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For my book report I read Generation Ecstasy. There was so much information in the book about the rave scene and "ecstasy", I didn't know where to begin.
It's been ten years since the English seized on Detroit techno, Chicago house, and New York garage as the seeds of what's generally agreed-over there, at least-to be the most significant music since punk, and they're celebrating with a slew of historical studies. Simon Reynolds attempts to bridge the gap with "Generation Ecstasy," an exhaustive compendium of almost every rave-associated sound and idea, both half-baked and momentous, that traces the digital Diaspora back and forth across Europe and America.
Using the multiple perspectives of music critic, enthusiastic participant, and sociological outsider to trace the development of dance music's "rhythmic phsycadelic
," Reynolds, finds two predominant, contrasting strains: the search for gnosis, or spiritual revelation, and the desire to get completely out of it at the weekend. Setting these timeless traits in the context of the up-to-the-minute technology that made rave emblematic of its era-the fragmentary, fast-forward aesthetic, the flexible production and distribution network, the avoidance of personality and narrative in favor of sensation-he comes up with a portrait of hi-tech millennium that resonates well beyond its subculture confines.
There are those who might find a book to analyze music that often aims for the effect of a sledgehammer to the head a mite pretentious. Yet the radicalism of dance music lies precisely in its "meaninglessness," which, paradoxically, requires intellectualization in order to get at its significance. This problem is particularly acute for Reynolds, who wants to both valorize everything about techno that makes it resistant to rock-crit "literary" analysis, and also explain exactly why it really did mean something, man. His central tool for resolving this contradiction is the idea of the "drug-tech interface": the reciprocal relationship between Ecstasy (and other less central intoxicants) and machine music that resulted in a feedback loop between sounds geared to enhance the rush, and rushes that inspired producers to take sound into new spaces.
The drug-tech interface gives "Generation Ecstasy" a narrative backbone that applies again and again, across continents and cultures from Texas, where Ecstasy culture first reared its head in the mid-'80s, to Scotland, Holland, and Germany. The story starts with the initial, utopic discovery of Ecstasy and its boundary-lowering qualities, and ends, with varying degrees of speed, with the descent into polydrug abuse and depression. Resisting easy moralizing, Reynolds' analysis of the dialectic remains admirably balanced, sensitive to both the consciousness-expansion which can inspire insights that carry over into everyday life, and the tunnel-vision nihilism which is usually the outcome of rave as an end in itself.
At times, the scales tip; Reynolds' persistent reading of this most abstract music in terms of class and race politics is welcome, particularly his analysis of Detroit techno as a suburban phenomenon (which goes against the usual British fetishization of it as the authentic product of an oppressed black underclass), but also sometimes excessive (he goes on to dismiss certain Detroit producers because their cerebral production values are too "middle-class"). At the other extreme, his love of theory can occasionally lead to overestimation of the music's radicalism (see the indulgent treatment he gives DJ Spooky). Such contradictions have something to do with the structure; the book has been in part assembled from countless articles and released in two "mixes," with the American version telling a more linear, explicatory story.
For a guy who's so fond of making up neologisms, Reynolds' writing can be surprisingly prosaic, and you can't help feeling that, with a little more time for editing, a streamlined master cut could be found lying within the pages somewhere. But these are minor quibbles: whether you're curious about this music or you've been following it for years, this is the book to read. Ten years on, the liberatory effects of rave have been absorbed, in time-honored fashion, by corporate megaclubs, modernized pubs, and all-but institutionalized ecstasy use; whether it will have the strength to launch a back-to-basics revival, as rock and hip hop have already done, and confirm its significance alongside them, we'll just have to wait and see.
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African-American music, Techno, Electronic dance music, House music, Rave music, Trance music, Rave, Simon Reynolds, Detroit techno, Ecstasy, Religious ecstasy, House dance, generation ecstasy, digital diaspora, enthusiastic participant, spiritual revelation, phsycadelic, techno chicago, minute technology, central tool, simon reynolds, flexible production, detroit techno, literary analysis, europe and america, meaninglessness, music critic, gnosis, book report, radicalism, half baked, sledgehammer
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