it’s so many things, you know, it’s �new deal’ music which is, you know, kind of corny, but that’s the way it tends to be, you know? I mean we’re a live band playing dance music, and that I think is the most general way that you can describe the band. I mean, you can into more specifics about sometimes we play house music, sometimes we play more ambient-oriented stuff, but in the end it’s a live band playing progressive dance music with no samplers, and no sequencers, and no DJs, you know? And that’s usually the best way to describe it. It’s long winded but, you know, the band is fairly complex now.

Jamie Shields, keyboardist of �The New Deal’

3.1 The New Deal?

The mainstream enculturation of electronic dance music was, in many ways, inevitable: the commercial music and advertising industries have always relied upon �the Underground’ as an eternal spring for the cooption of novel ideas, and as a symbolic tool for connecting their products with progress, futurism, nonconformity and youthfulness. It was only a matter of time before the sounds of drum �n’ bass, techno and house would eventually work their way into coffee shops, hair salons, television advertisements, and radio airplay in diluted �sound-byte’ form: even a cursory census of contemporary mainstream media could find Daft Punk and the Crystal Method selling Gap khakis, or jungle breaks in a Mazda commercial. While this perpetual cycle of co-option, commercialization, rebellion and renewal is equally essential to the evolution of both the commercial music industry and its binary underground, the mainstream enculturation of �electronica’ has had a fascinating and unanticipated ancillary effect on the so-called �organic’ musician: as more and more �traditional’ musicians heard the sample aesthetic in their everyday lives as a �potentially live’ music, it began to influence their playing. Perhaps they knew that the sounds they were hearing were generated by samplers and computer sequencers, or perhaps they did not: either way, a minority of �hip’ musicians starting incorporating structural, performative and timbral aspects, unique to the electronic dance music aesthetic, in their own live playing in a myriad of ways.

To some extent, the approximation of electronic styles in traditional live performance can be thought of as a means of reconnecting with (or perhaps capitalizing upon) a demographic raised on recorded dance music: young people were clearly engaged by the new kinds of futuristic timbres and grooves DJs could provide weekend after weekend, while local live musicians struggled to seem relevant in an age of sensory-immersive raves, after-hour club parties, and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. It was as if the same specter of �recorded music’ that haunted the Musician’s Union in postwar Britain was still very much alive: young people had once again become disinterested in the musical possibilities delineated by (their concept of) traditional live musicianship, and flocked away from pubs, bars and concert halls to hear the millennial styles and sounds that only DJs could play. Thornton elaborates:

In 1988, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission [in Britain] recommended that PPL [Phonographic Performance Limited] completely withdraw its musician employment requirement. The Commission agreed with dance operators who argued that the live music requirements were �not only expensive but pointless’ for two reasons. First, they argued that the dance sound conveyed by records �cannot be reproduced by instrumentalists playing directly to an audience.’ Second, they maintained that �audiences prefer recorded sound’ (Monopolies and Mergers 1988: 41). (01)

Furthermore, many young people even began to posit traditional live music as the antithesis of electronic dance music culture: where electronic dance music was progressive, vital, futuristic and unexplored, live music was seen as an exhausted forum for archaic genres, a musical dinosaur locked in creative stagnation and meandering displays of virtuosity. For the electronic dance music elitist, �bands’ were something of which to be wary, something that connoted the kinds of genres and subcultures that were to be avoided at all costs, and the sorts of social spaces that involved either passive nostalgic contemplation at one extreme, or boisterous headbanging (or moshing) at the other. Although this myth was largely the product of unwarranted prejudice and musical ignorance, it nonetheless represented the radical extreme of a particularly prevalent mindset amidst the electronic dance music underground: DJ and rave culture signified the �Future’ of music. Anything else – including �trad’ live music of any kind – was a reversion back to an older paradigm, and strictly for musicians who just �didn’t get it.’

Of course, many of the live musicians influenced by the aesthetics of electronic dance music were of both worlds: they were accomplished instrumentalists, fluent in groove-intensive idioms such as jazz, funk, fusion or rock, but were nonetheless captivated by the new sounds and musical possibilities of electronic genres, such as techno, jungle and hip hop (Medeski, Martin and Wood, the Roots and the Herbaliser Band are a few of the artists that have succeeded in this area). Some musicians, unaware that the performances they were listening to were the products of extreme digital manipulation (particularly in the breakbeat-based genres of jungle, hip hop, trip hop and acid jazz, where acoustic drum kits are frequently sampled), began to approximate the sounds and structures they heard using conventional instrumentation and real-time playing techniques. They differentiated themselves from DJ performance and live PAs by using (ideologically-loaded) modifiers such as �organic,’ �soulful’ and �mature’ to emphasize the �live’ and �human’ qualities of their music: �soulful’ house most likely meant house music with a vocalist or other live musicians; �organic’ drum �n’ bass implied accelerated breakbeats with a �real’ drummer or bassist. In many ways, it was as if history was repeating itself: once again, the prevalence of recorded music in popular culture had reached the point at which it was “music’s marginalized other – performance – which had to speak its difference with a qualifying adjective.” (02) With striking parallels to the modern dialectic between DJ culture and the sphere of traditional live music, Thornton explains how live musicians first responded to the rapid enculturation of the �recorded sound’:

Confronted with, at worst, being swept out with the tide or, at best, positioned as simulation of recording, performers reacted in two principal, seemingly contradictory ways: [traditional live musicians] faced the threat of recording by embracing new technologies and they positioned themselves as the opposite of the mechanical and predictable disc, reinventing performance as �live music.’ In other words, technology alone could not save the gig. Performance had to find its essence, its superior values, its raison d’être. (03)

In this most recent incarnation of an enduring aesthetic battle, the term �organic’ clearly imparted human or living qualities to an otherwise �inhuman machine music’: for the �organically’ biased electronic dance musician, it was literally as if there were no people at all behind the creation and performance of this �faceless digital music’ (one might also be inclined to assume that a book writes itself thanks to the word processor according to this line of reasoning). It was therefore the responsibility of �organic electronica’ to bring back the so-called �human element’ that was apparently lacking in the world of techno culture: �organic’ electronic music had to sound as if humans could play it – even if the music was constructed with samples and sequencers. The danger, of course, arose when the term �organic’ began to insinuate �superiority’: bands that emulated electronic styles would routinely employ the adjective as a means of distinguishing themselves as not only �live’ (in an attempt to reinstate the �true’ definition of the term), but also to articulate the fact that they could offer a musical experience of which the DJ (or live PA) was apparently incapable. They became �progressive’ in the sense that, as a band or ensemble of instrumentalists, they endowed electronic dance music with the dynamic interplay, improvisatory standards and onstage theatrics that only �true’ live music was capable of delivering. Once again, the “aesthetic and ethical connotations of life-versus-death, human-versus-mechanical, creative-versus-imitative” were at work in this organic/techno dichotomy: in this instance, �organic’ electronic dance musicians flaunted their �superior’ subcultural capital and musical prowess by interpreting genres and styles that were previously thought to be beyond the realm of real-time performance. (04)

In reality, however, a large part of what made electronic dance music fascinating was the fact that its musicians were cyborgs to some extent: they used technology as a means of both playing �impossible musics’ and magnifying their own natural creativity. Technology amplified their imaginations. In the sample aesthetic, musical creativity was no longer ultimately dependent on physical dexterity or eye-hand co-ordination in order to execute complex musical passages, or create sounds, arrangements and idioms that had not yet been heard. Part of the utopian rhetoric that surrounded rave culture was indeed this idea that music-making had become democratized with the advent of sampling, sequencing and home studio technology. Every musician could be transformed from an instrumental specialist into an auteur, composer or �conductor’ in their own right. Paul Hartnoll of Orbital explains: “I can write music and then get people to play it. It’s no different than what I do in the studio. I write music and I get synthesizers to play it.” (05)

