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!


  1. I honestly love it, not to dance to, but to listen to. I love interesting interpretations of classic jazz music, and also love electronic music, so this fits my bill. But I still don't want to dance to it, give me some classic Basie for that.

  2. Haha, you unwittingly (I assume) answered the blog question I posted yesteday at LindyGroove Technique.

  3. I pretty much agree. I've tried to give it a fair shake and found I like some Electro Swing at least for listening. I've found that it can often be put into one of two buckets; music by actual musicians with a bit of sampling incorporated or music my mix DJs with a bit of real music created by actual musicians included. I generally don't mind the former but really dislike the latter for the same sort of reasons as this blog post.

  4. "a lot of people who enjoy electro swing have no interest in actually dancing to it"

    ... Let's be fair, here: you mean, partner-dancing to it. Please don't discriminate against some very talented dancers who enjoy dancing solo.

    And that's just it; the problem here isn't electroswing. The problem is traditional swing dancers being invited into the electroswing scene, and then assuming they will run the show. That the environments they operate within will be catered to in a club environment. Electroswing is "club music". Electronica. It's modern dance music. Sure, some has a swing beat, and some has swing samples and sounds... but it is not traditional swing, and doesn't aim to be. Nor does it set out to provide swing dancers with the same experience they can get at their social dances. It's different, and if you go into it expecting the same, you'll be disappointed.

    "Is there no room for some mid tempo songs"

    You may want to talk to your local DJ about what he's spinning. Not all DJs spin all subgenres, but if you ask them to look into the following (or tell them you'd enjoy some variety like the below) they may just surprise you:
    The swinghop genre ranges from 75-95BPM.
    The ghettoswing genre ranges from 99-115BPM.
    Swinghouse is around 120-130BPM.
    Classic "electroswing" is generally 125-150BPM.
    Nusoul is often around 135-160.
    Nujazz can run the gamete. Northern Jazz as well.

    Double-time those tempos for what dancers like to call the tempo (not sure why dancers count eigth notes, but DJs count quarter notes).

    In short, it's a new experience in the US. Help build it, or leave it, but complaining that it's not the same swing... is missing the point.

    1. Not complaining, or expecting things to change. I'm just offering a different perspective. And I actually think solo dancing is more of the way to go, but I'd like to see more style inspired by the original dancers is all.

      As for BPM, swing dancers definitely count 8th notes. Quarter notes don't feel right. Charleston is an 8-count dance, that fills a measure, so as swing dancers, that's where our dancing comes from. I would actually say that you're half timing the tempo, rather than saying we're double timing it . . . but we're from different worlds. :-)

  5. I think there's an important point to be made about dancing to what music is asking for. In the case of electroswing, what people do with their triple steps is a thing I like to watch.

    What about the triple steps (or more generally what should you do with the 3&4)? Electroswing almost always demands a triplet rather than the swung triple. If you noticed, Soo Chan Lee and Hyun Jung Choi made their triple steps follow the triplet rhythm and thus stayed faithful to the song they were dancing to. This is important.

    I've seen people still using the swung triplets while dancing to music that does not swing, and I think that's just as wrong as playing the different notes than what is written in a symphony orchestra. However, I do think it can purposefully be employed as a contrast to the music just as a straight rhythm can be employed when the underlying rhythm is swung. I guess what I am saying: is be intentional about going against the music and make it special, not something to be done all the time.

    "Any social group requires a constant influx of new people in order to stay alive, and the swing scene is no different." I'm all for having people check out swing dancing by listening to electroswing, but the traditional styles are more than enough to draw people into the scene.

    I think the scene has grown and changed on its own, but I don't think electroswing fits the bill or helps the scene in anyway that the traditional jazz doesn't already do better.

    *I'm up for changing my opinions, and I love discussion; however, this is how I currently feel about it.

  6. I have just discovered your blog. Your blog is adorable, and interesting. I'm enjoy read your post.

    Addy Watson
    Private Dance Lessons

  7. Hey Morgan, great post!

    Here in London the Electro Swing scene is pretty popular with non-lindy dancers, as well as a pretty decent lindy following too. You get the same polar opinions about it though!

    We regularly dance at one of the original electro swing nights, with psuedo performance social dancing and generally having a good time. One of the sweet things is that they invite us to DJ during the night too - with classic swing tracks! It's a great way of crossing over on common ground; they get to see us dancing to the music they came to hear, and then to the sweet melodies of trad jazz (which they then enjoy as well). I think it gives them an appreciation for the dance and where the music comes from. As a side note, we do get plenty of people coming along to try classes from it as well.

    The musical gap between our jazz world and someone who's only been exposed to modern music is pretty decent sometimes, and I reckon it's great to have a way to meet half way and say hi :-)

    Cheers from London,

  8. Sounds like the same Pros and Cons about Neo-Swing almost a decade ago. I remember someone saying that neo-Swing had two speeds, fast and faster.

    Great post!

  9. How am I just seeing this post? Great breakdown Morgan. I certainly agree that Electro Swing isn't for everyone. BUT those that enjoy electronica and house already will find that it is incredible to be able to merge these genres with swing/jazz. I in particular have an affection for this music because of that. I have a very eclectic taste in music and am always looking for the next thing to make me move!

    Since I have discovered Electro Swing about 2 years ago, I started the 1st ever Electro Swing Club division in the US. (Electro Swing Club Hollywood) I have been overwhelmed with folks wanting to know more about not only the genre but the culture, dancing and history associated with it. I don't know how big Electro Swing is going to get, but let's just say it's definitely not going away any time soon.

    Swing Out,

  10. Hi there! I am an electro-swing blogger and have written a friendly rebuttal of this piece here! http://jackthecad.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/why-swing-dancers-shouldnt-hate-electro.html

  11. Great site. Interesting swing info. Not sure I agree with all, but I love this perspective. I would like to share my blog with you, too. I wrote a fiction novel about swing dancing in the 1940s and 1990s.

    Thanks Tam

  12. Great post!!!

    Have you listened to Red Light District.
    It has the musicality and not just the generic house crap.

  13. I've DJ'd some swing dance parties here in the Bay Area, and whenever I put on a song by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or Royal Crown Revue...I see a lot more dancing than cringing out there on the floor.

  14. I should do this. I'm gonna be looking for dance classes Phoenix by now.