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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture
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on 20 July 2014
Fine and dandy
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VINE VOICEon 18 March 2008
An exhaustively researched, and extremely insightful book that chronicles the evolution of darn near every genre and sub-genre of dance - from Detroit to dubstep.

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.
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on 13 August 2013
It's a little ironic that Simon Reynolds, of all people, should choose to argue that dance music is at it's best in its most lumpen, populist, apparently anti-intellectual form. Reynolds made his name in music journalism in the late eighties precisely because of his intellectual chops; he coined the term 'post-rock' after all, and his first full-length book ('The Sex Revolts', co-written with his partner, Joy Press) is largely an analysis of rock music through the perspective of post-structuralist gender theory. 'Rip it Up and Start Again', his most successful book to date, focusses on post-punk's infiltration of the mainstream- a celebration of a time where experimental, politically aware bands enjoyed prime-time coverage on Top of the Pops. Similarly, during his tenure at Melody Maker, when Everett True's gonzo-grunge-clown-prince schtick was in it's ascendancy, Reynolds' insightful, measured prose was often a refreshing counterbalance to the snarky polemic of his colleagues. He was chiefly known for his support of the more innovative 'indie' guitar acts: bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Young Gods etc. His embracing of Rave culture was all the more shocking at the time because the paper's editorial line was militantly pro-'alternative' guitar music and anti virtually everything else.

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.
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on 14 March 2010
Describing songs with lyrics is not too hard but dance music is and Simon Reynolds succeeds very well with this book - so much so that I actually listen to dance music in a different way. For example he says how the visual terminology used to describe movies is best to describe the cinematic sound of dance music, how it's sound is pure sensation in the same way a video game appeals to us rather than the more intellectual way a song with lyrics appeals.

I agree with another reviewer in that some of the terminology and descriptions go over my head but I still think this book is worth it for putting very very comprehensively into words the sound of dance music in a way I had not seen it written before.
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on 10 April 2009
I bought this on the strength of `Rip it up and Start Again' Simon Reynolds's wonderful discourse on post punk, it did not disappoint. Energy Flash is a work of almost academic breadth and scope. It Takes the reader on a journey from the origins of dance in Detroit and Chicago through to the Acid House of the late 80's in the UK and on through Hardcore, Techno, and Jungle and the more escoteric movements such as Gabba. The work is exhaustive and peppered with references to so many seminal recordings, labels and DJ's that it's made a huge impression on my perception of dance and dance culture which previously had been formed by a leaning towards Trip Hop and Downtempo. This book fills in the gaps and more importantly made me want to listen to many of the tracks, so vivid are his descriptions.

Reynolds occasionally makes visits to 'Pseuds Corner' with his colourful descriptions, but these can be forgiven as his overwhelming enthusiasm which really shines through. Reference is made throughout to the cultural flavour of the times; I had forgotten how the press had a field day with Rave in a similar way that it had vilified punk a decade before. The tone is scholarly and Authoritative from first hand experience, he really has 'been there' and doesn't shrink from a discussion about the drugs subculture and criminality that was a major part of the era. The Bewildering array of dance genres and sub genres are lovingly described and dissected with encyclopaedic knowledge, this is without doubt the Definitive work on Dance and Dance culture.

This a major work and should be required reading for those rock fans who tend to dismiss Dance as commercial Chart fodder.
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on 9 August 1999
Although Simon Reynolds ends the book with his personal theory that a music genres relevance is directly proportional to the amount of books written about it, dance music isn't yet at this point. Unlike rock n roll, this music has not been culturally dissected and mummified in a museum somewhere. There is much to suggest that this is now taking place but Simon Reynolds efforts will stand head & shoulders above the others in this field.
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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on 18 November 1998
simon reynold's book takes you through all the radical changes in musical style, drug use, drug quality and fashion that have taken place since the eighties. his stance is that of a staunch post-punk rock fan who was a wary convert to ecstacy dance bliss around ten years ago. he still champions any dance music that feels as stupid as the ramones. however, all i want to do now is go out tonight and get on one matey.
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on 27 November 1999
Simon Reynolds - Energy Flash (Picador) Watch out, this interactive book is a time bomb supercharged with music, history, interviews and...a CD! Yeah, that's why it's interactively cool! Simon Reynolds, historiographer of the musiquarium of the last twenty years brings you in a journey through the places and the records of all times. From the Chicago house and gay black scene and the techno and black scene in Detroit to the Ecstasy scene of Ibiza and then the British scene. Everything might sound rather the same of what you have already read in Collin' s book, but this book goes further, since it describes even the equipment often used and it stops to brood on other scenes such as the hardcore scene, the techno scene (with precious flashes on Belgium and Germany), the spiral tribe movement, the ambient and trance, the pirate radios and their hip MCs, the jungle and gabba fever with its raves at Rezerection, the rave scene in the States, trip hop and Tricky, drum and bass, jazz jungle and Roni Size closing with technostep, sampladelia, post rave fringe in Germany, the spirituality intrinsic in the E culture and the Big Beat. An encyclopaedia of music, criticism and history with an amazingly good discography and with a CD featuring Joey Beltram' s "Energy Flash", Sonz of A Loop Da Loop Era's "Bust That Groove" and 4Hero's "The Elements" among others. Any comment on the tracks chosen to feature on the CD is practically useless: it's all written in this big Bible of our culture, characterised by an intriguing style coloured by its polymorphous metaphors such as "sounds like it's played on a glocken-spiel built from icicles and stalactites", "chugs and puffs like a steam engine on a gradient, with textured percussion that sounds like a cat coughing up a hairball", "sounded like a brain-eraser wiping the slate of consciousness clean" or "sounded like Carmina Burana sung by a choir of satan- worshipping cyborgs", just to mention you a few. An extremely jam packed book, stuffed with ideas and sounds, beautiful the connection between the Nietzsche's dichotomy of Apollonian and Dionysian applied to the E culture with its utopian and dystopian edges. Read it and, when you're tired of reading, put on the CD and get up and dance and when you're get tired of dancing sit down and read and when you're tired of...
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on 10 October 2004
The book is simply an individuals view on their experience of certain periods of time, i laughed and not mockingly at the authors fantastic poetic descriptions of sound in its many forms.
The author lets you see the scene through his eyes, i found out some interesting things about producers and clubs, raves etc that i never knew about despite going to some of these events myself.
This is an excellent book for those who have experienced the scene like me and my mates and for those who have not.
The interesting look at the "darkside" of the scene was informative, ecstacy deaths, paranoia, it wasnt all green fields and roses!
Some of the antics rave promoters got upto seemed to be a right laugh and warranted a pat on the back for bravery.
The progress of the scene is what it is, its described well, and doesnt need a stupid arty fancy criticism, you can only describe your own experiences!
So many people went through the scene at different stages and so many have their view, so why not do like the author and write a book about it, ........if you think you can.
I am one of those people who used to say "it just aint like the 89 scene anymore", well now i have grown up, i learnt it was because its 2004.
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on 15 January 2004
If you are at all interested in the history of electronic music, this book will grab your attention very early on, although I did feel that a lot of the author's terminology was somewhat over my head. It is an in depth and honest account of UK Rave, going into detail about the high points of acid house culture, the roots of techno, the dark side of the scene, and the varios genres that were created after the downfall of the free parties.
The covermount CD is a collection of important, genre-defining tracks, and is excellent in itself.
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