As the year draws to a close, Thomas Cox takes a look back at 2014 in dance music, reflecting on his personal highs and lows.
Way back in 2007, I made the decision to start a blog due to the wide disparity between what was truly hot on the underground of house, techno and disco, and what was being covered by all the supposedly underground dance music media.
For a few years after that, it felt as if the two were converging quite nicely. The back catalogues of underground heroes like Shake, Daniel Wang and Rick Wade were being re-examined and compiled for easier access to the next generation. Newer artists like Omar-S, Juju & Jordash and Tevo Howard were breaking through based on the strength of their musical style, not the ever-so-shallow hype machine. Vinyl records were coming back, exclusively containing the hottest music like the format always had.
I’m unsure as to where the blame lies, but 2014 felt like it was simultaneously the culmination of these threads and also the rock bottom of one of dance music’s infamous cycles. This is why Attack was able to lure me back to the written word. Here’s some of what I liked and disliked about 2014…
“a bubble that needs to burst as soon as possible”
Dance music has always recycled its past. As this is a very important part of the natural progression of things, one cannot simply dismiss it offhand. But this year felt like perhaps the most cynical abuse of this principle that I can remember. From the more mainstream rip-offs of 90s house music that were seemingly everywhere (including the EDM scene), to the never-ending stream of reissues, bootlegs and compilations that cluttered up new release lists from distributors, I feel like I heard more 90s house and techno this year than I did even back in the 90s. To say that this is a bubble that needs to burst as soon as possible would be an understatement. Lost deep inside all the noise was the return of some great artists, such as DJ Skull, whose new music is just as fresh sounding and essential now as it was twenty years ago.
“the format truly doesn’t matter if you’re a DJ”
2014 was also the first year that I started to feel removed from the culture of vinyl records. Discogs has been a good way of procuring wax for a number of years, but this year seemed to see that also take off in a cynical fashion. Straight-up price gouging on records old and new, resellers buying up limited runs of new records in order to flip at insanely inflated prices, and what seems like purposely manipulated have and want stats to manipulate prices on records are amongst the violations that have made the phrase ‘caveat emptor’ as important as ever.
Of course, all of this was enabled by the trend of ‘limited’ press records, whose entire appeal seems to be the same as baseball cards: for nerds to put on their shelf and be proud of their consumerism. The irony of re-pressing widely available records from 20 years ago while simultaneously limiting new music to smaller and smaller numbers seems to be lost on everyone. Regardless, for the first time ever I believe that the format truly doesn’t matter if you’re a DJ as the best music is mostly not released exclusively on vinyl at this point. One of the biggest jams of the year for me took a long time to get picked up by vinyl heads but was popular from the release on digital: Kai Alce’s remix of Sandman & Riverside.
“long-winded, psuedo-poetic rambling from the music press”
The mixing of experimental and dance music has probably never been so prolific as it was in 2014. House and techno ideas have become lynchpins for a large chunk of distorted, noise-influenced music. In and of itself, this is a welcome development. The problem is that this kind of style lends itself heavily to long-winded, psuedo-poetic rambling from the music press, and as a result there are multiple media outlets that would have you believe that this is the end all of artistic statements in dance music, despite much of this not being dancefloor material. For me, music like this is like a spice, sprinkled in to add flavour to a DJ set. When it becomes the basis of entire labels and events, I lose interest very quickly. There must be balance in styles, and in the coverage of them, if you want to know the real temperature of what’s happening. But this is really the end of a line of critical fawning that began years ago with LIES, who seem to already be becoming passé to journalists. The future of lo-fi looks good though, as Detroit’s ‘sludge’ style breaks through and concentrates on the dancefloor, with Marshall Applewhite leading the way.
“The layer of ironic distance from actual feeling”
Another seemingly incongruous development of 2014 was the rise of mellower deep house music. Just when you thought that you had enough of the Kerri Chandler knockoffs (with drums that DON’T knock), there was a new breed of inoffensive-sounding ‘tasteful’ house music in town. These releases ran the gamut from ‘new age’ jams by the Vancouver clique to Todd Terje’s muzak-flavoured disco. For me, these records don’t have the kind of feeling to them that deep house should have. I suppose there are clubs out there where these records are big, but I am happy to say that they’re not ones I frequent. It reminds me of the music playing at Banana Republic or something. The layer of ironic distance in some of this music is not something that has much use for me, especially not on the dancefloor. It’s funny because actual deep house music did not have a bad year. You just wouldn’t know it from listening to what the rest of the dance music press is talking about. Despite being a golden boy just two years ago when he released ‘New For U’, Andres’s work this year accomplished just as much, like this remix of Cool Peepl.
“broken beats through a new lens”
Broken beats also started making some waves again in the underground. Floating Points remained committed to non-four-on-the-floor patterns, while new artists like Stefan Ringer (aka REKchampa) and Seven Davis Jr added funk to house and came up with broken beats through a new lens. The return of heavyweight legends like Dego and Marc Mac of 4 Hero fame and Kaidi Tatham of Bugz in the Attic also speaks to the fact that the dancefloor is ready for more rhythmic diversity. This will help restore that ever-important balance!
“one more year of experience”
Despite the overall off feeling of 2014, I have hope for 2015. The hype cycle of the early 10s seems to be ending, thankfully. I believe DIY craftsmanship and musicality are coming back to dance music – they can be felt in the deepest recesses of the underground just the same way all the lo-fi jack tracks of the past few years were felt in the mid 00s. As format finally becomes less and less important, hopefully the quality of the music contained will be what leads people to new sounds, not some fear of missing out on limited releases. Most importantly, the newer fans of music will have one more year of experience in DJing, production and throwing parties. Dance music is something that you should get better at with experience. That points towards a brighter future for all as we take the next step forward.
Thomas Cox has been causing trouble on teh interwebs since 1996 and representing Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since birth. You can argue with him on Twitter.