Joyous abandon abounded in dance music this year. It was less EDM than Carpe Diem DM: big, bold, ebullient, and resolutely committed to being in the moment, right here, right now.
While underground dance music largely stuck to brooding moods, grudging restraint, and either retro fealty or all-out lo-fi fetishism and mainstream EDM flogged mall-rave bombast, lifestyle porn, and roid-rage bangers with ruthless efficiency this British strain of midstream electronica displayed a remarkably carefree sensibility, post-historical in its juxtaposition of tropes borrowed from various styles and eras, post-underground (or at least free of the underground's customary neuroses) in its embrace of melody, and remarkably innocent in its outlook, as though the young artists had nothing to prove and were having the time of their lives.
Two acts, in particular, stood out as leaders of this new school: Disclosure and Rudimental, whose respective dance/pop fusions flushed with the glow of youth in its prime, even as they referenced earlier, epochal shifts in British crossover dance music. Rudimental, an East London quartet with roots in drum'n'bass, looked to Roni Size and Reprazent; Disclosure built their house upon the foundations laid by MJ Cole and millennial 2-step.
The boinging beats, R&B flourishes, and jump'n'shout maximalism of Basement Jaxx also loomed large, as both acts occasionally cribbed directly from their forebears' playbook. Compare, for instance, Disclosure's slinky"You & Me" to Basement Jaxx's "Jus 1 Kiss"; consider, too, the steel drums and parade-ground rumpus of which Rudimental are so fond. But neither Disclosure nor Rudimental allow themselves to be nearly as wacky as Basement Jaxx. Despite their relative youth, brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence had the more grown-up-sounding album; where Rudimental's soaring drum'n'bass anthems kept on surging like adolescent hormones, Disclosure harnessed the sleek chic of the U.K. The synths on "Latch" are more cozily luxurious than a pair of leather jogging pants; "January" wraps Jamie Woon's velvety voice in silk ribbons; "Help Me Lose My Mind" is a lovestruck heart rendered with all the insane, opulent detail of a Faberge egg.
Many of Disclosure's beats and bass lines come straight from the Chicago/New York house canon a canon these YouTube diggers discovered by working their way backwards, from Joy Orbison to MJ Cole to Todd Edwards and Roy Davis Jr but Disclosure's ultra-modern update banishes all the grit and raw edges from a sound that began as something DIY, untutored, and punk as fuck. Normally, that would be a problem, but somehow Disclosure make it work: Rather than sounding lifeless, their vacuum-sealed deep-house simulacra pump with life and movement; they're not anechoic chambers, but the leaping pulse you hear when you're locked inside one.
It's fitting that the monologue Disclosure sampled for Settle's opening track came from a self-help spiel, because both acts set their sights squarely on big themes: love, perseverance, triumph against all odds. Any of them, really, could've been a chapter-heading in a self-actualization handbook not to mention Rudimental's "Not Giving In" and Disclosure's "Defeated No More."
And their respective successes Rudimental racked up three Top 40 U.K. 1 back-patting of Swedish House Mafia and their fingers-in-the-air ilk, this success didn't seem like a win for branding alone; it felt inclusive.
Perhaps they connected because both acts excelled at capturing the experience of dance music in its natural habitat, albeit in different ways: Rudimental's high-octane urge overload was a headlining festival set from start to finish, while Disclosure offered a snapshot of a perfect night out at the club. It's clear, in any case, that Disclosure and Rudimental have helped set the tone for the coming year: Three of the artists included in the BBC's Sound of 2014 longlist (Ella Eyre, MNEK, and Sam Smith) have collaborated with one or both of them.
But the two groups were hardly alone in their giddy dance/pop hybrids: You could see it all over U.K. In that middle distance, Rudimental and Disclosure invited pop and dance fans from across the spectrum to come home, settle in, and get to work on building something new.
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