Jabbing at Justice?

Pub date September 17, 2008
WriterMarke B.
SectionMusicSectionSuper Ego

>>Justice among us? Read rocker Kimberly Chun’s response to this essay here.

› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Pack up your travel-size Palin Porker-Pink™ CoverGirl Lipslick, kids, ‘cuz we’re about to time-travel through the recent dance floor past, with a brief stop at Negative Nellyland. All aboard the Wayback: toot, toot.

In the past couple of years, five new genres have taken over US underground clubs — all with wriggly roots in Europe and Canada. (If you’re looking to read any entrails about America’s loss of influence in the world, check out our lube-slip grip on global dance floors.) These genres are the following: minimal techno, a brainy but often stunning strip-down of the much-maligned techno beast; dubstep, with its post-postcolonial fusion of reggae, two-step, bhangra, and more; retro disco, summoning the shimmering ghosts of gay bathhouse, italo disco, and other pre-digital ’70s and ’80s micro-movements; lazer bass — or “bastard bass,” or “psychedelic robo-crunk remix action” — the blippy, bowel-shaking deconstruction of chart-prevalent hip-hop.

And then, of course, there’s hardcore electro.

Honestly, hardcore electro — and the glam-slam banger scene that grew up around it — can sometimes bug the bejesus out of me. The genre has mind-blowing aspects: thumping energy, quick-witted mixing, exhilarating stuttered vocals, old-school breakdowns, and key-skipping basslines. I was raised rave, so its primo combo of mannered anarchy and DJ worship — along with its genre-bending conflagration of metal, crunk, acid, and techno — is right up my tender alley. Bring the noise.

Yet there’s something a little too “party like a rockstar” about it. With its accompanying over-the-top neon-hipster look (attack of the sunglass tees!), sex-obsessed provocations, and fist-pumping non-dance moves, hardcore electro is the new hair metal. The banger kids I’ve met are all lovely and motivated, and in the right DJ hands — Richie Panic, Vin Sol — the mix can achieve perfection, cheekily blasting stadium-size sounds to an up-to-the-minute crowd. But there’s sometimes a shallow, for-the-cameras sheen to the scene — mirroring the often robotic, often black-faced “let’s get fucked up and fuck” lyrics spat from the speakers. Sad face.

Plus, no one ever STFUs about goddamned Justice.

OK, look, I’m no hater — do you see any frown lines on this immaculate face? Thought not. If 10,000 people wanna throw on electric-blue shutter shades and American Apparel tube socks and lose their shit to two smirking French dudes, I’m all for it. I may even join ’em. But if I get one more MySpace friend request from a DJ tag team in Spiderman masks who fall on their knees before Justice, I’m gonna hurl coconuts. Can we get a little originality on the runway, s’il vous plaît?

Justice — superstars of the Ed Banger label, for which the banger scene’s named — are OK. Any politically savvy decks duo that flawlessly drops “Master of Puppets” and “Standing in the Way of Control” into ear-splitting, ADD sets gets my vote. They’re wicked smart, too: the hilariously grandiose symbol-title of their first album, is the ascii symbol for dagger — an Internet-based irony perfect for our religiously warring times, and one surely expected from the two sharp former graphic designers. They don’t wear masks, whew, and I can’t totally blame them for the look and feel of their scene.

So why do Justice make my snobby shit list? First, they overreach, in that tired rock-star DJ way: their stadium tour of this country was partly downscaled in the face of poor ticket sales. Plus, their poker-faced religious bombast act is too one-note to enjoy, and their first major US TV appearance, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, was a lip-synch of their welcome-worn-out-quickly hit “D.A.N.C.E.” performed by Michael Jackson and Prince look-alikes — a cynical joke that turned the song’s utopian lyrics (“Under the spotlight / Neither black nor white”) into a racial minefield and completely underestimated the audience. I realize Justice gets a wry giggle from such overblown deflation — that’s so French — but I can’t afford enough flip-flops to go with all their tacky punch lines. Mean ol’ rock stars.

Then, where is the love? Surely you’ve heard of “the love”? It’s enshrined in the House Nation constitution, the underlying sentiment of dance music from the dawns of disco and house through the second Summer of Love exactly 20 years ago — and still running under the floors of many clubs today. I’m not a metaphysical person. One body’s enough for me, thank you. Well, maybe three on the weekend. But even I can feel the spiritual dimension of dance, the slightly corn-tinted, otherworldly glow of souls united in motion. Love is the message.

Sure, Justice promised that “We are your friends / You’ll never be alone again” with their friends Simian in the undisputed juggernaut mix of ’06. But it came off as more snide than divine. Their shows get too hyper for full transcendence: more cool than heat, more status than soul. And Justice’s horrifying misstep of a video for “Stress,” which follows a group of youths as they rob and beat random Parisians (yes, I get that it boldly activated European fears of “the other,” but, bleh), sets the banger aesthetic up as the nihilistic opposite of love, while desperately lunging for punk-rock street cred. Boring!

But maybe unblinking devotion to “the love” is an outdated, pre-Internet means of global dance floor connection and validation — and something those of us glowsticking it with Big Bird in the pre-Dubya years had the fortunate leisure to indulge in and mystify. Maybe now thrashing out with like minds to an aggro blizzard of metal samples and jittery synths — and looking good doing it — is the perfect escape pod: dance-floor justice, for these apocalyptic times. Maybe.