Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
2012 went down as the year that electronic dance music finally conquered America, the last hold-out against its pulsing charms. The country spent decades ignoring the music that originated within its heartland (via Detroit techno and Chicago acid house), so it had to venture overseas to find cultural acceptance in England, Germany, and beyond, until the prodigal son returned home to find that warm embrace of shirtless guys and girls saucer-eyed on Molly.
Oay, it wasn’t that stereotypical, but 2012 was the year wherein the music found corporate acceptance. With covers of Rolling Stone, Hot Topic branding, coverage in Forbes Magazine, not to mention shared fiscal interests with GOP Super PACs, EDM became a multimillion dollar industry. And perhaps it’s just the punk kid in me, but such multinational, mainstream attention leads me to burrow deeper underground.
Thankfully, upon my return to Brooklyn this spring, I found the underground scene alive and welling up, with warehouse spaces like 285 Kent throwing packed parties featuring everyone from Chicago’s DJ Rashad to Washington D.C.’s Beautiful Swimmers to AraabMuzik and other parties popping up in farflung loftspaces even deeper in Brooklyn. Brooklyn artists like Ital and Laurel Halo released well-received full-lengths on esteemed electronic music imprints in the UK (on Mike “Mu-Ziq” Paradinas’s Planet Mu and Kode9’s Hyperdub label, respectively). Small imprints like Uno, Golf Channel, WT, and L.I.E.S. also began to generate some buzz (or in the case of the latter, literally make more noise). And better yet, some of my favorite dance parties, like Mister Saturday Night and Let’s Play House, started putting out original productions as well.
From my position, I at times wondered if this was simply a matter of being locavore, loving and supporting what my friends and neighbors and fellow New Yorkers were up to. A few times this year, I would walk down the street and see producer Willie Burns hanging outside of Greenpoint junk shop The Thing. He would hand me the latest WT releases, be they the melancholic folk-pop record he made with Krysten Ritter as ex-vivian or the dark private-pressed synth record from a Delaware musician named Woz that he unearthed down in The Thing’s cluttered basement and reissued. Sometimes I would run into former !!!/Outhud bassist/producer Justin Vandervolgen at the same shop, where he would hand me his latest, headiest releases. It was a good year for his work as well, with his ecstatic, elastic edits and remixes popping up on playlists and DJ charts around the world.
Just when I feared dance music might aim its sights a tad too high, friends and neighbors went deeper and dirtier as well as weirder and more primitive.
A few blocks further on, I would sometimes happen upon Ron Morelli, whose L.I.E.S. label continued to unearth a treasure trove of local electronic music producers. You might not have known about producers like Svengalisghost, Bookworms, Delroy Edwards or Terekke before this year, but they began to develop a ravenous fanbase (with attendant astronomical prices on Discogs.com) soon after dropping their singles on L.I.E.S. And as the year went on, those releases got noisier and grittier, like a stylus accruing dust and fuzz as it moves across a dusty groove. The Jahiliyya Fields record the label released this summer wouldn’t sound out of place amid the modern noise music that began to bleed towards the dancefloor.
Former Yellow Swans member Pete Swanson (temporarily calling Brooklyn home) released two bracing efforts this year, the full-length Man With Potential and EP Pro-Style, which because of their churning rhythmic underpinnings made sense in the sets of boundary-pushing DJs. He wasn’t the only noise artist finding space within modern dance music for their music to reach crowds. William Bennett, who used to make ears bleed as famed noise act Whitehouse, ventured into the pummeling sounds of tranced-out tribal polyrhythms as Cut Hands, while producers like Container, Bee Mask, and Heatsick also released efforts that blurred the distinctions between noise and electronic dance music.
A genre is best when it acts like an amoeba. What makes a certain genre of music remain vital is how much it can mutate and gobble up what’s around it, transforming it into a variation of itself. The blues remained vital for decades not by remaining something plucked on a guitar in a cotton field, but by breeding with jazz, with R&B, and starting in the mid-‘60s, being folded in with rock. Same goes with the rock idiom itself, which for a few generations drew upon everything from bubblegum to Indian classical music to androgynous glam to synthesizers. And while it’s cringeworthy to see how artists ranging from Ke$ha to Muse to Taylor Swift tried to make dubstep palatable (as well as innumerable ad agencies, deploying EDM and dubstep to sell cars and breakfast cereal, electronic dance music began to affect other sounds around it. What made it vital to me was when noise, trap, lo-fi, and even some indie acts (from Four Tet to Caribou’s Dan Snaith to Toro Y Moi) began to move towards it, these new strains making for exciting new sounds.
Soon, the sounds emanating from my borough began to spread much wider. The debut single from Brooklyn twentysomething Anthony Naples appeared as the first release on the Mister Saturday Night imprint. Barely a week after that, Naples was tapped to remix Four Tet’s “Jupiters.” Soon after followed a full feature in Resident Advisor on him and now Naples came in at #3 on UK dance webshop Juno’s Top Singles of 2012. Not bad for your first try.
In October, a write-up on Juno grouped all these disparate sounds and labeled them as “outsider dance.” The piece argued that with such artists “more emphasis was placed on these individuals operating at the fringes of the fringes rather than labels, genres or scenes.” It focused on the deep yet distorted tracks from Delroy Edwards (who had one of his singles pop up on UK producer Ben UFO’s recent Fabric mix) and Willie Burns’ schizophrenic EP, The Overlord. I’d wax on about that EP’s eclectic range of styles (it’s gloriously all over the map), but I like this testimonial from Discogs best: “Its (sic) almost as if Willie built the track and then told a preschooler to push the button for the explosion sounds…It is so weird and primitive in nature that it becomes cool.”
I don’t expect any of the above artists to make the leap up to Electric Zoo anytime soon, but just when I feared dance music might aim its sights a tad too high, friends and neighbors went deeper and dirtier as well as weirder and more primitive.