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What a Time to Be Disclosure: Dance Music’s Pop Tipping Point

At a time when dance music, at least in the US, has become synonymous with fist-pumping at festivals, it’s hard not to wonder: Can the genre escape Millennial clubland for a permanent home in pop?

by Andrea Domanick
Oct 2 2015, 5:00pm


All photos by Oliver Walker for Goldenvoice

It's 8:30 PM on a Tuesday, and the line to get into the opening night of Disclosure's Caracal tour at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena has already devolved into a shrieking anarchy of 20-year-olds who pre-gamed too hard.

Half an hour before brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence are set to take the stage, the queue at the security pat-down still trails around the corner as we're asked to empty every pouch and pocket and a woman with latex gloves feels me up like a doctor probing for lumps. At least they know their crowd.

“Disclooosuuuurrrre!!” a girl yells, bolting with her friends into the arena after she’s finally cleared to go.

Continued below...

It’s a strange time to be Disclosure. Two and a half years after playing to a sparse Sunday night crowd in the Mojave tent at Coachella, they’re headlining a nearly 17,000-person venue that’s been graced by the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna, U2 and the Grateful Dead.

In the time between, they’ve risen to become something of The Strokes for the EDM generation—almost entirely derivative but deeply influential to those unfamiliar with their forebears. It’s the sound that ruled the 80s and 90s underground, reimagined in a new pop context for a crowd that was mostly in diapers then.

Along the way, Disclosure has helped launch the careers of collaborators Sam Smith and AlunaGeorge, been tapped for production by greats like Mary J. Blige, and, perhaps most critically, they’ve served as a gateway drug to house and garage—genres they'd never admit to playing, of course—encouraging mainstream traction for artists like Jamie xx and Flume. All that, and the brothers Lawrence are still under 25.

Winding down the stairs, we push past fans taking selfies with tour posters and survey the interminably long beer and merch lines, a sea of backwards hats, sweaty shoulders and tank tops. “Disclosure? More like Dis-brosure!” my friend notes. As we gather on the arena floor, the tension and excitement in the air is palpable.

“Hello LA!” Disclosure calls out, ascending the stage on a pair of neon-lit platforms. “This is our first-ever arena concert. On the week of our brand new album coming out, this is a dream!”

As the set kicks off with a slate of hits from their prolific run over the past three years—“Intro” “White Noise,” “F for You,” and “You and Me”—it’s hard not to see the night as a watershed moment for the group, and by extension, the entire dance music movement that's catapulted them to fame.

But their success only adds to the sense that there’s still something to prove. They'll be the first to tell you that Caracal is a squarely pop, radio-friendly record, though its reviews thus far range from “understated” to “underwhelming." At a time when dance music, at least in the US, has become synonymous with fist-pumping at festivals, it’s hard not to wonder: Can the genre escape Millennial clubland for a permanent home in pop?

Judging by the group’s tour set-up, they’re pushing hard for the latter to win out. The pseudo-Tron stage design—complete with 360-degree LED-lit instrument kits atop hydraulic risers—is a noble attempt to add oomph to an act that understandably doesn’t have a lot of inherent stage presence.

While Disclosure has always played live instruments at their shows, doing so atop the pedestal-like platforms made it feel a bit forced, less an organic part of the live experience and more an attempt to prove their legitimacy as musicians.

But a truly great live dance music set, no matter the venue, is more about how it feels than how it’s made; the relationship with the crowd rather than the technical execution. That’s part of what’s made Disclosure genre peers like Jamie xx, Caribou, and Darkside some of the most revered live acts around today.

So while you have to respect that Disclosure wants to remind us that they're more than button-pushers, their Paul Rudd-esque bass posturing on tracks like “Nocturnal” often felt like they were playing instruments just to have something to do on stage.

Caracal is nothing if not a seduction album, and songs like "Nocturnal" or the more nuanced “Superego” beg to be blown out live, not repeated note for note. Other new tracks perfomed, like “Jaded” and “Echoes,” showcased the duo’s own very impressive vocal chops, but ultimately felt too restrained to stand out from their album versions. This might be the only dance music show I’ve attended where the artist could’ve afforded to turn the bass and volume up. In that sense, the biggest test of Disclosure's legitimacy as a pop arena act won’t be whether their sound translates to a live instrument set-up, but whether they’re willing to step out from behind it and take risks.

The strongest testament to their continued longevity might be the audience itself. It’s one thing to get party crowds riled up on the weekend club and festival circuit; it’s another to captivate fans, half of whom are in seats, on a Tuesday evening.

It turns out Disclosure’s appeal is more universal than the collegiate crew outside had let on. Down on the floor, the real fans ruled: these were the nerds who already knew all the words to every song on Caracal, the ones down to dance on a weeknight and who don’t need to get wasted to do so. They skewed older. They're the shirtless guy with a Pride flag in his back pocket; the techno head with a chain and spiked hair; the European bodybuilder and his high-heeled girlfriend; the 40-something couple in cardigans; and the girl with a mohawk and ripped jeans. If Disclosure cribs from a bygone era of dance music, then they’ve brought the best, most inclusive parts of early rave culture along with them.

Rainbow glow-sticks, sequined gloves and, yes, even the odd pair of JNCOs were peppered throughout the crowd. The floor was packed, but people were mindful to leave room to dance; they said “excuse me” if they needed to push past and “sorry” if they bumped into you. They smiled at each other.

Still, fans may need to temper their expectations for a group that remains incredibly young and continues to etch out its identity. Rumors abounded all week that The Weeknd, Lorde, Miguel and other A-list Caracal guests were slated to show up for their respective songs; when they didn’t, you could almost hear a collective “Oh,” of disappointment echo across the crowd.

To their credit, the band instead opted to showcase the lesser-known, but equally-talented guest singers like Brendan Reilly and the fierce-as-hell Lion Babe. The latter injected so much sweat and chemistry into the show that Disclosure would do well to make her a permanent third member of the group.

By the time Sam Smith appeared to sing “Omen” and “Latch” at the end of the 90-minute set, the show felt like it was just getting started. Arena sets are particularly unforgiving for electronic acts, and the hype created by the slate of guest singers towards the end suggests that Disclosure is at its best when the spotlight is on someone else. Transitions were smoother and crescendoes arrived with conviction; they teased fan favorites with distortion and build-ups. It's safe to say most of us never need to hear the ubiquitous "Latch" again, but if you have to, this is the way to do it. Smith, who at this point could sing it in his sleep, absolutely belted his heart out. And on the floor below, the Tuesday night misfits, bros and weirdos belted them right back, happy to get lost in the hits together.

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