It is 2018 and dance music is everywhere. Dominating charts and festival line-ups, the genre is almost inescapable whether you like it or not. However, much of the scene today is unrecognisable in comparison to when it was first born in the early 80’s. Inclusivity and togetherness has been replaced by overproduction and greed. Over the course of around 40 years, dance music spawned in the underground, blossomed and skyrocketed into the mainstream, reaching heights beyond what was deemed imaginable. There is no denying that the genre’s roots still remain within today’s scene, with many artists, labels and promoters continuing to make music their sole driving force for success, though due to a number of different factors including technology and political change, the scene has shifted and multiplied into world of different sub-genres and movements. But how exactly did dance music transcend from the underground to mass exodus?
The early to mid-80’s saw a calling from producers and musicians who wanted to put their equipment to the test, pushing the boundaries further than ever expected. Acid house was the future; it was as if an alien had landed, spewing out the sound of space into warehouse speakers. It was these warehouses which acted as the church of the movement which soon gained momentum and went international, seeing particular popularity in the US (where it truly began) and in the UK. During this time, the latter was still under the power of Thatcher, who built racial boundaries and segregation across the country. The acid house movement was a complete rebellion against this, subverting the toxicity that she created. As a result, this gave birth to hedonism and togetherness, which was reminiscent of the infamous Summer of Love.
For the first time, a youth of all backgrounds and sexualities united from all over the country inside industrial warehouses and countrysides to share a love and passion for music. Expressiveness was the true symbol of this movement. Revelers danced in a unique style, throwing their body and twisting enthusiastically to the beat of the music as if no one was watching. And they weren’t. The focus was far away from judgment and instead everyone was open-minded. This is an attitude that is harder to come by today, with social media being an unavoidable platform in the forefront of everyone’s eyes. It’s apparent that the inclusive, non-judging atmosphere of the acid house scene has faded somewhat, although if you look in the right places, this vibe can still be found.
Out of the underground, a shift in the movement came in the early 90’s, partially as a result of the Criminal Justice Bill of 1994 which aimed to reduce anti-social behaviour. Its main motivation was to restrict outdoor raves. This resulted in the ‘superclub’, a very large space with multiple rooms and mega sound systems. At this time, dance music was huge, dominating the charts and clubs including Cream, Fabric, and Ministry of Sound were among the most popular in the country, hosting huge DJs such as Danny Rampling and Nicky Holloway as well as up and coming artists. The 90’s veered the movement away from rebellion and the underground, instead taking dance music to the big leagues and thus creating a new phenomenon.
Despite maintaining a unifying, enthusiastic atmosphere, dance music had reached a new level and was commanding huge crowds. For a long time, the cost of entry did not exceed around £3-10, with £10 considered the upper limit. It would seem wrong that a movement’s foundations which lie in promoting inclusivity and unification could become unaffordable and therefore exclusive, but, in the early to mid-2000’s, rent prices shot up excessively around London, meaning in order to survive, clubs had to increase their entry fees.
For a lot of clubs (particularly smaller ones), this was not enough and they were forced to close their doors. Between 2005 and 2015, over half of London’s clubs shut down, perhaps indicating that the desire to go out decreased significantly. However, the love for dance music has never been suppressed, even during times of mass club closures. It can be said that there are other factors though which have drastically shaped dance music such as the introduction of Beatport in 2004. The day it landed, the culture changed.
Beatport made it effortless to download songs digitally, meaning DJs no longer required to lug around records to every show they played. This created a world where it was now easy to become a DJ – anyone could pick up a cheap controller or decks rather than having to finesse the art of playing on vinyl. We are now at a time where dance music is bigger than ever. DJs are regarded as icons and often live the lives of rockstars. This is great in the respect that the genre is reaching an incredible number of people worldwide, however, often the origins of the movement are forgotten. DJ culture has evolved colossally. During the years of the warehouse raves, the DJ would be tucked away at the side of the venue, not because no one appreciated them, but because the DJs themselves were not the most important factor of the event; it was instead the music.
Now, a DJ can be the primary selling point of an event and people will buy tickets to go to see that artist specifically. This comes as a consequence of social media and PR – it is much easier to sell somebody on something tangible such as a release or label than a nascent skill (DJing). Therefore, the PR machine stirred, pushing DJs for events off the back of their releases rather than their talent. In correlation to this, the focus has been driven away from the music and clubbing has now become a high production-induced and immersive experience where CO2 cannons shoot at the drop of a track and huge LED screens producing hypnotic visuals serve as a backdrop.
This has created an atmosphere where, at some events, it has become too common for people to watch the night through their phone whilst filming their favourite DJ. This retracts the idea of immersion and connection with music – party-goers often focus on sharing the night with followers on social media rather than with their friends who are present. There are some clubs such as Phonox in Brixton which have a no-phone policy, but at larger events, it is impossible to enforce this.
At the same time, dance music culture should not be generalised. There are now many different movements within this whole sphere and they each adopt different types of people and etiquettes. Therefore, behaviour at events and towards music in general will differ depending on the specific type of music, as well as the location that it is listened to. But, there is no denying that the culture has changed, diverting into a new level of popularity and creating a number of new sounds along the way.
It is 2018 and the love for dance music is still on the rise. We’re at a time now where ticket prices are often reaching over £25, and DJs are becoming more and more idolised to the point where they have been featured as characters on Grand Theft Auto V. But the passion still remains. The culture will continue to evolve, reaching even further heights and crowds worldwide. It is unknown exactly where the movement will land, but for now, the groove goes on.