Liz Kershaw: Words fail the World Service posse

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The Independent Online

Do you really know your house from your old school? You know your garage is no longer where you keep your car, right? Right. And that there's house, hard house, old-school hard house and new hard house? US and UK garage? Techno and trance? How well do you really know your dance?

Do you really know your house from your old school? You know your garage is no longer where you keep your car, right? Right. And that there's house, hard house, old-school hard house and new hard house? US and UK garage? Techno and trance? How well do you really know your dance?

If you still think "Chicago" is over-sentimental Seventies adult-oriented rock for slow snogging just before you stagger to the nearest taxi queue, and that the best thing about "Detroit" is Motown , you must have missed The Music Mix ­ Club Culture. It's been going out to the worldwide massive for the last four weeks. Respect to the World Service posse in the Bush House!

This was the essential mix for anyone grappling with their genres but too embarrassed to talk about it, for people who know it's crucial to get your head round all the different definitions if you want your kids to think you're cool. We were promised a "One-stop shop to discover the global melting pot of dance music and the joys of the endless party". Cue trance-type backing track. (Mainly synthesizers recreating the sound of mattress springs.) Boing, boing, boing. Cue booming jingle: "Time to burn!" Boing, boing, boing. Here we go.

"Dance is a universal language. There's a lot of DJ worshipping. Worldwide, turntables are now outselling guitars," we were told. Sad but true. In the last decade or so DJs' earnings have reached Premiership-player levels and they can now command five figure sums for one night spinning their wheels of steel. We heard how "half-naked good-looking people" are "prepared to travel miles to dance until dawn" in hot sweaty venues. "Club culture has taken over the world."

But, The Music Mix reminded us, all this mixing is not just for pleasure. "It's big business," according to the DJ Seb Fontaine. And the editor of one dance-music magazine pointed out that: "Superclubs like Ministry of Sound, Cream and Gatecrasher have taken clubbing to another level. A superclub makes itself into a brand that can sell products just on the strength of its name. When Gatecrasher go on tour, [as they did last weekend] they don't even take their top DJs."

Judge Jules presented Gatecrasher live on BBC Radio 1 last Sunday from 2am till 4am and regularly hosts one of the primetime dance music shows on Radio 1. He urged us not to underestimate "the importance of the media for the growth of dance music". He highlighted how "Radio 1 has always championed dance music. The powers that be in conventional radio simply didn't understand nor appreciate its commercial viability."

Commercial viability? What's that got to do with Radio 1? It's not like anyone there is making tons of money out of dance music is it? Well, OK, perhaps some at the station do own record labels or production companies or run clubs. But certainly not the hip and happening boss Andy Parfitt who had the vision to turn huge chunks of his network over to dance devotees, even though some of them are seemingly struggling to string two words together. Tall Paul was the first top turn to try explaining the diversity of dance. "Trance will be a lot more melodic, will have more string sounds," he says. "It's more of an atmosphere type vibe that you're trying to create on the club. The techno side is more the bangin' beats, very drum orientated. The house sound. You've got vocal house. Songs over house music."

Mmm. And Garage?

"There's UK and there's US garage. What's the difference?" the presenter of The Music Mix Claire Smith asked Ned Baines of BMG Records.

"It's a little bit of a red herring and it's a good question, 'cos yer know what I think ­ they ran out of terms and they're being lazy 'cos the US garage scene was very vocal, very sweet soul compared to what this garage scene is now which is very rough-edged. It's quite hard-hitting sound. It's a different sound. There's nothing to connect the two apart from the name."

We then heard "a more detailed look at the issues of genres" from an Italian exponent. Would this help the listener? "I think house includes everything." Oh, great. "House music was born out of the electric drum machine so you could basically do it in the house, so it's house. Then house can include everything like two-step, which is when I think of R&B which is very danceable friendly for black and white people. And there's electronica which I prefer calling my style instead of trance because there's big confusion about trance. Trance is getting confused with Europoppy music sometimes. But I think we're getting out of that side of music now and we're getting more into housey electronic sounds. I think music is converging into one style. Which is obviously house." Are we getting anywhere at all here?

Scott Manson, a former editor of the Ministry of Sound magazine, tried to explain the historical context. "You've got electro in 1983, '84. Then Chicago had the jacking sound in 1986. The jacking sound moved over to Britain in '87, '88. From Chicago jacking house we made acid house. Jacking was about the beat. Acid was dirty. It was squelchy. Pop acid was the end of '88. It brought acid house to the masses. The acid house scene sort of evolved into house which is a bit more soulful style with big chunky house music beat. Techno followed on from the house music scene again once we had the vocal house and the instrumental house that developed into eventually what we call techno." Eh? Hang on, there's more.

"Forget drum'n'bass and UK garage. Most dance music is about house music and that's a four-four rhythm and that locks into the sort of alpha patterns of your brains."

Judge Jules had been training to be a barrister when "his love of music took him away from chambers and onto the dance floor". Hence this lucid insight, I suppose: "When people try to explain and interpret dance music it gets kind of simplified into a number of genres. From a historical perspective it goes back to that kind of synergy between the tribal rhythm and man's desire to dance. We're just in a slightly more glitter-balled glo-sticked-up version of that tribal principle."

Ashley Casselle is a resident DJ at Gatecrasher: "It just hits the most primitive buttons in human beings, yer know. You just wanna kinda get lifted off, forget the week's troubles and go somewhere else for a bit. Lose yerself in the music. It's the oldest cliché, but very true."

Sometimes the old ones are the best which is why this weekend thousands of us headed off to the Finsbury Park Fleadh in London to see Neil Young. (You don't need a dictionary to understand raw passion and grinding guitar music.) Radio 2 had been telling us that we'd be able to hear him on air from 9pm and with the torrential rain outside it was tempting to put my feet up in a comfy chair with the wireless and a whisky.

But if I'd relied on the radio I would have missed the entire two-and-a-half hour set. "You've waited in the rain and you can have as many songs as you like," Young promised us and so it's unlikely that he was the one who threw a wobbly and, just before it was due to go on air, blocked the planned broadcast.

"The production crew were so disappointed," the Radio 2 executive producer Lewis Carnie told me. "We were never actually going to broadcast the whole concert ­ only a couple of songs. It was only billed as highlights. It was never a money issue ­ they only get basic MU [Musicians' Union] rates. Some artists are happy to do it. But Neil Young's people withdrew permission at the eleventh hour." Turns out that the turntables are far more reliable.