Our new regular columnist Thomas Cox introduces himself and sets out his manifesto for this column: an honest, no-holds-barred take on dance culture.

pipecock2

Photo: Matt Cohen

Underground dance music as we know it today is part of a lineage that dates back 40-odd years to loft parties thrown in New York City in the early 70s. As the music grew out from its roots and embraced technology, the already nameless and faceless disco producer and DJ became even more obscured.

The insider nature of the underground dance media has led us to a place where it seems like any strong opinion, especially a negative one, is unwelcome in the general discussion. It’s time for that to change.

Sure, underground dance music is a relatively small world, especially as you get deeper and deeper into it. But what happens when the media are afraid to say anything negative for fear of offending a friend, or perhaps a PR agency who supplies promos and access? The same is true with music technology companies: the potential success of industry powerhouses and small independent companies alike relies heavily on positive reviews. This is compounded by the fact that dance music journalism is such a low-paid, low-prestige job that it has a high turnover rate.

It is far easier for journalists who don’t have as much history in the dance underground to just follow the flow of PR and hype, without upsetting the apple cart, and do their thing until they move on to bigger and better pastures. DJs and artists are even less likely to dish out criticism, especially when they’re relying on gigs and tech sponsorships for their pay cheques and those gigs and sponsorships are intertwined in the same dense web of politics.

So who is there to cut through the shit? Who really wins if PR firms and rich corporate sponsors get their way? A string of four-out-of-five ratings for each and every new release is not the way to keep this music moving forward.

Some of you may know of me from the music my group Pittsburgh Track Authority makes, or perhaps from the labels we run, including Love What You Feel. Long before any of that, I was throwing parties in Pittsburgh and of course going out to hear the music that moves me. It is likely though that you might have heard of me from my internet presence as pipecock. I have been talking about dance music on the internet since 1996 when I got my first PC at my house.

At 16 years old, I was used to going to record shops where bantering with more experienced and knowledgeable DJs helped point me in the direction of some of the more timeless music (much of which is the subject of heavy reissue and bootleg treatment even now) instead of the shallow trend of the day. The guys I was talking to were not even thinking about the big picture, they were just experienced and were not afraid to call it like they saw it. When I dove into the world of email discussion lists, it seemed as though anyone who said anything negative was labelled a ‘troll’, and their opinion dismissed. This attitude was reflected through the days of forums as well.

A string of four-out-of-five ratings for each and every new release is not the way to keep this music moving forward.

Blogging was a big step forward for critical approaches to dance music. It allowed upstart journalists to set up a home base where a certain perspective could be fostered without worrying about the politics or big media. It was the first time you saw the little guy able to take on such wide reaching criticism. Sites like Little White Earbuds, mnml ssgs and my blog infinitestatemachine each had something to add to the bigger discussion, something rooted in experience and taste, and less susceptible to outside influence.

Even more interesting was the fact that these blogs were able to begin focusing the spotlight on artists who had previously been ignored by the media. Many of those artists are now among the biggest names in the underground.

Eventually the world of dance music blogs became oversaturated, and the rise of bigger media sites began to take over. Some were formerly print magazines, a few were offshoots of record shops, while others had come out of more popular genres but were now covering underground music. The end result was that the discussion was now being led once again by a rotating cast of less experienced players who had less invested in their taste and style. There are some notable exceptions, of course, but a casual glance at most of the year-end lists generated by these writers reveals that they all seem to be drinking the same Kool Aid. There are even writers who will try to tell you that this isn’t how it works.

There is a feeling in the air right now that reminds me of the days over six years ago when I first started infinitestatemachine. At that moment, ‘minimal’ was in its death throes and the media, having suckled at the teat of minimal for years, was not in touch with what was coming up next. Hopefully more people will step up and use new platforms to point the discussion in a better direction, because I for one surely don’t want to sit through the last days of what they are (erroneously) calling deep house choking on its own vomit until it’s finally gone. Right now it seems the push is for lo-fi ‘outsider’ house, which feels even more limited in scope and definitely more limited in dancefloor usefulness.

