The bacchanalian thrill of the dance

Trance is the perfect music for a society of unrepentant narcissists and exhibitionists

AT LAST the summer is over. At last an end to the annual bombardment of snapshots from the beaches and night-clubs of the dance-music paradise of Ibiza. Those endless pictures of stoned ladettes with pierced tongues and golden midriffs, leering at me, having all the fun. Little minxes. Either that or the wedding photos of the balding Big Beat DJ Fatboy Slim and his uber-babe wife, Zoe Ball. What two turntables and a microphone can do for a bloke...

But wait, what's this? A pounds 10m club opening in Leicester Square - a place called, with a certain piquant irony, "Home". By the looks of things, it's nothing like my home. In addition to three dance floors, its seven storeys have shops, restaurants and the inevitable cybercafe. On Saturday night, the Balearic godfather Paul Oakenfold will DJ for 1,200 saturnalians in the "Auditorium" on Home's second floor. I'll probably be at... well, home, in fact.

It would be hard to think of a more fitting symbol of dance culture's unstoppable takeover than Home. There it will sit, in the heart of London's West End, pumping out the endless hypnotic beats of "progressive trance", "epic house", "speed garage" and the countless other permutations of post- disco dance music that now sound-track our urban lives. There's not much that's underground about this "superclub", whose opening confirms that, in the late Nineties, we all move to the relentless pulsing and futuristic keyboard--sequencing of electronica. In this overgrounding of subterranea, Europe's trans-national "trance nation" has become just another lifestyle demographic. (Interesting to note that in America, where hip hop still reigns, "dance music" is still more or less synonymous with gay night- life.)

Trance, along with all the other bastard children of disco and house, is the perfect sound-track for a digital culture in which everything becomes remixable, replaceable - ultimately disposable, we could argue. (Who in 10 years' time will ever listen to Agnelli & Nelson's "El Nino" or Alice Deejay's "Better Off Alone"? Certainly not me.) Quickly made on cheap keyboards and cranked out for high-street hedonists and New Age lager louts, these glibly melodic "trance anthems" are all about the euphoria of oblivion. In the candid words of Skunk Anansie's singer Skin, "It wasn't until I started taking loads of drugs that I got house music - because it was all a bit monotonous."

But trance is about more than just release through mood-altering repetition. In its monorhythmic drive and cerebral eroticism, it is the perfect music for a society of unrepentant narcissists and exhibitionists. Whether it's the purring titillation of ATB's "9pm (Till I Come)" or the spacey bliss of Chicane's "Saltwater", trance sublimates rather than stimulates sexuality. It's the sound of white technology, four-on-the-floor computerisation, free of funk's bump or reggae's grind. As with the original disco productions of the mid to late Seventies - music for white and Latino homosexuals in New York - the groove is in the head, not the heart.

The omnipresence of dance beats - in the shortlist for last night's Mercury Music awards, in ads and movie sound-tracks as much as in clubs or on the airwaves - owes much to the moribund state of rock as we know it. Give me the heady plastic thrill of Binary Finary's "1999" or the daft beauty of Basement Jaxx's "Rendez-Vu" over the torpid sludge of the Stereophonics, the damp mewling of Travis and the strained angst of the Manic Street Preachers, any day.

It's no coincidence that some of the best music of the Nineties has been made by people operating in the slipstream between the dance floor and the rock arena - nor any great surprise that the widely mocked Mercury Prize committee this year nominated no fewer than four dance/ rock hybridisers: Underworld, Faithless, the Chemical Brothers, and the inescapable Beth Orton. Until Radiohead make another album, we closet "rock" fans will just have to make to do with Tricky and Massive Attack.

"Dance music has won the war, hasn't it?" smirks Chris Lowe of those dance-culture dowagers the Pet Shop Boys, who are soon to release their aptly titled new album, Nightlife. "When I started liking dance music, it was reviled. But it's moved into rock territory now with the Chemicals, the Prodigy and Underworld," he continues.

Lowe adds that he keeps "searching for a new underground". New undergrounds there will always be. Future generations of clubbers will rise up to overthrow the DJs who thought they'd rule for ever. But when dance culture comes Home this weekend, it may never recapture the illicit bacchanalian thrill that made the Nineties such an intoxicating time.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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