We’re all friends here. This is a safe space. Let’s start this first blog post since March off by just putting all our cards on the table. When you’re from Europe, or Britain in my case (with perhaps a few notable exceptions) it’s really annoying to hear American people talk about dance music.
Completely unfairly, of course. They can’t help it, it’s not their fault, it’s just how they were brought up and the slight to significant social differences they have encountered. I feel like criticising the majority of Americans’ knowledge about dance music is like making fun of their monster truck rallies, school shootings or cowboy hats – it’s a central and important part of their culture, and mocking it seems insensitive. It’s just… infuriating… isn’t it? Even their insistence on calling it Electronic Dance Music/EDM – while being functionally completely sensical (the vague term ‘dance music’ rarely suitably describes what most people using it are referring to) – is really annoying. Whenever somebody refers to something as ‘EDM’ it’s a quick assurance that they probably think the greatest ever electronic dance album was ‘Purpose‘, that they believe Avicii and The Chainsmokers were the legendary originators, and that they’re unlikely to even get the Blackout Crew reference I made in this blog entry’s title.Read more
Dance music has one of the most popular and successful genres in Europe since the early 90s at the latest and even well into the 80s. Growing up in that era (a ‘Cultural Boomer’) in Europe meant dance music being a constant background And absolutely not just critically- sure, there were always the likes of Orbital/Chemical Brothers/Faithless/KLF/Leftfield who married critical praise with moderate to huge commercial success. And the superstar DJs like Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold, Eric Prydz and Armand van Helden, who would combine huge influence and talent with the odd number one single. But we also had the true sign of full cultural integration – the terrible dance acts that would clog up the charts and pollute local radio stations. Before you criticise an American’s perceived ignorance on dance music, remember that they likely grew up in a world without either The Venga Boys or 2 Unlimited.
And, yes, while, being English, my obvious and natural response would be to condescendingly smirk at those silly little colonies, raise an eyebrow as I take a sip of Earl Grey through pursed lip and drily remark how I very much doubt that most Americans even have an opinion on A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld, but we really have no room to talk. Perhaps the US had less time for the likes of Urban Cookie Collective because it was, y’know, inventing and popularising hip-hop, a genre which I’d argue didn’t properly break through in the UK until (seriously) Puff Daddy’s 1998 number one I’ll Be Missing You, a tribute to one of the most notable rappers of all time in the US, whose only charting album in the UK peaked at number twenty three. And we completely skipped grunge, Nirvana might have had a couple of top ten singles and some festival headliners, but otherwise rock music refused to truly comeback in the UK until Oasis started breaking records in 1993. There have since been attempts at revisionist history in the UK music press, arguing that Nirvana were as big a deal here as in the US, but… no… We try and pretend otherwise now, but we were all about Oasis. I’m sorry. When Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ historically and meaningfully knocked Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ (it was just an album title back then, not an official legal status) off the top of the US charts in January 1992, the UK charts were topped by very much our Nirvana – Wet Wet Wet, with their legendary third album ‘High on the Happy Side‘. So are we really so culturally and morally superior?
Yes, we are. But it’s still interesting innit?
And I’m referring to the general American consensus here. The USA is a big country – more than a million people – and there has always been pockets of massive dance music fans, as well as America contributing some (perhaps… most??) of the most influential and important dance music producers and DJs of all time. There’s an argument that San Jose’s DJ Shadow’s 1996 album ‘Endtroducing‘ is the most influential dance album of the 90s. New Jersey… sorry…Nuu Jooooysie‘s James Murphy – electronic music’s tramp sage – is among the most notable electronic producers of the modern era. And, holy shit, our blinkers here are so discriminating that we’re failing to see what a complete revolution to music that hip-hop was, especially on the electronic means of dance music, from Grandmaster Flash through Timbaland, The Neptunes, Tyler the Creator and countless other notable names. And, pretty much unanimously cited as the most important DJ of all time, the sadly departed Frankie Knuckles is, as the ostentatiously cool name suggests, from Weston-super-mare
sorry, I mean The Bronx. Which is in America. Not sure which part. Maybe in the middle somewhere. In fact, the very foundations and practices that define everything that the world recognises as ‘Dance Music’ (and the US as EDM) came from the gay scene in Chicago (that’s in America), the black suburbs of Detroit (that’s also in America), clubs in New York (in America) and New Jersey (also in America. The Sopranos live there). Unarguably, America invented dance music. It just then decided to ignore it for a few decades. The first dance album to go platinum in the USA was – and you’ll like this – the soundtrack to the 1995 movie adaptation of the popular computer game Moral Kombat. The hip American daddios who have been into dance music these past few decades, who were sweating out their Quaaludes down next to the speakers in Chicago clubs in the mid 80s, might be similarly kissing their teeth and rolling their eyes at wider American culture’s laughably belated appreciation of dance music. Or maybe they’re just happy that the sort of boundary pushing artistic revelations are now finally being widely appreciated? But that seems needlessly unresentful to me. Are the Americans not into needless spite or something?
