The DNA of Western dance music is splashed around the mucky loins of America’s most deprived inner-city areas.
Disco exploded in the interloper lofts of New York in the 1970s. A decade later, the south Chicago warehouse scene applied a more synthetic, more psychedelic approach to match disco’s escapist template for a boisterous gay crowd searching for liberation. House music was born. Around the same time Detroit, drenched in a love of funk, started to emanate the motoric structures that would become techno.
However, despite such a crucial fathering of a global dance scene, America has always been massively distanced from the European musical riot that these scenes fuelled. As house and techno smashed into Belgian beat, dub, industrial, Italo and new wave, it detonated the ecstasy-drenched explosion and musical ground zero we know as acid house.
Andy Butler, lynchpin of NYC crew Hercules & Love Affair, has spent his entire adult life acting as a guardian of authentic American dance music. Clash caught up with the producer ahead of his latest album, ‘The Feast Of The Broken Heart’ (review), to capture his views on where American dance was up to. The results were eye watering.
“When you listen to the lyrics of a disco song, you hear someone looking beyond people’s skin tone, looking past people’s sexual orientation,” he begins. “We’re all one. This unity and acceptance created an energy in the room; everybody was there for that reason and that wasn’t happening outside during the waking light.”
Butler’s new album on Moshi Moshi presents a raw, more direct homage to the underground records of Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s. It is a shift away from his usual love of disco, but a move influenced by him living in Europe over the last year.
It was on this side of the Atlantic that he discovered that the Austrian producers Ha-Ze Factory shared the same love of these amazing records. Yet while they were loved in Europe, they were barely acknowledged in the US when Butler was growing up in Denver in the 1990s.
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HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR
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We wanted to know how Butler, an openly gay disco lover and long-established advocate of acid house, felt about America’s nationwide adoption of EDM? His answer buries the future of the nation’s club music six feet under.
“Yeah, well here is my response to EDM: I have a problem with every aspect of it. I have a problem with the very term. But I know what Americans like and call dance music or EDM is a series of cheap tricks that are extremely software-heavy. It doesn’t have any focus or concern for any basic concepts like melody or strong, interesting harmonic progressions. There are not any interesting vocal performances, and it displays a lack of any substantial lyrical content. It’s absolutely reductive!”
When we discuss how the modern American dance music is completely removed from its queer, black roots, Butler cites a recent Twitter conversation as the death knell of its future. He references a public show of complete ignorance played out on Twitter between Dave Rene (A&R at Interscope Dance) and Tim Smith (Skrillex manager) comforting each other when neither knew who Frankie Knuckles was upon his death.
“When I saw those tweets, I was like, ‘Wow! You have no sense of the history of what you do!’” cries Butler. “I couldn’t believe it. They have absolutely no respect, no concept of anything.” Both men recently featured in a US-focused list of important individuals in dance music. The embarrassing Tweets have since been deleted.
“I hate to talk about American consumers being so dumb,” concludes Butler, “but if you put out some freaked-out, hyper-agro rapper over the top of angry music, all of a sudden Americans will buy it. There’s not room for subtlety, there’s no room for nuances, there’s no room for traditional components of good music, soulful music. You know, none of the warmth or emotion that Chicago house and Detroit techno had. It has no redeeming features. So, there’s my rant!”
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Playlist: Andy Butler’s key American dance tracks
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Words: Matthew Bennett
Photos: Benjamin Alexander Huseby