A quick and dirty history of dance music
Mobile sound systems play American R&B, then ska, in Kingston, Jamaica. DJs using portable loudspeakers and amps perform for crowds, sparking fierce competition between rival groups and, as a result, innovations. Jamaican musicians record dubplates, temporary record pressings that allow DJs to play unique studio versions in live sets.
The Peppermint Lounge, a small Manhattan bar, popularizes the Twist,—the first popular dance in mainstream America that doesn't require a partner. Northern Soul, an underground scene dedicated to all-night dancing to American soul and Motown records from the '50s and early '60s, develops in northern England. It births obsessive "trainspotters" (connoisseurs of old, rare records) and white labels (vinyl records devoid of track information). Reggae producers like King Tubby develop dub (short for "double"), a style of multitrack production that emphasizes isolated bass and rhythm lines and favors disorienting effects. Francis Grasso plays his first set at the New York nightclub Salvation Too in 1968. He quickly masters the use of the fader (the switch on a mixer that allows DJs to fade between two sound sources) and pioneers beat-mixing (synchronizing the beat of two records).
David Mancuso starts throwing after-hours parties in Manhattan in 1970. Known simply as the Loft, Mancuso's space is outfitted with a cutting-edge sound system and a diverse clientele. It becomes a blueprint for future clubs. The German group Kraftwerk releases synth-pop tunes such as "Autobahn" and "Pocket Calculator" that go on to influence all of electronic music. In order to build up momentum on the dance floor, disco DJs invent the reedit—a patchwork, extended version of a song and the precursor to the remix. The debaucherous scene at Studio 54 makes drug use and sexual misadventure synonymous with clubbing. Hip-hop develops in the South Bronx. In 1974, DJ Kool Herc begins fusing together breaks (the instrumental rhythmic interludes of jazz and funk). Grandmaster Flash develops a technique for mixing breakbeats together at record speed. At the same time, Grand Wizard Theodore becomes the first hip-hop DJ to scratch records. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack spends eight months at No. 1 in 1977—the peak of disco's mainstream reign. The Paradise Garage is founded in New York in 1977 where resident DJ Larry Levan bridges disco and electronic dance.
Despite the infamous 1979 Disco Demolition Night, in which White Sox fans burn piles of disco records, Chicago keeps the beat alive. Chicago house, a thumping sound that combines and redefines elements of soul and disco with electronic beats, develops in the early '80s, spurred on by DJs Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles, the latter of whom spins at Chicago club the Warehouse in the West Loop. DJ techniques, like heavy EQing (adjusting the overall frequency of a song), are refined. The Hacienda opens in Manchester in 1982, showcasing a mix of black soul and disco. Influenced by Chicago house, DJs in Detroit record electronic dance tracks, later labeled techno. This mix of motorized funk and futuristic synths is pioneered by the Belleville Three—Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson—and others, like Jeff Mills. England experiences the acid-house explosion in 1988 when house music, giant parties and mass use of the drug ecstasy meet in the Summer of Love. Rave culture spreads in England, surfacing popularly in the Madchester scene and the Stone Roses.
The U.S. rave scene grows into a nationwide, underground phenomenon by the middle of the decade. Dance music splits into numerous subgenres, including big beat (big, banging), jungle (hyperactive chopped-up), drum 'n' bass (darker, futuristic breakbeats), trip-hop (brooding, dubby), intelligent dance music (abstract, cerebral) and many more. Computers become primary tools for creating electronic dance music.
The success of DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album, along with the availability of easy-to-use home-music software, ushers in an era of mash-ups, where different parts of popular songs are blended together. Slickly produced, mostly electronic hip-hop takes over radio and MTV. Club music becomes more international, as genres like reggaeton, baile funk and grime emerge around the globe.—Patrick Sisson