Pazz And Jop Essayist Says You Need To Stop Dancing To Stuff You Like

Jess Harvell | January 23, 2008 10:00 am

Like a lot of subcultural scenes, dance music is usually reduced to a few token entries on the year-end lists of general interest publications. As the former editor of wide-eared music site Stylus, Todd Burns did more than his fair share to turn people on to dance records that went deeper than the kind normally covered in your average indie rock webzine or glossy rock mag. His dance-centric essay for this year’s Pazz And Jop poll, however, is an object lesson in how not to turn people on to the unfamiliar, mostly by spending a few hundred words telling them why they suck for liking records with things like hooks. Did you know that you should feel guilty for enjoying poppy crossover dance records? Somehow I don’t think this kind of conscience-stricken Catholicism is exactly what all those old disco cats who equated the dancefloor with “church” had in mind, exactly.

Burns’ essay opens with this unbearably snobby, straight-faced breakdown:

There are three kinds of people who love dance music: people who love dance music, people who love dance music, and people who love dance music.

That means: people who vote for token crossover electronica albums (like Justice or Basement Jaxx) in rock critic polls; people who listen to superclub trance and bridge and tunnel house; and people who measure their blog scene cred fandom based on how big of an import vinyl bill shows up each month on their credit card statement. Naturally Burns falls into the third category, and if folks happen to fall into the first category, they’re not just doing it wrong, “they should be ashamed of themselves.”

Apparently the crucial failing for crossover electronic albums is that you “can’t dance to” them the way you can a hardcore, nine-minute, bleep-blorp German techno single, that something released on Cadenza inherently funks harder than something on Ed Banger. Their reason for their lack of danceability? The hooks and vocals and short running times and riffs apparently trip your feet up? Yeah, I don’t get it either. But then again I’ve seen rooms full of gay guys and indie kids and even late-’90s NYC clubbers (people who “loved dance music,” no less, at a time when Basement Jaxx was very much the face of crossover) lose their shit to Basement Jaxx at various points over the last decade and even more of ’em lose their shit to Daft Punk.

(As for Justice, I remain a nominal fan and I think the folks at Vice have a very canny marketing team. But whether or not you appreciate their sonics or their scene positioning, I’m wary of passing judgement on a band’s fans as getting down in the “wrong” way. If their dancin’, they’re dancin’. And while I may not want my own personal rave to be full of cokeheads in oversized neon sweatshirts and trucker caps, it’s pretty easy to avoid them without wanting to “correct” them.)

Burns also never really bothers to explain why listeners should be ashamed of themselves for showing an affinity for dancing short, hook-y, song-y songs. Does he only have a problem if it has a 4/4 beat and sold as “dance music,” thereby excusing the bazillions who dance to R&B, hip-hop, dancehall, country, polka, and so on? (Short, hook-y, and song-y all. Which seems to make Burns’ issue here more an issue of categorization than music.) The only real explanation put forth for Justice and Simian Mobile Disco’s technic “failings” as capital-D dance music seems to be that there were plenty of dance records released in 2007 that Burns thought were better, but that didn’t get more love from centrist critics who cling to media-approved hype acts.

The rest of his essay–which breaks down into a list of underground records Burns likes and you should like more than Justice and SMD–turns into another music snob dick-measuring contest (so, so glad we could transpose this to every genre) where a guy lists a bunch of esoterica and sets it against the dreck enjoyed by the unwashed ringtone buyers. (You know, totally not crossover records like the Field and Glass Candy.) Burns, like most (indie) rock evangelicals, has his heart in the right place. I’ve no doubt he really does “love dance music”; why else would he be trying to push his less-heralded faves on anyone within earshot, like a good critic.

But while he acknowledges the “difficulty” some of those faves present for casual fans–nine-minute bleep-blorp German techno singles are not so immediately accessible, you know–he knows it’s hard to actually inspire them to actually come over to the dark side. Instead of explaining why or how rock critics should or could get into underground German techno or Baeleric revival records–what might appeal to them about these not-necessarily-pop-friendly, oddly structured, or just hook-free records–it’s easier to guilt them for their supposedly unchallenging tastes, to point out that if they were really cool they’d already be dancing to this instead of that, to call their enjoyment into question, to fight a supposedly homogeneous mainstream mindset by proposing an equally homogeneous underground canon. Don’t get me wrong, many of Burns’ records deserve championing. They just deserve a less alienating argument in their favor than the one proposed here.

Why We Love Justice (And Shouldn’t) [Village Voice]