Sometime this past year, I ventured out for an eighteen-and-over night of dubstep.
Nights on dance floors are now rare, as I can hardly stay up past 11 pm. But my friends offered me a ticket, so I went, and drank some beers to keep myself oiled. I stood in the middle of the dance floor, amongst teenagers grinding their bodies against each other and as the bass seeped into my skin.
All I could think about was how old I felt.
But the sound…
There’s just something about dubstep. It is unlike the music I used to go out and dance to. Good dubstep wraps around you. You get lost inside it. Or, it can get lost inside you.
It morphs and shapeshifts, it clings to your body, it transforms into the moment.
* * * * *
I read a piece about dubstep on the Verge a while ago, and I’ve been thinking about what Simon Reynolds says:
In house culture, or even dubstep in Britain, there’s a lot of referencing of roots reggae, or the early days of house, or the early days of jungle. In dance culture, the purist stuff, there’s sort of this in-built reverence to the past. And what I liked about the EDM vibe, there’s none of that: it’s just like ‘now, now, now.’ And if you happen to know about music you could hear things that harken back to [earlier dance music], but that really doesn’t seem to be what the kids are into. I sensed that ‘this is our music, this is our generation.’
Simply put, dubstep is the sound of now.
I have a love-hate relationship with dubstep. But for the longest time, I’ve thought my distaste and fickleness was with the sound itself.
I realize now that’s not so.
I suppose I came of age in the warehouse rave scene in the Bay Area, and part of me is permanently stuck in that dark, hazy dimension. And while I love today’s drum and bass and tech-house—the sounds of labels like Hospital and Shogun and Dirty Bird—I have not been more attached to any genre of electronic dance music than the jump-up jungle and cybertrance of the mid-nineties. Back then, they were the sounds of now. But today, they’re classic, yet dated—ticks on a music timeline.
Music, of course, becomes part of and triggers the past. And that’s the beautiful, eerie thing about it, especially the jungle and trance tracks from those years that seem to rewire my brain each time I hear them, even today. When I listen to these sounds, I am reminded of the passing of time, how I have grown and changed, how there was a then.
How I love swimming in then. Call me nostalgic. Call me a purist.
And then I think about dubstep at this moment—how electronic dance music has exploded, how everyone from teenagers to frat boys to Hollywood have embraced the wub, the wobble, the drop.
“The thing I liked about [dubstep],” says Reynolds, “was that this was music that had absolutely no sense of the past being better.” Dubstep reminds me of everything and nothing at once: of original and borrowed, of remixing and reblogging and recycling. It makes me envision a timeline with no clear beginning, middle, or end. I think about the dubstep generation’s disregard, perhaps ignorance, for what has come before: the absence of history and hierarchy.
I realize my love-hate relationship with dubstep stems not from a dislike for the sound itself, but from not being a part of the movement. From not fully identifying with or understanding the sound.
From being excluded from now.
In other words, maybe I just no longer get it.
And I’m not quite sure what this says about now, but it has made me think about time in a different way.
* * * * *
We can now reside in a ‘now’ padded as heavily with what has been and what might someday be as we want, and yet in a sense ‘now’ itself is obsolete.
Some moments, when I swipe data with my forefinger on my iPhone screen, or raise my arms in the air as a body scanner at the airport twirls around me, I sense today is finally the future. I think of Project Glass; of the entertainment screen illuminating from the middle seat in front of me on a plane at 37,000 feet; of facial recognition tools prompting me to tag people online, some of whom are dead, as if to sustain them.
But then I think of the history of the future that never was, à la the Jetsons, or the retro-future Tomorrowland attractions at Disneyland (flying cars and all), and realize I don’t really know when it is.
Recently, I asked my husband to set up the wireless HP printer collecting dust in the corner of my office, as I’d been unsuccessful in connecting it the first time, over a year ago. After several attempts, nothing. And once we were able to send a document to the printer, the sheet of paper that printed was blank.
What is it with printers? Why do they aggravate us so? I then gave up. I told him it felt strange to be so quick and effective in some ways, yet inept and frustrated in others.
* * * * *
I’m fascinated by abandoned places—looking at pictures of destroyed spaces, like grand theaters of a bygone era, and reading about urban ruins and exploration. Part of it has to do with my love for street art and graffiti, for the physical and metaphorical underground of a city. But I’m most intrigued by the concept that the past, present, and future is all right there, in that physical space.
In a piece on the atemporality of ruin porn, Sarah Wanenchak says that abandoned spaces are “physical spaces in which the experience of linear time breaks down.” I love this. When I see ruins, I see then. I see now. I see what’s to come. I take in all of it, blended and coexisting. A different kind of now, where lines and boundaries are fuzzy.
* * * * *
I’m reminded of Facebook as a virtual repository of both the living and the dead, and my good friend Aki who passed away this spring. His name appears in my news feed every now and then, each time someone tags a photo with his name. Usually, the tagged images are of his two little boys, whose eyes and smiles remind me of him when we were nineteen years old, curious and happy in college.
I also think of the blogs and social networks I’ve deleted, poke around the accounts I have deactivated or let sit in limbo, and the iterations of Cheri that rot in the nooks and crannies of my Internet. And then I visit this blog, look at it as if I am not me, and ask myself: who is this person, musing on the past and ruminating on the future? The lapses of disconnect between me and my avatar are occasional, but odd.
It’s a weird space, this Internet. I get lost in it and resurface not knowing when it is. Memories can be easily edited or deleted. Time is malleable.
* * * * *
And so I think about now, and then, and what is to come. But I wonder: is it worth thinking about time in such ways when these boundaries seem to disintegrate?
Cheri Lucas Rowlands
Writer at Writing Through the Fog. Editor at Automattic.