I was living in the marvelous mid-1990s in Tokyo when Madonna's Ray of Light came out. Her single, "Frozen," had already been out for a few months, but most of us were not prepared for the glory that was "Ray of Light" (and its kick-ass video), which had a sound so insidious we were practically frothing in the mouth when the full gravity of its power manifested itself, willing our bodies to let go in a hypnotic trance. Oh, how we danced and gyrated, most of us in that abandon that defines youth. (Sometimes, today, I would go into a club and get amazed by how tame these young people are today: they dance like twigs in the wind, and I have to ask, What happened?)
Japan has got to be the place to enjoy the pulsating beat of the Great One's techno sound. The Japanese just have this certain edginess, bordering on camp and on the robotic, that makes techno or house its appropriate national sound. I think of techno, and I think of two things: the crush of bodies in a European nightclub, and the strange otherworldliness of the cosplay kids in Harajuku. I remember the Tower Records megastore off Shibuya station having this gigantic banner five stories high promoting the album, but it was the dancing places around Ropponggi, Shinjuku, and Shibuya that defined for me how it was to dance to the sound of Madonna. Because no one in Tokyo really drives a car, and because the mega-city's subways halt promptly at midnight, most of those who want to enjoy the night have to hie off to clubland around 10 or 11 in the evening, and stay on to party until the subways open again at five in the morning. Partying thus becomes a commitment to the night, and techno was our Pied Piper's music.
When we were all settling into maturity in the cusp of college life, electronica -- Paul Van Dyk, Robert Miles, DJ Quicksilver, Energy 52, DJ Taucher, Mike Koglin, splices of Fatboy Slim -- was the dance sound that best defined our generation (when we were not too busy being soulful about angst), and Madonna tapping into that energy with a knowing sense of possession became our enduring icon. Thus, "Ray of Light," together with Lisa Loeb's "Stay," Joan Osbourne's "What if God Was One of Us," the music of Pearl Jam, Alanis Morrisette, R.E.M., Nirvana, and Beck would be the discography of my generation's 1990s youth.