Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Swing Dancers Love and Hate Electro Swing

Electro Swing (also known as Swing House or Boom Swing) is a relatively new form of music that blends aspects of classic jazz music and electronic beats.  Some of the first electro swing songs were one-offs by different artists, one example being "Swing Set" by Jurassic 5 in 2000, but by the end of the decade there were artists completely dedicated to this style of music, such as Caravan Palace and Parov Stelar.

This style of music has become more and more popular, finding fans online and resulting in venues and concerts dedicating entire nights to this genre of music; however, there are many swing dancers that really don't care for this style of music, while others love it.  So why the polarity of love and hate?  In this post I try and explain why and provide justification for why swing dancers can't agree on electro swing.

Love:  It's Different and New
Like everyone else, swing dancers love something new.  Even through we love classic jazz tunes to dance to, there's always something new waiting to be discovered in the catalogs of great music created in the 1930s and 1940s, and there's always modern artists recording covers of classic tunes and some writing new songs with that classic style.  So naturally, when there is a new music style that brings together an element that is already loved by a group (i.e. jazz), then you have a built in audience who want more.  Electro swing has that nice balance between the classic and the new that really gets people excited about the music.

Hate:  Most of It is Actually Kind of Boring
The problem with most electro swing songs is that they fall victim to the same elements of neo-swing.  Lots of people started dancing to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry Poppin Daddies, and Brian Setzer in the 1990's, but these artist's songs are now cringe-worthy among dancers.  Why?  Because the music is overly dominated by the rhythm section instead of the melody.  Rhythm is an important part of dance music, and very important for swing dancing (you have to have a strong rhythm to be able to dance to a song), but when this rhythm is louder than the melody, the song stops being about the melody.  Electro swing has this problem.  So many songs keep the same monotonous house beat throughout the entire song, with just some horn or vocal samples thrown in.  (And don't get me started on 60 minute non-stop mixes of electro swing on SoundCloud.  You know it's ok to have a break between songs, right?)

As a dancer, I don't just dance to a beat, I dance to the phrasing of a song too.  I like how a song changes from phrase to phrase, and how some songs have breaks, stops, and hits that I can play with.  I'm not saying that electro swing artists have to cater to dancers, but those breaks, stops, and hits are things that jazz artists were doing to make songs interesting and fun to play.  As dancers, we're just picking up on what they're doing and we're familiar with those elements.  When we hear songs missing those things, then the song gets boring pretty fast.

Love:  It's High Energy
I will admit, that the hard strong rhythm of electro swing is what makes it so addicting.  When a song starts, that pounding beat is what makes people start tapping their toes and want to get up and dance.  When you add in the fact that there's a quick tempo in there, and I'm ready to do some serious swing outs and some Charleston when a song comes on! 

Hate:  It's High Energy All The Time!
After about 3 minutes of that, I'm done.  Like any proud Lindy Hopper, I love dancing to music thats 230 beats per minute or faster . . . but not all night long!  Electro swing tends to be relentless with the upbeat, high tempo tunes.  Is there no room for some mid tempo songs, or even a slow one now and then?  I'd be happy with songs around 175 beats per minute which is much more manageable for an entire night.  Granted a lot of people who enjoy electro swing have no interest in actually dancing to it, but as a dancer, this seems really odd to me.  But speaking of dancing . . .

Love:  The Dancing Could Be Really Amazing
The rhythm of most electro swing songs tends to feel like a Charleston rhythm  more than Lindy Hop.  But people interpret songs differently, and you really can Lindy to anything.  For those of you who weren't at Camp Hollywood this year, Korean dancers Soo Chan Lee and Hyun Jung Choi, performed this great showcase routine to an electro swing song by Caravan Palace:

And this is a great example of how amazing the partner dancing can be to electro swing, but I really think the music lends itself better to Charleston.  The idea of taking Charleston and putting in aspects of poping, locking, shuffling, and whatever else works is a really cool idea.  These elements can make for some great dancing, like what's featured in this music video:

Hate:  Most of the Dancing Isn't Really Amazing
But, the problem is that most people don't know what good Charleston looks like.  This next video isn't bad, but it's not that good either.  The Charleston steps done are overly simplistic, and the style is missing the soul and spirit of the dance:

Then there's the other dancers, who are people with more inspiration coming from dancing to regular electronic house music.  This guys dancing is obviously inspired more by shuffling than traditional jazz steps:

Again, I'm not saying this is bad dancing, but he's dancing primarily to the rhythm of the music, and not the phrasing.  Dancing is an individual's expression to what they hear in the music, but at the end of the day, when I watch a video of just a regular Charelston dance off, I'm way more impressed and engaged with this:

Love:  It Will Inspire More People to Discover Our Dance
Ok, so even if you are one of the people who doesn't care for electro swing, remember that there's no such thing as bad press.  Many of the Lindy Hoppers that are dancing today started because of neo-swing, and eventually discovered artists like Fats Waller, Django Reinhardt, and Cats and the Fiddle and learned to appreciate the original big band artists.  Any social group requires a constant influx of new people in order to stay alive, and the swing scene is no different.  Personally, I hope that the popularity of electro swing continues to grow (and I hope that electro swing artists will continue to hone their craft with more inspiration from jazz), but only time will tell whether this style of music will remain with a niche audience or reach pop status.  We shall see!