10 Tracks That Changed The Face Of Dance Music
It’s safe to say that modern dance music is very diverse these days. There are many great tracks released every week that DJs are quick to discover and download so that they can keep their sets fresh and their dance floor moving. No matter what style of music one plays it’s often times a rigorous labor of love to to listen and review each new track to determine which ones will make the cut. I really don’t complain too much about the process because I love it, and it’s much easier these days with the “interweb” at our fingertips to simplify the whole process.
Oh, how times have changed. I remember hearing Scott Henry play his coveted set closing record and having to make my way up to the booth to train spot it, only to see that it was a white label. Then, if I was lucky, I would find the record a few months later at Music Now in D.C. after a 3 hour drive from Virginia Beach on a Friday night, before Buzz at the Capitol Ballroom. Sometimes I wouldn’t find a record for years, but it was still worth buying, obviously if it was a timeless classic. Here’s my short list of tracks that changed the face of dance music:
1. “Numbers” – Kraftwerk (1981)
Kraftwerk are the godfathers of techno and electronic dance music. Numbers was just one of many influential songs that they produced and it was even released almost 10 years after the bands inception. Most of you might recognize this song sampled in the classic electro track “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force. This music set the tone for what was to become techno and breakbeat music.
2. “Blue Monday” – New Order (1983)
New Order was one of the pioneers of New Wave dance music in the 80′s spawning from the ashes of Post-Punk band Joy Division after the tragic suicide of enigmatic front man Ian Curtis. They added drummer Stephen Morris’ girlfriend Gillian Gilbert on keyboards and shifted their music style slightly to include electronic drums and synthesis. One result of this change gave birth to the best selling 12-inch record of all time, Blue Monday. It’s trademark octave bass line and opening 909 drum beat defined the Manchester club scene and crossed the Atlantic to become an anthem for New Wave music in the U.S. The band’s label, Factory Records, also opened The Haçienda in Manchester in 1982 which was to become the Acid House and Rave center of the universe by the early 90′s.
3. “French Kiss” – Lil Louis (1989)
House music spawned from disco and began filling warehouses in the early 80′s in Chicago and quickly made it’s way to New York and overseas to Europe where it became worldwide by the mid 90′s. Many tracks helped define this genre but arguably the most well known and most widely sampled is French Kiss by Lil Louis. It leans heavily on a bouncy bassline, 4 on the floor beat, arpeggios, and silky synth stabs. It was also nearly 1o minutes long with a huge tempo drop and breakdown complete with suggestive moaning before winding you back up and closing strong. This track has been sampled by the likes of legendary DJ/producers Josh Wink and Carl Cox. It is a masterpiece and it set the tone for what was to become techno and trance music.
4. “Papua New Guinea” – Future Sound Of London (1991)
No song bridged the gap between early new wave, industrial, acid house, and break beat music better than “Papua New Guinea” did in 1991. The Future Sound Of London combined a dance floor friendly breakbeat, Lisa Gerrard’s vocal sample from goth pioneers Dead Can Dance, with stunning melodic, effect-driven synthesizers and samples. The resulting track helped create a new genre called Ambient Techno and paved the way for raves in the UK.
5. “Renegade Snares” – Omni Trio (1995)
Rob Haigh a.k.a. Omni Trio was one of the original drum and bass producers, who first released for Moving Shadow records as early as 1993. “Renegade Snares” was released in 1995 from the LP The Deepest Cut which is considered one of the first jungle albums ever produced. This seminal jungle track is built on chopped-up staccato drum loops, spiraling vocals, ambient strings, and an echoing piano riff that validated it’s sublime musicality. “Renegade Snares” has been remixed countless times and even today some of the best jungle tracks still contain elements of this timeless classic.
