The Twisted Bell

You Know, I Really Feel I Could Dance

Date: Thu, 8 Feb 1996 09:46:13 +1100
Subject: Sticking my head over the parapets...

Hi gang,

I didn't really want to de-lurk over this, but having caught up on the last couple of daily digests I feel compelled to do so...

I can't believe the vitriol that's been aimed at poor ol' Daniel for wondering what a Mike dance album would be like. To put it into perspective, I've been catching up on digests going back a month (been on holidays) and wading through interminable discussions on video formats, Mac vs PC - even a zillion and one flames directed at Gareth for making a harmless New Year's joke. Some of these threads attracted a few polite complaints about duration and relevance, some didn't. Then Daniel voices a relatively harmless opinion which is actually about music, for a change, and a veritable landslide of hatred crashes over him. What the hell is going on here?

Before you have me down as a techno-head, I would point out that on this list in the past I have bemoaned the various Sentinel remixes et al as loudly as any; techno isn't really my scene, although I would acknowledge that some sensible guidance from an experienced fan might change that (after all, I didn't listen to The Stone Roses, Blur, Ride, Oasis and so on until a mate in England turned me on to them). I'm not riding in on my white charger to do battle in the name of House. But by the same token, some of the claims made here have been ridiculous.

We've been told that dance music is merely rhythm, not music, and that rhythm is not Art. Well excuse me, but tell that to the traditional drummers of the Cook Islands - pure rhythm, and pure Art (whatever difference the capital A makes). Tell it to Jabula, for that matter. When rock'n'roll was young, it was condemned by some as being all rhythm and no music, too.

We've been told that no serious musician would even consider touching dance music. I wonder what Paul McCartney, who put out a dance album a few years ago (under the pseudonym 'The Fireman', in collaboration with Youth of Killing Joke), would make of that.

We've been told that it's impossible for a Dance album to be a Great album. As someone who (general indifference to techno notwithstanding) greatly admires Primal Scream's 'Screamadelica' and has just about played to death his copy of Sunscreem's 'O3', I dispute that claim. But even if I accepted that there's been no 'Great' dance album yet (i.e., one considered a 'great album', not merely a 'great dance album'), surely that says nothing about what's possible? Isn't it even vaguely interesting to consider that someone like Mike might produce a dance album (or an album in whatever genre) that is so striking that it wins over people who normally don't listen to dance - i.e., most of the people on this list? Other artists have achieved 'crossover' success before; since I've already mentioned an ex-Beatle, has everyone forgotten how the Beatles turned Western music on to sitars, of all things, in 1965? The more I think of this the more perplexed I become. I'd wager that a lot of members of this list are avid science fiction readers - and SF fans are always bemoaning the way 'mainstream' literature spurns SF, even its greatest works. Can't we recognise that spurning dance simply because it is dance is essentially doing the same?

This all seems particularly odd when one considers that in the past we've had people say 'wouldn't it be nifty if Mike did a collaboration with Kate Bush?' or 'how about if Mike produced an Enya album?' and so on, and there hasn't been this kind of public stoning in response from those of us who aren't huge fans of Kate or Enya (I quite like Kate Bush, BTW, but I wouldn't particularly want her to collaborate with Mike). Daniel, as far as I could see, was simply musing in the same way. And as to whether that's 'relevant' or 'on-topic', I'd say it bloody well is and we'd better get used to it, because Mike has at the very least okayed the release of a slew of dance remixes on his singles, and in TSODE he's produced what could be called an 'ambient dance' album. He may very well do what Daniel's speculating. He may not. Personally, I hope the forthcoming album is Amarok II, not TSODE II (and I never did like his forays into disco with 'Guilty'), but if he chooses to do differently, what the hell! We've lived through Heaven's Open, for crying out loud, so as far as I'm concerned that means we've stared into the depths of the abyss... and survived.

Boy, I'm glad I didn't cop that kind of response when I once mused about what it might be like if Mike worked in a more classical vein. As far as I can see, Daniel's speculations were of entirely the same kind - but far more relevant to what Mike's doing now. Unless we all want to live in 1978 and talk about 'Incantations' incessantly (and if anyone's worried about repetition and rhythm in Mike's work, why doesn't that album cop a few flames?), let's loosen up a bit and try and engage with each other's posts, eh? I was glad to see Daniel float some interesting ideas (and an idea can be interesting even if one disagrees with it), but now I'm worried that he'll be discouraged by the whole exercise and never say boo to the list again. Maybe that's fine if you like hearing from the same people over and over and over again, but I for one like a bit of diversity - it's one of the reasons I've bowed out of making endless posts to the list in the last year or so.

Well, that's enough ranting, I suppose... I just can't believe this attitude that Mike's some pure musical saint who shouldn't taint his work with certain musical styles, whatever they might be. The whole point of his musical output is its eclecticism! Okay, so 'Amarok' and 'Ommadawn' are masterpieces, and they'd certainly be my Desert Island Discs - but the guy also released 'Bones', for Pete's sake (and believe me, that is one original, non-dance-remix B-side that you do not want to know about...)