To the wider culture though, much like punk music finally broke America in 1991 – when the Dead Kennedys played Too Drunk Too Fuck at the Superbowl halftime show – dance music finally got noticed in America with a similar multiple decade delay, though the exact year isn’t agreed upon nor easy to pin down. Some time around 2010, there were numerous mainstream dalliances, largely through hip-hop artists tipping their hat to the genre. Beyoncé herself (I am getting round to her eventually, I promise) played a notable role, with her 2011 banger Run the World (Girls) sampling both Diplo and Major Lazer, two contemporary and soon to be huge dance acts. A huge, huge, huge figure was David Guetta, whose collaborations with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Fergie*, Kid Cudi, Adam Rickit and Akon did much to popularise the genre. And, sorry, but we have to acknowledge Deadmau5 and Skrillex as being notable figures in dance music’s evolution’s both commercially and – I’m sorry, you’re going to have to admit it – artistically. Some might point to the humungous drop in Justin Bieber/Skrillex/Diplo’s 2015 Where Are U Now as a particular high watermark in terms of commercial notability (and artistic quality. Come on, don’t be pathetic, it’s a fucking banger). It’s also impossible to talk about the genre’s emergence in the USA without mentioning the importance of Daft Punk. Personally however, as a true line in the sand, I think the ultimate turning point came in late 2011, and was assisted by some 30 year old jabroni born in Dumfries. Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s We Found Love isn’t just one of the most perfect and gorgeous hit singles of the last twenty or so years, but it is 100% and unmistakeably a dance song, featuring all the tropes and features of the type of banger you’d be chewing your cheeks off to down the front at Manumission back in 92. The build, the drop, the repetitive but exhilarating synth beat – this wasn’t a hip-hop or R&B artist taking cues from dance music, this was a dance track that Rihanna provided vocals for. She was playing the same role that Loleatta Holloway performed on Black Box’s Ride on Time twenty years earlier. Except of course Rihanna was considered attractive and famous enough to appear in the video for We Found Love. Also, she wasn’t dead, which Black Box mistakenly assumed Loleatta was. It’s a long story. Oh, and We Found Love was also the biggest thing ever, so that was nice for everyone involved, and in my opinion truly inspired the (possibly racist/homophobic. Much bigger issue, no time to discuss it now) levee that America had built to suppress dance music’s wider acceptance to finally break, and the outpouring still continues to this day.
(*as in the legendary former manager of Manchester United Sir Alex Ferguson, not the Black Eyed Peas singer, with whom he is often confused)
In 2022, America, God bless them all, seem to have discovered House Music. The aforementioned Frankie Knuckles (born Francis The Echidna) would have been overjoyed to see his country embrace the genre so quickly, just forty years after he invented it and eight years after he fucking died. The increased interest in the genre even inspired Rolling Stone, who generally believe ‘Songs of Innocence’ to be the most recent and noteworthy musical evolution, to compile a list of the 200 greatest ever dance songs, which – uuuurgh – I’ll get to later. Lot’s of people started bringing up Kaytranada, the Canadian born in 1992 who apparently invented house music. The renaissance
was instigated by two of the legitimately biggest musicians/celebrities/celestial beings in the world, Beyoncé and Canada’s perma-pursing feels navigator Drake, both released previously unannounced hugely house music inspired projects so close to each other. Drake released ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ on June 17th, and Ms Carter’s seventh studio album was released two days ago. Two days ago when I’m writing this, I mean. If you’re reading this next week, then it was released about a week ago. If you’re reading this in 2056, then it was released a long time ago. July 29th, if you’re using this post to conduct proper research and plan on citing it in your thesis. Which you all absolutely should. Before I talk about the Beyonkadonk album, we may as well quickly compare the two projects and say who comes out top in this unexpected House Off:
And, yeah, Beyoncé. It’s not even close. Firstly, I don’t think either album is a radical reinvention of the artists’ sounds. Both have frequently incorporated dance and house music influences on their records in the past, even more so than the natural shared lineage of hip-hop/R&B and dance production. Is there a track on ‘Renaissance’ significantly more house music influenced than something like Blow from Bee’s incredible self-titled 2015 album? Also: Ha! I’ve only just noticed that song is called ‘blow’, that’s fucking amazing. Also… is there a song… significantly… better…? We’ll get to that discussion soon.
