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The Never-Ending Journey

21 August 2013 | 7:30 am | Kris Swales

“I’m not going out shoving pills down my throat."

If you were ever assembling your own pub trivia team equivalent of The Avengers, Simon Reynolds would be your first round draft pick for the vital 'music encyclopaedia' role. Speaking from Los Angeles (“the vanity capital of the world”) about his current book project – a look at the evolution and legacy of the 1970s glam rock movement – Reynolds is reeling off random facts within seconds. That a club called English Disco was the preferred hangout of Iggy Pop and David Bowie  at their most decadent, and Mötley Crüe had their genesis in a band called London are minutiae that few music writers could casually recall, but Reynolds is no ordinary music writer.

The Brit, based in LA for three years now and “something like 18 years – it's hard to say” in New York City before that, has written definitive tomes on some of the biggest musical revolutions of the post-rock'n'roll era – post-punk and hip hop amongst them. Perhaps his most important work is Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music And Dance Culture, the 1998 journal something of a Star Wars of electronic dance music considering it's been re-released in two special editions since.

The 2013 addendum sees Reynolds apply his participant-observer style of music journalism to the USA's 'EDM' explosion, specifically with a two-day sojourn to the HARD Summer outdoor festival in his adopted homeland. Though only just on the right side of 50 when he hit the dancefloor in front of modern superstars such as Skrillex, Reynolds says the frequent flyer points racked up in 1990s nightclubs are still valuable for assessing this latest twist in the evolution of club culture.

“I'm not going out shoving pills down my throat,” Reynolds admits, also expressing a dislike for extended doses of an EDM sound he describes as “too digitised”, “The thing is, it isn't that different from what it was in the '90s, just in certain respects. It's a lot more sexual. It was a kind of carnival-esque aspect as well which interests me – this total Las Vegas slash fancy dress carnival basically, like Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.”

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So how does the author, set to speak at a series of writers' events down the east coast of Australia, go about stepping back into a scene where the majority of the protagonists are half his age or younger?

“You just wander around,” says Reynolds. “People are friendly. I look a bit young for my age as well, so I don't stand out as much as I should do. But also people when they're off their faces are pretty indiscreet as well. I wasn't really snooping; you hear things. People on the train home were talking about their adventures and I heard people swapping anecdotes about how fucked up they got.”

Reynolds' conversational prose and knack for being in the right place at the right time have seen his work featured in a lengthy roll call of music publications, from now-defunct UK rag Melody Maker to Rolling Stone and beyond. “I haven't had much desire,” comes his honest response to why he's yet to tackle a strictly non-musical book project (though 2011's Retromania did see him delve into fashion, science fiction and the space race while investigating pop culture's obsession with its own past), arguing that his approach to music writing hasn't always been all about the music anyway.

“I always use music to write about other things – music as the prism through which I write about politics or the human condition or anything that was on my mind,” Reynolds explains. “Love, race, class, gender, you can always use music to write about them.”

Good music writing, for him, is about “trying to make a sensibility, really”. “And then try to persuade people to adopt it,” he laughs. “That's the kind of music writing I grew up on. People who weren't just writing about good music to buy, it was about music as a way of explaining yourself or your identity or your life or whatever.”

Reynolds namechecks Forest Swords as a standout amidst the “weird dance stuff and underground blog world sort of stuff” that's currently ruling his playlist. His curiosity has also been piqued by the 2013 long-players from Disclosure and Daft Punk – records that both fan the flames of rapidly shortening musical trend cycles he lit in Retromania.

“I was very suspicious,” he says of Disclosure, the duo breathing life into the turn-of-the-century UK garage and 2-step sound he was “obsessed” with first time around. “It seems too soon to revive it, but I must admit when I heard the album [Settle] that it was quite a well done version of it, and they'd added enough new ideas to it to make it pretty good. But it's weird to think that this sound from 1999, the cusp of the millennium, is being recycled and rediscovered.

“Daft Punk – if [Random Access Memories] had come out when I was writing Retromania it would've deserved a whole chapter on its own, really. In fact, it has so many things that feed into my theories, like the track from Giorgio Moroder all about making the music of the future – but that becomes a memory. There's a story about when [Donna Summer's Moroder-produced] I Feel Love came out, Brian Eno heard it and grabbed a copy and ran around to David Bowie's house and went 'David, David, I've heard the future!'

“It's an amazing record, I Feel Love, and it was revolutionary and all that, but nobody is going to say of Giorgio By Moroder... nobody is going to rush around to anyone's house and say 'I've heard the future'. There's something very poignant about the fact that Giorgio Moroder and Daft Punk collaborate but they don't actually do anything mind-blowing. They just do this rather sweet pastiche of something from 1977.”