It isn’t so much the case anymore, but it used to be that you were not allowed to like rock music and dance music. You had to like one of the two. You were either a rocker or a raver. Then, dance music decided it needed something more.
What makes the ninties so interesting in terms of the history of Western music is that the period not only represents the high point of both rock (Nirvana, Oasis, Radiohead) and dance music (House, Drum and Bass, and all their offshoots), but that the decade also represented the point at which those two camps unified. Four records – The Chemical Brother’s Exit Planet Dust, Primal Scream’s Screamadelia, Fat Boy Slim’s You’ve Come A Long Way Baby and The Prodigy’s The Fat Of The Land – all appeared within a few years of each other, and could all be found on both rocker’s and raver’s shelves. The reason was that they all drew on influences from both camps. Whilst all three would probably be called dance acts, their brand of dance music featured guitars, quite often playing fairly traditional guitar music parts. They were also listenable – even to the non-drugged listener – distinguishing it from what had come before and ensuring they were pop hits which would puncture the bubble of even the most passionate guitar music purist. They were the first time that dance music progressed out of the underground. It was going to happen eventually, and dance music fans were enthused to see it happening not by compromise and polishing for the public’s ears but by adaption.
A listener in the ninties may have seen this series of records and concluded that music was heading for unity, or at least the rock and dance music scenes were. But this never happened. Today records straddling the two genres are rare. Dance music is becoming more and more commercially successful, but it’s doing it not by borrowing influences from guitar music but by sticking to its guns. Its modern day successes – Rudimental, Sigma and EDM – are a result of polishing, not adaption. Guitar music today, meanwhile, exists as a sort of lesson for dance music – that this sort of success doesn’t last forever. A commercially acceptable form of guitar music – indie – had its day, and now guitar music is all sold out. Like dance music pre-breakout, guitar music desperately needs to widen its commercial appeal.
This time, then, guitar music will be the one borrowing influences in order to move out of the underground, if anyone does. But the signs from the first few singles from Swim Deep’s new album are good if you’re hoping for this. The former landfill indie band have turned into hacienda worshippers, and for it have rightly been recognised for it within NME, which means absoloutley nothing. If they top the charts, a path out of the wilderness could be established for guitar music.