What does Disclosure mean for EDM?: The house revival goes mainstream

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“I hope you like it,” Disclosure’s Howard Lawrence told inthemix in the days before the duo released its debut album Settle. “We’re trying to not make a load of shit like everyone else.” It was a wry parting line from a guy who, at the age of 18, is getting used to life in the eye of a hype-storm.

Disclosure breezily describes Settle as “nice, happy, non-moody, house-y, garage-y music for dancing to.” Meanwhile, in the U.S. and beyond, the album is being touted as something far loftier: a game-changing antidote to the hammering headache of EDM. The LP went to No. 1 on the UK album charts, ahead of rock juggernaut Queens Of The Stone Age, and it’s making moves Stateside too. Howard and his 21-year-old brother Guy have been cast as fresh-faced leaders of the ‘house revival’, here to disrupt the brash-is-best mainstage posse. Beyond the easy headlines, though, is there a real shift happening?

In 2013, the UK charts have told a compelling story about the anti-Guetta-isation of popular dance music. While the UK singles chart is usually a high-sheen tangle of pop juggernauts, from Taylor Swift to Bruno Mars, this year has heralded some new Brit heroes. First, there’s Disclosure, whose bright-eyed, effervescent jams White Noise, You & Me and Latch all shimmied up the ranks, laying the groundwork for Settle’s watershed moment. Applying pop polish to drum & bass, London collective Rudimental also scored a Number 1 debut album.

In late 2012, Hot Natured – the production project of Jamie Jones and Lee Foss – snuck in at #40 on the singles chart with the Ali Love-assisted Benediction.

A 116-BPM house record cracking the Top 40 was greeted by the usual chorus of hecklers. “For everyone who was expecting my next collaboration to be with Akon here’s the lowdown,” Jones was compelled to respond on his Facebook page. “I want to assure people that this in no way selling out. Selling out is making music that you don’t particularly like purely for money. We just make songs we love – this will never change – and it seems that a lot of people like them. So for us to then turn around and say, ‘You can’t like my music, you’re not cool enough’ is ridiculous.”

Then, in April 2013, an unlikely chart-topper upstaged P!nk, Justin Timberlake and Nelly. Need U 100% – a shimmering house anthem from Londoner Duke Dumont – went to Number 1. “It is a ten-year overnight success,” he tells inthemix with a dry chuckle when we track him down for this feature. “There’s a new wave of club music getting a lot of chart action, and I think what it comes down to is, a lot more people are going out now. Before, with the recession, people were a little reluctant to go out. Now, if you’re out Friday and Saturday night and you hear a song you like, you’ll go out and buy it. Those days are coming back. In the ‘90s, when people were going to clubs, club music would do well in the charts, and I think that’s happening again. From Hot Natured’s Benediction to Disclosure to myself, we’re kind of riding that wave at the moment.”

Is that wave an exclusively English phenomenon? David Guetta – he of the 43 million Facebook fans and cadre of urban superstars at his beck-and-call – is cast as EDM’s chief chart-troubler. He’s either created a monster or built a bridge. There’s a revealing moment in Guetta’s 2012 documentary Nothing But The Beat when he hears an Auto-tuned club record playing on the radio in London. “Everything sounds the same, it’s unbelievable,” he says to his manager, who replies with a smile, “You started it.” Looking at Disclosure’s run of Top Ten successes, it’s not so easy to say Guetta started it. On the Billboard round-up of top-selling dance/electronic albums right now, Settle is at No. 2, just above will.i.am’s #willpower, an album that stands for the gaudiest excesses of pop-meets-EDM.

There's no consensus on what the term ‘EDM’ actually means in 2013, but for most, those three letters aren’t a catch-all for electronic dance music. ‘EDM’ is instead the sound that booms from mainstages; relentless peaks-into-drops and saccharine vocals peddled by top-line DJs. (It also must work alongside the whoosh of CO2 cannons.) In this view, EDM can be brostep or a new Zedd anthem, so long as it’s big. For the ever-acerbic Deadmau5, it means ‘Event Driven Marketing’.

Disclosure recently told Billboard they approached signing to a major label, Universal, with caution. “We did have kind of our reservations about it,” Guy said. “Like maybe they would force us to change what we’re doing and make us write David Guetta songs – commercial dance music, ‘EDM’. So we had to make sure we had an agreement with the label that we could carry on doing what we’re doing and they could just let us get on with it, and that’s exactly what happened.”

So, what happens next? Will gilded pop stars now bypass Calvin Harris in search of production from London’s house-and-garage upstarts? In Duke Dumont’s view, Disclosure doesn’t need the assistance.

“We aren’t relying on other people for the chart success,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’ve been asked, ‘Now that you’ve got a song in the charts, are you going to change your music? Are you going to sound like EDM guys?’ And I said, without any arrogance, why would I need to change what I do? You’re always going to get haters, but I believe the dynamic has changed this year in the charts. The internet’s had a huge impact, and the fruits of that are happening now.”

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