In many ways, much of what constituted �authentic’ live performance in popular music already consisted of a high degree of repetition of some sort (tied to the division of musical labour implied by a �band’ of musicians), whether it be the funk ostinatos of a James Brown groove, the riffs found in a heavy metal anthem, the predictable harmonic progression of a blues tune, the lyrics of a pop ballad, or the melodic �licks’ routinely employed by a bebop musician. Once the more mundane physical mechanics of performance (repetition/technique) had become �automated’ through recording and sequencing technology, the truly progressive musician was freed to concentrate on composition, production, timbre, and the as-of-yet unexplored areas of live performance: scratching, mixing and spinning – the performative aspects which differentiated electronic dance music from other idioms, and rendered it unique. Kodwo Eshun explains:

Dance music, as I define it, is rhythm-machine music. The machine augments bodily thought. They allow the drummer to become a superhuman percussionist. They allow you to play lots of different tones and lots of different rhythms that you wouldn’t be able to play normally. It’s about opening out a new kind of physical interface. And in fact, machines de-physicalize music. In other words, if you can just push a button for percussion, then you don’t need to practice lots of hours on the drums. So in that sense, you have to think more about the music you’re playing, or you have to think more about the organization of rhythm and the organization of sound. (06)

Thornton observes that when “electric guitars were first introduced, they were said to alienate music from its folk roots. Later, however,” she notes, “when they were fully integrated into rock culture, the sound of the electric guitar became the seal of rock credibility. Records [or rather �recordings’ of all kinds, including digital samples] have taken an analogous, if more circuitous route, to be become an authentic musical instrument of club and rave culture.” (07) The electrification of instruments – including the human voice with the advent of the microphone – allowed musicians to play at volumes that were impossible prior to their amplification. In a sense, technology extended and augmented the �natural’ resonant properties of �organic’ instruments to the point where they could defeat even an orchestra in terms of sheer volume and aural presence: they became cybernetic. Sampling and sequencing have had a similar effect on the sphere of live performance: looping (virtual ostinatos?), layering, pitch-shifting and time-stretching/compressing have endowed cyber-musicians with the ability to defy traditional performative logic, and the physical limits of the human body, to create an �impossible music.’ Composition and performance become limited only by the scope of the human imagination – an idea reiterated in the title of Paul Théberge’s study of music and technology, �Any Sound You Can Imagine.’

Nevertheless, the Luddite notion that electronic dance music could somehow benefit from an injection of “old-fashioned” craftsmanship still circulates among both fans of �traditional’ live music, and the popular music press. (08) The Toronto-based band, the New Deal, have attracted a great deal of journalistic praise for their ability to blend the �futuristic’ sounds and structures of electronic dance music with real-time playing techniques and �traditional’ instrumentation. Ryan Watson, of Toronto’s �Eye Magazine,’ claims that what “differentiates [the New Deal] from a typical wax jockey” is what (New Deal) drummer Darren Shearer calls “the human element”: “The energy of spontaneous improvisation, the flexibility of musical interaction, and the resulting tension between composition and improvisation [that] makes a live band performance a substantially different experience than a DJ set.” (09) Shearer elaborates:

“We are trying to recreate the energy, beat, and trance-like state of electronic music, but we add a human element by playing live instruments and improvising 95 percent of our sets.” (10)

The New Deal formed in Toronto in 1999, after an impromptu live jam that eventually became the contents of their first album, �This Is Live.’ The album sleeve notes that the music was “improvised live by the New Deal” and “recorded and mixed to 2-track” with “no sequences, samples, or overdubs.” (11) This would later become a key strategy in the marketing of the band: their first major release on the Jive-Electro label would also feature the “No sequences or samplers were used in the recording of this album” duel-purpose disclaimer/authenticator, although both albums nonetheless contained a high degree of digital editing to enhance the flow of �true’ musical events (which, of course, is a form of �macro-sampling’ and �sequencing’ in itself). Their name – �the New Deal’ – insinuated a �next phase’ in the evolution of music, although it was unclear whether it referred to the sphere of electronic dance music, �traditional’ live music, or perhaps a combination of both. According to keyboardist Jamie Shields, the �new deal’ apparently resided in the fact that they were a live band “playing progressive dance music with no samplers, and no sequencers, and no DJs.” (12) Additional promotional and advertising material would later feature the tagline �Live Progressive Breakbeat House’: an amalgamation of terms and styles, that consciously situated the New Deal as a (progressive) part of the greater electronic dance music continuum. Drummer Darren Shearer explains:

I wanted, you know, this one line to sort of convey exactly what it was. And I don’t know if �live progressive breakbeat house’ completely conveys that, but it’s definitely live, it’s progressive in the fact that we are constantly progressing, and it seems like something that’s moving forward constantly. And there is a breakbeat element in it, which is – for the people out there who don’t know what [a] breakbeat [is] – [a] breakbeat is pretty much, you know, taking a section of a fat – usually a fat drum loop, or a fat keyboard lick, or whatever – and kind of looping that, and building on that (which can be house music, but house music is usually a four-on-the-floor kind of kick drum thing). So there’s both those elements of that kind of music in our music. And then the house music at the end is pretty self-explanatory. (13)

Although Shearer trips tongue-tied over his self-appointed description of the band, it is nevertheless revealing, and ultimately problematic: by eschewing samplers, sequencers and DJs from the musical equation, in favour of traditional �band’ instrumentation (analogue synthesizers, electric bass, and acoustic drums) and an emphasis on real-time performance, it becomes difficult to imagine how the New Deal’s version of �progress’ can possibly fit into the larger electronic dance music discourse, especially given the fundamentally phonographic (sequenced/sampled/looped) nature of the breakbeat and house idioms. In their attempts to �organically’ approximate phonographic sounds and genres without the use of samplers, sequencers or other recorded media, the truly futuristic crux of the electronic dance music aesthetic is forsaken in favour of a conventional, and ultimately regressive, model of musical �authenticity.’ Simon Reynolds elaborates:

The picture here is further complicated by the fact that techno artists sometimes have a confused idea of what constitutes �progress’ for electronic music. Too often, this is conceived in terms of �musicality.’ Within the terms of genres like house and jungle, �innovation’ or �maturity’ for the genre can involve steps that, from an external avant-garde perspective, seem regressive: a move away from noise-and-rhythm minimalism toward greater harmonic/melodic complexity; �organic,’ quasi-acoustic textures; highly finessed arrangements and the incorporation of �live’ vocals or �real’ musicianship. Self-conscious �progressive’ dance music has an unfortunate tendency to repeat the mistakes of progressive rockers like ELP, Genesis, Jethro Tull, et al, who sought to legitimate rock by aping the grandiosity of nineteenth century classical music. The result, in both prog rock and prog dance, are bloated song cycles and concept albums, ostentatious musicianship, a prissy obsession with production values. Just as the truly �progressive’ bands of the late sixties and early seventies had more in common with twentieth-century avant-classical composers (electro-acoustic, musique concrète, the New York school of drone-minimalism), similarly the truly radical sampladelic artists are engaged in expanding our notions of what �music’ can be. This involves the exploration of timbre, chromatics, and �noise-sound,’ the prioritizing of rhythm and repetition over melodic/harmonic development, and the elaboration of virtual space using the studio as instrument… Above all, the truly progressive edge in electronic music involves doing things that can’t be physically achieved by human beings manipulating instruments in real time. Rather than using techniques like step writing to mimic traditional ideas of musicianship (frilly arpeggios, solo-istic meanderings), it’s about inventing a new kind of posthuman virtuosity. (14)

Like the majority of their fan-base, the New Deal themselves are not �of’ the sample aesthetic, but rather approach electronic dance music from the genealogical point of view of the �traditional’ live musician, with his or her privileging of real-time musicianship, �traditional’ instrumentation, �star’ presence, and emphasis on melodic and harmonic improvisation (the three members of the New Deal derive from jazz-fusion band One Step Beyond, funk-soul band Gypsy Soul, and Latin ensemble Que Vida!). (15) In a sense, part of the impetus behind the formation of the New Deal stems from the widespread lack of understanding between these two very separate musical worlds: from the subculturally estranged viewpoint of the talented �traditional’ instrumentalist, the popularity of the DJ aesthetic, and its unique cultural dynamic within the rave space, can seem frustrating, and even bewildering – especially given the plethora of substandard producers and mediocre DJs that have supersaturated the scene in recent years.

