Sociology theory contains a concept called mass hysteria. Historically, it describes the voodoo-like manifestation of disease among a select group of people. Usually these experiences hit small communities, like the Taganyika Laughter Epidemic of '62 where pupils were unable to refrain from chronically har-har-ing their way through class, resulting in the school's eventual closure. Or the Hollinwell Incident of 1980, involving the sudden and inexplicable fainting attacks of 300 Nottinghamshire citizens.
Here in Britain we experience something similar except it happens every year, seemingly affects the whole country and can loosely be defined as "The Feeling". Also, unlike the examples buried deep within any university library's psychology section, it can be explained – mainly because the phenomenon occurs when the first rays of sunshine beat down on the country at the turn of spring, bringing a hastily updated wardrobe and a healthy dose of optimism with them.
You know the scenario. An alarm clock rings, duvet covers reluctantly removed, blinds pulled up and there it is: the slow, crisp burning heat of summer starting its journey to the heart of the country. In a way, as F Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, the arrival of the sun is a seasonal announcement that life is beginning over again. Of course it's probably only March or April but, on this inaugural day of transition, Britain does a hard reset and whirrs awake in a new mode. On this day the sky imitates a deep blue lagoon of opportunity and "The Feeling" collectively kicks in. So what – I hear you ask, milk dripping from your tongue – does all of this have to do with music?
In the same way certain songs associate themselves with the long, cold drawl of winter, others are imbued with the sound of the summer. But there's also a nuanced difference between a summer song and one that evokes "The Feeling". A summer song can be anything from Will Smith's "Summertime" – a song that explicitly mentions the season or sounds best when the pavement is shimmering with heat haze – to the number one single of the year, like Drake's "One Dance". But a song with "The Feeling" transcends the season to become – and forgive me here, asshole intact – something spiritual. It moves into the deeper, human psychology of the experience we associate with summer – British summer specifically – and does more than reference deckchairs and bare skin.
Like the season itself, these tracks secrete their own pheromones. From the love and legend of mass seasonal euphoria that's been historically documented in Danny Rampling's back catalogue to the "summer in the city" topography of Dizzee Rascal's "Da Feelin'", this more transcendent breed of summer music is scented with the hopeful suggestion the next few months could feel like the beach scenes in True Romance – or at the least, something from Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents. These are songs that take the notion of summer, both our memories and hopes of it, and collate them in a way that captures the shared feeling each time the sun makes its way back toward Britain's pavements on weekday mornings. They're almost religious listening.
If all this feels a bit too much like the sort of bullshit spiritual hyperbole you might read on a garden centre fridge magnet ("Life isn't about what you do… it's about the feeling"), consider the things that come to mind when spring returns and the shifting of the seasons becomes palpable. For most people, this moment involves a thought process that goes beyond a list of adjectives to describe the heat. Instead, the return of summer is embedded in the idea that for a day, or – if you're lucky – a consecutive few, a smogged-up high street can feel like the Costa del Sol, an afternoon in the park like a sticky fly-on-the-wall production directed by Larry Clark, a ride on the top deck of a bus like a romantic voyage into a freer world.
The idea of "The Feeling" is something that can't be bought. It's not a holiday abroad; it's a weekend in the city on a budget, overseen by a rush of endorphins that can be felt by anyone with the desire to open themselves up to summer's exciting possibility. It's the texture of "Has It Come To This" by The Streets and Shola Ama's "Imagine" as much as it is the tone of Sigala's "Sweet Lovin'" or "Dolce Vita" by Ryan Paris. It's a fucking abstract idea, perhaps with its own songs for each specific set of person, but universal in that it can be understood by anyone who has ever been excited by the prospect of leaving the house in shorts for the first time that year.
It's not all positive, though. This is a season of duality and there's also a tragic, more sinister side to the hedonistic freedom of British summertime. This is perhaps what separates a Summer Song from a song with "The Feeling". Summer song: everything is good. Song with "The Feeling": everything is good but there's an encroaching sense of coming down from summer's high, too. The best example of this is UK garage: a bittersweet genre that conjures up memories of the past as much as it does the future but with a nostalgic sense of sadness. Take Sweet Female Attitude's "Flowers"; a song that manages to sound like both a requiem for the weekend warriors whose Air Maxes will no longer dance together across grubby floors, but at the same time feels full of euphoria.
"The Feeling", in all its abstract-ness, is a rare genre-less genre – solely existing as a vehicle to drive us into the up-and-down side of summer. This is perhaps best exemplified by the closing scene to Goodbye Charlie Bright, which shows Danny Dyer in a sky blue polo shirt, strolling innocently down the street away from his best friend who is being shoved into a police car as Oasis' "Live Forever" plays. The sound of "The Feeling" is hopeful for the future. But it's also the dangerous sound of young 20-year-olds becoming part of the later ballad of men in their mid-forties who have lost their identity, having become too caught up in reliving the moment. Or maybe that's just me, projecting my own experience of how I feel when summer rears its head.
For now though, we're young and free. The clouds have parted once more. Someone has put on Lady Spirit's "Sugar Free" in the office and my mind feels like it's in a resort in Europe but without the Maxibons and pizza-flavoured crisps. That's the purest sound of "The Feeling", really. It's that very specific combination of weather and music that allows us to transcend our current situation, to go anywhere, to know anything is possible. If I could leave the house with little more than a debit card in my back pocket and my life ahead of me forever, then I would. It is life's greatest free gift. It is a statue of Christiano Ronaldo looking spangled but wanting to be so much more.
You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter.
Header image via Pixabay.