Since the ’90s, disco music has been making a comeback on the dance music scene, especially in France. A great deal of disco music since then has been referred to as ‘nu-disco’, often consisting of classic funk vibes combined with more modern electronic dance sounds. The establishment of labels such as Ed Banger Records brought current big names to the forefront, such as Justice and Breakbot, who helped develop the new futuristic shift from the classic disco grooves of the 1970s. Other artists, such as Todd Terje from Norway, have stuck to more classic disco music.
In the last few years, the disco rise has generated even more momentum, with tracks like Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ and Bruno Mars’ ‘Treasure’ climbing the charts. Electronic disco has also become a new addition to the online electronic dance music (EDM) revolution. And now with new labels and channels sprouting up on YouTube and SoundCloud, it has become easier for upcoming disco producers and artists to get heard, helping the genre to expand and branch out.
DiscoThrill, an independent music label based in Lille, France, has been a key outlet for the nu-disco sounds erupting from the underground, beyond the big names of the likes of Daft Punk, Madeon and Justice. It was started up as a YouTube channel in September 2012 by Sofiane Chehih, who was later joined by Victor Adbib, and swiftly developed into a record label, launching in March 2013. It has been steadily gaining a following ever since. Through its YouTube channel, the label aims to promote the newest ventures into disco music. DiscoThrill aims to expose tracks with a synergy of electronic and funk elements, rather in the same vein as artists such as Breakbot.
DiscoThrill’s artists have showcased some excellent remixes of mainstream pop, dance and indie tracks. Marlin provides an upbeat bouncy twist on Cassie’s R&B track ‘Me & U’, as does Funk LeBlanc with ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’. Laurent Delkiet brings out a vibrant and refreshing take to Zedd’s pulsating house anthem, ‘Clarity’. Novel reshuffles on original disco songs are abundant on the channel, too: a personal recommendation is Color K’s mesmerising remix of ‘Get Down On It’, originally by Kool and the Gang. On top of that, you can find a broad range of innovative original works: from Sam Padrul’s bouncy ‘All I Do’ to LeMarquis’ chill-out track ‘Something New’, DiscoThrill have found disco rhythms to suit a wide range of moods and tastes.
More recently, DiscoThrill have created compilation volumes and have begun to host label nights across cities in France, including Lille, Paris and Toulouse, to allow upcoming disco producers to get more recognition.
I interviewed Victor and Sofiane to get a better idea of what DiscoThrill was all about, and the direction DiscoThrill – and the new wave of disco music in general – might take.
“At the moment DiscoThrill is a part time project,” they said. “As college students we study alongside everything we’re doing with DiscoThrill, which has led to a severe lack of sleep! Victor finishes at college in a month, so if it continues to grow, we would love to make it a full-time job.”
I ask them about the day-to-day process of how they find artists and new music. “It tends to vary,” Victor told me. “Marlin, Baptiste MCMXCI and LeMarquis are old friends [of ours]. Sofiane puts a lot of effort into looking for new artists on places such as SoundCloud, and some great artists get in touch with the label themselves. We then seek to foster relationships with our artists so that we can continue to promote their work.”
Over time, it seems that the duo have created a “family bond” with their artists – a great sense of community fostered by their shared love of music. Sofiane notes that he predicts that Funk LeBlanc and Mogul are set to be key players this year on the disco music scene. “We think the entire DiscoThrill Records crew has something great to offer, though!” he adds.
Currently their biggest focus is introducing their artists to a wider audience. They’ve also recently done a collaboration with Kitsuné, another French record label, in releasing LeMarquis’ remix of ‘Real’ by Years & Years. “We’re interested in working with other labels to spread disco music. We hope to grow structurally, with our own space and studios, like Kitsuné.”
I asked if they had found live events to be a useful tool for the label. “We’ve had success all over France,” they said. “We are definitely looking to promote abroad, though – we’d love to come to a place like Oxford in the UK at some point!”
