When Delta Discos 40 Aniversario compilation arrived at the Voice HQ it looked like a straightforward review job. Knock out a couple of hundred words about the venerable Ibicenco record shop and its celebratory selection of classic house, funk and soul, then on to the next project.
Sometimes, though, business as usual doesn't cut it. The more we listened to the album the more it stirred memories… ideas… conversation… our imaginations. The rousing, gospel-fuelled Promised Land sent a collective thrill around the office while Rozalla's heady, piano-driven anthem Everybody's Free echoed like the taste of a brighter future. Soaking up the lyrics is a reminder of just how much dance music has changed. Here, the words are infused with hope and empowerment. "Everybody's free to feel good;" "brothers/sisters/we'll make it to the promised land." There is an almost evangelic spirit in the music - a poignant reminder of a more innocent era.
It got us thinking, about what dance music means; where it began; where it is; where it's going. In purely musical terms taste has changed so radically as to be almost unrecognisable. The contrast between the luscious funk of tunes like Dennis Edwards' Don't Look Any Further or Flash & The Pan's Midnight Man and the esoteric, demanding structures of a Ricardo Villalobos track couldn't be more obvious. Twenty years ago loved up dancers would have been bemused if, instead of a joyous vocal anthem, the DJ suddenly dropped a monochrome fifteen-minute instrumental.
Dance music is becoming increasingly divisive. There's not just "techno" - there's old school, Detroit, acid, hardcore, minimal, tech-house…Dance culture is about laughter, love and unity. and it is a matter of pride to identify with a tiny niche. The days where dance music was a door flung open to welcome all seem to have passed. Where is the Your Love for our generation? When was the last time you heard a song that delivers the pure rush of Mr Fingers' Can You Feel It?
As Renton's schoolgirl lover, Diane, pointedly told him in Trainspotting "The world is changing, music is changing, even drugs are changing." Ecstasy used to be the universal currency of dance music. A little white (or blue, or green, or pink) pill that guaranteed everyone in the room was as near as humanly possible to being in the same expansive headspace. It was a brand-new sensation. Only a handful of people had any idea of the history or chemistry of ecstasy. Partiers were fellow-travellers, holding hands to skip off into the mind-altering unknown. The music reflects the states of mind; I Luv U Baby expresses sheer, giddy amor while Move Your Body has the impetus to drive neophytes through that first scary rush ("it's gonna set you free" the words promise).
These days ecstasy is almost passé, the class-A equivalent of alcopops. "Proper" dance drugs now include cocaine by the crate-load and staggering quantities of Ketamine. Unlike MDMA they are deeply isolating. K-holes are foxholes for lone soldiers in the party army, hunkering out of the reach of reality, while Coke promotes only superficial interaction: expression, not empathy.
Democracy and capitalism reign supreme and all we have to show for it is economic insecurity and social chasms...
Along with music and drugs the world has changed. These days reading the newspaper doesn't make you ask yourself "why aren't things getting better ?" it makes you wonder, "Can things get any worse ?" To paraphrase Hunter S Thompson, we're locked into a survival trip. We've exchanged the pursuit of pleasure for the avoidance of pain. "Democracy" and "capitalism" reign supreme and all we have to show for it is economic insecurity and social chasms.
Rave was in large part a reaction against the vicious selfishness of the Reagan/Thatcher 80s. It was a collective rejection of the idea that the only way to get ahead was to stick the knife in someone else's back. Anthems like The Age Of Love and Promised Land explicitly reject the dogma of me first and offer a human alternative. Yet now to suggest compromise rather than confrontation is to be considered at best naïve, at worst a traitor. Us versus Them has become an ugly mantra.
No wonder modern culture is such a glutton for nostalgia. In the face of all of this running away and hiding in the past looks awfully appealing. But this is not the message in the music. William Pitt's City Lights is melancholic, but it doesn't advocate surrender: "you've gotta try to get out of this endless night… follow me/don't be afraid/don't hide away," it exhorts. Woven into melodies and lyrics across the mix is a simple but powerful call to unity, freedom, joy, pleasure and communion. It sounds unfashionably idealistic, but cool is as cool does. To make a conscious decision to reject selfishness and cold individuality isn't naivety - it's a powerful personal and politicalWe may not be able to change laws, end wars, influence the powers that be but we can chose to abjure fear and greed. statement.
The run towards summer 2008 is just beginning and - if last year is anything to go by - it will be riddled with conflict, politicking, confrontation and drama. Yeah, sure, we're used to it (enjoy it, even!) but thanks to Delta Discos and the inspirational power of house we'll be adjusting our over-sized dark glasses to let in a little more sunlight.
We may not be able to change laws, end wars, influence the powers that be but we can chose to abjure fear and greed. It's time to reaffirm that dance culture is about laughter, love and unity. After twenty long years it's time for the summer of love, mark II.