That’s Not Me: The Weird World of Dance Tribute Acts


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That’s Not Me: The Weird World of Dance Tribute Acts

What's really real, really?

When we pay real money to watch someone pretend to be someone else, what are we expecting to get out of the transaction? When we amble down to a social club and watch Buble Fever, Totally Elton, or The Rolling Clones, what do we want from the experience? Are we expecting, or at least hoping, to be sucked in by the façade and squint hard enough until we're taken away to a pleasurable place of absolute authenticity? Or are we happy to acknowledge the artifice in front of us and take things at a face value that negates the need to anticipate any sense of the real? Or, to be less of a twat about it, are we satisfied to have a few pints in the company of a bloke with a microphone who just sounds and looks a bit like Van Morrison?


The continued reach of the tribute act into every sphere of music suggests that something is definitely going on. We aren't all lucky enough to have seen our favourite artists in their prime, we don't all have the cash to splash on bleacher seats at the Taylor Swift show – so we do the next best thing: we experience the hyperreality of the simulated act. That what we're witnessing is nothing more than a baldly projected falsity does nothing to dampen our enthusiasm. From Andy Williams to John Zorn it seems like everyone who's ever released a record now has a shiny simulacra touring the world, feeding the ceaseless flames of fandom. And dance music is no exception.

But before looking at the lads and lasses out there who pack clubs from Friday to Saturday with their acts of simulated celebration we've got to first consider how dance music – that broad, nebulous world – even 'works' in the live arena, because these tribute acts range all the way from fiddling with the cross fader to full on performances.

Take the pioneering facsimile Fatboy Tim. As a chap who looked a bit like Hawaiian shirted Brighton beach boy Norman Cook, he was left with one option in life: he had to become the world's first DJ impersonator, the first turntable tribute act. He looks a bit like Fatboy Slim, he mixes a bit like Fatboy Slim so if you're putting together a big beat night but the budget won't stretch to wooing Norman away from the seaside then you've got a very, very viable option. Given the accelerated speed of life's unlimited possibilities it seems almost baffling that there aren't hordes of imposters out there whipping crowds into a frenzy as Ricardo Villablows or Allen Ellien at the weekends. Perhaps their time will come.


Read our interview with Fatboy Tim here

Largely though, the interplay between dance music and the tribute act is located in those dance acts who've negotiated the gap between producing records and reproducing them in the flesh, the ones who meld electronic studio trickery to the physicality and tangibility of a full band performance.

The tribute artists impersonations of choice tend to be the stadium-dwelling main-stagers, which makes sense. Tribute acts exist to give people what they want but don't have some form of access to. Ergo, you aren't likely to see a bloke from Solihull re-interpreting Steve Bug tunes on stage. The tribute act is mass culture writ large. They explicitly give us what we want: the hits - no awkward moment after they've muttered something about new material or indulgent rehashing of the early unsigned days. Thus the success of groups like Jilted Generation, the UK's premier Prodigy put on – they give the crowd all killer, no filler.

However, things aren't always so simple in tribute land. Acts like Daft as Punk and Livemau5 blur the line between the real and the imagined. The former are a pair of Irish blokes who've got the tunes, and the helmets, and play club sets as Daft Punk.

Read out interview with Daft as Punk here

The latter is a mouse-headed man playing EDM cuts to befuddled ravers. The effect both have is the same: they unintentionally make the cult of the celebrity act seem like the farce we're too scared to admit that it is. They also play around with perceived ideas about the importance of identity and more specifically with the idea of the importance of actual and assumed identity and the impact it has on our enjoyment of art. Probably, more importantly, they both probably sound fucking sick when you're in the club and you want to pretend you're watching Daft Punk in the Pyramid days or Deadmau5 doing whatever it is that Americans like.

The tribute act, then, is a sanctioned retreat into the world of fantasy, an opportunity to indulge in performance and pretence in an environment in which every participant – both active and passive – is as willingly involved as everyone else in the positive-deception. Dance music, too, acts as a denial of reality. What else is a nightclub than an excuse to fuck off the world for a few hours? The dance tribute act, surely, is as capable of bringing the joy the real thing can. Nothing's real anyway, is it lads.

More in this series

THUMP Meets Fatboy Tim
THUMP Meets Daft as Punk

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