I’ve been putting off this post for a while, but it’s about time I said something. As you may already know, I have previously been putting music out under the alias Amateur At Play for a few years now, and I’ve had a few questions asking me what’s happening.
Well, the short answer is I’m currently taking a hiatus from releasing music. You will continue to see remixes that I was commissioned to do appearing for a while yet, but there won’t be any new tracks from me in the immediate future. Let me explain why.
Firstly, the success of this blog has taken me by surprise. I believed there was an appetite for dance music news and opinion delivered from a different angle to the more mainstream publications, and my growing readership suggests I could be right. Although much work remains to be done, I’m happy with progress so far.
This has left me with almost no time for making music. In the coming months, as the blog settles into some kind of routine, I hope to have more time for that. I have several records that are awaiting release, and I’m giving serious consideration to giving one of them a full release on vinyl – with remixers being paid and everything, just like in the 90s!
Secondly, I still have a lot to learn when it comes to making music. Although I’m very happy with what I’ve produced so far, I’m keen to extend my knowledge of music theory and to possibly learn to play an instrument. I suspect I could make even better music with a proper understanding of what I’m actually doing.
You haven’t heard the last track from Amateur At Play, but you have heard the last for the time being. Remixes as well – unless you’re prepared to offer me substantial money, anyway…
Before anyone comes at me claiming I’m a Tory stooge, let’s get this out of the way. I hold no truck for Boris Johnson. I think he’s the worst Prime Minister in living memory. Infact, I first said four months ago that I believed June 21st wouldn’t happen.
However, I also believe in the idea of personal responsibility. Take a look at the United States, where clubs have now mostly reopened. Only the other day, 5 Magazine posted about the reopening of Smartbar in Chicago. They’re very excited about it – and it’s nice to witness.
There’s just one little detail. Everyone who wants to go to the club must be able to provide evidence they’ve had both doses of a Covid vaccine. A source in Chicago tells me “Yeah, everyone just wants to hit the club again now. And if getting vaccinated is how you make it happen, that’s what you do. I haven’t come across anyone who’s complaining.”.
Such a contrast to the UK, isn’t it? This week, we have the truly disgraceful scenario going on where the likes of Camelphat and Solardo are publicly talking about holding illegal raves in defiance of England delaying lockdown changes. And the dance music press says nothing. You will not hear a peep about this in the likes of Mixmag – readers are entitled to ask why.
But he won’t. And nor will anyone else who is either rewarding this bad behaviour or ignoring it, hoping it’ll go away and no one will notice.
The dance music scene has also failed to challenge the numerous anti-vaxxers in its ranks. The likes of Camelphat can reply to a tweet asking whether they’d get a Covid vaccine – the one way we have out of this that doesn’t involve tens of millions dying – and one of the two guys replied with…
And this is essentially why Boris Johnson is happy to talk to Andrew Lloyd Webber to see what they can do to help with his threatres, but he won’t talk to clubs about reopening. It’s because other sectors of the entertainment industry are led by grown-ups, who are prepared to get together and campaign in an intelligent way.
The clubbing sector is a joke in comparison. No one collaborates because they somehow think it would threaten their own positions. Unless they’re old mates, they won’t work together – and even when their own friends do wrong, they lack the courage to speak out.
Whilst the Johnson administration are unquestionably to blame for holding off putting India on the red travel list because they were sniffing around for a post-Brexit trade deal with the country, there has been a terrible failure of leadership from the night time industry.
They refused to contemplate having mandatory proof of vaccination before going into a club. That bastion of free capitalism, the USA, has no such qualms – yet the British clubbing world prefers to listen to crusty old has-beens like Danny Rampling and his paranoid, unfounded drivel.
And he’s far from alone in trying to apply a 1988 mindset to a 2021 problem. As we start coming out of this pandemic, it’s time that the people running this scene got called out for their pathetic failure to show leadership and courage when it was most needed.
I remember the first time that I read a dance music magazine. It was all the way back in October 2001. I was at college at the time studying for my A Levels and I had some time to kill before I had to catch the bus home.
So I wandered into town and saw a newsagents. I’d never been in here before and I saw they had a huge selection of magazines and newspapers – many of which I’d never seen before.
Whilst browsing, I saw a copy of Ministry magazine. Believe it or not, but before the internet came along, you had to get dance music news through the press. There were few ways to get it directly. If you weren’t in the scene, you had to go through the gatekeepers in the media.
I enjoyed reading the magazine and I bought many more. But as an overly inquisitive 16 year old studying Sociology – oddly enough, one of the better decisions I made at that age – I noticed one thing. The coverage was very positive. Insanely positive.
