Politics of feeling good

Simon A Morrison describes how the panel he's chairing at this week's Louder Than Words music writing festival reflects the dance culture that's been a huge part of his life

Hero image

My central passion, and the thing that has driven me through my career, is the relationship of words to music – how people use words to describe the music that moves them, whether in my own time writing or now in my work as a music academic. Louder Than Words is therefore one of the key weekends in my diary, entirely alone in examining that enduring relationship.

There are mainly highlights this year – great guest speakers and panels that look at everything from Buzzcocks to Oasis at Knebworth, as well as lots of workshops for people who want to break into music writing. It’s an invaluable opportunity to get up and close and personal with the people who live this 24/7.

I’m particularly looking forward – as ever – to the club culture panel, which is the one I chair myself, as the club scene is what occupied something like a quarter of a century of my own life. I first stepped onto the Haçienda’s dancefloor in my student days in late 1980s Manchester. That propelled me into work as a columnist for DJ magazine, editor of Ministry in Ibiza and author of books such as Discombobulated and Dancefloor-Driven Literature, before now swapping the dancefloor for the lecture theatre, working as programme leader for the music journalism degree at Chester University.

Clubbers, writers, academics and DJs have long argued whether this was ever a party with any political point

On the panel with me over the years have been the likes of the writers Matthew Collin and Nicholas Blincoe, the editor of the Disco Biscuits story collection Sarah Champion and DJ Paulette. This year we will aim to shine a specific light on the “politics of dancing”, and whether the dancefloor might actually function as a platform for us to party our way out of the pandemic, and re-energise the night-time economies of our cities.

When you consider clubland in a historical sense, we can see it has continually reformed and regenerated, whether the lindyhoppers in 1920s Harlem nightspots or pill-popping mods in 1960s swinging Soho. Though all of these subcultural moments were undoubtedly socially important, clubbers, writers, academics and DJs have long argued whether this was ever a party with any political point. Music writer Simon Reynolds, for instance, called the rave scene “the cult of acceleration without destination”, with Rupa Huq adding that “rave was seen as ideologically vacuous”.

Arguably the greatest reconstitution of music and intoxication, however, came during 1988’s Second Summer of Love, where a rave might co-opt a beach, field or warehouse for a dancefloor. That summer formed a perfect storm of cultural, political and pharmaceutical effects. Imported house music fused with a new dance drug – ecstasy – to create a chemical generation of young people disenfranchised by the hard-edged politics of Thatcherism. Margaret Thatcher infamously claimed that there was “no such thing as society”. On fields and in warehouses across the UK, young adults found their society – and they found it on the dancefloor.

Throughout all these years, however, rarely has the dancefloor fallen entirely silent, as it has done through the global pandemic. But the needle has now dropped firmly back into the groove once again, the lights are back on and can we, in fact, party our way out of the pandemic? Do we all deserve this chance to let loose? Or is that entirely the wrong response?

This panel has been convened to drill down into these conversations and contingencies. It includes the legendary Haçienda DJ Graeme Park, back within the shadow of that great nightclub, in a rare personal appearance before he leads the Haçienda Classical event later in the night at the Warehouse Project. Joining him are Vass Lauricella, MD of club culture PR agency Urban Rebel, working dancefloors across the planet, scene insider and instigator John Locke, and Professor Martin James, a music writer and academic who over the last 20 years has been punched by Goldie, kidnapped by Italian DJs and yet still found time to write books such as State of Bass: Jungle – The Story So Far.

I will try to keep control of the conversation. And while I have never been punched by Goldie I did once go raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers.
So on Saturday, Louder Than Words moves to an altogether more electronic beat, in deciding whether there was ever a politics of dancing – or merely the politics of oo oo oo feeling good.

All info and tickets at louderthanwordsfest.com.  Photo: Simon A Morrison (left) chairing a recent Louder Than Words dance music panel

Interact: Responses to Politics of feeling good

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.