I don’t want to sit through the last days of what they are (erroneously) calling deep house choking on its own vomit.

There are too many styles out there that are largely being ignored in the fight for everyone to have access to the same few hyped artists and labels. My job here at Attack is to use my experience and knowledge to discuss whatever topic might be of interest at any time, and in my own way. They have given me carte blanche, and the green light to pull no punches. I have no agenda other than leading the discussion on topics that I feel need to be addressed, whether that be the music, the industry, the business, the media, or really any facet of underground dance music.

Attack has given me carte blanche, and the green light to pull no punches.

One of the best things about underground dance music for me is the variety of sounds contained within. Experienced DJs, producers, promoters, and label owners, as well as journalists and even just punters would be greatly served by making sure their voices are heard. I personally have my hand in all of these activities. We are all responsible for the journey this music takes; following the pied piper will lead us down dead ends, as we have seen many times over. There is no reason for people to not say their piece. This column will be where I say mine; it will often be an unpopular one, which makes it even more imperative that it gets said.

The chain of back-slapping and PR hype ends here.

 

Thomas Cox has been causing trouble on teh interwebs since 1996 and representing Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since birth. You can find him on Twitter.

Author Thomas Cox
14th February, 2014

Comments

  • About time someone shoots straight about the state of “dance music media.” Thomas, I’ve always appreciated your honesty even if we don’t always agree. For a scene that supposedly prides itself on “being real” there’s an awful lot of fake-ass motherfuckers running the show. Thanks for laying out the truth, it’s also been heavy on my mind.

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  • A brilliant article by someone who it TOTALLY qualified to speak on the subject. It’s the truth, plain and simple… like it or not. Well done Tom! And it’s great to see this here on Attack one of my favorite sites as of late.
    Keep it commin’!!!!

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  • I agree with most of the points here. Current music journalism is a complete crap shoot, but with so much of it available online (blogs, electronic music sites, big money hype sites) it shouldn’t be taken to heart. Most of the people reviewing the records don’t know what they are talking about and regurgitate the same ‘insert new genre’ because it’s easier to pigeonhole a release based purely on the label it’s released on. I do think that it’s a shame that LIES gets lumped into that though. Like Cox, Moreli has been doing it a long time and busts his ass to get the records out that he loves. And I read interviews where he thinks the term “outsider house” is retarded too. We are all doing it for the same reasons…for the love of the music we enjoy. You might not like a specific sound (some music isn’t for everyone), and some people are luckier than others in terms of what press they get. In reality it’s all still underground, no matter how ‘hyped’ a label is.

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  • Good for you! I am old enough to remember Magic Feet, Underground News, Jockey Slut etc. and those voices called out the bullshit in a constructive way and said we can do better than this. Currently that seems to be lacking. I think most people have had the experience of going to a party that maybe was not so hot and then seeing the RA review and thinking “did we attend the same party?!?!” Criticism is a good thing as long as it is not mean spirited- everyone has their subjective opinions but sometimes you need to read those beads out in public!

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  • Bring it!!!

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  • Looking forward to it.

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  • Good stuff, looking forward to it! So many of these blogs written by kids who just attended their first “rave” (even though it wasn’t anything close to a rave) last year drive me insane. They have great looking pages that look professional but then just spout out nonsense and it really hurts our whole “scene” more than it helps.

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  • This will be entertaining.

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  • As most of us know (and as Pipecock explained), this problem predates the Internet. Check, we could argue that this began the moment the first licensing agreements occurred (and that’s ignoring how commercial disco came into being in the first place). In fact, this problem will always exist as long there is someone finds a way to exploit the music. I’m not sure there is a solution unless a totally different economic model for the music comes into being.

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  • Looking forward to this. I miss the days when ISM and mnml ssgs were in their pomp, shooting from the hip on the shit they didn’t like and flying the flag for what they did. I think their influence was disproportionately larger than their popularity, even though their musical remit didn’t overlap too much.

    So much of dance music writing is beige, predictable and unimaginative – it’s like journalistic tech-house. Honestly, these fuckers on forums who call critics “haters”, deserve every bit of hate they encounter.

