As I mentioned above, I wanted to use the notes section this week to write up a sort of review of Caspar’s book It’s A London Thing
. Despite the fact that I regularly bang on about books, I’ve never really done a book review before, so go easy on me. I’ve been following Casper on Twitter
for a while now, and when he started talking about his upcoming book covering the threads between rare groove, acid house, and jungle, I got really excited
While there are lots of books that cover electronic music, jungle rarely gets a proper mention, and acid house usually gets the ‘four lads went to Ibiza and then set up Shoom’ treatment. As for rare groove, well, beyond Snowboy’s From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz: The History Of The UK Jazz Dance Scene, there aren’t very many books that cover rare groove at all (and even Snowboy covers it glancingly). Unsurprisingly given the title, the book covers each genre in relation to London too – which, in my eyes, gives it even greater appeal. Melville dedicates whole chapters to each genre, but more importantly, demonstrates the threads (and people) that connect all three – demonstrating how the windrush generation (and to an extent its exclusion from white, traditional leisure and cultural spaces) created much of the culture that makes London special today.
The emergence of a black music culture of course has roots in the 1950s and 60s, but Melville carefully pieces together a much more comprehensive story than ‘genre one evolved to become genre two’. He shows how the impact of geography and cultural spaces, racism and explicitly racist politics, and the increasing combining of black and white cultures created an environment whereby a new, and incredibly important culture could evolve.
The fact that something so foundational to today’s music culture could emerge from such restrictive and racist beginnings is nothing short of extraordinary. A real revelation for me (and a definite moment of having to check my privilege) was Melville explaining how many of the ‘genesis’ stories in dance music tend to obscure black artists and producers – either positioning them as part of a white cultural movement, or (worse) removing them from the history all together. For example, many rare groove clubs (and in fact some of the most lionised) operated racist door policies, limiting or banning entry of black people – with no sense of irony that the music being played (and in some cases performed) was music from black culture.
In It’s A London Thing, Melville takes the best of what makes Stuart Cosgrove’s books great (a broad view of a culture), combines it with a Hebdige-esque attention to the critical theory that sits behind the mechanics of how cultures evolve, and brings his own passion and flair for the music itself. The book is peppered with first person accounts (including the authors personal experiences), and draws in references from a broad range of perspectives from classical theorists like Stuart Hall and Dick Hebdige, to modern academics that are actively involved in black music culture like Nabeel Zuberi and Kodwo Eshun.
What I found most amazing, was the sense that what Melville describes has impacted on how he’s written the book itself – the book is jam-packed with interesting references, and links to other writers work. In many ways, Melville feels like an artist bringing in new ideas and refreshing old ideas to create something brand new, that resonates, and that helps push the culture forwards. Just like Fabio and Grooverider did at RAGE, he isn’t just replaying old stories, but instead creating new ideas that will hopefully go on to change the way that people think about culture.
I finished reading it last weekend, and yet the ideas that Melville presents are still reverberating around my head now. I’m still trawling back through my endless notes, and the reading list that I’ve started to make from his references in the book is one that excites me. This, for me, is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time.