Do You Think Dance Music Is Getting Harder And Faster? Here’s What Some Are Saying
The scene is of course, HÖR, dance music’s viral toilet radio station that has been populating YouTube’s recommended sidebars for the past few years with DJ streams. While its bookings policy is diverse – from hosting old-school electro and trance, to Romanian minimal – many of the sets most associated with the platform (and most watched) are of fast, pounding, in-your-face techno.
Since then, the hard and nasty techno sound – played fast and mixed quicker – has proliferated well into the mainstream, particularly in Western Europe. Key parties including Manchester’s Teletech, London institution FOLD’s Sunday party UNFOLD and Paris’s Possession Festival have become destinations for the sound.
And with that has come a stream of artists and collectives who are pushing the envelope of BPM counters and kick drum distortion. The Herrensauna collective, including resident Héctor Oaks, sell out shows across the world, while the Instagram caption of Teletech resident Charlie Sparks’s label ELEKTRA is “FAST PACE TO THE FACE”.
In July 2021, VTSS, who has a reputation for her boisterous sets tweeted a screenshot of a reply to an Instagram story she posted of a set she played in Paris, which said: “Pleaseeee faster and harder next time [praying hands emoji].”
Her reply: “Paris techno folk scare me, I literally started at 145 bpm.”
Speed garage has found its way not only into the sets of garage DJs, but also house and techno sets. Even Young Marco, a DJ who nearly a decade ago made his name playing vocal disco cuts and music on the more soulful end of the electronic music spectrum, has been blasting full speed ahead ‘90s trance cuts.
And it is this young generation of clubbers, DJs and producers who are at the forefront of the movement. Quail, real name Darren Quail, has been heading up long-running Glasgow techno party Animal Farm since 2004, one of the city’s most influential collectives and outfits, which in March last year launched a new event called NEED 4 SPEED. Fitted with a “NO WARM UP” policy, he says the idea came from AISHA, a young DJ who he now works with on the parties, as a response to a new generation of clubbers and dancers going to his events since the pandemic.
It led to the sound creeping in and influencing her musical style – both DJing and the tracks that she had begun to produce – culminating in her 2021 breakout debut EP ‘Angelica’, released via untitled (recs). A diverse six-track romp, the songs span aggressive experimental techno, hard dance and dreamy pop, seeing her win both the Best Electronic Artist and Best Upcoming Artist at the Scottish Alternative Music Awards (SAMAs), as well the AIM Award for Best Independent EP/Mixtape.
Like Quail, long-time DJ and award-confirming underground hero Man Power first started noticing the change in music tempo and energy in 2019. “I remember moving to a new agent and them saying that all they were being asked for was DJs who play at 140 BPM,” he says. “It was a shock to me that people were describing the music by its tempo rather than what it was.”
Man Power was 12 years old when he first started getting into electronic music, now over three decades ago. His first introduction came through The Prodigy’s debut studio album ‘Experience’, which he would rinse on repeat on the CD player in his home. Released on XL Recordings in 1992, it became an instant classic for its futuristic take on hardcore, jungle and breaks.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, large swathes of the British economy and workforce was reeling, after much of the country’s industry and manufacturing was dismantled under Thatcher’s government. In the face of widespread unemployment and financial hardship, particularly in the North of England and certain industrial areas of London, the free party movement – an expression of unrestricted hedonism and release despite the conditions – thrived. And to soundtrack the movement was hardcore music and acid house.
With the country now facing the consequences of a late-stage Conservative government, with a looming recession amid the cost of living crisis – it’s perhaps not such a different scenario to the conditions that spawned ‘Experience’ in 1992. Listening to the album now, it almost sounds new and refreshing, with its rapid, percussion-filled breakbeats and vocals samples not too dissimilar to those pushing the jungle, hardcore and drum ‘n’ bass scene forwards now.
“TikTok’s got something to do with it,” she continues. “Even when I DJ I play different music when I’m playing on Boiler Room because I know children are going to be watching it, compared to when I played at fabric for example, I knew the crowd was going to be a bit older, so I was like: ‘Okay, I can play more serious music’.