HEY, MR. DEEJAY: Here’s a brain twister for you: If a deejay plays dance music, and no one dances, is it still dance music? For philosophers and music fans alike, Martin Gore’s headlining set at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Saturday, June 27, raised some interesting questions. Because while the ex-Depeche Mode man’s excellently deep, atmospheric-house-music set got my feet moving, I was only one of a handful who dared dance. Most in attendance either recorded the show on their phones, stood and stared, or sat outside, smoking, and I felt like a weird fool.
Now I’m not lambasting those who were simply there to listen. I can completely appreciate the experience of soaking in a dance night closed-eyed, letting it all wash over you. But something tells me that’s not all that was going on at SOhO. It seemed people were there to bask in the aura of a legend, there to watch his unsmiling presence, the music a mere sideshow. Or, they were led by their great expectations — as one woman yelled, “Play some Depeche Mode! Just one song! That’s why we’re all here!” She was very angry.
It was, in microcosm, the weird state of music we are in. Laptops are the new guitars, and with the gear change has come a noticeably more stationary performer and crowd alike. True, the kids stopped dancing at least a decade ago, when we all became bedroom music critics. But even if the action onstage has ceased altogether, the exalted level of show stardom has not lowered, and we bask both in the status of anyone under spotlight, and in our own shared status by association. We idolize the wizard behind the computer and the magic he drops, and we equally memorialize our having experienced it in the instant. (Have you noticed how just about every top hit of the last half decade has been about living this night like it’s the last, like we’re young forever?) Dance floors are just another realm for us to express our great existential anxiety about the worth of our lived experience relative to everyone else’s — I’m alive, please “Like” that fact. Here’s another brain twister: If you went to a dance night so that you could film the deejay, were you really there?
Whoever said life is not a spectator sport clearly never lived to our present day, where we endlessly surveil and share in the name of selfhood. We are the drones of our own lives. I’m reminded of The Kinks song that goes: “People take pictures of each other / just to prove that they really existed.” It’s gotten to the point where performers announce phone embargoes, as happened at a The 1975 show I went to last year, when singer Matty declared a song as cell-phone free (and yet nothing is sacred; some kept their smartphones up anyway). In our pursuit of cool, we must gather our gigs and flaunt them, and we cry foul when the performer fails to conform to our carefully curated tastes, which we just posted on Spotify, by the way.
Because in many music environments people simply want to be comforted and confirmed. They appreciate music insofar as it can politely pad a commercial setting, soundtrack a drive, or boost street cred. It’s a passive thing. Versatile musicians like Gore get yelled at when they decide to be something other than a nostalgia playlist.
So next time, kids, toss your phone, expectations, and ego aside, and dance. Let your evening go unrecorded, and let yourself be free.