Sunday, 22 December 2013

Interview for Ransom Note

I've had a very long CVNT interview/discussion with John Power of Body Work records, published by Ransom Note. Here's some extracts, you can read the whole thing here.  

J: Can you just quickly explain what a ‘House’ is?

N: The traditional definition of a ‘House’ is that it’s a gay street gang and instead of fighting these gangs would have dance-offs. The concept is taken from fashion houses and so a lot of original big American Houses are named after famous fashion brands or things that relate to fashion. 

I’ve seen at gigs I’ve been doing recently, especially in [Mainland] Europe there are some amazing Houses emerging but I don’t feel like there’s the same culture of dance here in the UK that you get in Europe

Still I think that the scene is growing here and there are some wicked dancers in the UK but we need more balls and more places for these dancers to show up. You see that’s how other people get into it, they go to a club and see someone Voguing and think ‘”that looks amazing”. I think there’s just not enough of that happening in the UK yet.

J: Is there a kind of a clash, a dilemma within the scene, where on the one hand you want to grow and encourage new people to get involved but at the same time still protect itself and provide a safe space?

N: I think it is changing and the scene is becoming a more open place where anyone can get involved, anyone can join in. Obviously Voguing is traditionally a black, gay art form, and certainly there were a lot of Trans people, a lot of Transgender women involved when it started, but today you’ll find a lot of biological women and straight women involved in the scene. In fact I think it’s just becoming a lot more of a female thing.

At the same time though I guess it depends who you speak to and there are some people on the scene who are very protective of what it is, and for good reason. They’ve seen it being exploited before; they’ve seen it move so far away from its roots that they feel that it is not the same thing anymore. 

So there is a certain element of protectionism and exclusivity within the scene, which I think is understandable, but for the most part it’s moving towards being more accessible and now you’re seeing countries that don’t have much or really any relation to New York’s black and gay scenes turning out amazing dancers.

So the scene must be moving ahead and I think that’s a positive and healthy thing as long as people remember and respect the roots from where it all came from, why they’re doing it and who the original legends were. In the end you can’t stop it, it’s all progress.

J: You talk about Ballroom’s roots, now obviously over the past few years and right now house music as a whole has never been bigger but it also feels like it’s never been further away from, or more really in denial of, its own black and gay origins. You can quite easily argue, and many do, that EDM has been a whitewash but even then it feels like dance music’s black roots are still more recognised than its gay roots…

N: Yes I think that is a thing and I definitely feel that there is still a bit of a sniffiness around Ballroom Culture, especially trying to get people that are into more traditional House Music to engage with Ballroom. Now there could be many reasons for that but from my point of view I feel that sexuality has a lot to do with it.

J: I feel like we’ve seen over the past few years not just an editing of House music’s history to maybe remove some of the more overtly gay aspects of it but a kind of bowdlerizing of the music too. Something like the ’Nu-Disco’ revival was very much driven at the start by some great gay clubs, Horse Meat Disco, places like that, and I feel that it was very much co-opted by straight, white, bearded guys (like myself but without the beard), who kind of took over in some respects and certainly when it came to the flood of re-edits that appeared from the early 2000s onwards it felt like a lot of them were taking out anything that was ‘too gay’ from a track. Actually I’m sure years ago I read something by Daniel Wang complaining about that in a much more considered way…

So you end up with a situation were you have this music that becomes stripped of so much of what originally made it what it was and you end up with well, kind of ‘Cosmic Disco’, which is great, I love so much of that music but you can’t help but sometimes feel it’s in denial of its roots when it presents this kind of sterile spacey music that isn’t too raunchy, is quite safe really.

N: I agree completely about the disco thing, it’s like a lot of those disco edits. Even going back to when a lot of that first started in the mid/late nineties, there was a lot of stripping out the campness, stripping out the glittery over the top moments that defined those records as being gay, just taking them back down to being about the groove.

Which at the start was cool but I definitely felt like it reached a point where you could go to a club playing Nu-Disco and it’s just a lot of middle class, middle aged, white people politely nodding their heads and you feel like this isn’t how this music was supposed to be consumed. I think that’s why it’s a brilliant thing when you go to a club like Horse Meat Disco and it brings a lot of those records to life, you’re actually hearing these records in the kind of environment they were meant to be played in, loads of screaming queens, loads of trans people and just a really mixed crowd where the atmosphere’s really good. 

I think there’s a definite seriousness about the way that a lot of people approach dance music in general nowadays, which is kind of nerdy and detached from the actual purpose of it, which is to make people dance, and dancing is of course for want of a better phrase, it’s a sex substitute. That’s what that rhythm is, ultimately a lot of it is just about simulating sex without getting naked as such. 

So I think there’s an element of white dance culture at the moment that has been de-sexed, and I think Ballroom is still very much coming from that Black, Gay place and possesses an overt sexuality. So I think there might be a reluctance to get too involved with it as the reality of the ‘black/gay clubbing experience’ is very different to the reality of a lot of middle class, middle aged, white people nodding along to Fleetwood Mac b-sides and the like.

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