[26 December 2013]
Electronic dance music pervaded the collective American consciousness in 2011, staking claim to the charts and becoming less of a musical novelty and more of inexorable force to the reckoned with. For 20 years or so, EDM has reigned supreme in Europe, and it appears that America has decided to throw its hands in the air, shake its arse, and follow suit. 2012 saw the trend continue with Calvin Harris, the dance-flavored pop hits of Rihanna, and the now defunct Swedish House Mafia dominating airwaves, festivals, and nightclub floors across the country. 2013 has been no different, what with Daft Punk, Icona Pop, Avicii, and Zedd’s “Clarity” (feat. Foxes) capturing the attention of social media outlets and each entering the top ten in various spots of the Billboard charts.
Along with the commercial success of EDM, there have been a flood of electronica artists making their presence known throughout the internet, paving way for a variety of dance sub-genres to thrive. Capital Cities’ hit “Safe and Sound” has been a shining example of the cross-category success of a song that straddles the line between the worlds of pop/rock and alternative music and the pulsing aesthetic of the dance floor. Once considered musical genres record labels would seldom take seriously in this country, electronic and dance-centric music in America is finally experiencing the prosperity it’s been enjoying overseas for more than two decades.
The list below consists of ten artists who represent some of dance music’s more strikingly creative offerings in 2013. Spanning genres from electro/synth-pop, indie-dance, nu-disco, to house music territories, the list isn’t a popularity contest. The greatest commercial hits of the year weren’t necessarily the most interesting, but that doesn’t belittle the artistic worth of those songs that rose to the top of the charts. Here are ten songs that may or may not have appeared on your radar this year. Dance on.
In the same vein as last year’s surprise crossover hit “Let’s Have a Kiki” by New York’s Scissor Sisters, this sass-heavy, spoken word ode to the hedonistic nightlife of Studio 54 looks to carry on the camp torch. The song’s lyrics play out like a voyeuristic glimpse into a world where the social elite mingled, at the venue that what was once hailed as the most famous nightclub of all time. London’s electropop, disco-funk outfit Le Grind has crafted a humorous, name-dropping, infectious throwback party anthem perfectly suited for the dance floor or the highlight of a drag queen’s lip-synching setlist. That most definitely is a compliment.
There was absolutely no escaping “Bubble Butt” in the summer of 2013. The dancehall, reggae, hip-hop, electro-house collective Major Lazer, comprised of Diplo and producers/DJs Jillionaire and Walshy Fire of Black Chiney, released one the most absurdly provocative and seemingly mindless songs of the year in early June. Taken from the dance project’s sophomore effort Free the Universe, it’s abundantly clear that this callipygian anthem isn’t aspiring to lofty, profound heights—the title says it all. Whether the accompanying rump-shaking video can be considered farcical or misogynistic remains a subject of opinion, but the undeniably addictive song had the desired effect of flooding dance floors everywhere this year.
8Bright Light Bright Light
The exquisite synth-pop, nu-disco, ‘90s revivalist stylings of Welsh-born, London-based Rod Thomas (Bright Light Bright Light) have been dazzling the dance and electropop communities since the release of his rapturous “Love Part II” and the critically acclaimed debut album Make Me Believe in Hope. “An Open Heart”, the first single lifted from his new EP In Your Care, continues the successful winning streak. Immediate and arresting as anything he’s previously offered, the introspective “An Open Heart” examines an individual’s perception of his surroundings, and “how easy it is to miss the beauty of a moment.” It’s gorgeous, it’s poignant, and it’s yet another reason to continue following the career of this intelligent and immensely creative artist.
Released in late November of this year on Big Beat Records, Christian Karlsson (of Miike Snow and production duo Bloodshy & Avant) and Linus Eklow (aka DJ/producer Style of Eye) have concocted one of 2013’s most delectable offerings. Following last summer’s “Raveheart” single, the recently formed Swedish duo has quickly garnered support from a who’s who of influential modern dance music titans such as Pete Tong, Kascade, Tiesto, Dada Life, and Diplo. It’s easy to see why: If “Smile” is given the right promotion, this emotionally-resonant house banger could light up the dance charts and spill over into the mainstream consciousness. Now with a gleefully lascivious NSFW video accompanying the song, it’s only a matter of time before I hear this popping up everywhere.
6Alex Metric & Jacques Le Cont
Singer-songwriter Malin Dahlström, of the Swedish indietronica duo Niki & the Dove, proved her weight in vocal gold with the 2012 release of the group’s stunning debut Instinct. Upon hearing the album, I was curious what that voice would sound like if it were surrounded by a less eccentric, more club-ready aesthetic. Together with the talents of musician, DJ, and producer Alex Metric and the ingenious Stuart Price (working under the pseudonym Jacques Lu Cont), Malin’s beautifully quirky voice is given the chance to erupt on the dance floor. “Safe with You” is everything I might have hoped for in a four-to-the-floor collaboration. Somehow, this never commercially caught fire, but for me, it’s still one of the clear frontrunners for club anthem of summer 2013.
