] Larry Levan, the most famous DJ from another club, the Paradise Garage (1977/78–83), was also known for his commitment to sound quality, according to Lawrence: “Because the room’s acoustics were in a state of constant flux, Levan would also tweak the system as the night progressed, introducing modifications to take account of an additional two thousand bodies on the dancefloor, subsequent shifts in humidity levels, and eventual ear fatigue, and this remorseless quest for perfection meant that [sound engineer Richard] Long had to re-equalize the system every Friday and Saturday.”[36]


A focus on good sound and a dedicated sound system distinguishes genuine dance clubs. This focus is not unique among contemporary live music scenes, but certain aspects of sound are more significant to the dance music scene than elsewhere, such as the ability to control low frequencies to produce an effective bass-drum “punch.” With digital recording techniques the process of choosing and shaping sounds using compression and equalization has become more straightforward, but the demands concerning these matters have become more stringent as well. In this sense it is helpful to be both a DJ and a producer so that one might test how certain mixes behave on a dedicated sound system and thus learn about essential details for mixing techniques.


the approach of the disco DJ, part 4: the underground position


The Loft remained a private club to avoid certain city ordinances, and one needed an invitation to be admitted.[37] DJ and clubgoer David DePino described the situation to Lawrence: “Finding the door in the first place remained a formidable obstacle. ‘These were the first parties where you had to know somebody to get in,’ says David DePino, who went to the Broadway spot several times. ‘You couldn’t find out about them by asking around because nobody knew and they were never advertised. You had to be invited. It was very underground.’”[38]


The (sometimes arbitrary) determination of insiders versus outsiders is not unique to dance music cultures, but the abuse of the privilege of doing so (for example, the infamous rudeness of the doormen at Studio 54 in New York) has become linked to disco. The concept of a dance “underground” could be said to have originated with these first unlicensed parties. According to Fikentscher, New York’s initial underground (in the 1950s) “referred to a socio-cultural avant-garde”[39] that included beat poets, performance artists, painters, musicians, and other groups that defined themselves somehow in opposition to the public in general and also by and large to the commercialization of culture. When DePino describes the Loft as “very underground,”[40] he refers to the club’s status as beyond the reach of almost anyone save a small group of the invited. The Loft also evokes traditional associations of the underground with some sort of illegal resistance activity that is hidden from the government in power. But while disco as a dance culture in New York City arose as a type of countercultural lifestyle that was largely unknown to the general public, these associations gradually fell away as it became more popular. So how are the succeeding constellations of disco/dance clubs, music styles, and record labels even recognizable as part of an inherently underground scene? Lawrence admits that this is “a slippery concept”[41] in relation to disco culture, since the reality of the situation defied such expectations: “Should it include cutting-edge discotheques, even though they were open to the general public? And should it be applied to radical DJs, even if they were generating chart smashes and playing commercial clubs?”[42] Disco’s connection to the underground, however, would be vital to countering the negative associations with it that emerged at the end of the 1970s.


Fikentscher uses “underground” as a prefix in his book on dance music to explain “that the associated type of music – and its cultural context – are familiar only to a small number of informed persons. Underground also points to the sociopolitical function of the music, framing it as one type of music that in order to have meaning and continuity is kept away, to a large degree, from mainstream society, mass media, and those empowered to enforce prevalent moral and aesthetic codes and values.”[43] In comparison to the ultimate (over)exposure of disco, the dance music of the 1980s definitely happened outside the public eye and remained comfortably “underground.” But the difficulty of negotiating this status re-emerged with the popularity of dance music in the 1990s. Its early illegal raves and associations with drugs preserved for it a sort of underground status, even when its events attracted huge crowds and massive public attention. By the new millennium, though, its widespread popularity demanded a fresh reappraisal of its “underground” status.


In Sarah Thornton’s study of club culture, she writes: “The term ‘underground’ is the expression by which clubbers refer to things subcultural. More than fashionable or trendy, ‘underground’ sounds and styles are ‘authentic’ and pitted against mass-produced and mass-consumed. Undergrounds denote exclusive worlds whose main point may not be elitism but whose parameters often relate to particular crowds.”[44] According to Thornton, then, “underground” may be used rather liberally to indicate any degree of subcultural affiliation; she also links it to a certain type of authenticity that eschews overexposure. But “authenticity” in dance music culture can be even more problematic than the “underground.”[45] Since the acts of dancing and playing records (made by others) are central focal points in dance music cultures, hierarchies of authenticity necessarily differ from pop music scenes in which the live performance typically underpins authenticity.[46] In this respect, “underground” thus depends upon the common knowledge shared by insiders of dance music–related subcultures. Insiders, once the relatively few invited members of the Loft, have come to comprise an intricate network of subcultural environments, one with many “undergrounds” and an equal number of opposing “mainstreams.”


Thornton criticizes earlier works in cultural studies that rely upon definite dichotomies between certain groups and an established “mainstream.”[47] Such dichotomies almost always involve the reduction and oversimplification of real life. She also points to the role of the media in club culture and specifically that culture’s assertion of its subcultural identity.[48]


As I have tried to demonstrate, the meaning of “underground” has changed with various developments in the music cultures that rely upon the concept. Nevertheless, it remains relevant. In both DJing and music production, constructions of “underground” and “mainstream” affect many choices about both the art and the context of its appreciation.[49]


The end of the disco era


Disco music is a disease. I call it disco dystrophy . . . The people victimized by this killer disease walk around like zombies. We must do everything possible to stop the spread of this plague.[50] – Radio DJ Steve Dahl


Steve Dahl has become a vehicle for the disapproval of disco music in the United States. He is associated with the “disco sucks” slogan and the infamous “Disco Demolition Night” at baseball’s Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12, 1979, where reduced admission was offered in exchange for old disco records that were in turn blown up inside a container partway through the game. An anti-disco riot ensued that ultimately prevented the game from finishing.[51] Brewster and Broughton observe that this protest was in fact not unique: “Dislike for disco was everywhere. The rock generation saw it as the antithesis of all that was holy: no visible musicians, no ‘real’ stars, no ‘live’ performance. It was music based wholly on consumption, music with no aesthetic purpose, indeed with no purpose at all other than making your body twitch involuntarily. Dehumanizing, expressionless, content-less – the judgements were damning.”[52]


Following the incident in Chicago, disco clearly fell from grace, at least in the United States. The major record labels had forced this dance-related music culture into a typical star performer-oriented package, and the public in turn experienced lip-synching, derivative arrangements, and other studio “fakery” as evidence of disco’s (rather than the disco business’s) illegitimacy.[53] The major labels saw disco as a passing phenomenon that had to be “exploited as quickly and thoroughly as possible.”[54] This fate would then become self-fulfilling.


The capitalist exploitation of this cultural phenomenon appears to have involved not only record companies but also corporations of all sorts.[55] The casualties of this rather short period of excessive exposure must have worried later dance music insiders as well. While acts (or at least their music) need attention, too much of it can present a problem.


Two other issues may also have contributed profoundly to disco’s fate in the United States: its African American musical roots and its strong connection to gay culture.[56] A majority of the performers in disco music were African Americans. Racist tendencies were still quite common in the United States in the 1970s and the major record labels may have been worried about the prejudices of the general American public. After disco’s demise, African American performers would generally lose ground in the public eye until hip-hop increased in popularity in the late 1980s.[57]


The gay clubs of New York City (and Fire Island) had been very influential in the shaping of disco culture since the early 1970s. The decade was formative for the gay liberation movement, and its celebration in disco culture made a difference in this regard. The Village People, assembled by Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo in 1977, was probably the first group in popular music history to overtly display a connection to gay culture while gaining widespread commercial success.[58] Many Americans in fact probably missed the group’s connotations of a gay lifestyle as they bought the music.[59] But for those who hated disco and all of its associations, the Village People, with their constructed history and exceptional focus on image, became a perfect target for disdain.[60]


In his study of underground dance music in New York City, Fikentscher considers its relations to African American and gay culture, arguing that dance music’s perpetuation in the 1980s was to a large extent due to these cultural groups: “Larry Levan’s reign at the Paradise Garage, as well as Frankie Knuckles’s rise to ‘Godfather of House’ or Junior Vasquez’s long-term association with the Sound Factory cannot be explained without considering the consistent support these DJs had and have in gay communities and/or those defined by ethnicity.”[61] Because disco faded from public awareness early in the 1980s, producers and DJs could explore new variations upon dance music that were more in line with the needs of their supporters. Buckland assumes that most Americans by late 1981 had turned their attention to the economy and unemployment, and that “under these circumstances, the core audience for dance music, a significant segment of whom were urban gay clubgoers, became an even stronger influence on the artistic direction of the music.”[62]


The 1980s continuation of dance music culture


(Paradise) Garage and (The ware)house


Both the Paradise Garage in New York and the Warehouse in Chicago opened in 1977. Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles had been participants in the New York dance scene since the early 1970s; they had been regular visitors to the Loft and had DJed together at the Continental Baths.[63] Larry Levan turned down an offer to DJ at the Warehouse in Chicago because of his commitment at the new Paradise Garage. He in turn recommended Frankie Knuckles, who accepted.


The Paradise Garage and the Warehouse are probably the most important links between 1970s disco and the electronic dance music scene of the 1980s and 1990s. Fikentscher writes, “Paradise Garage may very well have been the most influential nightclub worldwide, especially in its heyday during the early 1980s. It was a dance mecca to a group of loyal regulars, most of them gay and African American, who came every Saturday to pay homage to Larry Levan, the resident DJ, regarded as one of the most influential figures in underground dance music.”[64] Paradise Garage was a refuge for the genuine appreciation of disco music and culture in its later years. It presents an evocative counterpoint to the more famous Studio 54, which exploited the more artificial aspects of disco culture while slighting the music and the dancing.


The Warehouse in Chicago is more renowned for its role in the development of house music. It was placed in a former factory building in West Central Chicago with a capacity of around two thousand people. The crowd was predominantly black and gay and club nights could last from midnight Saturday to midday Sunday. Simon Reynolds writes: “It was here that Knuckles began to experiment with editing disco breaks on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, reworking and recombining the raw material . . . that would soon evolve into house.”[65]


Two of the main genres of electronic dance music, in fact, have names announcing their origins in these clubs: “garage” and “house.”[66] Most of the music Frankie Knuckles played at the Warehouse and Larry Levan played at the Paradise Garage at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s was disco derived and had no explicit resemblance to the later genres. But it was their perpetuation of a particular approach to dance music that allowed for those later breakthroughs. When the production of disco music withered in the United States after 1980, these DJs found new material in genres like European synth-pop and Italo disco. With the inclusion of drum machines in the DJ’s music set, new genres of dance music were in the offing.


Frankie Knuckles left the Warehouse in 1983 to open the Power Plant. The Warehouse was shut down, and a smaller club called the Music Box was opened: Ron Hardy was hired to DJ there. His style was wilder than Knuckles’s; Sean Bidder, in his book on house music, describes how “he’d mess with the EQ, clatter beats together for minutes on end, phase the bass in and out violently.”[67] The friendly rivalry between Knuckles and Hardy would give rise to many innovations with regard to entertaining and challenging their crowds, introducing new material, and using new music technology.


Through experiments with inexpensive drum machines and synthesizers, a new style of dance music and new production techniques began to transform the scene.[68] The independent labels Trax and DJ International were responsible for all of the releases of Chicago house music between 1985 and 1989. The productions, from tape copies to vinyl, were very simple and involved minimal financial risk; distribution took place primarily through special local stores.[69] DJs at clubs and local radio stations (for example, the Hot Mix 5 at WBMX) did the promotional work through simply playing the music. Interestingly, Chicago house music’s first major impact would be overseas.


American dance music in Britain


The music of the clubs in Chicago was predominantly introduced to Britain via New York and the Balearic island of Ibiza. In 1986, DJ International representatives brought Chicago house records to the New Music Seminar in New York. Pete Tong, a radio DJ and A&R scout for the British company London Records, attended the showcase and brought the music back to his employers. In Britain he contributed to the House Sounds of Chicago compilations, spreading the music while establishing the genre’s name.


