2010 was a year of change and reorder. The old world disintegrating in the the light of the new. The Arab Spring, Wikileaks, the reshaping of the status quo in favour of a bold new world that refused to blindly follow that which had come before it. 2010 was also the year that Time Out described a quickly popularising sound in the following words: "Yes this really is a new genre and an interesting one, for once!" Good for you Time Out! Championing new sounds and slamming those typically uninteresting new genres with passive aggressive burns like "for once!" So far, so 2010 you're thinking—the year of innovation, rejection and fearless creation. And you'd be right, except the genre in question was electro swing, also known as the worst genre of music in the world ever.
2010 was in no way the year electro swing began. In fact, it's been bringing its shiny-shoed, beardy vibe to clubs for well over a decade now, but 2010 marks a useful point of reference as the point in which it surfaced from a Euro-curiosity into being a genuine nightlife prospect in the UK. In short it was the year that people across the country started saying, "yes, I want to go to an electro swing night." Now we all make mistakes. We all do things we regret. In the heat of the moment lots of things can seem like a really good idea. One night stands, deciding to get a tattoo of the word "serendipity", that brief patch of time where we were all convinced Gavin and Stacey was really good—these things all happen. Only normally, after these episodes, we wake up a short while afterwards, with a bit of a hangover, dust ourselves off and pretend the whole thing never happened. This hasn't happened with electro swing. Somehow, like a cockroach in braces and a trilby, it has survived, endured, against the odds. It is 2015, and electro swing is still a thing.
To briefly unpack electro swing, it is a genre of music that purports to take the sounds of the past and join them up with modern beats! Something electro swing nights like to advertise as a selling point, despite it basically being a description of every type of sample electronic music currently in existence. More specifically though, electro swing takes big band swing music from the 1930s and 1940s and puts oompah, wubby beats under it. It sounds, in short, terrible. I can vaguely see how in theory whoever made the first ever electro swing track thought they might have been doing something interesting, but in practice what they created was the sonic equivalent of "ye olde fashioned barber" in East London.
Electro swing is the past meeting the present in the worst way possible. Blokes with twirly moustaches and waist-coasts who (twist) also have tattoos! Corporate events for PR companies which are (twist) Great Gatsby themed! It sounds like those fridge magnets that feature illustrations of housewives alongside quotes like "I always cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food." It's a pulled pork sandwich shoved down a saxophone. It's loafers with tassels. Cocktails that cost £20 and are made by a guy with perfectly circular glasses. It is the sound of people who tweet about Downton Abbey. How the fuck is it still getting away with it?
I went to university in Manchester, which is a perfectly great city for nightlife. While there I met a lot of perfectly reasonable people with perfectly reasonable taste in most things. Yet somehow, for some inexplicable reason, nobody batted an eyelid at going to an electro swing night. Worse, people wanted to go to electro swing nights. I was bitten once and learned my lesson. Students steaming around pissed out of their heads while some band called something like "Oh Daddy Oh!" or "What's on the Radiogram?" buzzed away on stage like extras from Peaky Blinders with Technics. I had a few dark moments while at university, lost essays the night before deadlines, pulled a whitey during fresher's week, but nothing topped that night for sheer horror.
That was a few years ago now, but nothing has culturally changed. Electro swing is still out there, plaguing nightlife. It provokes a question, why in 2015 are these bands and DJs still getting booked? Why are offshoot nights like Itchy Feet still so popular? Why, despite it clearly being the worst genre of music in the world ever—and it is, this isn't an opinion piece alright?—does it sustain a following at all?
One possible reason people like electro swing is because it is so vintage, and people really love vintage stuff! Cute vintage fairs and vintage mirrors and vintage pearl necklaces and vintage bike horns and vintage dresses and vintage pillowcases and vintage hairbrushes and vintage toothbrushes and vintage deodorant and vintage shoelaces and vintage spiders and vintage fingernails and vintage thought processes and vintage emotions and vintage eggs and vintage cameras and vintage cockrings, more vintage, more vintage, until your vintage skin falls off your vintage bones. That's one possible reason.
Beyond being vintage, there is also the conviction that electro swing is "fun." Fun is a very dangerous word. Obviously I like things that are actually fun. I like sitting on skateboards and rolling myself down hills, I like laserquest, I like cooking meals with people I fancy while listening to Roxy Music, I'm fun! But sadly, more often than not, when somebody says something is fun, what they actually mean is, it has no teeth. That there is no discernible reason to actually get excited about it. That it has no bearing on your emotions, the state of the world, or the motion of culture. Fun is a byword for the witless, the spineless, and the blandly all-encompassing. If electro swing is fun, then so is watching screensavers.
This idea of fun also brings with it the suggestion that electro swing is in some way an antidote to "boring" or "pretentious" club music. As a genre it is soaked in that sort of self-satisfied "it's a lot more fun than listening to some boring trendy house music" line of thinking. You can practically hear the promoters now, can't you? "Instead of all the boring trendy music, come grab a guy or a gal and shake a tail feather with us!"
This defence is used by a number of other things, and involves with it the patronising assumption that if things are "trendy" then the people who like them must be in some way lying, and pretending to like them in order to prove themselves cool. This isn't true. The truth is that most things become trendy because they are good, meaning people sincerely like them, sincerely like writing about them, sincerely like listening to them. In fact, tied into this, is the unhealthy idea that wanting to be cool is a bad thing. Being shallow is a bad thing, but that doesn't mean pursuing aesthetic and cultural ideals you find appealing is wrong. Liking electro swing does not mean you have won some moral victory over a horde of mindless sheep who are blindly listening to whatever Twitter tells them to listen next. It just means you like electro swing, the worst genre of music in the world ever.
Music festivals have a lot to explain for this. The likes of Glastonbury, Bestival, and Shambala all encourage this post-Mr Scruff pseudo-jive bollocks. Stick around any festival site beyond the midnight mark and they all come crawling out of the woodwork, trombones in one hand, stack of vinyl in the other, lips rouged, top hats carefully tilted to one side. You go to scoff, but on looking round you notice your mates are following them, and dancing. "Why?" you asked them, tears welling in your eyes, "Why are you doing this? You don't wear brogues! You don't throw Alice in Wonderland themed tea parties! You don't own lace gloves! These aren't your people!" Your friends turn back to you, blinded drunk on a mixture of booze and funked up oboes. "Stop being so boring! It's fun!"
And so it continues, bands like Good Co and groups like the inventively named Electro Swing continue to get bookings, nights continue up and down the country and people continue to go them. Maybe I'm over-worrying, maybe this is just what happens when the guys and girls who were in jazz bands at your sixth form realised they could go out and get drunk in nightclubs as well. I should probably just let them get on with it, let them remix their honky tonks in peace, but I can't, because electro swing is the worst genre of music in the world ever.