Rhythm and Rebellion: A Dance-Punk Album Guide

Loyal readers of THE BOMBER JACKET, meet your new post-punk writer. I’m Hallie, and I’ll be introducing you to music that’s a little…difficult. Music that doesn’t fit neatly into categories. Music that can only be described with hyphenated words like “avant-garde,” “post-rock,” or “dance-punk.”

Dance-punk seems like a good starting point for this inaugural column, since the genre has made a substantial comeback in the last ten years, spearheaded by New York’s DFA Records. But if you take your copy of Sound of Silver off your turntable and wander back in time to about 1979, you’re liable to find dozens of other bands that channeled the punk ethos through disco and funk beats. Here are some other albums you might want to try: three from the bands that started it all, followed by three picks of contemporary dance-punk bands from around the globe.

Gang of Four
Entertainment!
EMI/Warner Bros., 1979

Entertainment! is one of the quintessential dance-punk records. The “dance” half of Gang of Four consists of bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham, one of the funkiest rhythm sections in the post-punk canon. Meanwhile, Andy Gill’s renegade guitar work and Jon King’s sneering vocal delivery lend Entertainment! an air of defiance that is unmistakably punk. Like predecessors The Clash and the Sex Pistols, Gang of Four makes the political personal, tackling topics from Marxism (“Natural’s Not In It“) to materialism (“Return the Gift“). Yet, by the time we reach the second side of the record, the personal has become political. Relationships have become “a contract in our mutual interest” (“Contract“), and love is as devastating as “Anthrax.” And that’s one thing you don’t want to catch.

Material
One Down
Elektra, 1982

Pressing “play” after putting this album in your stereo (if you still have one of those) feels like opening the door to a closet stuffed full of instruments. First a synthesizer falls on your head, then a bongo drum, then a guitar…but eventually, you get up, dust yourself off, and dance yourself clean. After the initial assault of “Take A Chance,” you can groove along to soulful tracks like “I’m the One,” “Let Me Have It All,” and “Come Down.” Material also got a little bit of help from Brian Eno, who co-wrote “Holding On,” and Whitney Houston, who delivered her first performance as lead vocalist on Material’s cover of The Soft Machine’s “Memories.” While Material disbanded after the release of One Down, keyboardist Michael Beinhorn has had a successful career as a producer, receiving a Grammy nod for Producer of the Year in 1998.

ESG
Come Away with ESG
99 Records, 1983

Clocking in at a mere 26 minutes, South Bronx sister act ESG’s debut full-length still manages to sound like a nonstop dance party. Indeed, “The Beat” is of utmost importance to ESG (short for Emerald, Sapphire, and Gold); the group’s complex polyrhythms and reliance on percussion are likely to draw more than a few Talking Heads comparisons. While not quite as “punk” as their self-titled EP (released on 99 Records in 1981), Come Away challenged the conventions of dance and disco music and has been sampled by everyone from the Beastie Boys to Tricky. (ESG’s sample credits are so extensive that the group chose to title its 1992 EP Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills.) So dance to “Dance,” blast “Moody (Spaced Out)” when you feel moody, and “Come Away” with ESG.

Double Dagger
Double Dagger
Hit-Dat Records, 2003

It’s surprising to see a band like Double Dagger lumped into the same category as LCD Soundsystem and Liars. The Baltimore trio’s sound is much more abrasive and reminiscent of hardcore punk, but they’re missing one essential ingredient in any punk band: a guitarist. Instead, Bruce Willen’s bass takes center stage in true post-punk fashion, delivering a danceable groove on tracks like “Cmyk.” With anti-elite leanings and a penchant for recording two-minute songs, Double Dagger seems like the East-Coast offspring of California’s Minutemen, proof that DIY punk is still alive and well in the 21st century.

Test Icicles
For Screening Purposes Only
Domino, 2005

Unlike Double Dagger, short-lived punk outfit Test Icicles had no shortage of guitarists. In fact, it had three, all of whom also shared vocal duties on For Screening Purposes Only. Test Icicles’ only LP combines hardcore and noise rock with electronic elements to create some remarkably dissonant dance music. If you’re looking for a new dance jam, try the singles “Boa vs. Python” and “Circle. Square. Triangle.”

Bang! Bang! Eche!
Bang! Bang! Eche! EP
Self-released, 2008

Propelled by then-18-year-old founder T’Nealle Worsley, Bang! Bang! Eche! shot out of New Zealand in 2007 and found support from Seattle radio station KEXP. (Watch the band play “4 to the Floor” live in KEXP’s studio here.) Aside from touring the U.S., Europe, and Australia, playing such music festivals as America’s SXSW and Australia’s Big Day Out, the band has recorded a duo of explosive EPs. “Time Mismanagement,” from the band’s debut EP, brings to mind The Pop Group’s “She is Beyond Good and Evil” with its staccato guitar slashes, while “4 to the Floor” will make you want to get on the dance floor without fail. Look out for Bang! Bang! Eche!’s first LP, coming soon.

Comments

  1. What about the clash! O.D.P. – original dance punks!

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