In her new column for EB, Ruth Saxelby finds a moment of clarity in the vastness of new music. This month: the infiltration of the British dance continuum in American sounds. Illustration by Inka Gerbert.
“I love how open minded the American crowd is to all different styles of EDM!” tweeted Dutch trance producer Tiësto recently. There’s lots to chew on there, not all of it palatable, but above all Tiësto’s jubilance is a timely reminder that the American mainstream’s “discovery” of dance music is still in its honeymoon period. While Europe’s greying superstar DJs enjoy their (second) time in the sun, the US underground—perhaps in reaction to “EDM”’s reign—has increasingly reached out to the grittier grooves of UK dance music. Jungle, drum’n’bass, UK garage and grime never broke America in the way that Chicago house and Detroit techno influenced the UK, so it’s thrilling to hear the cultural exchange swim the other way. As to the whys and wherefores for this aural pilgrimage to rave’s roots, nostalgia would be an easy but misplaced call. Yes, it’s partly the fantasy of a life never lived, but it’s also desire for dialogue with one of the most culturally rich and continually evolving scenes, and almost certainly a celebration of a musical palette that favors roughness over high-end polish.
As a side note, it’s interesting that America’s biggest rap stars have been looking to the UK, too: Drake regularly linking with the Young Turks camp (Jamie xx and now Sampha) and Kanye looking to Warp (recruiting Hudson Mohawke as a producer and sampling Kwes). Where US dance music goes from here is anyone’s guess, but here’s hoping it’s as schooled as this lot:
Jubilee & Star Eyes – “Locked”
Self-confessed Slimzee super-fans, NYC producer/DJs Jubilee and Star Eyes collaborated for a release on London label Unknown to the Unknown late last year. Lead track “Locked” was a tribute to the Pay As U Go Cartel original, spinning shouts from his Rinse FM show into a tough, bass-heavy number. There’s a bunch of “I see ya”s, some perfectly placed “oooh”s, and, brilliantly, “I can’t even remember who made this one, y’know.” There’s something poetic about turning a UK garage DJ’s radio chat into a grime-via-Jersey-club track, as it echoes Slimzee’s journey and influence. In his own words, “mash the dance.”
Physical Therapy – “Whitelabel”
Brooklyn producer Physical Therapy has long had an ear on the UK. Last year he dropped his debut EP Safety Net which featured the Baby D-style vocal drum’n’bass tune “Drone On”, and now he’s gone (sort of) happy hardcore. The knowingly titled “Whitelabel” distills the wobble and upfront energy of that era into something subtler: it’s half the speed, for starters, and that whistle is just a ghost but the direction its gazing in is clear.
Default Genders – “Words With Friends”
Someone else tripping out on UK chart dance circa 1994 is Default Genders, the renamed new project from ex-Elite Gymnastics producer James Brooks (he was called Dead Girlfriends for a minute). “Words With Friends”, the strongest track on his much-debated On Fraternity EP, blends vocoder vocals with a gentle jungle rhythm that works to underline its bruised wistfulness. While Brooks has been blasted over the EP’s political intentions, musically there’s a sincerity that’s hard to miss.
Future Brown – “Wanna Party ft. Tink”
When it comes to WTF club tracks, there’s no-one to touch Brooklyn’s Fatima Al Qadiri and L.A.’s Nguzunguzu. Both tread the line between sinister and sensual to dramatic effect, so it was a hand-rubbing moment to hear they’d joined forces for a new project called Future Brown along with Lit City Trax head J-Cush. Their debut track features Chicago rapper Tink and has more than a whisper of grime’s freaky melody influence running underneath its snare-heavy sway.
Arca – “Harness”
Venezuela-born producer Arca recently relocated from New York to London, perhaps a natural evolution given that his music has steadily moved towards grime. Following last year’s weird’n’wired rap EP Stretch 2 and his production work for Kanye’s Yeezus, he just dropped his &&&&& mixtape on L.A. label Hippos In Tanks and track two “Harness” (it starts around the 2.15 minute mark) has an abstract, grime-y bass kick that’s as playful as it is deadly serious. While he’s been producing for rising pop star FKA Twigs, I can’t help but wonder what Trim would sound like over Arca’s beats. ~