The English have long had a knack for taking fundamentally American music, morphing it and giving it back to us in a fresh and thrilling form. We gave them the blues; they gave us the Rolling Stones and Zeppelin. We gave them folk; they gave us Mumford & Sons. We gave them house and techno; they gave us Basement Jaxx and the Chemical Brothers. We are so grateful.
Now, a collection of UK artists are again evolving electronic music as we know it, veering the center of sonic gravity from the festival EDM that blew up in the United States circa 2012 and pushing the US scene into the house and deep house renaissance of the moment. Think nuanced beats over air horns, and black leather jackets vs. tutus.
“The UK is a great place for electronic music right now, because it’s small and compact,” says UK tastemaker Annie Mac. “You’ve got all of these crazy cultures on top of each other… That’s why London is the birthplace for jungle, dubstep, grime… with Disclosure, you can trace their sound back to Chicago, but also to UK garage.”
Indeed, Disclosure sparked the trend with their game-changing 2014 debut Settle. Beginning with its massive lead single “Latch,” the album introduced a no-scrubs crew of UK artists including Jessie Ware, AlunaGeorge and Sam Smith, who is now so famous that he got to sit near Prince at the Grammys. Settle also arguably shepherded the renaissance of ‘90s R&B goddess Mary J. Blige, who guested on “F for You,” appeared with Disclosure at assorted live sets, and inferred the influence of the UK scene on her own work by naming her most recent album The London Sessions.
“It’s funny that it’s taken these young UK producers going over to America to make America realize how fucking brilliant America is in the first place.”
“I think it was only a matter of time after the EDM boom that the UK started to find its own sound again, because the UK contributed so heavily,” says Pete Tong, a longstanding English icon famous for his work as a DJ/producer and as the host of several tastemaking programs on BBC Radio 1. “The UK kind of did its own version of [dance music] pretty successfully in the ‘90s, and then the creative spark seemed to leave the UK for many years… That started to change again in the last couple of years.”
In the wake of Disclosure has come a barrage of producers whose sound is a modern take on the four-on-the-floor house that first crossed the pond from Chicago and Detroit in the 1980s. These acts include Rudimental, Route 94, Kidnap Kid, Duke Dumont and Gorgon City, whose debut album Sirens was a commercial and critical darling of 2014. Tong calls Gorgon City one of the most exciting acts in music currently, and he recently collaborated with the duo on his All Gone compilation for this year’s Miami Music Week. Furthermore, the shift in tastes towards deep house Stateside is the reason why more well-established acts like Mary Jane Coles and Damian Lazarus have gained mainstream traction, and why Hot Natured blew up and were invited to perform live at the non-dance music specific festival Coachella.
“The power has come back to the UK again,” says Tong, “and the [Gorgon City] guys are a pretty good representation of that.”
The duo—Kye Gibbon and Matt Robson-Scott—say the UK scene at the moment is especially fertile because it’s so friendly and collaborative. “You look at the charts in the UK,” says Robson-Scott, “and some weeks we’re mates with three of the people in the top 10.”
Indeed, as the homes of Gorgon City, Rudimental, Clean Bandit, Kidnap Kid, Jess Glynne, Disclosure and more, the London-based Black Butter and Method labels are epicenters for the new UK sound that is currently hot AF in the US. They’re helping shift festival lineup emphasis away from pummeling EDM and toward the darker and more nuanced sounds typically heard at side stages, in nightclubs, and at those underground parties that all the cool kids in the office go to every weekend.
“It’s just the knowledge of the music and even the kind of attitude in the clubs,” Tong says, in regard to the recent evolution of the US scene. “It feels a lot cooler now, basically—whereas before, dance music was all glowsticks and throwing up shapes with your hands.”
And while glowsticks and shape-throwing are totally cool if that’s what you’re into, the fact is that artists who are steeped in the underground culture are the ones currently pulling ever-larger crowds at events both mainstream and underground (though the term “underground” obviously becomes less accurate as the sound expands in popularity). Tong cites the success of the recent CRSSD festival in San Diego, an event largely focused on such “underground” music, as evidence that the Stateside scene is maturing.
“For us, the whole EDM thing feels a bit alien—the whole sort of showman thing of being a DJ with your hands in the air, and fireworks,” says Gibbon. “It’s not what I associate with raving, so it’s always felt a bit different to what we do. But it’s good that things are kind of merging. It feels like people who like EDM are now really into deeper sounds, like what we’re doing.”
Whether this is a function of crowds getting older and more sophisticated in their tastes, or of trends simply changing, the fact is that the sound of the moment has closer ties to various club scenes of the ‘80s and ‘90s than it does to a lot of current mainstage music.
“I just find the whole thing hilarious,” says Mac. “Disclosure, Duke, they’re all inspired by American dance music producers—the people that created and championed house music. It’s funny that it’s taken these young UK producers going over to America to make America realize how fucking brilliant America is in the first place.”