From their point of view, the New Deal were merely trying to (re)introduce musical elements which they deemed important to (and missing from) the sphere of live electronic music performance: “There can be something more to a show than just, you know, some guy standing up there and you know, copping some sort of stage persona of not saying anything, and head-down, and spinning records,” explains the New Deal keyboardist, Jamie Shields, in a television interview on the Toronto music show �The New Music,’ “ And I think there’s something to be said for a relationship between a band and an audience. I mean, that’s been around for centuries. And I think that relationship can be utilized in electronic, or modern music, as well.” (16)

From Shields’ perspective, the two essential elements lacking from the sphere of DJ performance are the �aura’ of presence (gestural, spoken and musical) generated by �real’ musicians on a stage, and the unique creative dynamic that occurs between band-mates and their audience. For Shields, this is a dynamic rooted in tradition – it is a proven formula that has “been around for centuries” – and is ultimately a �relationship’ the DJ aesthetic is incapable of providing, due to the improvisatory restrictions imposed by prerecorded media. Yet upon closer inspection, as Thornton notes in her study of British club cultures, this is quite often not the case:

The recorded entertainment at the heart of disc cultures is not automated. DJs incorporate degrees of human touch, intervention and improvisation. They play a key role in the enculturation of records for dancing, sometimes as an artist but always as a representative and respondent to the crowd… DJs respond to the crowd through their choice and sequence of records, seek to direct their energies and build up the tension until the event �climaxes.’ DJs are supposed to have their finger on the pulse of the event in order to give the dancing crowd �what [they] need rather than what [they] want (Graeme Park quoted in New Musical Express 27 February 1988). (17)

The dynamic described above is very much like the narrative relationship Shields finds absent from the live electronic music discourse; in this case, however, the syntactic unit of communication is the recording itself (the �medium is the message’). In addition, although DJs will rarely address the audience directly (via microphone), they can nonetheless �speak’ through their diverse collection of vinyl: through obscure samples, musical �quoting,’ recontextualized pop cultural references, and multimedia sound bites (this performance style is particularly prominent in the breakbeat and hip hop idioms, as well as the �postmodern’ pastiche scratch styles refined by DJs such as Q-Bert and Kid Koala). In this sense, the DJ (or live PA) uses, abuses, recodes, layers and juxtaposes the shifting semiotics of popular culture itself as a means of �conversing’ with audiences. In many ways, this is a far more sophisticated mode of communication, whereby the DJ constructs a kind of �virtual’ or �cybernetic’ presence/identity for himself or herself through recorded sound rather than physical stage presence in the traditional sense. One might even be inclined to ask whether the music at a rave or club is �coming’ from the musician in the DJ booth, or rather from the amplified speakers surrounding or facing the dance floor (indeed, many ravers can be found dancing toward the loudspeakers rather than the DJ booth, basking in an entirely different kind of �aura’). In this sense, the DJ is projecting his or her �persona’ through the sound system in disembodied form: there becomes no distinction between the dissemination of recorded sound and the �aura’ of human presence, and as such, the actual physical location of the DJ is de-emphasized.

Yet, despite their criticisms of DJ performance, the New Deal have nevertheless openly modeled their �sound’ after that of the electronic dance music aesthetic, in an attempt to “bridge the live music and dance communities with performances that play like a DJ set(18): “I think most of the time that’s what we do, we try and play out of whatever DJ is playing before us,” Shields explains, “because we feel that we’re playing music that is completely comparable to what the DJ is spinning, and there’s no reason why there has to be a break, between the DJ and us. You know, much like another DJ comes on to start a set, or the DJ is putting on a different tune – it just happens that this different tune is being played by a live band on stage.” (19) Bassist Dan Kurtz reiterates: “That’s the most common �newbie’ New Deal fan comment we ever hear is �Man, I had no idea that you guys weren’t the DJ for like the first twenty minutes of your set.’” (20)

�Authenticity’ is therefore tied to the New Deal’s ability to mimic the electronic dance music aesthetic to the extent that the sound of a DJ mixing house, techno or breakbeat records and the sound of a live band approximating this sound would be theoretically indistinguishable to an “uninformed” audience (it is interesting to note that the �sound’ the New Deal are consciously trying to achieve is precisely what the Musician’s Union feared in their own observations of a rock �n’ roll record hop in fifties Britain – in this inversion, however, it is a live band trying to emulate the aesthetics of a recording, rather than a recording attempting to fulfill the role of live band). (21) Although live music’s preoccupation with approximating the sounds of its �recorded original’ can be traced back to the efforts of the early psychedelic and �stadium rock’ bands (who were beginning to understand that their �sound’ was indeed inextricably tied to the art of studio production), it becomes problematic – both technologically and aesthetically – when one tries to extend this same philosophy to DJ-performed phonographic idioms: on a fundamental level, the sound of live electronic dance genres is as much dependant upon the mixer and the crossfader, as it is upon the musical contents of the two (or more) pieces of vinyl being mixed. Poschardt explains:

When the first mixing desks with equalizers were delivered, the DJ could not only vary volumes, but also separate out highs and lows within the sound landscape. Scope became particularly great when the equalizers, positioned over the slide controls, freed up the channels for deconstruction.

By now the mixing desk had been turned once and for all into a live remixing post. If there was a heavy bass-line, a good vocal sound or an exciting high-pitched Moog landscape on the right-hand turntable, the annoying highs, lows or middle frequencies could simply be faded out. Particularly for house and techno DJs, the equalizers became an indispensable tool for a �beat flow’ that allowed all kinds of filigree tampering. For dramatic purposes, high and middle frequencies were switched off to send only the dull roar of the bass into the club, or, the sound-corollary, the bass was completely removed so as just to hint at the groove with hi-hats or scraps of melody – until the powerful bass was once more unleashed on the bodies of the dancers. The DJs were now able to dissect every track and break it down into its component parts, combine the various parts wildly or harmonically and send new and changing versions pumping through the speaker system.

The technical limits of working with the fully �mastered’ stereo mixes found on vinyl forced DJs to approach the creative recalibration of their music very differently than the �front-of-house’ engineer of a live music venue, whose large multi-channel console gave him, or her, precise control over the level, processing and equalization of every individual input channels. Without the benefit of individual control over the instruments or sounds of a track, any equalization, effects processing or level changes performed by the DJ would affect the sound of the entire record (as would an effect placed in the �master insert’ section of a mixing console), rather than its individual components – a critical distinction. As DJs began to work within the creative limits of both the vinyl medium and the DJ mixer, the subtle – but often extreme – attenuation of the hi, mid and low frequency knobs became an integral part of the �authentic’ sound of house and techno music, to the extent that electronic dance music producers began to reincorporate these kinds of sounds back into their tracks, affecting the entire stereo mix – just as a DJ would (the process of �filtering’ out the frequencies below or above a specific cutoff threshold with the use of low-pass, band-pass, high-pass, or envelope �resonance filters,’ like those found in the filter section of vintage analogue synthesizers, became widely used within the house and techno idioms as means of creating musical tension, or climatic peaks and releases).

As Poschardt notes, sounds could be roughly isolated through the use of equalization, especially in the interstitial spaces between tracks, where the increased sound density of two separate records, layered upon one another, helped mask the unwanted frequencies that often �crept’ through. Of course, the kind of spontaneous musical �remixing’ and timbral �deconstruction,’ to which Porchardt alludes, was an imprecise art at best, in the sense that no amount of equalization, or frequency filtering, could truly isolate individual instruments, or sounds, found on a piece of fully mastered vinyl: musical moments above or below the intended cutoff threshold would invariably �leak’ through and contribute to the overall aesthetic of �the mix’ in their own subtle and unique musical ways. The end result was a pastiche of �phasing’ frequencies, spontaneous �reharmonizations,’ �resyncopated’ rhythms, bizarre polyphonies, and radically juxtaposed production aesthetics: a �third’ recording of sorts, generated live by the techno or house DJ, that was neither the sound of the first turntable, nor the second, but rather a dense new musical hybrid, moulded by the fairly rudimentary sound-shaping tools of the DJ mixer itself. In many ways, the truly �progressive’ in the live electronic dance music aesthetic resided in this �halfway’ position of the crossfader, where sounds swept in and out of aural focus, and shifting bar lines and clashing key signatures were forced to fuse like some sort of musical Frankenstein. Temporal synchronicity rarely guaranteed harmonic cohesion in the traditional Western sense (even with two records which were technically in the same key, but differed in tempo by a just a few beats-per-minute or �BPM’), and as such, fascinating and unexpected microtonal and atonal harmonic systems often arose in the �beat-matching’ process. Like individual puzzle pieces, or building blocks, assembled by pitch shifter, equalizer and crossfader, skilled DJs �worked’ records synergistically to create a sort of futuristic, or avant-garde, counterpoint based on the spontaneous musical conjunction of pre-recorded material. In this instance however, it was a �counterpoint’ as much of discrete production aesthetics and diverse forms of recorded media, samples, and studio-produced noise-sounds, as it was of contrapuntal melodies and harmonies in the traditional sense. In some respects, it was as if two cybernetic �bands,’ displaced across time and space – and completely unaware of one another – were forced into musical adjacency, in some kind of �virtual jam’ session – an idea reiterated by techno pioneer Derrick May, who cites the ability to “make music out of music” as a key characteristic of the live electronic dance music aesthetic:

