True Romanticism

Anyone reading this is likely a massive lover of drum and bass, or true romanticism. In this space for In-Reach I’m going to delve deep into why we love it so much, about our experience on the dance floor, it’s cultural history, how we may go about theorising it. Partly because it’s interesting and important to celebrate this bit of culture we love, and partly to help justify why so much of our time money and energy is being put into partying. Underground electronic music faces more and more threats, from gentrification swallowing up clubs for luxury flat spaces, to Brexit potentially threatening artist’s being able to perform in Europe freely. Appreciating DNB as a whole and the specific cultural entity becomes more important than ever. This is true romanticism.

Only recently in 2016 was the famous legal battle London’s mega-club Fabric had to keep its doors open. Whilst fabric has been no stranger to trouble in the past, this threat seemed more serious. After the tragic deaths of two young men who following their night in the club, and the desire to develop the space in Farringdon, the club’s future looked bleak. The deaths occurred on Fridays, where fabric places its DNB nights, and during the court proceedings, there was discussion over the reduction of DNB listings.

What I thought was significant at the time was the #saveourculture campaign that fabric generated that people rallied around to help save it. Parties were organised to raise funds, there was a peaceful march through London accompanied by music, and there was that amazing guy who danced for 24 hours outside the club. This was a really smart and important move fabric made. I think it connected the people who loved the club to the understanding that what is going on in such a space is something much more important than a room in which music is played. Around the time of the court case, it was poignant that the infamous Berghain club in Berlin was recognised by the German government as a site of high art, and so reducing its taxes.

Despite the global appreciation of jungle and DNB that exploded from a very specific cultural moment in the UK, our Government repeatedly refuses and fails to connect to its significance. Although appointing a Night Czar was a brilliant gesture, increasing pressure is being put on clubs, and so we must be the ones to protect and preserve our own culture. The story of the development of jungle and DNB in the 90’s post-rave scene is amazing, but I think the cultural roots can be dated way back to the significant period of British cultural history known as Romanticism. This period was all about intense emotional experience and came from the time of the Industrial Revolution late 18th Century where there were massive changes taking place from daily life to philosophy (not too dissimilar to the 90’s and the dot com boom).

Romantic artists became interested in the new philosophical idea of the sublime championed by Immanuel Kant and Edmund Burke, and tried to evoke the extreme power of nature in their work in order to alter the state of mind of the viewer. Something that evokes the feeling of the sublime is very different than that of the beautiful. A sunset is beautiful to look at, I can appreciate it from afar without any threat to myself, but if I am caught in the eye of a storm, my whole body and mind are wrapped up in an experience that pushes you to the limit of being a rational human. In Romantic paintings like Snow Storm by J.M.W. Turner from 1842, the viewer takes in a sublime apocalyptic experience and is pulled into a swirling vortex of loose brushstrokes and darkness.

Steam boat Inside Fabric Club
J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, 1842, Oil on Canvas, 914 x 1219mm, Tate. And, Fabric photography by Sarah Ginn taken from their website.

When you stand in front of these paintings today at High Art National Galleries like Tate Britain, I don’t really think there’s much difference to our experience on the dance floor. Some scholars have even argued that on the dance floor you experience the ‘technosublime’. Not about Techno music, but the combination of the bass, the strobe lights and chemicals taken into the body and mind meaning the body on the dance floor becomes totally absorbed into the environment technologically, as the Romantic painters attempted with brushstrokes and subject matter. In this environment, the body and mind are pushed to their limits. Strobe-lights act as a technological development of Turners’ brush stokes that want to pull you into the drama of its scene.

Another important continuation from this celebrated British cultural movement is how music is being consumed. I think that contemporary reviews of Beethoven performances that described the live experience as “an apocalypse within the body” is the equivalent now to yelling “fuuuuuuuuckkkkkkk offffffffffff” on the dance floor. True romanticism. Also celebrated Romantic poets such as Coleridge and De Quincy chronicled the way they experimented with drugs (opium) in order to alter and enhance their experience of musical performances.

So really, you could say that whenever you are listening to DNB or attending a club night, you are playing an important part in continuing our cultural history.

For further reading I recommend:

Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the
Sublime and Beautiful, ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Chapman, Dale, Hermeneutics of Suspicion: Paranoia and the Technological
Sublime in Drum and Bass Music in ECHO: a music-centered journal Volume 5
Issue 2 (Fall 2003)

De Quincey, Thomas, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, ed. Barry Milligan,
London: Penguin, 2003. & going to the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain to see some Sublime Turners.