Artistically, and just in terms of general quality, ‘RENAISSANCE’ far outperforms ‘Honestly, Nevermind’, but let’s just put that to one side. One major difference between the two artists’ homage to sweating themselves out at The Warehouse in 1992 is the differing understanding – or perhaps a refusal to understand – of house music’s central conceit, and what I would say is the genre’s main aspect of importance.
House music, my dudes, is gay as fuck.
I’ll let Padiheh Aghanourny and Unathi Nkhoma – two people whom I will uncharacteristically accept know more about the subject than me – explain it in more detail, but the importance of house music to LGBT history cannot be overstated. Was Drake aware of this? Is this why the video of the lead single sees Drake marrying forty women at once? Was he aware of the homosexual connotations and so really wanted to prove to the world that he’s definitely not a gayer? Look, everyone, I’m so straight that I’m fucking, like, all the women! Not that there’s anything wrong with that. ‘Drake’s ‘No Homo House’ can’t help but feel a little listless.
Beyoncé, however, does not shy away from the obvious connotations, and fully embraces house music’s gay as a window origins, and ‘RENAISSANCE’ sounds like a legitimate and faithful celebration of both house music and the queer black culture that was so central to it. A really faithful celebration. A admirably legitimate commemoration. A respectful homage. An assiduously studied pastiche.
Sigh. I’m sorry everyone, but I might just have to shit on this album a tiny bit. I know that a lot of people have taken this record to their heart. I know that Beyoncé’s paean to hot girl summers and careless partying has resonated with large sections of the populace. The album’s wholehearted urge/demand that the listener do anything and ignore any barrier between them and embracing pleasure. Lead single BREAK MY SOUL implores the listener to ‘Release ya job’, which really resonated with a society suffering under the decaying effects of late stage monopoly capitalism, and will I imagine be partnered with Ms Carter redistributing her $450mil wealth to support all of those workers to seize the means of production. A lot of the response to the record has highlighted – occasionally as the album’s main selling point – how much ‘fun’ Beyoncé is obviously having. Which is a valid point. She is legitimately one of the most powerful people in the world. I imagine it’s rather straightforward for her to have ‘fun’.
Remember ‘Lemonade’? Six years ago, Beyoncé released what I honestly believe will forever be remembered as one of the most important albums of the century. I named it album of the year. Later, I named it album of the decade. Looking back, I probably prefer Hotelier’s 2016 album ‘Goodness‘, but that’s neither here nor there. It was an event, it explicitly referenced and celebrated African American history, culture, and highlighted aspects of the struggles they’ve had to endure over the past, y’know, few hundred years. It did all this – all this sociological analysis and cultural celebration, presented alongside quotations from Malcolm X and underground black American poets like Warsan Shire – while still spinning a narrative of a betrayed woman learning to heal herself and her relationship after infidelity. Fuck, man, shall we just drop everything now and go and watch the ‘Lemonade’ visual album again?
This is the follow-up. Six years later. And the central message, the important memorandum that the artist wishes to impart on the listener and the world, is
just, like, party down my dudes, yeah? Live, laugh, love. Hashtag #GirlBoss, ammi right? Oh! But there’s a song called AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM, so I bet that’ll talk about some hot button issues like… Ah, no, that’s just the name of the sample from Kilo Ali’s 1990 song Cocaine (America Has a Problem). It’s actually about how loving someone is, y’know, a bit like a drug, which is an analogy I don’t think anyone has ever used before, so props for originality.
