Dance will eat itself

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If you’ve turned on a radio, checked out Video Hits, hit up a club or been anywhere near the internet recently then you’d know that dance music is a big tent once more. Dance music has invaded popular culture, with big dance band and DJ lineups dominating festivals around Australia and the world and producers of every niche – from Tiesto to Rusko and Calvin Harris – have pop artists, rappers and rockers on speed-dial. DJs are certified stars. And dance music is one big party with everyone on the guestlist.

Because of that, everybody wants a piece of the clubbing pie. And whilst that can be a good thing in terms of exposure and revenue for artists, the bigger the bubble gets, the more obvious the flaws become. When Justice broke it big their sound became the sound and every producer looking to capitalise on the fad did so, leaping onto the band wagon and diluting it destructively. With dance music as a whole now venturing into some clear commercial waters, we’re at another tipping point where the same thing is happening again and it seems as though one good idea is the only good idea around, and everybody is going to ride that idea into the dirt. The point of running this feature is to foster some discussion on the current climate of dance music and the potentially rocky weather ahead. To start us off, we’re going to focus on what could be the most talked about songs of 2010.

Arguably one of the biggest – and most surprising – club hits to crossover to mainstream acclaim this year has been We No Speak Americano from Sydney producers Yolanda Be Cool collaborating with synth-whiz DCUP. While the tune owes more than a little bit of inspiration to Riva Starr’s scene-starting gypsy house jam I Was Drunk, its success has been a Cinderella story of sorts for the local producers who not only found chart glory at home – with the single climbing to #4 on the singles chart – but also abroad with Americano hitting the number one spot in countries as far off as the UK, Finland, Slovakia and Germany.

Instead of letting We No Speak Americano rest on its own as a lightning-in-a-bottle moment for Australian dance music and its creators, the biters have come out of the woodwork, ready to ride Americano’s already tattered coat-tails. Who’s first out of the blocks? That’d be KCB and Timmy Trumpet with their tune Tromba Ye Ye Ye.

It’s difficult to critique something like Tromba Ye Ye Ye without coming off as disrespectful to the producers behind the tune who’ve earned their stripes on the Australian circuit over the years, but this is unquestionably an insipid and obvious clone of Americano, fabricated with transparent speed and soullessness so as to cash-in on that original tune’s success and hopefully get a few downloads from blinkered kids that’ve worn out their copies of Americano by now. From the rinky-dink foreign language sample, to the cut-up horns and bouncing beat it’s a copy, and a sadly cheap one at that. And it inexplicably has a Daft Punk font attached to it…

Perhaps that assessment is a bit harsh because it is honestly hard to blame anyone for wanting to ride the wave and grab some of the spotlight cast by Americano’s success. Indeed, the song ballooned to another stratosphere altogether last week when prime-time Latino rapper Pitbull jacked the Alvaro remix for a rhinestone-embossed and typically Pitbull track called Bon, Bon.

This is somewhat murky territory now as the jury is still out on the current trend of rap/pop/dance crossovers, with many readers here on ITM raging against the widespread thrust of dance music into the mainstream. I’d put across an argument that it’s always good to see dance artists make a buck and get more fans in the process. Besides, hooking up with Pitbull isn’t the same thing as Carl Craig making tunes for Jordin Sparks. Not yet anyway. But the real problem here is that We No Speak Americano isn’t even cold yet and still its being wrung dry for any final bead of charisma, showing that the commercial side of dance music is seemingly stuck in an endless loop of making something big and then breaking it down into the ground, and alarmingly, it’s happening increasingly faster with every shallow cycle.

I guess the crux of it all is to do with originality in commercial dance music and where that ends when radio play and chart figures come into view. The current king of the mainstream is of course David Guetta who’s thrown integrity to the wind with his domination of dance-pop that’s seen the French house producer apply his beats to stars like Kelis, The Black Eyed Peas and up next, Madonna. And good on him for doing that because it was bound to happen eventually, Guetta was just the one to do it with enough brains and at the right time. While Guetta has publicly excused himself from an underground backlash by knowingly stating he’s “aiming to be incredible” as opposed to credible, that doesn’t excuse him from flooding his self-cultivated market with dire re-treads of the same sound – when will someone realise that Club Can’t Handle Me and I Gotta Feeling are the same song?! The most telling example of what I’m talking about, and indeed the one that has got the smiling Frenchman into some hot water recently, is his track 50 Degrees, a rather blatant rip of One (Your Name) ft. Pharrell by DJ buddies Swedish House Mafia. Judge ‘em side-by-side in the clips below.

Again, that’s a pretty indisputable duplication of an already big tune coming in remarkable speed from Guetta and it’s indicative of the limp that’s tripping up dance music right now. If someone like David Guetta, who’s one of the most recognisable DJs on the planet at the minute, can’t muster up the energy to escape this all consuming cycle that commercial dance is following then the bubble will burst. Simple as that.

Speaking of Swedish House Mafia, those dudes can’t feel too raw about Guetta’s beat cribbing as not only does One share some curious similarities to Avicii’s Ryu, but one third of the group, Steve Angello, has come under fire recently for his tune Knas.

Released back in June, Knas hit #1 on Beatport with ease, another club-ready bomb from the mighty Swede. Problem was, however, that the tune wasn’t as ‘creative’ as you’d expect from a favoured producer like Angello. Indeed, some incensed producers took on Angello, slamming the Swede for using an Ableton sample pack and publicly shaming him on the internet. Here’s the original version and a video recreating almost every sound and detail of Knas in a seven minute Ableton session like the one below.

