The difference between House as the prevailing form of dance and house as a texture in modern pop is the difference between foreground and background. House is so exothermic in pop it hardly feels worth mentioning. in dance it remains the prevailing sound and at raves it is signature and goes to places other dance doesn't quite reach.
There is another difference and it was obvious at Swedish House Mafia's coming out party at Madison Square Garden on Friday night: when you move the background to the foreground, it is difficult to forge a foreground identity. To put it another way: it lacks rock stars. Behind a mammoth wall of neon, the three DJ's and producers known collective as Swedish House Mafia, Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso, were tiny pin points moving back and forward between (invisible to the audience except at the sides) samplers, turntables, synths and pcs. It's as though Giorgio Moroder turned to Donna Summer and said, sit the fuck down I'll take it from here.
SHM have been around since 2008 and have a clutch of successful singles "Miami 2 Ibiza" was the first one I heard. They sold out MSG in ten minutes of presale. And the audience were berserk, a truly fun buncha kids, who were like dayglo hippies on ecstacy instead of weed, and dancing up a storm. I, myself, who only white man dances, felt moved to shake it. But it wasn't a "concert". It was a DJ set. And it felt misjudged.
The first problem was the neon wall. When I saw David Guetta at the same venue last week, he kept his banks of instruments low, so he could move around and play to the audience and had huge LCD screens so the audience could watch what he is doing. SHM did neither. While coming across like modern pop stars, the average line of patter went "Madison Square Garden make some noise, they disappeared and left the audience with two things to do.
2. Watch the admittedly exquisite light shows.
Really, if you're gonna kill off the lead singer, what are you going to substitute hm with? I saw Big Chocolate at the Studio at Webster Hall last month, and he showed a way forward for DJ's as "fuck me I'm a rock stars": his energy, his crowd anticipation, his refusal to stay behind his console, were the markings of a star SHM were the markings of an accounting firm.
As a concert.
As a rave it was a phenomenon.
To complain that House is a formula is like complaining punk is a formula, punk uses three chord guitar riffs, House uses drum machines and synthesized bass licks. SHM take the a sample, cut off all identifying labels, and turn the pitch higher and higher till it disappears and then they throw in a bass and a bringing back down. It is a very exciting sound and they do it spectacularly. On tracks like Angello's "Monday", "reach Out", "Pn" the new "Atmosphere" and the magnificent "Save The World", MSG became a huge, intense party. It was amazing to watch all these kids grooving as lights flicked and flashed across them.
I iilmed a little so you can get an idea.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and didn't much miss a subjective point of reference, but that's me, would you? You can't consume Swedish House Mafia, if you don't meet it half way it'll blow right past you. Plus House as rock stars? Even the biggest, Tiesto, Oakenfeld, SHN, REDONE, Dr. Luke, lack any presence at all. Only a handful a Guetta or a Mark ronson or a James Murphy seem capable of moving into the limelight.
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