Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Print enthusiasts and techno DJs

You might not think that newspaper enthusiasts and techno DJs have much intrinsically in common. The former group comprises those classic, tradition-respecting individuals that enjoy the tangible tenure of the ol’ broadsheet. They lament the loss of comprehensive investigation and critical consistency associated with the decline of print. The latter group generally concerns itself with rocking the party right and moving them booties across the dance floor, meanwhile embracing the latest, most alienating and fantastical trends.

But, having been a newspaper employee specializing in arts and entertainment as well as a part-time DJ for several years has given me a certain perspective on the two cultural genera. What most people don’t realize about techno fanatics is that, while the ultimate aim of the entire exercise is to artistically embrace the notion that we are living in a bizarre, dystopian ultra-future dominated by abstract relationships between flesh and machines, these people are notoriously nitpicky about tradition, canon and authenticity. In fact, despite the warp-speed pace of advancement in studio production and live delivery, particularly in light of digital technologies, the unequivocal apex of reverence in the techno world is actually that music which is produced on analog synthesizer machines in the seventies, recorded on reel-to-reel, and delivered in the club on vinyl records. I’m not even saying that people prefer old music to new. They want the music to be as fresh and challenging as possible, but virtually everyone agrees that the old way is better. They just can’t afford to do it. A laptop costs a grand and it’s free to distribute online. The new digital songs cost little to nothing and can literally be downloaded mid-set, onto the laptop setup on a nightclub’s wifi setup. The new productions have unlimited audio channels and can be edited to unimaginably sophisticated degrees of detail. Boom – world famous touring DJ in under $1500.

Meanwhile, the old style involves painstaking and meticulous hours searching for, and exorbitant piles of cash purchasing and housing outdated, rare, finicky, onerous relics with specific, limited functionality. Then you have to make the doomed investment in vinyl pressing, record labels and limited distribution. The DJing part itself is no less complex. Searching for and buying the new cuts is a part-time job in itself, and a 50 pound crate of legitimately-acquired records lifts a heck of a lot more eyebrows at the many borders crossed on tour, than does an innocuous macbook loaded to the gunwales with pirated music.

I won’t belabour the point, but rest assured that this is just the beginning of how monstrously complicated it is to stick to the sought-after analog sound. And, conversely, how easy and accessible it is to go digital. A laptop versus a studio full of arcane machinery and fragile records as well as a huge budget and a zillion travel worries.

But few people in the business think it’s a real improvement. I have literally interviewed hundreds of electronic music producers, DJs, label owners and the like, very frequently asking about this. And while they all accept the many advantages and innovations associated with digital technology, virtually everyone agrees that analog machines are way cooler, vinyl sounds better, and that the best of the best haven’t significantly changed methodology since Kraftwerk wondered what pop music would sound like if robots made it.

So here we have a huge conceptual dichotomy between medium and message.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Newsophiles, by definition, want the freshest information possible about events in distant or inaccessible areas. Well, the internet is a searchable, indexed panopticon detailing pretty much everything that ever happens and what everybody and significant numbers of dogs think about those things, all provided largely free and in any place at any time, instantly. But most of these people still want a reporter to go see something for themselves and reproduce the information in the accepted style on a monumentally wasteful, complex and expensive media platform. All to get that real, warm analog feel that no amount of blogging and twittering and youtubing can give.

Let me just make it clear here, if it isn’t already clear enough, that I think these people are completely nuts. Don’t get me wrong, I love newspapers and analog techno. But seriously, I know there’s some adage about cakes and eating…