The initial appreciation of house music in Britain occurred mainly in northern cities, especially Manchester.[70] The Haćienda Club, open since 1982, jumped in popularity when the house music of Chicago was introduced. Haćienda DJ Mike Pickering attributed this to the prior Northern Soul scene in that part of Britain: “I think Northern Soul probably played a part in house music taking off . . . there were a lot of similarities with house. It was very soulful, four to the floor fast music. I mean when we started the Friday night at the Hac [Haćienda], we got quite a lot of the old northern boys coming down. I was playing Adonis’s ‘No Way Back,’ and could see lots of people doing Northern Soul dances.”[71]


House music became popular in London roughly a year later, beginning with a legendary birthday party at Ibiza and a rather small city club called Shoom. The Argentinean DJ Alfredo (Alfredo Fiorito) worked at the Ibiza club Amnesia, and he usually started playing after 6.00 a.m. to attract partygoers returning from other clubs (Amnesia was then an “after hours” club). He had been introduced to Chicago house music through a record dealer from New York and mixed these tracks with old and new dance music from all over the world.[72] In September 1987, Paul Oakenfold had gone to the island to celebrate his twenty-sixth birthday with a few friends, all of whom were in some way involved with London’s club scene. Their experience of the Ibiza club, Alfredo’s music mix, and the recreational drug Ecstasy inspired them to introduce a similar scene in London.[73] Shoom was not their first attempt in this respect, but it was the most significant in triggering the popularity of house music in the south of England.


These stories involve the transferences of a music culture and the means through which a local culture appropriates an imported one. This issue has been discussed thoroughly in the field of culture studies,[74] particularly through a critique of stereotypical views of “globalization” as the passive consumption of culture shaped by multinational commercial corporations (mainly American). John Storey argues that “globalization is not simply the production of a homogenized American global village in which the particular is washed away by the universal. The process is much more contradictory and complex, involving the ebb and flow of both homogenizing and heterogenizing forces and the meeting and mingling of the ‘local’ and ‘global’ in new forms of hybrid cultures.”[75] Jan Nederveen Pieterse argues that the concept of hybridization here is in effect a tautology since cultures always have been hybrids.[76] Storey agrees and emphasizes that “all cultures have appropriated what was at first ‘foreign,’ which was gradually absorbed as ‘second nature.’”[77] He finds it more relevant to describe “routes” than “roots” in order to demonstrate “the nomadic nature of global cultures.”[78]


Chicago house music’s appropriation in England suits this more complicated view of cultural transference. Contrary to the larger music industry, which was led by the major record companies, Chicago house music culture was always dominated by small, independent record companies, rather inexpensive productions and minority cultural groups. Nor does British urban culture suit the expected profile of globalization, given its more established role as an exporter rather than an importer. Interestingly, however, initial musical influences of the Chicago scene can be traced to a wide variety of local scenes, including British new wave and synthpop (as well as the New York clubs, Italo disco, and Philadelphia Soul).[79] Furthermore, as Hillegonda Rietveld describes, Chicago house music was indeed later exported from Britain as part of an even more developed “entertainment package called ‘acid house party’ or ‘rave’”[80] that included music, drugs, dancing, party events, clothing styles, and so on.[81] In the subsequent dance music culture, an awareness of all of these early “routes” became an increasingly relevant indicator of “insider knowledge.” Some trace these “routes” to early Chicago producers, while others venture further back to Mancuso’s Loft or – as in the Chemical Brothers track It Began in Africa (on the album Come With Us from 2002) – all the way to the pre-slavery era.


Negative attitudes towards disco and dance music late in the 1970s never took over in Europe as they did in the United States. This allowed house music to flourish in Britain quite quickly and then spread to other European countries. Fikentscher observes that house remained largely underground in America – like disco, it was “associated with an urban, primarily non-Caucasian and/or gay core following,”[82] connections that had little impact upon the British appropriation of it. Thornton adds that anti-disco sentiments in Britain were “more directly derived from classist convictions about mindless masses and generational conflict about the poor taste of the young,”[83] while the American discourse connected to the “disco sucks” campaign was more homophobic and racist.[84] She observes that disco in fact had a huge straight white working-class following in Britain, as it did for a brief time in America as well before it retreated underground.[85] With the erasure in a new country of its conflicted past, then, a new wave of dance music was underway.


The “Belleville Three” and the rise of techno


During the early 1980s and concurrent with the development of house music in Chicago, musicians in Detroit were also trying out new equipment and producing tracks with drum machines, sequencers, and synthesizers. Among them, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson have been credited with developing a distinct genre that was eventually named Detroit techno. Since they had attended the same high school, they were nicknamed the Belleville Three.[86]


In 1987, Neil Rushton, a former Northern Soul DJ, noticed that some of the house music imported from America was produced in Detroit. Through earlier connections in that city, Rushton managed to obtain licensing rights to some of these producers, and the following year he convinced Virgin Records to release a compilation of their tracks. First called The House Sound of Detroit, the release was renamed Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit to stress its differences from the Chicago releases. Juan Atkins’s contribution to the compillation, actually called Techno Music, may also have informed the choice of name. To promote the album, Rushton brought British journalists to Detroit to meet some of the producers. As a result, John McCready wrote an article for the New Musical Express in July 1988 with the title “Welcome to the Phuture: Techno”[87] that started with the following quotation from Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave: “The Techno Rebels are, whether they recognise it or not, agents of the Third Wave. They will not vanish but multiply in the years ahead. For they are as much a part of the advance to a new stage of civilisation as our mission to Venus, our amazing computers, our biological discoveries, or our explorations of the oceanic depths.”[88] McCready then paints a picture of a desolate setting for this musical movement,[89] quoting DJ May’s intriguing imagery inspired in turn by Toffler: “I would work through the night and I would see the city waking up – the face without the makeup. At night you would see the heat rising in the air from the stacks of old factory buildings. Now, when I listen to those tracks I see that view, I see the confusion of a city lost in transition from one age to another. The city is dying but Juan [Atkins] and the rest of us are all part of the Third Wave, the future.”[90] Since their music is made using “all the technological advancements Roland and Yamaha can come up with,” May claims that the producers of Detroit are the “Techno Rebels . . . musical agents of the Third Wave who see the fusion of man and machine as the only future.” Pointing to the desolated city, May explains; “Now you understand why we make this music . . . We can do nothing but look forward.”[91]


Most writers consider Juan Atkins to be the foremost Detroit producer, both musically and intellectually.[92] He claims that the synth aesthetics of Kraftwerk and the funk music of Parliament/Funkadelic have had the strongest influence on him. Dan Sicko, in his book Techno Rebels, observes that Atkins was introduced to Toffler’s literature in high school. At about the same time he started producing tracks with Richard Davis, an “aspiring electronic musician” whose material was, according to Atkins, “real abstract . . . avant-garde, electronic montage stuff.”[93] In a 1988 interview in Music Technology Atkins describes how he produces music not only for clubs and dancing but also to listen to at home: “The music is not for everybody. It’s for certain people that want a little twist. Some people are perfectly content with everyday pop – they don’t have an open enough mind to consider something new. Those aren’t the people I’m playing for; they’ll come around even­tually, because they’re basically followers. When they’re told that this is what’s happening, they’ll go along with it.”[94] Sicko claims that the underlying philosophy of techno, then, “had less to do with futurism . . . than with the power of the individual and personal visions of Utopia.”[95] Toffler’s Third Wave involved a rejection of mass production and mass consumption that, in the case of music, would appear to align with the individual artist’s exclusive works rather than the dance music DJ’s interest in satisfying his or her crowd. Jeff Mills, an influential Detroit contributor, even defines techno as “something completely new.”[96] He says that if you “hear something that kind of sounds like you’ve heard it before, then it’s not techno.”[97]


The British journalists visiting Detroit were fascinated by this new technological music created in response to Toffler’s vision. It in fact articulated a sort of manifesto with a condition (the symbols of the Second Wave are deteriorating), a position (new technology is the future), and an intention (to bring their city into the Third Wave). This manifesto was of course appropriated in many different ways in Britain’s emerging club scene, but its potensial opposition to the dance party priorities of Chicago house remained an issue. Sheryl Garratt had written an article in The Face two years earlier, after her visit with producers of house music in Chicago. She described a production session “where everyone else comes down to watch” and there is “a party going on in the control room.”[98] And her interview with DJ Marshall Jefferson situated the music directly within the club scene: “House music? I couldn’t even begin to tell you what House is. You have to go to the clubs and see how people react when they hear it. It’s more like a feeling that runs through, like old-time religion in the way that people jus’ get happy and screamin’. It’s happening! It’s . . . House!”[99] In contrast to this earthy movement-oriented description, Detroit techno tends to be framed as much more rational and intellectual. This dichotomy would gain a foothold in the discourses connected to the music; Chris Kempster writes in his book on house music, “While house music was a post-modernist art form, ruthlessly eclectic to the point where some early house hits were simply thinly veiled rewrites of other songs, techno’s driving force was innovation. In its purism, its emphasis on stepping into the unknown, it is as modernist as Cubism. Detroit pushed dance music into the abstract, built not upon the legacy of disco, but on the spaces of funk.”[100]


Brewster and Broughton, on the other hand, criticize this intellectualized construction of Detroit techno.[101] They point out that the Detroit musicians first appeared via the Chicago club scene, which Derrick May visited regularly with his music in tow. Only when the Detroit techno genre became established did producers begin to imitate the new “formula.” Thornton further remarks upon the British press’s portrayal of techno as the sound of Detroit “despite the fact that the music was not on the playlist of a single Detroit radio station, nor a regular track in any but a few mostly gay black clubs.”[102]


The techno philosophy of the Detroit producers raises several interesting issues. The most obvious is perhaps the idea of a “pure new music” arising from the Third Wave’s break with earlier traditions. Inventions are seldom truly new but instead part of an ongoing process of development, as these DJs themselves acknowledge. Derrick May describes how he was “subconsciously inspired”[103] in relation to his music production while Juan Atkins pointed to the influences of Kraftwerk and Parliament/Funkadelic.


The uniqueness of the Detroit movement was undoubtedly overemphasized. The tracks from the city that were most popular in Britain had obvious connections to the Chicago house scene.[104] Nevertheless, the absence of a vibrant club scene in Detroit probably did foster an alternative mentality with regard to music production, and tracks that were later seen as influential upon the techno genre did comprise different musical features, such as faster tempo, more variety of drum patterns, effect processing, and a more exclusive use of electronic instruments where vocals or acoustic instruments were almost absent.[105]


When British producers started to create their own electronic dance music tracks, these Detroit musicians became an important inspiration, both musically and intellectually. Within a few years, techno had become one of the most dominant genres of electronic dance music, signifying anything instrumental and electronic, whether it was intended for dancing or simply listening. While producers of house music undoubtedly made dance music, techno producers were also exploring other directions, transporting the music away from the dancefloor. The differences musically distinguishing house and techno could sometimes be only minor details, but the notion of their somewhat diverging approaches and mentality persisted. The increased use of techno as a genre name early in the 1990s also helped detach this music from the drug-associated “acid house” scene. Instead, its musical roots and inspiration could be traced via Detroit techno to Kraftwerk, thereby avoiding the rather fraught disco association of the Chicago house scene.


Acid house, rave, and ecstasy


Ecstasy, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), is inseparably linked to the history of club culture. A drug that released feelings of openness, euphoria, empathy, love, and happiness, and even encouraged one’s appreciation of music and movement, was the perfect prescription for a club night. Simon Reynolds describes rather vividly how “Ecstasy turns the entire body surface into an ear, an ultrasensitized membrane that responds to certain frequencies.”[106] He states that “all music sounds better on E – crisper and more distinct . . . House and techno sound especially fabulous. The music’s emphasis on texture and timbre enhances the drug’s mildly synesthetic effects so that sounds seem to caress the listener’s skin. You feel like you’re dancing inside the music; sound becomes a fluid medium in which you’re immersed.”[107] Others certainly agree,[108] and Ecstasy would play a significant role in the emergence and ultimate widespread popularity of acid house and rave culture. On the other hand, it succeeded only in carefully negotiated combination with the music itself, loud sound systems, and ferocious dancing.[109] Jesse Saunders, one of the originators of Chicago house music, writes: “Some people have taken the drug ecstasy while listening to the music to take the feeling to new heights – they wanted to extend it as much as possible – but it was never necessary.”[110]


The third volume in the London Records compilation series of Chicago house music was subtitled Acid Tracks.[111] Following the success of Phuture’s track of the same name, numerous new tracks using the Roland TB-303 arrived in England as well.[112] Subsequently “acid house” came to specify both the music and the scene it spawned.