“Darkness”, the insanely catchy debut single from British producer Mighty Mouse and Australian vocalist Matt Van Schie of Sydney-based electropop band Van She, dropped in mid-January 2013, with the socially conscious, Simon Savory-directed video arriving months later in April. The song is undeniably excellent, but the video actually elevates the whole proceedings to an entirely different level, touching on issues of race, sexuality, and tolerance. Reminiscent of early Röksopp, with an indie-dance, nu-disco vibe, this is one track I’ve continually played throughout the year. Since its release, the duo have subsequently offered up three more singles, equally as strong, providing further proof that a full-length album will definitely be something to savor.
The fourth single to be released from Studio Killers’ dazzling self-titled debut album, proves to be an eminently catchy ode to switch-hitting and sexual obsession. With a splash of Caribbean-esque steel drums and a slight Parisian flair thanks to the incorporation of an accordion, the song has a distinct, cross-cultural, summery feel about it. If it weren’t for lyrics that bordered on the psychotically unhinged, I could imagine this played poolside at a party without anyone batting an eyelash.
As the audio-visual collective has demonstrated, though, they are incapable of simply concocting paint-by-numbers club fare. Psycho is the new sexy: The song describes a friendship between two women, one unknowingly obsessed with the other, and unconcerned with the fact that the Jenny of the title has a boyfriend. From the narrator stealing things out of her friend’s room, borrowing her lipstick, sleeping with her shirt as if it were a pillowcase, and announcing, “I want to ruin our friendship, we should be lovers instead,” the subject matter of “Jenny” luxuriates in all things darkly humored. With a winking nod to the film Single White Female, a tale of pathological stalking has never been so hummable. In an age when singles reign supreme, Studio Killers provide a strong argument that the dance record isn’t quite yet a dying breed.
British synth-pop duo Monarchy (Edward Nigma and Peter Uzzle) has remained masked, faceless and relatively mysterious since its appearance on the pop scene in 2009. It’s like they stepped out of an imaginary film drawn from Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Tom Ford’s A Single Man. Their videos have gone from interesting to stunning artistic statements, and they revel in the visual avant-garde.
Their latest single “Disintegration” is harder edged than their previous output, yet it might also be the most accessible song they’ve released thus far. Assuming background duty this time around, they have thrust the entrepreneurial genius of Dita Von Teese to the forefront, twisting an immensely catchy chorus around her erotically-detached vocals. A brilliant addition to the duo’s electropop catalogue and an exciting buzz single in anticipation of a sophomore album.
In a year of impressive releases, British electronic music duo Disclosure dropped its scintillating debut Settle at the beginning of June, and immediately established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Consistent in tone, sonically mature, cleverly constructed, and constantly engaging, it’s the kind of album one would have never expected from young musicians in their early twenties. Following a slew of excellent singles leading up to the album’s release, the group unleashed its latest musical odyssey in late May to widespread acclaim.
Out of all the tracks on the debut by British brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, “When a First Starts to Burn” stands on the shoulders of house music giants. Eschewing the straightforward guest vocal delivery of the majority of Settle‘s playing time, “When a Fire Starts to Burn” samples one of the spirited sermons by inspirational speaker Eric Thomas. The accompanying video boils over with evangelical fervor to the imagery of an impassioned minister preaching to a small, sweat-soaked congregation. They seldom make them like this anymore. Simply glorious.
In May, Danish-Canadian electropop artist ÁLI released one of the most stylistically inventive dance songs in ages, successfully bridging the worlds of opera and pop music in a manner that isn’t cringeworthy. “Cocoon” is that glorious exception, and one of the first recorded instances I can recall where a vocalist switches between classical technique and a legit pop voice so effortlessly and seamlessly. What’s displayed in three minutes and 42 seconds is something “crossover” opera singers Renée Fleming, Emma Shapplin, and Sarah Brightman have never convincingly pulled off in entire albums.
Singer-songwriter, designer, actress, award-winning cosplayer, and former professional opera singer Alexandria Beck decided it was time to operate outside of stereotypical genre conventions and reinvent herself as ÁLI. It appears the metamorphosis has given way to an abundance of creativity, but “Cocoon” still deserves a wider audience for a stunning voice that begs to be heard. Download it, give it to your local DJ, crank it up on the dance floor, and bathe in the euphoric brilliance of one of the year’s most infectious choruses.