Dance Music for Listening volume 1

This mix is my attempt to answer a question: Do artists who make music primarily for dance floors have something to offer those of us relaxing at home, or riding in a car, or walking with headphones? For me, the answer is a definite yes.

Since the 1980s, when the lines between pop and rock and electronic and dance music were blurry, a significant part of my everyday listening has been devoted to electronic music primarily created for dance clubs. The sounds I heard creeping into mainstream music led me to seek out the dance music where those sounds originated. However, many supporters of dance music say that listening anywhere other than a club is just a poor substitute for the dance floor experience.

The pandemic has challenged that assumption. Artists want to make art, and when dance music artists couldn’t create music for dance floors, they kept creating anyway. Several tracks in the mix were made in 2020 or 2021. Lee Jones, referring to his album that contains track #5 in my mix, wrote: “This album was made almost entirely in April 2020 while I was quarantined at home in Kreuzberg, Berlin. It’s my personal reaction to this incredible time.”

For at-home listeners like me, the pandemic has been a musical gift. Lee Jones is one of many artists who made new music that was more complex and contemplative than what they would have made in anticipation of a booming festival season. Also, DJs used to playing late at night to thousands of dancers did live streams from living rooms or empty clubs, which I happily watched from the comfort of my couch in the middle of the afternoon.

Another compelling aspect of of electronic dance music is the variety of artists drawn to it. Starting with the pre-disco era, much of the early innovation in dance music came from Black, Latino, trans, gay, and other marginalized communities. In the 21st century, the variety has increased. More women than ever are making dance music, not just in their traditional role as singers, but as writers and producers. Like many cultural industries, dance music has become more international, with music makers and listeners able to connect across great distances. This mix includes artists born or living in China, Germany, Japan, Georgia (the country, not the state), Canada, the UK, and the US.

I’d like to point out that even though this is a mix of dance music, it is not a dance mix. A true dance mix by an experienced club DJ is a continuous journey with each track flowing into the next. Mine is more a collection of tracks; while I had fun making some sleek transitions with a new crossfader gadget, sometimes the transitions are one track ending and another beginning at a different tempo. So when you finally get to throw a party with lots of friends, you might want to choose something else if your goal is to keep everyone dancing.

On to the music!

This mix probably would not exist without inspiration from Powder (track #4), whose DJ mixes are magical. She has a way of navigating many moods and sonic atmospheres while sustaining a sense of pure enthusiasm. Her productions, all singles and EPs so far, are consistently innovative. Her story is inspiring, too: she worked in a Tokyo office by day and stayed up late at night making tracks and mixes, mostly for her own enjoyment. Others soon learned of her talent, and before long, she left the office job behind.

I can’t miss an opportunity to wave hello to the great Tracey Thorn (track #7) who appears here with British producer George Fitzgerald. As a member of Everything But The Girl, a solo artist, and a guest artist, she has been making brave and beautiful music for over 35 years. I also can’t resist a super-nerd moment: Ben Watt, Tracey’s bandmate in Everything But The Girl as well as her life partner, hosted dance music shows on BBC radio in the late 2000s and early 2010s. He introduced me to many artists, including Lee Jones, who at the time was a member of the fantastic duo MyMy.

One of the many interesting scenes in the world of electronic dance music is a cassette culture that emerged on the US west coast in the 2010s. Body San (track #9) emerged in 2015 with a cassette on 100% Silk, an independent label based in Los Angeles that has released dozens of cassettes. His music combines a lo-fi aesthetic with unironic touches of retro styles like new age and 80s synth pop.

In 2017, British-born and Berlin-based producer Sam Barker (track #11) established what he called a “pretty strict concept” for the new music he was making. He wanted to see if he could make dance music without using heavy bass (“kick”) drum sounds. A steady kick drum is present in just about every dance record made since the days of disco. By relying on other sounds to create the kinetic energy that dance music depends on, he opened up new possibilities for the sound of electronic dance music.

Before the pandemic, HVL (track #13) was a resident DJ at Bassiani, a cavernous club in Tbilisi, Georgia known for both musical and political activity. As a producer, he showed diversity beyond the thumping techno his crowds loved. In 2020, with Bassiani closed, he made two lengthy albums that further expanded his musical vocabulary.

Listen to this mix at Mixcloud.

  1. Smallpeople – Afterglow
  2. Yu Su – Every star has its own story
  3. Kareem Ali – Feelings never go
  4. Powder – Gift
  5. Lee Jones – Contraflow
  6. Fred P a.k.a. FP-Oner – New life form
  7. George Fitzgerald with Tracey Thorn – Half-light
  8. Anchorsong – Serendipity
  9. Body San – Live at Carol’s Fiber (part 1)
  10. Virginia – Han
  11. Barker – Paradise engineering
  12. Octo Octa – Beam me up
  13. HVL – Human outposts