Date: Tue, 13 Feb 1996 19:54:31 +1100
Subject: Sticking my hat, held up on a stick, over the parapets...

From: Joern Brackhagen
Date: Sat, 10 Feb 96 21:44 +0100

It may be brilliant for people who like that kind of music, but what does this thing have to do with Mike Oldfield ?

I have already made it clear that I am not a huge techno fan, but I am also prepared to argue that techno has increasingly more to do with Mike's music. I am talking about his music now, not twenty years ago. In the past five years we have seen at least a dozen techno remixes of Mike tracks appearing on singles (i.e. Sentinel, Moonshine, LTBL). That's not something we can just ignore. I'll say it again: I don't like these remixes much. I think the Orb and BT mixes are okay, but I don't think much of the rest, and I loathe the Moonshine remixes. But they just keep on coming. At first, we could dismiss them as a marketing ploy. But Gareth's point, way back whenever, was highly pertinent: Mike has to be giving these mixes the okay (if WEA is forcing them on him without any chance of vetoing them, then he must have signed the Contract from Hell, which would seem strange considering how long he spent waiting to get out of the Virgin contract). Therefore techno has at least something to do with Mike Oldfield, whether we like it or not.

>has everyone forgotten how the Beatles turned Western music on
>to sitars, of all things, in 1965?
The Beatles developed, opened their (and the worlds) mind, Mike should do a techno album, and that's the same for you ?

It is similar, yes: a band introducing their audience to some sounds they wouldn't otherwise have heard. That's the comparison I was making. (And BTW, to get into the spirit of these combative replies, there was at least one sizeable part of the world that had heard it all before in 1965 where sitars were concerned, or has 'the world' suddenly become merely 'the West'?) I didn't say that Mike doing a techno album would necessarily be the same, in terms of quality, as the Beatles doing 'Within You, Without You'. As I said later in my original post, I'd rather Mike did 'Amarok II', but then I felt that way all the way through the late 1980s when he came out with average album after average album and there wasn't a thing I, humble fan that I am, could do about it!... Mike is his own person and he'll do whatever he wants to do, and Daniel, as I saw it, was just speculating about one possible (perhaps even probable) direction Mike might be going in. As far as I can see that's absolutely fair game for discussions on this list.

What the Beatles did were steps forward.

Yes, in your (and my) opinion (although how many Western bands went down the Indian-music path after the first flurry of interest?).

If Mike would do what was suggested, it'll be a mega step backwards.

In your opinion. Perhaps you're right. I can't be sure. I'd have to hear what he did first. And since I have a fair amount of faith in Mike as a musician and composer, I believe he might be able to do something pretty nifty with the form. The techno remixes of LTBL et al give us no indication of what Mike would do. He might do something great if he did a dance album. He might produce something that fell flat on its face, but he's done that before and we're still here to talk about it. All that people have been asking here is 'what if?'

>This all seems particularly odd when one considers that in the past we've
>had people say 'wouldn't it be nifty if Mike did a collaboration with Kate
>Bush?' or 'how about if Mike produced an Enya album?' and so on, and there
>hasn't been this kind of public stoning in response from those of us
Very odd, indeed. Of course there hasn't been this kind of reactions, it's obvious!! Or is Kate known for her famous thunderdome dancefloor hits? Enya, our rave queen, Peter Gabriel, the gangsta rapper. How can you compare this?

Not everyone likes Kate Bush and Enya. I like Kate (well, her last couple of albums, which are all I've heard apart from the obvious hits), but as for Enya, I for one have gone from finding her music mildly pleasant as background music to finding it repetitive to the point of annoyance, particularly since every second TV ad in Australia seems to use her music these days (and every second film - for an example which almost ruined an otherwise wonderful film, see 'Angel Baby'). Enya is using a style of music which seems to me to be as alien to Mike as techno; Mike isn't usually about whispery atmospherics, and the closest he's come to it - TSODE - has attracted some criticism for being just that. Thus I see it as perfectly justifiable to compare the two situations, if we're talking about Mike adopting 'inappropriate' musical styles. As for rap, I didn't mention it, and I don't remember Daniel doing so either, so what's your point? (BTW, haven't you heard the Utah Saints' 'Something Good', which used a KB sample to brilliant effect in a 'thunderdome dancefloor hit'?)

Can't you see it ? All these reactions have nothing to do with USENET flames or personal affairs, it's the topic itself. It's the deep aversion against this kind of music and ev'rything that belongs to it.

