I was never a raver in the proper late ’80s / ’90s sense. That scene was so bound-up with drug culture and since I’m straight edge, a lot of it left me cold. But I have been clubbing since 1982 and in those three+ decades, there have been moments of sublime, hyperreal dance floor epiphany.
Sometimes, on a certain night at a certain time, the DJ puts a certain song on and everything comes together. The strangers on the floor aren’t strangers any more, we all look at each other and we know that we are all in this moment together. A shiver passes through us. We may be old/young, male/female, gay/straight, black/white but in that few minutes, there is not an erasure of those identities but a transcendence of them.
This Monday night, just three nights ago, that happened with the High Contrast remix of London Grammar’s ‘Strong.’
I’d heard the original version of the song a few times and liked it but it hadn’t stuck. Kind of reminded me of Florence or the XX. It was ok but there wasn’t a way in for me beyond that. It didn’t connect with me.
But this Monday, DJ Tom Hughes dropped the remix of ‘Strong’ at exactly the perfect time. DJing is primarily about two things: knowing your music and knowing how to read a crowd. It’s no good knowing how to read a crowd if you only have three tunes to play them. That’s going to be a short set/career. Similarly, there are plenty of DJs who are amazing in their bedrooms but given a break in an actual club, they stiff the floor because they have no understanding of the dialectic between DJ and audience. It is always a negotiation. The greatest DJs know how to give us enough of what we know and are comfortable with to keep us on the floor and then slide in the new stuff, the difficult stuff that they know we might initially baulk at but will love a month for now. That’s how Tom DJs.
When the first beats of ‘Strong’ came on and then Hannah Reid’s plaintive, complaintive, rich, dark sigh came in, everything came together. High Contrast’s new framework brings out aspects of the song that had been previously shaded. As the beat built and then kicked in, I looked around the dancefloor and everyone was doing the same face. Fashion, pulling, cliques, cool dance moves were all rendered irrelevant before the beat and the bass and Reid’s soaring, cartwheeling vocals. We just smiled at each other and danced, happy to be alive and there and in that perfect moment.
The sugary frosting on the cupcake is the countermelodies that High Contrast has added to ‘Strong.’ Much like Skrillex’ additions to Benni Benassi’s ‘Cinema,’ these unlock the song for us, they let us in. Now, if I listen to the original, I can’t help but hear the remix melodies.
As I’ve written this, I’ve had the remix on loop. Occasionally, I’ll listen to the original and I do love that too ~ now. I have been infected by ‘Strong’ because of a perfect storm of factors: the original song received a thoughtful, musical remix from High Contrast and then a great DJ knew just when to drop it in his set.
How could I resist that? Who would be immune to such a convergence of talented, brilliant vectors.