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Dance music was one of the most dominant forms of pop in 2010. And last year, one of the pioneers of electronica made a rare visit to the United States. Terre Thaemlitz spends most of his time performing in Europe and in Japan, where he lives. But the American-born producer returned home recently when a club owner convinced him to give a show here.

NPR's Sami Yenigun was there.

SAMI YENIGUN: I'm standing in the middle of a large wooden dance floor at the U Street Music Hall in Washington D.C., waiting for Terre Thaemlitz, aka DJ Sprinkles, to take the stage.

Thaemlitz emerges and asks: Are you ready to rock? The crowd is thrilled, answering with a resounding, yes, to which he replies: Then go to the 9:30 Club because this is a house show.

(Soundbite of music)

YENIGUN: This is how Thaemlitz describes his music.

Mr. TERRE THAEMLITZ (Musician): I think, you know, most of my music is made in the kind of anti-climactic way and very much involves boredom and a kind of non-performativity. And if there are kind of improvisational elements, it's kind of parodying the idea of gesture as a kind of rock format and critiquing that from both a transgendered and kind of feminist side.

(Soundbite of music)

YENIGUN: So it's less about a fun-filled night of dancing than it is about exposing the politics of the queer and transgender nightclubs of New York, where he started in the mid-'80s.

These were places of escape for the city's marginalized communities, says Jesse Dorris, an electronic producer working under the name the Mattachine Machine.

Mr. JESSE DORRIS (Electronic Producer): In the original house tracks, when they talk about escape, it's not escaping the work-a-day grind of your work week so that you can blow off steam and then go back to work in your office. It's about escaping very serious political structures that are pressing you and very serious gender strictures that are oppressing you and doing it with a sense of humor, doing it with a sense of glamour but nevertheless escaping very tight conditions.

(Soundbite of music)

YENIGUN: Dorris has been following Thaemlitz's music for almost 20 years.

Mr. DORRIS: As house music became something that was played in the superclubs, as it became something that you could make a lot of money off of, the house in house music, instead of a shelter, instead of something that you build to keep you out of a storm, the house became something that you take a holiday inside.

(Soundbite of music)

YENIGUN: Thaemlitz uses his compositions as a form of criticism.

Mr. THAEMLITZ: I'm more interested in the kind of urgency to end the unacceptable rather than this kind of yes-we-can, optimistic idea of cultural criticism that's always emphasizing what we'd like to see happen.

And for me, I think that gives very different results than trying to organize based on a real, critical analysis of what we are no longer able to tolerate.

(Soundbite of music)

YENIGUN: Every sample he uses musically footnotes his critiques. He's built his reputation on producing both dance tracks and electro-acoustic soundscapes. His latest project is a massive work.

Mr. THAEMLITZ: It's kind of the world's first full-length MP3 album is how I'm billing it, and it's going to be a little over 32 hours. And the core music piece is a 30-hour piano solo that takes up a four gigabyte single MP3 file and four gigabytes being the maximum file size that you can currently open on Windows and Mac computers.

(Soundbite of music)

YENIGUN: It's a commentary on the growing disparity between media formats and artists' wages.

Mr. THAEMLITZ: Album duration has always followed format limitations. So for example, albums used to be 40 minutes when they were on vinyl because you can master up to about 20 minutes per side.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. THAEMLITZ: And with a CD, it became 74 minutes, then 80 minutes in length. And as producers, we then instantly were producing 60 to 80-minute albums.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. THAEMLITZ: And then now in the MP3 download era, we have the length of the CD plus digital exclusive downloads, et cetera, et cetera. So we're always asked to produce more and more media but without any sort of change in compensation. And for me, this presents a kind of labor crisis within the audio production fields. And so I wanted to kind of focus on this and kind of explore, in the MP3 era, then what exactly is the album anymore?

(Soundbite of music)

YENIGUN: Thaemlitz says that a lot of his criticism comes from perspectives that Americans have little patience for. He feels that the terms Marxist, materialist, socialist and transgender turn off audiences in the States.

(Soundbite of music)

YENIGUN: Why then fly half way around the world for this performance?

Mr. THAEMLITZ: That's the way we economically sustain ourselves because record sales are not a way to really support yourself.

YENIGUN: Fair enough. But if criticizing dominant power structures and mainstream channels of communication are so central to his work, I had to ask: Why did you agree to do this interview?

Mr. THAEMLITZ: There's definitely something hypocritical about my coming back to the U.S. and doing the interview when I lived here for so long and had absolutely no work or extremely little recognition. So if somebody asked me to do an interview, and, you know, they seem interested enough, then I'll give it a shot. And we'll see how you edit it up, what you do to it.

YENIGUN: Well, Terre, how'd I do? For NPR News, I'm Sami Yenigun.

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