Music is sound. It’s also a cultural, social, emotional and economical phenomenon. I want to explore them. Welcome to Tunespoon.
“Let’s turn this into a dance party.”
I was at a tUnE-yArDs concert last June, and front-woman Merrill Garbus prefaced dancy anti-vigilante anthem “Stop That Man” with the above command. It was Saturday night at San Francisco’s Fillmore, the city’s counterculture Mecca, and I was ready. Everything about her performance of the song played into the perfect go-wild atmosphere. The frenetic lights and kooky laser patterns, the relentless funky clackof a looping drum beat and everyone on stage jumping up and down like robots fueled by the energy of a quarter-note groove. It was fantastic. And then I saw around me:
People standing still. Well, not perfectly still, but it wasn’t the dance party she asked for. I do not call the minute baby-bobbing of knees a dance. I was thinking, “Why wouldn’t this audience comply with her? The money they paid surely should let them own this night.”
I saw Arcade Fire this summer, and from where my seats were, the anti-dance sickness was omnipresent. Everyone got up out of their seats, but wasn’t dancing. The tall baseball cap guy next to me even had his freakin’ arms crossed.
I wondered why people could not bring themselves to move. Especially to dance music. tUnE-yArDs is a musical project whose work sounds just as electric as their band name looks. It’s wild, caffeinated neo-tribal playground chants for manchildren. Arcade Fire is by comparison more refined, but the energy of the sheer size of the group is incomparably visceral. Both have musical and thematic inspiration from Haiti, taking special focus on Haitian folk dances. By filtering their influences through a North American indie rock kaleidoscope, they create new ways to move their audiences. The artists are more than doing their part. So why does it seem that audiences aren’t doing theirs?
It all depends on what a person does with music. Mothers lullaby children to dreamland. Souls singing in the pulpit uplift their spirits. EDM teens’ hearts race in anticipation in a beat-drop buildup. In its purest form, music is sound that induces physical change in a person. It helps you focus while studying for midterms, keeps your mind off the heavy breathing during a run, or can help you sleep. It can evoke a bad breakup from the past, or back to broadway to that musical you love. Music attaches to you, so consequently, it’s an incredibly private experience. Listening to music in public through headphones separates you from the outside world. So it is understandable that in a sweaty venue with other people, sharing this deeply individualized experience with strangers can be uncomfortable. Or maybe even embarrassing. You may even feel ashamed to express your appreciation.
But only you can own it. Treat it like was made for you alone to hear and embrace. This performance belongs to you just as much as everyone else. Even if you don’t know this song, or have never heard that piece before, you’re there with the artist, so let go, and make the most of the little time you have together. In this generation where people walking down the street will shoot a glare if you so much as whisper a song to yourself, you don’t have many opportunities to be enveloped in your love for sound. Those who eye you are jealous. They wish they had ownership of their experience as much as you do.
Of course, every venue is different. Watching Big-Name Pop Starlet at Insert-Sponsorship-Here Arena has a lot of teenage hormonal energy to feed off. At a metal fest, go ahead and start that violent, communal thrashing. A tiny venue in the middle of a car plaza may evoke more subdued reactions, but don’t let the quiet intimacy intimidate you — relax, absorb, applaud. At the Mondavi Center, be the first to give a standing ovation.
Do what you want, what you want with your body, because your music is absolutely yours, and no one can ever change that.
You can turn anything at all into a dance party by contacting STEVEN ILAGAN at firstname.lastname@example.org.