Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Politics of Dancing

Happy Winter Solstice, or Summer Solstice to our northern readers. The Solstice heralds a time of change, and to celebrate, here's a great 1983 eletro track with a topic that is as relevant to the dance scene today, as it was 24 years ago. ..The Politics of Dancing. Change can happen, and it can be good, so as a new Solstice resolution...Lets make it so!

Re-Flex. The Politics of Dancing (1983)

“The Politics Of Dancing. The Politics of Feeling Good, The Politics of Moving, is this message understood?

There is one constant element I’ve found in all my years involved in the dance music industry. No matter what the dance style or music, no matter how much they change, there is always…Politics. I loathe it. I loathe all politics.

This single from Re-Flex came out in 1983. And everytime I encounter dance party Politics, I hum it to myself, smile and drift away…

No matter how much the oldskool PLUR attitude was cited. [ Peace, Love, Understanding/Unity and Respect], Politics was always lying/lie-ing beneath the surface.

“We’re under pressure, yes we’re counting on you. That what you say, is what you do…”

For people working in the party scene, it was fierce. Basically it boiled down to who’s gang you were in. It’s common knowledge that the oldskool parties in Melbourne were generally funded by drug dealers. Often your $65 ticket included your drugs for the night, typically ecstacy.

The parties were described by the Police at the time as a ‘Drug Dealers Tupperware Party’. And that was close enough to the truth. So the politics involved drug territories.

As a rule I avoided that ‘financing’ area of parties, I just wanted to work. Usually in décor, VJing and genre development. You could spot ‘business’ from a long way off, and I’d go out of my way to let ‘them’ know I didn’t want to know or to have anything to do with it.

But there was also the other Politics, which involved prestige, careers and ego’s. That consumed all levels of parties, from underground to mainstream, from big arena parties to small ones down a back lane. And from DJ’s to décor designers. It was and still is, everywhere. It comes with the territory.

New people would come in wide eyed and innocent, expecting the feel good party atmosphere to be part of the party crew. It was…in pockets. Usually you had to toss up whether friendships or party crew loyalties won.

Generally you had to work with one party clan, who maybe did a range of big and small parties. But often these would be spread to a dozen or so over a year, and your rent needed to be paid every week. You’d be lucky to get paid for your work, if at all. Having ‘+2 on the door’ (2 free guests for your work) doesn’t pay the rent.

So if you worked for rival clan for cash, just because you needed to buy food, you would risk being dumped by your clan, and loosing a regular income. That’s why you will see the same DJ’s, VJ and décor people appearing on just one set of flyers over the years.

But there were frequent bust ups and a couple of clan members would shift clans or start up their own parties.

Often the bust ups were over either money or creative directions. Some parties may be stagnating and it was time to move on. Or more frequently there was fall out (A wonderfully accurate Cold War term relating to radiation fall out after a nuclear bomb) over something and the broader clan alliances would shift.

It could be drug territories, ego issues (power) or someone sleeping with someone they shouldn’t be. Sex and power are never far from politics.

In the turbulent early years, these could change week to week. Yes literally. Individual crew members would meet – usually Wednesdays at Filter (The Lounge Swanston Street) which was a hardcore industry night, and we’d ask, ‘Should I be seen talking to you this week?’ Sounds petty and ridiculous, and it was. But that’s Politics.

As the song continues…"The broadcast was spreading, station to station. Like an infection, across the Nation”

A decade later we can laugh about it…until it involves politics today. And when a party you can be working on turns over half a million dollars in one night, it’s serious ‘business’.

Generally individual friends would just roll their eyes and knowingly say ‘politics’ and play the game. Knowing each of their livelihoods was at stake, and in a month it could all be different anyway, so it wasn’t worth getting too fussed over. But you’d make sure nobody saw you.

You’d drop by the friends house or studio covertly, hoping no ‘enemies’ happened to drop by. The dealers could be involved in some very nasty territory wars.

The lounge room floor you fell asleep on one night, after a pleasurable evening with friends, could just as easily be the scene of a break in the following night, with axes smashing in the back door and the lady of the house being raped in retribution for her boyfriend crossing over the territory line. No not a movie plot, it really happened.

The Politics was on the dance floor as well. Which dance style or crew are you with, are you cool enough to be seen with these people. Would they all stop dancing and move away from you, in front of 300 people?

