Disclosure's Guy and Howard Lawrence have said more times than even merits mention that they don't make deep house, they don't make garage, or any other genre they've been repeatedly accused of sullying. In fact, they have openly stated they make pop music—designed and informed by the sounds and shapes of dance music. They have also made comments that suggest a huge disconnect between themselves and "the club." They've said DJing bears very little influence on their interest in producing music—how they heard house, garage, and dubstep outside of the club while growing up and were compelled to produce the sounds rather than pursue mixing them; how they have no interest in drugs; how one brother (Howard) doesn't even drink.
So despite Disclosure's self-proclaimed distance from club culture, why do we insist on quantifying them as dance music?
It's a subject that has exploded in the two years since Disclosure's debut record. At the time of writing, at least half of the UK's top 20 are tracks that could be considered "dance music" in the respect that they follow the patterns and bear the sonic signifiers of house, EDM, or garage. From this data alone, it would seem to suggest dance music—and by extension, club culture—is back on top. Only something is different. These tracks might sound like dance music, but they function as pop songs. With top entries from Sigala, Calvin Harris, and Galantis, "dance music" is more popular than ever, yet the term is being repurposed, as is the music itself. Of course, it is music that is played in nightclubs, only—sandwiched between Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" or The Weeknd's "I Can't Feel My Face"—this is dance music that has nothing to do with nightclubs, no physical connection to club culture. When it's dropped, it's dropped as a stand-alone pop song, not bled into the motion a DJ set.
Disclosure's latest record, Caracal, is perhaps the clearest articulation of the distance between popular dance music and clubbing to date. It's a pop record in both form and function. Nothing on it is what we'd think of as "DJ tool" or jack track. In fact, most songs rarely tip over the five minute mark, which in club terms is like ejaculating before you've even got your pants off. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, the brothers went so far as to describe "Nocturnal," featuring The Weeknd, as "the longest song we've ever made," at six minutes and 45 seconds. By that point, you might have slipped a t-shirt off, so to speak.
feels indebted to the classic verse-chorus-verse structure of the pop song, and there's a distinct lack of sampling. The features as well, ranging from Lorde to Miguel and of course the returning Sam Smith, bring with them popstar status. The vocal performances are distinct components, not recycled loops worked into and over a beat. They sing full-bodied verses and their identities come through as clearly as they would on one of their own records. Then there is the new development of Howard Lawrence himself performing vocal duties on the album, a quality surely scarce if not completely unheard of in the word of electronic production. It's a great dance-pop album, and people will enjoy listening to it a lot, but the way they will listen to it, and where they listen to it, marks a significant shift.
This isn't music made for the club, it is made for Spotify. There will be no radio edits of any of the tracks, because they are radio edits—short, catchy, intelligent, and brilliantly executed radio edits. We've experienced chart friendly dance music before, but even a track like Stardust's "Music Sounds Better" was being dropped by DJs as much as it was on car radios. Previously, breakout dance hits have been tracks made for the club that have climbed out of this environment and into the mainstream on their own merit. Now, Disclosure is helping usher in a strain of popular dance music being manufactured independent of the nightclub all together.
This breed of dance music exists in a vacuum. Disseminated by BBC3 trailers, listened to by pre-teens, sung along to by people who understand nightclubs only as places they went to during fresher's week but don't go to as much anymore because they'd rather go to a Years and Years gig and get an early night. It's music for workouts, spin classes, and pre-bar crawl taxi rides. It is the soundtrack to snapchat stories. It is performed on Jools Holland, not dropped during Boiler Rooms. It's a significant shift. Dance music is distinct from other genres in that typically it is music with both a performative function (to be played during DJ sets) and a designated habitat (clubs) in mind. This is a new breed of dance music.
To be clear, this isn't an assault on the mainstream. Jamie xx's runaway success of a solo debut In Colour—a record largely taken far more seriously than your average Sigma release—is another instance of the sounds of clubland working for a new audience, largely nodding along during bus journeys, or catching tracks on 6Music while cooking of an evening. There are differences between Jamie xx and Disclosure; tracks like "Gosh" can and have been worked into DJ sets, not to mention the many played by Jamie xx himself. Yet the album hasn't found its widespread appeal in nightclubs. It has been won through YouTube streams and festival performances. An audience who will likely never hear his music in a nightclub, an audience who possibly wouldn't even consider setting foot in a nightclub, are hearing the sounds of jungle, garage, breakbeat and gospel-fused piano house in a totally new context.
Jamie xx is—perhaps unfairly—seen as bearing a far more credible connection to "real dance music" than Disclosure, yet in truth, his audience is probably just as disconnected from this world. Even Jamie himself has talked about his strain of dance music as constructed from a fondness of the culture, as opposed to a career spent relentlessly DJing. Whether it's Boomkat's damning Waitrose-friendly safe rave, or Pitchfork's far more forgiving interpretation of the producer as a "memory artist" the point still stands: In Colour provides the club sound in echoes, not the immediate experience.
During a period where dance acts like Disclosure and Jamie xx are dominating the public consciousness, and the singles chart top ten looks basically the same as the dance chart top ten, the ongoing situation of club closures within the UK seems odd. Yet perhaps the reason these two phenomena exist in tandem is because dance music and nightclubs no longer share the same relationship. Tracks are not experiencing the same life cycle. They are no longer gaining traction in clubs before finding themselves on Radio 1. More often, it seems, they are constructed for Radio 1.
Of course, this is not to say that real club music isn't being made. There are more amazing and diverse 12"s being released today than ever before, from Night Slugs to Ninja Tune. And there are absolutely examples of tracks—like Mele's "Ambience"—which have found huge mainstream success and radio play despite being originally released on a specialist dance label (Lobster Boy).
Some artists are born for the club. But they now exist alongside a new school of dance music, primed for Jools Holland and Match of the Day montages, completely independent from the club culture that birthed it. That doesn't make it shit, or inauthentic. It just means pop music and dance music are no longer courting each other. They have instead finally, and fully, eloped.