Bassbin Book Club: Emma Warren

Writing from the peripheries of the popular music press over the last 20 years, Emma Warren is committed to documenting grassroots music culture in the UK. While her previous work has focused on chronicling some of the UK’s most beloved DIY spaces, and why we write about them, Emma is taking the floor once again with Dance Your Way Home: A Journey Through the Dancefloor; an exploration of how and what drives us to dance. Rob Smith met Emma for more details about the new title and some of her favourite reads and records.

What was the last standout event/venue you danced your way home from?

Moonlighting at Spiritland the month before it closed. It’s a night run by Marsha Marshmello, Leanne Wright and Zakia Sewell and they had Josey Rebelle as a special guest. It was a small room, a red light, and a good feeling, to paraphrase Kerri Chandler.

How have you seen DIY spaces change throughout your career writing about music, space and culture?

Things always change and are different now than they will be in ten years’ time. The biggest change I’ve seen is the almost wholesale handing over of public space and affordable space to private companies who make a private profit out of social good. The need for grassroots community space – made by people for people – hasn’t gone away and so we will collectively keep carving out space where we can. It just shouldn’t be this difficult.

Any old records or music writing books that you rediscovered when writing Dance Your Way Home?

Many! I used my record collection as a kind of time machine, pulling out tunes to help me remember what it felt like to be on acid house dancefloors or during dubstep times. I discovered gems I missed at the time like Satin Storm’s Kick Up A Sound Boy. For books, I’d have to name-check Brian Belle-Fortune’s amazing All Crews (I can’t wait for the reissue) – Rob Gallagher’s poetry collection The Dancefloors of England and Christian Adofo’s A Quick Ting… on Afrobeats.

Do you think community has become a buzzword in the music press? What does it mean to you after finishing Dance Your Way Home?

Community isn’t just a buzzword – it’s everything. I’m happy to hear it spoken about more, but I don’t want to hear lip service. Community is active, not passive. My book is the product of many communities, whether that’s a dancefloor I’ve been on or the people who took time to talk to me. You also have to confront he fact that community is also a basic reality: no form of music or dance culture exists without everything that went before it, and everything that surrounds it. Nothing exists in isolation.

Join the Future writer Matt Anniss recently pointed out how many of dance music’s origin stories contain misconceptions and have become canonised mythology. When writing and researching for the book did you bust any dance music history myths?

I enjoyed Matt’s book and I appreciate the way he’s expanding the general awareness of the roots. I think the way that I’ve focused on the dancers instead of the producers or the DJs also offers a new way of looking at established dance music histories. I’m putting the dancer back in the story and expanding the concept of dance music to contain everything from Anglo-Saxon rave-ups to mid-90s drum & bass.

Any upcoming music book releases in 2023 you’re looking forward to?

All Crews, each and every day.

In the current media climate, why are music writing books still valuable to you? What can they offer that online music writing can’t?

This is my first full-length book and I have loved the opportunity to spend so long really thinking deep and hard about things that people don’t usually think deep and hard about – like why did people start dancing the Electric Slide to Cameo’s Candy when it was originally danced to a different song? That took me a while to figure out, but I got there and I was pleased to have come up with an answer. For better or for worse, books have a gravitas and longevity that online writing doesn’t.

Favourite non-music related books that you’ve read recently?

I decided to try and actually understand what the situationists were about, so I read McKenzie Wark’s The Beach Beneath The Street. By the end, I actually had some clue of who they were, where they were coming from and what they believed. Shorthand is that they believed that capitalism was squashing more areas of life and by creating ‘situations’ it became possible to see what people really wanted and needed outside or what they were being sold. They were also into sampling (which they called détournement) because they believed that ideas always need updating and that no idea can ever really belong to one individual because everything comes from somewhere.

Do you think grime and bubstep have had enough written coverage in the music press?

There’s always room for more, and there will continue to be stories told about these moments in time. I’m happy when I see people treating drill as culture because it is.

While Dance Your Way Home is out through Faber, you launched your own publishing platform Sweet Machine a while back. Are there any new writers you’re keen to publish through it?

South East London has some great writers and poets, and there are a few ideas percolating. Let’s see what happens. I also have a pamphlet about Lewisham caffs that’s nearly ready to go.

You’ve recorded some of your previous titles as audiobooks on your Sweet Machine Bandcamp. Are you into audiobooks too?

I did audiobooks for Make Some Space and Document Your Culture because I wanted to sell my books on Bandcamp and I know that not everyone’s into reading. I liked the process of recording them in my friends’ studios – one with Will LV and one with Paul Byrne (aka Apiento of Test Pressing). I loved recording the audiobook for Dance Your Way Home: four days in a studio, just me, the engineer and a mic. I brought some photographs of friends and family to keep me company.

Four books/publications down, have you perfected the art of dossing? Will you ever?

I love this question. Dossing – or just having downtime – is a really important part of being human, and it’s harder than ever to do. It’s really important.

*Audiobook* Document Your Culture by Emma Warren

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