‘Originality’ is the main problem with ‘RENAISSANCE’. In the sense that there isn’t any. Perhaps it’s a matter of age. I am two years younger than Beyoncé (Ha! In your FACE, you old hag! Sorry, it’s very rare that I write about artists that are older than me…), we’re both old enough to remember a lot of this stuff first time around. A lot of her fans are a) younger than me, and b) more American than me, so unlikely to have grown up surrounded by Show Me Love and… erm…
Right Said Fred…? Weird flex sampling I’m Too Sexy on Alien Superstar, but OK. I know all these samples, I’ve heard all these basslines, these piano chords soundtracked thousands of popular songs all through my youth. Beyoncé repeats them, she centres them respectfully, she samples and builds around them, she pays repeated homage. She adds nothng to them. A lot of reviewers are hearing celebrations of black joy and subtle politics in its musical emphasis and reaffirmation of the queer beginnings of club culture. OK. It’s art. You can read whatever you want into it. All I can say is that such topics are barely evident in the actual text. ‘RENAISSANCE’ is a very decent album. It’s also slight, uninspired and would likely be forgettable if it weren’t released by the biggest pop star of the 21st century.
And listen, the reason I rarely do reviews so close to the release date is because I seriously don’t believe a couple of days is anywhere near enough time to properly absorb and understand a piece of musical art. Even if you have listened dozens of time as I have, musical art needs days, weeks, months to truly ingest into your soul. If you’d asked me to review the latest Kendrick Lamar record on the day of its release, for example, I would have told you it was a dull as dogs cock overlong and overimportant dirge. Now, I’d say it was… fine, I guess. I dunno. And like Kendrick on ‘Big Pumpin’ the Big Sleepers‘, or whatever it’s called, on ‘RENAISSANCE’ Beyoncé could be facing up to her status as a cultural icon and expected preacher. Perhaps this mantle of cultural spokesperson that has been thrust upon her is the ‘job’ that Beyoncé is so keen to ‘release’.
Again though, the main difference is that these allusions are actually present in Kendrick’s lyrics, while with Beyoncé we might just be searching for distinction in a text that so often seems shallow and superficial.
It’s the first part of a trilogy, which I am unbelievably excited about, and I have full faith in Beyoncé’s artistic ability to believe that it will all make mistakes at the end. And I can truly imagine that the love for this album amongst certain sections of society may lead to something magical and it could really be looked back upon as an important and notable cultural moment. But on it’s own terms, artistically?
Yeah, it’s fine. You might like it, I guess
BONUS! Rants About Rolling Stone’s Top 200 Dance Songs!!!
- I’m sorry, but #188 is ridiculously low for Snap’s The Power. That shit owned 1990. Yeah, I was six years old, so what? I still fucked to that song (metaphorically, please do not inform social services)
- OK, respect for including Todd Terje at #186. But higher than Snap!?
- Brown Paper Bag by Roni Size as low as #183?? Listen, dudes, either place it top 50 at least or just don’t put it on the list and pretend you’ve never heard it, you chose the most embarrassing option
- Argh!! OK, so Back to Life’s importance and influence on black soul and dance music in this country might be me talking through a British lens, but simply taken artistically #182 is actually a hate crime against one of the greatest songs of the late 80s of any genre
- Either you don’t consider One Nation Under a Groove as dance music, or you rank it much higher than #178 (personally, I’d favour the former)
- Ditto Get Lucky at #176 (personally, I’d favour the latter)
- We Are Your Friends should probably be higher than #174, but… I’m not that passionate about it. Higher than fucking Back to Life though?!?!
- Little Fluffy Clouds at #169 (dude) is wrong. It’s, like, #84, or something, easy
- Nobody has ever called Smalltown Boy (#163) a ‘dance song’. Are we just gonna count all 80s pop music?
- Soft Cell (#170), Human League (151), Frankie Goes to Hollywood (#123), Madonna (#91 & #11), Grace Jones (#84), Pet Shop Boys (#65)… Yeah we’re just doing that. RS are retconning the 80s to try and prove that the USA was into dance music way before it actually was? I’m going to start say that Alexei Sayle’s Ullo John Gotta New Motor actually proves that the UK was into hip-hop way back in 1982
- Christ, something from the new Drake album actually makes #162. Higher than fucking Back to Life though?!?!
