Introduction | Dance

Dancing is as old as time, and its one constant is music that you can do it to. And while not all music is designed for dancing, some revolutionary dance music has been produced since records began. Some of it is intentionally disposable, but it is surprising just how much of the dance music made in the last 50 years stands the test of time.

A catch-all term, ‘dance music’ has come to refer to any derivation of electronic music designed for dancing. The metronomic 120 beats per minute boom-boom-boom of house music – resembling the speed of the human heartbeat – is the standard, and this has been accelerated or morphed according to taste at different times. Most electronic music is designed for club consumption, so this section is concentrating strictly on the dance-floor side.

In the twentieth century, developments in the way people listened to music ran in tandem with the role that music events played in their social lives. At dancehalls, live bands would play the traditional jazz or swing hits of the day. By the latter half of the century, however, it became acceptable to have pre-recorded music as a form of entertainment at a nightspot. This is thanks to an innovator who, in retrospect, might seem a little unlikely – Mr Fix-It himself, Jimmy Saville.

In the early 1940s, this ex-miner hired a room above a working men’s club in Otley, West Yorkshire, to play his 78s on a hastily constructed mobile system. Little did he know that in so doing, he would, effectively, be a godfather to club culture. Soon after, Saville put two turntables together for a gig and toured his DJ nights around the north of England. He went on to become a rather odd TV presenter as well as a charity marathon runner, but in 1946 he faced objections from the Musicians Union in the UK, which lobbied so that venues could only receive licences if ‘records aren’t used in substitution of a band or orchestra’.

Being interactive, 1950s jukeboxes helped pre-recorded music to become acceptable as a form of entertainment in venues. Jukeboxes also established the need for a ‘selector’, responsible for choosing the music that a certain set of people wanted to hear. Once going out had become the accepted means by which young people were exposed to new trends and sounds, nightclubs took on a new cultural importance –as did the significance of the DJ.

Some may argue that DJs should be only a footnote to a history of music, and that live music is infinitely preferable. But, discounting the fact that most DJs become producers when they can afford the equipment necessary, the cultural significance of DJs in the last 100 years has been considerable – initially on radio and then in clubs, dance music’s global popularity having grown in tandem with the rise of DJ culture.

What is a DJ? In one sense, a latter-day club DJ such as Judge Jules is scarcely different to...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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