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DJ Culture Week: Dance First, Talk Later

Happy DJ Culture Week! We’re celebrating the release of DJ Culture in the Mix, a groundbreaking edited collection that takes a critical academic look at international DJ culture. On Day 2, co-editor Hillegonda Rietveld takes a look back at her early days in Manchester, and how DJ culture has influenced her academic work.

Dr. Rietveld's electronic group Quando Quango

Dr. Rietveld’s electronic group Quando Quango

DJ Culture in the Mix spans a wide spectrum of dance DJ styles and contexts, starting in 1980, the same year that I bought my first synthesizer in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and started an electronic combo called Quando Quango. Two years later, we moved to Manchester, UK, to become involved with Factory Records as the label, together with labelmates New Order, established a new type of flagship nightclub, The Haçienda, with which I was intimately involved during the 1980s.

By 1983, we found ourselves in New York, where our track “Love Tempo” (released by Factory Records) was being remixed by Dancetaria’s DJ Mark Kamins. It was this track that got us noticed in underground dance clubs like Paradise Garage.

Although DJs played a continuous role at The Haçienda, around 1986, the emphasis shifted from it being a live music venue to a dance club that actively showcased DJs as entertainers. This was the same year that house music came our way, mixed into the slipstream of electro by DJs like our band member Mike Pickering. On the one hand, people wanted to dance to studio–produced records, while on the other hand, DJs were logistically easier and cheaper to employ. How things have changed since the development of the super-DJ!

The rest is history, some would say; when the acid house scene began developing in 1988, Manchester was renamed “Madchester” by the UK music press. The city and scene plunged deeply into the swing of after-hours dance parties held in abandoned warehouse spaces and deserted council flats, and later in fields up in the hills. The Mancunian DJ-led electronic dance music scene inspired me to write my first academic paper, “Living the Dream,” published in Steve Redhead’s edited collection Rave Off: Politics and Deviance in Contemporary Youth Culture (1993).

I next embarked on a PhD to trace the concept of house music culture within various local scenes that associated themselves with this music genre. The bulk of the thesis was published in 1998, as This is Our House: House Music, Cultural Spaces and Technologies. Around the same time, I also took up DJ-ing, in parallel with my developing academic work, which offered me the opportunity to enjoy and share the music I liked to dance to and to extend my research network in the world of dance DJs.

Although I officially gave up DJ-ing in 2006, I have kept an interest in the various dance scenes through both my research work and the students in the course I lead, BA Music and Sonic Media at London South Bank University.

Currently I am an active advisory board member for Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture and I am an editor of the IASPM Journal, the peer-reviewed open-access e-journal of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM).

Meanwhile, I have produced papers on contemporary cyborg spirituality in techno; the nomadic archival activities of the DJ; and the sense of underscore that dub step seems to produce; I also engage in electronic music histories, from the seminal Kraftwerk to the internationalization of what was once a tantric Goa music scene.

My main argument in DJ Culture in the Mix concerns itself with the mediation of the DJ and the relational difference between a sonic immersive dance floor (where social differences seem to be leveled by a dark dance floor) and events that are visually dominated (where the DJ is presented, as a focal point for adulation and worship). This is a theme I wish to explore further in the future in the context of mobile music technologies.

Keep on dancing!

DJ Culture in the Mix is available via Amazon or wherever academic books are sold. Click here to request an exam copy.

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