Pit Schultz on Tue, 6 Oct 1998 08:27:03 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Mercedes Bunz: Techno - From Youth Culture to Cultural Constitution

Techno: From Youth Culture to Cultural Constitution

Mercedes Bunz <mrs.bunz@de-bug.de>

Electronic music in Germany was never just a new sound, but a whole composite
of new economic, medial and artistic relationships, all incorporated in every
record, and every 12", in each smallest unit in the system. In the field of pop
music, a recognisable shift occurred in certain areas, in particular at three
distinctive nodes: in the infrastructure, and consequently the economic
situation, in the role of the musical medium, and in the cultural ratio of
author and composition. One can conclude that a new cultural pattern has

(1. A misconception: Control of the economics)
Let us begin with infrastructural reality, let us begin with the economics: As
far as I have noticed, Germany's largest newspapers having been writing about
the Techno phenomenon for the last ten years. Sporadically, of course. As
dictated by the statutes of the information age, the term has been known to the
public since 1988, and therefore since its emergence. In the meantime, though,
it has demonstrated an aptitude at cloaking itself from the widely acknowledged
hypermedial world by hiding in the midst of information.  "Hiding in the Light"
was the term given to this subcultural trick by my personal idol and English
subculture theoretician Dick Hebdige.

It was not simply because the music could only be heard in the deepest recesses
of or outside the cities that nobody happened to take any notice of Techno. One
simply regarded Techno as another fad, soon to pass, and not particularly
worthy of any further attention, or at least no serious attention. It was this
very situation which made the circumstances so favourable.

To editors Techno represented a musical denied of any cultural or political
relevance because only technology was expressing itself, not humanity. At the
beginning of the nineties, Techno encountered an overwhelming lack of interest,
and Germany's cultural building sites were presumed to be located elsewhere. To
the music industry, Techno was something which had made itself dependent on
vinyl, and more precisely the 12", a medium without any future which had long
been taken for dead. Which all meant that, at first, anyone who merely wished
to exploit it or could not accept it kept their hands away from it.

Techno, therefore, is a pattern of youth culture in motion. Except attention
towards Techno was missing at the two crucial points, the definition of its
significance and the injection of cash. Funnily enough, it was this failing
commitment by others which forced the music to train its own base and construct
its own infrastructure. It was clear that nobody else would attend to it. At
the beginning of the nineties, the simple acknowledgement of the fact that
there were records out there without any possibility of obtaining them was
instrumental in the opening of record stores and the founding distribution
companies. It was exactly this type of time-out in inconsequentiality that was
necessary to enable the music to become what it is today: a globally operative
strategic network ( or at least one might be inclined to say so, considering
how privy one is to the chaos which reigns in the booking agencies and

(In Germany, several different institutions are connected to this network,
amongst others record labels, record stores, distributors and clubs: Berlin's
"Tresor" club and label, "Hardwax" record store, distribution company, dubplate
and mastering studio and the "Chain Reaction" environment, Techno's Disneyland,
the Love Parade and its connections with its sister label, Westbam's Low
Spirit; in Cologne the "Delirium Koeln" (now named Kompakt) record store with
Mike Ink and his "Studio 1" label; in Frankfurt the Deleuzian, Achim
Szepanski's Force Inc. label and the Sven Vaeth's club The Omen; in Munich, the
Ultraschall club connected to Disko B and the duo which goes with it, the DJs
Hell and Upstart.)

