Number Ones - Swedish House Mafia 'Don't You Worry Child'
Swedish House Mafia (ft. John Martin)
The new Australian #1 single this week is 'Don't You Worry Child', by Swedish House Mafia featuring John Martin (a Swedish singer-songwriter who is not to be confused with the sadly departed British jazz-folk singer and friend of Nick Drake John Martyn). It knocks Psy's 'Gangnam Style' off the top of the charts, after six long weeks of novelty song dominance (see my Number Ones review here).
Finally, the meme recedes. Perhaps the majority of the Australian population spending time watching actual men ride actual horses around a track last Tuesday broke the horsey dance fever? In any case, Swedish House Mafia are a collective of Swedish types who spend more time making house music than putting horse heads in people's beds. 'Don't You Worry Child' is only their second collective entry into the Australian charts, after a collaboration with Tinie Tempah called 'Miami 2 Ibiza' which reached #31 in the Australian charts towards the end of 2010. John Martin, the singer featured on the track, is new to the Australian charts (though he has previously supplied vocals for Swedish House Mafia and Avicii). Gavin Ryan at Noise 11 says it's the 13th song from Sweden to hit #1 in Australia (along with a bunch of songs by ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base, and, well, 2005's 'Axel F' by that critically acclaimed musical genius Crazy Frog).
While this is the first Australian number one single by the Swedish House Mafia after a very minor hit in 2010, it's hard to overstate how huge they are already in the world of electronic dance music. As DJs , they've recently spent much of their time on the international dance music circuit touring the world in front of enormous crowds (as the 'live' video above demonstrates fairly conclusively - those are some big crowds and impressive light shows). According to Forbes Magazine, who are now apparently producing dance music rich lists, Swedish House Mafia were the 3rd biggest money makers in dance music in 2011, after Tiesto and Skrillex, making $14 million dollars or so.
Each member of the Swedish House Mafia has also had a production/writing role on a top 10 single in Australia this year. SHM members Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso helped produce 'This Is Love' for will.i.am (a top 10 single in Australia in 2012), while SHM member Axwell (Axel Hedfors) helped produce 'Wild Ones' for Flo Rida and Sia (a #1 single which I covered for TheVine here). Perhaps this separate success is why they've announced their hiatus, and why they've portrayed 'Don't You Worry Child' as their farewell single (the 'live' video above features a news report announcing the split at the start). Why split $14 million a year three ways when you can probably make slightly less than that individually?
If the sheer income being shoved in the direction of a bunch of DJs who have not yet had a big chart hit in the US is any indication, EDM (electronic dance music) is enormous right now. To get a sense of this, cultural critic Simon Reynolds' article titled 'How Rave Music Conquered America' gives a sense of how big it is; apparently, until the last couple of years, the US had never had much of a dance music festival circuit, the way we have in Australia with Stereosonic and Summadayze and so forth. But now festivals like the Electric Daisy Carnival are raking in the big bucks, and the likes of Skrillex and David Guetta are winning Grammys. Electronic music has long reigned supreme in Europe, but it's probably never been bigger in the US than it is now.
So what does the ascendancy of dance music in the US (and thus, the inevitable knock on effect in Australia) right now mean? First, let me take you back now to the 1950s.
The fifties get portrayed as a conservative kind of time in baby boomer histories, ("we needed Elvis and the Beatles to rid us of our boring humdrum lives!", they say), but they were a time of huge changes in society. In 1950 in Australia there were less than a million cars. In 1960, there were over 2 million. It was also in the 1950s when the majority of families in the Western World actually started to have modern electric kitchens, with fridges, ovens, etc, and when the suburbs started to become as vast and self-sufficient as they are today (it's easier to live in the suburbs, of course, when you have a car). It was a time, in other words, that saw the rise of modern electric technology in everyday lives. This was a huge sweeping change.
