Here in Sweden we have a problem with handclapping at rock'n'roll concerts. I'm not against handclapping as such. People seem to enjoy it quite a bit. It's a way to participate in the performance and give in to the music. And if done correctly it can enhance the whole experience for the audience and the artists alike. Some experienced performers even rely on handclapping as the sole provider of rythm during parts of their show to create a special bond with the fans. But this is directed by the artist himself, giving clear instructions on when to start and stop clapping. Spontaneous handclapping is a different story altogether, and often a huge problem. At least in this country.
Basically all popular music today spring from afroamerican gospel and blues of the early 20th century. It builds on a 4/4 pattern where the stress is placed on the second and the fourth beat. If you watch a gospel choir and count the beats you'll notice that on the first beat the throw their hands apart and on the second beat they put them together, throw them apart again on the third beat, clap on the forth. And so on. This enchances the groove, if you will, and like I said, it applies to virtually all popular music today.
Swedes, however, have a really hard time grasping this concept. They insist on clapping on one and three. You could stand there listening to an awesome performance. Musicians playing their asses off. Then suddenly people start clapping and it all falls apart. Ten seconds ago the house was rocking, now it's stiff like Parkinson's. Musically illiterates will not notice this, but to some of us this accent change is the rythmical equivalent to singing out of key. It ruins everything.
It is possible that this is an age related problem and that the younger generations are more likely to start clapping on the second beat. One thing that seems to support this is watching old people dance. My girlfriend and I have talked about this quite a bit, they move in a staccatto like pattern and seem to constantly do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Their timing is peculiar – almost exotic. We've often wondered why, and one of my theories is that they dance the way they clap – putting the stress on the wrong beat.
On the other hand – rock'n'roll was around when these people were young too, and there's no reason they should percieve musice differntly from us. Generally I just lean towards this being a racial issue. Swedes are possibly the withest people on the planet. It may take millenia for us to fall in line and start clapping correctly. I don't know. How do people clap in your country?
(Oh, if you wan't to here some awesome handclapping – checkout Staple Singers' I'm So Glad.)