At this point, a modification in the placement is noticeable. Until now,
musical youth culture
- if one were to subscribe to French action theoretician Michel de Certeau's
  assumptions - operated on a tactical basis, equating to a multitude of
consumption models in the repeated attempt to occupy the industry's
infrastructure: studios, record companies and concert promoters.
Aesthetically, one tries to define oneself in relation to the establishment.
Economically, however, this is not feasible. Expensive production costs
involved in booking recording studios settle any illusions of independence. The
music industry controls and adjusts release schedules through the expensive
process of forcing something effective into the vinyl groove.  In this game
Techno, almost surprisingly, finds itself in another role. On the one hand, the
devices used to produce electronic music products were already cheap at the
time and have become even cheaper since. On the other hand, - and in a more
crucial sense
- Techno, in its role as an industry outsider and as manufacturer of its own
  infrastructure, finds itself in a situation in which it profits from its own
accomplishments as well as retaining its independence in face of the
circumstances. It no longer operates tactically, but strategically, bearing in
mind Certeau's definition of strategy as the prerequisite for a place "which
can be named one's own and which therefore (serves) as the basis for the
organisation of one's relations".  If subculture and pop music, as a tactical
youth culture, were only considered a market place up to this point, - money
and jobs belong to the "establishment" - the difference is that one now owns
the structures, the capital stock and the work. From the cultural economics of
youth culture, an own cultural constitution has formed.

(2. Forget vinyl: the 12" single as a medium)

However, it is not as if electronic music in general, including all that
clustered around the phenomenon, lingers in the midst of the business terrain,
like an economic and cultural capsule. The connections are too numerous. It is
not as if the music industry has discovered its own way of regurgitating Techno
as song-based hits. It is not as if many producers compile albums for the music
industry because, despite being able to live an individual lifestyle in
Technoland, one cannot accumulate riches on an individual basis and one has to
work harder for success. It would even be safe to state that the German beer
tent aesthetic, folk music being the very antipode of youth culture, now
features traditional folk songs with Techno beats.  Despite all of these
acquisitions, Techno still seems to be able to determine its own way and uphold
its own set of rules. The secret of its success is the 12" and the balance of
powers it symbolises. If the music industry is dictated by the album and sales
charts, then the 12" single rules over the turntables. The medium's advantage
is the misunderstanding it fosters in the music industry and its low esteem as
a relevant carrier for the business side of things.  To the DJ, the 12" is the
core of his creation. A producer's esteem is straight forward. You are only as
good as your last 12", regardless of your LP. The 12" single transports the
musical innovation of the music that, even if it is sometimes considered
"retro", is ever perpetual, and eternally addicted to the next release. The
long-winded creation of an album represents a delay in the music and its
constant drive for new impetus. In addition, the album poses technical problems
for DJs as well as producers since pressing more than two tracks on one per
side, or more than 12 minutes at 33 revolutions per minute (rpm) or 9 minutes
at 45 rpms, infringes the quality. One should bear in mind that club sound
systems are a lot more precise than home stereo equipment.

(3. Self-assessment)
Both units, the 12" single as a medium and the self-constructed infrastructure,
assure Techno's, and electronic music in the furthest sense, own artistic
relationships. The direct connection between author and composition, which in
modern European tradition is regulated by direct expression, has shifted. In
Techno, instead of originality, sampling and mixing, the new key words of the
cultural constitution, determine the artistic relationship. Any available
material is used. The producer makes use of devices' sounds and samples from
other records.  The DJ uses the producers' records as his tools. A myriad of
voices is injected into any given track or set. The person, the author, the
subject, the classical origin of the artistic work, is no longer the focal
point, with the piece or the composition taking its place instead.  Because of
this, producers use so many pseudonyms that even the specialists, the DJs, lose
track of who produced which track. It can be considered one of the rules of the
cultural constitution known as "Techno", that the name is insignificant. The
music is no longer the medium, it does not represent the expression of the
artist behind it. It is the centre of attention. One could define the new
relation with the words of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "there
is no perpetrator behind the act." Because only the act defines the

Despite all of these facts, Techno is being transformed into a well-behaved
discourse, re-introducing the concept of the artist and the expression into
electronic music. There is an attempt to maintain the normality, - alias the
sell-out of Techno - either in order to embed the discourse in advanced
cultural values or in a case study on the ascent and fall of a classical
subculture. To learn to understand Techno as a cultural constitution, however,
does not mean to regard culture as a reflection of society, instead it refers
to music as a part of society. If this can be achieved the traditional notion
of the division of highbrow culture and subculture can be abandoned, thereby
offering us not only a new and personal field of electronic music, but also a
new view of culture.

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