Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Trip Down Memory Lane: My Secret Love of Dance Music

Music took on a rather strange role in my life as I grew up. No, I wasn't a really ignored child or cast aside by parents with issues. I just always seem to grasp the epic powers of sounds that I heard growing up. On rides to school when mom would crank the oldies station, I never failed to get lost in the sounds of Motown, Doo Wop, Stax, bubblgum psychedelia, garage rock or the occasional surf gem that would haunt me throughout the day. Then there was my aunt who, without her knowledge, played a role in acquainting me with a fledgling MTV when she would babysit my cousins and I. She was still in her teens and, thankfully for me, she didn't understand the impressionability of kids. Thus, I was exposed to the early 80s synth pop/new wave revolution that caught specifically because of the network. The moment that made me want to understand where it all clicked came shortly after my mother remarried. I was at my new grandparent's house playing in the basement while grandpa worked at his desk. "Do you mind music?" he asked politely. I don't remember how I answered, but he then pulled out a metallic disc (what I eventually learned was called a 78) and introduced me to jazz, specifically swing, by playing Benny Goodman's masterpiece "Sing, Sing, Sing." I was six and the year was 1985.

Somewhere between 5th and 6th grade (91-92), I had another little revelation. I was introduced to techno music. I choose my wording for a specific purpose. I remember hearing "Get Ready For This" by 2 Unlimited at an Iowa Cubs game and trying so hard to find out who that was. Next thing I knew, I was trying to get hold of every beat heavy, synth hook-laden pseudo anthem I could find. Then I tried to label all the various tapes I'd amassed from late night radio as well as friends and music store junkies. This is where it all really hit. This stuff sounds exactly the same. I felt a bit stupid. Luckily, this little fever hadn't lasted enough for me to give massive financial investment outside the couple of cd's of 2 Unlimited that I'd already bought. Naturally, in a fit of anger, I took magnets to all the recorded tapes and found myself lured away into the Native Tounges vibe of hip-hop simultaneously with 70s funk and disco. My newfound knowledge of fickle techno ended up being slowly washed away by tides of James Brown, Parliament, Funkadelic, De La Soul, Brand Nubian, The Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest among others. The difference was that this whim was dictated by scrutiny. Therefore, the groups I fell in love with ended stayed with me because of their quality as well as the fact that I took time going in rather than diving with reckless abandon. Now, all that's left of my stupidity is a couple of 2 Unlimited discs and I don't feel like I miss anything.

1996 saw the delivery of some retroactive vilification from my friends when I began raving about Daft Punk. "What is it with you and all this techno bullshit? What happened to loving Zeppelin, Floyd, Pearl Jam and that other band you like that no one else does? Hello, disco died. It was killed by all those baseball fans, remember?" Those are some of my favorite remarks when I tried to get "Around the World" into rotation at the radio station I was on. Unfortunately, there were other meetings where I tried to get The Melvins some airplay that fell on deaf ears as well. Thus, I sort of retreated into my own little dance-loving world. Which, unless you're a severe club-hopper - and believe me, I'm not - tends to be an uncrowded affair.

In 1998, I learned how to actually love dance music, if I didn't know before. One night in the summer before I went to college, I received the last great gift MTV would ever give me. It was after a rather dreary encounter with my girlfriend at the time. I don't think it was a date, I think we would've been hanging out at her place and I decided to come home early. I watched a movie and still wasn't tired, so I threw on MTV (which still played music late at night)while I doodled in a notebook. Surprisingly, I caught the show Amp which I'd never seen before that day and couldn't catch again because it's timeslot constantly seemed to change. After a few videos, I started yawn. After making a decision to call it a night, I heard the opening guitar twitches to "Music Sounds Better With You" by Stardust. Completely captivated I stared at the screen trying not to blink and not to hear anything but the gliding disco beauty that track is. This was the moment that affirmed any reservations about liking dance music. It's simple chorus of "Ooh baby / I feel like music sounds better with you" over a simple, sunny, disco groove said everything about everything to me that night. I immediately wrote down the artist/song title over my drawings that had filled the notebook page and spent weeks trying to find it in stores. I eventually found it at a place called CD Now which peddled used discs about a year later. That disc would eventually get stolen by a close friend of mine at the time. But like Mr. Burns to his teddy bear, Bobo, my love for that song would never ever falter.

I eventually learned that it's the brainchild of Thomas Bangalter, half of Daft Punk and realized I didn't want it any other way. It's also interesting how this single pointed the way to Discovery for them. It also closes the set to the masterful Alive 2007 album. Without hearing this cut, I would've missed out on Air, Cassius, Dimitri from Paris and others while simultaneously not really gave a damn about Electronica as a whole. That means no Orbital, Aphex Twin, Autechre and I probably would've never tried an artist like Herbert whom I absolutely adore. I couldn't imagine my life without this track. Sadly, but possibly for the better, Bangalter never followed this single with a full project. The optimistic heart still probably thinks, "Maybe someday..." But I doubt that'll ever come. How I came to write about it like this you might ask? I was browsing through my iTunes last night and realized it's been around for 10 years, so happy birthday.