Of course I can see that. My whole reason for writing the original post was to protest against the storm of abuse which Daniel attracted for simply raising this as a topic of discussion. And there is no denying it: the initial reaction to his post was vicious. I know it wasn't personal - we don't know much about each other personally on this list, we just know a bit about each others' views on Mike! - but vituperation tends to be taken personally by the recipient. There was and is no excuse for that kind of viciousness, whether you like techno or not, on what is otherwise a civilised and friendly discussion list. Remember that within a day or two of Daniel's original post, some people were demanding an end to the entire discussion, blam, that's it, simply because they don't like techno - which seems ridiculous when we've had threads about CD quality and other such technicalities which have gone on for weeks. As I have tried to point out, techno is a relevant topic to discuss on this list given the single-remixes of the past few years, whether we like techno or not. Personally, I don't like techno a lot, but I have been known to listen to some, the same way I listen to Frank Sinatra once in a blue moon - I've got over 500 CDs in my collection, and they're not all Mike Oldfield, or even Celtic folk rock, come to that. We have people of extremely wide musical tastes on this list, which is itself evidence of the amazing eclecticism of Mike's music and of its wide appeal across musical boundaries. We've seen people on this list say that they don't like 'Amarok' - which to me is one of the most stirring, moving, exhilarating pieces of music of the twentieth century, right up there with Sibelius's Seventh Symphony and the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life' - and we've seen people praise 'Music From the Balcony', which I think is a tedious cacophony. And to me, that demonstrates that there is no one way to 'rank' Mike's music - there are no absolutes in judging the quality of his music - any more than there are in judging music in general. And so (and at last I get to the point I started to make) if people respond to every discussion of techno by heaping abuse on it and all who even dare to listen to it (let alone praise it), they're probably going to get up the noses of a lot more people on this list than they may think. There are also people here who would praise Mike's similarity to various 1970s prog-rock bands like Yes and Genesis, bands that I and probably several others here have personally never liked much, and yet nobody comes out screaming 'Yes sucks! Genesis sucks! Progressive rock sucks!' Not because we might not want to, but because it's pointless, it's not going to change anyone's mind, and it's not polite.

I can't understand this attitude: he made folk music, he made rock music, and so on, so why shouldn't he do dance music now ?

He made 'Speak (Though You Only Say Farewell)'; he made 'Bones'; he made 'Foreign Affair'; he did a song with Bonnie Tyler, of all people; he made Earth Moving and Heaven's Open, with barely 2.3 redeeming features between them; so why should we consider a Mike dance album such a particularly, especially objectionable hypothetical possibility? That's my attitude. My attitude is, he makes good stuff, he makes bad stuff, but most of it is listenable and some of it is brilliant, so I'm prepared to go along for the ride and hear whatever he does, even if it's in a musical style that isn't exactly my favourite. After all, I don't listen to big band music (the occasional Sinatra tune excepted, as mentioned above), but I like the brass on 'Charleston'.

I'm sorry, but I just can't treat Mike like he's some kind of saint or deity the way some people on this list seem to do - and hence I can't buy the implication that he'd be somehow 'tainted' if he tried his hand at whatever musical style he cared to try his hand at. Mike is a gifted musician and composer who has made some music which I like as much as anything I've ever heard, and I've heard a lot; and that for me is praise enough. To go further, and imply that he's an infallible genius, is practically to grant the guy supernatural status - and what are the implications of that? That the worst Oldfield tune trumps the best stuff Lennon and McCartney (or whoever) ever wrote? That there is in fact no 'best' or 'worst' in Mike's music, because he's infallible and therefore it's all the work of a genius - in which case 'Amarok' is not qualitatively different from the instrumental version of 'Tricks in the Light'? If I had to get rid of all of my CDs bar ten, 'Ommadawn' and 'Amarok' would certainly be two of the ten, but I can't guarantee that there'd be many (or even any) more Oldfield disks in my selection - there's just too much good music in the world, by too many people, in too many genres, for me to get all obsessive about the work of one bloke, however brilliant he is. I was more obsessive about Mike's work once, when I first discovered him at the age of fifteen, but I've heard a lot more music in the thirteen years since then, and that's given me a sense of perspective. All that said, however, I still love his music, I still listen to it after all these years, and this is the only music-related list I bother subscribing to and sending long and tedious posts to (smiley, smiley, smiley).

"... the day the music died." (Don McLean in the early 70s)

Music isn't dead now any more than it was when 'Rock Around the Clock' hit the charts, the Beatles broke in America, Bob Dylan went electric, disco gave us 'Saturday Night Fever', the Sex Pistols swore on British television, synthesisers spawned the New Romantic movement, Michael Jackson started doing Pepsi commercials, cover versions took over the charts in the late 1980s, Whitney Houston recorded 'I Will Always Love You', Kurt Cobain killed himself, or any of the other events people have seen as the definitive sign that Real Music was Dead. (Don McLean, however, hasn't had a hit in years...)

Thank You, and Goodnight.

The Twisted Bell

©2001 Rory Ewins