There was little criticism of anyone in there. Certainly not in the way you’d expect to see in newspapers, for example. And this trend over the years has just got worse and worse. It’s gone from being positive to downright idolatry.
And I can’t help but think this is an incredibly dangerous development. It creates the conditions where DJs can put whatever the hell they like on their riders and if you dare criticise them even mildly, they come at you like someone who’s just been caught kicking a puppy.
Whilst there are plenty DJs at the top of this scene who are humble and haven’t forgotten their background, let’s be perfectly blunt here. There are many others who are a bunch of overpaid prima donnas with a truly staggering sense of self-entitlement.
And I believe one of the reasons for that is the sheer amount of idolatry they’re exposed to. They’re treated like kings, and some of them inevitably fall for the hype and think it’s the truth.
They’re not used to dissent. They’re not used to dealing with criticism. In social media, they have a friend. Their fans will unfailingly speak up for them, defending them. Most of the time, it means they don’t even have to answer it in any way. They can express their view by simply liking a tweet or even saying nothing.
They make threats. They threaten to stop you from progressing further in your career. They find out what you want and they threaten to stop you from getting it. This is why they’re absolutely terrified of outsiders – there’s nothing they have in the artillery to stop them.
Derrick May is the perfect example of this. For years, he was venerated and worshipped as some kind of god. This allowed him to behave in whatever way he liked – hence why he’s now accused of sexual mispropriety against at least 18 women and has made a career out of pretending he can play.
No one ever challenged him on it, and he’s still benefitting from idolatry now. His stooges, like Carl Craig and Patricia Altisent, are defending him whilst he somehow pretends that anyone who doesn’t like him must be a racist.
This is an utterly contemptuous and disingenuous line of defence which the dance music press should have torn him to shreds on. Instead, they reported it – even they couldn’t ignore this – but made no further comment. Were they seriously that terrified of his Mickey Mouse lawyer?!
It’s high time that this culture of deference and idolatry in dance music stopped. Otherwise, the egos are just going to destroy what’s left of the scene – and since the egos will be rich, they won’t suffer…
Friend Within caused a combination of surprise and dismay when he posted on his Twitter feed the other day that he was now being sent records that were less than 3 minutes long.
People keep asking why this is happening more and more. I’ve written in the past about how this is to do with wider trends about music getting shorter. PRS For Music ran the results of a study in 2019 which confirmed the average pop song was 73 seconds shorter than in 1998.
In the past, radio restrictions and the limited room available on a 7″ vinyl record meant records had to be between 3 and 5 minutes long. Those restrictions no longer apply, but songs have still got shorter. I’m certain that streaming is responsible for much of this trend.
But in the case of dance music? I don’t think that’s the sole reason for all these DJ unfriendly mixes popping up. I think it’s basically the resurgence of a past problem, only in a different context.
I frequently remember encountering DJs complaining about records being hard to mix into in the early 90s. This wasn’t because the records weren’t long enough, however. It was because many of them were made by producers who didn’t really understand what DJs were looking for in those early days.
This is why in those first few years of house, it wasn’t unusual for tracks to start with a piano or something like that. Great for starting a set with, great for just throwing into a set with no real mixing – but terrible for DJs who prided themselves on smooth mixing and transitions.
Years ago, there was a disconnect between producers and DJs. You could make enough money from one without needing to get involved in the other. Hence why it took producers some time to start understanding that many DJs needed something to work with on each side of the track.
I believe there’s a disconnect there today as well, only this isn’t to do with money. In years gone by, in order to hear dance music, you had to go to clubs. You had to go to record shops and buy the vinyl. You would undoubtedly hear some on commercial radio, but this was only a thin slice of a big pie.
These days, it’s all much more simple. You can hear the latest dance music online. Spotify has it. Beatport has it. Traxsource has it. iTunes has it. It’s easy to find. Paradoxically, it’s harder than ever to get a hit record, but never easier to give it a try.
Many of the people that want to make records, therefore, don’t especially have clubs in mind when making records. They’re thinking more about streaming services, radio and so on. This is the context they’re operating in – hence why we’re ending up with records where even the extended mix comes up to barely 3 minutes.
So the clock has basically gone back to the beginning – only for different reasons to the past.
Clickbait is as much part of the online universe these days as Google and cat memes. I try to avoid doing this, as I think there’s enough of it around already.
I do, at least, try to deliver on the increasingly long headlines of my blog posts – a recent, deliberate addition to try and push this site up the search rankings. This is something that Mixmag doesn’t try to do.
