Hi, I’m a politics student currently starting a dissertation titled ‘How subcultures related to dance music affect politics and the political landscape they inhabit.’
Does anyone have any recommendations (ideally academic but fine if not) of books and writings on this topic. I’m particularly interested in dance music’s involvement in community-led efforts across the globe which has led to real change.
Any other recommendations which cover similar ground to this from other genres of music are appreciated for me to contrast with dance music.
I think you should probably read Tim Lawrence’s books on the new york scene. He’s written 2 of them, “Love Saves the Day” and “Life & Death on the New York Dancefloor”. Although they are broad histories of two different periods, he touches on the political aspect of dance music, particularly in relation to social issues such as Gay rights, minority representation, and the AIDS epidemic.
I don’t have anything to suggest beyond the familiar “Disco Sucks” culture wars but please let us know when you’ve finished this, I would love to read it.
I did my own dissertation on the how The Knife use techno to explore feminism. Donna Haraway has stuff about how technological developments give a voice and new language to the previously disempowered, but that’s less about subcultures and more about the role of the music/technology itself.
In think i’ll touch slightly on the disco sucks thing anyway. Yours sounds very interesting, if you wouldn’t mind could I give it a read? I’ll check out the Donna Haraway stuff that sounds super interesting thanks.
‘A triumphant oral history of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge . . . a tale of resistance: first, against a surge of racism and bigotry that an inspired group of activists and musicians played a key role in rolling back; and then against a government, as the same spirit of defiance quickly resurfaced in opposition to the social revolutions of Thatcherism . . . a vivid portrait’
A few rambling thoughts which you are all free to trash… I never thought that dance music was massively political because by definition so much of it was escapism (ie hiding rather than fighting). yes, underground discos/clubs offered a safe haven (esp for minorities) from the nastiness outside but are you feeling even subliminally political when you’re off your chops or getting off with someone? or is it simply the act of being there at all? I guess it’s political in that ‘they’ (the system, the high street, your colleagues) wouldn’t understand or get the culture but I always saw it as more generational than political. the additional problem is that some of the people putting on raves were thatcher’s entrepreneurs making a quick buck, which also complicates the anti-80s narrative. within modern dance music there is still a big cultural divide between big money-driven events and smaller artier things for the heads and elements of that are political, where identity politics is used to differentiate the underground from the mainstream, but in pure musical terms and regarding venues and stuff everything has changed and shrunk so much in the industry that ‘selling out’ isn’t what it was, esp when everyone’s fighting to stay afloat…
I agree with your thoughts here. To the extent that raving is political, it’s the act of ‘just being there at all’ as you mentioned…assembling outside of the mainstream and officially prescribed ways of having fun. This really only applies to authoritarian countries who try to shut down raves (and everything else) for this reason, not so much to free societies where getting fucked up and going out dancing is more or less accepted. Dance floors can also be a safe haven for minorities, which can make them political under systems of power that aim to oppress minorities…but even this is kind of a weak measure of being ‘political’. Finally I guess there is something inherently freeing and self actualizing about dancing with a community of people…it can strengthen your spirit and solidify social bonds, but…that’s kind of an abstract notion, would be hard to argue it as concretely political.
Anyway, here’s Optimo sampling Martin Luther King talking about how congregating to dance can break down social barriers and empower communities…as always music speaks louder than words.
dancing as a safe haven for minorites might seem weak in terms of “political”, but when you’re living that experience it can feel vital and urgent.
For queer people, having a space where they can go be themselves is so important - a space where they don’t have to self-police their behaviour and mannerisms for protection, a place where they can be openly gay and proud without worrying someone is going to judge them, or worse - assault them in a hate crime.
But it’s more than just “LGBT+ people welcome here” signposting. The idea that you can go into a club and dance, get sweaty, get drunk, get high, do things you wouldn’t normally do - and that everyone is doing the same around you. There’s an unspoken complicity in that: a mutual understanding, the idea that if you get it you’re here, and if you don’t you’re not taking part. It’s a self-selecting level of privacy - people who wouldn’t approve aren’t there, and people who don’t care are enjoying it with you. So not only have you got a space to be queer in, but you’ve got a level of protection from the outside world, because there’s that in-built level of what I guess you could call “secrecy.” This is hugely important if you’ve got family or a job that wouldn’t accept who you are - the sense that nobody is going to dob you in it, because they could just easily be “shamed” for being in that environment as you could.
Obviously that’s a very idealised and naive approach to clubbing and culture in 2021. I go out to Horse Meat Disco nights and it’s full of straight lads being ironic, I go to festivals and it’s steroidy lads fistpumping to Patrick Topping, I see the aggression of cheap coke versus the loving bliss of ecstacy everywhere. But it’s still out there, and I take it where I can find it. Being able to go mental to a kickdrum/hi-hat with a big Loleatta sample while the strobelight flashes, still thrills me.