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'Progressive Obsessive: Defining Progressive…Obsessively Pt.1' by Dean Millson

Author: Dean Millson
Friday, 28 July 2006
If you want to start a fight on a music forum, there is one fool-proof method.

Head across to a forum which has a large membership base passionate about 'progressive' or 'progressive house' and start a thread asking someone to define for you exactly what 'progressive' is. To be fair, you could probably substitute the term 'techno' for 'progressive' and you'd almost certainly have exactly the same outcome. Fortunately for those people who frequent 'break-beat' focussed forums, it's pretty obvious what a 'break-beat' is (so at least you'll all get along a little better).

Yet no matter the genre, it's a recipe for disaster if you put just about any two passionate and opinionated music fans behind separate computer screens, give each a quirky avatar, and then offer them the opportunity to debate the merits of their opinions or interpretations of what they're so passionate about. Inevitably, a flame war will begin.

Labels are funny things. On the one hand I find them very useful, as by labelling a piece of music as a certain sound or genre, you immediately make it more accessible. On the other hand, in my experience at least, that the more you try to attach labels or genres to music, the more difficult and confusing it can become. I don't mean confusing to yourself, as you have an inherent understanding of exactly what you mean. The problem is that to try and develop a narrow set of parameters that define something like a genre of music is always going to be a futile task. Why- Because, by it's nature, it's a very personal experience.

Because of this, you may not agree at all with the rest of what I am going to say in this month's column [my problem lies more with your definition of what constitutes a 'monthly column' as your last column was in September '05 - ;) Ed.], which is actually quite all right really. One of the things I have always liked about progressive (and more recently what may be described as techno) is that it can mean so many different things to different people. Technically, this probably means that one could argue that the term 'progressive' is a pretty useless label as it's not really defining anything at all. In my opinion however, the harder it becomes to pigeonhole something, the more progressive it actually is. I write this because, by nature, if something is 'progressive' it should be fluid and moving, and therefore difficult to define. That for me is the beauty of it.

The reason why I have felt the need to focus on the definition of 'progressive' for the first part of this column is due to the recent increase in debate on the subject. This is mainly a response to the fact that over the last 12 months (at least), many DJ's and producers that punters had been comfortable with defining as playing or creating progressive have noticeably begun to change the sound they are pushing.

John Digweed's career is an excellent reference point when charting the evolution of progressive. If you listened to all his mix compilations in chronological order, it would be a textbook definition of progressive. From the laid back, tripped out and tranced-up breaks of 'Northern Exposure', through to the tech-infused sounds of this year's 'Transitions' mix, it becomes pretty clear that progressive is defined not as a certain 'sound' (as it has tended to be post 2000). Instead, it is an approach to putting music together. Other DJ's such as Chris Fortier & Jimmy Van M (and to a lesser extend Sasha) are also good examples of what could be termed 'true' progressive artists in my opinion. Casting an eye over the musical journey they have taken, and shared with packed dance floors across the world over a number of years, should be evidence enough.

To be continued next week...
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