When I was 12 or 13, my dad drove my sister and I to Target (a real treat at the time) and handed us each $20. He said we could spend it on whatever we wanted. I antagonized for half an hour over what I should do. I eventually wandered into the music section of the store and came across a display of generic albums like 1960s Rock and 1980s Pop. You know the kind. My eyes searched before landing on two albums entitled 90s Dance and 100% Dance. They were compilations of music from the era of Ace of Base, Haddaway and C+C Music Factory and I wore those albums thin.
Fast forward ten years and many ironic 90s dance parties. In my duties as a music blogger I came across a new British outfit called Disclosure shortly before the release of their debut album, Settle. When the LP finally dropped, my very first impression was that what I was hearing was the resurgence of 90s dance music albeit with higher production value and a stunning musical intelligence.
Anyone who is even slightly familiar with 90s dance music can tell you that it was corny as hell, a strange amalgamation of R&B vocals, monotonous monologues by deep male voices and space sounds. But it was amazing! It was fun and always a bit sad.
That's why it's so exciting that musicians are ready to revisit that era in earnest and give the genre the update it deserves.
Yesterday, the Disclosure boys, who are currently fighting their way onto the American airwaves, released a new version of Settle cut "F For You," tapping Mary J. Blige as their new muse. It is sleek, radiant and so 90s that at a collective age of 41 they may not entirely be aware of what they've done. It's the 90s without the lycra and club kids. It's not rooted in the escapism that has dominated dance music since 2009 so much as it is in confrontation and heartbreak. And those who are leading the charge in this resurgence are recruiting (and popularizing) a new guard of R&B singers with truly diverse backgrounds (i.e. Jhene Aiko, Sampha, Sam Smith, Banks, Aluna Francis). It's the result of growing up with a full exposure to all genres of music. Musicians like Disclosure, IANA and Clean Bandit are blending these influences seamlessly and using them for inspiration rather than novelty.
And the best part is that no one is keen to bring back the creepy male vocals.
The neo-90s movement is refreshing after years of mind-numbing dubstep and blindly energetic dance pop. It's more than another notch in the intelligent dance music belt; these songs are sharp, thoughtful and so good you don't need molly to enjoy them.