Today I was at a seminar debating the relevance, importance and accuracy of 'The Hardcore Continuum', which is the idea of a sort of autonomous, morphing, time-line of UK dance music from Acid House to Bassline. I left after the first session, not out of any sort of protest, but simply because I had already arranged to make some music with a friend.
Of what I saw, It was a really interesting debate, both for the ideas within the discussion, and the field of ideas that the discussion takes place within. One of the big problems for 'The Continuum' is that people who make and listen to dance music are generally against their music being critically analysed. In fact, it seems to me that music lovers in general are less prone to wanting to understand their passion critically, as well as emotionally.
As someone who thinks and writes a lot, that seems strange, but actually, I write a lot about art, but much less about music. My academic study has always concerned art, but I too tend to see music as something I respond to in a more basic way, rather than the intellectual satisfaction that I can enjoy with art and the theory surrounding it.
Maybe art is how I express my critical ideas, and my time studying art placed it in the spotlight of my thinking. To navigate art for me is to overcome initial recations; often dismissal or cynical disdain. Once this is acheived I can enjoy art both aesthetically, and critically, though it has to be said I often prefer (a confusing term, since it implies a value judgement) art that serves less of an aesthetic, emotional purpose.
With music I still base my listening patterns on what I respond to, emotionally and physically. My recent appreciation of minimal techno was a critical overcoming of a basic prejudice (four to the floor always left me cold), but I still like the music because I can respond to it, I am not analysing it. That said, I certainly listen and make as wide a range of music as I do art.
Should I change my attitude to the appreciation of music? I was engaging with the seminar and the ideas they presented, but unlike when I talk or write about ideas in art, it did not seem an essential part of my musical existence.
Would criticality help my appreciation/production of music? Or is all critical debate about both art and music simply a game of language played by people paid to play it (K-Punk), musicians who can't earn enough in a post-material music business (Kode 9), and idiots who are neither paid to play theory, music, or art (me)?
I don't really believe that, and I'm definitely not going to stop thinking critically about things. K-punk writes about a wide range of topics, and he certainly defines music as an important element of his critical thought. Kode 9 could probably make enough money from his various projects if he needed to.
I suppose the truth is that being critical about music is just another thing to do; another distraction, like being critical about art; or making music, or making art, or playing table-tennis, or being critical about table-tennis.
On the train back through the ravaged carcass of east London (a perfect setting for a discussion about UK dance music), I was reading John Gray who writes this about our post-industrial society,
"The function of this new economy...is to entertain and distract a population which - though it is busier than ever before - secretly suspects that it is useless"