In the early s, he became involved in rave culture and the electronic dance music scene, particularly that of the UK, and became a writer on the development of what he would later conceptualise as the " hardcore continuum" along with its surrounding culture such as pirate radio. In , Reynolds published Energy Flash: a Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture , a history of house music , techno and later rave genres like jungle music and gabber. In Reynolds also became a senior editor at Spin magazine in the US. In , he returned to freelance work. In , an updated edition of Energy Flash was published, with new chapters on the decade of dance music following the appearance of the first edition.
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These days, as Simon Reynolds describes in Retromania, things are very different. Pop music, even though sales of vinyl and cassettes are going up, is less likely to exist in material form. The deleted, the obscure, the exotic: archaeological layers of musical history are constantly being rediscovered, circulated and filtered into records being released today. For Reynolds, the past is calcifying contemporary music. More than that, it threatens to disable the possibility of new or futuristic music being created.
Retromania describes a pop ecology festering with reissues of lates German synth-wave, CD box sets of Sun Ra club residencies, bands such as the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls reforming, Sonic Youth playing shows in which they perform old albums in their entirety.
What distinguishes "retromania" from other ways of assessing or using the past? After all, forms of nostalgia or arcadianism — the Victorian revival of Gothic, say — have arisen, sometimes very productively, throughout history. Reynolds argues that retro revives a past that is barely the past all those I Love the s-style shows , and does so, using video- and internet-enhanced documentation, with a forensic precision that precludes creative distortion and the art that comes from misremembering.
Put this way, Reynolds seems to be describing the kinds of bricolage and hyper-referentiality of postmodernism. Though far from being a Luddite, he worries about websites such as YouTube that clog the present with too many yesterdays: "History must have a dustbin, or history will be a dustbin, a gigantic, sprawling garbage heap. Are revivals necessarily bad?
And what of listening to the listeners? Sceptics may dismiss the likes of the Strokes as punk pastiche, but anyone who heard them for the first time at a club in early will recall how startlingly fresh they sounded then.
His prose, casually neologistic and making deft use of sci-fi tropes, is bracingly sharp. As a work of contemporary historiography, a thick description of the transformations in our relationship to time — as well as to place — Retromania deserves to be very widely read. For listeners, not embracing the Next Big Thing may be a kind of resistance; for music writers, not being able to champion artists solely in neophiliac terms would force them to develop more sophisticated critical lexicons.
Retromania is a book about the poverty of abundance. At malls, on mobile-phone ads, in the background as we work at our computers: pop, usually in the form of anorexically thin MP3 sound, is everywhere these days.
Perhaps that ubiquity puts a brake on its ability to astound or shape-shift. Perhaps the process of circulating and accessing music has become more exciting than the practice of listening to it. The east? The global south? It may very well be that the spirit of innovation and insurgency Retromania craves is to be found in the favelas, shanty towns and sprawling metropolises of the developing world.
Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past by Simon Reynolds – review
Share via Email Sad spectacle Sylvain Sylvain left and David Johansen of the New York Dolls, Simon Reynolds established a reputation in the mids writing about noisy maverick acts such as the Pixies and Public Enemy with a mix of scholarly scrupulousness and fan-boy enthusiasm. Later in the decade he took to the blissful communality offered by the dancefloor, giving rise to his first major work, Energy Flash, a history of rave music. His book Rip It Up and Start Again — a re-evaluation of post-punk — emerged when acts such as Franz Ferdinand and the Joy Division film Control were reigniting interest in the period. Maybe once it was possible to believe that culture and society have some kind of evolutionary destiny, moving ever onwards to a more exciting future.
Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past by Simon Reynolds – review
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