Where Next For UK Dance Music?


Written by Don't Panic
01 Tuesday 01st August 2017

Ever since the birth of rave in the late '80s, UK dance music has followed a unique trajectory of its own - moving from rave to hardcore to jungle and drum and bass, and onwards to UK garage, grime, dubstep and UK funky. These sounds grew out of one another, and were connected by a familial set of core ideas and values: an affinity towards break-beat drums and non-4x4 beat structures; a love of heavy, dub influenced basslines; and a feeling - something more elusive - born out of the energies and pressures of urban living. 

Over the last few years, though, the evolution of UK dance music has slowed. A massively revived interest in vintage house and techno - mainly from Europe and the US - has slowed the forward momentum of UK dance music, with many producers, DJs and ravers seeming content with looking backwards rather than forwards. 

Although we're yet to see a fully-formed, distinct new sound emerge to pick up where dubstep and UK funky left off, there have been a number of interesting developments in recent years that might indicate where UK dancefloors are headed next. 


Mutant dancehall

There has been a lot going on around the 100 bpm mark recently. The massive popularity of trap, jersey club and dancehall – at both the underground and mainstream levels – has made this a fertile area for experimentation, and London in particular has seen a whole new wave of club nights and labels spring up to cater for the demand.

Luckily, it still feels like there’s plenty of ground to be explored here. One of the big reasons for this is the tempo, which provides the same slow-fast dichotomy that made dubstep so fertile: depending on the way the rhythms are constructed, tracks at 100 bpm can either sound slow and sluggish like hip hop, or fast and skittish like drum and bass, much in the same way that dubstep and grime tracks were caught between the pacey swing of UKG and the laid back step of dub and reggae.



Oddball electro

Lately, peoples’ unwavering appetites for purely 4x4 techno have thankfully begun to wane – and in turn the world has suddenly remembered techno’s rowdier, broken-beat cousin: electro.

Following on as it has from the resurgence of retro techno, much of the electro being peddled and produced today has followed a similarly retro formula: space-age synths, vintage drum machines and 303 basslines.

Luckily, a handful of producers have been taking the sound and running with it in interesting new directions: slowing it down to give the beats more breathing space, or introducing contrasting sonic ideas from genres like grime and dubstep.




Recent years have seen a renewed appetitive for beatless music – a shift due in part to the changing way that we consume new music.

In the past, the main way of discovering new electronic music was on the dancefloor, or in-the-mix on radio stations like Rinse FM, where DJ’s tended to stick more or less to the club DJ formula.

These days, with the rise of more diverse online stations like NTS, it’s become the norm for DJs to play sets geared entirely towards home listening, which has provided a new place for ambient and beatless music to gain traction. In turn, labels have become more willing to release less club-centric music, no longer feeling the pressure of having to fill records entirely with DJ-friendly cuts.



Psychedelic broken-beat house’n’techno  

Since dubstep splintered off into about a thousand different pieces, a myriad of sounds and styles have emerged in its wake to try and capture something of its essence – or, more ideally, to try and locate the next link in the chain that connected dubstep to grime to garage to jungle and hardcore before them.

One of the more interesting sounds to emerge from the manic scramble was the downtempo, uk-rooted mutant techno sound pushed by labels like Livity Sound, Mistry and Timedance.

On the whole, these labels tended to express their UK heritage by way of dubstep’s dark, paranoid atmospheres, jungle’s relentless drums, and grime’s retro-futurist sound palette – which was great at first, but after a while began to come up a little cold.

Thankfully, there's been a marked shift towards artists incorporating more melody and colour into their works, driving the sound in new, psychedelic directions. Meanwhile, artists with backgrounds in minimal house and techno - Steevio, Leif and Duckett, for example – have met in the middle, creating a loose but fertile scene of artists that favour off-kilter beats, psychedelic synths and rhythmic low end, sharing much in common with the techier strains of dubstep pushed by Hessle and Hemlock, as well as the skippier, more eccentric releases on Perlon. 


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