Think: Reissuing the Past

After reading a Guardian article  by Michaelangelo Matos on the current trend of reissuing lost dance classics and obscurities for a contemporary, often historically unaware audience, I started thinking a little more about the subject, as it had been at the back of my mind for quite some time.

Of course, the reissue business is largely positive for the dance music consumer. Who hasn’t looked for classics like Ron Hardy’s Unreleased Mix of Sensation or Reese’s Just Want Another Chance in vain, frustrated by stupendous prices on Discogs that render collecting rare cuts an elitist sport reserved for those with a very flexible disposable income? Thanks to Rush Hour, they can now be purchased on vinyl, or even digitally. Tyree Cooper’s Nuthin Wrong is another example of a classic track that’s just been repressed for the Mojuba Underground Series. As to how far it was really underground after being featured on Ben Klock’s high-profile Berghain 03 mix is debatable, especially as it’s since been charted as number 11 of RA’s top tracks of May. On the one hand then, it is very favorable that some tracks finally become available after years of slumbering in an inaccessible castle, waiting to be freed. On the other hand though, one wonders whether they mightn’t loose some of their magic when you’re average Traktor bedroom DJ can pull them out of the digital top hat. I am not trying to suggest that these tracks don’t deserve a wide audience or that they should remain exclusive to a handful of DJs, but I do get the feeling that they might loose some of their magic once fully exposed. One might begin to ask the question whether these tracks are ‘gems’ precisely because they are hard to find. Does their exclusivity add to their greatness? Moreover, won’t someone always be left out — producer and consumer alike?

However one’s opinion on the subject, it can lead to a much wider discussion on the state of EDM today. Although slightly dramatising the subject, I think there’s a direct correspondence between the recent reissue waves and the strong revival obsession currently felt in the scene. As Matos rightly picks up in his article, the classic, rough house/ deep house/ disco revival is informed by these classics, which, until recently, served as points of reference only to those who are aware of the original. Things are changing though, thanks to said reissues that make these original templates available to a younger generation. Suddenly, things become more transparent as we begin to Know. I personally like the classic sounds, even in new music, but it has become worrying how many producers justify mediocre releases by the use of raw kicks, echoing claps and a diva vocal. It’s brilliant when Braille references the past to push it into new territory, but more often than not, we are dealing with pastiche rather than reference (Edit: do you hear me, Oliver $!?).

The threat here lies in the fact that a younger audience takes the ‘fake’ to be more ‘real’ than the original. Something along the lines of ‘hey, that Chip E record is nice, but have you heard the new Snuff Crew release.. much meatier’. In a Baudrillardian sense, the copy, or simulacrum, becomes more real than the original, to the point where it’s not simply a copy but threatens to eradicate the validity of an original ever having existed. Inspiration is obviously a strange beast, but to make use of a fairly mainstream example, it is worrying when UK teens love Tensnake’s überhit Coma Cat, but never heard Anthony and The Camp’s What I Like. The fault here obviously doesn’t lie with Tensanke, as sampling is as much ingrained in electronic music as double-bass drumming in death metal. This is a matter of education and credit where credit’s due.

So where does this leave us in a discussion of reissues? Well, the trend towards reissues can be viewed as having two effects because it on the one hand helps to educate the younger audience, while it on the other also possibly feeds the revival even more. It is important that people are educated in a historical sense, since this guarantees that the original doesn’t become completely lost in the whirlpool of pastiche and simulacra. Kids need to know that MCDE didn’t invent deep house in 2008 as he himself has a musical education strongly rooted in a love for the old. You see, when XYZ is inspired by MCDE’s Raw Cuts which were inspired by/ sampled from old funk records, things start getting a little out of hand. Music is of course, prone to a constant recycling of the past — Bob Dylan anyone? — but this needs to be somewhat informed. That’s why it’s essential that the old stuff is heard by a wider audience then inspired in return. The cycle closes and is somewhat justified, as long as it’s being updated.

This doesn’t of course, solve the problem that we are nonetheless stuck in this revival cycle that seemingly negates a progressive forward motion into new territories, which is precisely what dance music should be about with its futurist aesthetic. After all, if Atkins and co. had wanted to make music sounding like old records, there would be no techno. It is most interesting that Rush Hour, a label with the widest spanning range of reissues, is also one of the few in house music at the moment willing to really push things forward through its contemporary signings. Very revealing is that this progression happens in the shape of bass-house hybrids that acknowledge a debt to classic Chicago sounds while presenting entirely new angles on what can be done. Thus, artists like Cosmin TRG, Braille, Falty DL break away from mere pastiche and manage to create something exhilarating. The same goes for R&S really, who are concerned with new styles more than ever, although they would have a massive catalogue to fall back on. Or Ramadanman’s Hessle Audio, whose output seems informed by the past, the present but especially the future. These labels singlehandedly driving a whole scene forward, whether by decoding house music in a dubstep/ bass context, or vice versa, so that they manage to educate us while exploring thus uninhibited paths.  With audiences becoming ever younger, that’s exactly what we need, rather than simply pushing new age fun with a vintage feel.

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