The spread of acid house parties in the summer of 1988 in Britain has been called the “Second Summer of Love,” linking them to the hippies while emphasizing the amorous aspects of Ecstasy.[113] The music, the party, and the drugs appealed to an ever-increasing number of youngsters while inspiring fashion stores, major record labels, and even public newspapers. In Phil Sutcliffe’s 1989 article “Acid House: The Selling of Smiley Culture,” he describes how the Sun spent September 1988 promoting fashion guides, hit lists, and T-shirt offers related to the acid house scene, only to devote October to warnings about the “evil of Ecstasy.”[114] Such publicity in turn motivated police raids on warehouse parties, official anti-drug campaigns, BBC bans on songs with “acid” in the title or lyrics, and so on. Newspaper headlines and attempts to control events had the paradoxical effect of creating more curiosity than anxiety,[115] and David Hesmondhalgh sees this as vital to “constructing dance music as oppositional”[116] and thus increasing its popularity even more. More patrons also required more space to party, so events were sometimes moved from inner-city places (clubs and warehouses) to larger spaces in more rural areas (such as open fields). These larger events became known as “raves” or “rave parties,” all-night dance events with DJs, large sound systems, light shows, video screens, laser effects, and so on.[117] This first wave of parties lasted until around the end of 1989, when police activity and increased penalties for unlicensed parties resulted in a slowdown.[118] Reynolds explains: “Gradually, the ravers became disenchanted: not only were there more and more rip-off events with shitty sound systems, no-show DJs, and none of the advertised facilities, but there was a good chance the raves wouldn’t happen at all.”[119]


The dance music culture of the 1990s


A second, even larger wave of rave parties lasted from 1990 to 1992.[120] These were predominantly legal commercial raves or “all-night-rave-style clubs,” and they spread rapidly from their origin in London and Manchester. British producers had gradually taken over the scene through their own tracks and although these tracks were for the most part dance music made with electronic instruments, various directions were clearly emphasized and identified through specific genre names.


Myriads of genres


During the 1990s, the electronic dance music scene has been characterized by a multitude of genres and subgenres.[121] The following names, for example, identify only variants of house music in particular; acid house, ambient house, Chicago house, dark house, deep house, dream house, French house, hip house, Latin house, progressive house, tech house, and tribal house.[122] An ability to navigate among these various subgenres has been important both to discourses within the dance music culture and to the DJs and producers providing the musical material.


Jason Toynbee sees “genres” in popular music as serving at once “as an essence, as a collection of traits, and in structured opposition to other genres.”[123] His first solution to this bewildering multiplicity of functions is “to recognize that genre never can be a static system of classification”[124] – we must therefore understand genres both as flexible in any current usage and as changeable over time. Drawing on Steve Neale’s work on genres in film, Toynbee emphasizes the tension between repetition and difference – a “structure-deterioration model”[125] – in his discussion of genre changes within the dance music scene. Neale particularly relies upon the notion of repetition in production to satisfy a desire to repeat an earlier experience of pleasure. If this is so, Toynbee argues genres will mutate at different speeds according to the demand for variations in order to continue “to offer the promise of bliss.”[126]


In dance music these processes are deeply related to the dancefloor and how the music moves the dancers. However, in the 1990s, numerous external processes were active as well. Many genres and subgenres were constructed by the press or record companies. British magazines of the 1990s (for example, i-D, Q, Mixmag, or DJ) raced each other to discover new trends and establish new genres. The magazines filled a sort of double role, both distributing “insider knowledge” about current trends and suggesting or satisfying the need for new trends. The content of what was considered “insider knowledge” had to be constantly altered, concerning not only music and music genres, but also clothing, clubs, DJs, producers, labels, drugs, slang, and so on.[127]


These processes influenced producers and DJs. They had to balance the demands of the dancefloor, where people would not dance if the music did not fulfil their needs, with the demands of the culture to be inventive and expand the forms of the genre. In the 1990s this situation would lead to changes in dance-related genres as well as the development of more “listening-related” genres.[128]


The post-rave club scene


Around 1994 the dance scene in Britain moved once and for all from raves to clubs. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 specified restrictions and fines that succeeded in putting an end to raves,[129] and the result was a flowering of clubs and club culture that ultimately introduced dance music to an even wider audience worldwide. Clubs of all sizes and types opened in most major cities, first in Britain and then in the rest of Europe; they ranged from large, profit-seeking clubs with several dance­floors playing various music genres to small, gritty clubs run by idealists interested only in a particular genre. Superclubs like the Ministry of Sound in London or Cream in Liverpool evolved into whole corporations and brands that included magazines, clothing, compilation CDs, dance club tours, and so on (not unlike the many businesses associated with disco culture at the end of the 1970s).


During the 1990s several DJs/producers from the dance music scene had major international hits, and the position of the DJ was elevated to a level equivalent to the popularity or status of any major rock artist. The most successful DJs, like Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers, DJ TiĎsto, or DJ Sasha, were paid extremely well for a few hours of DJing, a special remix, or a compilation album.[130] They became important dance music figureheads as the larger clubs promoted their shows and the record companies spread their music around the world. But this massive surge of attention conflicted with one of the basic approaches to DJing: “After we let the DJ become a superstar, we stopped listening to the music, we believed the hype, we all went crazy for their first record even if [it] was utter rubbish.“[131]


Many of disco’s dilemmas thus recurred for its heir. The involvement of major record labels (or their dedicated sub-labels), large clubs, magazines, fashion design, and the drug business increased as the popularity of dance music reached new heights. Brewster and Broughton assert that “by the end of the nineties dance music had become big business, with superclubs, superstar DJs and the dance press wrapped in a sweaty love triangle . . . Never before had a musical culture been so thoroughly infiltrated. Despite being rooted in acid house ideals, the dance world had been built by opportunist entrepreneurs, and it didn’t have many qualms about selling out.”[132]


Around 2002 the popularity of club culture gradually started decreasing, as the creativity and innovation of its proponents and performers waned. The overwrought involvement by corporations and various partakers had turned attention away from the music and dancing themselves, as it had with disco. The overall reputation of the music and culture did not ultimately suffer in the same way, however, and many clubs have continued business as usual across Europe. The influence of the music is also present in current popular music in various ways, and new dance acts gains popularity from time to time.[133]


The late 1990s, then, was the high point for creativity and diversity in electronic dance music. The clubs could pick and choose from a huge variety of tracks, and European nightlife experienced an unprecedented flourishing.


a presentation of two dance acts


I will now introduce two central dance acts from this period: Basement Jaxx from London and Daft Punk from Paris: Their music will occupy several analyses in chapters 6 and 8.


Basement Jaxx: Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton made some important contributions on their way to stardom with their album Remedy in 1999.[134] They started arranging club nights in an impoverished Irish pub in Brixton, an inner city suburb of London with around 25 percent of its population of African and/or Caribbean de­scent.[135] They both DJed at these club nights, attracting a substantial following and earning a reputation for hosting great parties.[136] Ratcliffe and Buxton also formed an independent record label, Atlantic Jaxx Records, and started producing their own material while working on remixes and productions for other artists. Their releases got good reviews from several legendary DJs within the scene, and for their first full album release in 1999, they signed with the larger independent label XL Recordings. Ratcliffe and Buxton have mostly kept in the background but have hired various vocalists, generally ethnic minorities, to serve as focal points for live performances. Since their breakthrough in 1999, they have released several more successful albums, played large stadium concerts, produced music videos, given interviews, and so on. This popstar status has somewhat hobbled their position within club culture.


Daft Punk: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter took the name Daft Punk from a Melody Maker review of their former project, Darlin’, that characterized their music as “a bunch of daft punk.”[137] For the new act, they changed musical direction and started producing electronic dance music, releasing their debut in 1994 on Soma Records, an independent Scottish techno/house music label. In 1996 they signed with Virgin and released Homework, a success with both critics and the public. Homem-Christo and Bangalter are famous for having their faces concealed on photographs, either behind masks or, since 1999, with robot helmets.[138] In an interview with Mixmag magazine, they explain their position:


Matthew Collin: “Do you think you can hide from stardom?” Daft Punk: “In a word, yes. Because we are Daft Punk and we don’t need to show our faces to get on a magazine cover or sell shitloads of records . . . Because we remember Juan Atkins and Frankie Knuckles and all the greats who went before us and didn’t get the respect, the money or the magazine covers. Because, like them, we’re ordinary boys who happen to make thrilling tunes; characters thrown up by a culture where it’s the track’s impact on the dancefloor that counts, not the artist’s image.”[139]


Daft Punk released their second full-length album in 2001 (Discovery) and a Japanese animated film visualizing its music in 2003.[140] The group has since released one studio album and several remix and concert albums. Their popularity has gradually diminished with the general dropoff of interest in club culture.


Each group draws attention to certain important issues relative to the club cultural landscape. The Brixton club of Basement Jaxx represents a real dedication to the most central issue of club culture: making people dance. Its location may have been coincidental but nevertheless communicates the correct “underground” approach in its distance from the more trendy and rich areas of London. The fact that they first formed their own label and then signed to an independent one also signifies their interest in avoiding the most notorious commercial sides of the business. The use of non-Caucasian artists to front their project relates probably to the desire for a specific sound but may also evoke earlier influential genres (funk, disco, Chicago house) or contributors to the scene.[141] Finally, their success may have been at the expense of their impact on the dancefloor – too many magazine covers, music videos, stadium concerts, celebrity contributors,[142] and so on may have turned the “inside” clubgoer against them. The Daft Punk members’ tactic of hiding their faces successfully deflects this “inappropriate” focus. Furthermore, their robot outfits link them to Kraftwerk, among other important precursors. Daft Punk also evokes the intellectual avant-garde through, for example, the subversive use of a critical review.[143] Their Japanese animation film also represents an unexpected and original move that demonstrates artistic independence as well as a certain hipness, at least in some contexts.


In this study, I selected the music of Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk for both its quality and its impact. The various moves they have made in the cultural landscape demonstrate their focus on producing good dance music and their acknowledgement of core principles within the culture.




Several important subjects in this chapter are related to the early developments of club culture in New York City. David Mancuso, who started the Loft in the early 1970s, had specific notions about what constituted a dance event and what role the DJ ought to play: the focus should be on the dancers, not on the DJ; the DJ should introduce music to the dancers that they had not heard before; and the club’s sound system should be the best it can be. Also relevant to the Loft was its underground status and corresponding distinction between “insiders” and the uninvited. Issues of authenticity in dance music cultures relate directly to this status and its related “insider knowledge” and proper attitude towards mainstream exposure. This last topic has been highlighted through examples of the overexposure of disco culture towards the end of the 1970s and its sudden decline in popularity around the turn of the decade.


During the early 1980s the perpetuation of disco music was especially vital to underground clubs in Chicago (the Warehouse) and New York City (Paradise Garage), and new genres of dance music arose in disco’s wake. Chicago house music was in turn imported to Britain and spawned a new wave of dance music culture involving massive followings and huge events (raves) that were also linked to the drug Ecstasy. A parallel musical import came from Detroit producers, whose more intellectual approach provided the roots also for an electronic music that was less directly linked to the dancefloor.


In the 1990s electronic dance music splintered into intricate hierarchies of genres and subgenres. The issue of “insider knowledge” arose particularly around the ability to navigate among them. The dance culture continued to grow in popularity both in Britain and worldwide, and its most famous DJs were elevated to levels of popularity or status matching those of any major rock artist. The issue of overexposure also arose again as superclubs evolved into large corporations and spawned numerous businesses related to the culture. A decline in the popularity of dance music began around 2002 amid decreasing creativity and innovation within the scene.


Dance music acts like Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk participate in (and to some extent create) this story. They define themselves according to the prevailing opinions and fields of tension within the culture, especially with regard to appearances in the press, choice of record label, or balance between DJing and producing, to say nothing of their music itself. From the 1970s to the 1990s, major changes occurred in the circumstances of music production. In the following chapter I will more closely examine contexts related to music production and the major developments in music technology.


Chapter 2:

Dance music production and the development of music technology


The development of related technology has been a core issue for electronic dance music throughout its existence. Several genre-defining musical features are in fact directly linked to specific pieces of equipment, and production techniques are likewise linked to the pivotal transition from analogue to digital formats. New possibilities within music production have been vital to the genre’s repetitive form and emphasis on sound and rhythmic structures. Moreover, the role of the DJ has gradually expanded into the field of music production due to new products such as the twelve-inch dance remix, and to new and less expensive musical equipment.