It’s clear that Victor and Sofiane have great faith in nu-disco being readily accepted around the world. What of other electronic genres, though? “Although disco’s comeback has been part of a general movement, along with other experimental styles like deep house, we think that funk/disco culture – and music in particular – will always have the potential to expand,” they explain. “There’s always a way to improve it, and to mix it with modern music and other styles, like rock, pop and even hip-hop. Nu-disco is the perfect representation of this: it’s never been as great as it is today, and we hope to do our best to contribute to this craze.”
The pair both enjoy listening to other genres, too: hip-hop, pop and rock. “We intend to stay focused on disco music, though,” they tell me. “We have been told to perhaps venture into deep or minimal house because it sells more, but we really enjoy focusing on disco. We’re certainly interested to see the new directions in which nu-disco might progress, and what new cross-genre styles could come about. Some of our artists have also been into this: Baptiste MCMXCI has a particularly electronic flavour, LeMarquis has a more pop sound and DiscoRazor experiments with elements of G-funk.”
Their appreciation for their followers is clear, too. As a final comment, they tell me: “We’d just like to say thank you, and also thanks to everyone who made DiscoThrill what it is today. We hope that others might be interested in what we have to offer!”
DiscoThrill has been a part of a bigger movement in dance music. In contrast with other EDM ventures such as electro house, drum and bass and trap, nu-disco explores a more retro dance style. Other labels and music promoters that delve into disco music have sprouted up recently, including Funky Panda and – to a more limited extent – Monstercat. These have a more upbeat electronic range of disco tracks, compared to DiscoThrill’s more relaxed selection. Funky Panda also works to promote other forms of retro dance, such as electro-swing, an interesting fusion of electronic dance with 1920s swing.
It’s a very exciting time to be a dance music producer. Retro fusion styles, especially nu-disco, are starting to stand as equals with established genres such as techno. Web platforms such as YouTube and SoundCloud have made it much easier for new sounds to be heard. Labels like DiscoThrill promote artists that, by remoulding the ’70s disco sound, could indeed become a far more significant addition to dance playlists over the next few years. With events such as Discourse, Oxford has started to develop a disco scene itself. Hopefully in the near future we’ll be seeing more disco and other exciting alternative dance nights around town.
Sometimes music grows on you the more you listen to it. It may take five or six goes at a band’s new single before it really sinks in. But sometimes new music hits you right in the gut, and you know that it’s good – so good that it’s impossible to ignore. Layla’s new single, ‘Smokestacks’, is of the latter category. This is totally unabashed pop music, but with an eerie twist: the grouped vocals seem almost tribal, coupled with crunching piano chords, strings and brass. It is reminiscent of Ceremonials-era Florence + the Machine, but with added hints of Patrick Wolf to wrap the obvious in mist. To me, this is no surprise. But to the rest of the world, it might be.
Before Layla had transformed into this lean, mean orchestral arrangements machine, I knew her as Jose Vanders. She self-released four EPs worth of Regina Spektor-esque piano music, showcasing a songwriting ability that clearly hasn’t abandoned her in later years. I spent years dragging friends to her shows and snapping up merchandise – I still have the posters and thank you notes on my bedroom walls to prove it. Fast-forward a couple of years, and the rebranded Layla has already released two EPs under her new name. Lazy, this woman is not. Whilst some songs have occasionally been a bit hit and miss (although it is definitely worth checking out ‘Oh My Love’ from her most recent EP, Yellow Circles), ‘Smokestacks’ is clearly a return to form. Layla has developed from the teenage girl behind a keyboard, transforming her raw songwriting ability into a talent for creating pieces of music that enrapture and enthral.
And you don’t have to take my word for it. Layla has been featured on Made in Chelsea soundtracks enough times for her to be practically taken as part of the programme, as well as recently getting played on A Question of Sport. It’s clear the world of TV likes her, as does ex-Kid British vocalist Bipolar Sunshine, who has recently taken her on tour. I’ve been saying this for years, but at some point, Layla is going to get really big. And this might just be her moment.