- Losing My Edge (#155) is a little hard done by, did I just imagine how big a deal that was in 2005?
- Alright, respect for including Squarepusher’s Red Hot Car at #153
- I’m sorry, I know I’m supposed to be all respectful and culturally sensitive, but putting 3am Eternal as low as #147 is actually emblematic of a rot at the very core of that nation’s society
- No, I’m sorry, I’m not letting you have YMCA by The Village People (#139), nor Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees (#129), nor the fucking Weather Girls (#88), nor Diana Ross (#42), nor Gloria Gaynor (#42), nor Sister Sledge (#34),nor Chaka Khan (#27), nor James Brown (#15). And Michael Jackson (#57). For, erm, various reasons…
- However, possibly hypocritically, I am absolutely letting you have Erotic City by Prince (#135). Fucking b-side that, by the way. God, I love Him so much.
- As previously alluded to, I think Where Are U Now is a little more important than its #111 placing would suggest
- Fuck, not even into the top 100…
- Firestarter doesn’t even make the top 100 (#110)!?!?
- I’m the bitch you hated, filth infatuated. Just thought I’d let you know
- Break My Soul at #108 is fucking shocking
- OK, we all agree that Get Ur Freak On is one of the most wonderful pieces of art that has ever been presented, but a dance song?? The criteria for this list is all over the place. And on any list you decide to make, it should be top ten, not #92.
- Holy shit, not only do they include Blind by Hercules and the Love Affair, but the stick it in the top 100 (#90). Forget anything I’ve said, all is forgiven, I love this list
- Wha…? Bu…? How…? The motherfuckers put Born Slippy (Nuxx) as low as eighty nine?!?! This. This was my main takeaway from first reading the list. Is America really so confused as to not automatically consider this verified classic a top ten (or even… number one…??) contender?? I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I’m just… confused… One place below It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls
- The Chemical/Dust Brothers absolutely need to be in there, but are Chemical Beats (#32) and Setting Sun (rooooow, wa-doo-wa-da,rooooow… Fuck, and I can’t remember what number it was. Eighty something?) really the two greatest examples of their talents? No Block Rocking Beats? No Hey Girl Hey Boy? No (gasp! Be still my beating bosom!) Private Psychedelic Reel??
- The Rolling Stone website is an absolute fucking mess. It’s not easy for most computers to handle 50+ music videos on one page you absolute turnips!!
- Sure, Red Alert by Basement Jaxx is a bit of a tune, but the songs it’s ranked higher than at #80 just baffles me
- I don’t care if I’ve probably already argued that it shouldn’t be eligible, Buffalo Stance is such a fucking choon that seeing it at #71 just makes me happy
- OK, guys, listen, either you don’t consider Planet Rock eligible, or you rank it top five. #67 is a joke
- Listen, I know it doesn’t feel right, but we have to accept that Skrillex has to be there. #64 sounds about right, but the songs he’s ahead of may well be anger inducing
- The top 50 is making me less annoyed… I can’t decide what I think about Azealia Banks at #42… I guess that cunt gets an eating?
- OK, putting Turned Down for What as high as #27 is actually a bit of a flex, and I appreciate it. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but the size of its influence…? It’s a debate starter. Good on you, Rolling Stone, contributing to the marketplace of ideas.
- Nobody has ever called Can’t Get You Out Of My Head a ‘dance’ song. Interesting take, RS. Marketplace of ideas etc.
- Controversy by Prince at #19? Probably breaks all of my rules, but I don’t care, it deserves to be everywhere.
- Even #12 is too low for Trans-Europe Express
- I might have missed something, culturally, but putting Latch by Disclosure at #10 seems absolutely fucking insane
- I Feel Love by Donna Summer is… an extremely legitimate, and perhaps correct, choice for #1
Two hundred songs. And they didn’t name You Got the Love. The fuck is wrong with these people?
By ‘these people’ I, of course, mean ‘Americans’.
Please like and subscribe. And comment! But I don’t think I’ve said anything contentious. Straight facts, my dudes.
(If you’re an American reading this, know that I’m joking – I know that you think Rolling Stone is fucking nonsense as well)