An awareness of these various relationships and some ability to distinguish among the different types of music equipment and production techniques are both part of the genre’s “insider knowledge” and intricately linked to the many issues of authenticity that exist in dance music cultures. In the following I will outline some of the changes that occurred as this music developed.


Dance music production from the 1970s to the 1990s


The production of disco music


Disco in the 1970s relied exclusively upon analogue studio production techniques. The genre enjoyed a virtually limitless number of recording tracks compared to music of the previous decade, and more tracks (up to forty-eight in professional studios in the late 1970s) offered more possibilities for overdubbing and accommodated larger musical ensembles. Editing was only possible through the cutting and pasting of actual pieces of tape, however – a decidedly laborious process relative to the succeeding digital era.


The use of click tracks to keep a steady pulse became increasingly common during the 1970s, especially in disco productions, where a firm, constant beat was highly prized. The click track, along with disco’s overdubbing techniques, was at the time denigrated as insincere or artificial by popular music authorities outside the genre. Because the rock concert still represented the ideal for what was done in the studio, the techniques that best evoked live performance were more highly regarded, at least in some popular music circles.[144]


Two contrasting examples of disco production are the Philadelphia soul sound (from the record label Philadelphia International) of Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell, and the so-called Eurodisco of Georgio Moroder.[145] The Philly sound arose among studio musicians that had spent years honing their musical interaction and remarkable reputations; John A. Jackson describes them as “Philadelphia’s ‘A-team’ of studio players.”[146] He further observes that “the core of this endowed group was its rhythm section, ‘a family [that] worked together and played off of each other.’”[147] An essential element here was the hi-hat patterns and the distinct hi-hat sound clearly elevated in the mixing process. In addition, string and brass ensembles and overdubbed vocals in the Philly productions contributed to define the lush sound of disco.


Among Moroder’s productions, Donna Summer’s I Feel Love from 1977 is often seen as the clearest counterpoint to the generally acoustic Philly sound – its backing track, in fact, was produced mostly by one person with a Moog synthesizer. Even the hi-hat and snare drum sounds were produced electronically, though the bass drum had to be overdubbed to get the proper punch.[148] In addition to the highly influential Kraftwerk albums from the 1970s, this track anticipated later electronic dance music developments both with its sound and its production techniques.


These two production approaches, the group of musicians playing together and the single person with his/her machines, resonate with very different discourses on authenticity in popular music culture.[149] The contrast between organic, dynamic interaction (music that is “with feel”) and the mechanical and automatic (“without feel”) is immediately relevant to discussions about rhythm and conceptions of groove.[150] In the production of electronic dance music, of course, machines have become increasingly important, but the tension surrounding them remains and influences producers to this day.[151]


The remix and the twelve-inch


The dance remix, often released on a twelve-inch single, and the production tech­niques associated with it are also important to the development of dance music in the 1970s.[152] These innovations are attributed to producer Tom Moulton, who was frustrated by the disruption of the flow of the music when DJs had to rely upon ordinary singles, produced primarily for radio, which lasted only three minutes or so.[153] Using simple tape-recording techniques, Moulton produced a mixed tape with forty-five minutes of continuous music whose success gave rise to, among other things, a part in the production of Gloria Gaynor’s album Never Can Say Goodbye (1974). This record would feature a side-long medley of three songs, segued together as if played by a DJ. Moulton did this by extending the instrumental sections of the songs, a technique that would become basic to mixing techniques in dance music. In 1975, Giorgio Moroder produced an extended version of Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby that occupied an entire side of an LP at almost seventeen minutes long.[154]


The qualities that made the twelve-inch as a product so effective for dance music are said to have arisen by accident.[155] Tom Moulton and his assistant José Rodriguez were short of seven-inch blanks and decided to fill a ten-inch blank with the three-minute track instead. Rodriguez had to raise the level by +6 decibels to make the grooves fill the disc, and the resulting dynamic improvements were clearly audible, in both low- and high-frequency areas, in turn introducing more bass and more brightness. Will Straw, in his article on the twelve-inch single, writes: “The wider grooves made possible in the twelve-inch format lent themselves strikingly to the demands of superior dance club sound systems, and low-end frequencies could be heard with greater clarity.”[156] The first commercial twelve-inch disco mix was Double Exposure’s Ten Percent from 1976, which was produced by Walter Gibbons and released on Salsoul Records. The track comprises two long verse-chorus sequences, one with vocals and one without. Gibbons’s emphasis on percussion is considered integral to the twelve-inch “sound.”


Prior to this mass release, the twelve-inch had been produced exclusively for DJs, and this practice continued alongside the commercially produced versions. DJ copies (usually clearly labeled “promotional – not for sale”) contributed significantly to the DJ’s standing in the music community as someone with special access to material. The labels on these copies did not display images or logos of the performers.[157] Given its alliance to the principle of purposely deflecting the attention of the crowd,[158] this practice became more and more common in the 1980s and 1990s, even extending to commercially released remixes.


The impact of the twelve-inch has certainly been commercial as well as cultural,[159] though the dancefloor has remained the priority here – the twelve-inch’s arrangements and mixing derived from ideals other than (and even opposed to) those of radio play. Moreover, as Straw argues, twelve-inch disco mixes came to be identified with the “appropriate” records for DJs: “The original sense of disco records, as those which ‘crossed over’ from other musical fields, would diminish as the process of crossing over became inscribed in the text of records predestined for the disco market, like the disco versions of soul, pop, rock, Broadway and classical pieces which continued through the late 1970s.”[160] Taking into account all of the twelve-inch disco mixes produced during the second half of the 1970s, a standardization in style becomes obvious, especially in those disco versions of previously released material.[161] But stylistic variety exists as well. The twelve-inch discs usually consisted of tracks from five to nine minutes long whose expanse invited creative experiments with the verse/chorus format.[162] Build-up sections, long groove-oriented breaks, and vocal or instrumental improvisations with a rhythmic emphasis all lent themselves remarkably well to the dancefloor.


The twelve-inch also brought DJs into the studio, where their club experience helped them to decide exactly which features to emphasize in the remix or which sections to extend for maximum impact on the dancefloor. From spinning records to assistance in mixing and then independently remixing existing material, the role of the DJ has gradually expanded to full-scale music production, which contributed also to the DJ’s eventual rise to star performer in the dance music scene of the 1990s.


The production of Chicago house music


The development of Chicago house music is closely linked to the new musical instruments produced early in the 1980s. The analogue Roland drum machines were especially effective in DJ sets, and crowds would often continue to dance only to them, once the song had ended. This experience in turn encouraged Chicago-based DJs to attempt to produce dance music with synthesizers, drum machines, and tape recorders outside of the traditional studio.


One of the very first contributors to this “homemade” Chicago house music was the DJ Jesse Saunders, who recorded and released On and On in 1983–84 using a Roland TR-808 drum machine, a Roland TB-303 bassline synthesizer, a Korg Poly 61 synthesizer, and a four-track tape recorder.[163] The record was very popular at influential Chicago house clubs, and when the rumour spread that this simple but effective track was produced by a local DJ, it led to many similar attempts. As Marshall Jefferson, an important DJ/producer within the Chicago house scene, states: “That was the single most important record to me of the twentieth century, because it let the non-musician know that he could make music. It was the revolution.”[164] Jefferson is describing a democratization process within music production that began after the 1970s. The increasing availability of music production tools outside of the professional studio gave new groups of contributors a chance to make their own dance music.[165] Reduced prices on equipment such as digital synthesizers and drum machines in the early 1980s were, according to Paul Théberge, caused in part by “marketing decisions made by synthesizer manufacturers themselves but also because of falling prices in microprocessor technology, improved manufacturing, and the entry into the field of powerful new competitors.”[166] Furthermore, digital technology’s bright, noise-free sound and reduced prices made analogue drum machines and synthesizers perfectly functional and less expensive on the secondhand market. In Chicago, pretty much any participant in the club scene (DJs or clubgoers) could buy a Roland TR-808 drum machine and a Roland TB-303 bassline synthesizer for quite reasonable prices and, inspired by the success of others, begin to create music.


Ideally, popular music cultures represent arenas of creativity that are open to anyone with talent regardless of economy, contacts, musical training, cultural position, and so on. But since the major record companies have always possessed the economic means to produce and release records of good quality, they have typically retained the power to select who could demonstrate their talent to the public. This hegemony was finally challenged through developments in music technology early in the 1980s, and a host of smaller independent record companies then emerged.[167]


Another sign of the presence of democratization processes within dance music culture derives from DJ practices. Participants of the culture could actually inform decisions concerning which tracks would be released or how they would sound because DJs frequently brought unreleased material to their clubs to try it out.  The dancers’ response was then taken into account in the continuous process of mixing and selecting tracks.[168] In the electronic dance music scene, the possibilities and issues related to the do-it-yourself approach and the democratization of music production have remained relevant. New technical innovations (samplers, digital synthesizers with various signal processing systems, and so on) and the transitions from traditional analogue units to computer-based digital software – accompanied by the reduced prices and increased capabilities of home computers – have made music production accessible to numerous individuals. Nevertheless, dance music cultures still construct hierarchical power relations that result in undemocratic conditions as well, based more on positions in a cultural field than on access to music equipment. The new positions of power include DJs, journalists, club owners, and owners of small independent record labels.[169]


The acid house sound


An interesting outcome of the democratization process in music production is described by the now legendary birth of the “acid house” sound from the Roland TB-303 bassline synthesizer.[170] This synthesizer, released in 1982, had an analogue signal-processing system, a programmable sequencer (with no display), and a few knobs to control vital parameters.[171] It was thought that the TB-303 could replace a bass guitar player, possibly in tandem with the matching drum machine TR-606 Drumatix, but it sounded nothing like a conventional bass and was difficult to program as well. Still, for Chicago house music producers, its artificial bass sound and programming capabilities would prove useful;[172] when DJ Pierre (Nathaniel Pierre Jones) started playing around with the machine in 1985 at the opposite end of its intended low frequency range, he discovered some truly strange sounds. The TB-303 was used in the production of the track Acid Tracks, where the knobs on the machine were constantly being turned. Described as the “squeaks and bleeps” of the 303,[173] these sounds started the massively popular acid house genre. Despite DJ Pierre’s lack of under­standing of the synthesizer, he managed to use it to produce unconventional (and ultimately desirable) music.[174] Sounds that were considered artificial or “failed” in comparison to acoustic instruments were definitely both real and successful in the production of dance music in Chicago.[175]


Dance music production in the 1990s


The increasing availability of music technology that had begun in the 1980s sped up in the 1990s. The broader distribution of home computers with music programs offered easier access to music production, and external (and then internal) CD burners made it possible to complete a product from start to finish on a single computer. This convenience partly explains the huge amount of electronic dance music produced in the 1990s and its spread around the globe.[176]


During the 1990s the sound of electronic dance music was constantly changing. Improved equipment gave producers ever better tools for shaping and controlling their sound, as Martin Knakkergaard points out: “Today, it is possible to manipulate almost every musical and acoustical phenomenon in ways which the past dared hardly imagine. Music can be shaped, moulded and performed independently of the limitations set by traditional acoustic instruments and we cross the borders between the old and new technology without leaving any traces.”[177] Various partakers of the electronic dance music scene (journalists, record company executives, and so on) constantly sought out new genres and new sounds, and many producers arose to satisfy this demand.[178]


While the various Chicago house music productions started with quite similar types of equipment and production techniques, this would change during the 1990s. The machines that dominated the music early in the decade (for example the Akai MPC-60 and the Roland TR-909) gave way to an increasing number of alternatives for every part of the production process. A growing number of prefabricated sound loops (mostly drums) made producing an entire track relatively straightforward. One could either meticulously shape one’s sounds and carefully placing them in the “correct” positions (often nudging entries back and forth), or one could insert various loops, copy them a sufficient number of times, and add a few other tracks with quantized patterns. Certain techniques also developed in relation to specific dance genres, such as cutting up and stretching out the audio elements in drum loops within the drum’n’bass genre.[179] Usually such novel techniques would become standard options in different types of equipment and thus available to almost anyone.


