From Underworld’s “Born Slippy” (“Lager, lager, lager, shouting mega mega white thing”) to Faithless’ “Insomnia” (“I gets no sleep, I can’t get no sleep”) – on the surface, the original ‘Electronic Dance Music’ invasion of America in the mid-90s hardly appeared to be a bastion of intelligent and thought-provoking lyrical quality.
However, despite being adopted as a drinking anthem, the former was actually a personal cry for help written by Karl Hyde during his battle with alcoholism, while the latter acts as a warning of the hellish nights ahead for those clubbers who choose to sustain their partying via the use of certain stimulants: [LISTEN]
It’s hard to imagine any of the superstar DJs who can command six-figure fees before they’ve even put out an album from today’s EDM scene daring to record anything so deceptively sobering, particularly considering the majority of the Vegas-headlining brigade’s livelihood dependent on promoting the decadent lifestyle.
Indeed, while the old generation slating the new can often feel like a case of misplaced rose-tinted nostalgia, it’s hard to disagree with The Chemical Brothers’ Ed Simons when he recently described one of the decade’s biggest crossover tunes, the now-defunct Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child,” as drivel, and his assumption that “this post-modern everything’s ok attitude is killing interesting dance music.”
Of course, Simons’ heyday wasn’t entirely devoid of brainless lyrical themes either. Although their output would later tackle everything from spiritual enlightenment (“The Golden Path”) to disillusioned soldiers (“Left Right”), The Chemical Brothers’ early string of hits were renowned for their repeated mantras designed solely to send the dance floor skywards, whether chasing another one of those “block rockin’ beats,” or a coed salute to the venerable DJ:
While The Prodigy’s tasteless descent into misogyny on “Smack My Bitch Up” and the indefensible “Baby’s Got a Temper” [LISTEN] that sandwiched the new millennium make Robin Thicke’s controversial “Blurred Lines” a decade later appear virtually chivalrous, proving that a unique way with words isn’t always preferable to utter inanity:
However, for the most part, the original wave of EDM was far more intelligent and intriguing than the endless stream of ‘fun in the club’ anthems that have infiltrated the charts since will.i.am suddenly discovered dance music existed in 2009. As much as he wants to flip-flop – “They shouldn’t even call it dance music. They should call it look-at-the-DJ-and-get-drunk music,” he recently told The New Yorker – his pot will forever be calling its kettle #willpower, possibly still trying to clear samples to get “crazy” with Chris Brown, or well, babbling this lovely piece of auto-tuned, mind-numbing hypocrisy: [LISTEN]
The first wave of house music that undoubtedly opened the floodgates a decade previously when breakthrough hits from the likes of Inner City (“Good Life”) and Black Box (“Strike It Up”) celebrated the joys of the dancefloor with a life-affirming quality intended to bring people together. And club classics from the likes of Joe Smooth and Jamie Principle even managed to incorporate themes of religion and politics amongst all the 808 snares and silky smooth synths.
Alongside the creatively bankrupt Black Eyed Peas frontman, who arguably dragged the scene down to its lowest common denominator, the likes of LMFAO and Pitbull appear to have made a conscious effort to become as brostep moronic as possible. Calvin Harris, dance music’s current richest man, has completely ironed out the quirks that made “Acceptable in the 80s” and “The Girls” so playful in order to chase dollars with an endless array of generic ‘good time’ clichés. While the title of the ubiquitous David Guetta‘s compilation series, Fuck Me I’m Famous, says it all:
Professional motormouth Deadmau5 must also shoulder some of the blame for dance music’s steep decline. Although to be fair, he was one of the first artists to speak out about the ‘molly’ culture that has now become synonymous with the scene thanks to Cedric Gervais’ ode to the drug [LISTEN], split open by Madonna’s embarrassing ‘get down with the kids’ shout-out at last year’s Ultra Music Festival and a recent spate of fatal overdoses which led to the cancellation of New York’s Electric Zoo:
Thankfully, the tide appears to be slowly turning and the majority of new dance acts who have made a mainstream impact over the past 12 months have deliberately rejected the hedonistic platitudes that have recently swamped the upper reaches of the US Hot 100. Take Disclosure, who’ve reached No.2 in the UK with “White Noise,” [LISTEN] a post-garage whirlwind which sees Aluna Francis racked with anxiety and self-doubt over an increasingly fraught relationship:
Likewise with Scottish trio CHVRCHES who’ve more than lived up to their initial hype with an album packed full of bitter and twisted tales of tortured love. While even Avicii jumped ship by going all philosophical on the slightly absurd country house of “Wake Me Up.”
Most of this new wave have yet to make anywhere near the same impact in the US as fratboy-friendly names such as Skrillex and Steve Aoki, though. While Fatboy Slim, whose towering beat big sound proved to be the last hurrah for 90s EDM, now appears to have prolonged the madness with “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat,” a conversation with a Brooklyn wacked-out lunatic set to a relentlessly thumping soundtrack which could have been interpreted as a mockery of the current raver’s vacuous mindset had the Brighton DJ not already revealed that he is in fact celebrating it.
But there are enough encouraging signs to suggest that arguably the darkest era in dance music history may finally be beginning to ebb away. And it doesn’t have to be Wordsworth set to 118 bpm. Nor a back to the future Daft Punk-ian disco memory of yore. Although Random Access Memories did crack a whip. Just give it a 100% dudes, and stop thinking with your drops: