The Rapture in 2006. Photo by Michell Zappa.
Ten years from now, after the government collapses and the aliens grow bored with our shortcomings before settling down in Miami, we will all be eating our meal capsules and dancing to the song “LCD Soundsystem is Playing Daft Punk is Playing at My House at My House” by the one man orchestra known only as @. There will be an underlying tone of something we haven’t named yet, because our vocabularies are currently not sophisticated enough to approach the level of irony that the indie dance revival will have evolved into.
The same sort of thing happened during the 1980s English New Wave/post-punk/electronic music scene with the creation of the Joy Division led punk-dance, pop-electronic band New Order. Apart from being pre-nostalgic, post-punk, post-pop, pre-house, and not to mention superpost-classical and pre-post-rhythm-and-blues, New Order’s blend of clever hooks and their arch knowingness of the influence of technology and synthesizers (as demonstrated by Kraftwerk’s kitschy songs about computers) rocketed them into a state of both popular acceptance and music-snob appreciation. It’s a place that many of their self-conscious dance-pop offspring would inhabit, from Blur to Cut Copy, Daft Punk to MGMT. It is one of the most fascinating stories of art’s awkward, long-term relationship with commercialism in the Western world.
After the great overthrow of the ‘80s by the 1990s in 1990, England’s pop scene laid to rest its embarrassing fling with punk, backed slowly away from acid house, and returned to its roots in dance-oriented rock – with a heavy dose of typical Britpop cheekiness. Bands like Blur, Oasis, and the Manic Street Preachers posted up at trendy clubs in the UK, and decided the future of rock as more dancey than cerebral, much to the chagrin of shoegaze and grunge.
By 1994 and into ‘95, MTV and Top 40 radio quickly jumped onboard, shooting Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Stone Roses, and Supergrass hits into America to quell the rumblings of a post-Cobain American youth. The smirking catharsis of Britpop played well with both mainstream and alt-rock listeners, paving the way for the replacement wave in the early ‘00s and once again reinvigorating an American rock scene that had been losing the enthusiasm battle to hip-hop for at least three years.
Not only was the up-tempo quality of alt-dance music comforting to Americans, but the ability for Brits to make fun of themselves was a refreshing attitude to those used to angsty American post-punk. Cobain’s self-deprecation was undoubtedly powerful, but it was all just so harsh: “I’m so ugly, that’s okay/’Cause so are you.” Sheesh, this first date sure is going well!
Compare that droning, gravely Americana to Damon Albarn’s British humor-inflected self-deprecation on “London Loves”: “London loves/The way people just fall apart/London loves/The way we just don’t stand a chance”. You can really snuggle up and smirk along with a Britpop track, while Nirvana and grunge kinda make you want to curl into a ball and reflect on which facets of your life make you complicit with evil things.
After Britpop’s very un-danceable invasion in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s with the conservative, haircut-having Chris Martin and Thom Yorke, another batch of wiley, long-haired rascals from both sides of the Atlantic emerged to challenge the imminent arrival of America’s rather forced attempt at a new rock revolution. Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture, and every response to the Strokes’ introduction of the rich, white hipster music explosion was a similar shock to the American listening population as their forebears’ intrusion on grunge just a decade earlier. Kaiser Chiefs, Muse, Klaxons, and the rest of the Britpop/post-punk revival rose to the top with their stylized hits and heavily danceable electronic bangers, letting American-born MGMT squeeze into the spotlight with their generational hits “Time to Pretend” and “Kids”. Meanwhile, the French duo Justice set the stage in 2007 for the next wave of electro dance-reliant pop music.
That MGMT and Vampire Weekend formed at elite American colleges (Wesleyan and Columbia, respectively) and Justice hailed from the French school of Daft Punk – all with serious global music influences – said a lot for the state of popular dance music and its nouveau-artsy fartsy appeal (one that Kanye West embraced to astounding mainstream acceptance). Like Britpop in the early ‘90s, late ‘00s indie dance had a tongue-in-cheek approach to its role as entertainment, and managed to present itself in a similarly non-confrontational way. But by the time James Murphy turned in “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”, indie dance was simultaneously summed up and ended as a genre of any integrity, with all the Britpop subtlety destroyed and replaced with Cobain-like snark attacks.
Luckily for indie dance, however, a thing called “chillwave” came along and renewed the possibility of another round. Looking at the popularity of last year’s big indie dance breakthrough, Foster the People’s “Pumped up Kicks”, it’s fun watching LA’s pillowy pop come crashing into UK dance pop and end up safe and sound on top of everyone’s summer playlists. It’s good to see the ripples on our side of the pond play so nicely with those of the Redcoats, and it’s enough to stop calling it the “British Invasion” and start calling it the “British Conversation”.
Written by: Jakob Schnaidt