Dance Punk. To many, these words together are a nonsensical combination of music styles that have nothing in common. Whether you knew it was dance punk, you have no doubt heard this style of music and its influences before. It is easily one of the most interesting progressions in music history. That said, a genre having an interesting history does not merit an article dedicated to it. Why should dance punk be relevant to you in 2014? This year has seen an incredible rebirth of what was starting to be considered a dying genre, and this rebirth is perhaps the most important trend of the year in music.
Dance Punk’s origins can be traced back to the turn of the decade in the late seventies. As post-punk artists like The Cure and Joy Division were foreshadowing the New Age movement led by the Talking Heads. Additionally during this period, Krautrock was on the rise and German artists like Faust and Kraftwerk were among the first to incorporate electronics with experimental rock. Additionally the Detroit techno movement, as well as all of the sub-genres of electronic music in Great Britain during the 80s had a direct impact on the genre. However, Dance Punk as it is known today did not take its shape until the early 2000s.
The turn of the century was notable for the post-punk revival movement that began in New York City. These throwbacks, guitar acts offered a return to the garage rock basics that were lost in the Britpop/grunge/stadium rock dominated 90s. As a direct extension of this movement, dance punk evolved out of artists who shared many of the same influences as the more standard revivalists did. In the way that Joy Division directly influence perhaps the most important post-punk revival albums in The Strokes’ 2001 effort Is This It, it only naturally follows that Joy Division’s second branding in New Ordr, a key member of New Age, in turn influenced The Strokes Dance Punk predecessors.
While Dance Punk was a widespread genre with many artists, one stands out alone and must be mentioned as the primary act; James Murphy’s project LCD Soundsystem. Murphy had been active in New York’s music scene for over a decade and his wealth of experience likely contributed to the group’s early success, even if Murphy’s other projects had stayed under the radar for so long. LCD Soundsystem formed in 2001 during the birth of post-punk revival. Over the next four years they released many singles leading up to their much anticipated self-titled, double album, debut. I still hold the second half of this record to be the crowning achievement in the genre. LCD Soundsystem’s release in 2005 was a breakthrough for Dance Punk. Other acts during this time included The Rapture, The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, and Liars, who originally possessed a garage rock sound, and moved towards dance punk by the end of the decade. Another group, Death From Above 1979 is somewhat controversial to me personally. Their debut You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine (2004) is often cited as a key album in the genre, but I find it much too punk, and not enough dance.
Dance Punk is just that, the combination of “punk” music of the seventies and early eighties, and the dance music of the eighties and nineties. It is important to distinguish electronic rock, like that innovated by Radiohead on their 2000 record Kid A, which incorporates synthesized instruments but lacks dance inspiration. To me, the ideal dance punk style is one that focuses primarily on the instruments of dance, but takes a rock oriented song-writing approach.
As the last decade ended, the genre began to lose steam, but its flagship artist LCD Soundsystem released one of the best albums of the period in 2007 with Sound of Silver. In 2010 they released their third and final album This Is Happening which marked the completion of a trilogy of albums, each one as cohesive, innovative, and enjoyable as the next. Following the release of This Is Happening as 2010 turned into 2011, Murphy announced that the group was stepping away and played a fairwell concert at Madison Square Garden. As the white balloons fell from the rafters after the conclusion of “New York I Love, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” thousands of fans sat devastated that they had just witnessed the final act of such an incredible group. What they did not realize is that they almost saw the final act of a decade’s worth of music.
By 2013, Dance Punk appeared dead. There were no major releases in the genre following 2010’s This Is Happening, and hope that the genre could reclaim the strength of the mid 00s was all but gone. Musicians in 2014 have made a point that they are not ready for this movement to die, and great accomplishments toward the genre have been found from the most unlikely sources.
The first Dance Punk Revival album to be released in 2014 was Liars with their album Mess. While Liars were part of the original movement, this release was a significant return to form for the group and the genre, and was met with critical acclaim. Also making their long awaited follow up to their debut, Death From Above 1979’s album The Physical World was released last month, and although I didn’t care for it, or find it representative of true dance punk, it is worth mentioning as a significant release.
However, this “revival” would be nothing without what is perhaps the best release of all genres in 2014. Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra is the well-known offshoot of Canadian post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor. A significant departure from their symphonies of instrumental rock, the group put together a two track EP featuring dance punk remixes of old tracks. While I said Disc 2 of LCD Soundsystem is the crowning achievement of the genre, Hang On To Each Other EP is about equal in quality.
These three releases may not constitute enough to insinuate a “revival” of sorts, but it goes far beyond the music at hand. Music fans around the country and world have a renewed excitement in the future of the genre. It’s a movement, and you had better get in on the ground floor, because in 2014; Dance Punk is back.