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  • What was nice about mnml ssgs, besides the awesome music and insights, was the sense that some kind of conversation was taking place. Comments were encouraged, and responded to. LWE also used to have an active comments sections where discussion was encouraged. I don’t see much, if any, of that these days.

    I think a question central to the concerns you air, thomas (or should I call you pipecock?), is who has the right or is entitled to be an arbiter of taste. Presumably you’d like to be more critical than the average dance journalist. It’s great that you want to sound off (“shoot from the hip” as pinker than thou writes), but coming from almost anyone other than you it would sound false. One of the reasons mnmlssgs was successful was because the writers credible, had roots at RA which lent their opinions weight. Most dance music journalists, however, are simply passionate fans, not active players, and readers would rightly ask what gives them the right to be so critical, when they themselves have few (musical) achievements to their name.

    It’s the age old critic-vs-artist conundrum, but at least critics in the past were required to have some kind of pedigree. These days anyone can write a blog about it–an important and beneficial development on the whole, but one that leads to a dearth of true credibility. This lack of credible commentators is a big reason why you see today’s dance music circle-jerk.

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  • Looking forward to this space for you Tom! *pops popcorn* Cheers

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  • Excited to see where you take this Tom 😉

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  • This is a fucking joke, right?

    The audience for the self-aggrandizing and regressive ranting (SINCE 1996!) we’ve come to expect from pipecock has dwindled

    to the point he’s now desperately stepping on a soapbox provided by the very same (European) “media” clowns he resolutely

    insults day-in and out. Is that you Sarah Palin?

    i don’t know what’s more depressing, this hypocrite, seemingly oblivious to the fact he continually incriminates himself by

    offering ever more evidence that he embodies those same exact qualities of the objects of his “criticisms”, or the grim

    prospect that people will continue to be subjected to the searing illogics of a new breed of DJ asswipes (Authority).

    Resonant truths abound in this manifesto, and surely aplenty in future fire & brimstone will be lessons on:

    – fistfighting
    – nonsense – an expansive teleology including anything from 707s to things lacking “beauty”
    – good ol’ music production know-how – American melodies, harmonies and funky rhythms, translated from the European

    school of equal temperment
    – “owning” history – techniques include having amnesia of or willfully ignoring any history you find to be “nonsense”
    – exhibiting taste – for those who know only
    – variety – a bounty of timeless sounds, which, when sourced from original pressings (promotional copies okay!) but not

    reissues, are ripe for you to put on your own creative twist
    – not a producer? you can still maintain DJ credentials by NOT FUCKING SLEEPING on new wax (only the good shit) at least 50x

    per annum
    – keeping streetwise by only using out-of-production record players with the high markups and the four-figure rotary mixers.
    + advanced theories of musics of the city (Detroit, Chicago, Miami, NYC and Pittsburgh)

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  • pipecox: his name’s half correct… AMIRITE?

    nice entrée anyway, i look forward to the main course

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  • Out of all the journalists, DJs, producers, PR companies and labels I try so hard to ingratiate myself with and make myself known to, Pipecock is the only person I chat with online that I actually like.

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  • oh, cheers tonk

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  • And that long haired bloke who does Teshno. He’s alright.

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  • Regular column, yeah? Been a month since the last one already. Another online journo whose all mouth and no trousers?

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  • Calm down Mala, it’s a monthly column. March instalment coming next week 😉

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  • people need to blaze and deal with a power outage – relax people!

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  • looking forward to this. backslapping and PR hype gets 95% of the players in this scene paid, legacy and mystery the other 5%. the anti-backslappers are already slapping right here in these comments 🙂 aint no bizniz like show bizniz like… lets hope this column err’s on the side of education rather than elitism and hypocrisy 🙂

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  • A monthly column? Man this guy is really working hard. For a fellow who goes on talking how bad music journalism is and how it’s all hype it’s surprising to see someone doing some awful music journalism (5 months?) and really good at hyping up his “column”

    this guy’s a joke. please stay on the “inside” of your ego..

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