Harold Heath looks into the science of dance music duos…

From big-hitters like Overmono or Leftfield to uncompromising underground techno acts like Phats & Small or Chaka Demus & Pliers, club culture has produced many dance music duos (DMDs). Whether it’s The Polemical Brothers, Displeasure, Deep Fish, Pavement Craxx, or other ones I can’t think of a joke for like The Aphex Twins, dance music is full of production double acts. 

I have a theory about them. I think that the two members of most dance music duos exist in a symbiotic relationship with each other (obviously I’ve used ‘most’ as a get-out-clause for any gaping holes in my argument). By symbiotic relationship, I mean that each member of the DMD is necessary to the success of the other and they would be unlikely to achieve anything near the level of success they currently have were they working alone.

Most Dance Music Duos literally want to go big and go home at the same time.

This is because most dance music duos consist of two specific person types: the Raging Party Beast (RPB) and the Geeky Studio Nerd (GSN), and the failings of one are made up for by the strengths of the other. 

The GSN is the quiet one with studio skills. They’re a don at programming and making the final mix slap. In the studio, they’re the kind of people who can translate the incoherent ramblings of the RPB, so that when the beast proclaims “Can you make it more orange, but like, sad orange yeh?”, they can actually render that into cool sounds. GSNs tend to eat crisps a lot, they might be a little musty, and aside from flashes of studio brilliance are generally uneventful, mostly harmless folk with no idea of how to network or what might work on the dance floor. 

In contrast, the RPB knows exactly what works on the dance floor because that’s their second home. Which is lucky because their first home was repossessed after they blew their label advance on specially imported one-off NFT embossed gak. While the RPB has a good grasp of what might make a decent tune, they have never bothered to learn how to use studio gear properly “because learning things really interferes with the process and like, the energy flow”.

Luckily what they lack in talent and dedication they make up for by barking orders at their Nerd until together they manage to construct a track. At which point the Beast, who is as gregarious and well-connected as the Nerd is socially inept and musty, can distribute the new tune to their wide range of industry contacts before swanning off to several parties to hassle DJs to play it. 

Much like a DJ and their audience or an Insta-influencer and their narcissism, Dance Music Duos are nothing without each other

Without each other, they’re just your average, vaguely dysfunctional humans, destined to roll along never quite making it. But put them together and they might be able to knock out some breaks-and-emotive-strings bangerz and weave their initial buzz into some second-tier festival appearances, a pair of matching Hawaiian shirts and a lowkey ketamine dependency. Much like a DJ and their audience or an Insta-influencer and their narcissism, Dance Music Duos are nothing without each other. Taken as a pair, most Dance Music Duos literally want to go big and go home at the same time.

While this theory is obviously thoroughly researched and well substantiated, I’ve not actually met any of the duos I’ve named so far and have no idea how true this all actually is, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a decent smoking-area theory. In the hierarchy of smoking area theories, the Symbiosis of Dance Music Duos is up there with ‘Tupac’s not dead he’s just bored’, ‘Where did Fabi Paras go’, and the mathematical relationship between the contemporary increase in padded gilets and a corresponding rise in blokes called Callum. 

A theory doesn’t just explain facts, it also allows scientists to make predictions of what they should observe if a theory is true. So for example, using the DMD symbiosis theory, we should be able to accurately predict which member of the duo we should speak to for an interview, and which we should speak to for some aggro-dust. Likewise, if you want a realistic appraisal of their sound, you should approach the Nerd. They’ll likely furnish you with all sorts of genre-word-salad before awkwardly trailing off, while the Beast will just tell you it’s massive bruv, slap you too hard on the back, buy you some shots you don’t want and try to snort cobwebs or something. 

Being a member of a dance DMD means that there’s always someone to moodily look in the opposite direction from you in promo shots, to lend a hand carrying your USBs to the gig or to help out with air punches and heart hands. Following in the footsteps of Larry Levan or David Mancuso, most of our current crop of Dance Music Duos are just the latest expression of DJ culture, always assuming that by ‘DJ culture’ you mean drone footage of two artisan whisky online brand ambassador DJs playing retail-house and NFT trance in a quarry, all monetised by some rosy-cheeked red-trousered boff called Jonty or Hugo. 

Anyway, Dance Music Duos are now as much a part of the true underground scene as bias-driven algorithm-manipulated feeds and techno-bro property development cabals so let’s celebrate them and always remember: Two heads are better than one, but Two Shell aren’t better than Chaka Demus and Pliers. 

Harold Heath is on Twitter & Instagram

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Author Harold Heath
22nd July, 2022

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