The so-called workstation – a synthesizer with a sequencer, a digital sampler, and an effect processor combined into a total production unit – completed the development of electronic music equipment in the 1990s. Simultaneously, computer-based DAW programs became more advanced due to ever more powerful processors. While this has cumulatively resulted in a simpler production process overall, it also gave rise to a host of new short­comings or weaknesses in the equipment itself (for example, software bugs, faulty operating systems, deficient processors) that could sometimes disrupt the producer’s creative process. Early in the 1990s, producers often combined a MIDI sequencer (external or computer-based) with a digital sampler, a synthesizer, a drum machine, various effect processors, a mixer, and an analogue or DAT tape recorder; by the end of the decade, most of these functions had become software programs that could be connected using sequencer programs.[180] Equipment targeted at the growing dance music scene arrived in the late 1990s as well. The first piece was the Roland MC-303 “groovebox” (1996), an external sequencer unit equipped with sounds, filter knobs, and an arpeggiator.[181] This was succeeded by improved models with more effects and possibilities (the Roland MC-505, Korg Electribe, and Yamaha RM1x), and they served as complete production units or stage instruments. The first loop-based sequencer program that was especially suitable for dance music was Sonic Foundry’s Acid Pro, launched in 1998, but the major digital audio workstations (Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic, Digital Performer, Cakewalk/Sonar) soon incorporated similar functions to satisfy the growing number of dance music producers.


The development of music technology during the 1980s and 1990s


The changeover from analogue to digital technology in music equipment impacted the creation of electronic dance music in various ways, in terms of both new production methods and new sounds. Chris Kempster writes:


Just as the birth of rock’n’roll was inextricably linked with the arrival of the electric guitar, house music would have never happened without the emergence of affordable electronic instruments. The synthesizer, drum machine and sequencer were the tools with which house and techno musicians fashioned a new genre of music, and the experimentation which these tools encouraged resulted in a fresh and new type of sound experience. The use and abuse of this technology may have not been how the manufacturers originally envisaged their instruments being used, and not all house music producers were ‘musicians’ in a traditional sense, but these factors meant that [there] were no rules as such – if it sounded good, then that was enough.[182]


During the 1980s digital technology was introduced to various types of existing equipment that already had stature within music production. Synthesizers, drum machines, sequencers, and even the MIDI system and digital sampler all had analogue predecessors. But their positions were strengthened after the introduction of digital components and they even brought their analogue counterparts along for the ride. Especially within dance music, electronic instruments and equipment thus moved from the periphery to the very centre of music production.


In the 1990s most recording studios likewise went from analogue tape machines to computers and digital hard-disc recording. MIDI sequencers had already transitioned from external units to software-based computer programs in the late 1980s, and during the early 1990s digital sound recording was integrated as well, all thanks to the development of personal computers.[183] High-quality digital audio recording required far more processing power and computer storage capacity compared to the MIDI system. Later in the 1990s, effect processing and automated real-time mixing functions could also be gradually integrated into software programs as computer processing power increased.


In the following I will briefly outline the development of the instruments and equipment most relevant to the transition from the analogue era of the 1970s to the digital era of the 1990s, according to the priorities of this study.[184]




Digital components were gradually introduced in synthesizers at the end of the 1970s and immediately addressed two profound deficiencies in their analogue counter­parts: voltage-controlled oscillators were unstable in their tuning, and it was not possible to store sound settings. The Prophet 5 from Sequential Circuits (1978)[185] was one of the first analogue/digital hybrids with a micro­computer to control tuning and store program settings.[186]


The Yamaha DX-7 (released in 1983) was the first commercially successful all-digital synthesizer. Kempster writes: “The DX7 offered a range of incredibly life-like sounds that made analogue synths sound very one-dimensional. While a Roland synth could make a vain attempt at imitating a flute, the DX7 managed an almost perfect rendition of that instrument – thanks to the sophistication of its Frequency Modulation synthesis system.”[187] This FM signal-processing system was in fact rather difficult to program, and, in contrast to analogue synthesizers, most of the DX7’s sound-controlling devices were removed from the front panel and organized in sections that were reached by pushing buttons or using a data slider. The small LCD display also introduced a rather hidden and abstracted or theoretical way of creating sounds in contrast to the more intuitive, physical options of the analogue synthesizers. Though the introduction of digital synthesizers in many ways led to a democratization of the music production process, their programming requirements actually had the opposite effect at first. To keep prices low, the controller knobs and sliders were kept to a minimum, making the systems even more complicated to access and understand.


As a consequence, the demand for ready-made sounds increased and a small cottage industry for producing those sounds arose as well.[188] Juan Atkins, one of the originators of Detroit techno, complained in 1988, “Synthesizers used to be synthesizers that a synthesist could play. Now manufacturers are going for presets and they make it really hard to get beyond those presets to program your own sounds.”[189]  


One feature that was lost with the introduction of digital synthesizers was the ability to change sounds substantially while playing. The “pitch bend,” “aftertouch,” “modulation wheel,” or “joystick” of a digital synthesizer could usually be programmed to various parameters, but compared to the numerous knobs and buttons on most analogue synthesizers, its possibilities were quite limited. In addition to lingering advantages in price, status or acceptability, and sound,[190] then, this fact alone may explain why analogue synthesizers were often preferred in dance music production even in the late 1980s and 1990s.[191] Digital synthesizers with front-panel controllers that imitated analogue synthesizers were introduced at the end of the 1990s; their sounds emulated analogue systems as well. The Roland JP-8000 led the way in 1996.[192] Repeating patterns with sounds that are constantly modulated characterize many genres within electronic dance music, and knobs are therefore vital. Other means of controlling sound also appeared during the 1990s, such as the ribbon controller on the Korg Trinity (1995) and the D-beam on the Roland SP-808 (1998).[193]


Drum machines


Drum machines underwent much the same sort of development as digital synthesizers. Microcomputers were primarily installed to replace voltage control, introducing additional options for programming and saving drum patterns.[194] The sound systems remained analogue until the early 1980s, when digitally sampled sounds arrived to the general public with the Linn LM-1 (1980) and the LinnDrum (1982).[195] Roland’s drum machines from this time period, the TR-808 (1982) and the TR-606 (1983),[196] were analogue. Though Roland intended these products primarily for use in the production of demo tapes and other relatively trivial musical occasions, they were scorned in relation to their contemporary counterparts whose sampled acoustic drum sounds better resembled a real drummer. Like the TB-303 synthesizer, however, the Roland drum machines found a “real purpose in life”[197] only after their production was discontinued: “This is when kids in Detroit and Chicago, and soon afterwards Britain, picked up the 808 and liked its sound for what it was – synthetic percussion that bore no resemblance to real drums, but sounded great any­way. Everyone started to use the 808, and its sound soon became common currency in house music.”[198] In the dance music scene, the drum machine’s resemblance to an authentic drummer was not as relevant. The British musician and DJ (now in A&R at Sony BMG) Mike Pickering says it is “the greatest drum machine of all times ’cause it didn’t pretend to be drums.”[199] What mattered to clubgoers was whether the sounds worked on the dancefloor, and the short, dry sounds of the Roland drum machines did.[200]    


While most instruments have a firm link between their sounds and what is being done to them, the drum machine did not. As Théberge writes:


The drum machine, on the other hand, bears no resemblance to traditional drums and drummer practice. The instrument has no direct, physical sound-producing mechanism; instead, it reproduces digital recordings of drum and/or synthesized sounds that are stored in its memory. It can be played, or programmed, with a series of buttons on its front panel, a keyboard, or a computer, and requires none of the physical coordination and discipline of a drummer. Finally, most drum machines not only contain drum sounds but also include preset rhythmic patterns, programmed in a variety of musical styles, that can be freely combined to create the rhythm track for a song. As a result, one’s sense of musical style and language can be relatively more abstract in nature (e.g., as with the often-cited concern for the number of beats-per-minute in the production of dance music) and more mediated in origin.[201]


Most dance music producers in the Chicago house scene were not experienced musicians,[202] so their approach to their technical equipment was not influenced by actual technique or instrumental capacity. In the manual of the Roland TR-808, of course, the tutorial drum patterns are basic rock patterns that a live drummer would play,[203] indicating that the user was expected to imitate what a drummer would do. Many drum patterns programmed by the Chicago house producers, on the other hand, were impossible to actually play; hi-hat parts would be too fragmented, instruments played with the same hand on a conventional drum set would be triggered simultaneously, several instruments would trigger independent patterns that would be impossible to play simultaneously, and so on. What’s more, the TR-808 added to the basic sounds of a drum set a variety of percussion instruments (congas, claves, and maracas) that could further participate in ways that were unlikely to ever occur live.


One of the very first Chicago house tracks, On and On by Jesse Saunders (1984), has a section lasting over a minute with only sounds from the TR-808 drum machine (3:03–4:22).




Figure 2.1: Notational representation of Jesse Saunders’s On and On, 3:10–3:19.[204]


In this notated excerpt from the drum section both the hi-hat pattern and the handclap pattern would be quite difficult to perform live. The former in particular differs radically from how a drummer commonly uses this instrument to produce a continuous drive. Furthermore, there are congas and handclaps in addition to the standard drum sounds; these would require more musicians in a live performance. 


Such characteristics appear to reinforce what Théberge writes about the abstracted nature of the drum machine, at least relative to traditional drum practice, but the processes of programming must also be seen in relation to the motion on the dancefloor, where those patterns were ultimately tested and evaluated. Though legendary drum machines like the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 were used extensively in electronic dance music during the 1990s, they have since been mostly replaced by external machines combining sequencing and digital sampling (like the Akai MPC-series), at least within production.


MIDI: musical instrument digital interface


MIDI is a digital communication system. Compared to today’s standards, it is quite simple and slow.[205] It was introduced in 1983 in order to link synthesizers regardless of manufacturer. Several companies had already developed their own systems of communication among their own pieces of equipment, but these were only partly compatible and were primarily limited to equipment produced by that specific company. Though most producers of musical equipment were slow to utilize all of the possibilities of MIDI, it was a great improvement for users. As Théberge observes, MIDI “contributed to an increased compatibility between instruments by different manufacturers, thus stabilizing the marketplace and strengthening consumer confidences.”[206] MIDI made it possible to connect two synthesizers and work with sound from both simultaneously, but it had other abilities as well, and its real revolution regarding music production involved the use of MIDI sequencers. The simplicity of MIDI made the system straightforward (and inexpensive) to install into different types of equipment, and it has proven to be extremely resilient despite the rapid development of more advanced digital technology.




Sequencers arrived in the early 1970s,[207] but with digital technology and the standardization of MIDI came the possibility of composing entire tracks with complete arrangements using sounds from a variety of synthesizers and drum machines. The very first external MIDI sequencers, such as the Roland MSQ 700 from 1984, had definite storage deficiencies,[208] but these problems were solved on later models through the use of disk drives to extend the internal memory.[209] None of these early external sequencers was equipped with more than a rather small display, however, and complex programming was not supported as such.


As with drum machines, early sequencers were strictly organized according to fixed note values. Real-time recording made it possible to ignore this grid, but editing functions were then rendered useless. Both quantization and the process of step-write recording allowed for the transmittal of MIDI messages at exact positions within the grid of note values, with a precision that simply could not be replicated “live.” Especially through the combined use of sequencers and digital samplers, any sound could be applied without reservations around how it might be produced on an acoustic instrument.


The Akai MPC-60, released in 1988, was a combined sequencer and digital sampler that became tremendously popular for hip-hop productions but also within the different genres of electronic dance music. It was succeeded by various models in the 1990s, including the MPC-3000 (1994) and MPC-2000 (1997). The MPC line managed to compete with computer-based sequencers, which became the standard during the late 1980s and 1990s.[210]


Nevertheless, computer-based sequencers also had a major impact on music production practices in the 1990s. Musicians and producers who had been using external sequencer units slowly began to turn to the newer units for their improved functionality. In addition, the computers attracted new users who were abandoning their traditional analogue studio practices or notation-based composing/arranging processes.[211] A third group used computer-based sequencers as their initial tool for music production. These users’ interest in music was frequently accompanied by a general interest in computers, at least in the earliest period, when computers were less common and programs less user-friendly. The major advantage with computer-based technology was the ability to view the recorded MIDI information (and eventually audio recordings, effect processing, and mixing) in different kinds of windows of various types, facilitating editing immensely. Early computer-based sequencers varied in how they displayed this information, but a few common features gradually developed.


At the end of the 1980s the most widely used computers in music production were either Apple Macintosh or Atari. After Microsoft released Windows 3.0 in 1990, the PC began to become more popular as well, gradually capturing Atari users after Atari production ended in 1993.[212] Digidesign’s Pro Tools was the standard digital audio workstation (DAW) for professional studios during the 1990s, while Steinberg’s Cubase, Emagic’s Logic, MOTU’s Digital Performer, and Cakewalk (Sonar) have competed for the amateurs and semi-professional users.


