A Snapshot of Dance Music Now, Taken on Permanent Vacation

[caption id="attachment_23478" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Tom Bioly and Benjamin Froehlich photo courtesy of Permanent Vacation"]Permanent Vacation[/caption]

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

In 2009 I came across a mysterious 12” in a blank white sleeve with label art featuring a silhouetted headphone head against a musical staff. On the flip side there was an image of a woman holding onto a flotation device and the phrase: “Things Will Be Better in Future Times” circling around her. It was the b-side, titled “O Yea,” that caught my attention: A modern track built upon that early ‘80s electric sound of boogie, but with a stiff boxiness about it that, oddly enough, abetted the groove rather than stiffened it. I made note to keep up with both the production duo, Beautiful Swimmers, and their imprint, Future Times.

Something similar happened when Germany’s Permanent Vacation -- Tom Bioly and Benjamin Froehlich -- released their second volume of their Selected Label Works last year, compiling what was, in every sense of the term, a watermark year for the label. A three-track stretch ranged from Midnight Magic’s ecstatic “Beam Me Up” to Tensnake’s exultant “Coma Cat,” to Azari & III’s tawdry “Reckless With Your Love.” No way I’d let the label sneak by me the next year.

"I’m tempted to say Vibe 2 is the best overview of what’s currently happening in DIY US electronic dance music."

But as 2011 drew to an end and handy compendiums of both labels appeared on the shelves, I’ve realized that it’s not been possible to keep up. Permanent Vacation has released Selected Label Works 3 and Future Times put out Vibe 2 a few months back. Over a dozen singles and full-lengths from PV escaped my notice, and I not only missed the Beautiful Swimmers’ second single but also a four-track label comp called Vibe from the previous year.

As is probably clear by now, both labels are rooted in older sounds. Call it retromania if you wish, the past flooding into the present, but dance music’s imperative, even as it drops the music of the past for the dancefloors, is to exist in the moment. Or as electronic music website Resident Advisor wrote: “(It’s) like being at a party where everyone’s talking about things that happened years ago but having a great time right now.”

What made 2010 such a big year for Permanent Vacation was how they made the sounds of dancefloors past sound sparkling and new in the present. Sure, Midnight Magic might revel in the sound of late ‘70s big-band disco, but they updated it into a sleek, soaring anthem. Same goes for the piano-laced “Coma Cat,” which evoked Jellybean and Ibiza in equal measure. And “Reckless With Your Love” was somehow a holy trinity of Detroit throb, Chicago diva house and New York gay nightclub sleaze. For all the stylistic hash-tags, those tracks transcended labels.

And yet as SLW3 plays on, I find that the pleasures of the recognizable are short-lived. Black Van’s “Moments of Excellence” builds up nicely from a '70s funk drum kick into a shimmering track but something like Parallel Dance Ensemble’s “Juices” embraces Ze Records-styled disco-not-disco expertly but never transcends it. The playful whistling of “All That She Wants” from Todd Terje alias Chuck Norris mimics the sound of vintage Sly & Robbie yet pales when compared to his recent Ragysh EP. The standout track remains “Reckless With Your Love” on this edition as remixed by Tensnake. The track bursts forth like a lost Screamadelica track before veering right into the machinations of C+C Music Factory, quoting both yet showing scant interest in leaving Club MTV.

On the surface, the Future Times aesthetic seems to be just as enamored with the past. Lo-fi acid machine vibes, privately-pressed New Age windchimes, slick African synth sounds, plastic tropical grooves straight outta Nassau, cosmic jazz, lost VHS jazzercise soundtracks, even more of that primitive boogie sound, jheri-curled soul, Chicago house…it all scans as a willfully-eclectic hot mess, yet I detect little sense of nostalgia for such bygone times. It’s all too scruffy and gritty to be just pastiche.

I’m tempted to say Vibe 2 is the best overview of what’s currently happening in DIY US electronic dance music, only its roster also features excellent producers residing in France, the Netherlands, and Berlin. There’s the pounding analog drums, porn guitar slink and distorted bass wobble of “Malaco” by Los Angeles producer/ record aficionado, Tom Noble, the deconstructed house of Brooklyn’s L.I.E.S. (which doubles as both record label and production name for DJ Ron Morelli). Built on the rhythm of heavy breathing, Alexis Le-Tan’s “Marathon Man” has a bit of a “Tour de France” feel to it, but as it grows, that sultry feel falls away into something lurching, grandiose, and downright alien.

There are also two very different entries from Brooklyn-based producer Jason Letkiewicz (who could probably fill an entire compilation just under his various pseudonyms: Alan Hurst, Rhythm Based Lovers, Sensual Beings, Malvoeaux, among others). Under the name of Steve Summers there’s the early Mr. Fingers magical touch of “Uncollected Grooves” while when signed in under his Confused House moniker (which come to think of it might be the most appropriate genre name for what Future Times trades in), we get the starbursts and syn drums on “Concrete (dub).” The last track is a sleazy disco edit from the Beautiful Swimmers featuring a bevy of female back-up singers and a Tom Jones doppelganger croaking: “I feel seeeexy.” Every component of the track begins to echo, expand and then fade away, the forgotten past warped into something futuristic.