It’s 1997, you’re in some shitty seaside venue in Northern England, and the tension’s mounting. Over the dampened roar of the crowd, MC Storm lifts the mic and looks over a sea of hardcore fans.
“RELEASE YOURSELF!” he roars, the filtered beat building, sounding like it’s coming from next door’s flat party. A dampened vocal line from some far-off ’80s hit emerges through the drug-hazed atmosphere, getting clearer by the second. MC Storm’s on the verge now. Screams “THAT’S WHAT WE LIIIIIKE!”, and now the beat’s absolutely pounding, all synths cranked up.
The lads don’t give a shit what it sounds like. There’s a banging beat, some screeching vocal line, whirling keyboard riffs going off left and right, and the boys are off on one.
Any sober critic would be right to point out that the DJ’s skewed the vocal well off key, but at this point, who’s listening?
The MC’s bellowing to an army of coked-up wazzocks while on as much coke as the lot of them put together. “RELEASE YOURSELF!” echoes through an illegal warehouse rave in Skegness, and carries through the decades. Here I am. Earphones in and it’s 2am, I’m sitting listening to DJ Sy run through his set, thinking back to the day where all we cared about was making a banging tune.
These days, I don’t listen to the radio nearly as much as I used to. It used to crackle me to sleep through the tinny speaker of my brother’s horrendous hand-me-down FM radio. Now, I only have it on it the car, and what I’m hearing isn’t anything like the dance music that didn’t care about being neat, tidy, clean, popular, and tame enough for your mum to like it.
Since the death of hardcore and the messy dance music from the hardcore continuum’s formative years, we’ve got a pretty specific formula:
- Get a pop star on for the intro and verse
- Build it up before sticking a beat on a chorus that consists of:
- A whooping synth sound and vocal cut ups
- Some obnoxious novelty sound
Any combination of the above will do, as long as it gets the casual club crowd on the floor and buying another pint. And all this drudgery is accomplished while managing to ignore the key ingredient of the dance music that came before it: euphoria.
The sloppy, pulsing, “we all smile, we all sing” tracks Mike Skinner talks about in the monumental Weak Become Heroes, where “what’s ya name and what’s ya on” was the only thing worth discussing.
Now, unfortunately, it’s come to the point where EDM has been reduced to a series of gimmicks, celebrity DJs, and an unbearable crew of copycats producing tracks we’ve come to bitterly accept as the standard formula for dance in 2016. The bitter acceptance is symptomatic to the lost art of making a banging tune — where you didn’t care who was on it, just as long as it’s driving you out of your mind with the same primal ferocity as the last track on the set of back-to-back sonic assaults you knew you signed up for. Flailing like a fucking idiot, mouthful of chewing gum, MDMA intensifies the strobe lights, eyes rolling back.
“We were just standing there minding our own
And it went on and on
We all smile we all sing
The weak become heroes then the stars align
We all sing we all sing all sing”
You can tell me we’ve lost that moment, and I’ll accept that. There’s been a progression, whether grumps like me like it or not. But you can’t tell me we’ve lost the feeling, reaching up to the sky, all equal.
As the same piano loops over, and over, and over.