The problem with dance music documentaries, history books and anthologies is that they date pretty quickly. New fads have writers like Simon Reynolds going back every few years to reshape their books with tacked-on chapters, and films can often seem stupidly quaint after a few years.
But Pump Up the Volume could well be the best exploration of the first few phases of house and techno, and a jumping-off point for other works – or even to start off a YouTube rabbit hole.
I remember watching this three-part series on Channel 4 in 2001 when I’d moved to Galway, after a few years going to techno clubs like Shine and Vico’s in Belfast and reading the odd Mixmag or DJ Mag and buying mix CDs. Don’t mean to sound like Rave Granda, but this was years before YouTube and endless half-assed festival interviews with your favourite DJs, so it was some buzz to see a proper collection of legends giving an oral history of the scene, on midweek TV.
At one point in an episode, Derrick May says: “The English have to have a name for every goddamn thing, some stupid ass name for music.” Pump Up the Volume just calls it house and gets on with it.
Never mind the Wiki-fuelled features on house music’s evolution, this documentary joins all the dots you’ll need, through subway-style graphics tracing certain genres, DJs and bands that shaped a generation.
It takes a pretty scholarly, thorough approach, and as well as the jacking soundtrack we get on-location interviews with loads of the main players – from David DePino outside a boarded-up Paradise Garage and Nu Yoik’s finest Joey Beltram in Brooklyn fog, to a chain-smoking Shaun Ryder in a Salford boozer.
It follows the beat from New York discos to mucky English fields to the top of the charts and beyond, ending up at the UK garage pitstop – with grime, dubstep, EDM and a million hand-wringing think-pieces just around the corner.