Simon Reynolds on Wonky and Ketamine in the Guardian. It is clear from the change in tone and content between Reynolds’ initial responses to Wonky and this piece that he cannot quite fit it into a pre-exiting pro-forma schema. The latest piece posits a speculative association between the psychedelic disassociative anaesthetic and the emerging transversal non-genre, one which lies firmly within what must be termed the narcomaterialist tradition of music writing, one recently lambasted heavily by DJ Rupture here. The narcomaterialist perspective is one which will be familiar to any avid reader of the UK music press (particularly the rock press), and it commonly reduces entire genres, albums, artists, to their particular associated narcotic intake- Bowie’s Station to Station, for example, will be talked about as a “cocaine album”, with little attention paid to the specificities of its production beyond that. Whilst drug-use inevitably has some role to play with certain artists (indeed of course Bowie was consuming an inhuman quantity of the stimulant in the mid-1970s) and certainly was an element within the assemblage-network in the earlier years of dance music, narcomaterialism is all too often greatly overstated, without significant empirical verification, and operates as a way to conceptualise and write about abstract shifts in musical production and consumption patterns in an overly-intuitive fashion. Often writers from an English Lit background, with little grasp of how to describe music itself, reach towards narcotic-metaphor to enable an easy indexing of the qualities of a piece of music (for example the description of Villalobos-style mnml technohouse as “Ketamine house” used the drug as a metaphor which conveys a certain linearity, an anaesthetic lostness of extreme repetition and track/set length combined with a psychedelic pulsating textural edge). But the pop-nowness of wonky seems out of step with the descriptions of Ketamine experiences (frequently involving in its deeper “k-hole” stages a total disconnect from reality and abstract mind-tunnel transport).
Reynolds, unlike many of his fellow music journalists, has always been able to describe music in exquisite synaesthesic detail, and hence his falling back upon a narcomaterialist analysis is not due to laziness or an inability to engage with sonic materiality. I suspect its temptations come for him because of the way in which his speculative (nay fictitious) wonky-K relation enables him to return to the mythic era of rave where a direct drug-dancer-music interaction was more explicitly apparent. It is true that a sonic-theory-fiction or hyperstitional narrative need not be immediately empirically accurate in order to have a certain currency, a productive power perhaps, but what is clear here is that Reynolds’ speculations act simply to slot the new (wonky as non-genre) into a pre-existing paradigm. Of course we ought not to necessarily take the words of the producers and DJs at face value (who often seek to undermine the role of agency of the dancefloor in favour of their own auteurship by denying any link to drug use). Indeed in earlier times the link between cerebral Apollonian producer/DJs (for example in the first wave of Detroit Techno) and drug-guzzling Dionysian dancers played an absolutely key role in the evolution of the music. However there have been significant changes in patterns of drug consumption and drug-pop culture interaction, with the singular veneration of one substance (Ecstasy predominantly in the formative years of electronic dance music culture) shifting to a more orgiastic poly-drug consumption- where the effects and affects of a specific drug are erased in favour of a combinatorial fug- alcohol, MDMA, amphetamines, cocaine, ketamine, along with various legals and experimental chemicals, some deployed together, some deployed individually but in a heterogeneous fashion across the makeup of the dancefloor. This crucially undermines any direct and obvious synergies which might develop, since each has markedly distinct consequences. Drug use has clearly shifted from a kind of Eucharist-like specificity towards a generic intoxication, perhaps concomitant with a broader consumerisation of underground dance music.