Dream pop: a subdivision of alternative rock that explores texture and mood. This is a brief and insufficient summation of a genre that has so much more to offer you. Explore its rich depths: many of the best bands from the eighties to the present have been working within its realms. Listener, do you like guitars that make cerebral sounds? Do you like your vocals to sound impassioned, yet barely audible? Are you the introspective type? If you’ve made it this far, then the coming four bands might just change your life.
Jack Tatum started Wild Nothing from his Blacksburg, Virginia dorm room in 2009. His first release under the moniker, a breathless cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’, was a gift for a girlfriend. I bet this is more romantic than anything you’ve done for your significant other. Wild Nothing aren’t a small-time concern anymore. The Brooklyn record label Captured Tracks has released the band’s entire output; as a starting point, check the LPs Gemini and Nocturne.
My Bloody Valentine
People might argue that My Bloody Valentine are part of ‘shoegaze’. I’ve never liked the term, apparently coined because bands involved in the movement would gaze at their shoes. Kinda shitty, right? My Bloody Valentine contain the hallmarks of dream pop. Kevin Shields is a guitar magician, teasing out thrilling, lush, and unexpected noise. Male and female vocals blur into a sexy, androgynous mess. Some days, their 1991 masterpiece, Loveless, is my favourite ever record.
Beach House, like the other bands I’ve ‘introduced’ here, have soundtracked large portions of my teenage years. You should fall in love and break up to Beach House. 2010’s Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom are both immaculate collections of songs. Victoria Legrand allows her French-inflected croon to sail above Alex Scally’s cascading guitar lines. ‘Lazuli’ is my jam, especially the part when, at the climax, Legrand wails ‘LIKE NO OTHER YOU CAN’T BE REPLACED’. Devastating.
Harvard-educated trio Galaxie 500’s songs all sound the same. I mean this in a good way, though! More interested in mood and texture than anything else, their records are great to put on if you fancy a spot of navel gazing. The guitars are heavily layered, the lyrics are hard to decipher. Their best song is a cover of New Order’s immortal ‘Ceremony’. 1991’s ‘On Fire’ is the classic; you should listen to this ASAP.
Emerging in the early to mid-‘90s in response to an increasingly materialistic and dumbed down rap mainstream, underground hip-hop is a vibrant and defiant musical subgenre, albeit a vaguely defined one. Nearly any fault you can find with commercial hip-hop is absent in the best underground rap; simplistic lyrics and expensive clothes got you nowhere in the grimy cyphers of turn-of-the-millennium New York. Here are some of the form’s finest arbiters:
Arguably the epitome of late-‘90s underground hip-hop purism, this Brooklyn three-piece wore their hearts on their sleeves, with “Independent as fuck” their official motto. Funcrusher Plus is their magnum opus, one of the most experimental, challenging and brutal hip-hop albums ever made.
A short-lived duo comprising enigmatic mask-wearing underground legend MF DOOM and producer Madlib, Madvillain emerged from nowhere in 2004 to drop Madvillainy before disappearing in a plume of smoke, and the world of Rap-For-Nerds-Who-Don’t-Like-Rap was never the same again.
This 1999 compilation album from now-defunct Rawkus Records (the closest underground rap ever got to a commercially viable indie label giant) is perhaps the defining document of the late-‘90s underground golden age. Everyone’s involved, from New York oddities Thirstin Howl III and R.A. the Rugged Man to rappers who, thanks to Rawkus, would soon become household names: Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and a then little-known white dude called Eminem.
The man born William Shields is a rare example of a UK rapper whose artistry and aesthetic parallels those of the best American underground artists. His 2002 album Return of the Drifter is an often beautiful slice of 21st century alienation, crafted with imagery-rich lyrics and articulated in a caustic, confident British accent. Wiley this ain’t.
Run The Jewels
Who said the underground was dead? Kanye West and Drake may have been the rappers whose names have dominated rap in 2013, but dig a little deeper on blogs and music websites and you’ll find that it’s this duo who have really been running things. The brainchild of Company Flow producer-turned-underground-godfather El-P and larger than life southern stalwart Killer Mike, RTJ’s self-titled debut is without a doubt a contender for album of the year.
