David Thompson


Blog powered by Typepad

« The Thrill of Scaffolding | Main | Friday Ephemera »

March 24, 2011


Mr Eugenides

From dancehall to raving, club cultures to sound systems, disco to techno, breakbeat to psytrance, hip hop to dubstep, IDM to noisecore, nortec to bloghouse, global EDMCs are a shifting spectrum of scenes, genres, and aesthetics. What is the role of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, religion and spirituality in these formations? How does existing critical theory enable understanding of EDMCs, and how might the latter challenge the assumptions of our inherited heuristics? What is the role of the DJ in diverse genres, scenes, subcultures, and/or neotribes?

This is, as nearly as I can imagine it, just a perfect paragraph.


What is the role of the DJ in diverse genres, scenes, subcultures, and/or neotribes?

It's a mid-life crisis waiting to happen. Some people just don't know when to let it go.


Demonstrating once again that contemporary cultural studies academicians are ants in the picnic of life.


I'm still laughing at 'FUCK THE RAVE HIERARCHY'. Raver #3 is definitely husband material.


But it’s edgy and dangerous. It’s stuff to topple empires. Can’t you see?

Horace Dunn

So,Queensland University has a research associate specialising in this stuff. Seems to me it's only a matter of time before someone endows a Chair of Dredlock Studies and Comparative Crustiology. If I were a rich man I'd put up the money myself. And I reckon our Dr St John would be a shoo-in for the Chair's first incumbent.


Mr E,

“This is, as nearly as I can imagine it, just a perfect paragraph.”

Oh, there are other contenders:

“Efforts to maintain an independent ‘tribal’ identity, an ‘empathetic sociality’ (Maffesoli 1996: 11), through commitment to genre and to an almost universal envelope-pushing esoterica, evidence a refusal, an aloofness, an invisibility thought to secure scenes from the long entwined arms of state administrations and corporate entertainment industries. Responding to that which CCCS researcher and author of Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Dick Hebdige, identified as (inevitable) incorporation, punks engage in ‘a refusal of meaning, a blankness which resists any complete and final decoding’ (Beezer 1992: 114). Such illegibility and incomprehensibility may (re)affirm an ‘underground centrality’ that is guardedly unco-opted.”


“In its desire to transgress boundaries, to reach a critical mass, [hardcore] demonstrates that ‘we are everywhere’. So while the former tendency finds refuge within the guarded boundaries of its own traditions, amidst a resurgent DIY politics, the latter seeks to open its borders, clarify an ethos and make a spectacle - of itself and the corporate and colonial structures against which it fashions its cultural resistance.”

So, to recap:

Envelope pushing, corporations, subcultures…
Transgression, colonialism, cultural resistance…
Refusal of meaning, decoding, blankness, incomprehensibility…

And well, once you’ve thrown in some nods to critical theory, ethnicity, gender and class, it pretty much writes itself.


The funny thing is that there is something worth studying in all this. These people are obviously performing religious rituals and pilgrimages, they just call it something else. It would be instructive to view them objectively and perhaps put some of them into a magnetic resonance imager to see if the same parts of their brains are active as in people experiencing religious ecstasy.

But instead we get more pomo critical-theory blather.


Dancecult seeks contributions from scholars of psytrance from all disciplines and methods attending to this genre (or meta-genre) in a period of transition and growing complexity.

Scholars of psytrance? Really?


"Most primitive cornerstones of psytrance parties have lost half or more of their visitors. Most labels have signed bankruptcy, media companies are struggling if not yet dead, scene workers left for a ‘normal’ job.”

It's music to my tinnitus addled ears that the crusty anti capitalist dance culture of Goa is falling apart while it's capitalistic cousin in Ibiza is going strong with global brands and multi millionaire DJs, producers and promoters.



“The funny thing is that there is something worth studying in all this.”

Well, maybe. In much the same way one might study the pathologies and contortions of postmodern “scholarship.” If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is now regarded as the stuff of academic gravitas and edgy intellectual status, then I suppose pretty much anything goes, at least in the Clown Quarter of the humanities. But setting aside the subject matter, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of evidence and logical argument; just lots of question-begging and tendentious assertion. You could easily get the impression that the object was to churn out reams of material that’s laughably generic, pompous yet trivial, all but unreadable and of no practical use to any living being.


If the British knew, long ago, that colonialism would be used as an excuse for everything from the extinction of life on Mars (h/t Hugo Chavez) to rationalizing the hardcore-reggae-techno-dubstep culture, they might have just stayed home.

Paul Saxton

"Some speakers, radically situated." That caption alone made my day. Glorious stuff as usual, Mr Thompson.

Mr Eugenides

There is something worth submitting a research funding application for in all of this, you mean...

carbon based lifeform

Above, a "cultural mobilisation."

Or: some unemployed crusties getting buzzed (again).


