Beyoncé with BREAK MY SOUL, Drake with Honestly, Nevermind, or even Charli XCX with Used To Know Me are helping to bring the musical sub-genre of house music up to date, much more political than it seems.
The house never died, long live it house. That’s what you might think listening to popular new songs, like the single Used To Know Me by spearhead hyperpop artist Charli XCX (from her latest effort, Crash, released March 18, 2022).
Or the new opus of the tender-hearted Canadian rapper Drake Honestly, Nevermind (released by surprise on June 17).
But above all BREAK MY SOUL by Beyoncé (first single released on June 21 from her album Renaissance scheduled for July 29).
These three artists have thus invested sounds housea sign of renewed interest in this musical genre. But what is it actually?
What is house music, a musical genre in full return of hype?
House music took root in the early 1980s in Chicago and derived from the disco so popular in the 1970s, but also from jazz, funk and gospel.. It owes its name to the Warehouse club, primarily frequented by the gay, African-American, and Hispanic communities. There, officiated in particular the DJ Frankie Knuckles who is the precursor. He is indeed one of the first people to not be satisfied with chaining records one after the other, but also to mix them together, and therefore to include sampled voices in particular. That’s how we start talking about house music which is characterized by a minimal rhythm, a bass line close to funk, and sampled or unsampled vocals worthy of a gospel mass.
To get a better idea of what house is, nothing beats listening to an absolute masterpiece in the field (according to my ears), Show Me Love by Robin Stone. Released in 1990, the title has been covered, remixed, and sampled dozens of times. And the last to be inspired by it and even to sample it are none other than Charli XCX with Used to know me and Beyoncé with BREAK MY SOUL, exactly ! It means how much the house genre continues to inspire, even nearly forty years after its emergence.
The current recession, the perfect dancefloor for the return of house music?
Moreover, according to many music theorists, the musical sub-genres of house and dance would have the annoying tendency to invent, renew themselves, and/or to become very popular again in times of social, economic and political recessions. This was the case, for example, for techno in Detroit in the 1980s, as explained by the cultural association Leonardo/Olats. The subprime financial crisis from 2007 also served as breeding ground for the success of the French Touch of Daft Punk, Justice, David Guetta, Bob Sinclar, and other Martin Solveig for the end of the 2000s, as explained The Express in 2009.
In the context of a pandemic, in the face of the climate emergency, after Trump, and during the rise of the extreme right in Europe as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine, a good part of the West surely wants to dance its sorrows. This is now assumed by the BBC against the new sounds of Drake and Beyoncé. And plenty of people on Twitter agree to think so with that bittersweet humor so unique to the platform:
“The house and dance music genres are always popular when the recession hits big and dirty. That’s how I know it’s going to be hard and complicated, but at least we’ll have good sound. »
“Beyoncé saw that it was the summer of burnout for millennials, the labor movement, a resurgence of interest in the 90s and LGBTI+ pride month, so she thought, ‘Yes, I can make a song that sums it all up.
Indeed, Beyoncé knows this well since she explicitly mentions this context of crisis in BREAK MY SOUL. She sings that she has just quit a job that has become untenable. It is surely a nod to what is called in the United States the Great Resignationor the great resignation, because of the excess of socio-economic pressures during the pandemic.
Revaluing how much black people matter in contemporary musical innovation
Through this first single, which samples the singer Robin Stone and contributes to bringing up to date a musical genre created and long dominated by African-American people, Beyoncé helps to remember how much black people count in musical innovation. Whether it’s blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock’n’roll, zouk, kompa (which is also coming back very fashionable at the moment, by the way), or even shatta, the contribution of Afro-descendants to contemporary music is invaluable, and yet too often neglected, ignored, even invisible.
This is one of the reasons why the current President of the United States Joe Biden said June 2022 as Black Music Appreciation Month through an official press release issued by the White House on May 31, 2022:
“Perhaps no music has had such a profound and powerful impact on the American musical score as black music. Tightly woven into the tapestry of our nation, black music enriches our lives and pushes the boundaries of creativity. Over the decades and across the country, black music has fueled a myriad of genres – from rhythm and blues to jazz, gospel, country, rap and more.
[…] For generations, black music conveyed the hopes and struggles of a resilient people – spirituals mourning the original sin of slavery and later announcing freedom from bondage, hard truths told through jazz and the sounds of Motown during the civil rights movement, and hip-hop and rhythm and blues that remind us of the work that still awaits us. »
In short, the house music is back in force to make us dance, especially in this month of pride for the LGBTI + community from which it comes, but also all summer. And maybe more.
I leave you, I have to go dancing flamboyantly on roller skates on some house at sunset.
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Front page photo credit: YouTube and Instagram screenshot.