Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture Paperback – 21 Aug 1998
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This work tells the story of rave culture and explores the origins of this dance music, chronicling the ways in which its reverberations have influenced 1990s pop. Examining the music as well as the drugs, the book traces how Chicago house and Detroit techno catalyzed the rave and "Madchester" ferment of 1988-90, then follows the music into the early-1990s. It surveys the confusion of post-rave styles and scenes: jungle, electronica, drum and bass, trance, trip hop, and Big Beat. The book also looks at the role of Ecstasy in the dance-and-drug culture. It includes interviews with Paul Oakenfold, Derrick May, 808 State, Stone Roses, A Guy Called Gerald, The KLF, Primal Scream, Orbital, The Prodigy, Goldie, 4 Hero, Aphex Twin, Tricky, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Richie Hawtin, DJ Shadow and many more. A CD is included, featuring 15 seminal dance tracks from ten years of rave.
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So credit, where credit is due. Reynolds was one of the first 'Rock' journalists to do the dance thing. Originally published in 1998, 'Energy Flash' has undergone two updates in the last decade - perhaps evidence of its enduring significance as both a primer on and critique of Rave, it's grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews. On the other hand, it could be argued that the updates, together with a lack of revision of earlier sections, has resulted in particularly hefty Frankenstein's monster. It's certainly an exhaustive, if occasionally exhausting piece of journalism.
The opening chapters are still pretty essential - you get a solid pre-history covering Chicago House, Detroit Techno, Acid House and the first two waves of Rave in the UK. As the book progresses, it feels increasingly flabby and self-contradictory. Reynolds' argument is totally convincing: listening to tracks like Joey Beltram's own 'Energy Flash' now, you can't help but be struck by how something so brutally simple (four to the floor, Roland 303 bass squidges) can be so powerful; there's little of what could be called 'melody', there's no narrative, but it engages totally as an experience in sound. Hardcore is at once leftfield in the extreme and defiantly populist. Never has 'dumb' been so clever.
Reynolds is spot-on in his critiques of 'intelligent' jungle and techno - effectively the digital equivalent of progressive rock - artists in these subgenres seemed to miss the point: dance music's radicalism results from its functional aspects - it is 'dance' music first and foremost.
However, as the book progresses its painfully apparent that Reynolds can't help but be drawn towards the 'intelligent' forms of dance music he claims to despise. In a chapter focusing on the German Mille Plateaux roster he performs somersaults of Deleuzian theory, only to return disparagingly to his 'ardcore-knows-best stance in a withering little paragraph.
Parts of the book haven't aged that well: Tricky is treated as a sort of Trip-Hop messiah. Sadly, he wasn't, although his recent efforts betoken a partial return to form. An interview with Spiral Tribe is an interesting cultural artefact, but Reynolds' wide-eyed acceptance of their leader's risible psycho-babble is a little cringe-worthy.
Similarly, I'd advise skipping the prologue on MDMA. Ok, Ecstasy is an inextricable part of Rave music; the language and sound of late 80s and early 90s hardcore is saturated with the mythology of E; it is 'drug' music. But I've yet to come across a drug bore who isn't, well, boring. Reynolds returns to MDMA again and again and again throughout the book, admittedly, sometimes with some perceptive comments (a chapter on the quasi-Religious nature of Ecstasy culture is particularly good), but often I felt like the poor unfortunate who gets trapped in the corner at a party, pinned-down by some endlessly enthusiastic space-cadet, chewing their face off (and your ears) on gak.
Reynolds also has some stylistic tics that are a bit of an acquired taste. Perhaps as a result of his interest in Deleuze & Guattari, Reynolds has always had a penchant for neologisms, he also has a habit of warping the morphology of terms for his own (often obscure ends). Check out 'senti-MENTAL' & 'Hype(rbole)' God knows what he means...
It's still a damn good read (hence the 4 stars) even if it's perhaps become more of a dip-in, dip-out text than a linear narrative (Reynolds' would probably see this as 'rhizomatic'). Much as he could happily hold his own in a forum with Slavoj Zizek and Paul Ricoeur, Reynolds is actually at his best at the battle-front of reportage. For instance, his description of a Gabba event in Arnhem is absolutely captivating; witness the love-crowd hunkering down to some crazed martial brutalism.
Despite the dire cover, which pointlessly signposts this as belonging over at the gurning end of the shelf, Energy Flash contains some brilliantly inventive prose, which Reynolds employs with apparent ease, maintaining your interest as the dna of dance morphs through its myriad remixes.
Written as an overarching analysis of rave, rather than just dance music, Energy Flash also builds into a record of how the entire movement has, and continues to, act as a potent - but not always positive - force for creative, social and political change.
Reynolds is expertly adept at evoking the moods of the time, and specific scenes, and is at his most effective - and sometimes unsettling - as the music and its audience warp symbiotically into places as gritty, hard and dark as the music often becomes.
In recording this simultaneous evo/devo-lution, the author also reflects on the longtail of contemporary drug use, following each new wave of incoming ravers towards their own conclusions. Some peel off to birth slower, more sedate scenes; others chase down some majorly unsavoury damage as they stay the course; but all are united in pursuing their own brand of accelerated experience - all enticed by a beat, and that opening, crashing (but long since faded) buzz surrounding Ecstacy and the promises of an MDMA-altered state.
My two main criticisms are that Reynolds, for all his preference for the inclusive, open-minded embrace of the scenes initial ethos, can display some blatant, and extremely barbed disdain for certain genres - at which point his personal becomes needlessly political, clouding his otherwise insightful judgement, subsequently making enemies of opinion when it does not match his own.
And the other... well, done to its sheer weight of information alone, the book eventually becomes a mind-bending trip all in itself: one that undulates incessantly, keeping constant time, refusing to let you up for air. Because his writing is so clever and packed with the same attention to detail as the breakbeats and affecting sound he chronicles, Reynolds' constant peeking of your senses with sharp focus, and the frenetic facts of yet another twist or turn through sub-genre, into sub-sub-genre, can become tiring.
But in truth the latter is not a negative - just an inevitability of such a large scale work. If you can pace yourself, the rave lifespan of Energy Flash will dilate your mind to how creative we can be with just some beat, sweeps of a synth, and the kind of sweetie treats that rot far more than your teeth if you much too much.
Firstly, it is written from an enthusiasts point of view and this comes screaming out of the books text at all points. His style is easy going and clever, with enough musical references to delight the most anal of trainspotters.
Reynolds focusses on dance music in the UK, from its birth as imported street music, to the first British attempts at house music, getting it wrong and creating a musical hybrid which ends up becoming drum n bass. For someone who was round in the early nineties when much of this was going on, this is a tremendously exciting book which covers a creative period which most dance music hipsters are loathe to even recognise (although this is now changing and hardcore is being given the credit it deserves).
A free CD comes with the book showing the evolution from house to drum n bass over the course of around ten years and makes an ideal companion to the book, especially for those of us who didn't bother to buy the records the first time around.
A joy and a pleasure for anyone with even a passing interest in this subject.
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