Considering the variety of electronic music and dance music history books coming out these days, it would be easy to be overwhelmed and misinformed. The main problem with most books about electronic music is usually the distance between the writer and the music. So rarely are the facts put together in a way that reflects the true essence of the music, it’s very difficult for most to grasp the myriad of concepts that drive electronic music, let alone invent the language to accurately describe them (and for true language-invention fans, be sure to seek out Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant than the Sun). So, for today’s course, I’ve chosen four books that were written by insiders and true enthusiasts of the cultures they represent.
Kraftwerk: I Was a Robot, by Wolfgang Flur, Sanctuary Publishing, $20
The members of Kraftwerk were among the first artists to achieve a powerful symmetrical balance between craftsmanlike pop and electronic production, kitsch and austerity, fluid funk and the ultimate in restraint, so much so they preferred to perform on stage via robotic likenesses of themselves. For some in Detroit, Kraftwerk is almost a religion; it is taken incredibly seriously, and its wall of myth has been almost impenetrable. Until now.
Finally we get a chance to look behind the curtain and see Kraftwerk as it really was: artistic German brats who, much like the artists they inspired, were total dogs. “I would have dearly loved to have got to know an Indian woman and tried out the Kama Sutra with her,” says Flur in his diary of the group’s first Asian tour. Flur spent some 20-plus years as the pretty boy in Kraftwerk and this book makes for a fantastic humanizing story of the robots, so much so that legal action was taken by members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider to stop the publishing of this book.
Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco, by Alan Jones and Jussi Kantonen, Acappella Books, $16.95
With the abundance of sketchy books on the history of disco and DJ culture (anybody make it through Last Night a DJ Saved My Life?), this book is a rare glimmer of hope. Co-written by a man who lived through the most hedonistic days of disco in NYC and the disco-dancing champion from Finland(!?), the enthusiasm herein is inescapable. It’s filled with exciting lists and facts pertaining to everything disco put together in perfect ’70s neon graphic style, really capturing the energy and attitude of the era. This alternate telling of the story of disco has all the facts right from the best producers (sections on Giorgio Moroder and Patrick Adams are included) to a detailed guide to disco drugs (“Quaaludes: for that ‘Are my legs cemented to the floor or what?’ feeling.”)
What Kind of House Party is This?, by Jonathan Fleming, Mind In You, $50
This oversized, poorly designed, expensive British import would have never caught my attention had I not been offered the opportunity to flip through its pages. Any hesitation I had about the book was quickly swept away as I found numerous interviews with many key figures of Chicago house, Detroit techno, New York garage-era disco and modern deep house, as well as numerous well-known UK DJs and producers. The real value of this book is its interview format, where the artists tell the story from their own perspectives. They’re unusually earnest and enthusiastic in their telling of many well-known electronic music legends from the people that created them, straightening out so many distortions that develop from oral history. This book induced numerous epiphanies for me, and it’s truly a must-have.
All Music Guide to Electronica, AMG/Backbeat Books, $24.95
Here’s a thorough but ever-growing electronic encyclopedia (check them out online at allmusic.com), with attention given to genres as well as numerous detailed artist listings (with entries ranging from Aphex Twin to UR to Iannis Xenakis). Having it all on paper makes for a very valuable resource. It’s a valuable reference book for all electronic music enthusiasts.E-mail Pitch’d at email@example.com