[fragment from an interview from last year, or was it the year before...]
The Darkstar album could almost have been designed to please me: it's the convergence of the hardcore continuum, hauntology, and postpunk & New Pop! It's growing on me, but initially I found it a bit washed-out and listless. Still, Mark's reading of it is typically suggestive. And I do think it is significant that an outfit operating in the thick of the post-dubstep scene, the FWD» generation, has made a record steeped in echoes of Orchestral Maneuvres (their first LP in particular was apparently listened to heavily during the album's making), New Order, and other early Eighties synthpop. It also means something that a record coming out of dance culture is all about isolation, regret, withdrawal, mournfulness.
The Darkstar record is an example of a self-conscious turn towards emotionality in UK dance. Most of the album features a human voice and songs, sung by a new member of the group recruited specifically for that role. And just this week I've read about two other figures from the same scene--James Blake and Subeena--who are releasing their first tracks to feature their own vocals. But this turn to expressivity seems to me as much rhetorical as it is actually going on in the music. After all hardcore, jungle, UK garage, grime, bassline house, were all bursting with emotion in their different ways. What people mean by "emotional" is introspective and fragile in ways that we've rarely seen in hardcore continuum music. (Obviously we've seen plenty of that in IDM going back to its start: Global Communications and Casino In Japan actually made records inspired by the death of family members).
The idea that artists and commentators are groping towards, without fully articulating, is that dance music no longer provides the kind of emotional release that it once did, through collective catharsis. So there is this turn inwards, and also a fantasy of a kind of publically displayed inwardness: the widely expressed artistic ideal of "I want my tracks to make people cry on the dancefloor". Because if people were getting their release in the old way (collective euphoria), why would tears be needed?
In the Nineties, drugs--specifically Ecstasy--were absolutely integral to this communal release. One of the reasons hardcore rave was so hyper-emotional was because its audience's brains were being flooded with artificially stimulated feelings, which could be elation and excitement but also dark or emotionally vulnerable (the comedown from Ecstasy is like having your heart broken). One thing that intrigues me about dance culture in the 2000s is the near-complete disappearance of drugs as a topic in the discourse. People are obviously still doing them, in large amounts, and in a mixed-up polydrug way just like in the Nineties. There have been a few public scares from the authorities and the mainstream media, like the talk about ketamine a few years ago, and more recently with mephedrone. But these failed to catalyse any kind of cultural conversation within the dance scene itself. It is as if the idea that choice of chemicals could have any cultural repercussions or effects on music's evolution has completely disappeared. Compare that with the Nineties, where one of the main strands of dance discourse concerned the transformative powers of drugs. There was a reason why Matthew Collin called his rave history Altered State and why I called my own book Energy Flash. That was a reference to one of the greatest and most druggy anthems in techno--Beltram's "Energy Flash" (which features a sample about "acid, ecstasy"-- but also to the more general idea of a psychedelics-induced flash of revelation or the "body flash" caused by stimulant drugs.
The turn to emotionality at the moment seems like an echo of a similar moment in the late 90s, when the downsides of drugs were becoming clear and I started to hear from clubbing friends that they'd been listening to Spiritualized or Radiohead. But where that was a flight from E-motionality (from the collective high, now considered false or to have too many negative side effects, towards more introspective, healing music), the new emotionality in the postdubstep scene is emerging in a different context. I'm just speculating here, but I wonder if it has anything to do with a dissatisfaction with Internet culture, the sort of brittle, distracted numbness that comes from being meshed into a state of perpetual connectivity, but without any real connection of the kind that comes from either one-on-one interactions or from being in a crowd. The rise of the podcast and the online DJ mix, which has been hyped as "the new rave" but is profoundly asocial, seems to fit in here.