Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture

Dancecult is an online journal for the study of electronic dance music culture that embodies exactly what dance music should always be about. Having just published their 19th issue, we chatted to the editorial board about its contents, the post-Covid music scene, gender dynamics and their favourite books.

In your own words, what is Dancecult, and who is involved?

Dancecult is an open-access, peer-reviewed, and multi-platform journal for the study of electronic dance music cultures. The journal was founded in 2008 and we’ve just published our 19th issue. We publish a diverse range of content including feature articles and journalistic From the Floor essays, as well as book and film reviews and translations.

Dancecult is a nonprofit journal for interdisciplinary scholarship and innovative multimedia projects on the shifting terrain of electronica and dance cultures worldwide. The journal is published by Huddersfield University’s Department of Music and Music Technology and is supported by Maynooth Academic Publishing using PKP’s Open Journal Systems platform.

With around a dozen folks on the editorial team committed to its production, Dancecult accommodates research exploring the sites, technologies, sounds and cultures of electronic dance music. We aim at mixing the world of academic scholarship with experimental reporting as found in our From the Floor essay section.

The current Dancecult Editorial Board consists of Graham St John (Executive Editor), Dave Payling (From the Floor Editor), Botond Vitos (Production Editor/Operations Director/ Art Director), Toby Young (Reviews Editor), Tommy Symmes (Managing Editor), Kat Loughrey (Community Manager), Moses Iten (Foreign Languages Editor), and Alistair Fraser and Rupert Till (Associate Editors).

Dancecult is a primary activity of the Dancecult Research Network.

Does the journal have an overall ethos?

As a free open-access operation, we take pride in remaining free from subscription fees and pay-to-play arrangements common in academic journals. Dancecult is a member of the Radical Open Access community and is committed to remaining independent from the exploitation of public and privately funded research.

For any readers that are unsure of where to start, how do you recommend people navigate the platform?

Dancecult promotes the principle that making research freely available supports a greater global exchange of knowledge, and follows a not-for-profit, open publishing model. Our entire material is immediately and easily accessible on our website. Scroll down on our home page for a list of articles from our current issue with their PDF or HTML links. You can browse through our past issues by clicking ‘Archives’ in the primary navigation menu at the top of the page.

If you are interested in a particular topic, click ‘Search’ in the menu and enter your keyword(s) of preference. The search engine will look for your query in the whole document — you can also filter by author and publication date. Happy reading!

How do you typically decide on what is included in each issue?

Content is often determined according to themes in guest-edited issues, such as those issues we have run on algorithmic EDM, psytrance, Afrofuturism, dub, production technologies, fieldwork, festivals, the DJ, women, and ageing.

Next year’s issue (2023) is devoted to psychedelia and electronica. Sometimes content echoes the zeitgeist and responds to contemporaneous events, such as when we featured a special section on the Love Parade in the wake of the tragedy at Duisburg (2.1, 2011), or when Tim Lawrence addressed “transglocal politics” and the erasure of the Latinx in the history of queer dance culture in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre (8.1, 2016), or as with the case of our special issue on dance culture in the time of Corona (12.1, 2020).

Often, the content is open and relies on submissions from authors from around the world and many different disciplines. We are open for suggestions for future themed issues and other materials. Please contact Executive Editor, Graham St John to discuss prospective future content. For From the Floor content, contact Dave Payling.

What do you think are some of the most important articles or issues that Dancecult has published?

As a founding editor of a journal that has published well over 200 articles, favouring any of your children is a fraught exercise, and everyone will have different opinions. We were publishing fascinating and diverse content right off the bat. Our first lead feature (vol 1.1, 2009) was a memorable piece on Intelligent Dance Music as a “Minor Literature by Ramzy Alwakeel, and that same issue ran From the Floor pieces from Mark Fisher and Jeremy Gilbert on the Hardcore Continuum debate, with Simon Reynolds offering his rejoinder in the following issue. These extremes demonstrate the range of content we are committed to publishing and we haven’t backed away from.

Over the years, Dancecult has featured great work from many key and emergent scholars in the field representing manifold genres and aesthetics, from production and cultural angles. A very non-exhaustive list includes: house, disco, techno (Detroit and German), psytrance, dancehall, jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, gabber, breakcore, mashup, synth-pop, electro, funk carioca, ambient, algo-pop, cumbia. Aesthetics and contexts covered include Afrofuturism, festival culture, teknivals, sound systems, algoraves, baile funk, virtual vibes and many many more.

Completely biased of course, but among my favourite contributions is Dave Mothersole’s wonderful piece on the roots of Goa trance in Unveiling the Secret, which appeared as part of a themed issue (4.1, 2012) I edited on psychedelic trance. Also, as an experiential report, I enjoyed Reba T. Manuel’s Laevorotation at Boom 2012 (issue 6.1, 2014). More recently, there was an excellent photo essay written by Bharat S on the mobile DJ and devotional music in North India titled Beyond Club Cultures (13.1, 2021).

