Geeked Up: Dance Your Pain Away

Charles Aaron on punk scream therapy, footwork frenzy, and radiant remixes.

This week’s theme, legendary children, is songs that make you wanna get up out of your office chairs, push away from your computers, go to your windows, open them up, stick your heads out, and yell, “I’M TIRED AS HELL AND I’M NOT GONNA TAKE THIS ANYMORE! THINGS HAVE GOT TO CHANGE! I NEED TO DANCE (OR AT LEAST DANCE WHILE I WORK)! I can’t just sit here and happily atrophy on your treadmill! I need to wine and grind first thing in the morning and beyond!" Then we can figure out what to do about all the depression and brutality and poverty and peak oil. But first, we need to get up and shake ourselves silly or swoon ourselves sane. That’s the theme. You've got to say, “I'M A HUMAN BEING, GODDAMNIT! MY LIFE HAS VALUE!” I’ve got to dance — for inspiration.

Beyoncé, “Formation” (Mike Q Remix)

Though Beyoncé’s swag-tismal ritual in her most volatile song foregrounded blackness — all shades and significations — the fuel for her groove was derived from a more particular source: the chanting, sampling, twerking bass blast of New Orleans–based bounce music. Driven commercially by Juvenile, Lil Wayne, and Cash Money Records but more locally by gay/trans performers like Big Freedia, Katey Red, and Sissy Nobby, “Formation” sets it tone via the voices of the latter, spotlighting New Orleans raconteur/rapper Messy Mya (“What happened at the New Owwlins?” she Creole-drawls on the intro) and scene-queen Freedia (“I came to slay, bitch / I like cornbreads and collard greens, bitch” goes her interlude). Some have charged Bey with acts of appropriation. But preeminent ballroom/voguing DJ Mike Q, known for his snare-shattering, neck-rolling house tracks — i.e., the Let It All Out EP on U.K. label Fade to Mind — was inspired to remix “Formation” (specifically for the return of New York’s legendary GHE20G0TH1K party this past February). And the result brashly sashays past the doubters, as Mike Q turns the eerie opening synth stab into a chattering stampede punctuated by reverbed clangs and chops of the song’s penultimate line — “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation” — into simply “you that bitch” (or “bitch bitch bitch bitch”), which Mike Q has said is an attempt to make the song “re-empowering in its own ballroom way.” It’s even more than that. You can easily visualize the ciphers of voguing dancers jockeying into formation to deliriously dip, pop, and spin.

Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign, “Work from Home”

Finally, an anthem for Sweatpants Nation — freelancers, the underemployed, and those who still haven’t received a check for some shit they did 18 months ago! Eh, not really. It’s just another exultant Fifth Harmony moment and yet another song about Ty Dolla $ign having sex (congrats, sir); but the track from a random crew — Dr. Luke B-teamer, electro-house bro, and somebody named Jude (not the boring ’90s guy) — seduces you with a gloriously boingy choir of hand claps before embracing R&B girl-group destiny. Ty freaks the bridge like he’s the luckiest schmuck on the planet, because he is.

Santigold, “Banshee” and “Run the Races”

There’s no shortage of danceable jammy jams on Santi White’s latest, but these two are the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. With its whooshes, claps, blips, and yips, “Banshee” elbows in between the pop spectrograms of Charli XCX (who shouts along here) and Grimes — two artists Santi has obviously influenced. At times, the whole shebang practically reaches K-Pop levels of helium thrills with its precision-tooled COME ON! “Run the Races,” a swelling synth ballad co-written and produced by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, charts the comedown and gives off “Live to Tell” neon chills. Originating in 2013 when Santi was pregnant with her son, it beautifully captures the crushing sense of loss and surge of possibility that can sideswipe new parents. But with a soaring guitar outro from Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, mama sways home safely.

White Lung, “Hungry”

After woodshedding for years in shitholes both dank and ecstatic, this Vancouver metal/hardcore vomitorium of rage and contempt have become full-on punky sophisticates with a wiry sound that resonates well after the feedback. Singer Mish Barber-Way and guitarist Kenneth William have developed their Courtney Love (with her screws tightened) and Eric Erlandson (plus more riffs, chords, etc.) vibe into something that launches them forward, not backward. In the video, Amber Tamblyn plays a delusional Hollywood B-lister, but “Hungry” reminds me more of a line from Tamblyn’s biting 2015 book of poetry: “I was his dark sparkler. A tarantula on fire / An innocent with apple juice eyes and a brain / full of famished birds.” Barber-Way motivates by purging weakness and ugliness, and here she gets you pogoing and flailing over the fuckery that comes from clawing for success. Just be sure not to knock off your Anglepoise lamp, yeah!

J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, “Old Kanye (Remix)” feat. Kanye West and Stige

Plenty of studio pros have jumped in to remix the meta-witty, Chappelle’s Show a cappella skit “I Love Kanye” from The Life of Pablo (including DJ Premier). But this expansion by journeymen Florida production trio J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League is the most legit by far. Adding an infectious, they-don’t-fuck-with-me-no-more chorus (by a heavily Auto-Tuned dude named Stige) and a wistful, arena-synth twinkle, they clearly sympathize with the Kanye who faces critics trying to diagnose him as bipolar or borderline when maybe he has just created so many personas and styles that it’s too hard to keep up with his evolution (or maybe he’s just watched Zoolander 2 so many times he’s groggy). The song fades to news accounts of the album controversy and President Obama talking about then–Senator Obama meeting Old Kanye — context! Not saying this’d be the best song off Pablo (that’s “Ultralight Beam”), but it might be the second.

Zora Jones, “Ruby Fifths”

Ever since being blown out by the late footwork don DJ Rashad at a party in 2010 — afterward, he gave the young fan a folder of in-progress tracks — Austrian-born, Barcelona-based producer/DJ/animator Zora Jones has been on a mission to craft her own frenetic sound collage from scraps of footwork, grime, and hip-hop. In “Ruby Fifths,” treble and bass provoke each other, firing flurries back and forth across the groove until the frame distorts and the synth trills ricochet off the brutish tom-tom and bass with more haunting, erratic, palpitating drama. But the most thrilling action comes from Jones’s deployment of Chicago vocalist Heavee (from Rashad’s Teklife crew), whose booming interjections are sampled and cut up to add dissonant force and dark color like a stark, abstracted painting of a street fight, the punches pulled apart and never quite connecting. Jones also gives the track a spectacular, digitally rippling representation on Fractal Fantasy, the audiovisual platform she runs with Canadian producer Sinjin Hawke.

Azealia Banks, “The Big Big Beat”

Perhaps no musician, even Kanye, has lived out (and constantly revised) her career more in public (and on social media) than Harlem dervish Azealia Banks. Whether as provocateur, self-saboteur, or harsh truth-teller, she’s lost fans like house keys over the past several years, but then finds them again with rumbling, run-you-over-in-the-street whirlwinds of advanced dance brilliance like “The Big Big Beat.” No matter how much I love footwork or grime or dembow (gracias, Dr. Julianne Escobedo Shepherd!), every time Banks lights a fire under a young producer — this time it’s 23-year-old, Cali-based An Expresso — it sounds like a future where I wanna wiggle forever. Here, she just kinda cruises in the pocket before crooning the lovely, cloudburst chorus that glows like a grassy meadow in spring.