Dance Music's Dirty Little Secret

By: Neil Feineman

Dance music purists will spend hours debating whether modern dance music began with disco or The Hacienda or even Kraftwerk and David Bowie. But the one debt no one seems willing to acknowledge is The Grateful Dead.

Now, being honest, I'd have to admit that the last thing in the world I want to do is listen to the Dead. But I was dragged to see them twice. And, while once was more than enough, once you factor out the different behavior caused by the different drugs, the link between the Dead and rave culture's hard to deny.

If anything, the comparison proves that you really are what you eat. The Grateful Dead toxicology report of the time would be a short list: LSD, weed, mushrooms, 'ludes, patchouli. At a rave, well, you know that drill. The Deadheads mostly confined their dancing to rhythmic head nodding punctuated by short bursts of noodle dancing. Which pretty much was all the music, which was languid, repetitive and quiet, demanded.

Take that away, though, and the rest is the same: the sense of the family, the caravan from location to location, the two to three days of sleep-deprived musical abandon, the affinity for great clubs and open-air spaces. And the persistence of an underground movement that's survived Jerry's death, Phish's retirement (at what Rolling Stone called "the biggest rave in history") and mutated into Bonnaroo, which has become the largest and probably best festival in the US.

The best festival, anyway, that looks like a war zone. A shroud of dust -- the kind that you cough up for two weeks afterwards -- hangs over everything. There is no trace of an indoor toilet, shade or real shower. Yet somehow it's the most amazing festival, with musicians like T-Bone Burnett, Ben Harper and Eddie Vedder playing their hearts out and enough people shuffling around to populate a George Romero trilogy.

But there's nothing like club culture there at all, except for one DJ act a night, who spin in a large tent from two until sunrise. Sasha had played there in 2005 and had been sufficiently blown away from the experience to convince Digweed to play it the next year. And so it was that Clubland invaded Jam Land.

After being there for two days, I was convinced that they'd be fish out of water and would end up getting a tiny, curious crowd who would stick around for a smoke or, at most, a drink before heading off to a campfire sing-a-long. But I couldn't have been more off. From the moment they hit the stage, the tent was packed, with the spillover filling your field of vision.

And from that first beat, the crowd went mental and pretty much maintained the state of insanity until the first rays of sunrise crept into the tent. By its end, Sasha pogoed off the stage and stood by himself overcome with emotion. The crowd, many of whom were electronic virgins, refused to leave, screaming out Sasha and Digweed/Bonnaroo over and over. And thus established the link between The Grateful Dead and dance music once and for all.

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405 12th Ave.
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Apr 11, 2008

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