Take this article. The headline promises good things. It claims that Soulwax want to see the collapse of business techno – a concept discussed in detail here, as I cannot be arsed doing a long piece about it on a Friday night.
I thought we would be treated to a useful, detailed insight into this practice and why its demise cannot come soon enough. Instead, I shall have to write it myself when I have more time – your Six On Saturday column is in the queue, too!
Instead, what do we get? One passing reference at the end…
“We have high hopes for the chance for a whole new generation to potentially start with a clean slate and wipe out the formulaic business techno side of dance music that has permeated it in recent years. Will it happen? Probably not!”
Is that it? I’m afraid so. That would be a good article – pity you won’t find it in Mixmag.
Every week on this page, I feature a column called the Six On Saturday. It’s where I go through Traxsource and occasionally the other odd place and compile and review my favourite releases of the week.
The idea is partly inspired by the reviews columns that frequented magazines in the 1990s. The digital age means they’re no longer as prevalent, which I believe to be a shame. I don’t believe that playlists and charts are a substitute – they’re far too subjective.
I go onto Facebook and it’s not unusual for me to see posts along the lines of “I signed 3 tracks this week”. Chances are I’ve written something similar at some point. From a producer’s point of view, this bragging is somewhat understandable.
However, it also illustrates to me just how little risk there is for record labels these days. Time was that a label would have to pay for mastering, pressing costs, distribution and so forth. Unless you were certain you could make your money back, you didn’t invest.
Nowadays, many record labels increasingly adopt the approach of “if you throw enough mud at a wall, some of it will stick”. In other words, it doesn’t matter if this record bombed because we have no end of other ones we can try.
The result is an absolute quagmire of releases, many of which are of pretty inferior quality. Many potentially big releases end up getting lost amidst this because people simply don’t have the time to sift through all this music to find it.
I firmly believe that some of my vocal productions would have found higher chart positions and such if there wasn’t so much other rubbish to get through. It’s extremely frustrating and I’m far from being the only producer of original music to feel this way.
This system has no qualification control in it. There’s no money in it. Worse, it actually makes it next to impossible for anyone not running a label to get paid – thanks to clauses in contracts saying they will not pay royalties until they reach $100 or something like that.
So, what’s the answer. It’s simple. I wrote about it a while ago. It’s called advances over royalties. I described it in detail here. A brief synopsis, however…
“A record label could offer a one-off fee for the track at the start. This would be for the artist to keep and put the risk on the label. But this would then provide an incentive for record labels to push and promote their releases better, and to arguably release less material.”
Music better promoted. Less rubbish filtering through. Payments guaranteed for artists. Less work for labels in the long run. What’s not to like?
This current system isn’t working. Let’s change it before it stops working altogether.
If there’s one thing about house music that leaves me feeling particularly angry, it’s this. Carlos Sanchez died recently, and a GoFundMe page was launched to pay for his funeral.
The revelation about crowdfunding is not a surprise – the same happened after Colonel Abrams died in 2016, and several others have happened since. But nonetheless, it’s something that leaves me feeling pretty angry about the inequality in house music.
Defected Records might tell us that “in this house, we are equal”. In reality, some are more equal than others. This was a man who was a DJ, producer and manager of numerous influential record shops in house music’s formative days.
Look at what house music has become since then. It’s grown from a tiny niche genre driven by largely black men with drum machines and cheap synths into an absolute global juggernaut that spawned numerous other genres. By rights, Sanchez should have been an incredibly rich man.
And whilst I mean absolutely no disrespect to Mr Sanchez or anyone who grieves his sad loss, the inequality in house music – where 99 cookies head to the top and everyone else has to fight it out for the one remaining cookie – needs to be addressed.
Why is an entire industry so happy to take the proceeds from the good times whilst refusing to do their part in the bad? In their buck passing, have they no conscience or responsibility at all?
It appears that sitting around for hours, talking rubbish, is in vogue now. The mysterious allure of Clubhouse hasn’t gone unnoticed by Spotify, who are always looking for the next opportunity that isn’t in music.
You’d almost think that Spotify was embarrassed by their status as effectively being a not for profit company since 2006, such is their failure to turn a single profit once in their 15 year history. But I digress.
I can kind of understand where this has come from. For the past year, a lot of people have not been working from their offices, or haven’t been able to meet in a pub – hence they’re missing the chance to talk bollocks with people they secretly think are bellends.
So I suppose the opportunity to do it, albeit online, is proving quite irresistible. And at least online, you can switch your camera off occasionally, pretending your Internet connection is dodgy as a cover story.
All the same, don’t expect to find me on there anytime soon..