Why We Love Justice (and Shouldn't)

The perils of hyping dance music you can't really dance to

DISCUSSED
Justice "D.A.N.C.E." (#5 single)
Cross (#36 album)
The Field, From Here We Go Sublime (#37 album)

There are three kinds of people who love dance music: people who love dance music, people who love dance music, and people who love dance music.

You'll see the first type represented in Pazz & Jop each year. In 1998, they helped push Fatboy Slim's "The Rockafeller Skank" to the top of the singles chart. Basement Jaxx's Kish Kash wound up at 8 in 2003 because of 'em. And, in this movement's shining moment, they helped crown Moby's Play the top album of 1999. You know the guy that I'm talking about: the one who doesn't normally like dance music all that much, but heard this one record that transcended all those terrible clichés. Dude, just listen to it. It's cheesy, I know, but it's, like, a rock record made with fake instruments. It's awesome, man. They're the same ones that have Justice and, if they really mean it, Simian Mobile Disco on their ballot this year. And, to be honest, they should be ashamed of themselves.

Listen, guys, don't stress. As I mentioned, you like dance music. (Music, in this case, being defined as songs that last less than four minutes, performed by very serious white people.) I know your time is limited for music not made with guitars. That you're not comfortable without that whole verse-chorus-verse thing. That bleeps and bloops are funny-sounding. That you want musicians to look like they're working hard onstage. That if they just had some lyrics . . . I've been there. For a genre of music that's supposedly about ease of use (listen-dance-fun), it's remarkably hard to appreciate.

Unless you've got hooks. Lots of them. And, hey, that's exactly what Justice and SMD have got. They grew up on them: Simian Mobile Disco used to be the psych-pop quartet Simian, while the Justice boys were in a Metallica/Nirvana cover band. As Slate's Hua Hsu wrote in September, it's the "return of electronica," or as I like to call it, "Daft Punk 2.0"—i.e., harder, faster, stronger, and rarely better.

Like a lot of other acts that dance-music lovers rep for at Pazz & Jop, you can't really dance to it. Justice and SMD live shows are rock shows—more suitable for headbanging than ass-shaking. In true Norman Cook fashion (his best-of was called Why Try Harder, after all), the two duos pulled off the neat trick of releasing records with one or two excellent singles and then mailed in the next half-hour, leading to live experiences where you wait for that moment when a voice tells you what you're listening to ("It's the Beat") or what to do ("D.A.N.C.E."). What could be more rock than ugly guys using massive lighting rigs to distract the audience? (Just ask Daft Punk.)

As someone who loves dance music, this all leaves me more than a tad horrified. Watching Justice and other fine French purveyors of blog house busy themselves re-editing Rage Against the Machine tracks, Germany's Alter Ego didn't bother complaining. Instead, they took the aesthetic to its logically ridiculous conclusion with Why Not?!, which injected steroids into Justice's already-HGH'd-out template. (Sample titles: "Fuckingham Palace," "Chicken Shag.") Like the term "blog house," Alter Ego are not long for this world, but they're much more fun to listen to. More hooks, too.

Anyone paying attention, though, found less publicized but equally interesting dance-music revivals in 2007. The singular vision of Johnny Jewel, and the efforts (or distinct lack thereof) of three separate death-disco divas (Glass Candy's Ida No, Chromatics' Ruth Radelet, Farah's Farah) gave the Italians Do It Better label instant cred with Pitchfork types. Balearic glided on waves of soothing beats to prominence via groups like Studio, A Mountain of One, and re-edit gurus Beyond the Wizard's Sleeve. And increasingly-less-mysterious dubstep producer Burial (and Pinch, and Shackleton) once again reminded listeners that it's not always just a steady kick drum that can move a crowd: Paranoid, syncopated elegies for angels work just fine as well.

Outliers with no real genre to call home proved just as fascinating. Ricardo Villalobos further solidified his last name as an adjective (1. causing, capable of causing, or liable to cause bewilderment—said of dance music; 2. outside of one's previous experience; hitherto unknown; unfamiliar) by releasing a confounding DJ mix complete with Japanese drum solos, football chants, and the lead singer from Chile's best '80s synth-pop group blabbing about four-wheel drive. The Field did even better by cutting Lionel Richie, Kate Bush, and the Flamingos into tiny bits and then looping them into a propulsive imaginary soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi 2007. (Don't count on the Field gaining adjective status anytime soon, though. For all of the acclaim bestowed upon From Here We Go Sublime, its 90+ Metacritic rating is largely based on the novelty of its contents.)

Minimal techno suffered some growing pains in 2007, more than five years after Michael Mayer's defining Immer mix. A crisis of conscience occurred when one-half of progressive-house duo Deep Dish joined up with Richie Hawtin's M_nus imprint and remixed Plastikman's "Spastik." (Imagine if Chad Kroeger signed to Merge and covered a Superchunk song on his first album.) Then again, any genre whose best-known artists (Luciano, Âme) spent 2007 scoring avant-garde ballets or forming a supergroup to release a rock album (Superpitcher and Michael Mayer's Supermayer) and still retain a stranglehold on the imagination of clubgoers worldwide is doing extraordinarily well.

Hell, even that large and underreported-on type that loves dance music had a good year. Dennis Ferrer deployed world-beating single after world-beating single from The World As I See It; Dutch boy Tiësto released a new album and sold out arenas; and David Guetta spun at New York City's own Cielo on Thanksgiving and reportedly was "pawed" by the clientele. Of course, me being a dance-music lover and you being a dance- music lover, neither of us was actually there to see—or hear—any of that. Somehow, I don't think either of us is ready to do things, like, you know, um . . . dance. Maybe next year?

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