There’s very few guys who really follow the art of mixing, the art of blending. Anybody can slash, cut and do all that fun stuff with the cross-fader. But not many people really know how to blend records and make records speak to each other. (23)

This �mixed,’ �blended,’ or �layered’ aesthetic of recorded sound sources – mirrored in both the infrastructure (the sample aesthetic) and the superstructure (the DJ aesthetic) of authentic electronic dance music – is nearly impossible to achieve with a traditional live band for a number of reasons, both practical and musical. First, live bands are limited by the fact that they act in unison as a singular performative entity: the live electronic dance music aesthetic would require an additional ensemble of entirely autonomous musicians in order to fulfill the role of the second turntable. Second, as stated earlier, the sound of live house music is dependant as much upon the active performance of the mixer, EQ and crossfader as it is upon the musical contents of the vinyl being mixed. Conversely, the nature of traditional live performance demands a fairly �static’ mix, in the sense that once a band has �sound checked,’ the levels, equalization, effects processing and onstage microphone positions usually remain fairly consistent throughout the performance. In addition, large live mixing consoles, or �front-of-house’ sound boards, with their precise control over dozens of individual channel �strips,’ are simply not designed for the kind of hands-on real-time performance made possible by the streamlined interface of the relatively simplistic stereo DJ mixer. More importantly, the sound engineer in the traditional live music paradigm is more than often restricted to the role of �technician,’ rather than that of �musician’: even their spatial position within the audience (or offstage) delineates the hierarchical divide between the kinds of �inspired’ musical creativity that can only occur onstage and the clinical and practical realities of controlling and maintaining the delicate fidelity of a live mix �behind the scenes.’ In the electronic dance music aesthetic, however (especially in the case of the live PA), the distinctions are blurred: the engineer (or �producer’) is the artist – an uncommon practice in the field of popular music, with the rare exception of a select few artists, such as Pink Floyd’s �Dark Side of the Moon’ engineer Alan Parsons, who went on to form �The Alan Parsons Project.’ As Simon Reynolds notes:

Once it was possible to distinguish between music and its production, between song and the recording tricks with which it’s embellished. But with dance tracks, the music is the production. Increasingly, the figure of the producer blurs with the engineer, traditionally regarded as a mere technician who facilitates the sonic ideas and aspirations of band and producer. In most dance music, though, it’s the timbre and penetration of a bass tone, the sensuous feel of a sample texture, the gait of a drum loop, that’s the real hook, not the sequence of notes that constitutes �the melody’…

If techno can be thought of in this way – the track as a framework for the display of special effects and processing – what, then, constitutes the �sublime’ in techno? The answer is sound in itself.

Accordingly, the live PA will often simply send a stereo �out’ from their own mixing console into the �front-of-house’ sound board, in a conscious effort to be treated as if their live music were no different from a prerecorded sound source. Tom Rowlands of The Chemical Brothers elaborates:

Most of the time [we send a stereo feed to the house sound system], because the real integral part of the performance is how we’re mixing it. So all we send out is a left and a right, and some different effects output auxiliaries and stuff. The guy who does our front of house plays around with it, and all he has to do is make sure it’s loud enough and that the general EQ is okay. (25)

For the Chemical Brothers, and many other live PAs, the manner in which one’s music is mixed and engineered live is not only a critical aspect of their �sound,’ but the primary way in which it is performed as well. In many ways, the �magic’ of the electronic dance music aesthetic dwells within the layers of technological mediation inserted between musician and audience, and accordingly, the mixing board becomes the �hyper-instrument’ of choice for the performance of these kinds of fundamentally phonographic genres (this concept of being �one-step removed’ from real-time performance also manifests itself in a different way in the �pre-listen,’ or �cue’ function of the DJ mixer, where the DJ is able to perfect a mix, or musical idea, before the audience has a chance to hear the creative process at work, creating the illusion of an almost �superhuman’ mastery over recorded sound). Like an audio floodgate, or an inverted sonic prism of sorts, the mixing console channels discrete loops, sequences and sound sources into a stereo musical whole, actively arranged and performed via the �muting,’ �soloing,’ and effects processing of its individual input strips. The problem that arises when this mode of performance is superimposed upon the traditional live music paradigm is often one of onstage sound �leakage’: acoustic and miked instruments (such as amplifier cabinets and drum kits) will continue to be heard by the onstage musicians and nearby audience members, even if their output is �muted’ by the front-of-house engineer. The electronic dance music aesthetic therefore necessitates direct sound sources, whose only acoustic existence/reality lies in their final projection through the house sound system – the resonating chamber for phonographic musics.

Most importantly, though, no amount of timbral attenuation could hope to mimic the sound of the sample aesthetic itself, in the sense that the mixing of a live band approximating this aesthetic would require constant timbral recalibration (different instrumentation, microphone positions, equalization settings, acoustic environments, compression characteristics, and effects changes) from song to song, measure to measure, and even beat to beat, in order to fully emulate the vast palette of sonic possibilities generated by the sampling, editing, layering and sequencing of a wide variety of recorded sources, styles and eras (each with their own unique recorded �auras’). Although there is the possibility of employing sophisticated computer-controlled automated live mixing boards (which can instantaneously recall equalization settings, effects parameters, and level changes at the touch of button, in the form of preset �scenes’ or �snapshots’), these technologies still cannot endow the performances of traditional live musicians with the kinds of surreal �posthuman virtuosity’ required of truly progressive electronic dance music: live bands, such as the New Deal, will be forever limited by the timbres of their chosen instrumentation, the physical restrictions of real-time performance, and ultimately, the so-called �human element’ to which they so desperately cling.

In his sonic description of the New Deal, drummer Darren Shearer refers to their particular brand of �organic’ electronic dance music as �live progressive breakbeat house.’ While their unique interpretation of electronic dance genres is certainly fascinating, it would be erroneous to consider it legitimate �breakbeat house’ for a number of key reasons, related to the fundamentally phonographic nature of both the breakbeat and house idioms. In a video interview, Shearer describes a �breakbeat’ as “taking a section of a fat – usually a fat drum loop, or a fat keyboard lick, or whatever – and kind of looping that, and building on that (which can be house music, but house music is usually a four-on-the-floor kind of kick drum thing).” (26) The authenticity issue here revolves around the words �loop’ and �looping’: many traditional live musicians who attempt to approximate electronic dance music styles often misinterpret the term �loop’ as being synonymous with a musical �ostinato.’ While both terms imply the systematic repetition of sound, a �loop’ has one fundamental difference: it is the repetition of recordedsound. As such, it is an exact replica of a recorded musical moment, including all the phonographic and performative nuances which render that particular moment unique in time and space. A �breakbeat’ is therefore not just a drum groove, or a particularly �funky’ rhythmic style, as Shearer’s comments would imply: it is a recording – a sample – of a particular drum groove and, as such, defines itself by the very fact that it is no longer (a)live, but rather reincarnated, reinterpreted and recontextualizedthrough the act of sampling itself. Simon Reynolds elaborates:

