I spent the first 40 minutes of the recent Skrillex concert I went to at Roseland Ballroom in New York searching for a place to stand. I was looking for a place—maybe behind a wall, in a corner—where the mathematics of acoustics minimized the obscene volume that I was convinced was going to give me a heart attack. I did not want to be the mid-’30s guy they would have to take away in a stretcher. It is said that the music we hear as teenagers is, and will always be, the most important music for the rest of our lives. For me this music is techno, the cheap, voiceless machine-age disco that became popular in the clubs of Chicago in the late ’80s and from there quickly spread around the globe. Depending on how thinly you slice vernacular electronic music history, the music of Sonny Moore, aka Skrillex, may or may not be related to techno. For me it is close enough. I, a polo-shirt-, khaki-pants-wearing goon, was pacing around the Skrillex concert amid a sea of teenagers dressed like American Apparel employees, four to five hours after which I would normally be in bed, afraid I was doing harm to my body, because this was, after all, my music. I was introduced to techno at my first party (the Western New York word for “rave”). The party was in a fourth-floor walk-up loft on Main Street in downtown Buffalo, New York. It was 1995. Downtown Buffalo in 1995 was largely how downtown Buffalo is today—completely abandoned. I arrived around midnight. Immediately upon crossing the threshold, I heard my first techno track. I heard a bass drum on every beat; I heard hi-hats that sounded like dripping water evaporating on hot metal; and I heard a squelchy noise that seemed to float on top, which reminded me of the toxic smell of burning plastic. Through industrial music—NIN, KMFDM, Front 242—I was already familiar with the concept of machine-driven music, but here was something else entirely. Here, people were listening to nothing but machines. And these machines weren’t playing songs, or anything even remotely narrative, but instead seemed to be playing loops. Simple loops. Loops that seemed to be stuck! Five minutes would pass, and there would hardly be any difference in the music. This was pure, cheap, plastic, battery-powered machine music. The threshold of the party had led me from a world of MTV, the Beatles, and folk music, a world where performance was in some way related to people—remember even industrial bands had people pressing buttons on stage!—to a world where people listened to stuttering machines . And not even to the machines themselves, but to recordings of the machines pressed onto—of all things—vinyl. “Failure by chemical degradation of a vinyl disc in ordinary library environments should not occur in less than a century,” states Pickett and Lemcoe’s 1959 Library of Congress study, Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings. In other words, in a world where the hard drive on your current computer might last five years, a 1990 Joey Beltram Energy Flash 12 inch, if stored properly, will last 100. Techno, a music often concerned with imagery of the future, actually has a chance of making it there - without any active intervention or migration - all because it was stored on a medium of the past. As my recent Skrillex experience demonstrates, I might not be suitable in mind, body, and style for the front lines anymore, but as countless middle-aged men before have proven, that will not prevent me from obsessing over the music I loved at 17. So, yes, I’ll be that middle-aged guy—the one with gray temples, riding in his 1957 Corvette, or the one with the monographed Rolling Stone luggage—except I won’t be reliving the ’50s, ’60s, or ’70s. I’ll be reliving the ’90s, and I’ll be collecting techno 12 inches. They will be meticulously looked after, perfectly organized, labeled, bar coded, condition-checked, and stored under ideal conditions. In this—my own private archive—it will always be 1995.
Related things aka don't forget 2 check out:
- The AUDMCRS Underground Dance Music Collection of Recorded Sound (Installation), 2011
- The AUDMCRS Underground Dance Music Collection of Recorded Sound (Website), 2013
- Masters, November 03 2012 - January 27 2013, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA