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2011: The Rave Returns | reviews, news & interviews

2011: The Rave Returns

2011: The Rave Returns

Back to the dancefloor in Croatia and Catalonia

Outlook Festival: scientifically proven to be 7,000 times more fun than a Coldplay gigMarc Sethi

Against all the odds, I find myself going into 2012 with a strong sense of optimism. And the reason? I am a born-again rave zealot. I saw it at Outlook Festival in Croatia, I saw it at Sónar in Barcelona, and I saw it at the Big Chill where I was running a stage; participatory, constructive, creative partying, where the crowds go not just to be entertained but to plug into something bigger, to be part of something.

Now, I love Kanye West's music with all my heart, but the sight of his latest whining pseudo-breakdown on stage at the Big Chill just seemed like the latest peeling away of the superstar ego that's been going on since rock's heyday in the 1970s, revealing the pathetic cringing ninny inside; do we need buffoons like him, Bono or Chris "Keep Calm And Carry On" Martin as ambassadors of our culture? Even Lady Gaga's sheen has faded this year, and the charts have been as bad as I can remember (LMFAO, anyone?), so while pop eats itself once again, I'm going to be over there in the corner by the bassbin.

Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek of Africa HitechThe highlights of the year are far too many to list. Most obviously, dubstep's push into the mainstream was complete; but it was in the spaces between genres that the real joy lay. If 2010 was the year club/electronic music dug in and spread out, 2011 was the year that spread became a flood. Albums by Zomby, Silkie, Kuedo, Rustie, Africa Hitech (pictured right), Damu, King Midas Sound, Zed Bias, Machinedrum, Goth Trad, Kode 9 & The Spaceape, Pinch & Shackleton and many more made it as good a year for mavericks and misfits as I can remember. And that's before we get to the singles and EPs on labels like Butterz, Tectonic, Swamp81, Numbers, Deep Medi Muzik, Hyperdub, Planet Mu, Diskotopia, LuckyMe, Hoya:Hoya, Brainfeeder, NonPlus, Hum & Buzz, Triangulum... every one of them putting out records that are not one-note space-case background sound but vivid, inventive, modernist music with a party in its pocket and ants in its pants.

Of course there was plenty of value going on besides electronic sounds – there isn't space to even hint at how varied and vibrant music has been in 2011, despite (or maybe even because of) the fact that the industry is no longer the decadent beast it once was. But down on the dancefloor is where I saw people with the finest outlook, the most to say for themselves and an unquenchable desire to do what they do for the love of it – and in these miserable times, I'll have some of that, thanks.

2011 Highlight: the sound of Quest and Silkie – mixing the rawest of bass with the slickest of soul on a monumental scale – booming out under summer skies in the shadow of a 19th-century beachside fortress in Croatia at Outlook. That or discovering that my not-yet-two-year-old son is obsessed with The Eagles and Al Green.

2011 Letdown: That the energy and manpower spent in putting together huge parties couldn't also bring people together to protest the destruction of the NHS.

2012 Recommendation: Swindle – the young Croydon producer / multi-instrumentalist is rooted deeply in Britain's rave history and in soul and funk, yet produces gleeful sounds that are completely of the now... after watching my friends repeatedly laugh with disbelief at the barmy invention of his tracks at the Big Chill I have no doubt that he will do immense things.

Watch Swindle's "Mood Swings" video (contains strobing images):

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