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Think New York City's "rock renaissance" is all about the Strokes? Think again. The city's other high-profile new band, the Rapture, is one of many that've helped configure a subscene loosely termed "dance punk," which has emerged with a gritty, experimental, and funky attitude that's repositioned NYC on the hipster map. Gotham bands like the Rapture (which moved there from San Francisco), Out Hud (which originated in Sacramento), and Radio 4 have smeared the indie rock blueprint with elements from rhythm-centered genres like house, disco, electro, and dub. They've forged a diverse and infectious sound that's brought together indie and club kids on hip dance floors worldwide.
Thursday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $15 in advance, $17 at the door
Now that sound is poised to crash the pop party. After a year of rotation in the clubs, the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" -- a frenetic snapshot of urban rock boys liberated by dance-floor culture -- has begun to score airplay on commercial new-rock radio. That's good news for both the brewing scene from which the tune sprang and the similar New York-based scene from 20 years back that inspired it. And it could prove to be the creative kick in the ass that mainstream music so desperately needs.
Luke Jenner, the Rapture's singer/guitarist, thinks young America is ready for the high-quality, edgy funk proffered on both "House ..." and the band's long-awaited debut album, Echoes. "My dream has always been getting music to 14-year-old kids," says Jenner via phone from his Manhattan apartment. "I'm really over being hip or whatever. I remember as a kid how any single record could change your life. I'm just excited that it could be our record." Clearly, punks are ready to dance and dance-floor kids are ready to rock. But is a two-decade-old hybrid called dance punk finally ready for the big time? If Jenner and his crew have anything to say about it, the answer is yes.
Dance punk's emergence in New York City revives a legacy born in the Lower East Side's arty early-'80s club community. Back then, the district had just witnessed the noisy no-wave scene, as bands like DNA and Mars fitfully trashed punk's already-apparent stylistic conventions. In 1980, as hip hop birthed itself in the boroughs, downtown rock bands such as Bush Tetras and the Contortions were tweaking hybrids of jazz, funk, disco, and Latin music, and adventurous black and Puerto Rican dance bands like ESG and Defunkt were playing downtown artist spaces and clubs. However, as fertile and influential as it was, New York's first punk-funk scene flamed out in obscurity, with one famously tangential exception: The melody of minimalist funk band Liquid Liquid's 1981 tune "Cavern" would be lifted by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five to create one of hip hop's first and most famous crossover tunes, 1983's "White Lines."
Ed Bahlman released "Cavern" through his label 99 Records, named after his Greenwich Village record shop, which had become a meeting place for the scene's kindred musicians. The financial and emotional toll of his arduous but successful lawsuit against the Furious Five's Sugarhill label over the tune's appropriation in "White Lines" would eventually dissolve 99. This was tragic considering that 99 was known for releasing work by crucial bands like Bush Tetras and ESG, as well as no-wave guitar experimentalist Glen Branca.
The kind of chances that Bahlman took with 99 inspired indie-bred production team DFA -- James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy -- to record some of the local bands starting in 2000. By 2002, they'd started DFA Records, which is widely considered the key label in New York's current dance punk scene. Having met or worked with experimental beat bands like Out Hud, politically minded groove rockers like Radio 4, and party bands like the Rapture, Murphy (a veteran of underground rock bands Pony and Speedking) and Goldsworthy (a U.K. expatriate who's worked with hep acts such as David Holmes and UNKLE) sensed a burgeoning sensibility. But before releasing their first record, the duo built their audience by throwing wildly eclectic parties.
"We'd throw parties where a lot of people can get fucked up," Murphy remembers. "We'd play music to a crowd of house kids, some smelly punk rock kids, and, say, a bunch of old-school break dancers. We'd play Can, then Donna Summer, and everyone would dance without thinking twice. It was just a good, refreshing vibe. Then, as DJs we wanted more good records, so we recorded [the Rapture's] 'House of Jealous Lovers.' Now we had a new record that would kill on the dance floor."
Over a year after it released "House of Jealous Lovers" as its first single, DFA is 10 releases down the road paved by 99. Bands on the roster include Brooklyn noise-rockers Black Dice, the electro-tinged Juan McLean (solo project of ex-Six Finger Satellite John McLean), and Murphy's own act, lyrically smarmy house/rock hybrid LCD Soundsystem. And, of course, the duo produced Echoes, the Rapture's highly anticipated debut album. "When we started the label," Murphy continues, "we said to ourselves, 'Dance music is fun. We like going out dancing, and we like Liquid Liquid and Can.' And we saw this huge void, and we saw a chance to do something intriguing and necessary."
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