What comes to mind when I say the words “dance music”? If you’re familiar with the current trends of the music industry, then your first mental images may very well include electronic DJs (meaning DJs that spin electronic music, not electrically-powered robot DJs), underground raves, and massive throngs of people jumping up and down. But this is only this decade’s version of dance music. If we travel back through the history of music, we pass by the synthpop of the 1980s, we say hello to the rise of disco in the ’70s, and we predate the birth of rock and roll as we settle down in the early 1900s. Imagine the scene in America at the turn of the 20th century. The European tradition of ballroom dancing had carried over into American culture, but the sudden rise of jazz out of the South soon took the world by storm. Before anyone knew what was happening, big bands and swing music became the new craze sweeping across the nation, and artists like Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Glenn Miller became household names.
Now, swing music was all well and good, but that died away many decades ago, didn’t it? Well no, that’s not entirely true (certainly not if Brian Setzer has anything to say about it). As I talked about in my post several months ago on Nekta, an artist going by the name of Parov Stelar is generally credited as the pioneer of the latest swing revival movement, this time fusing it with modern electronic music to form a brand new fusion of genres: electro swing.
“Submotion Orchestra have rapidly built up a reputation as one of the most interesting and original projects emerging from the UK today. Drawing upon dubstep, soul, ambient electronica, jazz and dub, their unique music is at once delicate and heavy, spacious and dense, highly atmospheric but firmly rooted. Earth-shaking bass and drums combine with lush keyboard and trumpet textures to create the perfect bed for the fragile beauty of Ruby Wood’s vocals, and the celestial effects of sound designer Ruckspin.”
The paragraph above is an excerpt pulled from the bio posted on the group’s website. Let’s take a minute to reflect on those words. Dubstep, soul, ambient electronica, jazz and dub. Those of you that keep up with my posts on this site will know by now that I’m always a big fan of cross-genre mixtures. In that regard, Submotion Orchestra have certainly gone above and beyond with their newest album, entitled Fragments. It’s actually the ideal combination of styles – many opponents of the advent of popular electronic music will use the argument that it such genres sound too “robotic” or “repetitive.” If we posit for a moment that such a claim is true, then surely we could turn to jazz as a musical style on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Just about everything about jazz is based around live improvisation and the interaction between players.
As the music industry has moved into its newest era and embraced the digital revolution, a number of new styles have emerged as a result of classic genres incorporating electronica influences. Some such fusions have become fairly popular over time, such as industrial rock, space rock, and indie electronic (“indietronica”), but there’s a wealth of richly developed styles that have remained relatively unheard of. Electro swing, for example. Electro swing had been lurking just under the surface of discovery for many years, until Parov Stelar, generally credited as the founder of the genre, began releasing music on his newly created label, Etage Noir Recordings in 2004. After his breakthrough, a community of electro swing musicians quickly began to form and gain momentum, with groups like Caravan Palace building further popularity for the style. Today, I present you with a musical duo that presents a slightly different side of electro swing. Together, vocalist Nathalie Schäfer and producer Gyso Hilger form Nekta.
In 2009, Nekta released their second full-length album, Storybook. With this record, the duo presents a unique blend of old-time swing and deep house elements. Their music is generally more laid-back than that of other, more well-known electro swing groups, which helps to distinguish them from their contemporaries. In the words of Nekta themselves, “…it is hard to say whether the twelve new titles [off of Storybook] are retro, still modern, or already classically timeless. The successful attempt to put Jazz and Pop, acoustic and electronic sound generators, and a danceable club appeal on one hand with the qualities of songwriting on the other under one common denominator.” This sums up the main goal behind this kind of music rather concisely. When combining two very different styles of music into one, the final result (if done correctly) is getting the best of both worlds, and that is exactly what Nekta has done.