Was your top cool today, or was it so yesterday. Did you dance the ‘wrong’ way or to the ‘wrong’ track.

Goths developed this into a Gothic Opera.

I’d regularly drop by Apocalypse, a great early 90’s goth club, to catch up with friends who ran it. Getting free drinks at the club owners expense, was always an incentive too ;). When you work in the entertainment industry, your friends tend to be those who work in the industry as well. Usually because of the weird hours you work.

How many people finish work around 5am on a Saturday night (Sunday Morning) and want to catch up with friends to unwind? Most of the club patrons would work or be at Uni Monday to Friday and the weekend was their time off. To people in the industry, the weekend was their peak work period. So you’d have friends who didn’t get out of bed before noon, and were ready to relax and enjoy themselves as the sun came up.

The early 90’s goth culture was very much a matriarchal society. Matriarchs, usually spectacular Goth ladies, would have their ‘brood’ of up to a dozen or so who would huddle in ‘their’ spot of the club.

If a new or unfamiliar track came on, the brood would watch and wait for the matriarch to give it the ‘approval to dance to’ look. The matriarch’s would all be watching each other around the club – in the dark, and they had eyes in the back of their heads! Each would wait for the other to make the first move.

This happened at raves as well, but the Goths really knew how to milk it for all it’s drama. As only Goths can do. Ya gotta love Goth drama Queens. ( or else… ;))

I loved watching it. The Dj’s would let me know they were playing a new track in their set, and we’d all wait for the Opera to unfold.

Unlike raves, Goths would actually clear the dance floor if they didn’t like a track. And I mean clear. A club of 500 people would suddenly disappear into the dark corners, leaving the DJ to tough it out, which they were good at, or quickly get into another track, without blinking an eye. At a rave, people just kept on dancing thinking, “Yeah it’s a crap track, but I can’t be bothered moving from my spot. It’ll change soon anyway.”

With Goths you could feel the tension in the room. It was a good track, ‘We should be dancing’ the broods would whisper to each other with their eyes. The matriarchs would glance around the room with laser sharp eyes. The prize was to be the first clan on the floor, knowing that the last there would be the followers, not the leaders.

The biggest fear was moving too quick, and by the following week, everyone would know it really was a dud track (uncool) and the brood who made the first move were a bunch of idiots – usually on the dance floor by themselves looking and feeling like complete and utter gooses, but had to tough it out until the end of the track, even though hundreds where smugly glaring from the shadows thinking, ‘I am SOOO glad that’s not me out there’.

This vid TOE 2 (Theory Of Everything) has some footage of this very same club, Apocalypse, at the very same venue I'm talking about. The club footage starts about 3 mins in. You'll get an idea how Goths used to do the Melbourne Shuffle. They have their own distinctive moves, especially if you're wearing an old wedding gown, or have stacks of body piercings wearing leather.


We’d place bets ( buying the winners a drink if you lost – which didn’t amount to much as we all had drink cards, but it was the principal of course) and we’d wait to see who would make the first move.

The tension would mount, the track would be a killer track, such as Nine Inch Nails – Closer, but the dance floor would have tumble weeds blowing across it. Then suddenly there was a break in the ranks…It’s 'so and so’s' brood, they’re making a run for it. And by run, I mean RUN.

Goth etiquette dictates you never run, even out of the way of a fast moving bus. You walk, ‘that’ walk. Like the cosmos obey’s you, and the laws of physics do not apply.

So suddenly 500 goths would run to the dance floor, none wanting to be the last to be dancing to the track. I swear in 3 seconds flat the dance floor would be full. People would even rush out of the toilets not wanting to miss out.

The Re-Flex Politics Of Dancing track refers to Cold War censorship by politicians, but when I’d see this rush for the dance floor each week, half a dozens times a night, and even today with dance party politics and drama's…the lines that go through my head are from the this track…

‘Well you know you can’t stop it, when they start to play, You gotta get out the way

The Politics Of Dancing. The Politics of Feeling Good, The Politics of Moving, is this message understood?"

[And no, I have no idea why the ‘Cinema Australia 1896 – 1956’ poster is covered up by the Re-Flex flyer. Probably just happened to be there for the clip. The 6 sided drums used are called SynDrums, which were popular at the time.

And yes there’s some dancing in the clip, a bit of running man no less, and lots of roller skates on a rooftop!!]

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