A breakbeat is the percussion-only section of a funk or disco track, the peak moment at which dancers cut loose and do their most impressive steps. In the mid-seventies Bronx, DJ Kool Herc invented the hip-hop technique of looping these breaks into a continuous, hypnotic groove by using two turntables and two copies of the same record. By the mid-eighties, rap producers were using sampling and sequencing technology to loop beats with greater precision…

In the early nineties, many house and techno producers had started to use breakbeats in their tracks, either to add extra polyrhythmic �feel’ or simply because it was easier to loop and accelerate a segment of �real’ drums than to program a drum machine. As breakbeat house and hardcore grew popular, this shortcut was transformed into a positive aesthetic by younger producers, many of whom had been original British B-boys. Living up to the root meaning of that term (the B refers to �breaks’), producers like Gavin King and Micky Finn of Urban Shakedown, DJ Hype, and Danny Breaks of Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era layered multiple breakbeats to form an exhilarating bedlam of clashing and meshing polyrhythms…

Through 1993 these rhythmic innovations matured into a veritable breakbeat science. Sampled and fed into the computer, beats were chopped up, resequenced, and processed with ever-increasing degrees of complexity. Effects like �time stretching/compression,’ pitch shifting, �ghosting,’ and psychedelia-style reverse gave the percussion an eerie, chromatic quality that blurred the line between rhythm, melody, and timbre. Separate drum �hits’ within a single breakbeat could be subjected to different degrees of echo and reverb, so that each percussive accent seems to occur in a different acoustic space. Eventually, producers started building their own breakbeats from scratch, using �single shot’ samples – isolated snare hits, hi-hat flutters, et cetera. The term breakbeat science fits because the process of building up jungle rhythm tracks is incredibly time-consuming and tricky, involving a near-surgical precision.

As Reynolds notes, the original �breaks’ were indeed sampled from the �give the drummer some’ ostinatos and “percussion-only” vamps found (primarily) on seventies funk, disco and soul records. In these isolated sections, the arrangement would be �broken down’ into its purely rhythmic components, leaving only the drum kit and other percussive instruments in the mix. However, the term �breakbeat’ also quite literally implies a �broken’ or �fractured’ beat, in the sense that new rhythmic patterns were often forged from the synthesized shards of numerous other breakbeats. Dissected, cut apart, and reassembled with the help of digital samplers and sequencers – and later with computer programs like Steinberg’s �ReCycle’ – these �second generation’ breakbeats were largely the result of laborious waveform editing and radical phonographic experimentations (the �breakbeat science’ to which Reynolds refers). Moreover, many commercially available sample compact discs and CD-ROMs even began to market their collections of drum loops and isolated drum �hits’ as rhythmic �tool kits’ or �construction kits’ – sonic slices (or “rhythmolecules,” as Kodwo Eshun has called them) – intended for the creation of larger rhythmic possibilities. (28)

As strings of atomized waveforms, sliced and diced on the liquid crystal display of some early Akai S1000 sampler, breakbeats began to increasingly defy traditional performative logic, especially in the so-called “sampladelic” genres of jungle and drum �n’ bass, where �impossibly’ complex syncopations could be hyper-accelerated toward superhuman velocities, and yet still contain an eerily �pseudo-human’ �feel’ to them. Within this dense web of polyrhythmic percussion, a myriad of drum timbres and styles from all different eras crossbred and fused, mutating into a new style of �posthuman’ popular music that could never have existed prior to the advent of digital sampling technology. The sound of the breakbeat aesthetic was thus a hybrid sound: an �impossible’ rhythm, sequenced from the fragments of many different recorded sources, and assembled into the kind of �virtual performance’ that no single (human) drummer could ever possibly hope to �play’ in real-time. Eshun reiterates:

The Breakbeat scientist never sweats: rhythmatics becomes less about practice, more about �thinking and hearing’, as Kraftwerk said. Moving into the possibility space of hyperrhythm, posthuman rhythm that’s impossible to play, impossible to hear in a history of causation. For [jungle producer] Goldie, hyperrhythm begins at the point when �we’ve lost the drummer’; at the moment when �you’re reading the break like Braille’… Breakbeat science is the secret technology of gene-splicing sound, the unofficial science of rhythmhacking the break until it becomes a passage into the drumtrip and the drumtrick, an escalation of rhythmic timbreffects. (29)

Nonetheless, some drummers, fascinated by the new kinds of �posthuman virtuosity’ found within the �hyperrhythms’ of the jungle and drum �n’ bass idioms, have attempted to simulate the sound of the breakbeat aesthetic by using innovative real-time playing techniques and specialized, or custom-modified, acoustic drum kits. One session drummer, Johnny Rabb, has even written an instructional book, complete with �legitimate’ notation, entitled �Jungle/Drum �n’ Bass for the acoustic drum set: a guide to applying today’s electronic music to the drum set.’ Although it is perhaps the first book to directly address the aesthetic impacts of phonography, �breakbeat science,’ and sampling/sequencing on modern real-time drumming styles, Rabb’s book still clings to the authenticities of the �organic’ musician. In the introduction to his book, Rabb claims readers “will learn new techniques on how to make the music sound electronic with little or no electronics at all” – an interesting proposition, reiterated by fusion drummer Steve Smith in the book’s foreword:

[Rabb’s] approach to jungle/drum �n’ bass is revolutionary in a world of acoustic/electric drum-set hybrids and computer-programmed samples. He plays the jungle/drum �n’ bass grooves on an acoustic drum set, producing astonishingly electronic-like sounds – organically. (30)

As a drummer, Rabb’s infatuation with the breakbeat aesthetic began primarily as a purely rhythmic one: he was interested in simply �lifting’ and transcribing these �exciting’ new �high-energy’ styles of music so that they might be reinterpreted into a potentially live music which could be performed in real-time by a single drummer:

People like Ed Uribe and Robbie Ameen among many others have written Latin books that utilize the Cuban rhythm sections – congas, timbales, bongos, bell, and so forth. For example, there are exercises using the cowbell with the right hand, conga pattern on the rack tom, clave with the left foot, and so forth. I use a similar approach, taking the many parts of a drum machine or sampler and applying them to the drum set. Since there are so many sounds layered, looped and sampled in jungle/drum �n’ bass, my main objective was to simulate the electronics on the acoustic drum set. (31)

However, in applying the sample aesthetic to the acoustic drum kit, Rabb soon realized that the phonographic elements intrinsic to these new breakbeat genres – the fact that the jungle and drum �n’ bass idioms were a direct result of recording/sequencing technology – could not be overlooked in their live translation. The very fact that these drum patterns were a composite, or hybrid, of many different-sounding drum samples was, in many ways, more important to the authentic reproduction and performance of these new genres than the actual transcribed rhythms themselves:

Because of the programmed nature of jungle/drum �n’ bass grooves, you will hear the drum set change throughout each song. To make this possible in a live situation, it is important to practice switching up the sounds of the drum set. The following exercises will allow you to get familiar with splitting up your drum set. It is my version of being a human drum machine or sampler. I virtually split up my drum set into three different drum sets. This enables me to cut up my grooves as a programmer would. (32)

Additionally, Rabb introduces radical alternate drum tunings to simulate the digitally �pitch-shifted’ and �time-stretched’ nature of jungle and drum �n’ bass rhythms on the acoustic drum kit. In order to approximate these sounds, Rabb suggests detuning the “snare really low so it sounds like a low, processed, slow-speed, low-resolution sample. Another option is tuning the snare up to where it sounds high-pitched to simulate previous grooves that have been sped up.” (33) Rabb elaborates:

Because jungle/drum �n’ bass grooves are extremely quick, I needed to figure out the right drum sounds to simulate this high-energy electronic music. The drums sounded higher in pitch because the samples were sped up. I started to concentrate on how to obtain electronic sounds from acoustic drum set. I decided to use three snare drums in my setup to achieve the sounds I was hearing. (34)

While Rabb’s �organic’ approximation of the breakbeat aesthetic may represent a watershed extension of Bennett’s concept of the �recording consciousness,’ it nonetheless sacrifices the truly avant-garde possibilities of breakbeat science (waveform editing, sampling, sequencing, �impossible’ performances, and what Reynolds calls �fictitious psycho-acoustic spaces’) in favour of the kinds of �authentic’ real-time performance privileged in the traditional live music paradigm. The problem lies in the fact that Rabb’s innovative jungle and drum �n’ bass techniques for the acoustic drum set – no matter how complex – will always be rooted in the live approximation of a fundamentally phonographic sound. If Reynolds is correct, and the sublime in techno does indeed lie in “sound in itself” (or rather, �recorded sound in itself’), then it is within the loci of recorded �sound’ and �production’ that the true gist of the breakbeat aesthetic must be found: detuning a snare drum to emulate the gritty timbre of a �downsampled’ 8-bit snare drum, or placing an old t-shirt over a drumhead to simulate the muted tones of a vintage analogue drum machine, such as the Roland TR-808 (as Rabb suggests in one instance), are pale substitutes for the actual timbral �byproducts’ and performative idiosyncrasies generated by the electronic mediation, production and reproduction of these kinds of music.

