It's easy enough to lump all dance music under the neat-to-fit category of "techno." Or "electronica," which according to reports is a sneaky term created by American record companies to avoid calling it "dance" music. Apparently record companies think Americans look down on music made for dancing. But then you go out for a night on the town, and with the Lansdowne St. clubs all proudly advertising their music allegiances for that particular night, your bluff is called...so here's The Crimson's helpful guide to dance music genres.
House takes its name from Chicago's now-defunct Warehouse club and essentially is the four-four musical descendant of disco, which is why the Giorgio Moroder bassline on Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" still sounds fresh in house clubs today. If pressed, I could use the trainspotters' version, which is to say you could recognise it by the emphasised snare drum or hand clap sound on the two and four beats, and in its repetition of catchy sing-along shout-along phrases. In recent years, the filtered French disco house sound of groups such as Daft Punk has been the dominant trend. Perhaps the best house record of 1999 has been Basement Jaxx's Remedy album, which goes back to the roots of house and still manages to achieve a fresh, futuristic sound.
Trance takes two forms: Goa trance, which has a strong psychedelic sound and tends to sound like a hard, ambient soundscape. The trance sound that's taken Europe by storm in the past year (as some of you who spent summer on the Continent might recognise) resembles more a sped-up version of house with even less vocals. Long grand synth lines, pitch bends and other effects give this form of trance its epic feel. Listen to Paul van Dyk's 45 RPM and ATB's Moving Melodies, or any of their remixes.
Big Beat is perhaps the most rock-oriented form of dance music and thus has had the biggest crossover success. It borrows the percussion style of breakbeat (common samples include the drums in James Brown's "Funky Drummer" and those in Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache"), and throws in the squelch of the Roland 303 synthesiser, rock guitars, and whatever else fits. Fatboy Slim's You've Come a Long Way, Baby or the Chemical Brothers' Dig Your Own Hole are both fairly well-known albums, but try the import-only Fatboy Slim mix album On the Floor at the Boutique vol. 1 for a nice demonstration of the range of songs that will fit into a big beat night.
Techno has its spiritual home in Detroit. To be specific, its roots lie in '80s Detroit, which might explain its darker, grittier sound, compared to the escapism of house. As its name suggests, techno tends to focus on the possibilities of the machine, involving perhaps more daring explorations, although detractors claims that takes away from the music's danceability.
Four genres is hardly scratching the surface of the genre jungle, and indeed we will explore other genres in future columns. The best way, of course, to familiarise yourself with musical genres is to listen to any of the representative albums, although DJs and dance music acts often cross genres themselves. Plus, genre names change on either side of the Atlantic, which makes it even more confusing. But remember, dance music sprouts genres because beats and tempos change, so they're useful because they describe something, but they're not a code. We'll surely see new forms in the future (I personally would love to see the increasing popularity of two-step garage), but hey, that's what makes dance music innovative.
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