Disenchantment, Authenticity, & Refinding Romanticism


So you may be asking.. where have you been?  Or you may have said, I was glad he stopped talking and flooding my facebook newsfeed with posts. Whether you missed me or not, the last month has been very important for the long-term longevity of the Local Autonomy project. I do apologize that I did not have any content for you all, but I had to do some soul searching about LA and where it was going. I reached a cross-roads that all people seem to arrive at sooner or later when they immerses themselves in a music scene.  I got a bit bored and disenchanted with what I had been doing and I had to decide how I was to press forward. Rather than just ignore why I was disenchanted, I decided to use this post to explore the roots of disenchantment that we all face at some point when immersing ourselves in a dance music scene. I know this seems a bit odd, but bare with me for a few paragraphs as I think this seemingly mundane feeling that we all encounter at some point reveals bigger issues about the role of authenticity in dance music scenes.

A Tentative Beginning: How Disenchantment Led Me To Think About Authenticity

As humans, feeling disenchanted and questioning ourselves is pretty run of the mill. In our everyday lives, we don’t have legions of people encouraging us that what we create, listen to, and do is important. Thus, it is easy to feel like all your efforts are for nothing. The same goes for our dance music scene. There is still a degree of factionalization and single minded ambition that separates a lot of us into our own pursuits within the city. In such a context, it makes a lot of sense that people in  our dance music scene end up feeling disenchanted at some point. Even if you do have a great group of friends in the community to support you, its easy to question whether all the hours spent promoting, practicing, and listening are worth it.

I know I am not alone, as discussions of disenchantment always comes up in my conversations with people from our scene. Due to the normalcy of this phenomena, its strange that more has not been written about it.  To me, this disenchantment is such a big issue, because it leads some people to gravitate away from the scene as time goes on. where does this disenchantment come from and how does it influence how we view the scene around us?   All my time spent thinking about this question led me back to one concept over and over again: Authenticity.

Once I began to think about and define authenticity, I realized that there were two key ways people in our scene thought about the authenticity of Columbus Dance Music. Something that is authentic is defined as genuine, of undisputed origin, or made or done in a traditional way.  I kept asking myself, ” Is the Columbus dance music scene authentic, genuine, and pure?” I quickly surveyed all my conversations with people from around our scene and realized that there was not just one answer to this question. In fact, people’s views on the authenticity of our scene can be roughly grouped into  two different, competing viewpoints: realists & romantics. (Note: not everyone can be roughly placed in these two boxes, but I think it is useful for the argument to discuss them as ideal types of a stereotype.)

Realists & Romantics: Definitions

Realists are people that look to understand how our scene works by delving into how events are constructed, how mixes are put together, what tracks are used. They don’t usually stop there though. They often try to understand how the scene is also shaped by the the world the scene is enmeshed in. Whether coming at it from an academic perspective or one of pure musical curiosity, realists often use rational thought to create very opinionated views on the authenticity of our scene that has been shaped either by time in the scene or extensive reading. These individuals often view the authenticity of our scene as a very difficult thing to achieve, because their curiosity has shown them how capitalism creates and recycles the authentic and sells it in order to make a profit. Such a perspective makes it very easy to get disenchanted about the authenticity of dance music today when many releases, events, and new artists are praised as the best thing the scene has ever seen. Often times, this results in realists harkening back to a more pure era in music creation and scene development or dismissing the entire music community altogether. You can place my recent efforts to track capitalism influence on our scene in this category.

Romantics are people that praise the the purity, fun, and artistic merit of the work that is going on at this moment in our scene. They look less at the intricate machinations that are at play within a scene and are less apt to delve deeply into how things work. Romantics spend little time developing complex rational systems of thought that express their views on the authenticity of the scene, because they assume that the art being created comes from genuine and pure places. These people hold that the art of listening, creating, and putting on shows is inherently authentic, because it comes from the heart and the need to express oneself. Thus, they often take the proclamations of people at face value when shows, releases, and djs are announced as the next best thing. Whereas realists harken back to a past time, romantics look forward to the future of the scene and foretell of a coming music utopia where the scene is collectively pushing the city forward. Whereas realists seem to question authenticity,  romantics strongly adhere to the scene because they believe it is one of the few places where authenticity exists in their world. You can place many of my posts in the first three months of my project within this category.

I am sure if you think about these abstract descriptions you can see how some people’s perspectives in our scene fit along a continuum between a romantic viewpoint on our scenes authenticity and realists questioning the authenticity of our scene altogether. It is easy to see how realists can get disenchanted and move away from the scene altogether, but it is endearing to see the romantics devotion to art keep them tied strong to the community. No doubt, people are usually somewhere in the middle of this continuum and use both romantic and realist perspectives when talking about our scene.  A case in point are the people in our scene who are skeptical of our scenes authenticity, but still create music and push dance music events for the fun and artistic merits of the actions.  These people may question the authenticity of our scene at points, but at their core they still believe in the power of art, creation, and community. In our age of hype, I want to argue it is essential that we, like the skeptical realist embrace both realist and romantic viewpoints on the authenticity of our scene because it is the only way to let go of phantoms of who we think we should be and push for an authentic version of our scene.

