Letter from Prague

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Now I'm no fan of techno music. I sing in a rock-pop band a-la Oasis, have seen clubs turn themselves into rave venues to make sure they pack the crowds in, and to be quite frank, when in a really bad mood, I blame techno for doing more than anything in recent years to destroy popular music.

One example I would cite, although not a techno song, would be Madonna's extremely dull cover version of American Pie. Now, in my mind, Don McClean's original is one of the all-time classics of popular music. Simple, unconventional and performed to perfection. Next time you hear the original on the radio or the TV, just listen to the way that McClean sings the first verse slower, forsaking any regularity of rhythm - building with a crescendo to the second verse, ending with the famous line about the death of Buddy Holly and Richie Vallens in a plane crash: "The day/that music died". The acoustic strums and the McClean must have known that he'd written a classic by beginning slowly to sing "Bye, bye/Miss American Pie".

So let's zip forward thirty years or so. 'OK, what shall we do with this one?' asks the pop star. 'Easy,' says the record company executive, 'let's take out all the good bits, make the rhythm regular, add a dance beat and let you sing it.' 'OK' says Madonna. This, tragically - will be the legacy of the dance and techno culture. A whole new generation of teenagers will now spend the rest of their youth believing that Madonna wrote American Pie; dance has robbed them of appreciating the genius of musicians such as Don McClean. One day the question will come up--no doubt in Musical Trivial Pursuit or something--and they'll all scream 'Madonna' in unison, then they'll go round for the rest of the night thinking 'Don Who?'

It's all a bit sad, really. But before you think that I'm an old fuddy-duddy, there are a few things about techno that I can appreciate. At the end of the day, it's just a natural development of music. It may appear to me to be cheap and lacking in any sort of musical invention, but at the end of the day, if it packs 'em in, who am I to poo-poo other people's fun.

Try saying that, though, to the residents of the South Bohemian village of Lipnice--all sixty of them. If, you've heard the news this week from the Czech Republic, then you should already know that an illegal outdoor rave took place in a field next to the village, which attracted revelers from all across Europe.. at it's maximum during the five days, the population of Lipnice rose from 60 to an estimated 6,000. The mainly elderly residents were treated to non-stop techno music, from morning until night, the roads were jammed for miles around with people coming to and from the bash, and there was no refuge collection or mass sanitation of any kind.

There are two sides to every story of course. Part of the attraction of a rave must be its illegality, and in that way it is no different to, say, the banned mass biker rallies of the 60s and 70s. The very fact that something has permission from the authorities takes away half the appeal of it for many young - and indeed older - ravers. Just a bit of shame for the poor residents of the town.

There is no way that the police can legislate for such a surprise, and even of they had known well in advance, it is doubtful here in the Czech Republic whether they would have sufficient resources to physically prevent 6,000 people pitching themselves in a field and having a party. It's a bit like the old joke Q: Where does a ten foot gorilla sit? A: Anywhere it wants. And besides, even the chief of police was a young man once.

Fact is that I do believe that there are certain things about the younger generation that the older simply have to tolerate. Of course, in this situation, the cause of the younger isn't helped by leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Such situations can still be harmless and even become acceptable if the organizers involved were to act a little more responsibly. If they had shown a little bit more respect to locals of Lipnice, then they may have earned some respect in return. As it is - that awful techno beat aside - the next illegal rave promises a crack-down by the authorities. None of us want to believe what the local mayor said of the situation. That it could well have turned into a massacre.