Drag and Dubstep: 2011’s Apocalyptic Sounds
Prince once sang, ‘…two thousand zero zero, party over, whoops, out of time. So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999’. Singing about the advent of the apocalypse (it was 1982, but he was thinking futuristic as per), the philosophy he presented was that – should such an event occur – the only thing to do would be to forget your worries and fears: and simply dance your socks off. As I’m sure we’d agree anyone would be wise to do at particularly difficult and challenging times in life.
Why then, in the dreary, bleak month of January, in the terrifyingly futuristic-sounding year 2011, is the dance music set to be released in the UK and elsewhere so overwhelmingly dark in content? Having recently recovered from economic crisis and political instability, surely we should be listening to something more akin to Digitalism’s frenetic 2007 anthem ‘Pogo’ than Sound of 2011 runner up James Blake’s beautiful yet heartbreaking forthcoming single, ‘The Wilhelm Scream’. In it, the 22 year old dubstep producer sings wanly: ‘I don’t know about my dreams, I don’t know about my dreamin’ anymore. All I know is that I’m fallin’, fallin’, fallin’…Might as well fall in.’ I don’t know about you, but listening to this as I struggle to fight my way onto a crowded tube on a cold Monday morning might well be enough to push me over the edge.
On the other hand, it’s possibly all just a ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ – Prince pun there! – and arguably it’s an artist’s prerogative to depict those times, irrespective of whether the music they make is in the ‘dance’ genre or not. Someone who would probably agree is fellow Sound of 2011 shortlister Jamie Woon. Slow, contemplative grooves such as ‘Night Air’ and ‘Spirals’ from his upcoming debut release set for this Spring also display the sense that dance music is headed in a much different and more sombre direction this year.
Contributing to this theory, is the recent ‘drag/witch house’ dance movement, headed up in the past year by Houston based dance independents Tri Angle and Disaro. ‘Witch house’ is the term coined for the eerie sounds of new acts such as oOoOO, Fostercare, Creep and White Ring. What unites these acts – apart from the scary names – is their musical aesthetic, which utilises slowed down, twisted hip hop beats, warped synths, doctored vocals and overall has a distinctly spooky feel. This subgenre is heavily influenced by Salem and Fever Ray, as well as Burial’s seminal 2007 album ‘Untrue’ and sounds, well, as close to apocalyptic terror as music can. No dancing around your handbag to these tunes. However I can definitely see them being used to soundtrack an indie slasher film sequence.
Finally, there are further releases to come from UK dance independent Night Slugs. The bass specialising imprint made a big impression last year, with tasters of what to expect from the long plays of up-and-comers such as Girl Unit, Jam City and Lil Silva. Their specific brand of unnerving, antagonistic, futuristic beats bears one crucial difference to the guys in the ‘witch house’ camp; this stuff you can dance to, regardless of the innate sense of doom.
It’s not all shadowy rhythms and jarring samples though; also out early this year are albums from the perennially dance-able Cut Copy and The Go! Team, sure to be a bit easier to ‘cut a rug’ to, so to speak.Tagged in: Dubstep, Jamie Woon, music, Night Slugs, prince
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