Techno originator Juan Atkins. Now, dance music may finally be coming home properly to stay. Photo (CC-BY-SA) Adrien Mogenet.

Any one of us, myself included, may break at any moment into armchair analysis of the music scene. But it’s worth asking an expert. Taste-setting, deeply influential DJs Pete Tong and Gilles Peterson of BBC Radio 1 recently stopped by National Public Radio’s thoughtful music program, All Songs Considered. Joining the American hosts, the BBC stars play favorite tracks and weigh in on the connections in electronica and club music in the US and the UK. The timing was appropriate: with DEMF taking over Detroit, that same world scene was returning to the cradle of the techno genre. But the message might surprise you: according to Tong and Peterson, the US is in a full-blown dance resurgence. It’s about time.

This isn’t the first time England has exported back to America tastes America helped define. Just ask the Beatles, who were able to market folk and country traditions, Everly Brothers harmonies and practicing guitar licks, more successfully than American artists had been in their own country.

Imagine what is possible now. Today, you can almost certainly have an easier time tuning into BBC Radio 1 from anywhere on Earth than you can a terrestrial radio station just a few miles away. Electronic dance music, while it may draw its roots from the likes of Juan Atkins and Frankie Knuckles in Detroit and Chicago, is arguably a hybrid, global and transnational by definition, and both American continents alongside Europe, Africa, and Asia, continue to forge its style.

All of this makes it more noteworthy that Tong and Peterson are finding the US increasingly fertile ground. Outside the over-saturated UK, BBC Radio 1 DJs are doubly superstars. These Radio 1 legends report that the act of gigging in the US – fueled by demand in the unfairly-dubbed “flyover states” – is better than ever, and even better than anywhere else. (Where but the US, they say, can you do a 7-day-a-week tour?)

In just those places, people are rediscovering classics like Lil’ Louis’ “French Kiss.” And in turn, those records may come to mean something new and refreshed, transported into new contexts.

In making their argument, and tracing some exemplary records, these two also make a case for a dance music more informed by tradition than flavor-of-the-month trend. It’s fitting that older records are finding new audiences, or that new styles are more conscious of their antecedents. The program also offers some perspective on English club culture, and without hopping on a soapbox, suggest the US may have paid a cultural cost for societal squeamishness about difference and homosexuality. Beyond what gets gigs or prompts dancing in the club, that suggests a grander societal significance to all these great records.

But Americans looking for some hope, I think the message of this recording is as clear as the title of the last song: “Coming Home.”

Flying Lotus, live. Photo (CC-BY-SA) sunny_J/jenslime.

Let’s turn it over to Flying Lotus…

It’d be unfair to allow the UK side to monopolize this conversation, so let’s look at one of the US artists who has helped lead the US dance resurgence. Flying Lotus, himself popularized by BBC Radio 1, has been a tremendous force in supporting the blossoming scene around Los Angeles.

I think he can say as much musically as any other way, so take a listen to his recent podcast for Stones Throw records. Pulling some surprising cuts into the mix, he spins a dreamy, future-retro, soulful-spectacular world. As out of a parallel analog reality, warm and fuzzy vinyl crackles through a gauze-covered lens, but paints a futuristic landscape.

Perhaps Steve Ellison was assembling this deliciously-curated wonderland in a trance, because there’s absolutely no track list. (I’m holding out hope that maybe he’ll reveal their provenance; we’ll see.)

But a future portal opened by the past, steeped in soul and jazz, seems just the kind of universe that could give electronic dance music a second renaissance. So, I’ll best shut up at this point and let you listen.

Good listening

Hear the whole NPR program, and find additional commentary and track selections:

Pete Tong And Gilles Peterson On Dance Music, UK And American Style [NPR Music: All Songs Considered]

This Week On All Songs Considered: America In The Grips Of Dance Fever [All Songs Considered Blog]

And be sure to subscribe to Stones Throw’s podcast, picking up episode 66 for Flying Lotus:

More FlyLo — a full live set, also via NPR Music:
Sasquatch 2011: Flying Lotus, Live In Concert

  • GOD !! save to PETE TONG and BBC RADIO 1 !!!
    PETE TONG !!
    One of the real HEROES of electronic music !!
    You not read the article?
    Read again !! : )

  • what track does flylo mix in near the end @ 55:25, anyone know?

