February 28, 2019

Dance music turns dissonant, spastic during refractory phase of cultural excitement cycle

During the current mellow, vulnerable phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, you might think that dance music would die off, as it belongs more fittingly to the previous manic, invincible phase when everyone is in a bouncy mood, or the upcoming restless, warm-up phase when dance fads will catch on to snap everyone out of their withdrawn emo mood.

People now are in that refractory period, recovering their collapsed energy levels, after so much excitation during the first half of the 2010s. How could they be in the mood to dance? How could they summon the energy to get their bodies moving even if they felt like it?

Although most people are not in any mood to dance, there's still a minority that is. It's as though the distribution for "feeling like dancing" and other high-energy activities has shifted in the direction of preferring low-energy stuff. The part of the distribution that is farthest toward the "wants to dance" direction has itself lost a lot of energy from the previous manic phase, but they're still clearing a threshold that puts them in the mood for dancing. The rest of the population has even lower energy levels, and doesn't even feel like it to begin with.

For the minority who are still looking for something to dance to, they will have to adapt to their currently lower energy levels, and more withdrawn and emo moods. The main response this causes is for their dance music to almost uniformly take on a minor key tonality, and to use rhythms that are spastic, herky-jerky, or stop-and-start.

That way, they don't have to be constantly possessed by the dancing spirit, which would exhaust their bodies during a refractory phase. If they're only breaking out and getting funky for a little bit at a time, and then there's a sharp drop-off, or a lull, or a simplistic toe-tapping rhythm, it keeps them from getting over-stimulated. Lulls punctuated by minor spasms, instead of a sustained engagement with a bouncy rhythm.

The over-the-top character of the rhythms during such periods may also be a self-conscious reaction to how low they sense everyone's energy levels are, as though they're over-doing it in order to shock people awake who are otherwise sleepy. During the manic phase, when people are more bouncy, they don't need such on-the-nose, overly complicated rhythms to entice them out onto the dance floor. It gives the dance music of manic phases a more natural, effortless feel, and those of the vulnerable phase a somewhat more contrived vibe.

To survey the dance music patterns across multiple instances of the vulnerable phase, we have to start with the second half of the 1980s. The vulnerable phase before that was the first half of the '70s, and there wasn't really dance club music to speak of -- Billboard's chart for that genre begins in 1975, when disco brought people into the warm-up phase.

The trend in the separate social mood cycle -- outgoing vs. cocooning -- had been rising in the outgoing direction since roughly the '60s, and would not turn around and go in the cocooning direction until roughly 1990, a trend that continues to today. These phases last for several decades, unlike the phases of the excitement cycle which last around 5 years.

Outgoing phases have higher energy levels, and cocooning phases more subdued levels -- regardless of what's going on in the separate cycle of cultural excitement. So, the manic phase of the early '80s was higher energy than that of the late '90s or the early 2010s. Likewise, the late '80s were higher energy than the early 2000s or the late 2010s, even though the late '80s were a refractory phase of the excitement cycle.

After the new wave and synth-pop music of the manic phase during the first half of the '80s, dance music in the late '80s was Hi-NRG and freestyle. The minor key was standard, and the spastic rhythms come off as frenetic because the overall energy level was at its peak due to its location in an outgoing phase of the social mood cycle.

"You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" by Dead or Alive (1985):

"Two of Hearts" by Stacey Q (1986):

"Point of No Return" by Expose (1985, 1987):

"Fascinated" by Company B (1987):

After the techno, rave, and Eurodance genres of the manic phase of the late '90s, the vulnerable phase of the early 2000s saw the rise of electroclash and other more emo forms of dance music. Again, the minor key is standard. And now that we're in the cocooning phase of the social mood cycle, overall energy levels are coming down.

So the spastic rhythms feature much more pronounced lulls, where it's nearly silent except for the simplest toe-tapping beat. Then it quickly gets worked up, explodes for a moment, and then right as you're ready to settle into a manic beat, it goes right back into a lull. I can't convey how frustrating it is to try dancing to these songs in a club, where you're just waiting around for what seems like a full minute, before the rhythm picks up again, and then only for a brief moment.

With lower energy levels overall, some of these dance songs don't even have an explosive moment -- it feels like they're going to, and it just fizzles out, like the latter two below.

"Sandstorm" by Darude (2000):

"Emerge" by Fischerspooner (2002):

"Seventeen" by Ladytron (2002):

"Strict Machine" by Goldfrapp (2003):

After the manic phase of the early 2010s, with its bouncy electropop and funk revival dance songs, those of the current vulnerable phase are far more lowkey. The minor key has returned as the standard. And being even further into the cocooning phase of the social mood cycle, energy levels are lower than the previous vulnerable phase of the early 2000s.

So, the spastic rhythms are not frenetic, they're more lumbering and herky-jerky, twisting randomly here and winding randomly there. At any rate, still a rhythm that you can't get sucked into for the entire song, but only in fits and starts. For what it's worth, this era's dance songs have a more tropical (or sometimes Middle Eastern) rhythm, echo-ing the Caribbean / Latin freestyle of the late '80s vulnerable phase.

"Lean On" by Major Lazer & DJ Snake (2015):

"Rockabye" by Clean Bandit (2016):

"New Rules" by Dua Lipa (2017):

"Say My Name" by David Guetta, Bebe Rexha, J Balvin (2018):

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, does that mean that vulnerable, mellow songs all have Minor Key?


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