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Electronic Dance Music Revived: A New Era of the St Andrews "Sesh"

The track organ pulsates. It’s a drumbeat heart, and its reverberations wash a psychic soothe over the animated crowd. Time slows to a haze as energetic hi-hats dissipate in the involuntary spasms of those possessed by the beat. Heart rates climb, catalysed by disposable vape nicotine, and mimic the track’s beat. The corners of my vision, already soaked in the cardinal lighting — and muffled with smoke — disintegrate into the white heat of the speakers' solar frequencies. Liquid drum and bass melt the crowd into a blurry singularity: a collective consciousness. Acid techno materialises from the setlist like a sucker punch, engaging a bile duct already under assault by cheap beer and watered-down coke and vodka. Descending on the deck pulpit, the DJ collectives have set alight the Vic’s red-lit backroom into a brutalist acid chapel for Haus Arrest.

The United Kingdom’s Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene appeared spiritually dead in the mid-2000s with the release of Burial’s self-titled album, and again as events shut down in 2020 over the threat of the pandemic. The scene in St Andrews withered up. However, over the past year, old and new DJs and their collectives have resuscitated the culture, resurrecting venues like Madras Rugby club and The Vic. The rise of DJ groups like ‘Amen’, ‘Danceworm’, and ‘Behave’ has rekindled the flame of university nightlife. They are ushering in, with external professionals, a new era of St Andrews ‘sesh.’

It is necessary to briefly account for EDM’s conflicting history to explain the kind of sound that echoes over the three streets of St Andrews on a night out. EDM spewed out of The Man-Machine in 1978. German pioneers Kraftwerk produced the album using synths, drum machines, and vocoders. Yet unlike their contemporaries, who sought to replicate real instruments, Kraftwerk used their synths to create a sound composed of distortions and splicing, reference and replication, and equivalent audio exchange. It was a kind of alchemy. It peaked at nine on the UK album charts in 1982. Meanwhile, in 1982, Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock metamorphosed Kraftwerk’s 1977 track Trans-Europe Express from its minimalist, melodic, electronic sound to an electro-pop hip-hop hop record, laying groundwork for what Frank Owens, a writer at Spin, calls “new dance music”. The movement that Planet Rock generated, along with dance samples from disco that were adopted by American rappers to help create hip-hop, has been imported into the UK since the late 80s.

With the influence of hip-hop, the UK rave scene developed around subgenres like ‘breakbeat hardcore,’ a kind of electronic rave music that spawned in the 90s. But the ecstasy of the 80s soon sobered into a headache-inducing comedown. Government councils sought to suppress rave culture. Gregory Coleman’s 1969 drum solo, the “amen break”, slowed. Records like Lennie De-Ice’s We Are I.E began to dominate the seas of pirate radio, infiltrating traditional major labels like Sony and BMG. The syncopated beats of jungle moved away from reggae tunes and became drum and bass, abstracting the industrial sounds of techstep and the ordered chaos of Jazz.

But that history is also contested. Another narrative is that EDM was brewed in the 1960s and 70s in the dub reggae remixes of producers like Osbourne "King Tubby" Ruddock, Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Errol Thompson. And there are also likely hundreds of hardcore continuum subgenres not explained or given worthy praise. But the important thing is that all this music, and the culture associated with it, were autopsied in the early 2000s through the artist ‘Burial’’s self-titled first album.

Burial’s low-fidelity crackling tracks are haunted by vocal skitter and subdued bass that political theorist Mark Fisher describes as “burned-out cars remembering the noise they once made”. Fisher says that Burial's album is a terminal diagnosis of the London scene. He likens the album to a tracking shot from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterwork Stalker, in which the catalyst of the film’s narrative — an object that materialises your greatest desire — is discarded.

But Fisher’s vision was wrong. Burial’s sobering afterparty was not a precursor to a hanging walk home from UK rave culture. And the continued health of the UK’s four-decade hardcore bender is shown in the resurgence of DJ collectives, the birth of new groups, and general growth in St Andrews’ EDM scene. St Andrew's Wax Rooms Collective” started in 2016, cancelled their collaboration with Scottish producer Cranko Pop in 2020 over pandemic-related safety concerns. It didn’t return to St Andrews until June 2022, when they blew out Madras Rugby Club with RETURNING SELECTAS, featuring former resident Tom Hurst. June Wax Collective has since been working to revitalise the scene.

Returning to Madras in September, the collective hosted grime and garage aficionado ‘Reyka,’ who had previously performed at St Andrews nightlife monolith and EDM staple ‘Szentek.’ And last November, Wax Collective drew in subgenres like ‘Donk,’ Oldskool, and ‘Nightcore’ with the founder of Glasgow’s FAST MUZIK events, Joey Mousepads, to bring in Lucky Twice sped up, while on an apparent cocktail of pink glitter and ketamine, to St Andrews.

