I’ve always hated dance music. When the genre embedded itself into the national psyche back in the mid-nineties I was working at the Aldeburgh Festival in East Suffolk, eight miles from the nearest train station and thirty miles away from the nearest nightclub. The club scene passed me by. How did Radio 1’s Ibiza Prom change my view?
Wednesday night’s Radio 1 Ibiza Prom was a glorious affair. As someone who was terrified of the onslaught of dance music in the mid-nineties, the concert (or was it a gig or some kind of gathering?) introduced me to the music all my contemporaries went mad for twenty years before. If I had had a tricky relationship with the music then, the intervening years had helped soften its brutal impact and smooth out my nerves. Last night we became friends.
I listened to every single orchestrated mix with soaring strings and fat brass chords with an unexpected sense of euphoria. And I did that at 10.15 last night, 10.00 this morning, midday and 3 this afternoon. At 4.30 this afternoon I was waving my arms in the air like a clubber.There is, I now realise, an easy explanation for this, one which would have been shielded from us middle class Middle Englanders who had been led to believe that dance music was the soundtrack to drug-induced fatalities. Clubs, raves and those esoteric private parties I heard other people being invited to were either weird, slightly disconnected from reality or dangerous. They were hosted in alienating venues where the only thing you’d want from the bar was a bottle of water. Pumped men stripped to the waist with their t-shirts neatly hanging from their back pockets made clubs altogether intimidating places. This was the dance scene I saw. I sought embarrassed solace in the sticky-floored nightclubs of downtown Ipswich where the playlist was resolutely Abba hits.
My perception of, and reaction to, dance music wasn’t based in any kind of reality. Rather it was based on a media narrative pedalled by scaremongers in the mid 90s. Some of us swallowed it.
I’ve long thought club scene and dance music wasn’t for me. Listening to last night’s Prom I heard something entirely different. Reliable beats, pedal notes and endless seventh notes for a start created just enough tension to make resolution not just a possibility but a euphoria-filled guarantee. Not only that, I was surprised that I recognised quite so many ‘choons’. Was this dance music-lite or have I responded more favourably to dance music than I’ve previously given myself credit for?There was a joyousness in the Royal Albert Hall rooted in the music and reflected by the adoring crowd. It is always an incredible moment when the hall’s USP becomes obvious – the collective spirit of an enthralled audience evident in an appreciative roar or cheer. The event brought a different kind of smile to my face and quite unexpectedly, I felt a part of what was going on even though I hadn’t attended in person.
For me, what makes all the more remarkable is that it felt to me as though I was experiencing its joy for the first time in the same way friends and acquaintances who had attended had experienced it the first time they heard it years ago.I have a proven track record of being late to the party, so I’m not unduly surprised it took me twenty years to finally arrive at this one. What pleases me the most is knowing that another group of people have experienced the unique experience of a Prom. Whilst some define the season by the genre it has come to be most recognised by, I’m seeing it more and more as a combination of audience, venue and season.
Like any other music festival in the world, there are moments when the comparatively straight-laced elements let their hair down, kick back and have some fun. Those moments in other festivals have always felt incredibly inclusive to me, injecting variety into proceedings and introducing a relaxed vibe for an evening. The same happened last night at the Ibiza Prom.
A very special night.