Discounting personal preference, there are two reasons for disavowing the newly fashionable style of rock-influenced ‘80s-synth dance music. Only one holds water. The stronger argument is that this kind of easy attraction is a lazy testosteronization of an essentially effeminate genre that fails to really engage the issues it raises. See, dance music as a genre has always celebrated gay flamboyance without judgment, so that listening to it becomes an act of abandonment/surrender to permissive hedonism. By this measure, the reliance on hard, even heavy metal guitars as the basis for a dance track (rather than as adornment or for incidental interest) is a kind of undermining of house music’s whole reason for being. It’s saying: the only way we can make this music permissible is by basing it on rock’s foundation. The weaker argument is the result of dance aficionados’ constant quest for the “newest” sound: an insatiable thirst that discards a track the moment it graduates from the obscurest DJ’s podcast to a slightly wider audience. Radio airplay? Forget it. From this perspective indie dance—as this rock-influenced, eclectic style of dance music has come to be termed—is an especially potent threat, because indie’s exaltation of obscurity may result in an inevitable widening of the appeal of objectively good, if initially rare, new songs.
But against this twin academic/scenster argument, one rebuttal is all you need: that this electro/rock/dance mayhem is often irresistibly enjoyable. Australian electro trio Cut Copy knows this quite well, and their mix for the 29-strong FabricLive series provides fun by the spadeful. The mix moves from laid-back electronic rock to crunchy neo-electro to gleeful ‘80s disco throwback with the nimbleness and verve of a truly open-armed celebration. In characterizing the mix as a whole, you could say it’s a very of-the-moment compilation—a postcard, if you will, from spring/summer 2006.
The tracks on FabricLive 29 are conveniently categorizable by label. German imprint Gomma provides highlights, like Munk’s “Disco Clown”—which crunches with fuzzy guitars, an easy treble synth background and Daft Punk vocals—and a couple of tracks from Who Made Who. That Danish outfit follows up their sobering-up hit “Space For Rent” with another simple, catchy chorus on “Hello Empty Room”—“I got nobody now, you got somebody / I’ll find somebody soon, you’ll be the happy room”—and a crunchy electro remix of “Out the Door”. Both are disc highlights, and quality songs. Cut Copy’s own label Modular, which has become both a home for some of Australia’s highest profile acts (Wolfmother, Avalanches, Presets) and a despicable kind of fashion soundtrack/corporate tie-in, gives us less to work with. Both the Presets tune and Cut Copy’s own tracks are mostly a mechanism for getting from one better track to another. And what current electro-tinged mix would be complete without a cut from Parisian “it” label Ed Banger? In this case, it’s Justice’s “Waters of Nazareth” (I’ve opined on this one before).
But are these songs so Summer 2006 as to be inevitably dated? Sure, New Young Pony Club’s “Get Dancey” is not as good as “Descend”, and the bassline apes “Blue Monday” a bit too obviously, but the sensibility of CSS is a welcome irreverence. Likewise Severed Heads’ “Dead Eyes Opened” and Soulwax’s “E Talking” have been floating around for a while now, but they fit the tenor of the mix perfectly, and they became hits for a reason: they’re catchy and danceable, a killer combination. And the real delights are actually really old, and previously much less well-known: Ciccone Youth (a Sonic Youth dance side project from the late ‘80s) covering Madonna’s “Into the Groove”; Daft Punk’s 2002 rarity “Face to Face”; Grauzone’s 1998 track “Eisbar”, which proves the German group was well ahead of the curve when it comes to New Wave, nailing a particularly disaffected style by marrying Super Mario glitches with tossed-off German verses.
Buy FabricLive 29, then, if you’re at all curious about this whole electro scene, if you’re looking for a memento of the sound making hipsters’ coke-fueled hearts beat a little faster. Cut Copy should be credited with accurately and expertly crafting a representation of the sound of “now,” dangerous and addictive, and really indebted to previous generations of dance music. And listen out for the Midnight Juggernauts track, too; it’s a perfect haunted electro anthem that, like many of the songs on this mix, is pretty much inescapable—until the next big thing in dance rolls around.