The other weekend I found myself standing slightly behind a pair of decks watching a DJ. This, in itself, is nothing special. After all, as we enter a period in humanity in which we've got more DJs than nurses, bin men and freelance music journalists combined, almost everyone has drank warm Carlsberg while studying the back of their mate's arrhythmically bobbing head. Only, this time, I wasn't looking out at a few people I knew but didn't speak to at university, all checking their phones and nipping out for ever lengthening fag breaks. I was behind Ellen Allien and I was looking at 18,000 fucked Italians. 18,000 dancing Italians.
I was in Turin for the ninth edition of Movement festival, a week long series of techno events that culminates in the entire population of a decent-sized English town descending on a warehouse to get very pissed and very high and dance very badly to very loud tech-house. Having spent the day drinking Cointreau and Red Bull in the former Fiat factory with everyone's favourite snaggle-toothed former dubstep doyen turned house-head Skream, I felt ready to enter the bowels of clubland. I felt like I was ready to dance.
I wasn't. I've never danced. I'll never dance. These feet are full of guilt about their lack of rhythm.
This morning I've downloaded twelve 12" promos, skipped and skimmed my SoundCloud feed several times, checked out this weekend's club listings, caught up on a week's worth of Resident Advisor reviews and given each record a twenty second spin on Beatport. I've read unilluminating interviews with DJs, thought about my favourite release on Clone Royal Oak and finally ID'd a track I heard in a mix, once, three years ago. Dance music is my life. Apart from occasionally finding myself waist-deep in the murky depths of black metal, or gasping for air in the celestial drifts of new age cassette schmaltz, everything I've listened to in the last ten years has been rooted to a solid 4/4. I could happily listen to a kick drum on its own for hours. Chuck in a hi-hat every eight bars and I'd probably transcend. I spend my weekends in clubs and my weeks wishing I was back in them.
But still I don't dance.
Friends and strangers alike try and cajole me: my shoulders are pulled away from me, drinks wrestled from both hands, my scowling face met with reciprocal expressions. I feel myself shrink inside, feel myself more and more convinced that I'm fighting for my right to party in my own way, i.e. by spending most of the set looking at my phone, sometimes nodding my head very slightly until I catch myself doing it, wondering when it's socially acceptable to secrete myself away from my mates to get another drink. This is how I enjoy clubbing. If you catch me in the corner at Oval Space best believe I'm actually having a great time even if I appear to have the expression of a man who's thinking about that unopened red letter from HMRC that's been stuffed in his sock drawer for a fortnight. People tell me that dancing is fun, that it's enjoyable, that it impresses potential partners. Fuck that. A night out should look like an endurance test. You should ache from keeping your back rigid rather than from over-exertion.
The cumulative days I've spent not dancing has led me to view myself as a kind of clubbing anthropologist. I'm in these dark spaces as a researcher of sorts, attempting to ascertain why people from Athens to Zagreb spend their time throwing their arms about. There's a growing breed of us non-movers, us lads and lasses who get their money's worth from pure old fashioned sadsack track ID'ing. While we should all be united in the club, all sating our bacchanalian appetites as one, we're not. We look at you with mild disgust and you at us with pity.
What I present to you is the global dance trends from the world's best clubs. This unholy quartet of moves make me happier than ever to be stationary. This is you. This is how you look at 4am when Jeff Mills is onto hour three of 140 BPM cosmic techno. This is you and your mates when you lose your shit to Steffi down at the Panorama. Watch. Learn. Weep. Repent. Then join me in the corners resolutely not dancing.
The Fist Pump
Even I've indulged in this after one 330ml of Bud too many. This is the dance move of the common man, the one that works regardless of where you are and what's playing. You can fist pump to Todd Terje as easily as you can to Todd Terry. Bros and Berliners do it. Your mum and dad can do it. Children who haven't yet learnt to walk can do it. You can do it seriously and furiously or you can play it as a joke, just an arch movement of the arm arching upwards and onwards in time. Anyone who does this more than twice in an evening just hasn't accepted the fact that they weren't built for dancing yet.
