Wail of a tale

Reporting from the scene of the crime

EVERY FEW YEARS I find myself revisiting the same topic: Moby. It seems every time techno's affectionately-titled "little idiot" puts out another album, one more aspect of electronic music/culture gets the chance to be scrutinized.
At first Moby made music (early singles "Go," "Next Is the E," etc.) only ravers liked. Then he made music (first album Everything Is Wrong) ravers and critics liked. Then he made music (Animal Rights) nobody seemed to like. Then he made music (James Bond theme, assorted other theme songs/film scores collected on I Like to Score) moviegoers liked. So what's Moby done wrong now? Well, he made music (Play) that everybody could like. So, thanks to Moby, let's scrutinize the commercialization of electronic music/culture.
I received an e-mail recently that proclaimed "club to death = death to scene." I couldn't decide if I was insulted or elated that someone had asked me not to "sell our scene." To think that simply by giving electronic music/culture a little exposure I have the power to destroy an entire subculture; it was quite an ego boost. After a minute of staring into space, imagining what my stormtroopers would wear as they raided the Atrium, or maybe the North Atlanta Trade Center if I amassed enough of an army, I realized there was one fatal flaw in my plan: I have no real way to convert the masses, not like Moby.?Play has gone platinum on the strength of its steady stream of singles and placement in every commercial that's been produced since licensing deals with Fatboy Slim ran out. And Moby, I want to praise you like I should. Play is an album that deserves to live up to its name. Consistently catchy, Play combines all the elements Moby has worked so hard to tweak since the Move EP and presents them in easy to swallow three-minute addictive doses. So I braved the Tabernacle to check out Moby's tour for the third time this year.
Not only has the Moby stage show gotten progressively tighter, so have the hallways, as crowds have increased on account of the strength and ubiquitous nature of Play. The lights are perfectly timed to accentuate the already emotional atmosphere. And Moby's opening act, Hybrid, were spectacular, really getting me invigorated with their symphonic breakbeats.
While I was there, however, I noticed that the majority of the audience was not the type of electronic music fan to which I'm accustomed. The clothes were tight as the beats, but not as good for dancing. There were a lot of voices raised, but no hands tracing patterns in the air. It didn't feel like a party. It didn't feel like part of "the scene." No, it just felt like a good time.
Somehow over the course of a decade of making great music, Moby has lost a lot of the ravers that first bought his albums. Why? Moby didn't get where he is because he sold a lot of records, he sold a lot of records because he got where he is. And like any artist, Moby got a lot of fans from it, both good and bad.
I'm in no way fond of himbos in muscle T's and cowboy hats bumping into me as they perilously carry 10 Miller wide-mouths. And I'm downright frightened by the thought of a capacity crowd attempting to get down narrow staircases in the event of an emergency. But I also hate glowing objects on 10-foot strings flying toward my face and tripping over other people's pantlegs dragging dust clouds like some character from post-apocalyptic "Peanuts." And no matter where I am, I really hate backpacks. Little backpacks. Big backpacks. Furry backpacks. I can be at a party or just in the mall and some school kid will walk in front of me wearing a backpack, and I'll hate it.
Point is, there are negative aspects to every crowd. But damn, sometimes I have to put up with that shit because I like the music (or I might need to go to the mall for some socks). Who cares if the majority of the people at the Tabernacle for the Moby show weren't card-carrying members of "the scene," or that they found out about electronic music through Moby, or this column. I, for one, am glad that Moby - and to some extent this column - exists to gently introduce the uninitiated-but-curious, and to potentially confuse and filter out the quickly disinterested. I didn't happen to stumble on raves in the early '90s by myself. Somebody showed them to me, and I thank them for it.
A "scene" is simply a line of sight. Some people have visions, other people are nearsighted. Get a group of people together who see a lot of the same things, you've got a scene. Some people call guys who simply spin records "God," collect all their mix CDs but forego a truly performing artist with live band like Moby. Other people don't know who Sasha is but have rare Moby imports and like to hear "death metal intros to disco songs." Commercialism isn't going to kill the scene. What's going to kill the scene is not seeing the good that comes from letting genuinely interested, albeit new, maybe different, people in, not circling the wagons.
If you criticize the vibe, you weren't there. Everybody was having a good time. It was a near sell-out, but nobody got sold out. It was a cool scene to witness. I hope they push Play again.