Why We Shouldn’t Be Surprised By Disclosure’s Chart Success
As Disclosure join the likes of Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, Daft Punk, Armand Van Helden and the Chemical Brothers in hitting the higher reaches of the UK singles chart, we take a look back at the commercial success of dance artists in the UK and explain why we shouldn’t be surprised to see credible house music cross over to the mainstream.
By climbing to number two in the UK singles chart, Disclosure’s ‘White Noise’ marks a new high point for credible dance music crossing over to mainstream success. Having entered the chart at number 26, the track’s strong showing in Wednesday’s mid-week chart prompted Mixmag to launch a campaign to propel it to the top spot. Although the collaboration with AlunaGeorge didn’t make it all the way to the top (yet!), second place is a fantastic achievement for an act who’ve stayed true to their own sound and enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame over the course of just a couple of years.
Following the announcement of the chart on Sunday evening, friends and fans of Disclosure took to Twitter and Facebook to congratulate the duo and express their amazement at credible dance music reaching the upper echelons of the top 40. Yesterday, Mixmag’s Seb Wheeler declared it “a victory for anyone who is a fan of underground dance music”.
Disclosure’s achievement shouldn’t be underestimated. The Lawrence brothers’ music is rightly lauded for spearheading the emergence of a new generation of chart-friendly dance music which retains underground credibility. Their more recent output may be hugely popular – and now, thanks to the success of ‘Latch’ and ‘White Noise’, clearly also commercially successful – but it doesn’t feel in any way like a deliberate attempt to soften their sound, or to cash in on current trends and appeal to a mass-market audience.
Disclosure’s music is exquisitely produced and sufficiently hook-laden to capture the ears and imaginations of a mainstream commercial audience, but rooted in decades of house and garage culture. And that’s the key point here – just as their music updates and reinvents the sound of classic house and garage, drawing on the rich history of their musical forebears, the brothers also build on the commercial success of the countless credible dance acts who went before.
‘White Noise’ feels important because Disclosure represent a strand of underground house which has been unmistakably under-represented in the charts in recent years. The fact that the brothers are relatively young is irrelevant to most analysis of their music, but in this case it’s an entirely valid point of reference. Guy Lawrence is 21 years old; Howard is just 18. They’re part of a new generation of music fans for whom dance music at the top of the charts is a genuinely new, exciting experience. This is a generation with very little memory of credible crossover dance hits, and for whom chart success is understandably associated with ‘selling out’ – just look at the fuss caused by Hot Natured reaching the top 40 with ‘Benediction’.
But it wasn’t always like this. As exciting as it feels to see underground dance music near the top of the chart, it’s over a quarter of a century since the first credible house record hit number one, and its success kick-started a string of crossover hits from the world of dance music – some slightly more underground than others…
1987: What The Fuck Was Going On?
Taking house and techno as the starting point of ‘dance music’ (ignoring disco, soul, funk and countless other hugely significant genres – but that’s a story for another time), the UK record-buying public bought into house music surprisingly early.
The timing of ‘White Noise’ is interesting in itself. January and February have traditionally been associated with slow record sales and seen by the industry as the ideal time to launch new acts and attempt to ambush the charts. January was the month when Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s Chicago classic ‘Jack Your Body’ topped the UK singles chart for two weeks in 1987. Hurley’s First Choice-sampling classic represented the arrival of house music in the consciousness of the mainstream UK music fan.
MARRS’s ‘Pump Up The Volume’ replicated the success of ‘Jack Your Body’ in October, topping the charts for two weeks. A succession of house-influenced number ones, some more overtly poppy than others, followed over the next few years: S’Express and Yazz in 1988; Soul II Soul and Black Box in 1989; Snap!, Adamski and Beats International in 1990… (The latter was notable for the involvement of one Norman Cook, formerly of the Housemartins, who would go on to have hits under countless pseudonyms over the next couple of decades: Mighty Dub Katz, Pizzaman, Freak Power… and Fatboy Slim.)
It’s fair to surmise that this was novelty music to many record buyers. But that’s novelty in the original sense of the word – fresh, new, and unusual – and not necessarily a criticism. And these weren’t isolated exceptions – the number one hits were just the tip of the iceberg.
Whenever we get excited about a dance record crossing over, it’s worth remembering that the UK record-buying public has been receptive to house and techno for a quarter of a century. We even, for a brief period in the late 90s, experimented with trance.