The fact that the drum timbres in jungle sounded higher in pitch than the original breakbeats from which they were sampled was largely the result of the technological limitations of early sampling technology: speeding up breakbeats to conform to the rapid tempo (160 to 180 BPM) of the drum �n’ bass and jungle idioms – without significantly raising their pitch – yielded digital �artifacts’ which were initially deemed �unmusical.’ The short-term answer to the limitations of early pitch-shifting and time-stretching algorithms was simply a matter of reincorporating the technological limits of sampling technology back into the jungle aesthetic itself. Although samplers would inevitably advance to the point where pitch and length could be adjusted independently of one another (with fairly �musical’ results), the �sound’ of jungle had already been established: even with the new technology, �authentic’ jungle grooves still relished in a pastiche of speedy pitch-shifted breakbeats. In addition, the memory restrictions (and to a lesser extent, the primitive analogue-to-digital converters) found in early samplers, forced pioneering breakbeat scientists to employ samples of various degrees of degraded resolution, or �bit-depth.’ As RAM became more affordable and external storage media such as floppy disks and �SCSI’ hard drives easily linked samplers to computers and vice versa, the aural fascination with low-resolution samples remained. Instead of being relegated to a �second-rate’ approximation of the16-bit digital audio standard set by the commercial music industry, these new �trashy’ �downsampled’ (or �low-fi’) timbres were once again reintegrated into the breakbeat aesthetic as a unique �sound’ or �tonal colour’ unto itself (in fact, many modern samplers have �lo-fi’ settings which intentionally degrade the audio fidelity of the sample, in addition to �turntable-style’ effects which artificially simulate and reintroduce the �crackles’ and �pops’ of �authentic’ analogue vinyl noise).

In this sense, the minute phonographic details intrinsic to the jungle �sound’ require far more aural attention than merely tuning a drumhead unconventionally, using multiple kit configurations, or playing syncopated funk rhythms at an elevated tempo: these defining details are the direct result of the digital manipulation of recorded sound. Moreover, unlike the sphere of traditional real-time performance, the kinds of �posthuman virtuosity’ which define �breakbeat science’ are not subject to, or hindered by, the laws of natural acoustics or human biomechanics: sequenced or �programmed’ drums almost demand to be manipulated in �impossible’ ways, if for no other reason than simply because they can be. Drum �n’ bass producer Goldie even describes the creative process of breakbeat programming as �sculpting’ his beats in “4D.” (35) Simon Reynolds elaborates:

Drawing parallels between the perspectival trickery of Escher and the trompe l’oreille effects of the track’s production, Goldie claimed that he and his engineer partner Rob Playford of Moving Shadow/2 Bad Mice were so far ahead of the game that they’d had to coin their own private technical terminology for their favorite effects: �igniting a loop,’ �snaking out a break,’ �tubing a sound.’ “We’ve learned to do magic with the bluntest of instruments,’ he said, referring to the way jungle producers work with relatively low-level technology. “It’s like my graffiti paintings: give a graphic designer an aerosol and he won’t be able to do shit with it. Nobody can come in and beat us at own game.” (36)

Although Rabb has come a long way in identifying and extracting the elements which distinguish the breakbeat aesthetic from traditional funk drumming techniques, there will always be certain key performative and timbral characteristics inherent to the electronic dance music aesthetic that will continue to defy real-time interpretation. As noted earlier, a digitized waveform – stored in the depths of some computer hard drive – is no longer subject to traditional acoustic laws or to the restrictions of human biomechanics: the �attack,’ �sustain’ or �decay’ of a drum hit might be �chopped’ short, re-edited and rearranged, reversed, panned, re-equalized, pitch-shifted, or even substituted with the waveform characteristics of another edited drum (or sound) sample. Backwards echo and delay are further examples of effects which know no real-world equivalent. More importantly, though, it is the concept of the �loop’ itself – the perfect replica of both performance and production – which will forever ostracize the electronic dance music aesthetic from the sphere of traditional live performance: electronic dance music is a music which uses reproduction itself (mechanical, electronic, and digital) as the fundamental building blocks for both composition and performance.

In one respect, the unwavering tempo and perfectly �quantized’ feel of sequenced loops in electronic dance tracks simply helped to facilitate the mixing process for DJs: even the slightest deviation in the tempo of a track could throw off the fragile mix of two Technics SL 1200 MK2 turntables, pitch-shifted into precarious synchronization. However, as Giorgio Moroder discovered through the use of voltage-controlled Moog bass lines and rigid drum machine programming in his late-seventies �Eurodisco’ work, sequenced audio could also be a �sound’ unto itself – a new kind of groove made possible by the �cold’ mechanical �perfection’ of electronic reproduction. These new kinds of �synthetic’ grooves found in the music of Kraftwerk and Moroder, among others, acted as the aural catalyst for many primordial electronic dance music genres, such as electro, acid house and Detroit techno. Reynolds explains:

Replacing guitars and drums with synthesizer pulses and programmed beats, Kraftwerk sublimated the Velvets’ white light/white heat speed rush into the cruise-control serenity of motorik, a metronomic, regular-as-carburetor rhythm that was at once post-rock and proto-techno… “They were so stiff, they were funky,” techno pioneer Carl Craig has said of Kraftwerk. This paradox – which effectively translates as “they were so white, they were black” – is as close as anyone has got to explaining the mystery of why Kraftwerk’s music had such a massive impact on black American youth. (37)

It was largely the strange inhuman �feel’ of primitive drum machines, such as the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 �Rhythm Composer’, and sequencer/synthesizers such as the TB-303 Bass Line, that initially inspired early techno and house pioneers to diverge even further away from �real-time performance’ in search of suitably �posthuman’ grooves for their new and futuristic styles of music. Once again, the sound of these new genres was largely the result of the technological limitations of early electronic instrumentation: the TR-808 and 909 drum machines had no �velocity sensitivity’ – that is, with the exception of an �accent’ knob, the various drum timbres all �played’ back at basically the same volume (it is interesting to note that a �compressor’ tries to achieve a more �professional’ or �polished’ sound by reducing the dynamic range of an acoustic signal, not unlike the supposedly �unrealistic’ sound that these drum machines produced). More importantly though, the 16th-note step sequencer found on all three of the aforementioned instruments fundamentally dictated the extent of their rhythmic and compositional possibilities: before the introduction of breakbeats into house music, rhythms were limited to the kinds of heavily quantized �feels’ pre-programmed into the design and construction of these units. Although the TR-909 offered �flam’ and �shuffle’ features, to claim these were accurate imitations of their real-world counterparts would be an exaggeration – to say the least. Accordingly, electronic instruments such as the Roland TB-303, TR-808 and TR-909 were heavily discounted (in both price and creative potential) and widely available in the mid-eighties, due to the very fact that they sounded nothing like the human bass players and drummers that they were supposedly designed to emulate.

In this sense, the �authentic’ sound of techno and house was as much dependant on the synthetic and �inhuman’ timbres of these early drum machines and synthesizers (which ironically fetch more money now on the used market than they did when they were originally released) as it was upon the specific ways in which human �rhythm composers’ interfaced with these machines. As Théberge observes, the very “peculiarities and limitations” inherent to the programming of early drum machines and sequencers “seemingly contributed, in a positive way, to the aesthetic predilections of an entire genre of music.” (38) Unfortunately, traditional live bands – such as the New Deal – have often misinterpreted the house aesthetic as merely an �electronic’ or modernized counterpart to disco and, as such, have openly substituted the genre-defining metronomic punch of its mighty �909’ bass drum for the kind of tepid “four-on-the-floor” acoustic drum kit patterns to which Shearer refers as �progressive breakbeat house’ music. Although the sound of house may have emerged from the ashes of disco, it had nonetheless unequivocally evolved into its own autonomous genre(s). Eshun elaborates:

At the same time Giorgio Moroder was unleashing his synthesized sex fantasies with Donna Summer on the world, an aspiring disco DJ from New York was recruited to play at Chicago’s new pleasure dome, The Warehouse. During his residence at the club, DJ Frankie Knuckles discovered that his crowd of two thousand gay, black revelers enthusiastically responded to the electronic feel of tracks like Summer’s �I Feel Love.’ As a result, he began to augment his Salsoul and Philadelphia Internation records with the more rigid beats of a cheap drum machine; the dancers responded with remarkable intensity. Legend has it that this combination of disco with drum machines and reel-to-reel edits became known as house music after people kept asking record stores for “the records they played at the Warehouse.” (39)

As stated earlier, this sound was largely the result of the drum machine and the kinds of tireless �posthuman’ funk rhythms generated by its rigid sequencer interface. However, what ultimately separated house from disco was its eventual use of sampling as its primary mode of composition. Like hip-hop and jungle, truly progressive house music thrived in the phonographic recontextualization of old disco and funk records. Once digitized, these samples were subjected to the same degree of programming �science’ found in the breakbeat idioms. In the case of house music, however, the range of usable sampling material often extended well beyond that of a record’s �break’: as in hip-hop, everything was �fair game,’ in the sense that entire measures of fully orchestrated music, bass lines, rhythm guitar parts, diva vocals, and horn �stabs,’ could be sliced apart, processed, and resequenced into a strange new kind of �impossible’ performance, bound only by the 120 to 140 BPM stomp of the 909. In many ways, this creative mode was the natural extension of the magnetic tape splicing techniques used by innovative disco DJs to loop particularly funky sections and generally extend the overall length of a track for the dance floor. In this instance, however, the house aesthetic exponentially amplified and intensified the �use-value’ of dance music by sampling, editing and looping these funky �bits and pieces’ at the micro-measure level: many �driving’ house subgenres, such as �hard house,’ frequently employ loops as short as two beats long as the rhythmic foundation of their tracks, creating a sort of aural hypnosis in which the brain becomes hypersensitive to even the most minute change or timbral deviation. Accordingly, the (now clichéd) �build-ups’ found within the house aesthetic often relied upon the systematic subdivision of its sampled loops and rhythms into increasingly smaller and smaller particles of sound, propelling the track into the kind �rapid-fire’ frenzy that only sampling and sequencing technology could make possible.

As house music evolved away from the original �sound’ played by Frankie Knuckles at The Warehouse, it split into a veritable web of subgenres, reinforcing the fact that �disco’ was only a small part of a much larger, and increasingly complex, futuristic sound: �hard house’, �deep house,’ �acid house,’ �tech house’ and �progressive house’ are but a few of the hybridized and mutated subgenres of this music that have emerged in the last two decades. Despite the abundance of its various subgenres, however, it was the �massive’ sound of the TR-909 drum machine that ultimately unified �house’ into an aesthetic whole. In addition to the relentless downbeat of its ubiquitous �kick’ and �classic’ analogue snare roll sounds, the PCM (Pulse Code Modulated) samples of the 909’s open and closed hi-hats would help immortalize the TR-909 as �The Sound’ of authentic house music. More importantly, the TR-909 was Roland’s first drum machine equipped with a MIDI interface (in addition to their older DIN-style connection for use with the TB-303). Via MIDI or DIN connection the 909 could be easily linked, synched or controlled by other musical instruments – such as samplers and computer sequencers – facilitating its integration, and eventual assimilation, into the sample and breakbeat aesthetics. Moreover, the scarcity of the 909 (there are only roughly 10, 000 in existence) has not diminished its use in house and techno: hi-fidelity samples of its individual drum timbres are frequency employed as a substitute for the actual unit itself and are widely available on commercial sample compact discs and CD-ROMs. (40)

Initially, the early Roland product line was criticized for their �inauthentic’ timbres and �feel’: these pale imitations were no substitute for the sound of a �real’ musician, drummer or bassist. However, as the synthetic timbres and �artificial’ feel of the 808, 909 and 303 became increasingly associated with the electro, house and techno sounds, their unique technological idiosyncrasies, or �shortcomings,’ were transformed into criterions of authenticity: it was now the �real’ drummer or bassist that seemed out of place, or �inauthentic,’ within electronic dance music aesthetic. Sarah Thornton elaborates:

The ultimate end of a technology’s enculturation is authentication. In other words, a musical form is authentic when it is rendered essential to subculture or integral to community. Equally, technologies are naturalized by enculturation. At first, new technologies seem foreign, artificial, inauthentic. Once absorbed into culture, they seem indigenous and organic… Frith argues that new music technologies tend to be opposed to nature and community. They are considered false and falsifying and, as such, threaten the authenticity or the �truth of music’ (Frith 1986: 265). Behind the discursive oppositions, however, lurks the fact that technological developments make new concepts of authenticity possible. (41)

Accordingly, the impetus behind the development of new instruments suitable for the electronic dance music market has been largely focused on the recreation or emulation of these kinds of �nostalgic’ sounds through what is somewhat oxymoronically referred to as �digital analogue modeling.’ One prestigious synthesizer manufacturer, Novation, produces a drum module called the �DrumStation’ which uses modern digital technology to reproduce the authentic analogue sounds of these supposedly �obsolete’ technologies. Their online brochure reads as follows:

Yesterday’s analogue drum machines, while not as authentic sounding as today’s digitally-sampled equivalents, have the character and warmth which PCM-based systems just can’t seem to replace. What’s more, a sampled version of an analogue drum sound loses all the variability of the original as the sound is “frozen” in just one of the myriad combinations of the editable parameters which the original machines offered. These factors are responsible for the major resurgence of analogue drum sounds which are now the essential ingredient for today’s rhythm based Dance music and two units in particular, Roland’s TR808 and TR909 are the much sought after �Dream machines.’ The DrumStation features all the classic sounds of the TR808 and TR909; Bass drums, Snare drums, Tom-Toms, Rimshots, Handclaps, Cowbell, Open and Closed Hi-Hats, Ride and Crash Cymbals, 3 Congas, Maracas and Claves…(42)

In this sense, it becomes impossible for the New Deal to claim any kind of authority within the house idiom without the use of a 909, or similar sounding drum machine: these so-called “dream machines” are “essential” components in the authentic live reproduction of house music. Like vacuum-tube distortion for the rock electric guitarist, authenticity in electronic dance music genres hinges on the use of certain �archaic’ technologies because they produce a specific sound unto themselves: no human drummer, or acoustic drum kit, could ever hope to approximate the intentionally inhuman �feel’ and timbres which ultimately legitimize electronic dance musics. Ironically, it is the �organic’ qualities of real-time musicianship upheld by the New Deal that have shielded them from the truly �progressive’ discourse within the electronic dance music aesthetic: authentic �progressive breakbeat house’ is a music fundamentally defined by the very fact that it is no longer �live’ in the traditional sense. Rather, it relies upon the radical concept of the �performed recording’ as the mark of its authenticity, and the fuel for its aesthetic evolution.

Although there are certainly valid distinction to be made between �songs’ and their realization in sound, for much popular music such distinctions have become increasingly difficult to make. Indeed, musicians today (as well as critics and audiences) often speak of having a unique and personal �sound’ in the same manner in which another generation of musicians might have spoken of having developed a particular �style’ of playing or composing. The term �sound’ has taken on a peculiar material characteristic that cannot be separated either from the �music’ or, more importantly, from the sound recording as the dominant medium of reproduction. With regards to the latter, the idea of a �sound’ appears to be a particularly contemporary concept that could hardly have been maintained in an era that did not possess mechanical or electronic means of reproduction.

