Today, Innervision's main man Dixon was voted Resident Advisor's top DJ in the world—for the fourth year in a row. For four solid years now, the foremost DJ of dewy-eyed, saccharine tech-house has been lionized and idolized, presented as the exemplar of club culture. But the Berlin-based DJ's seemingly perpetual position atop the perch is indicative of a larger turn towards bland, conservative clubbing—a turn that's ossified into an inevitability. Dixon, and DJs of his ilk, are totems of cultural conservatism—safe choices for safe people.
Now, there's nothing wrong with Dixon. He is a perfectly fine DJ. When you're in the mood for that kind of heartstring-tugging house, à la Kompakt at their most romantic, Dixon is one of your safest bets. But in a wider context, what Dixon has come to mean within club culture is comfortable, safe, pedestrian, and plodding. He's the DJ equivalent of digestive biscuits and ready salted crisps, or a sauceless steak served well done.
Of course, sometimes you really could wolf down a steak like that. Sometimes, that's the exact kind of steak you want. But most of the time, you and I—and despite what the polls say, a lot of other fucking people—want more from a DJ than easy tech-house that reaches for overt emotion, and sort of slides into corniness. When was the last time you saw someone going absolutely wild over a Dixon set? When did you last sit in a pub while your loose-jawed best mate waxed lyrical about the stoic German's most recent eight-hour excursion into the outer limits of tastefulness?
The thing is, rabid Dixon fans do exist—they must exist. This tacitly approving silent majority, after all, keep voting for him on the RA poll in droves. The conservative clubber's always existed, of course. He's always been there, drink in one hand, phone in the other, standing in the shadows at a Hot Creations show. 15 years ago, he thought electroclash was for poncey students, 25 years ago he thought acid house was for filthy hippies, and 35 years ago he thought disco was for flashy poofs. He thought it was a "fucking disgrace" that fabric lost its license, but didn't think twice about Dance Tunnel closing. He's not into protests or petitions, couldn't care less about identity politics, and reckons we should all forget about bullshit "safe spaces" and just having a fucking good time. He's seen Joseph Capriati six times.
Most of us succumb to the transformative appeal of club culture because we want something more out of life. The person we are on the dancefloor is someone we're not always in touch with, but is someone we wish we were. Out there, in the club—from the cramped basements miles away from civilization to the biggest dancefloors in the city—we want to believe that change is possible. The club, and the dancefloor specifically, is a place where we submit ourselves to provocation and challenge. It is a space for the most radical kinds of self-questioning.
The club is also a space for safety. And that's where this idea of cultural conservatism comes into play, because when all hell is breaking loose in the real world, internal retreat becomes more appealing than ever. Dixon's continued dominance in these kind of DJ polls—polls which shouldn't really mean anything, but kinda do—is proof of that desire to withdraw. Him being crowned The World's Best DJ According to the Readers of One Particular Website suggests that the majority of people like their club experiences to be comfortable instead of challenging. That sense of comfort is inextricably linked to a desire to retreat to the kind of safety we find within ourselves when we rewatch a favourite film, listen to a favourite record, or re-read a favourite book for the hundredth time. It's culture as a baby blanket.
This silent majority sweep the board year in, year out.The danger is that this strain of conservatism threatens to smother the radical roots of dance music culture entirely. Think about the "house lads" we wrote about earlier in the year, or the pulled-pork eating deep-house heads who shuffled into the world in the early part of this decade. Their relentless pursuit of the big, the brash, and the bloody-mindedly mediocre is both money-making and spirit-sapping. Their appetite pays for the smaller acts booked by promoters, clubs, and festivals. But what cultural conservatism begets is the marginalization of the unusual. A refusal to engage with the stranger ends of the dance music spectrum is a refusal to engage with club culture itself. It also risks the possibility that dance music's socio-historical roots—roots among queer people of color that shouldn't need explaining ever again—will be forgotten, or worse, whitewashed. The narrative will change as history is rewritten by the white, straight, male poll-winners. And that's a terrifying prospect indeed.