"and of no practical use to any living being."

Ha! That's where you're wrong! Those reams go on some living being's CV, which accumulate until that being achieves TENVRE.

Beat THAT!


If you’ve the stomach to plough through dense and overwrought guff, it is quite boggling. You can make it through paragraph after paragraph with no clear structural logic or trace of evidence. Just reams of bald assertion and circular citations of someone else’s equally bald assertion. Apparently it’s a field of “scholarship” in which you can just say something is such-and-such, based on nothing in particular. Assumptions and claims simply whistle by unexamined and questions are begged at a rate of knots. At times it reads like the stream-of-consciousness outpourings of someone with a serious bipolar disorder.

“Decentralised structures encouraging mutual responsibility and consensual outcomes, anarcho-punk ‘temporary autonomous zones’ (or TAZ: Bey 1991a) nurture the kind of immediate experiments-of-the-self Bey embraced as ‘radical conviviality’. Furthermore, the orgiastic-organicism of the TAZ can be a context for intervention. Contextualising reclamations, direct action and culture jamming (from Reclaim the Streets to J18 and other ‘protestivals’), a temporary ‘orgiasm’ potentiates more enduring subversions.”

The furthermore is a lovely touch.


Proof (if proof were needed) that 'writing about music is like dancing about architecture'.

David Gillies

Oh, that certainly induced an urge to harm. Not self-harm, of course. But harm, definitely. That first photo looks like a Renaissance Fayre as seen through the eyes of Hieronymous Bosch. People are fretting about Japanese radiation leaks. Can you imagine being downwind of this lot?

I'm sure we're all fans round here of Bricmont and Sokal's 'Fashionable Nonsense', and its sibling in the genre, Gross and Levitt's 'Higher Superstition'. The take-home lesson from both these books is that the wilder shores of the post-modern sea are nothing *but* question-begging. Tendentious bollocks rendered in a suitably ex cathedra style is what passes for scholarship. Mind you, I'd like to think that even Luce Irigaray would take one look at this bunch of crusty muppets and laugh her socks off.


What’s interesting about stuff like this (or almost interesting) is that it tends to be badly written in exactly the same way. You know before reading it that Rietveld’s article will mention Deleuze and Guattari because these are names that practically all of her peers mention in order to signal profundity, or rather pseudo profundity. (You have to wear the right in-group badges and make sure they catch the light. It’s what radical, critical, edgy people do.) Just as you know that St John’s articles will be peppered with unargued claims of “transgression,” “subversion” and “cultural resistance.” Exactly what is being subverted and how is unlikely to be demonstrated, merely asserted.

For all the talk of “critical theory,” there’s little sign of questioning, certainly not of the premise or its alleged political connotations – in fact the tone is credulous. It reads like advocacy or advertorial and is almost romantic - in a clunky and disfigured kind of way. As Fabian Tassano said, “Thinking, it will be recalled, is the activity one performs before one has arrived at the answer.” And with the material quoted above I just don’t believe that was ever the chosen sequence.


I say we all need to write a 20-page examination of "psytrance" as a manifestation of too much drugs and not enough brains in the EDMC community.


I agree with Trimegistus that there is something worth studying here as the rave scene is a valid object of sociological inquiry, in the same way that studying the hippy festival scene is worthwhile, as one can clearly see that it was an important part of some quite drastic cultural changes. However, that's not to excuse the rampant pseudo-scholarship presented here, which is clearly a way for inferior academics to mimic worthwhile work and continue to make a living. An example of something that could be a worthwhile line of study is the relationship between the effects of drugs and the music cultures associated with them. The rave scene provides a particularly fertile and diverse ecology of such drug-music cultures, descendants of the LSD music cultures that sprang up in the 60s. One notices that certain genres (and sub-genres) go with certain drugs and certain ideologies, and that these cultures, being on the avant-garde, are probably important for wider cultural change. This could help elicit the relationship between psychoactive drugs and culture -- surely an important topic, given how crucial alcohol has been in our culture and the wave of new drugs that have become available in the 20th Century. I suspect that a perspicacious mind investigating such matters with a rigorous methodology could discover something both worthwhile and unexpected. It's a pity, however, that Dr St John and his ilk will crowd out any better work and infect the thought of others on these matters.

sackcloth and ashes

From Dr John to Dr St John. How did we get to this?

'But it’s edgy and dangerous. It’s stuff to topple empires. Can’t you see?'

I wonder if St John thinks this is 'edgy', or if it's mocking the wrong sort of despot:


Mr E, please bring back your blog. It is sorely missed.


For all the talk of "critical theory," there’s little sign of questioning… in fact the tone is credulous.

Nailed it.


Just another piece of evidence in the case for the separation of Government and Education.


Having come from a scientific discipline in which experiments can be conducted with repeatable results, and written a few journal articles and a book chapter in that discipline, I have to wonder if these people actually believe what they are writing, or if they are all in on this massive con.