Digital samplers


Among all of the new technological instruments introduced in the 1980s, the digital sampler has proven to be the most controversial. While the act of recording an excerpt from an earlier production and including it in a new one was not new,[213] digital samplers made this practice widespread, especially in certain music cultures (predominantly hip-hop but also electronic dance music, to a certain extent).[214]


Early digital samplers such as the Fairlight CMI and the Synclavier (both appeared in 1979) were incredibly expensive and therefore applied mostly to high-end studios and pricey productions.[215] The E-mu Emulator I (1982) and II (1984) were also expensive and furthermore became outdated by newer technology (better bit rates and storage capacity) in the second half of the 1980s. Comparably inexpensive digital samplers like the Ensoniq Mirage (1984) and E-mu Emax (1986) eventually made this technology almost as accessible as synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines. By the second half of the decade, rack-mount models like the Akai S-900 (1986) had become standard equipment in professional recording studios and were also common in smaller home-based studios.


Though synthesizers could to some extent imitate the sounds of acoustic instruments, the revolutionary impact of the digital sampler resided in its ability to directly reproduce them. The creative re-use of old recordings took place alongside an explosion in prefabricated sampled instruments, so MIDI sequencer productions could now inexpensively include almost any acoustic instrument.       


But how “true” was the sound when acoustic instruments were being played from a keyboard or programmed on a MIDI-sequencer? While this issue was central to popular music discourse in general, it did not register with the producers of dance music in Chicago. The most important issue was simply that the music sounded good and worked on the dancefloor. Most of the Chicago house music producers had started with drum machines, and they probably took that aesthetic with them when programming the MIDI sequencers that triggered digital samplers. This tendency is especially obvious in tracks where vocals from a digital sampler are triggered by a MIDI sequencer.[216] Gilbert and Pearson describe the characteristics of house music as follows: “Its sampled snippets of sung or spoken vocal do not add up to coherent verses, rather instead becoming part of the rhythmic syntax of the track itself. Its ability – by means of the sampler and the sequencer – to turn any sound into a rhythmic element remains the basic template for most contemporary dance music.”[217] Though the more extreme stuttering effects of digitally sampled vocals were soon abandoned, expectations about how certain instruments should be heard were increasingly being violated, particularly rhythmically. This unconventional approach to any and all musical sounds was essential to the development of electronic dance music.


Music technology and issues of authenticity


How do these changes in production techniques and the development of music technology involve the producers of dance music? How do they relate to this particular musical material?


Experience in and expertise with music technology, as well as a familiarity with older pieces of equipment and their “stories,” are an important part of an “insider knowledge” among the producers of dance music. As mentioned previously, authenticity may well have a different connotation for dance music cultures than for popular music culture in general.[218] This is true of music technology as well, especially regarding the appropriateness of particular musical equipment and production techniques. Gilbert and Pearson write: “It is important to recognize that musicians delineate the equipment they use in relation to a complex matrix of values, characteristics and associations.”[219] This matrix may have many of the same implications and associations that it does in other music cultures, but the restrictions and limitations differ.


The relationship of digital to analogue is central here, as Tellef Kvifte explains: “The very concept ‘digital’ has for many people strong connotations in the direction of ‘machine,’ ‘automatic,’ ‘not human,’ etc., while ‘analogue’ has a much more human and authentic feel.”[220] Digital technology has proven to be efficient and reliable, and it introduces possibilities beyond those of analogue equipment. Still, analogue synthesizers, drum machines, mixers, tape recorders, effect processors, and vinyl twelve-inch records remain favoured by many. The extent to which this relates exclusively to actual differences in the two types of technology, as opposed to the cultural connotations of “analogue,” is hard to say.[221]


Several distinctions may apply with regard to the attractiveness of analogue. The ease of digital technology may make it appear less valuable or “real” than the (more laborious) analogue alternatives. Recording a drummer or creating unique drum sounds on an analogue synthesizer is harder but also more satisfying, perhaps, than using prefabricated digital drum loops or pre-programmed sounds. In an interview with the Chemical Brothers in Keyboard magazine, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons (favourably) contrast their work using an ARP 2600 (an analogue synthesizer from the early 1970s) to that of their colleagues in other groups who buy brand new (digital) synthesizers.[222] Rowlands and Simons convey reluctance about anything mass-produced and mass-consumed. Older equipment can also acquire status simply through its age,[223] especially in relation to influential genres or legendary originators of music in the same tradition.[224]


But how are these issues communicated to the audience? When drum machines first arrived, it was rather easy to identify their sound, but this was not the case for long, particularly when increasingly more advanced digital technology became involved.[225] An electronic dance music track from the 1990s usually reveals little information about its production techniques, aside from the obvious use of electronic instruments and perhaps various effects (delays, filters, vocoder, extreme auto-tuner, and so on). Most fans and listeners therefore hardly notice such things. In contrast, producers, DJs, musicians, readers of specific music magazines, and so on may be quite engaged by such matters, and it can be very important for producers/DJs to account for their production techniques in interviews and reveal the equipment used in their stage performances.


An analogue synthesizer from the 1970s on stage certainly has different connotations from a digital workstation from the late 1990s or a laptop computer with its various programs. The new machines have numerous advantages regarding both production and performance, but they may carry negative associations as well in relation to authenticity. However, the importance of these associations may decrease when the music is good and the dancefloor is packed. The restrictions or limitations concerning what is appropriate or authentic change continuously, and, in a dance music culture, often in advance of similar changes in popular music culture in general.




Major changes in the production of dance music from the 1970s to the 1990s involved (1) the transition from group-based performances to more individual programming; (2) a shift from analogue technology and the use of acoustic and electric instruments to digital technology and its sequencers and electronic instruments; (3) the expanded role of the DJ within the production process; and (4) an increased availability of music technology, which opened up the production process for new groups of contributors. But these issues are all closely connected. Disco music from the 1970s was comprised of arrangements and instrumentation that resulted from sessions in professional studios with experienced musicians, while the Chicago house music scene welcomed DJs (and other participants) to take part in the production process through the new and inexpensive electronic equipment. Innovations like the dance remix and the twelve-inch had already created a need for DJs in the recording studio in the 1970s, but with the development of electronic dance music their contributions to the production process rapidly expanded, and music was freed from the grip of record companies or expensive recording studios.


The most significant development in music technology in this period was the changeover from analogue to digital technology. New digital equipment offered improved recording techniques that eased the music production process in many ways. Synthesizers, drum machines, sequencers, and later recording units and effect processors have all transitioned to the digital era. Complemented by the digital sampler and the MIDI system, they have become the core instruments of the dance music producer. But many still use old analogue equipment and twelve-inch vinyl as well, often in combination with newer digital equipment.


As we have seen, the notion of authenticity in dance music culture relates to, among other things, one’s use of technology. The relationship between analogue and digital is central to this struggle, and the status a producer acquires through the throwback use of legendary equipment should not be underestimated. An awareness of the cache of particular pieces of equipment or production techniques is part of the “insider knowledge” that points to credibility within the culture.


These processes have musical consequences as well, but superseding everything is the simple fact that the music must work on the dancefloor. And the DJ that wants to make a crowd dance has to make them start moving to the music. How might the producer create a track that accomplishes this? How is movement accommodated over the course of the production? What is his or her point of departure?


These questions introduce part II of this study, where I will present the basic beat of the dance music track and consider its connection to movement in more detail.


Continue to part II

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[1] An anthropological perspective of studying music in its cultural context, traditionally adopted by ethnomusicologists studying non-Western music, has now entered most fields of musicology, according to Robert Walser: “The split between musicology and ethnomusicology is no longer useful because its constitutive dichotomies – self/other, Western/non-Western, art/function, history/ethnography, and text/practice – are no longer defensible” (Walser 2003:24). Gary Tomlinson (2003:31ff) discusses the demarcation of anthropology and history and how these perspectives, long considered opposing, are in fact equally essential to musicological analyses.   

[2] Middleton 1990:110 (emphasis in the original).   

[3] Hawkins 2003:18.

[4] Toynbee 2000:140.

[5] For the disco era, see Brewster & Broughton 1999/2006, Lawrence 2003, Fikentscher 2000, and Shapiro 2005; for the club culture of electronic dance music, see Thornton 1995, Kempster 1996, Rietveld 1998, Reynolds 1999, Gilbert & Pearson 1999, Bidder 2001, and again Brewster & Broughton 1999/2006.

[6] See Lawrence 2003:306ff. In discussing the impact of the film, Lawrence points out the economic and racist undertones of its choices of protagonists and music: “The film deleted any trace of the downtown night network: out went Manhattan’s ethnic gays, black funk, drugs, and freeform dancing, and in came suburban straights, shrill white pop, alcohol, and the Hustle” (ibid.:307).

[7] Brewster and Broughton rather graphically describe the lack of interest in the origins of disco culture by latecomers to the industry after 1977: “Plenty of marketing men would figure it out just enough to rip out its heart and suck out every last drop of blood” (Brewster & Broughton 2006:177). Though this is certainly overwrought, scholars and critics do agree that the music industry itself was at least partly responsible for the music’s rapid decline in popularity.

[8] Hughes 1994:147.

[9] Prior to 1995, very few books on disco had been released: “Jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, reggae and now rap all have not only devoted listeners but intellectual defenders; conspicuously missing from this canon, however, is disco” (Hughes 1994:147). For an overview of the literature until 1999, both academic and non-academic, see Fikentscher 2000:19ff.

[10] See, for example, Peter Shapiro’s derogatory description of roller disco (Shapiro 2002:213ff).

[11] Middleton 2006:200.

[12] Keightley 2001:131.

[13] Loc. cit.

[14] Moore 2002.

[15] Lawrence 2003:434.

[16] Brewster & Broughton 2006:136.

[17] An etymological description of the word “disco” may be found in Fikentscher 2000:23 orLawrence 2003


[18] Fikentscher 2000:22.

[19] Loc. cit.

[20] Brewster & Broughton 2006:200.

[21] Schloss 2004:27.

[22] Brewster & Broughton 2006:150.

[23] Ibid.:201.

[24] Lawrence 2003:116.

[25] When the Chemical Brothers played at the Roskilde Festival in 1999, they were placed at the “Orange Scene,” which has a capacity for 60.000 people. The crowd was predominantly faced towards the stage trying to distinguish the visually introvert actions of the two men. For a few “insiders” the message concerning the music and the dancing was probably crystal clear, but for the majority of the crowd this message was probably misconstrued, and the “concert” was rather unfavourably received as a consequence.

[26] “Lighting . . . has become an elaborate accompaniment to the music, emphasizing its rhythms, illustrating its chords. . . . Computer-generated fractals and other abstract designs of coloured light can act as visual equivalents of the instrumental sounds of house and techno music, while film, loops, slide projectors and music videos punctuate the space with figurative entertainment” (Thornton 1995:57).

[27] Langlois 1992:234.

[28] Brewster & Broughton 2006:138.

[29] Ibid.:139.

[30] Ibid.:107; see also Shapiro 2005:37–44.

[31] Schloss 2004:79–80.

[32] Lawrence recalls how the legendary DJ Larry Levan would play a certain unknown track repeatedly until the crowd learned to like it as he did: “Larry would rarely give in. Not only would he leave the record on until the end. He would also start to play it week in, week out, until finally everyone wanted to dance to it” (Lawrence 2003:356).

[33] Broughton & Brewster 2002:12.

[34] Early Chicago house producers frequently copied basslines from various disco tracks; see chapter 6, page 180.

[35] Brewster & Broughton 2006:153.

[36] Lawrence 2003:357. See also Bidder 2001:10.

[37] “The Loft was situated in a building that had been set aside for industrial use in which Mancuso organized ostensibly commercial parties without a certificate of occupancy, a cabaret license, or officially sanctioned fire exits. Going to the Loft and keeping quiet about it wasn’t a pose. It was a pragmatic practice” (Lawrence 2003:53).

[38] Lawrence 2003:22.

[39] Fikentscher 2000:10.

[40] See quotation above; Lawrence 2003:22.

[41] Lawrence 2003:433.

[42] Ibid.:434.

[43] Fikentscher 2000:5.

[44] Thornton 1995:117.

