The Year of Empty Calories
a.k.a. A look back at dance music in 2022.
“Dance music is back!”
When the UK Singles Chart was unveiled for the week of August 19, that was the headline. “Afraid to Feel,” a disco-funk earworm from Scottish duo LF System, was in the top slot for the seventh consecutive week, and “B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All),” the cheeky, TikTok-fueled ’90s house flashback from Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal, was hot on its heels at #2. All in all, four of the top five singles that week came from the world of dance music, a fact the Official Charts Company cited as “further proof of the dance renaissance taking over the UK this summer.”
Admittedly, it’s hard to put much stake in the words of a company that basically functions as a kind of carnival barker for the UK music industry, but they were far from alone in pushing the “dance music is back” narrative in 2022. Earlier in the year, the arrival of Beyoncé’s Renaissance album and Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind LP touched off a litany of pieces about the “return” and “revival” of house music, and despite that reframing of history being wildly inaccurate, it’s lingered like a bad smell amongst the mainstream music press, particularly in the US. (Just last week, the New York Times’ Jon Pareles trotted out the phrase “disco revival” in his writeup of the Beyoncé LP, which he listed at #1 in his contribution the paper’s Best Albums of 2022 round-up.)
In more established dance music circles, the narrative took a bit longer to catch on. After all, clubbing had technically come back in 2021, but its initial return was regarded by many ravers as bittersweet, and the dance music industry continued to struggle during the first months of 2022. Between rising travel costs, erratic ticket sales, unexpected audience no-shows and widespread staffing and logistical issues, not to mention the still-looming threat of COVID, anxieties about the post-pandemic feasibility of nightlife were (and in some cases still are) high, and while those problems never disappeared completely, the conversations about them quickly lost momentum once the 2022 summer festival season hit in Europe and North America.
Call it discourse fatigue or simply a desire to “get back to normal,” but after more than two years of mostly talking about dance music, the reopening of nightclubs and the return of festivals provided pent-up ravers—the youngest of whom had literally never even set foot in a real-life party—with the chance to finally go out and experience it. Sure, COVID was still flying around, but with most people vaccinated and / or of the mindset that catching the virus was no longer that big of a deal, the crowds gradually found their way back to the dancefloor, particularly when a marquee brand name (e.g. Dekmantel, Boiler Room, Sónar, etc.) was attached to the event.
Simply put, people wanted to have fun again, and dance music was happy to oblige. Tempos got faster, tunes got sillier and subtlety largely flew out the window. The Big Banger™ was back, and while the resulting fire hose of exuberant mashers produced few tunes with actual staying power, most ravers didn’t seem to care. On the contrary, they doubled down on the dancefloor gluttony, gobbling up bootleg reworks of Britney Spears, Vengaboys, The Spice Girls, Kylie Minogue and even “Cotton Eye Joe.” Unbridled joy and mindless releases was in. Good taste—or at least what prior generations had defined as good taste—was out, and within a matter of months, the the average night out frequently began to resemble a pack of Skittles: brightly colored, sickly sweet and utterly lacking in nutritional value.