There's something rumbling on dance floors across the United States. You might have seen it coming from France in Daft Punk's swelling popularity or the hype surrounding the Ed Banger phenomenon. Perhaps you caught wind of it through listening to Canadian acts such as MSTRKRFT, Chromeo, and DJ A-Trak. Clubs across the country and, of course, blogs confirm: It's cool to dance again, especially to the music of DJs formerly wedded to other genres.
While some rush to label this music as dance-rock, club music, or even an offshoot of "indie" culture, most are comfortable referring to it as a sort of new wave of electro. But before images of Luke and Egyptian Lover flood your conscience, know this is not the electro that once found its home in the backrooms of Nineties raves.
This electro is a separate phenomenon, arising as a convergence of both indie-rock kids gravitating toward turntables and of electronic producers and DJs looking for something new and more accessible. Add the fact that Serato is killing the vinyl market and that there appear to be new blogs popping up faster than Soulja Boy clones, and you've got a scene that seems to spring forth more from the Internet than any specific region. In bypassing the need for physical releases or even pay-for-download services, the aptly coined "blog house" has allowed its artists to rise to prominence in a short time.
Electro music returns
Treasure Fingers, Kill the Noise, the Villains, LA Riots, and the other artists mentioned in this story play several parties each during WMC. For full details, check their websites: Treasure Fingers, www.myspace.com/treasurefingers; Kill the Noise, www.myspace.com/killnoisekill; LA Riots, www.myspace.com/lariotsofficial; The Villains, www.myspace.com/wearevillains. Also visit www.wintermusicconference.com/thelist.
But still, a few regional hotbeds are arising. In Los Angeles, two particular acts have caught the national and international eye. The Villains, a trio of remixers extraordinaire, appeared on the blog scene in the fall of 2007. They've taken on Bloc Party's "Hunting for Witches," Daft Punk's "Around the World," and most surprisingly, a good remix of Michael Jackson's epic "Thriller." Though they have fewer original tunes, they have provided more than enough mixes to bait fans through MySpace and blogs such as www.missingtoof.com.
LA Riots, meanwhile, is a duo that truly represents the spirit of the U.S. electro craze. With one member defecting from his drum 'n' bass production moniker, Edison Gem, the two took the tracks "The Party" and "DVNO" from Justice's album and applied their choppy, club-crushing style to such acclaim that their remixes received an official nod from Ed Banger Records. From then on, they have been nonstop churning out numerous DJ-ready tracks to blogs and major labels alike. They're currently supporting MSTRKRFT on a U.S. tour.
LA Riots are not the only drum 'n' bass-to-electro converts, though. Back on the East Coast, a number of artists from the later waves of d'n'b have slyly crafted wicked and infectious disco-tinged electro, completely flipping the script on the sounds for which they were known.
Treasure Fingers, a producer and DJ residing in Atlanta, is one example, an erstwhile member of the drum 'n' bass production trio Evol Intent. While under that moniker, he was known for extremely heavy production; as Treasure Fingers, he produces bouncy, happy tunes with zany and unique melodies that will stay in your head for weeks. He's still adjusting to the new scene, though. "I'm surprised when I show up to play a show and I've already got a fan base," he says. "It's kind of weird for me; I like it."
He first tried his hand at the sound a couple years ago but kept it as a private solo project. He eventually did a remix for a local band that wound up on the www.kissatlanta.blog, and suddenly his side project was propelled into the limelight. He has even been tapped to contribute to DJ A-Trak's Fool's Gold label and is working on some quirky, hip-hop influenced beats for Kid Sister. He is still involved with Evol Intent, however, and splits his time between the two projects.
"Half the scene came from indie and rock backgrounds, and now they're getting into electronic music," Treasure Fingers observes. "The other half came from electro and drum 'n' bass. One thing that is strange is that a lot of the U.S. producers are from a drum 'n' bass background, [and] production is really crisp, because d'n'b has such a high bar for quality. [We're] definitely heading in a good direction, with a lot of hype behind the U.S."
Farther north, in Rochester, New York, we can find drum 'n' bass producer Ewun building an incredible track record via his new project, Kill the Noise. He does exactly what his name suggests, combining a powerful sound of distorted, growling bass, layered with funkier melodies with sprinkles of vocoded party lyrics to, well, kill the noise of the competition.
With more influences outside electro than inside it, Kill the Noise says he grew into this production style quite naturally. "Somewhere along the line of being involved in drum 'n' bass, I was exposed to other music," he recalls. "I've always had an interest in writing breakbeat-speed stuff, around 120 to 135 bpm.... But to be honest, the electro stuff I'm producing now uses a lot of the same sensibilities of when I'm producing drum 'n' bass."
He shies away from categorizing this emerging sound, though. "I think electro is not the right term to describe what is going on. It's not fair to pigeonhole it like that," he says. "I just played out in Brooklyn; I played a lot of electro-house, but everything from electro-house to indie-rock to old-school and new-school house to classic Michael Jackson.... I would say the stuff I'm producing is leaning toward electro-house, but I'm all about being a party DJ, just evolving with the show."
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Kill the Noise — along with another member of Evol Intent — is also working on a project called Ludachrist. He describes it as a mashup comparable to Girl Talk but which applies more detail across genres such as classic rock, hip-hop, electro, and more obscure jams.
He, too, cites blogs as a key to his success. "I think people in this scene are hungry for new people; they want to know what the next new thing is," he says. "They spend a lot more time actively looking for new talent, which is a lot different from drum 'n' bass. [In that genre] there is a hierarchy established; the guys that are less established have to work harder to get their music heard."
As this diverse phenomenon continues to test the limitations of classification, more music, more producers, and more DJs will continue to break through on the web. Fans can rest assured they won't be putting away their dancing shoes anytime soon.