Paul Théberge
Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology

Although a large portion of this analysis of �authenticity’ within the live electronic dance music discourse has centred on the shortcomings of the New Deal’s real-time interpretation of �progressive breakbeat house,’ it was by no means intended to be defamatory: the flaws inherent to the New Deal’s live approximation of electronic dance genres serve to illustrate the principal aesthetic characteristics of these kinds of futuristic musics. The New Deal merely personify the latest manifestation of the ubiquitous �live’ and �recorded’ dichotomy triggered by Edison’s invention of the phonograph over a century ago – in many ways, a veritable Pandora’s Box of musical authenticity. However, as Théberge notes in his study of technology and the aesthetics of music, the once clear-cut boundaries between these two opposing forces have become increasingly indiscernible, malleable and interchangeable: it is an enduring aesthetic struggle whose soldiers are increasingly defecting to the �other side.’

At a fundamental level, the advent of recorded sound radically altered the ways in which music was composed, performed, and consumed. More importantly, though, it transformed our notions of what music could be. Music was no longer confined to the creative and aural possibilities dictated by the staff, the treble clef, or the quarter note: recorded sound itself became the new �notation’ of the phonographic age, leaving pen and paper behind for the untapped potential of a purely �electromagnetic’ music. As such, the very layers of technological mediation inserted between �musician’ and �music’ have spawned dynamic new genres of music, inseparably tied to their existence in recorded form. As Théberge notes, the aesthetics behind these new kinds of musics could not have been “maintained in an era that did not possess mechanical or electronic means of reproduction.” (43) Rather, they were the direct result of the mechanical, electric, and eventual digital reproduction of musical sound.

In many ways, contemporary electronic dance music represents the apotheosis of this phenomenon: from its inception, electronic dance music has relied upon the art of phonography as its principle mode of composition, performance and consumption. Electronic dance musicians merely gave it a different name: they called it �sampling,’ or �spinning.’ Although DJs and live PAs cannot maintain their oligopoly over the authentic reproduction of live electronic dance music indefinitely, any future incarnation of this aesthetic will certainly involve musical technologies specifically designed for the performance of recorded sound.

Recent developments by the Roland Corporation have yielded a revolutionary new technology which they have called �Composite Object Sound Modeling,’ or �COSM’ for short. COSM uses digital signal processors (DSPs) to �virtually model’ all the timbral characteristics inherent to the sound of a recorded musical instrument. The introduction to their �VG-88 V-Guitar System’ reads as follows:

Roland believes that the final evaluation of an electric guitar’s sound should not be based only on sound output from the guitar itself, but should also include the sound that passes through the guitar amps, speakers, and other equipment.

To achieve this, it’s necessary to simulate all the steps along the way – from the moment a guitar string is plucked, until the time the sound reaches the ears – thereby re-creating the sound. Roland has made it possible to re-create these steps with the latest sound modeling technology – in other words, other means are used to make a virtual model of the physical structures and materials that actually exist…

COSM guitar/COSM amp are modeling technologies that can reproduce the sounds of any existing guitar. This includes the following:

• Electronic Modeling, which simulates all characteristics which can be attributed to the use of vacuum tubes, transistors, and all other electronic circuitry.

• Magnetic Modeling, which simulates all the characteristics which can be produced as a result of using pickups, transformers, speakers, and other electromagnetic parts.

• Physical Modeling, which simulates all the characteristics that are produced as a result of the use of certain types of materials to make a guitar, including the kind of wood, metal parts, or finish that are used.

In addition to these parameters, COSM technology also digitally models the type, position, distance and angle of a microphone from its �virtual’ speaker cone, as well as the spatial and acoustic characteristics of the room in which that imaginary guitar �amp’ is theoretically �miked.’ Roland also produces an electronic drum kit, called the V-Drums, which uses COSM technology in the same manner to model the sound of acoustic drum kits and percussion with astonishingly �realistic’ results. Through the virtual modeling of sound, COSM technology has transformed the acoustic properties of musical instruments into a direct signal which knows no real-world �existence’ until its final projection through a sound system. The fascinating aspect of this new wave of futuristic instruments is that they have a built-in phonographic factor: they are designed to sound as if they have been recorded the instant you begin to play them. In this sense, the musician is literally able to play a �recorded sound’ in real-time: in fact, Roland emphasize using �full-range’ stereo speakers instead of a guitar cabinet for their VG-88 precisely because the distinct resonant properties inherent to an electric guitar amplifier’s speaker cone and vacuum-tube design have already been �virtually’ modeled within the device itself.

Furthermore, a Canadian effects processing company called Electrix has produced a revolutionary new kind of sampler, called the �Repeater.’ According to their online promotion

The Repeater is the next step in the evolution of loop-based music production. To the studio musician, it gives a power to arrange audio that was normally reserved for MIDI. Live musicians can safely sample and integrate loops into their performance with almost no learning curve. Repeater’s algorithms are tailored to making the looping process simple and intuitive. (45)

The Repeater allows live musicians to spontaneously loop themselves in the midst of a real-time performance. The sampler is �slaved’ to a master MIDI clock signal in a live scenario, so that it �knows’ the tempo and meter of the performance (and therefore where the bar lines fall). Musicians can then record themselves, �overdub’ parts, extend segments or �erase’ over mistakes in the context of a real-time performance. Although guitarists such as David Torn and Robert Fripp have used this technique with earlier devices, such as the Echoplex Digital Pro, the integration of these kinds of �live loopers’ with the virtual modeling technology advanced by Roland will undoubtedly yield a new and futuristic hybrid form of performance, incorporating the best aspects of both traditional live performance and the electronic dance music aesthetic.

In this sense, the future of live performance, recording/playback technology, and the development of radical new musical instruments will be increasingly intertwined. One could foresee sampling and looping technology incorporated into new kinds of intuitive interfaces that would allow for the performance of recorded sound in strange and unanticipated ways (Roland’s D-Beam uses an infrared beam of light to modulate sound, while Korg’s KAOSS Mixer combines DJ mixer, tempo-synchronized digital effects, and a live sampler into one unit). Despite these sci-fi musings, though, there is still something incredibly futuristic about the turntable itself – as archaic as it might seem – and its profound sociopolitical connotations. By consciously subverting a technology of mass consumption into an instrument of individualistic musical production, improvisation, and inspiration, the turntable will forever remain the supreme symbol of the electronic dance music ethic and the �AstroTurf-roots’ philosophy that it has spawned.

Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books:, 1968.

H. Stith Bennett. “Notation and identity in contemporary popular music” in Popular Music. Issue 3, 1983.

Kodwo Eshun. More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction. London: Quartet Books, 1998.

Simon Frith. Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Theodore Gracyk. Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock. London: Duke University Press, 1996.

Richard Middleton. Studying Popular Music. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1990.

Octavia. “Orbital” in Outburn. Issue 16, 2002.

Ulf Poschardt. DJ Culture. London: Quarter Books, 1998.

Johnny Rabb. Jungle/Drum �n’ Bass for the acoustic drum set: a guide to applying today’s electronic music to the drum set. Miami: Warner Brothers Publications, 2001.

Simon Reynolds. Generation Ecstasy. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Tricia Rose. “Orality and Technology: Rap Music and Afro-American Cultural Resistance” in Popular Music and Society. Vol. 13, Winter 1989, No. 4.

Greg Rule. electro shock!: Groundbreakers of Synth Music. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books, 1999.

Peter Shapiro, et al. Modulations - A History of Electronic Music: Throbbing Words On Sound. Peter Shapiro, ed., New York: Caipirinha, 2000.

Paul Théberge. Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1997.

Sarah Thornton. Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital. New England: Wesleyan University Press, 1996.

Ryan Watson. “Welcome to the Machine: The New Deal get set to sign on the dotted line” in Eye Magazine. Toronto. August 11, 2000.

5.2 Online Resources

The New Deal:

The New Deal: This Is Live. CMJ New Music Report. Issue 633. Aug 30, 1999,

Online Poll:

“The New Deal” TV sampler: Rough cut. Source:

The New Deal. Press kit. Source:

Product Information:





Thomas Alva Edison. Press Release. September 7, 1877.

Luigi Russolo, “The Art of Noises.” 1913.

By: Graham Miller
Published on: 2003-07-07
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