From the emergence of House in Chicago in the early ‘80s to the rise of the UK Garage scene across London in the ‘90s, dance music has always had an audience and enjoyed occasional inroads into the charts. Yet, in the last decade, it has gone from being a genre on the margins of popular music to making up the very DNA of chart music itself. This may not be immediately apparent, but you need only scan over the current Top 40 and see artists such as Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, David Guetta (of, granted, questionable quality) finding mainstream commercial success. Indeed, the very notion of popular music has evolved to the extent that our charts are dominated by tracks formulated on the foundations of dance music.
The genre’s evolution over the last 5-10 years has taken its cues from various socio-technological developments. First of all, music is more accessible than it has ever been. The Internet has facilitated its discovery to such an extent that we can now find a single track online, skip to the middle to decide if we like it, and then, within a matter of seconds, purchase it from our chosen digital store. To state this may seem obvious, as it is something we all do on a regular basis. But considering how the sites we use for this are all surprisingly recent creations – YouTube went live in 2005, Soundcloud in 2007 and Spotify in 2008 – it shows how quickly such a way of accessing music has become the norm. Indeed, there are so many new avenues through which we are able to discover music, and for it to discover us (such as when it comes up embedded on our Facebook newsfeed, or is linked and retweeted), that the consumer now has the ability to listen to a huge variety of different artists, styles and genres, and to indulge their curiosities at no additional cost. Subsequently, we are encouraged to take an open-minded approach to listening to music.
Secondly, with advancements in technology and a receptive audience, music producers have little restraint in terms of the type of music they can make. Where in the past it would be necessary to invest a huge amount of money on hardware or studio time, the modern musician can, for free (albeit illegally), download a cracked copy of their chosen production software and produce music on a laptop. If you consider all the logistics surrounding the cost, transport and setting up of instruments, it is easy to see how this has played a huge part in the growth of electronic music over the years.
As well as encouraging involvement due to the lower financial risk and increased chance of your musical output being heard by an audience, this has also led to a significant fall in the age of the average producer. Young, successful producers such as Disclosure, who released their first single whilst still in their teens, stand as figureheads for a generation of independent producers who have witnessed first hand the potential success that can become of crafting music on a tight budget. Although many current young artists (of which there are plenty), draw influence from various musical movements, they still show a youthful exuberance, freshness and originality to their sound that can seldom be replicated by older producers who, throughout their lifetimes, have been exposed such a range and abundance of music that much of their personality is often lost in their production.
For dance music to succeed and keep evolving, it has to be promoted by it’s audience – the youth – and hence there’s no doubt that there’s a reciprocal link between the multitude of talented young electronic music producers who are currently active and the explosion of dance music in general.
Thirdly, let’s not forget the influence of the now notorious Dubstep sound – arguably one of the most significant musical movements of our generation thus far. Taking influences from Garage and Breakbeat, Dubstep was conceived in London as early as the late 90s, yet it wasn’t until the release of such records as Skream’s “Midnight Request Line” (2005) that the sound was pushed out of The Capital and onto dancefloors further afield. In 2010, a somewhat watered-down, commercially marketable Dubstep track entitled “Katy On a Mission”, by Katy B, was sitting at number 5 in the UK singles chart. It was tracks like this that had a key role in the commercial genesis and explosion of this particular sound, and dance music in general.
Mainstream dubstep was adopted by a young audience at an extraordinary pace, who saw it as a high-octane, adrenalin-fueled release. This popularity lead to many people opening their ears to and digging deeper for other varieties of dance music. Obviously, there have always been occasions in the past where underground music has permeated the charts, but this has never happened as quickly as with Dubstep (which is perhaps why it has been so quickly embraced and subsequently bastardised by the American market).
Of course, at the heart of the dance music scene are the DJs – those who select the music to be heard either on the radio, across the Internet, or in clubs and parties across the country. In this Internet age, where an abundance of information is constantly competing for our attention and our collective attention spans are decreasing, DJs have had to adapt to their audience.
Modern DJs will often mix tracks of various musical styles quickly and creatively in order to retain the attention of the dance floor, and modern DJing technology and equipment assists this. Many believe that the smoking ban in 2007 also contributed to this modern attitude to mixing, as DJs began to feel under pressure to keep smokers in the venue. The thriving, fertile clubbing environment that this promotes is more accessible to the general club attendee, since there is no necessity to have a given preference to a certain musical genre – you can go out and have a great night dancing to music of varying styles.
In terms of Exeter’s clubbing climate, it’s clear that much has changed over the last few years. Up until recently, Beats and Bass Society represented the only student-run club night that offered a genuinely good time for the student dance music fan. Sadly, however, held back by both a lack of venues and student promoters, and being in direct competition with perhaps the busiest night of the week – Timepiece Wednesdays – it was never able to single-handedly push its vision of proper dance music to the Exeter student masses. Thanks to the advent of The Cellar Door and in turn Thick as Thieves (and more recently the likes of Exit and Our House) the city now offers high standards for the student looking for something more than Cheesy Tuesdays at Arena. Exeter has finally caught up with the national trend and began to acquire a greater respect for dance music, and with more and more great DJs and artists making the journey down to the South West, there’s never been a better time to be a student in Exeter who loves dance music.