Shuffling: the War at the Heart of London's New Dance Scene
Why are so many people pissed off about other people dancing to house music?
For too long now, British youth culture has lacked its own dance move. What used to be a defining trope of every movement – from Charleston swingers and moonstomping skinheads, to swaying, wet look 2-step lads and slamdancing suburban maggots – has dwindled to an afterthought in recent years. Somewhere along the line, dancing became a personal choice – something you could do if you really wanted to, rather than something you had to do if you wanted to climb the social ladder within your own subculture.
It used to be that first you got the dance moves, then you got the power, then you got the women. Lately, it's seemed more like first you get the dance moves, then you get laughed at, then everyone avoids you while you wildly flay your arms around in a sad typhoon of sweat and loneliness.
But in the last few months people have been bringing a new dance to the streets of London. A dance that's dividing opinion in a way we haven't seen since people got curb-stomped for wearing a KoЯn hoodie. It's known as "cutting shapes", or – more popularly – "shuffling". Some people are dedicating their lives to it and others are intent on getting it banned from clubs forever.
Shuffling as a dance form isn't exactly kicking any doors down. I'm by no means an expert, but to me, the people who do it seem like the kind of guys who used to dance very seriously to Michael Jackson at family weddings, and then spent their teenage years going to mainstream drum and bass nights and watching depressing LMFAO spoofs. I suppose the best way to describe it would be something like "Sammy Davis Jr crip-walking on molly". Look on YouTube and you'll find it's not a purely London phenomenon; shufflers in Melbourne and Tokyo have racked up millions of views with tutorials, dance-offs and smartphone-shot displays of kitchen floor virtuosity.
What separates the London scene, however, is the music they're vibing to and how seriously people are taking it. People are shuffling on buses, in barber shops and getting their young children to shuffle in cars. You might think it looks stupid (I think it looks pretty good, for the record), but believe me, it's a scene of its own creation.
In the rest of the world, the music of choice seems to be unlistenable hardstyle remixes, speed-techno and the breakdown in "Party Rock Anthem". For them, it's a novelty pursuit, like the running man, the chicken dance or the "Dirt off Your Shoulder" brush. In London, they're listening to European deep house and forming their own crews. In the rest of the world, they're gormless college kids bopping to Scooter, in London, they're estate guys who act like they're starring in their own version of Drive soundtracked by André Lodemann. (Also, they fucking love Julio Bashmore. I don't know why, but "Au Seve" is like their "Gabrielle" / "Chopper" / "Smells Like Teen Spirit"). All of which means that, to me, shuffling feels less like a fad, and more like a legit, nascent dance scene.
The dance is closely linked to the rise of house music in Britain in the last few years, having swayed from the super clubs of the 90s, back down through the niche underground, its seemingly on its way back to the high street again. The likes of Eats Everything, Seth Troxler, omniscient crossover scene-king Bashmore and the roster of the polarising Hot Creations label have taken the deep beat overground.
The parts of east London where work meets play have become a 4/4 party district – a heaving, amorphous, cross-venue mega-disco with rosary-beaded Tony Maneros and snapbacked Crazy Legs cracking their ankles on the disgusting, rumbling floors of clubs in the Operation Condor triangle: Vibe Bar, 93ft East and Aquarium. They wear Ray Bans, they splurge money and they pop mollies. A few Camberwell design students head-bopping to Levon Vincent at a Phonica matinee instore this is not.
To use one of my favourite club flyer cliches, the shuffle house scene is "grown and sexy". It's Moet, not Red Stripe; Ralph Lauren, not Carhartt Heritage. It's a racially-diverse, all-encompassing scene that might just be the genesis of a new club culture in this country. It might not be cool, but how many of us would have been into disco in 1977? How many of us were into garage the first time round? Cultural history is always written by those who weren't actually there.
Of course the hipsters hate it, but fuck them. They've become no better than the resentful East London natives they were complaining about six years ago for heckling them about their winklepickers. If culture was decided by people like that, we'd all still be listening to The Cazals.
What's interesting, though, is that most of the hate comes from within the scene. The internet is awash with hashtags and Facebook groups bemoaning and demonising the steps, claiming everything from the simple "it looks shit" to the rather lofty and extremely pretentious "It's killing house music". Quite frankly, guys, if Pitbull couldn't kill house music when he sampled "The Bomb", then I don't think shufflers stand a chance.
To get a better understanding of the scene and what it means to those involved, I called up Shapes Cutters Incoperated' (SCI) [sic] founder member and godfather of the scene, Kerry Boyd, AKA MadKezza. Check him out below doing what he does best:
VICE: Can you tell me a little bit about SCI – where you come from and how you got together?
Kerry Boyd: We're all London based, but all from different parts of London – south, north, east and west.
Were you always into house music or is it something you got into recently?
My first experience of house music was when I was 14, and a lot of the tracks I heard when I was younger are the ones I still hear today. That’s the same for Swarv, as our parents and sisters all listened to house. House is brilliant and it's been involved in our lives from an early age.
