By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
The dance-punk movement has received plenty of flak since its resurgence at the turn of this nascent century. Part of the problem is that it's easy to make this kind of music ... poorly. The mild successes of bands like Radio 4 and the Rapture have inspired countless others to pick up guitars and drum machines and ape Gang of Four's herky-jerky rhythms. Haters also find fuel in the core vapidity of dance-punk offshoots. The electroclash trend stalled in its uninspired hipster observations on nightlife and social interactions presented as party jams. The main blemish, though, is the carbon-copy formula that media-hungry artists from emo to electro employ: angular guitars + disco beats = dance-punk! Is it really that easy?
Perhaps this explains why the dance-punk movement has yet to live up to music critics' and trend-watchers' expectations. While bands like the Juan MacLean and Moving Units found their niches, they never reached the level of their hype in terms of sales or mass appeal. New releases from two of the genre's shining stars should give the naysayers some pause, however. LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver and !!!'s Myth Takes separate the class acts from the clones by connecting to a deep musical history that defies simply rehashing the past.
LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy has particularly strong roots in the genre. He runs the DFA label with partner Tim Goldsworthy, and the pair is responsible for producing and remixing countless top names, including the Rapture, Chromeo, and Le Tigre. !!! entered the scene in the late '90s. The group released the classic "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard" single in 2003, showcasing its penchant for enthusiastically blending styles in this often narrow-minded genre.
!!! and LCD have certainly planted their dark-disco tubers deep enough in dance-punk's fertile soil to merit the risks involved with expanding and diversifying their sound. Myth Takes looks forward and backward simultaneously, gleaning as much from Sandinista-era Clash as from modern-day dub-step and deep house rhythms. Though the band's loose, jammy style is preserved, it's contained within a taut, precise ball of e-music energy. This disparity sets !!! apart from the sardonically gritty beats that are the bread and butter of other members of the club.
LCD's Sound of Silver, on the other hand, furthers Murphy's vision by splicing acid techno and New Order-inspired programming into the backbone of vigorous four-on-the-floor tempos. The record feels fresh as it rocks and pops with blithely buoyant bass and crisp drum hits. Murphy occasionally backs away from the ironic, self-reflexive lyrics that are either his Achilles heel or selling point, depending on your preference, though the droll wit is still present on songs like the lead single, "North American Scum."
Both albums stray farthest from the dance-punk formula at their close. LCD's "New York, I Love You" is a straightforward ballad with shades of '50s rock, as Murphy softly details his ambivalence about the city he calls home. !!! takes it even further on "Infinifold," a mournful, sweeping epic built on piano and frontman Nic Offer's hushed vocals, the after-party to the album's frenzied nightlife.
These adjustments aren't drastic or revolutionary, but they are significant. It would have been so easy for these acts to stick with the status quo. But for all the uniformity of its practitioners, this is a genre begging to be married to disparate styles. Both !!! and LCD are intent on proving that dance-punk deserves its place in the musical lexicon by tinkering with its weary formula and injecting it with a new vigor.