The Dancecult issue that resonated most with me was the Women and Electronic Dance Music Culture issue in 2017. In particular, I enjoyed Tami Gadir’s article, Forty-Seven DJs, Four Women: Meritocracy, Talent and Postfeminist politics. Gadir writes so succinctly about how gender politics in dance music doesn’t correspond to its utopian rhetoric. Do you think things are steadily improving?

Yes, gender dynamics have improved since I started researching dance music culture in 2010, especially since gender equality in culture industries became part of mainstream public conversations. Around the time that my article was published, such conversations started from public outrage at individual stories of well-known people abusing power.

What followed was a broader acknowledgement and consciousness that what had been considered “normal” conduct had in fact been quite terrible. Seeing this realization unfold was like bearing witness to an awakening within the establishment—mainstream media, politicians, high-profile public figures—of things that people active within social justice movements had been pointing out for decades.

All of it affected DJ culture, which had its own share of scandals, outrages, and reckonings. One example is the increased normalization of women and gender-diverse folks as part of DJ line-ups. Another is the higher number of booking agents who have gender balance policies for their event line-ups. In my own day job teaching music industry students, each successive year of undergraduates seems to experience gender diversity among DJs as less controversial than the last. I am encouraged that some of them have not experienced the bro-ish undercurrent that was commonplace earlier on. There are countless other things I could name.

One thing I still see is the hesitancy of women and gender-diverse people in the studio, with gear. Due to early socialisation, cis-men tend to have a pre-existing and naturalised relationship to gadgetry, so are less fearful of twiddling the knobs and pressing the buttons of unfamiliar things. I think this is a hard one to shake and will take more than a few years of sociocultural shifts. But I have to believe it will change, and I am excited about a much more vibrant and interesting DJ culture in the years to come. (Tami Gadir, RMIT University).

Are there any Dancecult issues you think are particularly relevant to our readers?

Given Velocity Press’ interest in dnb, readers might enjoy Alistair Fraser’s article on dnb MCs as well as his tribute to dnb legend, Marcus Intalex. There are two other contributions from Chris Christodoulou that many Velocity readers might enjoy. There is also this article on dnb DJs in Vienna.

In other areas, Botond Vitos’ article Along the Lines of the Roland TB-303: Three Perversions of Acid Techno makes the connection between the TB303 and acid techno squat parties in Melbourne. There is a good tie-in with your publication Dreaming in Yellow with an article about Pete Woosh’s perspective on DiY written by Dave Payling: We also have another article written by Andy Riley about DiY’s neighbours, Smokescreen Sound System.

I saw that you did a special issue on Dance Culture during the time of Corona in 2020. Tommy Symmes’ article on Sound Systems at the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis was also particularly powerful. In the context of the BLM protests of June 2020 and the discussions that followed, do you think dance music has changed post-Covid? If so, how?

A global pandemic, the continued murder of black people in the US by police, and widespread video streaming facilitated something of a secular hierophany in June 2020, when multiple “ingrained systemic issues” erupted into popular social consciousness. For a few weeks, it was difficult to ignore the material realities of institutional racism and class warfare. And maybe as a result, more people now recognize that even dance music can tread on the necks of those already desperately short on breath.

My suspicion is that it has gotten harder to pretend, harder to hide from the things we now know we know. It’s harder to distinguish music-in-general from the specifically political histories and energies that dance through its sounds.

Dance music has certainly changed, and so has everyone at the party, and so has the whole world. Some say the world is change. But has dance music changed in its effective relationships to this world of change?

This is difficult, for changes of heart and awareness don’t necessarily equate to changes in actions and effects. That is, realizations aren’t always realized. Or, transformations can require more than the acknowledgement that transformations are required.

Then again, perhaps this is the very rule which demands the repetitive kick drum’s insistent and sacred resistance.

It would be great to hear a bit more about what your favourite books are, whether music or non-music related.

For our Community Manager, Kat Loughrey, Simon Reynolds’ Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Cultureand Matthew Collin’s Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House, are favourite reads. I am in total agreement. Reynolds’ work remains an indispensable excavation of nineties rave culture that offers a memorable entrance point to the terrain of the vibe and its many soundscapes. Collin’s more recent Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music, offers an authoritative update on developments around the world, and is notable for the swipe he takes at the monetizing of raving enshrined in “EDM”.

On the philosophy tip, see Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction. On the cultural studies tip, see Jeremy Gilbert and Ewan Pearson’s Discographies: Dance Music, Culture and the Politics of Sound. And if you want the history of disco and house, go no further than Tim Lawrence’s Duke University Press trilogy: Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979, Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980–1983 and Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-93.

As my biases take control of my senses, in terms of classic content in a one-stop-shop (actually it has long been a freely downloadable PDF), my first edited collection FreeNRG: Notes From the Edge of the Dancefloor (2001 Commonground) – which focuses on the Australian rave or “doof” scene of the nineties, and features related content such as Robin Mutoid’s excellent history of the Mutoid Waste Company – remains a quality archival resource.