Care Less, Enjoy Clubbing More

Care Less, Enjoy Clubbing More

The Armin van Buuren versus Underground Resistance row got us thinking...
May 26, 2017, 10:00am

A question: how interested are you in dance music? Honestly, how much do you genuinely care about it? Does it dominate your waking days and haunt your sleepless nights? Do you dream, when you can, of Drumcode parties and Daphni edits? Do you spend your Thursday nights attending industry panel discussions about how liking dance music is the only way to solve the world's economic failures, nodding sagely at the advice dished out by someone who wrote an RBMA piece about Ron Hardy five years ago? Do you book time off work to easyJet over to Romania to catch Raresh in his natural habitat, smoking an endless chain of cheap, strong cigarettes at after-parties that look about as much fun as tooth-pulling? Do your eyes bleed after another day wasted on Discogs, Mixesdb, and ResidentAdvisor? Do you ruin Christmas each and every year by throwing wobblies when your mum won't turn her Il Divo album off in favour of a Zaltan mix?

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No? Good. You are, relatively speaking, normal. You probably go clubbing once or twice a month, maybe head to a festival in the summer, probably one in bus distance from your flat. You might have a few DJs you think of as favourites, a couple of mixes you return back to time and time again, a YouTube playlist titled "Total bangers" and another called "Comedown"—which is basically a few Burial songs and "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper. You like dance music and club culture, and honestly, you'll try and get round to reading that Call Super piece about Brexit one day, but you're a little busy at the moment and it's sunny and you'd probably rather do anything else at all.

If, however, you identify with the first person I've painted in brush strokes broad enough to cover Australasia, then you've probably been following this week's big story with great interest. Armin Van Buuren has been accused of plagiarising Underground Resistance's name and logo. This, apparently, is of great interest. We, as participants in whatever's left of club culture—a phrase that now pretty much means "SG Lewis is playing a special UK garage set at a party for Domino's new pizza launch"—are meant to have opinions on matters like this. We're meant to ping off horrified tweets about a trance DJ using the same letters that some other DJs used, shocked at the level of disrespect shown. And yet, it matters not a jot.

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Yes, teenage nihilism reader, you're right, nothing matters really, does it? Still, news of this kind—which, to reiterate is an argument about branding couched in terms of alleged authenticity, and was eventually sorted out after he blathered some bollocks about UR standing for Universal Religion a "an older but nonetheless well-known Armin van Buuren concept"—really, really, really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that Seth Troxler's unveiling "the world's smartest DJ luggage" at IMS. It doesn't matter that Felix Da Housecat has launched a record label and called it Founders of Filth. It doesn't matter, either, that the fancy dress loving chuffing legends at elrow have added another day to their London party this summer, just so a few thousand extra dullards can try and conjure up a personality out of an inflatable flamingo and a wig.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that it does though. Over the past few years dance music has become strangely indebted to the news cycle. Sometimes, as with the Ten Walls scandal, this sensationalism is justified, but at other times, it appears a strange reflex—an awkward attempt to make trivial, or at least fleeting, matters seem important.

Perhaps it stems from a fear that someone, somewhere, someday might burst the bubble, and whack a massive great needle into the stretched balloon that is clubbing, and we'll all be forced to accept that while it is a fun pastime, perhaps it isn't the antidote to everything. That fear leads us to a period where DJs tweets are read like lost works of W.G. Sebald, where the addition of an oyster bar to a bougie festival in Kent headlined by Felix Dickinson is hailed as newsworthy, where you half expect to hear John Humphrys chatting about the latest Chris Lorenzo single when you switch Today on. We've manifested the unimportant into being of extreme interest. Which is a little strange when you think about it.

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This is one of the myriad problems with where we're at with club culture in 2017—we are asked by PRs, managers, websites, social media feeds, the bloke outside the club who's been trying to light his limp cigarette for fifteen minutes without success, to care about everything. We're expected to be thrilled by the news that some festival you'll never got to got a new license which means you'll be able to enjoy the truly tepid experience of Todd Terje's live band at Heathrow-runway level volume. News, on news, on news, on news, all meant to send you spinning into a paroxysm of utter joy. Does it though? Do you actually, really, truly care? Or are you told you care, sold the myth that paying for tickets and records and drinks and flights and drugs and disposable cameras and taxis and pork pies and smoothies lets you join this big special club where everything is fantastic and clubbing is the most important thing mankind ever created?

If we're honest with ourselves, realistically it is the latter. Clubbing can be mind-blowing, life-changing, or countless other platitudes we trot out when we don't have the words to accurately convey the feeling of genuinely having a good time. It can bring you closer than you ever thought possible to friends and strangers alike, and it can transform your understandings of cities and societies. It offers untold pleasures of numerous kinds, showing you what life might be like if there wasn't anything more pressing to contend with than dancing in dark rooms till dawn. Thing is, though, there are. Life exists outside of nightclubs. We lived relatively happily without them until about 1975, and our great, great, great grandchildren may well look back on the nightclub in the same way we do 17th century coffee houses—quaint relics of an age they'll never know.

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But it isn't the clubs that are the problem, or the DJs themselves. It's the system they work within, the way in which cultural identities have become more important than ever. In an age of homogeneity, individuality is more important than ever, and the best way to mark out your own sense of self, to literally curate a personal brand, is to prioritise your cultural interests above all else. Your idea of moral absolutism, for example, isn't as important as the French films you've seen or the German books you've read. After all, no one's bagged a date on Tinder after opening with some truly excoriating chat about Bertrand Russell, have they?

That focus on culture as an arbiter of how you present yourself to the world can lead to the scene you find yourself in taking on stratospheric importance. Whether you're obsessive about craft beer or crosswords, you can now immerse yourself in that world, never needing to come up to air, your lungs perpetually filled by new content, new comments. Which is great and everything, but man cannot live on press releases about Five Points' Railway Porter alone.

Think about it this way: while it'd be great to eat chips every day, to just gorge yourself silly on chips, to look down at a big plate of hot, greasy chip shop chips each and every meal, you can't because eating chips all the time will kill you. You need a balanced diet, right? You need to supplement the chips with kale or baked beans at the least. The same applies to cultural interests—mix up clubbing with the cinema, the cinema with the gallery, the gallery with the terrifying prospect of immersive theatre. Don't let yourself build any one thing up as the be all and end all.

The things we think make us who we are are instilled with an importance they perhaps do not have, and this happens because a lot of people would be out of work without that world of procedurally generated excitement. Which is sad, but what is even sadder is watching everything becoming important, everything becoming worthy of comment and analysis, every fucking thing that's happening in the world of dance music being treated like a Empire State Building sized deal.

It isn't. And that's why it's great. Clubbing is escapism. You owe yourselves an escape from some blokes arguing about the alleged ownership of two letters from the alphabet.