I could write this stuff, but I would be afraid that I would permanently damage my ability to be clear and to transmit real information from myself to someone else.


"I would permanently damage my ability to be clear and to transmit real information from myself to someone else."

It's not a bug, it's a feature.


it is interesting to compare scafolders from previos post with useless hippies

David Gillies

cranky-d: they have to believe it. Think of the implications of their NOT believing it. It would imply that the whole edifice of post-modernism is an elaborate hoax. I'll easily buy the idea that these cretins are stupid enough to believe their own nonsense. I find it thoroughly implausible that any collection of these mouth-breathers numbering more than three could organise a take-away order from a Chinese restaurant, let alone a Dada-ist mind-freak conspiracy. Stupid is as stupid does, and boy oh boy the stupid that this stupid does, is.

Stephen Stratford

"Some speakers, radically situated." is the best caption I have ever read, anywhere.



“I have to wonder if these people actually believe what they are writing, or if they are all in on this massive con.”

It isn’t necessary to invoke dark conspiracies; the dynamic may be quite humdrum. If you can lower standards and get away with it, colleagues who also benefit from that lowering of standards will tend to keep schtum. And if those lowered standards prevail in an area that’s insular, speculative and isn’t generally subject to public scrutiny or the risk of correction, then… well, why make more work for yourself?

In my experience, the more often you encounter the term “critical theory,” the less likely it is you’ll encounter any significant or original questioning. Instead, you’ll probably find plenty of preconception, often to the point of dogmatism, citations of authority and lots of bald assertion. St John’s article is a fairly typical example. It’s dense with citations that establish very little and the rhetorical pattern goes something like this: “So-and-so said such-and-such was radical, transgressive and subversive, which is basically what I’m saying, so therefore what I’m saying must be true.” That the citations merely assert the same tendentious and unproven thing doesn’t seem to matter. What matters, it seems, is peer pressure and conformity.

The irony, of course, is that someone with a genuinely critical and questioning approach might well find the world of “critical theorists” suffocating and absurd. Another irony is that in noting these things publicly you run the risk of being called “anti-intellectual.”


Another nail in the coffin of those far-Right fascists who want to cut public spending. You do know, don't you, that if you cut spending we wouldn't know about vital stuff like this?


vaguely related, but I'll use any excuse to throw this up, because I think it's quite well done:


A handy guide to the sub-sub-sub-generes in question

David Gillies

On further thought, I have to say that jugglin' chick in the first photo is actually rather cute. If she were marinaded in Dettol for a couple of hours she'd be quite fanciable.

The "as X said, [scantily-cited, gnomic po-mo cobblers] so we can see [bald assertion of more gnomic po-mo cobblers without a shred of inferential justification]" is a recurrent meme in this sort of stuff. The robot po-mo paper generator uses it to great effect in producing those hilariously plausible mini-Sokal hoaxes.

I think if I ever have fake business cards made up, "Scholar of Psytrance" will be one of my spurious qualifications. Or perhaps, "Professor of Psytrance (Oxon) (emeritus)".

Rich Rostrom

As Ay and Trismegistus said, there could be something worth studying here.

For instance, the impacts of technology over the last 25-35 years - the arrival of home-recordable cassetted tape, then the CD, then home-burning CDs, then upload/download. How did all this affect the economics of this genre?

Comparisons between the milieus in different countries. Where was it big, at what dates? How did styles and memes propagate between different cultures? By what means, with what time lags? What cultures never took to this, and why? How did varying economic levels affect uptake in different countries?

The economics of rave operations, technological impacts on rave organizing. The interaction with psychoactive drug usage - esthetically, economically, legally.

Many years ago, Robert Heinlein discussed how to fake your way through an American university. He recommended "interdisciplary majors", but added "Careful here! If you are smart enough to put this over, you may find yourself not only earning a baccalaureate, but in fact doing original work worthy of a Ph.D."

Or one can just extrude polysyllabic gibberish.



“Or one can just extrude polysyllabic gibberish.”

I suppose the question, then, is this. Would extruding polysyllabic gibberish be better suited to a personal hobby and/or private commercial venture, or should it be subsidised by the public and rewarded with academic status?


David, I suspect it rather fails PJ O'Rorke's "gun-to-granny's-head" public-funding test...

wayne fontes

Just for grins I did a search on "Juggalos+critical theory". Sure enough an essay popped up that had a very familiar feel to it.


The pictures of Juggalos alone make it worth looking at.



Apparently the measure of “transgression” is deliberate bad taste, “disengaging from corporations” and offending Bill O’Reilly.

Radicalism as defined by a fifteen-year-old.

Andrew Duffin

It's possible that this is beyond even what could have been conceived by Michael Wharton.

Truly, satire is meaningless now.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Amazon Link