Participating in Dance Music

A lot of “dance” music I listen to is on the edge of dance. It doesn’t drive hard enough, doesn’t micromanage one’s experience; it sometimes doesn’t ask for attention. The best way to describe a lot of dance music I listen to: Imagine watching a spy movie where the protagonist enters the club to find his target. The club is modern, with stark blue lighting and matte gray walls. In the movies, the club is never as packed as it really is: The spy can brush through dancers without a fuss. But the whole time that you’re engaged with the spy’s adventure, dance music plays in the background. Loud and engaging enough to remind the audience that they are indeed in a club, but unassuming enough that we are not caught up in the music, but in the experiences of the protagonist.

I listen to some types of commanding music, but really shy away from it when it comes between the sound and me dancing the way I want. Commanding pop music, which keeps the vocalist in center stage and instrumentalists kept far behind, is tiresome because it wants to take over my life rather than add to it. For me, dance music should be the same: The song and the dance complement each other rather than fight for attention. I couldn’t dance without the right music, but I wouldn’t listen to “dance” music if I didn’t want to at least imagine movement. At times, the poppiest dance music tells me to “sit down, and we’ll do the work.” I don’t want to sit, I want to participate!

Jesper Ryom’s house music doesn’t command attention, except from those who are looking to give it. Rather, tracks of his are hypnotic: “Apolune” uses a side-chain effect to accentuate kicks and let open hats grow with each beat. These tracks are not afraid to repeat themselves: The magic of repetition is that it allows the dancer to figure out the tune and synchronize movements. Repetition is a building of trust between artist and dancer. Every 16, 32, or 32 beats, an instrument or vocal or taken away from the repetitions so that the dancer can adjust accordingly: The song is establishing a scene, the dancer decides whether they want to take part of that scene, and they try to move toward the physicality of the given scene.

For many house DJs, vocal-heavy tracks help break up the “filler” tracks which usually maintain a certain energy that the DJ wants to keep for five to ten minutes, before switching to another banger that sets a new mood. The filler tracks are typically made up of the tracks I described above. I, like many other lovers of dance music, enjoy the give and take of bangers and filler, but I wanted to make an ode to the music that fills up 80% of DJ sets: The mood-setters, the energy-maintainers, the music that isn’t desperate for attention but gets it anyway.