Most people who write about dance music don’t do write about it for very long. Of those who have made a go of it, I can think of a few outstanding examples – Michaelangelo Matos, Philip Shelburne, Todd Burns, and a few others I know I’m leaving out. But they stand out because they are, in fact, outstanding.
What happens most often is talented writers get a lot of experience, and then they leave. Whether they outgrow the genre or just the industry’s ability (or interest) to support them is an open question.
And when they leave, a substantial store of institutional memory departs with them. The underground isn’t an easy place to get acclimated. If there are classes on it, they probably suck. There are books and movies, some even scholarly (and we’ve started collecting them in our “House Music Canon” series) but it turns out that house and techno stole more than the beat from disco: they also borrowed its fascination with the white label, with anonymity, its emphasis on Being There over reading about it later. You can’t fake knowing what a 303 sounds like. You do or you don’t. A music critic for the Chicago Tribune once referred to it as a “drum machine,” and when corrected, called this a “typo.” You do or you don’t.
All of this was on my mind as 5 Mag has opened the books in an open call for new blood on our staff for the first time in many years. As you get a new crop of people with their own (sometimes very localized) perspectives, how do you transmit something like “institutional knowledge”? I’ve personally conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed thousands of records. I have no idea if I’ve ever gotten better at them but you’d have to be an idiot not to learn something from the process. That kind of collective knowledge among staff feels like the most important asset we have after 12 years of publishing, but it also feels elusive, like smoke or something that can slip through your fingers. Perhaps that’s why it so often does.
In one of those interviews, Quentin Harris lamented the state of New York City’s divided nightlife in trying to bring the Shelter and Pacha crowds together. “The younger generation doesn’t want to learn,” he said, “and the older generation doesn’t want to teach.” Some people only listened to half of what he said and flew into a rage – people who had never been someone who wanted to learn but found no teachers, or felt they had done as much as they could but found no one who wanted to carry on.
These are the things we’re keeping in mind as we talk to writers. Some of them will no doubt write one piece, get paid and move on. But if you’re interested in being part of a growing group of people who want to obtain knowledge, transmit knowledge and preserve that knowledge of events from the past and events as they happen – reach out to us.