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Do the UK Charts Actually Tell Us Anything About Club Culture?

We delved deep into the current top 40 to work out what's actually going on in the UK right now.

by Josh Baines
Jun 16 2016, 3:28pm

This article was originally published on THUMP UK.

In an age where the CD single died when the last Woolworth's shut its doors, and the very idea of the single as a medium is less relevant than Esperanto or Deal or No Deal, the charts have become a strangely worthless anachronism. The youth of today no longer swap their sticky coins for jewel cases stuffed with Shapeshifters remixes or acoustic Happy Mondays covers by Starsailor. The download became dominant and you're as likely to see "Dizzy" by Vic Reeves in the top five as anything by Drizzy. So where does that leave the UK charts?

The answer is thus: in a strange place that sits somewhere between brute capitalist force and the whimsical and ironic. The potential inclusion of any record ever made by anyone is, in theory, a cause for celebration. After all, it's nice to imagine a world where Xenakis rubs shoulders with Zayn Malik. But theory, as any Twitter communist knows deep down, isn't reality, and the charts are much as they've always been, except no one really cares about them anymore.

The chances are that you won't know who's currently sat at no.1 in the UK charts without hopping over to the Official Charts website (it's Drake) and if you, yes you, could tell me who's riding high on the Official Dance Singles chart then I'd happily transfer you my life's savings. There's surely something to be gained by examining what exactly is going on in said charts, to ascertain just how much relevance—if any—it has to the clubbing landscape we're subsumed in. Oh, and it's Calvin Harris, by the way, with the Rihanna featuring "This is What You Came For" and if you got it right then DM me your details and I'll happily whack that 3p over ASAP.

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Gazing at this week's chart I felt myself aging, my skin loosening, my joints cracking under the strain of life itself. It was as if I'd suddenly gone culturally blind and all my points of reference had been swapped for a disorientating white veil. I knew nothing. I was anchorless, rudderless, drifting further and further away from the comforting shore of context into the dark and deep waters of total incomprehension. Who is Alan Walker? Should I have heard of Michael Calfan? Is Jonas Blue a real person or a Danny Howard style apparition sprung on us by a malevolent god?

A prolonged and intensive scan up and down, down and up the chart left me treading in slightly safer waters. I'd seen Craig David and Big Narstie at our Christmas staff party, and I'd at least heard of both Sigala and Sigma, even if I'm still not convinced that they aren't the same act. Late night Uber journeys meant that I'd been subjected to "Girl Is Mine" by 99 Souls, Calvin Harris' "How Deep Is Your Love" and "I Took a Pill in Ibiza" by Mike Posner because I am a polite passenger and rarely ask the driver to change stations to Smooth or LBC. Still, recognizing points on a map isn't the same as understanding the territory itself. So what, if anything, does this week's top 40 tell us about the buying and listening habits of dance music fans from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth?

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In effect, nothing more than we already know. None of us should be as superior to assume that what interests us—be it Ruf Dug, L.I.E.S or Lena Willikens—is ever going to permeate the mainstream to the point that the charts are dominated by Larry Heard records. For most people, dance music isn't an obsessional, clandestine, obscurist interest—in the same way that most people's understanding of what a nightclub is more likely to be informed by pissed-up forays into Oceana than catching Kevin Saunderson at Tresor.

Dance music—to use that loose and largely unhelpful term—is a primarily pleasure focused form, and as such most people buying the kind of records that have any chance of beaming into the offical dance chart are looking to splash their 79p on a song they already know and like and can sing along to. The charts are, and always have been, and always will be, a sort of musical safe space where familiarity and comfort reign supreme. Essentially, you need a tune that the archetypal milkman of yore can hum as he chucks bottles of gold top at the twitching net curtains of a suburban terrace. Charts don't purport to any form of objectivity, and are, in fact, a useful reminder that art is an inexplicably subjective experience. The 'quality' we bestow upon any consumable cultural object—be it a novel by a Hungarian experimentalist from the 1920s, a contemporary sculpture, or the latest 12" on Sex Tags Mania—is no more real than Homer Simpson or reincarnation. What counts in chartland is big hooks, and bigger choruses.

To dismiss the easily consumable is to dismiss mass culture which is to be a complete fucking dolt, and the kind of ivory tower dwelling nonentity that pretends they've never heard of Big Macs or Big Brother or Barry Scott from the Cilit Bang adverts. So it was armed with that knowledge that I swallowed the dance chart for what it is —a genuinely more accurate reflection of what it is about contemporary dance music that people actually like, free of the snobbery and the elitism that comes with being a card carrying member of the Serious Techno crew.

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These are the records people fall in love to night after night round the country, and to pretend that they're lacking in value is to pretend that shared experiences are worthless. Maybe it's time I sold all my old records and hopped off my vaulting high horse and sat down with "This Girl" by Kungs vs Cookin' on 3 Burners and got really, really into it.

After all, if it's good enough to sit at no.2 in the UK Top 40 dance tracks, it can't be that bad, can it?

Josh is on Twitter