I've gone through a quick, bare bones history of dance music and some of the basic characteristics that sets it apart from other forms. One of the essential elements I've left until now is perhaps the most important -- the DJ.
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At a basic level, DJing is deceptively simple -- you're playing a bunch of songs, one after another. For some, a DJ is like a human jukebox, or an extension of the radio: judged by whether he or she plays the song you want at the time you want to hear it. There's a place for that, I suppose. No disrespect intended, but this is the type of DJ I'd hire for a wedding or a bar mitzvahs, its not what I want in a club.
As I explained earlier, dance music is designed to fit together like the pieces of a puzzle... or like LEGOs. Taking that analogy a step further, that raises three basic questions: 1) How well do the pieces fit together; 2) How good is the person at putting together the pieces; and 3) what have you made when you put it all together?
So the first issue is what makes a good track? My rule #1 is that a good track must be interesting. That can mean a lot of things and part of it is a matter of taste. For some, "interesting" can mean that its the dance version of the latest pop hit or a something new from a particular artist (or remixer). The downside is that a trendy song can be like bell bottoms -- they were in style once, but when you look at them now you wonder why the hell you ever wore them. There are tracks that were overplayed SO badly that the mention of them make my ears bleed.
The easiest way for me to explain why I find a track interesting is to have you listen to one and I can explain what I like about it.
G Minor (Original Mix) by Exhibit A
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This is a relatively simple track with a very strong disco feel. So my tastes come into the equation from the start -- I like disco. You start out with a catchy bass hook, slowly layers on a great string part and build until you get to the first breakdown. The first two elements slowly fade back in with the vocals added. You've got a couple of buildups and breakdowns in the song.
So what do I love about this track? The pieces fit together well, I like the style, its a generally pretty track, but besides that, what really sparks my interest? I'll be clear about my biases up front -- my relationship with songs is usually emotional. This song evokes a clear feeling for me, a definite sense of melancholy, starting with the bass line like a drumming at the bass of your stomach and building to a peak before being squelched. It comes back with the vocals added, building relatively quickly until it finally makes its way to the front of your consciousness... There's beauty and pain wrapped up together, along with some remembrance. Ah, the double edged sword of nostalgia.
In the end, this track ends up being much more than the sum of its parts for me. Just a relatively simple track that I'm able to connect with on a very basic level, and that's what makes a track worth listening to in my book.