What you think you look like: Someone really in the moment.
What you actually look like: Someone moving their arm in the air.
Human beings are fallible creatures: however a la mode you think you are, however on the pulse you deem yourself to be, there will always be cultural phenomena that fall between your personal cracks. It doesn't matter if it's ramen or revenge porn, Dapper Laughs or Dostoyvesky, something will always be out of your reach, will always leave you with a scratched head and squinty eyes. Shuffling is my blindspot. I don't know who popularized it, what the appeal is, when it became the dance du jour for Huarache boys and crop top girls, where it comes from and why I have to watch people doing it. The sight of a stash of shufflers on a dancefloor makes me feel older than Alfredo.
What you think you look like: Like, fuckin' sick, mate!
What you actually look like: Your finger's trapped in a socket.
I've talked before about the ecstatic joys of rave footage. The dancing in those clips from beyond the grave is sincere and genuinely uncalculated reaction to the music, the drugs, and the setting. It's charmingly heartfelt. The shapes thrown throughout those reams of footage has become cultural currency, easily mimed by Cambridge Footlights and Lee Mack alike – and this is the death knell of any dance move. As soon as anyone mimics it, it becomes ironised, turned into a cheap and tacky kitsch, a pastiche of an experience originally infused with honesty. So next time you're out and about and the vino's been flowing and you're stood in a dark room not really knowing what's expected of you, not really feeling yourself, wishing for the release of death, don't be tempted to give it the big-fish-little-fish routine. Please. It's not just that you look like a tosser; you look like an insecure tosser too afraid to reveal anything, even the tiniest thing, about themselves to anyone. You're only making life worse for yourself.
What you think you look like: Office joyboy, photocopier cad, Christmas party supremo.
What you actually look like: David Brent after a Kevin and Perry Go Large screening.
Apart from Nathan Barley quips and 'your jst a rubish clyve martin mate!' disses, the most common under-the-line comment slatings on
articles concern the fact that dance music doesn't begin and end with those two towering pinnacles of mankind's worth: house and techno. Apparently, some poor fuckers out there voluntarily listen to D'n'B and dubstep. No, I'm not sure why either, but they do. So in fairness, I cast my mind back to those grim dark days of Chase and Status at the SU, Benga and Coki, lads in joggies and ankle monitor's fucking off bail hearings because the drops were too big. I thought back to those horrific invasions of personal space, the scent of butthole weed and unwashed white dreads, the fear of said dreads glistening over your face in slow-mo during "Sandsnake". If Bosch did nightclubs he'd have had a residency in one of those palaces of ket, these bastions of wobble and wub. Skanking is just almost falling over really slowly – at least when I nearly fall over in a club I have the decency to not create a three mile radius around me.
What you think you look like: the distilled personification of the biggest drop you've ever heard
What you actually look like: a skidmark
Now, obviously, not all dancing is horrific. And, probably even more obviously, my distrust of dancers stems from envy. Deep down I wish I could swap my Janoskis for bright white winkle-pickers and go the whole Travolta down The Hydra on a Saturday night. If the clips above make me glad to be a miserable cunt then this one below makes me want to be a snake-hipped lothario roaming sticky floors with confidence, vim and vigour.
This video of the Paradise Garage – the kind of club that even someone like me, someone born after it shut its doors one last time, will always think of as one of the greatest, a supernaturally important, incredible space that's left a permanent mark on club culture and is one of the reasons why anyone serious about this shit does what they do – in full flow is one of the most thrilling documents of night life in existence. There are too many highlights, too many moments of joy that make me want to repent for a lifetime spent being a dancefloor miser, but it's the bit when Stephanie Mills' transcendental, life-affirming, life-changing "Put Your Body in It", itself a complete Garage classic, takes centre stage that has me throwing my hands up at my desk in ecstasy. I reckon if I lock myself up in a dark room with a few pills and this video on repeat for, say, six months, I'll happily meet you on any 'floor of your choice.
Look forward to seeing you there.