Okay. What was it about house that made you fall in love with it? Like, really got you into it?
I don’t know, really. It just makes me want to move and express myself.
When did you start to see people shuffling to house?
The first time I saw people shuffling was probably in one of those illegal house raves in the 80s.
Cool. How long did it take people to take notice of your moves? When did you start to realise that you were better than everybody else at it?
I don’t know if I'd say I was better than anybody else, but I suppose it was mainly last year.
Have you always been into dancing? Or is it something about the new house scene that made you take it up?
Well, I was doing some dancing, as we all were. But I think for me it's maybe more about expressing myself through house music now. I've just got deep into dancing over the past year.
What are the best clubs and nights for shape-cutting and shuffling?
Ava Word at XOYO, Eastern Electrics, Can't Stop Won't Stop. You know, all the big raves and some of the small places on Brick Lane, like Vibe Bar and Brick House.
What tunes are getting you going at the moment?
Um, one of them is "Lonely Travels" by Shea Burke. But there are so many tunes out there that it's hard to narrow it down to one. Each tune hits you in a different way, so it's hard to have favourites because there are just so many.
Sure. The shuffling scene seems to be about looking sharp as well as dancing. What kind of looks do you see at house raves?
To be honest, I don’t really pay much attention to how people dress. But I guess people just like to look good with their girl, you know? Because a lot of people like dancing at the raves, more people are wearing trainers than shoes. Trainers with smart-looking clothing.
Since the rave days, house music has long been associated with drugs, particularly ecstasy. Do you see much of that going on, or is it a different vibe at new house nights?
I think it’s a different kind of vibe. Like I said, when I go to a rave, I'm just there for the music, so I’m just concentrating on the music and want to dance. But I think there are drugs in all music. You know the saying "sex, drugs and rock 'n roll"?
I haven't seen it first hand, but people are probably more discreet these days.
Is there a difference between shuffling and cutting shapes, or is it just different terminology for the same thing?
They do go hand in hand, but shuffling is more to do with the feet. It’s the shuffling of the feet. Whereas, shape-cutting is using the body to make different shapes.
Do you ever have dance-offs or clashes with other shufflers?
Not me, personally, but someone in our team does that. She won the "Can't Stop Won't Stop" dance-off this Christmas.
Do you think it’s a scene that's growing?
I’d say it's growing in that a lot of people are getting involved now, but it's sort of always been there. And there are more people getting into it now who weren’t into it before, but I don’t know if it's like a sheep following or if they actually like the music as well. The music is for everyone, so I suppose it'll grow.
What do your friends think about house music and shuffling?
I haven’t got loads of friends who have the same background. The people doing it are into the same things I'm into: house music.
There's been a bit of hate directed at shuffling, like the anti-shuffle hashtag and the "footshuffle wankers" Twitter account, not to mention [the club night] Creche's Facebook post banning shufflers from all its nights. What do you think about that?
I'd say people are allowed an opinion. But, you know, some of the people are talking like the shuffle just came out yesterday or last week, whereas it's actually been here since the 1920s, when it was the Charleston. So it's always been about, but there's that saying, "Old times don’t come back again." Half of the things we're doing were done years before, but it's just been turned around and revamped. Some of the things anti-shuffling campaigners are saying are more borderline racism than actual criticism of shuffling, though.
You have a lot of videos of you shuffling in your driveway. Why did you pick that particular location?
That started because, as you see, I’ve done the videos myself. So I put a speaker out there and just put the camera on top of the speaker so I could hear the music and the camera could film me directly. So that’s how that started.
There also seems to be some "urban music" purists suggesting that house music is somehow "sissy" music. What do do say to them?
Well, I suppose house music is worldwide. House music is for everyone. So, to be honest, I don’t know how to answer that because I’m not a sissy and I like house music. And I know plenty of other people who aren’t sissies and like house music. Some people have their opinion and aren't into certain things. They're going to want to say what they say and you can't stop them doing that, can you?
I suppose not. Lastly, what’s the future of shape-cutting? What’s the future for you?
I suppose it'll keep growing. It could blow up, but it will come back again if it does, because shape-shifting – as it was first called – has been around for ages. So, like they say, if you don't die out, you'll come back again. But it's looking good at the moment.
Cool. Thanks, Kerry!
So what do I think of shuffling? I think why not? The grievances that haters seem to have is that somehow the dance brings selfishness into an egalitarian scene, that it's peacocking and posing rather than hugging and gurning. There seems to be an issue that it's sexualised and ostentatious, rather than a show of emotional solidarity through bad dancing and head-nodding. And yeah, they're right, it probably is.
Is that a bad thing, though? Of course not. You'd have to be a real Cromwell type to hate people expressing themselves and having fun that much. It might be about showing off, but what was disco all about? And what would house be without disco? It wouldn't exist. I reckon leave the dancefloor fascists to their Facebook petitioning and keep on shuffling.
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
More dance music:
Watch - Donk