Anyone who’s pretty chilled and has a guitar could be a creator of “slacker rock”. It’s unlikely to ever fall victim to the judgemental-genre-police who haunt a lot of electronic music.
It can be rubbish, but if someone with a laid-back attitude to life, a sense of humour and a knack for song-writing appears, then the results are unbeatable. It ranges from solo acoustic finger-picking and muttering to a pretty heavy-rock full band affair.
Here’s a selection for starters:
The basic paradigm for slacker rock, of which everything else is working. Stephen Malkmus effortlessly pours out line after line of verbal gold to an unpredictable and often ridiculous accompaniment. If slacker rock could be bothered to have a motto, ‘Range Life’’s “Don’t worry, we’re in no hurry” would be a definite contender.
I’m not really sure I understand Ween. The Mollusk is quite a strange album: there’s a song called ‘I’m Waving My Dick In The Wind’; “Ocean Man” was used in the SpongeBob SquarePants movie; they ask “have you ever made a flan and squished it in your hand?”. They can be a bit disturbing, but more often than not the lyrics are funny and the music works. It’s never predictable at least.
The wisest of all slackers, Kurt Vile’s lyrics are shockingly easy to pass over because of his brilliant chord progressions and hypnotic guitar lines. When you actually pay attention to what he’s mumbling in your ear, you realise that few else can sum up the world as directly, entertainingly and melodically.
In the ‘Dreamin’ video, Mac climbs out of a roof-box dressed as Mozart. At the end of the ‘Ode to Viceroy’ video, he tries to smoke fifty cigarettes. In the ‘My Kind of Woman’ video he cross-dresses and then, naked, gets wrapped up in newspaper. He is ridiculous, but it’s not just visual; few albums are as simple and enjoyable as 2.
With a blissful, relaxed aura similar to Real Estate, Travis Bretzer could well be the next big name in the illustrious canon of slacker rock.
Synthesizers have been used in music since the 80s but only recently has it experienced such a heavy revival, particularly in the indie music scene. The genre, chillwave, has emerged with its heavy use of, you guessed it, synthesizers, sampling, and drum machines. It’s been called names such as glo-fi and summer music due to its use of ambient samples and its much more quiet sound.
It has evolved not only from 80s pop but also dream pop and shoegazing music; to me, this music tends to blend with other genres in its definition. Chillwave, if I was going to put it in the simplest of terms, reminds me of surf rock slowed down and put through synthesizers and drum music, hence the pseudonym “summer music.” It’s some of the most relaxing, or at least calming, music I’ve listened to. Here are some artists to help you discern chillwave from all other indie synth pop:
If you don’t know Panda Bear, you probably know Animal Collective, the Baltimore-native band he helped create. Panda Bear as a solo artist is seen as one of the acts that foreshadowed chillwave, particularly with his 2007 album Person Pitch. If you’ve ever listened to Animal Collective, you’ll know what to expect of Panda Bear: a lot of looped noise and lyrics that you would never expect to go together so well.
[caption id="attachment_46595" align="alignnone" width="314"] Panda Bear… in a way scarier than an actual panda bear[/caption]
Ernest Greene takes pairs his quiet voice with drum machines and a dash of synthesizers to create Washed Out, one of the primary bands of the genre. His album Within and Without with tracks such as the dreamy “Amor Fati” and “Far Away” helped define just what the chillwave movement was.
Another band credited with defining the sound of chillwave, Toro Y Moi’s creator Chaz Bundick looks like he stepped right out of the 80s. Even his music videos have a late 80s vibe. Despite appearances, Bundick’s use of looping and his subdued vocals create music that makes you feel like you can party, or chill out, like it’s 1985.
[caption id="attachment_46597" align="alignnone" width="500"] Toro Y Moi… playing Pitchfork Music Festival this year[/caption]
Tycho sounds what sunset on the beach looks like. The combination of ambient sounds and synthesizers create a dreamy evening on the beach, particularly with the song “A Walk” from their album, Dive.
