This might end up over in the Popular comments re: Tom’s excellent post on Livin’ Joy’s Dreamer but I suspect I’m slightly talking to myself here so I might use Tumblr as a jotter to sort out my thoughts. (maybe I should make a whole FT post because this is like 1,935 words long but that seems rude innit?)
The phrase that keeps coming to mind re: Dreamer is like… ‘desperation on the edge of darkness’ -this is a stage of lust so sublimated that it’s become a physical ache, it’s a base need and an urgent want and a breathless hope. And that optimism is what’s keeping it innocent, non-possessive, full of desire but not forceful.
There’s a point where these songs can change over, to become a need to make someone “yours” and to claim them, to take them away- this actually tends to be the theme of diva-led “handbag house”* where dominatrices and the demands of an emergent (and awesome!) concept of self-love and emotional rights are the major forces. Ride On Time, say, is an awesome diva house track but it’s nothing like Dreamer, at its heart.
There is nothing diva-like about the naked plea in Dreamer. Like I said in the FT comments, it’s a spell, an invocation- it’s weaving the object of desire to life around itself through sheer force of will. These sort of witchy songs have a long history, way back into classical but Dreamer takes all that magic and intense hope-so-hard-it’s-become-a-rapturous-belief, an uncertain but deeply felt prophecy and it transposes it to the transcendental feelings you get on a dancefloor.
And again, like, I’m backtracking to what I was saying on FT here but for coherency’s sake, I think this might be a particularly female-conditioned thing, to some extent? There are male songs about invoking someone who’s lusted after- I can think of tons of them, from Bright Eyes to Pulp and especially within r’n’b and hip hop, where it’s incredibly common but they tend to not be this sort of crush thing. It’s not a 100% hard rule and clearly some are- Daniel Bedingfield’s Gotta Get Through This is definitely in the same vein as this song but tends further towards introversion and less to direct, unrelenting invocation, a bedroom reflection rather than a dancefloor twin. Also: everyone thought he was a woman when that came out, partly because of the higher vocal but indutibly a bit because of the subject matter, too.
Invocative pop, is all over 60s girl groups and goes much further back- Edith Piaf’s swooping vocals, the witchy tones of early jazz; these are summonings, seductions that are singularly feminine and formed a lot of our ideas of femme glamour. And then there’s the heat of disco and the sweeping early 90s ballads, the outrageous over-the-top-ness of the last remnants of 80s hair power.
Dreamer fits into a not-dissimilar emotional arena to Heart’s Alone, say, except that instead of a lonely bedroom this song has been transplanted to the very heart of the church of seduction, a spot where spilled snakebite and Hooch bottles have been arranged into the arcane symbols necessary to make the fantasy flesh and all that’s left to do is pray it won’t end with sticky feet and sadness and a weird smell of sulphur.
This is hardwired into the back of the commercial female consciousness, we are brought up to have crushes and at no time moreso than in the 90s. If you look to the girls’ ephemera of the decade- I was a child then, I know about this sort of thing- then you see Heartthrob boardgames and the steady development through Mizz to shout Shout magazine and Sugar and Just 17 and managing to get your mitts on a copy of More (phwoar!) and Take That in bondage gear and red hot lust for the green Power Ranger** and these features in magazines that, like… ok, this was pre-internet, kids who have always been on the internet, so bear with this.
So there were these features in magazines where little girls (and like, I really mean 12 year olds, who are… children? Pre-pubescent even, maybe?) would send in ‘5 minute fantasies’ which were basically just-short-of-erotic Mary Sue fanfiction about whichever boyband member you were cradling a massive horn to your heart over this week. And they’d be kind of innocent, like ‘oh, I went on holiday with my school (!!!!) and I met Richie from 5 (who would be like 22) and somehow we ended up on the beach together and we held hands and then when he walked me back to the hotel we kissed’ (!!!!!) and then they would maybe also go for dinner or something.
Retrospectively I’m like ‘this was slander, this was suggesting that this boyband member would snog a child, how was this a thing?’ But they were everywhere. And that very real but very fictional fantasy, the perfected, planned scenario, is where Dreamer comes out of. It’s not a little girl’s vocal and it’s not a pre-pubescent fantasy, this is grown up and heavy with real, self-aware, adult lust but nonetheless filled with a scenario conjured vividly to near-being by sheer weight of thought.
Because she’s in the club, at the start- love, life and laughter is all I believe and it turns witchy early on, with my savior is pure now, because my lonely heart would bleed and then deep, deep into the big reveal, the melancholy truth at the heart of it;
I never learned how to hold love or stay strong too long
So I close my eyes now and I’m dreaming right where I belong
It’s all a fake, a fantasy, a boyband member on a beach. But it’s a desperate and passionate and real as the best fanfiction, the sweaty moments of feeling such helpless desire for a fictional character, even one of your own imagining, the unbearable torture of being sense-deprived from them and having this detailed knowledge of how it would be perfect, here we lie all alone, am I dreaming? your heart’s smooth, my soul is unbelieving and now you see through me, am I feeling, am I feeling? your hands and lips are here on my body, whisper you know me; you say you want me- please just love me now and never leave me, I’m a dreamer…
I was fascinated by euphoric dance when I was younger (I was 8 when Dreamer came out) –I spent most of the 90s taping late-night dance radio and it was easy to become fixated with these particularly expulsive expressions of emotion. They were blinding, rich and manipulative.
