GENERATION ECSTASY, by Simon Reynolds (Little, Brown), 454 pages, $34 cloth. Rating: NNN
Dismissed by most journalists, the late Frank Zappa compared writing about music to dancing about architecture. There's no doubt the much-maligned fret-wanker would seriously frown on those who write about dance music.
That's exactly what Simon Reynolds, a British rock critic and former senior editor of Spin magazine, undertakes in Generation Ecstasy.
Even Reynolds concludes that compiling an authoritative history of rave and techno culture is somewhat absurd. Not only does he cite the genre's constant mutation into multiple subcategories, but he also declares that any attempt to describe a mostly instrumental non-narrative style of music that's only properly understood while on MDMA in a crowded, luvved-up club is nearly impossible.
But that doesn't stop him. How's this for rock-crit twaddle? Reynolds refers to the Future Sounds of London's Lifeforms CD as a "Dali-esque frightmare of liquescent forms, a pseudo-organic samplescape congested with scrofulous sound tentacles and slithery slime-scapes."
Elsewhere, he drags in a dog's breakfast of cultural theorists and analysts as reinforcements, among them Theodor Adorno, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Harold Bloom, John Cage, Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, Irvine Welsh and Alvin Toffler.
As a straightforward timeline account of rave culture -- the DJs, the drugs, the choons, the clubs, the clobber -- Generation Ecstasy succeeds. Tracing the music from Kraftwerk to Detroit techno and Chicago acid house, filtering it back through Ibiza and the underground club scene in the UK, Reynolds shows that he certainly knows his stuff, although, after his description of mod trio the Jam as a four-man trad-guitar combo, I have some doubts about the accuracy of all his accounts.
Generation Ecstasy ends with the rise of the Big Beat bombast of the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim. Inevitably, updated editions will include the coffee-table techno of Moby and the German trance of Paul Van Dyk that has yet to replace the all-pervasive house music that dominates Toronto dance floors.
As well as detailing MDMA's sonic influence on the music, Reynolds offers an extremely unbiased and clinical assessment of the drug, showing its positive and negative effects. Mayor Mel and Chief Julie ought to read this chapter before they shoot their mouths off about a topic they obviously know so little about. Steven Davey
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