Isn’t all music noise? Well, yes, but genre tags don’t always paint accurate descriptions. Noise music — primarily underground sounds that value volume and dissonance over structure and melody – is nothing new; its forefathers, Sonic Youth, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine et al, all reached heights of popularity no noise band could dream of today. Whether that’s down to the internet, autotune or a general distaste for experimentation is anyone’s guess, but here are some of noise’s leading, if not necessarily famous, lights:
Along with Black Dice, Lightning Bolt defined the harder side of the early ‘00s American noise scene. By playing shows in the middle of their crowds at dancefloor level Lightning Bolt brought back the intimate assault on the senses once championed by My Bloody Valentine. Their third album, Wonderful Rainbow, is correctly tagged the most vicious drum and bass album ever, as well as being the greatest racket ever produced by just two instruments.
[caption id="attachment_46139" align="alignnone" width="400"] Lightning Bolt… In their element[/caption]
Notoriously unpredictable, Deerhoof’s career arc reads like that of several bands meshed into one. They’ve gone from noise rockers, to pop producers, through Pro Tools fans, a live band phase, two lush orchestral albums, soundtracking and finally ending up as the band all indie darlings looking for some experimental cred name-check in interviews.
[caption id="attachment_46141" align="alignright" width="400"] Deerhoof transcending all noise rock genres… Yet still never taking on more than they can chew[/caption]
Japanese noise rock may not seem like the most alluring of genres, but out of those who were willing to give Boredoms a chance, few were disappointed. Boredoms’ tribal drums and overall dissonance is some of the most uplifting music, particularly 1998’s Super æ.
Although they have been around since the ‘70s and no-wave, Swans’ 2012 album, The Seer, was the pinnacle of their career. At over two hours long, and laced with biblical imagery, nondescript roars and unrelentingly bleak melodies, The Seer is the finest album of music purely as a physical, bodily experience.
Unlike the other artists on this list, Fennesz is the only musician to be classified as more noise-pop than rock. His undisputed masterpiece, 2001’s Endless Summer, is the finest culmination of the noise/melody contrast invented by the Jesus and Mary Chain. Fennesz found a way to remedy pop music’s obsession with instant gratification by cutting his melodies with noise, and thus reinforcing their prettiness.
In reality the differences between the sub genres covered by Afropop can be so great that they call into question the value of the phrase, but it’s a useful way of distinguishing the popular music of Africa from more traditional music. Historically, the music of West and South Africa has been the main export to Western audiences, with East Africa being much less prominent. One unifying aspect of afropop is the strength of the rhythm; it often puts even the funkiest of Western musicians to shame. A complete guide to Afropop is beyond the scope of this article, but here’s a quick rundown of some of the more popular branches:
Popularised by King Sunny Adé, Jùjú music hails from Nigeria, and is based on the percussive style of traditional Nigerian music called ‘Yoruba’. Adé’s recordings are full of masterful guitar, combined with his exuberant singing style. His compilation ‘The Best of the Classic Years’ serves as a great introduction to the genre.
Soukous, derived from rumba music, is light and laid back, but infectiously catchy and danceable, having been developed in the Congo before spreading to Kenya and eventually the rest of Africa. A key exponent is Tabu Ley Rochereau, whose singing is some of the best to be found in Afropop.
This Zulu branch of afropop from South Africa was a big influence on Paul Simon’s album Graceland. Its jubilance is hard to overstate, and the incredible rhythms add to the exuberance. One of the most popular and important Afropop records, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto is the place to start.
Pioneered by Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, whose The Best of the Black President is the record to have, Afrobeat is actually an amalgamation of several genres. Its sprawling freeform compositions are like jazz based on rhythm rather than melody, though that’s not to say melody doesn’t play a part.
Coming from North Africa, and Algeria in particular, Raï illustrates the diversity of Afropop with elements of French and Spanish traditional music, as well as a significant Arabic influence. Rachid Taha is the go-to man for Raï, especially his 2000 crossover hit Made in Medina.