Amen collective’s iconoclastic aesthetics resurrect the esoteric symbolism of Catholic and Orthodox worship, drawing a likeness between the experience of religious divinity and that of EDM's transcendental synth trances. With high vibrations and low sub-bass frequencies, Amen’s decks become a pulpit from which DJs preach their rhythmic litanies to a fervent mosh pit congregation. The set sermon is a kind of salvation, in the basement hymnal ravers escape their material surroundings in a sonic mass religious hysteria.

Amen collective’s mix was released in September last year, making its dwelling among us in a haze of jungle beats, garage tracks, and ghetto tunes with Amen X St Andrews Surf’s ‘ICONOCLAST’. Then, Amen collective collaborated again with Surf society to host ‘HOLYFIELDS’, a packed two-room flat party detonating like a “holy hand grenade” of drum & bass and deep house. Following this collective continued to expand running an open decks beach party on West Sands and two further Madras Rugby Club ceremonies: ‘ANTIOCH’, a “polyrhythmic blessing” of “eclectic sounds'' at the beginning of this term, and their latest event, ‘SCHISM’, a techno heavy night with external DJs ‘ZipLock’, ‘Bessel’, and ‘Neb’.

Amen collective’s resident roster is interesting, with Djs such as co-manager ‘Tim’, who began mixing in first year, playing events all over town including at DON'T WALK student charity fashion events.

In terms of his techno-trance sound ‘Tim’ stated in a post by fellow collective Danceworm: “I began diving more into the genre of slower 4/4 techno, mixed with jungle/dnb inspired rhythms”, saying that “this in, combination with JUICY SELEKTA’s Welcome to London, made for some really fun mixing as the songs transition between OG techno two-stepping and some wilder rhythms.”

Playing with Amen since July last year, DJ Mowgli has been playing weekly in the collective’s setlists and at DON'T WALK. With a track list including melodic techno, liquid drum & bass, and breaks. Mowgli’s mixes include records with the 90’s acid techno’s high resonance Roland TB-303 synth sounds, discovered in the Chicago acid house movement, and the downtempo of chill-out room four-on-the-floor beats from ambient house.

The other recently emerging collective, Danceworm, likes to dance. Its MS-painted talisman is a self-described “metaphysically inconsistent and phenomenologically bewildering” “unholy union” of worm and dance. With its whimsical invertebrate aesthetic, the collective wiggled from the soil to expose St Andrews to their “poisoned, despicable minds” in March 2022. Its first event ‘Fruitella’, a collaboration with record shop le freak records, comprised a raucous carnival of funk and disco. Since then, Danceworm has been collaborating around and opening up the student DJ scene to a jumbled garden of abstract and groovy sounds.

‘Waxworm’ in January saw the collective collaborating with St Andrews’ Wax Rooms, and DJs such as Wok, Van, and “worm boss” DJ Tambo dragging the hardcore continuum to Aikmans’ basement bar. The Basement’s urinals are still headed with “F*ck DJ Wok” scrawled in permanent marker. Also, on the 6th Danceworm is inching into the Vic for an “eclectic evening filled with funk, breaks, acid, bass, footwork, and 160s.” with ‘POLLINATE’. A collaboration with GRDN featuring London-based producer DJ Bastard, label boss of Hyperdome records, and connoisseur of the early 2000s ghetto house derivation footwork (juke).

Outside of hosting nights out, Danceworm has impacted the St Andrews scene, and St Andrews’ traffic, with its YouTube series Driveworm. Student DJs such as VYV-ROB, Tin Foil, Tim, and Cold Hippie perform sets on decks in the backseat of a “worm-mobile”, or outside with the impressive visuals of “motherworm” DJ Squish’s mountainside mix. Amen collective resident DJ Wok takes the backseat in Driveworm 003 to fry up some donk and hard trance with a splicing of Christmas jingles and Vengaboys. In Driveworm 002 Behave collective’s DJ C. Kelp brings hip-hop back to EDM in a factual funk seminar, gifting the humble listener a sea of kelp knowledge. And, escaping the driver’s seat, DJ Tambo, the head of Danceworm, brings potent drum machine beats and tracks from the Manchester underground, mixing records from Kultra collective.

Workshops like ‘Laundry Club’ have also been expanding the scene. Hosted by a collection of St Andrews collectives — Danceworm, Wax collective, Szentek, and Amen collective — ‘Laundry club’ seeks specifically to give opportunities for female and non-binary students to learn mixing basics. The Workshop had its second workshop ‘Vol.2’ in February with significant interest, and potentially its participants will come to be the next mix masters of St Andrews electronic nightlife.

‘Coming to a basement near you’.

Illustration: Clodagh Earl

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