So it's not surprising that these huge changes to how people lived, changed how they listened to music. Charlie Gillett argued in his influential history of rock and roll, The Sound Of The City, that rock and roll was the music that reflected these changes. Rock and roll was (if you hadn't guessed it from the title of the book) the sound of the city. After all, you don't have to hear the way that Motley Crue blend guitar noises and revving engines in the intro of 'Kickstart My Heart' to intuitively understand that the roar of an electric guitar through a big amplifier sounds a bit like a car engine, or that rock and roll is intimately associated with cars. The Fender Jaguar and the Fender Mustang share names with cars. And Fender guitars—like the Stratocaster or the Mustang—often had the style and design of the cars of the time (in case the connection wasn't blatantly obvious, early ads for the Fender Jaguar featured a Jaguar car in the background). In fact, the (famous) Fiesta Red was the first 'custom' guitar colour offered by Fender, and the colour was literally a popular custom colour used by hotrodders to alert people to the awesomeness of their cars.
And then there's the lyrics about cars! Chuck Berry, who played a big role in inventing rock and roll and its mythology, was obsessed with cars. 'No Particular Place To Go' heralded the line 'driving along in my automobile'. The Beatles had 'Drive My Car'. The Beach Boys are known for their surfin' songs but in real life, they were much more interested in cars than surfing; they released a car-obsessed concept album called Little Deuce Coupe, and their biggest early hit, 'I Get Around', starts the first verse with the line 'I'm getting bugged driving up and down this same old strip'. Even a song as transcendent and beautiful as 'Don't Worry Baby' is actually kind of about a drag race.
It's no coincidence that the Beach Boys pretty much exclusively played Fender guitars. For the teens of the 1960s, having a car represented freedom and independence. It's not surprising that this car music also prominently featured electric instruments—guitars, basses, and electric pianos and organs—which worked on similar principles as the car, which were often meant to be heard on car radios. Motown deliberately mixed their records so they would specifically sound good on AM car radios, because that's how a large proportion of their listeners would have heard the songs, the same way that producers now take into consideration what things will sound like coming out of those little white earbuds you get with your iDevice.
One thing we forget when we look at the likes of The Beatles and The Beach Boys—now that they're venerated as geniuses and hundreds of books have been written about them—is that rock and roll was basically just the dance music of the time. There were no synths back then, no drum machines! If you wanted to dance, you had to dance to some band with an actual drummer. And if you look at 1960s sixties TV footage of rock and roll bands—say this great footage of the Easybeats playing 'She's So Fine' at the height of Easyfever—go-go dancers were omnipresent. If MTV style music videos were around back then, many videos for songs like 'She Loves You' or 'I Get Around' would have largely centered around dancing, the same way that you expect that a David Guetta video is probably going to centre around dancing.
We don't live in the 1960s anymore. These days, the world that Kraftwerk predicted in 'Computer World' in lines like "crime, travel, communication, entertainment, computer world", has come to pass. The most famous criminal in the world (Julian Assange) basically just runs a website. We can book an entire trip to Tokyo from the comfort of our living room, without having to speak to another human being, let alone speak Japanese. Many people type more words on Facebook than they say out aloud. And you and I both probably watch pitifully small amounts of live TV and quite large amounts of video encoded in 1s and 0s (whether on DVD or from the internet). Car ownership—perhaps the #1 dream of rock and roll—actually plateaued in the 2000s, and American car manufacturers famously almost went bankrupt in 2007-2008; partly because of the global financial crisis and partly because car sales just aren't what they used to be. Because, young people being more interested in our phones and stuff? Cars are no longer the status symbol that the latest smartphone is. You didn't see Apple or even Microsoft worrying about going bankrupt in 2007-2008, you know?
I got a new car recently. It's a very nice mid-range kind of thing. This car doesn't sound like rock and roll. It's too smooth. You can barely hear the engines unless you really rev the thing, and it makes electronic beeps if you do something wrong (i.e., if you sit on the passenger side without putting the seatbelt on). It's got an onboard computer, and it wirelessly broadcasts computer signals (e.g., it has Bluetooth so you can hook your phone up to it). It's not a car where driving it feels like what Chuck Berry sounds like. It feels more like Radiohead. Or, well, Swedish House Mafia.
What I'm getting at, of course, is that it's totally unsurprising that the dance music of our time reflects the mass market technology of our time. Youth in 2012 lust after computers rather than hot rods. Is it any wonder that it's reflected in the music they like (and make)? Your typical 20 year old, born in 1992, cannot remember a time before the world wide web. English comedian Marcus Brigstocke (who was 18 in 1991) famously said that "if Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music".
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