Cheers for your first set of comments, Zurkonic
Re your next batch
I have to say, I do think you have some slightly odd - slightly off - ideas about all this, although I can see where you might have got them.
First, which edition of Energy Flash have you got? You really need the 2013 update which has a lot of new material on the 21st Century – dubstep, electroclash, grime, trance of various flavours, Berlin minimal and microhouse, EDM, footwork, pretty much everything of note that happened is worked in there! Also there is an auto-interview in which I lay out a lot of over-arching ideas.
But yes I know how it works - a book can seem like an imposing thing. (There are actually other books on this subject though! Quite a lot of them - several on drum and bass, a couple on grime alone, with more coming including a serious study by Dan Hancox this very month… for some reason dubstep i don’t think has been done at book length, surprisingly.)
A book can only be written from the author’s perspective - I can’t second-guess some other viewpoint, it would be a very dry and disengaged text, I think, if I tried to, and ultimately impossible. You can for sure try to be fair and cover a spectrum (Energy Flash’s contents are actually varied and close to comprehensive - which is not to say that my partiality for nuum is not apparent! but hey i actually write sympathetically about psy-trance in the book, to give just one example).
Re. The History of Our World essay
The analogy with slavery or imperialism, the point I was making was that historical scholarship continues to expand our understanding of how these things worked… but none of it was attempting to say they didn’t exist.
At the time I wrote those series of “Nuum and its Discontents” essays, there was a concerted attempt – by a small faction of people admittedly – to prove that the hardcore continuum – meaning the family tree of genres running hardcore>jungle>UK garage/2step>grime / dubstep>funky - was not actually a continuous subculture.
There’s always scope for new research, new discoveries, new insights. I personally know far more about the HCC now than I did in the Nineties when I was very actively involved as a fan. And have a better understanding of it as a phenomenon.
But if the drive of the revisionism is to make out that this lineage was not actually a lineage, then that’s where I take exception.
your Big Beat example shows, other provincial genres occurring outside of London are excluded from the HCC by their inability to meet the criterion for entry, which stymies me as while they lack the key aspects of the nuum genres, the fact that it was a largely homegrown scene and genre would make me at least assume that it belongs to the nuum (though reading your analysis, obviously not).
Again, this to me is a somewhat bizarre image that people construct - there’s this genre Big Beat and it’s clamoring for admittance into a club and the bouncer (me!) is saying, “you’re not on the list, you’re not coming in”. (That’s an arcane rave-era reference BTW).
But the simple truth is that it was a different scene entirely – it had a whole different ancestry (more to do with Manchester and indie-dance - Norman Cook had originally been in the Housemartins and then did various dance-things before Fatboy Slim. Chemical brothers came out of indie) . Big Beat’s audience was different (much much whiter, more studenty) . The scene didn’t have a relationship with pirate radio. You didn’t have rewinds or MCs chanting over the music. I loved Big Beat but it was a whole other scene.
I don’t think it was “provincial” by the way - it was national, with a strong London base, and a particular connection with Brighton.
And it’s not like Big Beat “wanted” to be “included” in this entity - it couldn’t give a fuck, it was in the Top 10 of the UK charts! In fact it would have defined itself to some degree against rave. If it looked to ancestors it would be old skool hip hop and early house.
there is no HCC studies, just your account and others whose experiences line up with your own.
There’s tons of magazine writing on these music - both in real-time and retrospective - and actually a fair amount of academic work done on it too I think. If they end up reconfirming many of my conclusions that just demonstrates my razor-sharp eye and ear!
I’ve always felt like I’m supposed to just accept the HCC
You can use the term or not, I don’t care really – but yes you should accept the historical reality of hardcore rave, jungle, UK garage, grime, dubstep as a connected sequence of genres. It’s inarguable. Based not on my experiences or account, but on the thousands of people involved who will give very similar accounts of how it all went down – including most of the producers and deejays. They may not use the term but you can find dozens of quotes out there that lay out a sense of the history of pirate radio culture in these terms.
Think of it as similar to a tradition like heavy metal. It would quite nutty to assert heavy metal doesn’t exist - even though you can point to where it blurs into other genres, and even though metal today (blast beats and vomitous vocals) sounds very different from blues-based heavy and hard rock of the early 70s.
is the HCC only confined to London?
