Simon Reynolds Has Thought a Lot About Nostalgia
a.k.a. An in-depth interview with one of electronic music's most celebrated writers.
Maybe it’s unfair to describe Simon Reynolds as an electronic music journalist. After all, the UK-born, LA-based scribe got his start writing about rock and hip-hop during in the 1980s, and has also penned much-loved books on post-punk (Rip It Up and Start Again), glam rock (Shock and Awe) and the rising tide of nostalgia in pop culture (Retromania). Clearly his interests extend beyond a single genre, but given that he also authored one of rave culture’s defining tomes (Energy Flash, which was initially published as Generation Ecstasy in the US) and famously coined terms like the “hardcore continuum,” it’s likely that the electronic music crowd will forever claim Reynolds as one of their own.
These days, however, Reynolds doesn’t write much about the genre. His byline has actually become something of a rarity at music publications across the board, as he tends to focus his formal writing efforts on books while spreading his more casual musings across a multitude of different blogs. (Said blogs are too numerous to list here—each one has a specific area of focus—but the long-running Blissblog continues to be Reynolds’ primary outlet.) Outside of writing, he’s also part of the faculty at CalArts’ School of Music, where the knowledge he acquired during his decades in the journalism trenches comes in rather handy.
He’s now largely left those trenches behind, but Reynolds’ influence continues to loom large over dance and electronic music, particularly amongst those of us who’ve chosen to write about it for a living. Having just published my first book, I figured that now might be a good time to speak with someone who’d successfully written several of them, and when I reached out to Reynolds asking if he’d be up for a chat, he kindly accepted my invitation. (He also pointed out that our names are rather similar, which I’d honestly never realized previously.) Our conversation took place a few weeks ago—just days before the start of my recent book tour—but it was a long one, as Reynolds talked about his current relationship with electronic music, the shifting role of futurism in the genre (and how it butts up against the rising tide of nostalgia in the wider culture), his penchant for naming things and the limitations of applying a critical lens that solely fixates on the sonic aspect of musical artistry. Along the way, I also asked for details about his next book—as it turns out, more than one is in the works—and his thoughts on the present state of music journalism, especially now that his own son has gotten into the field.
Reynolds may or may not belong to electronic music, but given that there simply aren’t that many writers who’ve been actively (or even semi-actively) writing about the genre for more than three decades, I was more than interested in what he had to say. I’m guessing that many First Floor readers will feel the same way.