With decades of experience as a DJ and music maker and a fine-tuned ear for the technical intricacies of music composition, Daniel Wang is well-equipped to discuss the magic that separates truly special songs from the rest. In past interviews, he’s labeled himself a “preservationist,” and his work is centered around highlighting music created before many of today’s digital tools, for better or worse, streamlined the writing and production processes for creators.
In this excerpt from a “The Idea of Musicality in Modern Dance Music,” a full-length essay featured in the forthcoming Electronic Beats book (created to celebrate 20 years of Electronic Beats), the DJ and music historian outlines how the United States’ shift away from traditional music education in schools, combined with its influence on international culture, has culminated in a lack of attention to music theory and music history (which he bundles together as “musicality”) in modern dance music. Pre-order the book now to read the full piece.
Through the sound of popular music—that seductive combination of European tonal scales, modern technology, and African rhythmic motifs—the whole world becomes ‘Americanized.’
If music is a sort of universal language, then dance music is a recognizable but peculiar dialect—a sort of global Esperanto or patois, which was cobbled together as a response to a post-civil rights, post-sexual revolution 20th century reality. Indeed, as the cliché goes, in the USA it was the music of Blacks, Latinos, gays, and women, all those groups which were outside of the “white” and “male” rock mainstream. But Esperanto was artificially created with pre-defined rules, and it has never fully become a global language (like English did, de facto) because it never had a real geographical or cultural location in which its vocabulary could organically evolve. Therefore, instead of Esperanto, I would suggest that electronic dance music is better described as a patois, in the sense that it evolved over the past 30 or 40 years as the grandchild of back-and-forth encounters from many tribes of different backgrounds. By necessity, just like a patois, much of the “correct” grammar of its parent languages has gotten lost, and instead has been replaced by muddy compromises. That also explains the “lack of rules”—because a lowest common denominator, by definition, must make a generous allowance for inconsistencies and mistakes.
Published March 10, 2021. Words by Daniel Wang.