Disclosure Points EDM Back to the Future
By Scott T. Sterling
When UK house revivalists Disclosure took to the expansive outdoor stage on the final night of Coachella 2014, siblings Guy and Howard Lawrence were given a hero’s welcome from the capacity crowd that stretched deep into the festival grounds.
Launching into the song “When a Fire Starts to Burn” from the duo’s GRAMMY-nominated debut album, Settle, Howard Lawrence played a live bass line over the ceaseless 4/4 beat while his brother Guy triggered the song’s vocal samples of former NFL player turned motivational speaker Eric Thomas in real-time. Shifting into the stuttering 2-step rhythm of “You and Me,” Guy added live drums from an electronic percussion kit into the mix.
With a rotating cast of guest vocalists including Mary J. Blige, Sam Smith and Aluna Francis of AlunaGeorge, Disclosure’s hour-long set was a visceral, live performance that ranked among Coachella 2014’s most talked-about and well-received sets. It’s a rare distinction to be invited to perform at festival two years in a row, but rarer still can a band sum up both the past, present, and future of dance music in their set.
First, Disclosure crate-dug through the past. They conjured the deep, underground energy of Chicago and New York parties of yore where their house sound was born. The sounds coming from the stage were a far cry from rave-intensive and drop-filled bombast raging inside Coachella’s famous Sahara tent on the other side of the polo field,
“Without him we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. It’s as simple as that,” Guy Lawrence said in regards to house trailblazer Frankie Knuckles during an interview earlier in the day of the Coachella 2014 performance. “He was a pioneer and you have to pay respect…it’s a big deal when someone like that passes away. He’s a pioneer of a genre that all of us are involved with, especially now that it’s all come back around.”
Much of the debate over the current explosion of dance music in America and the catch-all tag of “EDM” revolves around authenticity. Similar to the brief but potent “electronica” movement in the late 1990s that made stars out of European acts like Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy, this latest surge in popularity faces much criticism from many veteran producers and fans.
“Listen to the classics, look back at the history,” seethed longtime Chicago house artist DJ Sneak in a 2012 interview. Sneak has been a harsh critic of today’s EDM scene who’s taken direct shots at Swedish House Mafia and Deadmau5, among others. “If you’re going to start making or playing house music, educate yourself and second respect the sound. They need to take a good look at themselves and realize that they are the worst thing that has ever happened to this music industry.”
Disclosure have done and aced their homework in terms of house music, which shines all over their album and live reproduction. While EDM continues to produce color-by-numbers acts with drop-driven tracks and stage shows that place spectacle over musicality, Disclosure’s meteoric rise leads a new wave of artists eager to use the traditional end of dance music to push it forward.
Hot Since 82, Maceo Plex and Bicep are among the current wave of producers who look to classic house sounds to power their forward-looking tracks. Stalwart ’90s artists including MK and Derrick Carter have enjoyed recent revivals with the new generation of dance music fans, with MK hitting the top of the British charts last November with his remix of Storm Queen‘s “Look Right Through.”
The nagging question is if this revival of classic house music is just a passing trend in a relatively new genre that’s still evolving at a rapid pace as it finds its place under the EDM moniker.
“The album has done quite a lot. Some people say it’s been a part of this whole regeneration of house music or whatever, although we didn’t make it for that purpose,” Guy Lawrence said in regards to Settle when asked about what fans can expect from their already anticipated second full-length. “Now that the scene is where it is, it would be a bit stupid to move too far away from house, because everyone likes it now.”