“Everyone can sample,” the Swedish House Mafia maestro said, responding to the backlash on Twitter. “Its about finding the sample, how you use the sample, how you produce the track. Look at every single hip hop track from gang starr , kanye west , jay z , to anyone u can name. They always sample but makes a hit out of it .. Look at daft punk, even prodigy & chemical brothers. Its easy to judge after the sample is discovered. Be the first to use it or stop judging [sic].”

Angello makes a fair point, but when viewed against the video recreation above, it’s hard to put him alongside someone like Kanye West or DJ Premier in terms of creatively manipulating a sample.

The bleak reality of all this is that somehow recycling and retreading has become the norm and we’re not blinking an eye when a scene, a sound or the spark of a trend is ignited and subsequently pulled apart by hungry DJs declaring ‘me too’ and jumping on it with all their weight. Just as a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy (and so on) gradually diminishes in quality every time it gets scanned and copied again so does dance music lose its potency and authenticity as good ideas get hit with some Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V action. Where will it end? Because if ‘dance’ is indeed the new ‘pop’ like the industry is prophesising, then dance will eat itself. And right now it looks like there’s a lot of fat on those bones.

Comments

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moovin_on_UP

moovin_on_UP said on the 1st Sep, 2010

@m xt - oi, Spud Muffin, advertising $$'s pay for sites like these so that muppets like yourself can trawl them but still ignore the fact that they're bringing you decent info about the art-form you like - if you didn't want the 'advertised' phone, by all means ignore the adverts, go and finger your iPhone in the back of a club and don't bother contributing to an article which happens to be very well written and brings up some extremely good points. Advertising doesn't 'decide content', it pays for it, massive difference. When you go to a festival, Smirnoff haven't influenced the lineup, Agwa doesn't influence the way a night is run if they sponsor a tropical club night, they just simply align their product with consumers who may find an interest in it. If you don't like the product, you ignore it - that's why we were supplied with this thing called 'thinking for yourself'
@ The Article in general: great article, it is a major problem and producers are getting lazy when it comes to finding new styles. Sampling is fine, but use it creatively. Steve's approach to it was lazy, and in this case successful. Hip Hop sampling such as Jay Z where they take an instrumental and then just add a beat and maybe a vocal hook is what it is meant to be, raw - while something such as The Prodigy using 6 different samples for 'Smack My Bitch Up' and then transforming them and tweaking them is what it is - complex. (p.s want to see how its made, watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eU5Dn-WaElI )
Everything goes around in circles from fashion to music, but its all about the ride and once that loopty-loop comes back around and there's a rock on the track, then and only then will we feel the pain of what that coaster can do... In other words, people will come crawling back to good music, great grooves and also as 'kone' mentioned, just dig deeper - seriously, there are some funky juices at the bottom of the bin, you just gotta sift through the garbage...

e_j_montano

e_j_montano said on the 4th Sep, 2010

I have to agree with AdamZae, I think this article misses the point somewhat. There's nothing new about dance music being part of the mainstream, just look to the explosion of disco in the late 70s or acid house in the late 80s, and whenever anything is in the mainstream it becomes subject to this kind of lame and unfair criticism (e.g. the “Disco Sucks” campaign in the US in the late 70s). This kind of critique of commercial music has existed ever since the days of Tin Pan Alley in the US in the early 1900s, with critics dismissing popular music as overly-simplistic, vacuous and cultural worthless. In addition, criticising these tracks for their imitation shows a lack of wider perspective. As AdamZae correctly points out, some of the so-called ‘pioneers’ of popular music imitated everything that had come before them. Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’ was a cover version; Led Zeppelin liberally borrowed major parts of numerous African-American blues songs on their early albums (getting sued for copyright infringement in the process); and the Beatles covered several songs on their early albums. No musician or producer creates in a vacuum, and sometimes influences are just a bit more obvious.

I think this article is guilty of perpetuating that lazy division between ‘commercial=crap’ and ‘underground=authentic/original’, and surely ITM should be promoting a more balanced perspective? What about the people who read ITM and actually like this music? Is it right to be denigrating their tastes? Surely that is biting the hand that feeds. I’m just as comfortable listening to a Balance mix as I am a Ministry of Sound CD, so should I feel offended at this seeming dismissal of commercial dance music? ITM should be taking a more inclusive approach, because ultimately we are all sailing on the same EDM boat.

To suggest that the music highlighted somehow represents a decline in standards and signals “rocky weather ahead” is just ridiculous. There has always been imitation in dance music, and people will continue to exploit the latest sound, but that doesn’t make that music any worse. I think people need to be less precious about this. Dance music in the mainstream is a great thing. Sure, everyone has their likes and dislikes, and the disagreements that arise from these are what make music such a vibrant topic of discussion, but knocking something for its commerciality is a cheap shot. And ‘dance’ as the new ‘pop’? Dance music has been pop for years. And if there is a bubble to burst, then that’s no big deal. It happened earlier in the decade with the collapse of superclubs and the whole superstar DJ phenomenon. Popular music runs in cycles.

Also, to suggest that ‘people on the periphery’ will somehow be alienated by the similarity of this music is ridiculous. That’s like saying people who hear Bon Jovi and Matchbox Twenty on the radio won’t bother exploring other areas of rock music. People will investigate further if they wish. I realise the intention of this piece was to stimulate debate, but I think this debate can be initiated in a more objective and balanced, and less prejudiced and blinkered, manner.