I can be a bit of a robot, sometimes and I’m not always good at developing an emotive rather than pragmatic response to things in real life (as opposed to writing, when I tend to be all feeling and no practicality) but there have always been triggers to something more. Like this, which activated (then and in a different way, now) some wide-eyed experience of feeling this quite grown-up emotion I didn’t entirely understand because although I was a little old for my age, this particular type of desperation was completely past a child’s view.
But I could understand it in heroic terms, then; Dreamer was about fighting something, that last ditch, blaze of glory effort against overwhelming odds (I actually thought this was what it was about until I was about 14) and that was enough to give me just enough insight. I could understand it as a brave stand. Maybe a completely idiotic stand but nonetheless, a movingly brave one, which was how I felt a lot of euphoria for a long time.
I find Dreamer intoxicating, hypnotic, enveloping like a hood that descends over my eyes for the duration of the song. Sorry to fucking bang on about synaesthesia but in terms of how it looks, the organ and the bassline are velveteen darkness, deep and consuming, with deep green and fuchsia lights blinking in and out- bloop bloop bloop bloop bleep bleep bleep bloopybloopbloopbloop and waves of almost smokey luminescensce, swirling around our heroine, who stands alone as an enormous pillar of light that goes practically nova on the chorus, silvery and blinding. Synaesthesia! It’s like drugs but all the time.
Relatedly and at least partly to do with things you realize when you’re conducting a serious and deep and scientific investigation into how long you can stay awake for, this song is particularly interesting as an (apropos Tom mentioning the garage/house crossover in his piece and yet again robbing off myself in the comments) architectural keystone in a genre or at least emotion that runs through a whole set of UK electronica, this ‘Fantasy invocation electronica’ or something; T2’s Heartbroken and H2O’s What’s It Gonna Be, the two biggest hits of bassline, were absolutely in there, as is the aforementioned Gotta Get Through This and if I wasn’t at work I’d be trying to build a playlist of the ones I know of. Rihanna’s been mining this particular vein pretty hard for the past few years, for instance. (Only Girl In The World, in particular, which is partly why I love that song so much)
I don’t think they’re part of a continuum. I am generally opposed to the idea of the hardcore continuum altogether but I don’t think this is it, specifically. I think they’re particular waypoints, emotive jump offs and something key in genre affirmation.
Time, as the previously mentioned experiment into how long you can stay awake for can tell you, is not entirely linear and the awesome thing about the enduring popularity of Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems on a Sunday evening (way into the 00s and with the majority of texts in being from people revising for their GCSEs) is that making a song in the same vein as Dreamer wasn’t being retro, it was what you were listening to right then.
Songs don’t pass into history now, especially not in the internet age. Genres don’t end and dissolve, they go through trends but they have become non-unitary, unshackled from their original temporal context. And this is part of a whole sort of general mish mash of desperate euphoric transcendence that I’m not entirely sure I want to narrow down into a specific but which you know when you hear it.
Something that’s pointed out in the thread over at FT is that the track and the vocal are out of joint, which gives even more of a sense of the vocalist being in a club listening to an unrelated song, the lyrics her stream of consciousness as she dances. It’s a meta-song, which is also a brilliant song in itself.
Someone else on FT said that she doesn’t sound dreamy- good grief, no. Dreams aren’t dreamy, dreams are things you put all of your hopes and fears and dignity into and then fling around in a panic. And when you let them out, with the confession that you’d stewed them into being at the back of your own mind, woven them out of desires and fantasies, you’re vulnerable and excited and naked. And that can all be a deeply spiritual and rewarding experience or lead to crying on a night bus and Dreamer walks that tightrope, between orgasmic joy and crushing pain, the impossible pop territory between wordless euphoric trance and melancholy beat and click trip hop.
And I think that basically covers the main points of my feels about Dreamer. But like, hit me up in the pub for another two hours of expounding to reach the full thesis.
Edit: also urgent and key to my ideas and to just directly nick a line off myself on FT- “Howling is a totally A+ emotional response to being consumed by dreams” <—-this is basically the premise, I think?
*This term annoys me. It tends to mean ‘house music that large numbers of women dance to’ or ‘house music that is somehow ‘not proper’ according to some rockist scale I’ve imposed on it and so I want to say is liked by people I somehow think are silly and unknowledgeable because of their luggage choices’ and yeah well fuck off, right. I much prefer ‘filter house,’ which better describes this lighter, poppier, less-drug-oriented sound.
EDIT: Kat has pointed out that ‘filter house’ is actually a distinct sound that Dreamer can’t fall into, as it’s a particular noise function. So ‘handbag’ it is. :/
‘Handbag house’ tends to be the sort of thing that people will dance to when they haven’t been at a rave for the last 14 hours. Discussions of dance music (and especially 90s dance music) tend to be broodingly preoccupied with the concept of ‘hardcore’ so the idea that people might be experiencing a hedonistic, euphoric release without the full comedown-summoning ritual being observed leads to enormous and enormously stupid snobbery.
Imagine if you actually could fit a whole house into your handbag? Who would be laughing then, eh?
**If you come in at the White Ranger and missed the early funny stuff then get the fuck out.
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