Call it electro-swing. Call it swinghouse, swingstep, gypsy jazz, or nu-swing. Call it whatever you want, really. One of the great things about this budding genre of music is that its fans don’t care much about its name, as long as it gets their feet tapping to the rhythm. And that is exactly what will happen when you throw on a track from, say, Parov Stelar or Caravan Palace. Those two are as good as any place to start, if not the best. So give a listen to this classic track from Parov Stelar and we’ll get moving.
What is electro-swing? Briefly, it is a throwback to the 1930s and ‘40s in U.S. music history, modernized with drum and bass as we became familiar with its emergence in the 21st century. This is not the first revival of sounds from the Swing Era, but it is the first to incorporate sampling techniques still popular in nightclubs all over the world. Those techniques are what led Parov Steler, better known as Marcus Füreder, in Austria to set the standard for today’s American/European mash-up that we now call electroswing. Or whatever you want to call it.
Marcus got his start as a DJ in nightclubs during the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2004 that he adopted his moniker and released his first swing-sounding EP, Kiss Kiss. What is most characteristic of Parov Stelar is his ability to find hooks in music that has, in many ways, become archaic, and to revitalize them with a refinished sound quality and a contemporary set of backing beats. Take “Matilda” from his 2009 release, That Swing as an example:
By the time the bass and drums kick in (around the 0:50 mark) you’ve already forgotten that you’re listening to guitar licks and piano fills that your grandparents are more likely to identify with than you are. With the blend of house tempos and hollow yet crunchy bass, swing is cool again. And the fact that you can’t stop dancing is only further evidence of that fact.
All of a sudden the upright bass is back in action. And it’s supplemented with a fuzzy electronic bass to really help its tone fill out. And the muted trumpet is back in fashion, too. Who would have guessed? Caravan Palace brought all of these things to the scene, as well as some fierce fiddle playing combined with sexy female vocals. Sometimes Colotis Zoé, the lead singer of Caravan Palace, only whips out some flashy scat on the microphone, and sometimes she draws you in seductively with a slower melodic hook, entrancing you either way. Though message boards to this day are drowning in links and reposts to the group’s hits “Dragons” and “Star Scat,” “Clash” exemplifies their trademark sound.
Though its roots are American, electro-swing is predominantly popular in Europe. Parov Stelar hails from Austria, Caravan Palace from France, and Caro Emerald from the Netherlands, of all places. The latter, as it were, is a great place to turn next. Many people might classify her style as more of a revamped jazz than strictly swing, but to the ever-growing group of fans, it is in the same realm of old-timey dance that we are discussing here, and therefore relevant. Take “That Man” as her primary example.
As far as its emergence in the United States, electro-swing’s popularity is two-fold (at least). First, “Booty Swing” was featured in a nationally televised commercial for the Cosmpolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. What seems more responsible for its rise, though, is a set of dance videos that have gone viral. This random YouTube user has had over 12 million views for a video that featured Parov Stelar’s “Catgroove.”
Teenagers everywhere are watching video tutorials to learn dance moves with names as slick as the Running Man, and the T-Step. As we’ve seen in the past few years of Top-40 music, hip-hop phenomenona are often accompanied by their own dance (i.e. the Dougie and the Superman). What’s fascinating about the current movement toward electro-swing and its following of two-steppers is that there is no one dance and there is no one song. Just as the innovators of electro-swing are piecing together relics from a different era of music and blending them with modern sounds, the average listeners are borrowing from the Melbourne Shuffle and scenes from “A League of Their Own” to create their own dances to be shared with the world. And at the end of the day, sharing is what this whole music thing is about.