  • Kim

    Thanks for the NPR links.

  • DDDD

    I did not get at all why they decided to throw in that f%$%# Diddy track at the end of the show?

    R u kidding me? This is a sign that club culture is alive in the USA? That track was terrible!!

  • Manchego

    BBC Radio 1? really? lol. Boy, you're way off the mark here. I know the grass is greener and everything but Radio 1 is bullshit since Peel died. It was bullshit 25 years before he died.

  • meh

    club and rave culture are absolutely dead here in the USA

    the general college populace hates dance culture unless its booty hip hop

    boring indie music and crappy electro clash bands is all we're stuck with 

    until regional and international DJ's lower their touring prices to play back in the states, it's not going to be like the mid 90's anytime soon. Why should they when they can play in the EU festivals for 10x the fee. 

    coupled with anti rave laws, bars/clubs closing at 2, lack of afterhours / all ages parties, there are no new school kids being groomed to carry the torch. 

    its nearly impossible to grow the local scene, everyone has families and real jobs these days.

    Raving is Dead 

  • Peter Kirn

    @meh: Right, except these guys *were* getting the fees. So someone's booking them, and I bet they don't come cheap, either.

    I agree with what you're saying as far as obstacles, and policy as you say is a huge part of it. (By the way, the US went after rave drug culture … and now we have a college-age population that by an enormous margin is struggling with alcohol abuse more than ever. I've talked to kids who have permanent liver damage at age 21 and 22. So I don't view those programs as an enormous success.)

    But none of this means you can't build a scene in spite of it all, as some people are doing. You do it one night at a time. You may not bring back rave culture, but you build what you can across the spectrum of electronic music.

  • Jake Gilla


    Radio 1 may not be all that, but it sure as hell is allot better than any of the major stations in US.

    I dare you to stream my local radio station for more than an hour without wanting to put a cordless drill to your forehead.

  • You're right about clear channel content Jake, but as for the article it reads a lot like trying to promote something as a product someone is suddenly interested again, and it's certainly 10 years past its touch with what's actually going on in the US. Returning back to the UK with 60k for a single 10 day tour by an indie producer hasn't been common since pre 9-11.

  • Peter Kirn

    I refer back to the first sentence I wrote: "Any one of us, myself included, may break at any moment into armchair analysis of the music scene. But it’s worth asking an expert."

    Tong and Peterson are seeing changes in how *they're* received, the gigs they get. I think that's newsworthy. That doesn't wipe away all the challenges people face in the US, but if you actually listen to what they say, there are professional challenges elsewhere, too. This seven-day-a-week potential in the US – whether bars close at 2a or not, whether there's a 90s-style rave scene or not – is worth noticing.

    As for BBC 1, people can hate it all they like; it remains hugely influential. It's kind of amazing to me that it's able to have this split personality at all, given that it's pretty much chart-topping bubblegum by day.

  • Manchego

    @Jake Gilla Local commercial radio stations are like that in the UK too. Holding Radio 1 up as a measure of quality is hilarious and an evolutionary dead end. More research into these articles would be advised.

  • Manchego

    If you consider Radio 1 'split personality' all I can say is you really need to aim your sights higher.

  • Peter Kirn

    I never said Radio 1 was a measure of "quality," whatever that means. I said it was an indication of the appetite, the market for music in the US. 

    But thanks for suggesting I didn't research this, jerk. 😉

  • h

    PK…u lost the plot…go back to the ggeky stuf.

  • Peter Kirn

    @h: No, I won't.

    The market for electronic music in the US, as judged by two of the UK's most significant DJs, is news.

    The fact that people want to whine and complain about BBC Radio 1 when they obviously didn't read what I wrote or listen to the hour-long NPR program isn't going to stop me from reporting on that stuff.

