What made the early 2000s so great for dance music, part two

Earlier this month, local dance legend Kid Kenobi waxed lyrical on what made the early 2000s so great for dance music. In his own words: “As most dance music was pressed on vinyl there was no way for people to hear dance music other than to actually go and see a DJ play it. This intrinsically made DJs important and club nights special, as both were gatekeepers to a sound that didn’t exist anywhere else.”

But the way dance music was distributed isn’t the only thing that made the early noughties such a great era. Now, Kenobi – real name Jesse Desenberg – has delivered part two of his love letter to the golden days of dance, and it’s all about attention spans and the absence of superstar DJs. Get stuck in below and keep up with all things Kenobi on his blog and Facebook page.

One of the things that made the early 2000s so great for dance music was that crowds were there primarily for the music and the vibe it created.

Sure, some people had their favourite DJs and some DJs were more popular than others – and yes, we were also witnessing the birth of ‘super clubs’ and ‘superstar DJs’ – but the music itself, and the desire to be part of a shared experience, was still the primary focus of crowds in the early noughties.

“The early 2000s still valued the communal experience of dance music above the adulation of DJs”

Why is this? One of the main reasons is that the early 2000s still valued the communal experience of dance music above the adulation of DJs. This was an idea inherited from the 90s rave culture that preceded it: in many ways the revolution of early rave culture was that it rejected the ‘pop star’ framework of other music and replaced it instead with the egalitarian idea of a ’shared experience’. Although a little idealistic in some ways, and while there were always exceptions to this rule, it’s an idea that still beats at the very heart of old world (non-EDM) electronic music culture today, especially in Europe.

In a 2012 interview with inthemix, Simian Mobile Disco hit the nail on the head. “The thing that scares me is that it [EDM] pushes just one way of appreciating dance music, and that’s as you would at a rock concert. But for me that’s missing a lot of the point. The way a lot of European clubs and festivals operate, where the DJ isn’t necessarily the focus – he/she could be off in the corner somewhere – it’s more about the music and the communal experience.”

The early 2000s, caught in a transition between the underground rave culture of the early 90s and the mainstream EDM culture of the present day, was still strongly linked to this idealistic outlook on dance music. And that’s why I loved it. Fast forward 17 odd years and electronic dance music – especially at the more commercial end of the spectrum – has evolved into becoming just another form of pop music, dominating the radio and top 40 charts and creating mega events across the globe.

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Kid Kenobi raving as a teen in the ’90s

Whilst this shift from underground to overground has been great for artists on so many levels – increased fees, worldwide tours, mainstream music awards and so on – the knock on effect is that the revolution created by early rave culture, that ranked vibe above celebrity status, has been reversed.

“Without a ‘star’ or ‘big name DJ’, many kids now probably won’t bother going to a regular club night or event”

In fact without a ‘star’ or ‘big name DJ’, many kids these days probably won’t bother going to a regular club night or event. It’s clear that DJs are no longer off in the corner somewhere, they are smack bang in the middle of a very big stage. As a consequence people now expect to be entertained by these stars – be it by DJs wearing silly masks, throwing cakes at people’s faces, or standing on top of the decks pumping their fists.

The the idea that dance music is about closing your eyes and letting the music take you on a journey probably seems foreign to a whole new generation of kids, who have come to know dance music as just another form of mainstream music delivered by stars on a stage.

In a nutshell, the utopian ideals of rave culture – the belief in community and shared experience above the adulation of DJs and artists – have been pushed to the wayside. And that’s sad to me. The vibe of early 90s raves is why I got into dance music in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for artists making it (hell, I was one of Australia’s first so called “superstar DJs”) but in making the artists and stars more important than the shared experience of electronic music, we have lost what made dance music so great in the early 2000s.

Attention spans and ‘want it now’ culture

Another thing I loved about dance music in the early 2000s was that people had longer attention spans. Remember those?

Because of those attention spans I could do things like take crowds on a two hour journey and they wouldn’t lose interest. My sets were always constructed in that way, and still are. Everything was intended to lead from one thing to the next, and each set was intended to be appreciated in its entirety. I’d often start slower and funkier, build to some peak time tunes, and then end with something a little bit deeper and more abstract.

“The utopian ideals of rave culture have been pushed to the wayside”

The great thing about the crowds of the early 2000s was that they stayed with you on that journey, from beginning to end. That’s how DJ sets were intended to be experienced and to me, that was what DJing was all about. It wasn’t about hit after hit, but rather the experience of the set as a whole. And that required crowds being able to pay attention for the whole two hours.

Yep, things moved a lot slower in the early 2000s. Even the tracks themselves were longer, with most tracks being between five and seven minutes long – these days tracks can be as short as two and a half minutes! Seriously, that’s as long as I’d mix for back in the day. Listening back to some of my mixes from the early 2000s, I’ve often wondered how I managed to hold people’s attention. But that’s just it: back then attention spans were completely different, which is one of the reasons you could take people on a journey without them getting bored so easily.

Why is that? In all honesty I blame the internet. As brilliant and essential as it is, the internet has also contributed to a form of cultural ADD. To me the link is too uncanny to ignore. ’Surfing the net’, for example, has taught us to go from one entertaining thing to the next without having to spend too much time on any one thing in particular and without any of these things having to be in any real kind of order. It’s the antithesis of having to have a long attention span. The same thing could be said of scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. It’s all about getting a series of short entertaining fixes.

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Kid Kenobi DJing in the early 2000s

By contrast I grew up in the 80s, without the internet. I grew up reading books from beginning to end, I enjoyed listening to albums the whole way through, I didn’t mind playing an album over and over again for weeks at a time, I loved going out every week to watch my favourite DJs perform from start to finish, and I was accustomed to club tracks being four times the length they are today. Having an attention span was the norm. In fact, it was a prerequisite.

But this, it seems, is the complete opposite of how the internet is teaching us to digest information and experience entertainment these days. Everything is speeding up and everything is on demand. People have gotten so used to getting what they want, when they want it, that if they don’t get it then they just switch off. I’ve found the same thing on the dancefloor.

“People have gotten so used to getting what they want, when they want it, that if they don’t get it they just switch off. I’ve found the same thing on the dancefloor”

And no doubt this is where some of the tension between the early 2000s and the present day lies. On the one hand you have old school DJs like myself, wanting to take kids on a long drawn out journey (building to the ‘big tunes’) and on the other, you have kids who have become accustomed to instant gratification getting bored and restless because the DJs aren’t playing their favourite tunes right now.

This shift in thinking has made it harder to play a set that takes crowds on a journey like I would of in the early 2000s. In fact despite ultimately still constructing all my sets as a journey I can’t recall the last time I played a proper set in that way. Most of the time it’s about feeding that ADD beast, trying to meet the crowds’ constant demand for instant gratification, cutting my tracks down as short as possible so they aren’t “too long” and “too boring”, and mixing out as quickly as possible so the crowd doesn’t click off my set and onto something more interesting like a cigarette, the bar, or a selfie.

Needless to say, such an environment makes it extremely hard to practice the old art of making crowds look within and go on a journey that builds to the peak. Thankfully the growth of bush doofs and inner city warehouse parties suggest that dance music may well go back underground again. All I can say is that hopefully these events take place somewhere without reception, in a dark room, so we can all remember – or perhaps even learn for the first time – to get lost in the music again.

You can keep up with all things Kid Kenobi on his blog and Facebook page.