I think I’ve laid this out many times, but the word I would use is London-centric. London is the creative engine of this subculture for most of the period in question – partly because it has such a large number of pirate radio stations (owing to the number of high rise apartment blocks) and also a very large population – I think Greater London is something like 10 million and if you factor in the surrounding counties, which are very much in the orbit of London’s influence, it’s even bigger. And it’s also a very multiracial city, where white youth (and Asian youth etc) have grown up surrounded by black music, black street style, black modes of speech, etc for decades and decades.
The continuum as a creative force also has (had?) a presence in other cities in the UK with a strong black population - Bristol, Midlands towns like Coventry, various Northern towns. At certain points the North has come through with a very strong sound of its own – like bleep in the early Nineties, basslines in the mid-2000s.
And with all these phases and genres, obviously there will be fans of it all over the place and sometimes producers will pop up in odd out of the way parts of the country or suburbia. But the creative core of it was always quite concentrated in London with outposts in other London-like cities.
And because the sounds were so potent and seductive, at various stages they have seeded micro-scenes in other countries – Toronto, being Anglophile as fuck; New York; Florida had a breakbeat scene.
It depends on the current style – UKG became pop music in the UK but it didn’t really spread internationally anything like drum and bass did (which became very international and ultimately its own entity carrying on without much connection to the HCC / pirate source).
Dubstep is probably the most successful export.
Some of these seeded scenes overseas are quite flourishing and active but they often have had problems coming up with their own music - they’ve been dependent on imports from the UK.
Naturally the internet has changed that very localized syndrome significantly.
I don’t think any critical writing can be done without what you call bias, or assumptions – a prior value set. if you venture to make a value judgement, you have to have an evaluative metric to start off with – that might be unverbalised and semi conscious, something you’ve inherited or absorbed without any reflection. Or it could be something you’ve thought about and codified. But every piece of writing worth anything comes from a situated perspective.
I don’t attempt to guard against biases – I work off of them, and I make sure that they are legible. I’ve always been transparent about who I am, where I come from, what my musical background was prior to rave, where my political sympathies lie.
HCC frames most people’s understanding of the development of UK dance
One thing to consider is that the nuum zone is probably something like 1/8th maybe of UK’s total dance and club culture. Maybe less.
If you were to read old dance music magazines of the Nineties, Mixmag and Muzik and DJ and Jockey Slut etc, I think you would be really surprised how modest the coverage was of the HCC genres. Most of the content of the dance magazines was varying shades of house and techno and trance – progressive house tribal house, handbag house (and funky house – not to be confused with the funky on the pirate radio in late 2000s, a completely different entity!), minimal techno etc
Elsewhere in the non-dance specialist music magazines, you would be more likely to get writing on IDM and ambient as you would drum and bass.
Generally speaking, the UK dance press did a pretty solid job covering everything that was half way interesting and a good deal that wasn’t ! Perhaps among cognoscenti the more “plebeian” kinds of pill monster music like gabba, hard house, scouse house, etc got short shrift in terms of attention and respect.
As I mentioned earlier Energy Flash covers pretty much everything of note during the time period – including enthusiastic coverage of such non-HCC entities as gabba and big beat and elements within IDM. Even the things I dislike are regarded as interesting and worthy of comment!
If it is true that HCC has come in time to seem historically dominant, whereas other things have been left behind in the 90s that is probably a measure of:
The fervour of its advocates
Its strengths and appeal as music
The more socially-cultural interesting aspects surrounding the music – MCs, rewinds, dubplates, pirate radio etc - which you don’t get in Brit house or techno.
The fact that it has attracted intellectuals who find it rich food for thought
Its political resonances or multicultural aspects.
In a certain sense, that’s the proof of the pudding, really -what is it about this area of music and subculture that has inspired people to write about it in a way that handbag house or pop trance, didn’t? Fans of those genres could have written books or pretentious essays about them!
There are lots of reasons why the nuum has got this kind of intense attention - but I think there is also a feeling of a promise about this music - a promise that has perhaps not been kept but still tantalises – some kind of latent power – a glimpse of a better Britain. (The cultural antithesis of - or opposition to - Brexit, even?)
HCC persisted well into the 00s and is still rippling through UK electronic music
I don’t know if still is rippling to be honest …
There are still producers drawing on sonic debris or ideas and vibes from that time… and there’s also a lot of retro pastiches of earlier phase-sounds… tons of jungle replicas
The romance of the era is still strong… the legend of specific micro-eras within it
But in terms of a real strong and defined current of music that is the next stage of it… I dunno.
I feel like we are in different times – the Internet has changed the nature of the game