Any one of us, myself included, may break at any moment into armchair analysis of the music scene. But it’s worth asking an expert. Taste-setting, deeply influential DJs Pete Tong and Gilles Peterson of BBC Radio 1 recently stopped by National Public Radio’s thoughtful music program, All Songs Considered. Joining the American hosts, the BBC stars play favorite tracks and weigh in on the connections in electronica and club music in the US and the UK. The timing was appropriate: with DEMF taking over Detroit, that same world scene was returning to the cradle of the techno genre. But the message might surprise you: according to Tong and Peterson, the US is in a full-blown dance resurgence. It’s about time.
This isn’t the first time England has exported back to America tastes America helped define. Just ask the Beatles, who were able to market folk and country traditions, Everly Brothers harmonies and practicing guitar licks, more successfully than American artists had been in their own country.
Imagine what is possible now. Today, you can almost certainly have an easier time tuning into BBC Radio 1 from anywhere on Earth than you can a terrestrial radio station just a few miles away. Electronic dance music, while it may draw its roots from the likes of Juan Atkins and Frankie Knuckles in Detroit and Chicago, is arguably a hybrid, global and transnational by definition, and both American continents alongside Europe, Africa, and Asia, continue to forge its style.
All of this makes it more noteworthy that Tong and Peterson are finding the US increasingly fertile ground. Outside the over-saturated UK, BBC Radio 1 DJs are doubly superstars. These Radio 1 legends report that the act of gigging in the US – fueled by demand in the unfairly-dubbed “flyover states” – is better than ever, and even better than anywhere else. (Where but the US, they say, can you do a 7-day-a-week tour?)
In just those places, people are rediscovering classics like Lil’ Louis’ “French Kiss.” And in turn, those records may come to mean something new and refreshed, transported into new contexts.
In making their argument, and tracing some exemplary records, these two also make a case for a dance music more informed by tradition than flavor-of-the-month trend. It’s fitting that older records are finding new audiences, or that new styles are more conscious of their antecedents. The program also offers some perspective on English club culture, and without hopping on a soapbox, suggest the US may have paid a cultural cost for societal squeamishness about difference and homosexuality. Beyond what gets gigs or prompts dancing in the club, that suggests a grander societal significance to all these great records.
But Americans looking for some hope, I think the message of this recording is as clear as the title of the last song: “Coming Home.”
Let’s turn it over to Flying Lotus…
It’d be unfair to allow the UK side to monopolize this conversation, so let’s look at one of the US artists who has helped lead the US dance resurgence. Flying Lotus, himself popularized by BBC Radio 1, has been a tremendous force in supporting the blossoming scene around Los Angeles.
I think he can say as much musically as any other way, so take a listen to his recent podcast for Stones Throw records. Pulling some surprising cuts into the mix, he spins a dreamy, future-retro, soulful-spectacular world. As out of a parallel analog reality, warm and fuzzy vinyl crackles through a gauze-covered lens, but paints a futuristic landscape.
Perhaps Steve Ellison was assembling this deliciously-curated wonderland in a trance, because there’s absolutely no track list. (I’m holding out hope that maybe he’ll reveal their provenance; we’ll see.)
But a future portal opened by the past, steeped in soul and jazz, seems just the kind of universe that could give electronic dance music a second renaissance. So, I’ll best shut up at this point and let you listen.
Hear the whole NPR program, and find additional commentary and track selections:
Pete Tong And Gilles Peterson On Dance Music, UK And American Style [NPR Music: All Songs Considered]
This Week On All Songs Considered: America In The Grips Of Dance Fever [All Songs Considered Blog]
And be sure to subscribe to Stones Throw’s podcast, picking up episode 66 for Flying Lotus:
More FlyLo — a full live set, also via NPR Music:
Sasquatch 2011: Flying Lotus, Live In Concert