Dancefloor studies, feminism, and booty bass.

DJ Nephets in Paris, 18 May 2007

My prof, Henry Jenkins, just posted the most recent draft of an essay I am writing about the liberating potential of booty bass lyrics to his blog. Here’s a preview:

By reading the lyrics literally, I was ignoring their role inside the logic of dance music. If the dancefloor is a place where it is safe to move one’s body in unusual ways, perhaps it is also a space where the embodiment of the sex act can be exposed, toyed with, and manipulated.

This is just the beginning of a broader investigation of dancefloor mores and social structures. Truthfully, I hesitated when Henry asked if he could post the essay to his blog. I’m not particularly comfortable with the personal narrative and this is my first attempt at writing about the topic. I expected ridicule from some (EDIT: check!) and anger from others. I ultimately agreed, however, with the hope that exposing this project early on will highlight its weaknesses, help direct my research, and hopefully put me in touch with folks working in a similar space.

I’ve re-upped Follow The Sound with the DJ’s permission so you can actually HEAR the music I’m writing about. For the record, it is still my all-time favorite mixtape.

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7 Responses to “Dancefloor studies, feminism, and booty bass.”

  1. Benjamin Mako Hill Says:

    I dunno man. I’ve been to strip clubs twice. They played DJ Assault each time. In the one interview with DJ Assault I read, he discussed his huge popularity in sex clubs.

    Booty bass is not just playing around with the idea of the dance floor being highly sexualized. In practice, it’s about serving the sex market and all about glamorizing and making palatable, laughable, and perhaps even justifiable everything that happens in that market.

    Sometimes it’s not just about making fun of, toying with, or hinting at sexual domination in a safe context like the dancefloor but about creating, quite literally, a soundtrack for the real thing.

    Something to keep in mind, perhaps.

  2. Gavin Says:

    Hi Kevin, I read your post with a great interest, as I wrote my master’s thesis on ghettotech. I came to some of the same conclusions that you did on playful sexuality in the lyrics, though upon later reflection I think I have more reservations.

    First of all, the racial dimension of booty bass sexuality cannot be ignored, though you note it in a footnote. I think that saying the “vast majority” of booty bass is produced by blacks is overstating the case, since many of the major success stories — Disco D, DJ Godfather, DJ Nasty, Starski and Clutch, Bitch Ass Darius — are white, not to mention the hipster takes on it — Diplo, Flosstradamus, A-Trak, etc. I think that having an “ironized” reading of sexuality partially comes from the knowing play of signifiers of blackness on the part of white DJs, producers, and fans. Original ghetto house and ghetto tech were just “raw” sounding — the emphasis on dirty lyrics came into it after whites caught on and the scene needed a branded sound for export. Listen to DJ Assault’s first volume of Straight Up Detroit Shit — it’s mostly just sped up techno.

    The nature of sexuality at play is incredibly important as well. Disco and house were gay musics, or at least queer, and many of the important originators were gay men. Electronic music in general is seen in the U.S. as “gayer” than other types of music. During my ethnography for my thesis, I discovered that techno (made by straight black Detroiters) currently has a gay connotation in Detroit. Ghettotech and bootybass producers (all hetero) are quite consciously claiming dance music (their first love) for heterosexuality — they are not breaking down the walls of sexuality so much as shoring up a very traditional notion of heterosexuality, in tune with contemporary commodified sexuality such as porn and strip clubs. In effect, they are making dance music that allows audiences to NOT question their sexuality — they are comforting conservative hetero audiences. It is interesting, however, that the music seemed revolutionary to a liberal feminist such as yourself — I think that is worth considering further. To me, the queer and open sexual politics of disco are more revolutionary than the concentrated hetero domination in booty bass. In any case, I think we can safely say that the era in which flaunting bourgeois sexual values can be considered revolutionary is definitively over.

    [There is the question of camp: that if by exaggeration and repetition, ghettotech somehow deconstructs its own sexual position -- hard to say, and I haven't come to any definitive conclusions on this.]

    Pleasure complicates this, and booty bass has plenty of female fans, and even some female DJs. But we can’t forget that there is nothing inherently liberating, politically, about pleasure, sexual or otherwise. This was the great mistake of the 1960s counterculture. As that great bondage fan Foucault reminds us, repression creates its own pleasures.

    Regardless, I appreciate your complex take on something easily written off as a novelty.

  3. Nina Says:

    I enjoyed the essay. I have concerns too about the whole male domination thing. And while I believe that in MY particular dancefloor space, that it is a safe distinct space from the rest of the world, I also believe that in some of the music I enjoy- bass music, hiphop, that the distinction isnt as distinct. That it is not an entirely separate safe space where the theatrics and games can be enjoyed freely with little risk of real life repercussions.

    Anyway, not a student or a scholar, just a woman, dancer and music lover who finds these things interesting since this is my life and not “merely” academic.

  4. driscoll Says:

    Henry’s post and my essay made their way through the webs and into the inbox of Bitch Ass Darius, the DJ in question. As a result, he’ll be playing at my monthly party, Todo Mundo, this Thursday in JP!

    For reals! The flyer and details are in this post!

  5. Mastablubba Says:

    Hey Guys

    just watching this salacious Ass Shaking vid on youtube…

    check it out!

    May you can share something similar.

    happy watching

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