London: the Home of Shuffling

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London: the Home of Shuffling

We celebrate the move that took over the capital.

There was a time in British dance culture when the most on-point night club fashion statement you could make was denim overalls and a dust mask. It's since those first proper raves took place in the late 80s, that fashion trends have become utterly intertwined with electronic music, mutually birthing evermore dizzying styles - and one enduring fixture of the last 20 odd years has been the unmistakeable sight of some box fresh Air Max's. On March 26, the world will be celebrating Air Max Day, 28 years since the Air Max 1 was first launched, and to celebrate, we're looking into some of the contemporary and classic dance cultures that the footwear so iconically permeated.

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London has always played a vital role in electronic music. In a city where the actual and the imagined jostle unceasingly with one another, escapism becomes a central part of life. How we do we escape? We read, write, eat, drink, dance. As great as the other things on that list are, let's concentrate on the latter. Let's talk about the sound and fashion of every club from Chelsea to Canning Town, let's think about the dance dominating every floor from Feltham to Forest Hill right now. I'm talking deep tech, and its army of well-dressed shufflers.

Sitting somewhere between the flat thud of house, techno's metallic clank and the feminine wiles of UK Garage, deep-tech does what London club music's always done: it reflects the city's present while being fully aware of its past. It's music that feels simultaneously heavy - those plump, rolling basslines that seem to exist in a literal physical space, haunting the room - and utterly weightless. And, happily, it came with a uniquely British dance too: the aforementioned shuffle.

As the name suggests, the fancy footwork deployed by legions of generally Nike Air Max 1 clad dancers throughout the capital and beyond is about a kind of subtly-unsubtle whole body manipulation. The best shufflers make the dance look effortlessly casual. Like they are literally shuffling about. And that casual effortlessness on the floor is matched by one of the most important factors: the clothes they do it in. The proponents of shuffling, like all the best subcultures—think rock back when jazz was the thing, and later mod, the original skinheads, acid-teds, the OG junglists—were initially looked down upon by purists for dressing differently and, quite possibly, for being or appearing lower class.

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Today's shuffle look has a casual-esque penchant for fresh, clean, smartly-turned out name-brand, and matches that with the current streetwear obsession with fitness, hence the pin-rolled jeans and slim-fit joggers. Girls tend to combine little itty bitty shorts or even lycra running tights, crop-tops with huge earrings and a made-up look. US hip-hop is another influence inspiring the snapback fixation, the wearing of varsity jackets and in the early days at least the quite frankly awful donning of shutter shades.

Let's be clear about one thing, shuffle dancers wearing their sunglasses indoors and at night is a good thing. Only jealous people think wearing sunglasses in da club doesn't look good, I mean who doesn't want to rep like a baller? Shades also have other benefits on a packed dance-floor, enabling the avoidance of eye-contact with the local badman, or anyone noticing you eyeing-up the wrong girl or boy or whatever. It is 2015 after all.

Obviously, given the scene's key influences you can see why the Air Max 1 - with it's athletic tech, clean lines and US origins - has been taken-up by the shufflers. Peri, a self-confessed shuffler, is one of the thousands of youngsters who descend upon the city's clubs every weekend. When asked about about her Saturday night style, she stresses the importance of causality. "Shoes you can dance all night in are essential," she tells us. Across the land it's what's happening with the feet that counts.

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Mark Radford, Rinse FM presenter, DJ, and owner of the Audio Rehab label, an imprint absolutely synonymous with the scene, remembers the first time he saw shufflers in the flesh. "I was playing at a little club in East London called Public Life on Commercial Road - an old public toilet converted into a club - and these kids came in and started dancing really energetically. Then they started following me to every gig." Radford, a deep tech pioneer, recalls watching those dancers turn crowds on. "It caught like wildfire. Everyone was doing it."

Given the self-seriousness of dance music's self-anointed tastemakers and gatekeepers, it wasn't a surprise that a cultural movement which prioritised fun and freedom found itself dismissed as frivolous, the preserve of those too young and dumb to stand stock still in clubs watching anonymous DJs playing anonymous techno records. The short-lived 'Anti Foot Shuffling Campaign' sought to belittle teenagers who dared to, y'know, have some fucking fun in nightclubs. It didn't work. Passion, as it usually does in this life, triumphs over the mediocrity of complaining, and deep tech and its shufflers rolled on.

Radford, with a real sense of justifiability, tells us that deep tech is the sound of London, the music we'll look back on with the fondness our parents have for UK hardcore. "Its the biggest form of music out there, without a doubt. I first started playing it at a Sunday daytime party to about ten mates and it has grown and grown and grown. I'd play stuff and other DJs I knew, mainly Funky ones, would be like, "What's that you're playing?" I'd see them looking over my shoulder asking what's that tune, what's this one. It grew organically. It's taken over clubs. Look at the parties at Ministry. I've gone from playing after-parties to people my age who didn't want to go home to playing to a packed Ministry full of 18-25 year olds."

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And that interplay between the music, the fashion and the movements is nothing new - "With jungle you had skanking, with garage you had the 2-step, every genre has a dance," Radford says - but the immediacy of it, the uninhabited nature of shuffling as a form of externally expressed ebullience, tied to deep tech's restless propulsion and the invasion of street sportswear into future fashion, is something to be cherished in an age where everything gets slightly more homogenous and monochrome by the day. As Radford puts it, "My whole life I've wanted to be a DJ and to be responsible for a movement where as soon as the door opens people come straight to the dancefloor. How can that be a bad thing?"

Read more in this series:

Amsterdam: the Home of Gabber

Original photography: Alex De Mora
Creative Director - Kylie Griffiths
Assistants - Ellie, Sian and Thomas
Production Assistants - Tabitha Martin
Hair - Johnnie/Morocaan Oil
Make-up - Lucy/Mac Cosmetics
Make-up assisstants - Lydia Harding and Celia Evans
Models - Perri, Rhimes and Anna-Marie