It’s safe to assume that if you know me you know that my beloved genre of music is of the electronic variety in all its tastes, perversions, and styles. What brought me back to thinking about it to the point of writing about it was finding this small booklet – a guide to electronic music I grabbed from a Tower Records down in the Village back when I was thirteen. The booklet’s introduction started with the description of an imaginary slide reel that starts with Morse and continues onto Marconi, and then to Theremin before ending with the sound of the Windows operating system. There’s a fun fact about that last part: ambient music virtuoso Brian Eno composed the Windows 95 opening chime – you can hear it slowed down 23 times here.
That booklet intro failed to sink into me back then, seeing as I had no idea who Theremin was. I just flipped through the pages until I reached the section on big beat. That style was the one I first listened to when my sister would play New York radio station K-Rock’s Solid State electronic show on Saturday nights. It was crazy for hear the station switch from Nirvana and grunge ad nauseam as well as a metric crap-ton of U2 to repetitive but mesmerizing sounds with vocals and rock chords that tethered me to the songs.
The first song I heard that had that combination was “Block Rockin’ Beats” by The Chemical Brothers. Big sister had a CD single of the song that she played on repeat some nights. The introductory bass line pounded into my head again and again. She eventually purchased the entire album it was from– Dig Your Own Hole – and I could not stop listening to it. She started switching it up to other big band acts like The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, but I loved that album to death. Anytime I would hear snippets of their songs in promos and commercials I freaked out – quietly, if I was around my hood schoolmates. The eventual over-saturation of big beat songs did not bother either me or my sister, but we did start going through other paths of electronic music. Still, I cannot help but feel some child-like happiness every time I hear Dig Your Own Hole, and “Block Rockin’ Beats” is a staple on any playlist, mp3 player, and now smartphone that I have ever owned. That song sealed my fate as a disciple to electronic music.
Well, I was not completely sealed. I had not danced to it yet.
My sister started going to concerts a few years later. Somehow, through the grace of God or from my parent’s obliviousness to her taste in music, she took me and my brother to one in September of 1999. It was a school night and she got us tickets to a Chemical Brothers show at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. I was twelve at the time, wearing my “best” street clothes and sneakers. The first thing I saw was this tall Brazilian woman waiting on line that had half her hair dyed white. My sister sparked up a conversation with an even-taller Irishman by the name of Damien that was cut short by the doors opening.
We found our way to a close spot to the left of the general admissions floor. Until that point I had not danced in any other way than to slow jams with girls I had crushes on at birthday parties, so when the opening act’s rapid BPM commenced I had no idea what to do. I learned many years later that the opener was trance DJ Paul Oakenfold. You may have heard of his work from that crappy song “Starry Eyed Surprise”, but I assure you his other work is superior. I tapped my feet to the beat while my sister danced with Damien the Irishman. Here I was, this short little Peruvian kid surrounded by a bunch of weird-looking white people dancing in ridiculous ways I had never seen before. So I did as the most likely drugged out New Yorkers in the crowd did and danced equally as silly. Of course I was very ashamed at first, especially since my brother was not dancing and he could use this as blackmail bait back at school. But when The Chemical Brothers showed up on stage, I stopped caring.
Their set began with this hypnotic male Indian voice repeating the word “surrender”, the name of the album they were on tour for. The opening song was “Hey Boy Hey Girl”, and I upped my crazy-dancing the very second it started. This was back when Tom Rowland, one of the Brothers, had long hair so I concentrated on him as he whipped it around while he fiddled with who-knows-what part of the equipment on stage. My head felt fuzzy from the contact high of the crowd’s weed. I do remember dancing in the middle of a circle with some other girls who pushed my dancing to weirder levels. It was a very real and amazing madness.
We got home around three in the morning, my ears ringing and dizzy, and woke up the next day at noon. Thanks to Hurricane Floyd closing school my brother and I had a safe recovery. The malaise stuck with me most of the next two days, but that show was an important revelation to me – I could sort-of dance and that the music I had listened to on the radio and my sister’s boom-box was infinitely cooler than I thought.