Thought-Quenching

Thomas Jones

  • Deadmeat by Q.
    Sceptre, 256 pp, £6.99, May 1997, ISBN 0 340 68558 1
  • King Rat by China Miéville
    Macmillan, 333 pp, £9.99, November 1998, ISBN 0 333 73881 0

Leaping around in a warehouse to the rhythms of repetitive beats and thumping basslines is a simple pleasure, though not, of course, to everyone’s taste. At the same time it is a tremendously difficult sensation to convey in writing, partly because it is so simple: the most basic feelings, experienced at a pre-verbal level, are by their nature the hardest to verbalise. The primary difficulty facing anyone who wishes to write creatively (rather than critically) about dance music is how to translate music into language: to evoke, rather than merely describe, the experience of the dancer. Browning, a master of this kind of translation between art forms, wrote to Ruskin in 1855 about the problem of articulating pre-verbal ideas: ‘I know that I don’t make out my conception by my language ... You would have me paint it all out, which can’t be; but by various artifices I try to make shift with touches and bits and outlines which succeed if they bear the conception from me to you.’ The idiom of the record sleeve is one option open to writers of club fiction: China Miéville concludes his acknowledgments in King Rat with ‘awe and gratitude especially to A Guy Called Gerald for the sublime Gloc: old, now, but still the most terrifying slab of guerrilla bass ever committed to vinyl. Rewind.’ In the central club episode of Deadmeat, Q writes of a DJ’s music that it is not ‘a tight cosy rinse, but an intense traumatic soak that ripped through the senses ... a hybrid of dancehall drum’n’bass and abstract sounds that kicked at over 160 beats per minute on a transglobal vibe’. Fine for the initiate, but not much good for anyone else; like all jargon, it is exclusive. Fortunately, both writers use it sparingly.

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[*] Vintage, 276 pp., £5.99, 0 099 77331 7.