[45] Thornton explores authenticity in club cultures at length: “What authenticates contemporary dance cultures is the buzz or energy which results from the interaction of records, DJ and crowd. ‘Liveness’ is displaced from the stage to the dancefloor, from the worship of the performer to a veneration of ‘atmosphere’ or ‘vibe.’ The DJ and dancers share the spotlight as de facto performers; the crowd becomes a self-conscious cultural phenomenon – one which generates moods immune to reproduction, for which you have to be there” (Thornton 1995:29–30; emphasis in the original). Thornton also distinguishes between two kinds of authenticity: one relates primarily to DJs, involves “issues of originality and aura” (1995:30), and “draws upon definitions of culture as art,” and the other, which is more widespread and concerns “being natural to the community or organic to subculture” – that is, involving culture as lifestyle. She frames the DJ’s role as uniting these two authenticities in the act of collecting and playing records and leading the crowd without demanding its attention. The crowd, then, takes on the role of the live performer in giving life to the objects that are presented by the DJ. Thornton (1995:66ff) also discusses four characteristics through which certain records and music genres are perceived as authentic; their assimilation and legitimization by a subculture; the distance between production and consumption; the environment of production; and the ideological vagaries of genres.

[46] See Fornäs 1994 for a comparison of authenticity in house/techno and other popular music genres.

[47] She discusses primarily Hebdige 1979 and Mungham 1976 (see Thornton 1995:93ff). See also Bennett 1999 for relevant discussions on subculture theory linked to the dance music scene of the 1990s.

[48] Thornton 1995:116ff.

[49] On the St. Germain (Ludovic Navarre) track What’s New? there is a monologue listing DJs whom he believes play “real house music”: “This is what we call easy-listening underground house music, with much respect to Smack Production and music stations, our favourite underground house label” (2:15–2:35). This method of positioning oneself within a history of other legitimate or authentic figures is relatively common; see also Daft Punk’s Teachers (1996).  

[50] Steve Dahl quoted in Brewster & Broughton 2006:290.

[51] In an NBC-TV interview with Steve Dahl on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the event, the focus was more on the disturbance to the baseball game rather than the indignity foisted upon the music. Many people who were there have left personal accounts on a webpage dedicated to the event. 

[52] Brewster & Broughton 2006:291.

[53]According to Shapiro, not only the major labels were to be blamed. The independent label Casablanca’s executive Neil Bogart created hype with false sales to promote new artists: “Puffing up no-talent acts with a load of hot air became the norm for the record industry during the disco boom” (Shapiro 2005:223). In her study of house music culture, Hillegonda Rietveld asserts that the market at the end of the 1970s was in fact flooded with “second-rate” music – that is, “music that was not made with the same sensibilities and without a finer understanding of the aesthetic forms from which disco had developed, such as funk, soul and gospel” (Rietveld 1998:115). See Brewster & Broughton 2006:201, Fikentscher 2000:29, and Shapiro 2005:222 for similar accounts.

[54] Brewster & Broughton 2006:201.

[55] Shapiro describes examples of disco-related TV advertisements and children’s TV programs, and even a religious dancefloor passion play; see Shapiro 2005:224ff.

[56] See Shapiro 2005:230.

[57] MTV avoided music videos by African American artists between its launch in 1981 and the arrival of Michael Jackson’s Thriller videos. They claimed to be formatted as “rock’n’roll” at a time when few African American artists were seen as such. MTV was accused of racism by several African American artists and ultimately changed course when Jackson’s music videos came to them in early 1983. See Rose 1994:8 and Kaplan 1987:15.

[58] The name refers to Greenwich Village in New York City, which at the time was famous for having a substantial gay population.

[59] See Smucker 1980:566.

[60] Brewster and Broughton describe how Steve Dahl gave away one hundred tickets to a Village People concert, provided the recipients would throw marshmallows bearing the words “Disco Sucks” onto the stage; Brewster & Broughton 2006:290.

[61] Fikentscher 2000:109.

[62] Buckland 2002:68.

[63] DJ Nicky Siano had also influenced the duo. Siano was famous for setting up the nightclub called the Gallery, and for his beat-mixing and creative use of equalizers. See Brewster & Broughton 2006:160–164. 

[64] Fikentscher 2000:70.

[65] Reynolds 1999:25. For more descriptions of the two clubs, see Brewster & Broughton 2006:293ff, Reynolds 1999:35, and Bidder 2001:3ff on Paradise Garage, and Brewster & Broughton 2006:312ff and Bidder 2001:16ff on the Warehouse.

[66] The Detroit musician Juan Atkins, on the other hand, claims that a “house” record was slang for an obscure import; see Trask 1988a (in Kempster 1996:46).

[67] Bidder 2001:23.

[68] The production of Chicago house music will be further outlined in chapter 2.

[69] After the music’s initial success, these record companies began to use more professional studios in Chicago, according to Chris Kempster, who disputes what he calls “Chicago’s extensive mythology” (Kempster 1996:16) – that is, the impression that all Chicago house productions were put together without any traditional studio equipment.

[70] Bidder 2001:150.

[71] Pickering quoted in Bidder 2001:54.

[72] Bidder 2001:89.

[73] See Norris 2007, chapter 4.

[74] See, for example, Connell & Gibson (2003) and Biddle & Knights (2006).

[75] Storey 2003:112.

[76] Nederveen Pieterse 2004:82.

[77] Storey 2003:119.

[78] Ibid.:117.

[79] Hillegonda Rietveld describes how she, through her fieldwork in relation to Chicago house music, encountered that her own participation in a British band called Quando Quango at the beginnings of the 1980s had inspired several contributors in Chicago (Rietveld 1998:261-264).

[80] Rietveld 1998:40.

[81] Gradually this “package” would even return to the United States.

[82] Fikentscher 2000:78. Fikentscher points out that house music later gained popularity in the United States as “electronica” (Fikentscher 2000:113).

[83] Thornton 1995:44.

[84] Brewster and Broughton suggest that even the slogan “disco sucks” is homophobic, implying gay oral sex; see Brewster & Broughton 2006:290.

[85] Rietveld’s description of the Warehouse as “away from any mainstream leisure area of Chicago,” “specifically aimed at young homosexuals,” and “mostly from an African-American and Latino background” (1998:18) describes this context. The AIDS epidemic also made gay communities more introverted during the 1980s.

[86] Belleville is a small, rural town outside Detroit.

[87] Stuart Cosgrove, who also went to Detroit, wrote a similar article in The Face entitled “Seventh City Techno.”

[88] Toffler 1980:169. In Toffler’s book the “Third Wave” follows the “Second Wave” (the age of industry and mass production) with a society based on new technology and individualization (that is, information processing and knowledge production).

[89] An interview of Kevin Saunderson by Simon Trask in Music Technology also starts out with a rather gloomy portrayal of Detroit. See Trask 1988 (in Kempster 1996:57).

[90] May quoted in McCready 1988.

[91] Loc. cit.

[92] See Sicko 1999:76, Reynolds 1999:14ff, Trask 1988 (in Kempster 1996:41), and Albiez 2005:131.

[93] Sicko 1999:69.

[94] Atkins quoted in Trask 1988 (in Kempster 1996:45).

[95] Sicko 1999:28.

[96] Mills quoted in Kempster 1996:17.

[97] Loc. cit.

[98] Garratt 1986.

[99] Jefferson quoted in Garratt 1986.

[100] Kempster 1996:17.

[101] Parts of their 1999 chapter on techno were rewritten for their 2006 revised edition, and some important sections concerning these issues were removed; see Brewster & Broughton 1999, chapter 12, and 2006, chapter 13.

[102] Thornton 1995:75.

[103] Rubin 2000:127.

[104] For example, see Rhythm Is Rhythm/Derrick May’s Strings of Life (1986) or Inner City/Kevin Saunderson’s Big Fun and Good Life (both 1988).

[105] For example, see Model 500/Juan Atkins’s Night Drive (1985) and Off to Battle (1987).

[106] Reynolds 1999:85.

[107] Ibid.:84.

[108] See, for example, Collin 1997b and Malbon 1999.

[109] Reynolds suggests a strong connection between drugs and music production that features a repertoire of effects, textures, and riffs (Reynolds 1999:85). The effect processing and the specific sounds that he describes, however, have been transmitted to other genres within electronic dance music and elsewhere in popular music since the late 1980s even where there are no drug associations. While the Ecstasy experience probably nourished this unfamiliar sound environment in the late 1980s, it is problematic to view that music solely in its light.

[110] Saunders 2007:10.

[111] Most of the tracks on this compilation would not be regarded as “acid house,” however, relative to how this genre came to be defined.

[112] The Roland TB-303 was a small bassline synthesizer used to produce the characteristic sounds of acid house. A further account of the instrument follows in chapter 2. 

[113] The gatherings in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco in 1967 comprise the first “Summer of Love.” Regarding the affectionate side of Ecstasy, Reynolds writes about football hooligans “so loved-up on E they spent the night hugging each other rather than fighting” (Reynolds 1999:64).

[114] Sutcliffe 1989.

[115] This curiosity unfortunately also arose among those in the drug trade itself, and the more law-abiding party organizers were eventually scared away by the combination of increased police interest and vulnerability to criminals.

[116] Hesmondhalgh 1998:237.

[117] Approximately 25,000 people, for example, attended the Sunrise/Back to the Future Dance Music Festival on August 12, 1989.

[118] The Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act of 1990 raised the maximum fines for unlicensed parties to £20,000 plus six months’ imprisonment. See Bidder 2001:142 and Huq 2006:100.

[119] Reynolds 1999:78.

[120] See Reynolds 1999:113.

[121] Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music is a huge interactive website of genre maps with introductions and excerpts to most of the essential genres. Wikipedia also offers an extensive introduction to electronic music genres, with 19 main genres and 195 subgenres.

[122] Two standard approaches to the classification of genres appear in these examples; an evolutionary approach that points to influences and roots, and an approach of similarity that privileges like qualities over developmental links. “House” points to the historic Warehouse club and the original “house music” in Chicago, while words like “dark,” “deep,” “dream,” or “tribal” indicate some sort of association or resemblance among certain musical elements. Other names might be geographical (Chicago house, French house, Detroit techno, Goa trance, U.K. garage) functional (trance, rave, dance, jump up), technology-oriented (electronica, techno), instruments-oriented (drum’n’bass), or linked to other contemporary genres (hip house, tech house, Latin house).

[123] Toynbee 2000:106. He draws upon the views and definitions of Neale (1980), Hebdige (1979) and Fabbri (1981).

[124] Loc. cit.

[125]Toynbee 2000:136.

[126] Loc. cit.

[127] Sarah Thornton’s “subcultural capital” – derived from Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of “cultural capital” – describes the knowledge necessary for status within a specific subculture. Knowledge, in this context, includes not only what you know but also whom you know, how you dress, how you act, and so on. Thornton identifies “objectified sub­cultural capital” within club cultures as “fashionable haircuts and well-assembled record collections” (Thornton 1995:11) and “embodied subcultural capital” as “being ‘in the know,’ using (but not over-using) current slang and looking as if you were born to perform the latest dance style” (11-12). The significance of being an “insider,” or at least adequately on the inside as opposed to those on the outside, has been part of club culture since the required Loft memberships of the 1970s.

[128] The most incongruous name of a genre might be “intelligent dance music,” specifying music not intended for the dancefloor.

[129] The act even defined rave music as “music wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” (Huq 2006:101).

[130] Fatboy Slim (Norman Cook) marvelled at the transition from being “just the bloke who stood in the corner and put records on” (Brewster & Broughton 2006:523) to being a star who was offered “figures so high that he found it difficult to refuse” (ibid.:524).

[131] Ibid.:540.

[132] Loc. cit.

[133] For example, the French dance act Justice (producers/DJs Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay) had several international club hits in 2007.

[134] See Lynskey 1999 for an account of the impact of the album. For a brief biographic overview, see Bush 2001:40–41; see also Bidder 1999:26–29.

[135] Brixton has become somewhat trendier but still suffers from unemployment, high crime, poor housing, and so on. It is notorious for the Brixton riot of 1981; see description in Hughes 1999:32.

[136] See Wain 1996/97:8 and Mellor 1997/98:52 for positive reviews of the club nights of Ratcliffe and Buxton.

[137] Collin 1997:109. For a brief biographic overview, see Cooper 2001:114–115 and Bidder 1999:69–72.

[138] See Rayner 2001.

[139] Collin 1997a:108.

[140] The film in question is titled Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.

[141] See Danielsen 2006, chapter 2 for a discussion of Otherness in white European culture.

