I’m not always sure what dance punk means. Yeah, I know what each word means. ‘Dance’ is that thing you do when you think nobody’s looking or when you’ve consumed too much of an intoxicating substance. Punk? That’s the jerk next door whose dog poops on your welcome mat (you know who you are!). Put them together and you’ve got a messy buzz.
I’ve been told that Gang of Four is one of the best early examples of dance punk. As advertised, they do have four members and I can see how they might be a bit punky. They do come across as a little angry and political. The music is a bit strident and piercing. Dancey? Yeah, I suppose, that bass/drum combo would motivate a suitably intoxicated person into rhythmic writhing. There is adequate syncopation. OK, I accept that definition. Dance punk, it is. Is it good? If you’re in to the art-rock phase of Wire, it’s awesome. However, my opinion of them is based on one album, Return the Gift, in which the band just re-records their own songs (who says you can’t have a do-over?).
Of course, the definition of dance punk doesn’t always fit well. Let’s start with the Rapture. Not the apocalypse, the band. The Rapture could be considered dance punk (Wikipedia prefers “dance-punk”). The guitar sound is piercing and casually dissonant. The vocals are not conventionally pretty, but occasionally sound like the scream of a wheezing asthmatic. The dance part is clear whether in the bouncy or loopy keyboard lines, or the occasionally assertive bass, or even the cowbell – (Don’t Fear) the Rapture. Don’t get me wrong. I like this a lot. In classic snob fashion, I like the earlier work better than what follows. Still, when you can’t decide between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Afrika Bambaataa, the Rapture is a good compromise.
Just one step away from the Rapture is !!! (to which I say ???). In looking around, !!! has been described as dance punk. I don’t see it, but, when you have a band name you can pronounce however you want, that’s punk. To me, this is musically only a small step from the Rapture. The guitars and vocals are less strident, but the groove remains. I don’t like them quite as much, but that’s probably more my fault, since I only purchased their later albums. I’m lazy in my snobbery. They really wowed me at first, but now it’s become nice mix filler, but not for more than 2 songs in a row.
Another step away is Does It Offend You, Yeah (a/k/a DIOYY). The vocals become a little more urgent, but the dance features are much more prominent. Notice the synthesizer being used like a guitar. The music does fit with dancing, but it’s more an angry dance, a dance of vengeance. I’m not sure whether I’m a fan yet or not. I love it now, but I can see a !!! pattern developing here where I lose my enthusiasm.
The last step is Daft Punk and they are not punk. They are danceable and, occasionally, annoyingly repetitious. Quick aside. I was in a Vancouver hotel room, across the street from a pro-marijuana protest (friendliest, mellowest protestors imaginable!) when I first saw the Around the World video. I REALLY don’t like the song, but the video was great! I’d never seen a video where the performers act out the music, rather than just dance. Back to Daft Punk. They are NOT punk … but then I already made that point. They are, however, a little like DIOYY, with all harshness removed.
So, by starting with real dance punk, in only a few small steps we are completely outside of punk. Is it just me, or is that a narrow genre?