Recycled Sounds: Return of the Dance

Until Daft Punk descended from the mothership in their robot suits for 1997's seminal Homework, mainstream dance music had spent a long time building its identity around slickly-produced synthpop cotton candy and mildly embarrassing Jock Jams-era stadium shout-alongs. With one look at Michel Gondry's Bubsy Berkley-on-acid video for "Around the World," you knew that cutting a rug didn't require random exhortations of "Everybody dance now!" anymore.

Around the same time, the trance/ambient scene started to pick up steam thanks to the mojo of a Maryland DJ-turned-producer named BT (née Brian Transeau). His 1999 album Movement in Still Life marked the zenith of his efforts to introduce a special brand of hip-hop influenced, stutter-riddled trance to the masses, largely by virtue of his work composing film scores and collaborating with wildly successful pop acts such as NSync. BT's alternately spazzy and soothing compositions cut through the fat of an American dance scene awash with Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears singles.

But then something unusual happened--people stopped moving. A sort of post-millennial exhaustion poisoned the dancefloor. Somehow, actual dancing became taboo in dance-oriented music, replaced by exercises for the comatose like snapping your fingers, doing the Rockaway, and leaning back. If somebody had released a record telling people to lay down and take a nap during this period, it probably would have been a huge club-banger. Even the old guard was off its game--both Daft Punk's Human After All and BT's Emotional Technology failed to resonate with audiences seemingly more concerned with an economy of motion (though I doubt BT's newly frosted tips helped matters).

However, thanks to an infusion of new talent, the tide appears to be turning. Daft Punk protégés Justice sent people scrambling back to the dancefloor this year with their none-too-subtly-titled "D.A.N.C.E.", a song the French duo has described as an ode to Michael Jackson. Also delivering on their promise to make dancing sexy again is the Montreal-based electro-funk outfit (and current MTV interstitial darlings) Chromeo, who describe themselves as "the only successful Arab/Jewish collaboration since the beginning of time." Their recent sophomore effort, Fancy Footwork, puts the primal sense of attraction and jubilation back into the dance, encouraging all would-be wallflowers to "Let her see that fancy footwork/Show her you're that type of guy." When you toss in both groups' penchant for unique, whimsical videos (like Chromeo's "Tenderoni"), it's clear that the dance, at long last, is making its comeback.

Daft Punk would (and should) be proud.
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