6. “Higher State Of Consciousness” (Original Tweekin’ Acid Funk Mix) – Josh Wink (1996)
What more can be said about Josh Wink’s illustrious career and his place as a pioneer in modern electronic music. If you have ever heard Higher State Of Consciousness on the dance floor you will understand the power and energy it brings to a massive crowd. It’s now legendary acid riff was created on the Roland MC-202 and turned the rave scene on it’s ear in the mid 90′s. The track starts with a mid tempo, tight-snared break beat loop, and a relatively simple acid line. Two breakdowns and one glorious build later the acid line escalates into a furious, stabbing 4 octave monster that completely annihilates the dance floor. Many break beat and techno producers and DJs followed suit by creating music with similar acid lines hoping to create the same affect. Some succeeded for sure and even helped to create a new acid renaissance throughout the mid to late 90′s. Josh Wink continued to produce many rave anthems afterward, but this was his masterpiece.
7. “One More Time” – Daft Punk (2000)
Daft Punk’s first release was a remix of the Chemical Brothers track “Life Is Sweet” in 1995. It contained elements of what was to become their trademark style of analog funkiness, and stabby vocal samples. They gained notoriety in 1997 with the release of their debut LP Homework and quickly became the face of the French House movement. The release of their single “One More Time” in November 2000 propelled them to super stardom powered their 2001 releaseDiscovery. It contains a sample of “More Spell on You” by Eddie Johns, but is ultimately driven by Romanthony’s silky auto-tuned vocal which, at the time was relatively a new technique to be used in this manner. This disco inspired house track reached number 2 on the UK singles chart and to this day DJ’s still get a massive response when it is played. Daft Punk are icons and this track help them define that new millennium as well as the new era of Electro House.
8. “Adagio for Strings” – Tiësto (2004)
This list would not be complete without mentioning the worlds most popular DJ who in 2004 was asked to perform at the Summer Olympic opening ceremony in Athens. The Olympic committee chose Tiësto to perform because of his use of old and new musical elements in ‘Adagio for Strings’ that they thought went along with the spirit of the games. Tiësto performed for 90 minutes and the for the first time in Olympic history a DJ was center stage instead of traditional musical and entertainment acts.
9. “Skream” – 28g (2005)
Skream is one of the fathers of dubstep and when he dropped this track in 2005 people had no idea what the small grimy style of music would become: a cultural phenomena. The track was in 2/2 halftime with a wobbly sub-bass line that feels like its constantly on the verge of falling off the beat. The track sounds little like the sample heavy dubstep of today as it draws heavily on dub and reggae influences. 28g is all about the bass line, the bass is so low it provides a visceral experience to the user in a way that had only been touched on only before in hip-hop. Fading out the track ends on hand drums, this song bridges the gap between traditional drum sounds and modern electronic music and EDM would never be the same again.
10. Moombahton – Dave Nada (2009)
In 2009 the next major development in dance music happened when DJ/Producer Dave Nada slowed down the Afrojack remix of Silvio Ecomo & Chuckie’s song ‘Moombah’. He called the new style Moombahton a fusion of Moombah and Reggaeton and just like that, a new movement in dance music was started. The track is just a straight edit of the original but at the new slower tempo the beats land harder and the Latin flavour becomes very apparent. Moombahton draws heavily on house, latin and dubstep genres with a focus on long danceable breakdowns and short hard hitting builds.
Yes, there are many more anthems and defining tracks that helped shape the history and direction of electronic dance music and this is merely a snapshot. We could have absolutely gone way back to the “Amen” break, or “Funky Drummer”, or even further back to tribal Africa. This article is our ode to just 10 of the best according to my own experience as a DJ and the singles and dance music charts in the U.S., U.K., and Europe in the last 20 years. Some of you may have been around when these tracks were first played, and some of you might assuredly have a difference of opinion, and still others may be new to the music and the culture altogether. Either way, if you have a love affair with djing and dance music as I do, it is important to remember how the magic began and where it came from. Please feel free to leave some comments and list your favorites.
Very special thanks to DJ Zack Røcket for his contributions to this blog.
Until next time, happy gigs!