Dance scene ideals at odds with antisocial behaviour

Thu, Jul 12, 2012, 01:00

OPINION:IN HIS opinion piece in The Irish Times on Tuesday, “Dance scene’s lethal mix — drink, drugs and ignorance”, Brian Boyd asks the question: “Can a genre of music be held responsible for the behaviour of people who like it?”

While the rest of his article doesn’t outrightly connect a genre of music to the violent events during Saturday’s gig in the Phoenix Park, it makes a fair (albeit convoluted) effort at implying that there is a link.

This is one point where Boyd’s argument appears to have offended the commenters who have taken their right to reply to The Irish Times website in remarkable numbers.

Another bugbear is that the author’s grasp of “dance culture” appears loose at best, wilfully ignorant at worst. Indeed, his use of the word “ignorance” in the article has been picked up on as an exquisite irony by many.

In the article, Boyd describes Swedish House Mafia as “broadly speaking a ‘dance culture’ act” and, at a later point, refers to them and their contemporary Skrillex as “underground dance music”.

While it is true that both acts make electronic music, to many people associated with dance culture, particularly its underground, the ersatz and formulaic stylings of these artists is deeply unpopular, and viewed cynically.

It is understandable that the thousands of Irish clubbers, producers, and promoters involved with the scene on a weekly basis might take offence at Boyd’s fast- and-loose use of terms like “underground”.

Indeed, in what might be an uncomfortable irony for the author and his argument, it can be argued that these particular acts slot snugly into a template associated with touring rock and pop bands. They do not play clubs, rather outdoor gigs and festival slots, and globe-hop around the exact same circuit as the likes of Coldplay, Snow Patrol and the rest.

While an entire feature could be written on what actually constitutes “dance culture”, a few short lines will have to suffice here on why Boyd’s misreading of it has offended so many. The dance community, while as prone to problems of its own as any musical subculture, still nurtures a certain set of ideals that are completely at odds with the antisocial events that occurred on Saturday.

Much of modern dance has its roots in the future-utopian projects of Chicago house and Detroit techno that kindled among the marginalised communities of North American blacks and gays in the 1980s. As it has evolved and diversified ever since, the culture associated with it has always prided itself on its community spirit and inclusivity, especially around matters of multiculturalism and sexuality.

To bandy the word “ignorance” around without acknowledging this history of values and tolerance is cheap enough; to illustrate the point, as Boyd does, using a slogan borrowed from a 1980s campaign relating to HIV/Aids (a disease that had a tragic and direct impact on early dance culture), is misjudged and unfortunate.

Further to the above considerations of culture, another failing in the piece must be pointed out. It entirely overlooks the fact that Swedish House Mafia were only one act among many who played on Saturday.

Even if we accept for a moment that the genre of music played by Swedish House Mafia can be loosely defined as dance, then what about all the other acts on a bill that ran across an entire day?

Between Calvin Harris, Snoop Dogg and Tinie Tempah, the blend of acts who played the park represent a cross-section of mainstream pop, dance, and rap; it’s a pretty diverse mix of genres. Perhaps the piece overlooks this fact because it would undermine the breezy simplicity of an argument specious enough to insinuate that the musical genre represented onstage could be linked in some way with events off stage.

Boyd also explores the possible role played by alcohol and drugs in Saturday’s fiasco. The thread of his argument is hard to follow and appears contradictory. On the one hand he states that law enforcement officials in the 1990s “much preferred having to deal with a ‘blissed-out’ rave audience than a beered-up rock ’n’roll audience.”

On the other, he castigates Madonna for making “a stupid and irresponsible” remark about the drug MDMA (ecstasy) last March. If we wade through these mixed signals, we come to the kernel of Boyd’s argument which seems to imply that it is an indiscriminate combination of dance drugs and alcohol that is problematic today.

Here, we enter the realm of pure speculation. Do we know what role drugs played in the stabbings? At what point on a continuum do we blame drugs as being more responsible than alcohol for what happened or decide that it was a combination of both? Boyd is a better man than me if he has definitive insights into these slippery variables.

Furthermore, to insinuate that drugs belong exclusively to the realm of dance while rock ’n’ roll is more traditionally associated with beer is actually laughable. Surely Boyd is familiar with the benzedrine-chomping mods of the 1960s? The Beatles? Keith Richards? David Bowie? Lou Reed? I believe that they, and many of their fans, have enjoyed a drug or two.

To conclude: as a music journalist, Boyd will be aware of the controversy surrounding the Columbine high school massacre that took place in the United States in 1999.

Elements within the American media and political system leapt on the detail that the two killers were fans of the heavy metal musician Marilyn Manson. He immediately became a bogeyman figure, a cultural scapegoat that allowed the uncomfortable social issues surrounding the massacre (for example, questions around the right to bear arms) to be disregarded.

Boyd’s piece, I’m sure, is not politically motivated in this way, but he would do well to remember that cultural scapegoats are a gift to those who would rather we do not deal with difficult social issues – people such as politicians or those who lobby on behalf of our drinks industry.

Darragh McCausland is a music writer and blogger

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