Do Contemporary Clubbers Have DJ Daddy Issues?

A generation of dancers are stuck in time, seeking approval from history.

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May 15 2017, 10:17am

We wander the graveyard of an endlessly deferred future; of worn out configurations of the past. The suburban Barratt Homes hellscape, the buy-to-let housing blocks with brightly coloured balconies too small to stand on, shivering beneath the grey sky. Slime streaks from the guttering, leftover builders' waste and Tyskie cans collect in the corners. The maintenance company the council sub-contracted to clean it up are not coming, and neither are the sub-sub-contracted company that was supposed to come after them. There's just series of call centres and referrals, then a dial tone.

Who will save us? How much will it cost? And can I transfer you the money when I get home?

Long gone is our post-war society of paternalism, BBC Reith lectures, traditional discipline and punishment. In our new lives, we are 'free' to control ourselves through circuits of consumption, desire and debt. An endless loop of YouTube DJ Seinfeld playlists, the sesh and Just Eat. Half the country have peeled off their red-tape blindfolds and tied Union Jack bandanas over their eyes instead, running their pasty bodies towards Kent beachfronts and cliff-edges beating their chests—Daddy EU! No more telling us what to do!!! The other half are out Thursday through Sunday fiending for the dancefloor guidance of Daddy DJ.

Every time we find ourselves gormlessly grinning in the general direction of someone paid a frankly unpleasant sum of money to play records one after the other, we aren't just having a night out. What we're doing on some level is reaffirming our need to root ourselves in some kind of cultural equivalency.

Making that first trip to fabric, or the Warehouse Project, or DC10 to see whoever it may be gracing the decks that night is a means of embedding oneself in a culture, in much the same way that standing on the oft-referenced terraces with our dads, scarves flapping away, the air thick with Bovril and swearing was. In both cases, we display our cultural worth through cold, hard economics: we spend and spend, seeking approval from history, and hoping that daddy smiles down on us.

The free market has given each of us the chance to be our own boss, yet our chances of survival can be fulfilled or foiled from the beginning. Will we be voted off early? Will we make it to the final? will we even make it past the interview? In a society of the Individual, we supposedly have no one else to blame for these injustices except ourselves.

Though many of us have been offered an education our parents never had, we have become an overqualified mass of precarious job seekers. If you're reading this you're likely part of what the Great British Class Survey—conducted in 2015, and the biggest sociological survey of its kind in history—terms the emerging service class. A contingent of young, well qualified but economically skint and sorry fuckers. We hone our humanities degrees with coffee foam as our canvas. Who's next please?

So ludicrously out of reach is the prospect of owning a place to live, a proper contract with a decent stable wage, and all manners of economic securities, that when someone asks you if you've thought about buying a house you probably react the same way I do. Start to maniacally laugh, shake your head and look down into your half-empty £1.90 Taddy lager, as if you've just been asked whether you're going to hold the sceptre in your left or right hand during the coronation.

But of course there's more to life than economic capital. French sociologist and visionary Pierre Bourdieu carried out the most influential research of the 20th century on the ways that a person's social mobility and privileges are determined by a combination of your economic (money, wages, house), social (friends, family, connections and networks) and importantly, your cultural capital. Your cultural capital is made up of the cultural forms and practices you enjoy and take part in, and the value this has in your society.

In short, enjoying golf and opera might mean you can cosy up with the CEO—or that you are the CEO—whereas bingeing daytime TV and going to the dogs probably means you won't and aren't. But we've come a long way since Bourdieu's France in the 60s. Postmodernity has created a newfound cultural plurality, and although some long established cultural forms like opera hold court as highbrow, contemporary culture in the West is a mash of Tarkovsky films and Simpsons episodes, David Hockney exhibitions and The Great British Bake Off, Michelin stars and McDonalds.

Contemporary and postmodern culture has largely waved goodbye to a past of superstition, hierarchy and belief, and Capital has gladly stepped into the void to establish the neoliberal marketplace as the great leveller. Cultural capital—like banks creating credit—is for us to mint ourselves, to invent and define its worth. It's not so much about whether you go to the opera anymore. It's about enjoying both Kylie's earlier stuff and owning the entire Ostgut Ton back catalogue. This is the contemporary highbrow, and who better than the DJ—with his eclectic and immaculate selections—to be its figurehead?

Contemporary highbrow culture is the ability to glide between high and lowbrow cultural forms—Kylie into Klock. The smoother the glide, the mix, the better concealed the privileges and ideologies that run beneath it, the more it's valued. It's this concealment from which cultural capital derives its value, and which makes the DJ its perfect moniker. Just look at them. There is an always-on, always-working, always-employable capitalist tinge which cuts through the understated normcore stylings of the DJ. It's basically a look that outwardly says "nothing" but is quietly dressed at all moments semi-formally for some kind of unspecified work. Black, white and grey tones. Sometimes a sports brand or an outerwear label whispers quietly and modestly.

But once more, this performance of "nothing" is just like the performance of cultural impartiality in the mix, or the performance of meritocracy in capital. It is what makes the figure of the DJ so cool, so desirable. We cannot dress like the disgraced banker figure in the blue pinstripe suit and golden tie, a figure practically wearing the international language of greed. For the pursuit of contemporary highbrow cultural capital—however greedy, divisive, and status-driven it may actually be—it must be carried out with a degree of nonchalance, a muted kind of respectability. We frantically pursue cultural capital, whilst dressing as if we don't want it at all. The better it is concealed, the more it's valued.

The revival of the ubiquitous (often) male DJ in the past decade testifies to this strange cultural shift. Perhaps wanting to be entertained by these new cultural magi reflects a desire amongst young people to return to a paternalistic cultural model. Like the Reithian BBC, Attenborough and Fry, the audience/performer dynamic in a DJ set is rarely revolutionary. More of a lecture really.

Look at politics too. Aside from Corbyn's appealing policies, ignoring the paternal impulse in his supporters would be shortsighted. Cast as a grandfatherly Obi-Wan Kenobi, his critics lampoon him as they did Bernie Sanders: just backwards-looking relics of corporate taxes and workers' rights. Comparatively, the female exoskeletons of Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May celebrate an unrestrained world where our desires can be performed outside of Daddy-state restriction in the neoliberal free market.

If they were DJs, Corbyn and Bernie would be Andrew Weatherall and DJ Harvey giving a 12-hour b2b lesson. Thatcher and May would be an iPod shuffle full of old Now! albums you've been too busy at work to find time to change, and a fitness app that orders you to "DANCE FASTER" but keeps crashing because you haven't updated it and you hate your life and you hate yourself.

As the auto-play function on YouTube will testify, when faced with infinite choice people no longer know how to behave. Exhaustive cultural consumption infantilises us. It makes us impassive, compliant, piteous. It makes us yearn for Daddy DJ.

Tom Glencross is a writer .