[142] For example, Me’Shell NdegéOcello, Dizzie Rascal, and Siouxsie Sioux (of Siouxsie and the Banshees) contributed to their Kish Kash album, released in 2003.

[143] The subversive artistic exploitation of socially negative objects recalls the Dadaists or Surrealists – for example, Marcel Duchamp’s urinal installation.

[144] For a discussion of differences in ideals of music production, see the comparison of pop and rock music production in Warner 2003, chapter 1.

[145] Gilbert & Pearson 1999:113.

[146] Jackson 2004:109 (John A. Jackson).

[147] Loc. cit.; Jackson is quoting trombonist Fred Joiner.

[148] See Lawrence 2003:253–254.

[149] Nelson George juxtaposes these two variants of disco productions: “At least the Philly disco records sounded like they were made by humans. Soon, Eurodisco invaded America, initially from Munich, and later from Italy and France. It was music with a metronomelike beat – perfect for folks with no sense of rhythm – almost inflectionless vocals, and metallic sexuality that matched the high-tech, high-sex, and low passion atmosphere of the glamorous discos that appeared in every major American city.” (George 1988:154). Also see discussions about authenticity and music technology in Frith 1986, Théberge 1997, chapter 7, Knakkergaard 2000, and Warner 2003.

[150] See discussion of groove on page 153.

[151] This topic is discussed further at the end of this chapter; see page 82.

[152] Remixing originated in Jamaica in the 1960s (see Brewster & Broughton 2006:116ff).

[153] See Lawrence 2003:71.

[154] An analysis of this track’s bass drum sound is presented in chapter 8 (see page 189).

[155] See Straw 2002:166ff for a detailed description.

[156] Ibid.:167.

[157] According to Brewster and Broughton, forerunners to this practice of “white labels” appear in the Northern Soul scene, where DJs would cover up or alter record labels to prevent anyone from finding out what dance music gems they had discovered (Brewster & Broughton 2006:110). Hip-hop DJs also soaked off labels to protect the identity of favourite “breaks.”

[158] See discussion on page 39.

[159] Straw describes how record companies tried to use the twelve-inch as a teaser to promote an upcoming album, though with limited success (Straw 2002:171).

[160] Ibid.:168.

[161] See also Brewster & Broughton 2006:200.

[162] For the twenty-one tracks on Give Your Body Up: Club Classics & House Foundations that were originally twelve-inch releases (with release dates ranging from 1975 to 1984), the average duration is 7:05.

[163] See Brewster & Broughton 2006:328.

[164] Quoted in Bidder 2001:30.

[165] A local pressing plant for vinyl in Chicago also played a part by offering accessible vinyl production (ibid.:31).

[166] Théberge 1997:73. Théberge also points out two less obvious but equally influential factors in the spread of digital musical instruments: a small cottage industry supplying sound programs for synthesizers and samplers that appeared during the mid-1980s, and the design and development of MIDI (ibid.:74ff).

[167] The DIY (do-it-yourself) approach of English punk a few years before arose from a similar flouting of the established authority of record companies (see Toynbee 2000:93).

[168] See Rietveld 1998:133ff and Hesmondhalgh 1998:236f for further discussions of democratization and decentralization in the British dance music industry of the late 1980s and 1990s.

[169] In newer musical cultures (such as the Chicago house scene) these positions of authority seem less fixed than they are in traditional cultures.

[170] See Kempster 1996:157, Reynolds 1999:32ff, Gilbert & Pearson 1999:124–125, and Brewster & Broughton 2006:335 for accounts of the Chicago producer’s experimental use of the Roland TB-303.

[171] See Brown 1996 (in Kempster 1996:166ff) for more details on the Roland TB-303.

[172] When dealers realized that the TB-303 had failed in its original purpose, they reduced its price considerably as well, improving its accessibility; Taylor 2001:163.

[173] See Brewster & Broughton 2006:335 and Reynolds 1999:32.

[174] See Rose 1994:74ff for similar accounts of “abuse” of the Roland TR-808 drum machine in hip-hop cultures.

[175] Wiebe Bijker, discussing another technological artifact, the safety bicycle, writes, “the ‘working’ or ‘nonworking’ of an artifact are socially constructed assessments, rather than intrinsic properties of the artifact.” (Bijker 1995:75). This is certainly true of the TB-303 and its counterparts in the early 1980s.

[176] This democratization process has continued into the new millennium, with improved music software, even more powerful home computers, and the distribution of music via the internet (for example, on

[177] Knakkergaard 2000 (article in Popular Music Online, no page number).

[178] See discussion in chapter 1, page 58.

[179] See Brown & Griese 2000:107ff for more on drum’n’bass production techniques.

[180] Propellerhead Software’s computer program Reason, launched in 2000, emulates a producer’s “rack” with sequencers, synthesizers, samplers, a drum machine, a mixer, and various effect processors.

[181] An arpeggiator is a device that generates series of tones when one presses a key on the keyboard. These may be structured according to various patterns of pitches, rhythm, and accent, and can be made to fit a certain tempo.

[182] Kempster 1996:155.

[183] When the company Opcode expanded their Vision sequencer into audio recording (calling it Studio Vision) in 1990, they relied on an external sound recording unit from Digidesign. In 1993, a few Macintosh models were released with an integrated sixteen-bit sound system, which soon became standard, and sequencers could then run audio recording software without any external sound card.

[184] These priorities relate first and foremost to the analyses of sound in chapter 8 and the focus on production aspects in my descriptions of sound. The possibility of producing a track with many rhythmic patterns working together is also relevant in relation to the analyses of rhythm in chapter 6.

[185] A great deal of the information on release dates and various technical details concerning the equipment in question is taken from the webpages of Vintage Synth Explorer (see webpage 2.1) and (see webpage 2.2).

[186] The Prophet 5 was also one of the first successful polyphonic synthesizers.

[187] Kempster 1996:157.

[188] Théberge points out that synthesizer users were initially regarded (by the industry) as creators or programmers of sounds, but during the 1980s they came to be seen instead as consumers of ready-made sounds. (Théberge 1997:75). The popularity of ready-made sounds introduces the issue of how technology influences the creative process. Technological determinism refers to the belief that “technology is assumed to transform its users directly” (Taylor 2001:26). Opposing this view is the notion of voluntarism, which stresses our free agency and individual will relative to technology. Timothy Taylor, however, dismisses this dichotomy, seeing the use of technology “as caught up in a complex, fluid, variable dynamic of each [voluntary and deterministic]” (ibid.:30). The fact that users turned to preset sounds instead of attempting to program their own sounds supports the deterministic view, but overall, digital synthesizers were only one of several contemporary innovations, so the time saved by using pre-programmed sounds may have been applied very creatively elsewhere.

[189] Quoted in an interview with Simon Trask; see Trask 1988a (also in Kempster 1996:45).

[190] Digitally synthesized sounds can have a brightness or clearness that can be problematic when mixed with other sounds. Producer and sound engineer Kai RobŅle in fact often processes digitally created sounds through an analogue device (a compressor, amplifier, or filter) to resolve the discrepancy; email to the author, received 1 Sept. 2008.

[191] Issues related to various associations with analogue equipment will be discussed towards the end of the chapter.

[192] The Yamaha CS1-X, also from 1996, was an inexpensive synthesizer especially made for the electronic dance music market, offering six knobs on the front panel that made at least some of its most essential sound parameters accessible.

[193] The ribbon controller is a small rectangular area on the synthesizer that registers linear motions from finger movements. The D-beam is a device with two infrared beams of light that registers hand movements. The Roland SP-808 is not a synthesizer, but the beam-controller did appear on later Roland synthesizers, such as the V-Synth (2003).

[194] See for example, the Roland CR-78 from 1978.

[195] Only around five hundred models of the Linn LM-1 were produced.

[196] The Roland TR-909, released in 1984, introduced a few digital sampled sounds (cymbal and closed and open hi-hat) and MIDI (the TR-808 and the TB-303 did not have MIDI). The TR-909 and TR-808 are considered the most legendary Roland drum machines from the early 1980s and have been used extensively in electronic dance music and hip-hop.

[197] Kempster 1996:159.

[198] Loc. cit.; see also Théberge 1997:196–198 for accounts of the TB-808 drum machine.

[199] Interview with Mike Pickering in London, 17 Sept. 2007.

[200] See page 189 for discussions and analyses of drum machine sounds.

[201] Théberge 1997:3–4.

[202] The Chicago house producer Adonis (Adonis Smith) was an exception as a former bass guitarist.

[203] The manual may be downloaded from the TR-808 resource site (see webpage 2.3). See page 16 in the manual for an example of a tutorial drum pattern.

[204] The instrument names have been written with the abbreviations on the Roland TR-808 as capital letters.

[205] MIDI uses serial ports and transfers messages at a speed of 31,250 bps (bits per second). The standard MIDI message byte consists of eight digits (bits). A task communicated through MIDI will use two or more bytes, where one (the status byte) directs the message to its proper task and MIDI channel (1–16), while the other(s) (data byte[s]) number between 0 and 127 and point to certain entities (notes, sound patches, and so on) or parameter settings (volume, panning, and so on).

[206] Théberge 1997:89.

[207] The EMS Synthi A from 1971 had an integrated sequencer.

[208] Playing in a synth band myself in the mid-1980s, I coupled the Roland MSQ-700 in shows with a Roland MSQ-100. The memory storage only held one song at a time, so I had to reload one sequencer with data information from a cassette player while the other was playing.  

[209] See, for example, the Korg SQD-1 from 1986.

[210] The Akai MPCs had more reliable timing and offered useful settings for shuffled or swung quantizing. The computer-based sequencers worked with processors that did many tasks simultaneously, while the “clock” of the MPCs controlled only the sequencer.

[211] For my master’s thesis I interviewed twelve film music composers in Oslo in 1993 on the use of computers and MIDI-based equipment. Most found them necessary but challenging in terms of the technical difficulties; see Zeiner-Henriksen 1994 (in Norwegian).

[212] Opcode’s MIDIMAC (1990, Vision) and Passport’s Master Tracks Pro were early Macintosh sequencer programs; Notator and Cubase were early Atari programs; and C-Lab’s Supertrack and Cakewalk were MS-DOS programs.

[213] Tellef Kvifte observers that the term “sampling” is in fact used in the literature to denote a variety of things, including the conversion from analogue to digital, the recording of single sounds, and the use of earlier recordings; Kvifte 2007b:106–108.

[214] In hip-hop, digital samplers gave producers an effective tool for recapturing the actual DJ practice of playing small excerpts from various tracks. The earliest hip-hop releases (for example, from Sugar Hill Records) were productions where this DJ practice was transferred to a traditional recording practice using acoustic instruments (see Greenberg 1999:23–32). Thus productions with digital samplers were considered closer to the original hip-hop culture and therefore more “authentic.” The use of digital samplers in electronic dance music did not have the same roots in DJ practice. See also discussion on digital sampling in Katz 2004, chapter 7.

[215] For example, Kate Bush, Army Dreamer (1980); see Cunningham 1998:289.

[216] For example, Steve “Silk” Hurley’s Jack Your Body (1985/86) or Adonis’s We’re Rocking Down the House (1986). Many of the early Chicago house producers did not use samplers. Compared to the secondhand purchase of a synth or drum machine, even the more inexpensive samplers were considered a luxury.

[217] Gilbert & Pearson 1999:74; emphasis in the original.

[218] See note 46 on page 45.

[219] Gilbert & Pearson 1999:122.

[220] Kvifte 2007b:120. The connotations of “digital” apply to “technology” as well.

[221] I will not discuss the differences between the two technologies regarding these various types of equipment. This issue raises complex questions of both production and reproduction of sound, where preferences are difficult to evaluate objectively. See discussion in Kvifte 2007b.

[222] Rule 1997:33.

[223] See Auner 2000 for a discussion of sounds associated with old machines or old sound-producing techniques.

[224] In an interview with DJ Times Magazine, Simon Ratcliffe of Basement Jaxx emphasized that their equipment is all at least ten years old. Though most of the equipment is still digital, then, older remains better; see Moayeri 1999.

[225] BrŅvig-Hanssen makes a distinction between “opaque” and “transparent” mediation. The former describes instances where production techniques are made audible and the focus is directed towards them. The latter describes instances where the focus is directed away from production techniques. She exemplifies opaque mediation through tracks from the British group Portishead; see BrŅvig-Hanssen forthcoming 2010.