Electronica, Dance and Club Music

Mark J. Butler (ed.)
Farnham: Ashgate, 2012.
ISBN: 978-0-7546-2965-8 (hardcover)
RRP: £170.00 (hardcover)

Hillegonda C. Rietveld

London South Bank University (UK)

As part of their series The Library of Essays on Popular Music, Ashgate offers an anthology of English-language academic work on electronic dance (and) club music that has developed since the early 1990s. Added to this is Richard Dyer's 1979 trailblazing paper "In Defense of Disco", which points to the radical potential of the experience of dancing to DJ-driven music.

Compiled by musicologist Mark J. Butler, the selection of twenty-eight ready-edited contributions offers topics that go beyond rave, techno, house and trance to include kwaito, nor-tec and glitch. It opens with a useful explorative piece on digital DJ-ing by Pedro Peixoto Fereira, arguing that the DJ and dancers are part of an interactive network in which dancers actively embody the recorded music. The articles, chapters and other extracts that follow are divided into three sections: Part I, Production, Performance and Aesthetics; Part II, The Body, The Spirit and (the Regulation of) Pleasure; and Part III, Identities, Belongings and Distinctions. These include authors such as Mark J. Butler, Tara Rodgers, Fiona Buckland, Anthony D'Andrea, Graham St John, Arun Saldanha and others, who engage with electronic dance music cultures from musicological and/or anthropological perspectives.

In the introduction, Butler justifies the selection by defining the music cultures in this collection on the basis of four criteria. First, the music under discussion is performed by DJs and digital producers. Second, the music is produced for dancing, and thereby part of a dance culture. Third, the engagement with this music is site-specific, depending on what may be called a "club-concept" (xi). Fourth, the electronic dance music culture that is addressed here has a common history in disco and can be regarded as post-disco. In short, the common attributes here are "electronic sound production and performative consumption through dance" (xiii)—although it is also pointed out that electronica, as a music genre, is not necessarily made for dancing.

Counting 536 pages, plus preface and introduction, this is a substantial book. A complete anthology is never possible, but it does provide a handy point of reference for those that teach in the area of electronic dance music and culture, and it can also work well as a primer for an early literature review in research dissertation work. Included are many classics in the field, by authors such as Kai Fikentscher, Tim Lawrence, Barbara Bradby, Philip Tagg, Sarah Thornton, Maria Pini, Sean Albiez and Ben Malbon. These are mainly selected from academic journals, such as Popular Music, Journal of Popular Music Studies, or Culture and Religion, as well as a range of academic book publications.

However, it seems surprising that no work appears from Ashgate's own explorative publications in the field, initiated in 1993 by Rave Off: Politics and Deviance in Contemporary Youth Culture, edited by Steve Redhead for its previous subsidiary, Avebury. Neither does it offer a selection of non-academic, yet knowledgeable and reflective existing work by journalists and creative producers in the field, comparable to the approachable mix of Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, edited in 2004 for Continuum by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner.

Even more surprising is the forbidding price of this anthology, currently available in hardback only, given that no original work was produced, apart from the introduction, and no copyediting was required, even maintaining the original layout of the contributions. Why does such a popular topic of study have to be so inaccessible? It seems that Ashgate has, so far, missed out here on the opportunity to reach a potentially much wider readership.


Cox, Christoph and Daniel Warner,eds. 2004. Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. London: Continuum.

Redhead, Steve, ed. 1993. Rave Off: Politics and Deviance in Contemporary Youth Culture. Aldershot: Avebury.