Alright, let me just get this out of the way: I don’t like dance music — not at all. My tolerance for BPMs and glow sticks extends no further than the circumstance of a pill of ecstasy. Boards of Canada and Manitoba get props, but my sympathy ends there. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m morally opposed to the actual act of dancing, though it’s certainly not something I do often, or that I don’t understand the connective power a deejay can have with a hyped and sweat-drenched audience.
Maybe it’s this appreciation, then, that makes writing the following line possible: DFA Compilation #2 is a fucking awesome dance record. Or maybe it’s simply that James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, the NYC-based production duo responsible for their label’s trenchant mix of post-punk and funk, do all the things most dance music (or danceable music) does not, most important of which is to show that intelligent, thoughtful song-craft and party music are not mutually exclusive.
Take, for example, “Alabama Sunshine,” a track featuring DFA’s most famous alum, the Rapture, a band that honed its sound with Murphy and Goldsworthy. As a B-side from their 2003 Universal debut, Echoes, the track’s genre-bending danceability is, ironically, a perfect illustration of what the quartet’s former label does best. Dub bass and gravel-dirty guitar ride backseat to a driving house beat, a funk-punk mix further complicated by the doo-wop pop harmonies that characterize the interludes. For those familiar with the Rapture, such hybridity is nothing new, but the track’s fearless scavenger hunt through the last twenty-five years of pop history is what makes DFA’s acts so much fun to listen to and what has made the label such a ubiquitous presence in New York’s hipster party scene.
Though much of the rest of the three-disc set of released or soon-to-be released tracks (the last of which features a real-time Goldsworthy mix of the comp’s highlights) displays a more traditional dance aesthetic, the production duo’s dedication to putting a literate face on booty-shaking continues. Standout track “Bellhead” by long-time DFA heroes Liquid Liquid spans a relentlessly jubilant five minutes that ditches dance’s digital fetish for almost entirely acoustic percussive instrumentation. And on the irresistible down-to-earth funk of LCD Soundsystem’s “Yeah,” a James Murphy solo project, you can practically hear those Williamsburg indie kids trying on their dancing shoes for the first time at the latest DFA bash.
Sometime between punk’s anti-disco sneer and indie’s pre-new-millennium ascendance, it became distinctly un-cool to bust moves. With a few rare exceptions, pop music that made you think was not music that made you dance. Labels like DFA have done much to change that. Compilation #2 deftly uncovers the hidden link, always present in once-forgotten post-punk legends like Can and Public Image Ltd., between punk’s thrash and funk’s groove — a connection that has helped bands like Franz Ferdinand sell millions of records and helped me get over an unfortunate cultural prejudice.