DJ Culture

Author:Ulf Poschardt
Publisher:Quartet Books

Ulf Poschardt's DJ Culture is a surprisingly useful survey history of cut 'n paste sonic lifestyles, although you'll have to head to to buy this if you don't live in Europe. Most of the 439-pages are rehashed from earlier, ostensibly better books, but Poschardt has collated these disparate strands into an fairly comprehensive chronicle whose on-page footnotes will steer you to further readings. The prose style is easily readable, vibrant subject matter keeps the book engaging, and a wealth of anecdotes and asides gleaned from magazines round out the research.

DJ Culture opens into a formidable pre-history and concludes with a sophomoric attempt to apply critical theory to his overall findings. If you seek razor-sharp theoretical breakdowns of the breakbeat, turn to Tricia Rose, Paul Gilroy, Kodwo Eshun, Greg Tate, and Paul Miller. Bookends aside, the majority of this work is downright meaty, whether it's documenting New York City's groundbreaking black gay disco scene or Berlin's infamous Love Parade, which transforms the city into a mobile rave once a year. The most obvious weakness is Poschardt's rushed treatment of techno's inception: it began as a black, working-class music in Detroit, and the pioneers-Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and others-maintain a revered and highly influential status to this day, even among the second-generation European techno-producers whom the author focuses on instead.

Unfortunately, the German writer inherits his homeland's long legacy of dubiously ethnocentric inquiry, as well as a heavy dose of canon anxiety — how else to explain his constant efforts to align DJ culture with traditional 20th century avant-gardes (Dadaism, Situationalism) and the writings of seminal Enlightenment and Poststructuralist European intellectuals? These historiographic couplings are forced, even elementary at times. With a typical clumsiness, Poschardt concludes DJ Culture — a survey of technical and sonic innovation carried out largely by blacks in the U.S., Britain, and Jamaica — with a quote from Hegel's Philosophy of History. Yup, that's the same book in which Hegel argues that the absence of writing in African cultures was a manifestation of their innate inferiority.

But the DJ ethos has always been to innovate on the best and rarest audio information using every available means. And, like a good DJ, you should mix your way through this book by turning the tables on Poschardt's second-rate pontifications and extracting the best from his well-researched histories.