The Age of Fabricated Authenticity: Realism & The Drive to Remain Romantic

I scarcely need to describe to you the age of hype that we have entered into. You see it float down your newsfeed everyday, appear in youtube videos, and written about on your favorite blogs. Saavy PR people and Cool Hunters have cleverly extracted the ideas, styles, and event formats of the 90s rave era and are now mass producing it for a whole new generation of romantics who just want to be apart of a movement like that. You can not really blame the romantics or the people who are trying to profit off of this new consumer niche. This is how the system of capitalism has operated for some time, as people will always try to meet the demands of consumers by rehashing ideas of the past under a new name and slogan. Slap a big sticker on the sucker that says new and exciting and you have all the trappings of what appears to be a movement. The problem is that it is all fabricated. We are not see the re-emergence of the rave era. The rave era was destroyed through legislation and police intervention and dance music was funneled into clubs. We are in the era of fabricated authenticity.

You may ask: what is fabricated authenticity? In his 1997 book Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity, Sociologist Richard Peterson coined the term to refer to the process of individual artists and corporations recycling elements of a past musical scene to give their music and their performances the appearance of genuineness and purity. I think this idea is so interesting, because at some level drawing on the past to show ones connection to a style of making music or an approach to performance is what building a music scene and paying homage to the past is all about. For instance, I see nothing wrong with an artist or a promotion company drawing on the ideas, music, and event styles that came out of Detroit techno, Chicago House, or numerous other movements because of a devotion to the ethos and work of an era. Richard Peterson would argue that Fabcricating authenticity in this way is just drawing on authenticity as a renewable resource for music scene development to connect ones current actions to the actions of others in the past so they are recognizable by an audience.

Fabricating authenticity becomes a problem when corporations and clubs, motivated solely by the profit motive, rehash ideas of the past in order to cash in on the resurgence of dance music. We have reached a point where the actions of corporations, promotions groups, and clubs have begun to exert an influence unheard of in the history of dance music communities. These actors and organizations see a potential pay day and have responded by crafting music festivals advertised as raves, cloistering dance music in exclusive clubs in “dance music meccas”.  One of the most blatant attempts at commercialization has been Robert F. X. Sillerman’s recent endeavors to buy up all the promotion companies across the U.S. and Western Europe in order to create a dance music promotion conglomerate (See Article In New York Times). There is something distinctly different about the brand of authenticity these corporations, promotions groups, and clubs are pushing. They are wolves in sheeps’ clothing claiming to love the music and want to push the scene forward. Yet, all their actions scream a cheap attempt at fabricating authenticity to make a dollar. That is why I don’t buy into the model of music scene development that huge festivals, like Electric Daisy Carnival or Ultra, or clubs in dance music meccas like Ibiza, Miami, or Las Vegas. Its just a cheap rehashing of the past with a more expensive price tag, more capital behind it, and savvy PR people.  They can talk all they want, but their rhetoric is full of so much hot air that you could fill a fleet of hot air balloons.

Due to these recent developments, I advocate that we all approach our current dance music landscape with the healthy skepticism of the realist. You cannot believe all the hype about every event, club, and artist. Not every artist is the godfather of a new genre. Not every event will be a timeless classic. Not every club with be legendary. I do not say this to dampen your enthusiasm for going out and enjoying dance music, or to have you dismiss dance our scene altogether. I say this to show you that you can let go of your hopes for our scene being like Las Vegas, Miami, or Ibiza. You don’t need to be upset or disenchanted that your efforts have not turned Columbus into a carbon copy of one of these Dance Music Meccas. These places are just illusions of authenticity that are created as the pinnacle of dance music by blogs, magazines, and PR professionals. Being skeptical allows us to let go of the idea that we need to be like other scenes and allows us to chart our own path.

Once we let go of the idea of who we think we should be as a scene, artist, or listener we are then free to get reacquainted with the romanticism that drove us to want to innovate, listen, and dance. It is slightly scary to let go of models we thought were gold standards for scene development, but when we do an opportunity is opened to build a pure, genuine scene of our own choosing. I feel we are already on the way to building this model as we have a flourishing underground full of DJs and promoters exploring new ideas and a cadre of listeners and dancers enjoying the art. I just hope we continue on this path, because their is nothing more inspiring than working with people in your community to create just for the sake of expression and enjoyment of art. I know that when I went on my path to refind my romanticism I had to call a lot of things into question, but at the end of the day I found too much to be proud of in our scene. I believe too much in our community. I believe too much in the power of the music we create. I just hope you too will let go of the ideas of who you think you should be. It is only at that point that we can collective repel attempt to commercialize our scene and foster the type of wild creativity that becomes the basis of legends. It is only at that point that we can all collectively decide where to go from here to create a scene of our choosing.

  1. Toby Tope said:

    James that was so well said. Phenomenal. I have to repost this now. When I started following dance music I was hopelessly the romantic. Through the years I have become a realist. I would now like to be a romantic realist.

    • Thanks Toby! I think its the only way you keep going. I know your romanticism is still strong for the music. That’s why you have been so generous and patient with me in teaching me things and helping me. Sometimes we just lose sight of that romanticism for a minute.

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