    I never said you should align your tastes to BBC 1 – or to people trolling in comments. Absolutely, you should make up your own mind. Absolutely, Radio 1 – tuning in any time of the day or night – doesn't represent the whole of electronic music production.

    But yeah, if people insult me and my writing, I respond. Sorry. One thing I don't do: tuck my tail and say, fine, I will purposely ignore one of the world's largest radio stations because some people in comments think it's uncool.

  • Peter Kirn

    Oh, and one final thought – I think the fact that tastes differ in music is important. That means it's relevant to me to cover on outlets and DJs even if their tastes don't exactly align with mine. BBC meanwhile has done some great things to promote artists I really do care about, and I've even had the chance to talk to some of them about what that means (like Flying Lotus and Sepalcure, who each benefited from promotion by Mary Ann Hobbs)

  • Manchego

    If you *had* done any research you'd be talking about BBC 6Music, not Radio 1.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Manchego: Let me explain again, since it's obvious you didn't read:

    The impetus for this story was two DJs from Radio 1 visiting NPR to talk about the state of the US electronic music scene.

    I thought it was worth commenting on, because I was surprised by some of the things they said — they weren't what I expected.

    Radio 6 isn't especially relevant to a story about two guys who DJ for Radio 1.

  • Incidentally Peter, my comment should have said 'as for the npr report' not article. The tone of the NPR report sounds like they're trying to promote EDM to an audience that's still somehow not 'discovered' it. I felt this way when I listened to it because I heard many of the same things I recall reading in Rolling Stone, Urb & Mixmag UK back in the mid 90's when EDM was first picked up by mainstream artists like Madonna & Smashing Pumpkins… But rather than nitpicking about this or Radio1/6/etc and how relevant they are, what about the central thesis?

    I'm not really surprised the people interviewed in the npr report are getting good gigs, they're pretty well established from where I sit. What I'm really interested in knowing is how vertical people think this really is right now. 7 days a week for someone with a solid place in the industry shouldn't really be that surprising anyway imo, but the lay of the land overall for EDM artists & DJs seems like incomes are still down compared to what I recall in the past.

    In fact 12-15 years ago I could spend half of my DJ income on vinyl and still have enough left over for rent–WITHOUT writing much if anything myself. The novelty of just being a dj was enough…at least for a while. 10 years ago you could *almost* command the same prices IF you were well known as a producer & did dj'ing gigs…and kept your production output high enough to keep your name visible. Fast forward to today and at least from my perspective every kid around writes 'choons' now and there isn't much separating anyone from the pack unless they've got the networking behind them to get gigs to begin with (connected to the right people or lucky etc.) Which leads us back to the Tongs and Petersons of the world, if they're getting 7 days a week what does that mean for the rest of us?

  • Peter Kirn

    Absolutely — and that's a huge, huge question. Anecdotally, I do find I'm hearing younger people are able to DJ more in cities you might not think of – like literally, Omaha and Columbus.

    Odds are NPR *is* catering to an audience that isn't familiar with EDM. In fact, the All Songs Considered correspondents regularly comment that they really don't have any clue about dance music – seriously. (It's a shame, because I think they do a better job of things like folk and indie rock coverage, and then they're just blind on the electronic side.)

    Anyway, it's a multi-dimensional issue; this wasn't an intended to encapsulate it all into one story, if that's even possible, just to take a look at their perspective. I perhaps should have been clearer about that, but I try to take the 30,000-foot view… it's just the 30k-foot view of *one* perspective.

  • RINSE.FM need a i say more?

  • Vilhelm

    Manchego get a grip. Most of Radio 1 is utter dross but that's because it's a public service station and so caters for a broad cross section of society, many of whom want to listen to sugary pap durin the day while they are at work.

    If you dig deeper (and later into the schedules) you come across shows like Gilles' and Benji B's both of which provide an incredible resource for people into new music which is not coincidentally , the remit of radio 1.  Gilles' show is easily up there with John Peel's in all but quirkiness.

    6 Music is consistently ok and occasionally great but frequently dull. GP is better than any show on that station.