In 2004, Kirsten Johnston stumbled and slurred her way through an infamous and imitable TV moment on Sex and the City– a moment played for shock comedy that doubled as a desperate, coked-up eulogy to New York itself. At the peak of season six’s “Splat!”, Johnston plays Lexi, an aging socialite who gets so bored at a New York City party that she dies.
“When did everybody stop smoking? When did everybody pair off? This used to be the most exciting city in the world, but now it’s nothing but smoking near a fucking open window. New York is over. O-V-E-R. Over. No one’s fun anymore! Whatever happened to fun?” She practically slobbers, flapping her cigarette around to a confused room drunk on bougie white wine, before twisting an ankle and hurtling out of a window to the pavement – the final death knell, the last New York angel.
Nearly 20 years on, the question remains: what did happen to fun? Bars and clubs reopening following Covid-19 restrictions led to a (disputed) nightlife resurgence, particularly in New York, but pop culture at large remains bizarrely self-serious, contemplative, and chaste. The lockdown years converted hordes of potential partygoers into anxious hermits, having received so many UberEats orders to their work-from-home pod that they’ve forgotten the joy of sweating all over a packed room of screaming strangers. A scroll through one’s Instagram feed betrays how many people feel obligated to vague, Serious Political Consciousness. Shot-takers and ass-shakers have been swallowed up by infographics and black squares.
Music, the lifeblood of the clubs, yielded to these anesthetizing politics gradually. The Freakum Dress came off, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche TEDx talks came on; the premiere disco stick rider turned to reflections on police brutality; Justin Timberlake retired Sexy and started dressing like the Brawny man. It should be telling that LMFAO retired their horny jock jams in 2012: a harbinger of the empowered Lizzos and flaccid Chainsmokers to come. In the average American normie club in 2023, it seems like fun – the kind of fun that people melt down and fall out of windows over – isn’t much of a priority.
So how do you bring it back? One way is to make a song that sounds untouched by all those rotten years, a track that exploits human biology and forces people to spend $100 on shots, call off work the next day, and scream every word in their friends’ faces. For the Dare – the new electronic venture from NYC’s Harrison Patrick Smith – “Girls” is that song, a raucous and debauched banger that’s come to define a singular and vital party scene poised to spread far beyond the New York dance clubs that already love it.
“Girls” succeeds in pure bravery, slapping its listeners to attention by being the first song in a long while to spell its intentions so bluntly and brazenly. “I like the girls that do drugs, girls with cigarettes in the back of the club, girls that hate cops and buy guns.” Punchy, immediate, and breathlessly horny, it’s hard not to get caught up in the simple joy of it all – mesmerized by “tall girls, small girls, girls with dicks, and call girls”, the world transforms into an abundant land flowing with T&A. It’s pure testosterone like the Beastie Boys classic, infused with the blase cool of “Disco Infiltrator” – a recipe for sleazy bar bathroom hookups and best-of-the-year lists alike. It’s the sort of song that demands to be played ten times in a row.
Part of the hook of “Girls” is the total lack of regard for how Smith comes across as its voice – he plays a player, a thirsty manwhore who couldn’t be less concerned with workshopping his character before putting it to wax. For those unfamiliar, this is rockstar shit– bottled in a way it hasn’t been in years.
Across The Sex EP, a four-track teaser of the Dare’s upcoming debut album for Republic, Smith makes a compelling case for reinstating the rock star as the leading cultural force. By the end of its brief 12-minute runtime, you can’t help but think everyone should be more sparing with the fucks they give. “Good Time”, an abrasive and rattling scream-along, serves as a mission statement of sorts for new converts: “I’m in the city while you’re online / I’m in the club while you’re online.” The song proves that “Girls” wasn’t a fluke. Before erupting with splashy cymbals and earworm synths, Smith lets out the sort of shameless animal yell that could only be made by someone who knows the value of going batshit in public.
The instrumental “Bloodwork” scans as an attempt to show a bit of range, flexing Smith’s skills as a great DJ rather than just a great songwriter. It’s hypnotic and menacing, channeling Ed Banger greats like Mr. Oizo and Justice, also famous for pummeling their listeners over the head. It’s party music that makes people lose their minds: an EAS siren synth begets the kind of bassline that challenges the club’s structural integrity. More people need this, not less.
The title track is the project’s weakest moment, delivered with a lighter touch to mixed results. Though anchored by the EP’s funniest lyrics and most considered structure, its beat drops feel limp compared to the pimp smacks of the project’s first two singles. Though the song eventually kicks into overdrive with a crunchy, sinister climax that elevates the track from “just fine” to “good,” you can’t help but feel that on such a short EP, we could’ve handled four joyful bricks to the face. Still, the promise of this project will be legitimately exciting to anyone who’s felt like the nightlife is lifeless, a breakthrough in dance music that has the potential to fulfill a gaping hole in the world.
Early naysayers of the Dare and the scene he’s helped create cry hollow nostalgia – that “Girls” is a simpleton’s retread of LCD Soundsystem‘s most cathartic dancefloor hits, a throwaway from the time of dead-eyed mid-2000s sexuality. (The fact the EP artwork could be an American Apparel ad may not be helping.)
Though Smith delivers similarly talky vocals over synths that squirm like James Murphy’s, Smith is on a different mission entirely. Murphy worked within the bubble of indie pop’s last heyday, where the coolest kids were music buffs and knew ten spots where a DJ could change their lives.
Imagine if Kirsten Johnston’s Lexi could’ve heard “Girls”! The restless, broke, touch-starved masses forced to smoke by a giant open window need a champion. Smith’s mission is urgent, as simple as breathing. Have a good time – a stupid good time – like your life depends on it. Because it literally does.