Dance music is often understood through a lexicon of movements and places. Now tidily historicized, it can be comforting to look back on the clean lines of progress from its embryonic stage in the late 1970s on through the 1990s rave explosion and into its current moment of commercial and cultural normativity. It makes sense, after all, that disco led into house and that the myriad forms played on The Electrifying Mojo, from Herbie Hancock to Kraftwerk, formed the basis for the radical new dimensions of Detroit techno.
Retrospective histories form the basis of our understanding of the present, but they’re also prone to leave out the artists, labels and movements that don’t fit into the well defined categories established after the fact. More than ever, frameworks like the hardcore continuum or the centrality of cities like Berlin and London are inadquate for understanding the cross-polination of sounds throughout the world. Created on pirated software, shared over bluetooth, and embraced via TikTok dance sensations, the dynamism inherent in the dance music of today demands an equally adaptable, energetic criticism and contextualization.
The aim of this column Continental Drift is not to demarcate the borders of some nebulous zone of “club”, “deconstructed” or “experimental” music, but to address newly manifesting forms on their merits. Instead of defining emerging music by its distance to traditional genres, a responsibility exists to lay out a language of how rhythm is assembled, manipulated, and conveyed. That’s not to argue that contemporary dance forms exist outside of the flow of history, but that connections made between artists today are often far more dynamic than the critical apparatus foisted on them after the fact.
Moving forward, this column will provide a space for both brand new artists and veterans alike. Geographically, dance music’s infrastructure is centered on a handful of Western mega cities, but an unprecedented outgrowth of rhythmic energy is exploding in places like Kampala, Montevideo and Newark. While much of dance music culture is defined by a certain escapism and return to traditional sounds, a capacious spirit is also prevalent, driven by DJs and dancers willing to buck institutional standards and outmoded frameworks.
Moving to the present, the first several months of 2020 have been dominated by new iterations on familiar sounds, as well as startling stylistic deviations. DJ Delish, LEDEF and quest?onmarc all took on different components of the ballroom tradition, each utilizing the genre’s core samples for their own divergent energies and intensities. Brazil’s funk sound has broken into many regional variations, each with their own characteristic production vernaculars, and Sao Paulo’s BADSISTA has been a key voice for a faster, rave-infused sound. With TAYA on MC duties, “XERECARIA” is a prime example, motorizing funk’s earlier linkages with electro.
Largely absent from the dancefloor over the last half decade, Jam City emerged on Twitter with a barrage of leaks that included dubs like “Pink Snow”, “New York” and the long sought after “Final Joust”. Several years down the line from the Night Slugs heyday, the tracks haven’t lost a bit of luster, a reminder of the ineffability of the crew’s signature hybrid approach. Taking that baton and diverging from existing continuums, BONAVENTURE, Laughing Ears and Villaelvin have each introduced narrative, rhythmic, and structural innovations that challenge what club and soundsystem music can be.
- BADSISTA – XERECARIA (ft. TAYA)
- Bamao Yendé – Molo Desire
- BONAVENTURE – God Bless (ft. Hamza & Damso)
- Citizen Boy – Hlasela (ft. Thalerh)
- DJ Delish – GINA, PLEAAASE!
- DJ FOAM – Command Me
- DJ Taj – The Box (Jersey Club Mix) TikTok Version Ft. Jdub
- Ducky – Work// EMPYREAN TEARS REMIX (kelman duran dembow edit)
- Fridge, Organ Tapes & Yayoyanoh – Stunna
- Gant-Man – Night Of The Living Jukeheads
- Ingrate – Imp
- Kem + CalvoMusic – Missing You
- KG – BBM Remix
- Laughing Ears – Blue Dusk
- LEDEF – Pu$$y Demand$ (ft. Wherm)
- quest?onmarc – Lotus
- Swan Meat – SUCKLING GROWN
- TT The Artist – Where You At (prod. By Detroit’s Filthiest)
- Uninamise – BIG DRIP
- Villaelvin – GHOTT ZILLAH
Gabe Meier is based in Chicago and has been writing about the latest evolutions in dancefloor music since 2012. The Astral Plane is his primary outlet, spanning a blog, record label and radio show. Follow him on Twitter here.
Additional graphic design by Ekaterina Kachavina.