My musical taste is changing

When I first started dancing some nine years ago in the East Midlands, the classes and freestyles I attended played a lot of what I’ll loosely call Classic tracks.  Most were what we term main room sounds – the up-tempo tracks that are the easiest for beginners and less experienced dancers to connect with.  There were always contemporary tracks mixed in, usually those from the charts, but the Classics and older tracks held sway.  I had no problem with this and when I started my blog I even became an advocate for more Motown tracks to be included in DJ’s sets.

To this day I consider Edwin Starr’s ‘SOS (Stop her on sight)’ to be one of the greatest dance tracks ever

During my early years, I had very little exposure to slow and bluesy music, so that when I eventually made my first visit to the Ceroc Southport Weekender, I watched in awe as people danced to the slower more contemporary vibes in what is now called The SILC Zone.  While I didn’t have the moves for these tracks, I loved them and I was determined to, one day, be able to dance to them.

I still love main room dancing

It took a long time, but I eventually got there.  While I now love dancing to so-called chill-out music, I still love main room dancing.  At Southport, I still spend most of my time in The main Thunderball Room, but what I love is hearing the latest contemporary sounds and modern remixes that keeps the music fresh and exciting.

When the DJ sets the floor on fire with a run of classic tracks like Dan Hartman’s ’70s hit Instant replay followed by Lionel Richie’s ’80s monster Dancing on the ceiling I still feel the building excitement out on the floor.  Follow it with Safri Duo’s club anthem  Played alive (The bongo song) and I’ll burn the floor up and I’ll walk off at the end knowing that I visited Dance Heaven.

I now feel the same excitement when a DJ starts his run of tracks with Duke Dumont’s I got you, with its pounding bass.  When the DJ hits the play button on Robin Schulz’s Shed a light, with its great crescendo of synthesised instrumentation, I feel the building vibe like everyone else.  Follow it with The Dimitri from Paris remix of DJ Cassidy’s Kill the lights with its driving beat and Niles Rodgers hypnotic guitar lick and I’m on the way.  When Jess Glynne hits the first note of the chorus I’m in Dance Heaven along with everyone else.

More contemporary music than I imagined

What is great about this wonderful dance scene is that we have a choice, and many people chose their venue based on its music offering.  I know packed out well-loved venues in The East Midlands that seem to resist the wave of contemporary music out there.  You pay your money you make your choice – that’s how it should be.  With this in mind, I was interested to see how the DJs would play it at the World Modern Jive Championships.

I suspected that for the competition categories themselves the music would be more contemporary, and so it proved.

What I was interested to see was how the DJs would play it at the Friday and Saturday Night freestyles and the Sunday afternoon Tea Dance.  The answer was a lot more contemporary music than I had imagined.  The reason was down to the DJ team of Pete Flood, Kane Jenner and Matt Cox.  I’d come across Kane when he rocked the main room at The Warmwell Weekender in November with a fabulous set of mainly contemporary tracks, and I’d enjoyed a sublime afternoon dancing to Matt Cox’s chill-out vibes at his Serene Tea Dance near Maidenhead.

The diversity of Contemporary Dance Music

In this latest Modern Jive Dancer compilation, I’ve included 12 Tracks that I think give a flavour of the music on offer at Blackpool but also show the diversity of the contemporary music that DJs everywhere are serving up for us in 2019.  I’ve listed the tracks in the order they were played, starting with examples from Kane Jenner and Matt Cox’s Friday night freestyle sets. I then include four tracks from the competitions themselves.  Next, come two tracks from Matt Cox’s Saturday late night freestyle set.  We then hear two more tracks from Matt as he DJed the Tea Dance set on Sunday afternoon.

All the tracks are from the past five years.  I’ve deliberately not featured the current must-play tracks that everyone knows like Calvin Harris collaboration with Rag ‘n’ Bone Man Giant, or Sam Smith and Normani’s delicious Dancing with a Stranger.  Many of the tracks I feature will be well known, but I’m pleased to say that several were completely new to me.  It just shows you how much of this modern dance music there is out there, and the lengths that the DJs go to bring it to us.

1:  Seve – Tez Cadey (2015)

This mainly instrumental track by French record producer Tez Cadey, has been around for a few years, but I can’t remember becoming aware of it until DJ Debbie Attwood used it to start building the vibe at Colossus in January.  Kane Jenner would use it to the same great effect as he started to build the atmosphere out on the floor.

The track has a Tropical House vibe that runs through so much modern dance music – listen to the catchy synthesised pan-pipes so typical of this genre.

But what makes this track so wonderful to dance to is the different instrumental stages it goes through.  They are so catchy, you can’t fail to connect with them.  One of the best is the Niles Rodgers-esque guitar lick after the first pan-pipes interlude.  It was as I danced to this track that I realised just how good the sound system at Blackpool is, as the solid bass line pumped up the vibe with no distortion.

2: Call on me (Ryan Riback Remix) – Starley (2017)

Kane, aided by the fabulous sound system, was creating a vibe that reminded me of the Thunderball Room at Southport with tracks like Freischwimmer’s contemporary reworking of the Mama & Papas ’60s classic California Dreamin’, and this remix of Starley’s Call on me.  The original of this track is a gentle ballad accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar.  I doubt if even the chill-out DJs would pick up on it.  But when it was remixed by Australian producer Ryan Riback it went platinum all over the world.

The result is a dance track typical of so many contemporary hi-energy tracks in the way that it builds to a crescendo at different stages of the song.

Modern remixing not only helps create great dance tracks out of songs that would go unnoticed but it is also giving new life to classics from other decades.  I’m currently having exciting new versions of James Brown and Marvin Gaye ’70s tracks brought to my attention.

3: Polaroid – Jonas Blue featuring Liam Payne and Lennon Stella (2018)

I got to have a quick chat with Kane while he was doing his stuff on the decks.  He told me that it was his fourth year DJing The World Champs and feeling the buzz out on the dance floor, you can see why organiser John Armstrong Holmes has so much faith in him.  Chatting with Kane I easily sensed his enthusiasm for contemporary dance music and a belief that it is loved by people of all ages.  Couldn’t agree more Kane.

Towards the end of his set, Kane played what is my current favourite contemporary main room track.

I love it so much I feel compelled to request it everywhere I go (not that I had to ask Kane to play it) and it’s easy to see why.  Polaroid can hardly be described as a hi-energy track, but I think it has the perfect beat for a Modern Jive main room.  It’s so catchy, with some beautiful modern instrumentation and more importantly, it’s easy going but solid beat is so easy to connect with.  So guys keep the moves simple and concentrate on making them as smooth as possible for your partner, and enjoy a joyous dance.

4: Like Sugar (Extended mix) – Chaka Khan (2018)

At Midnight Kane handed over to Matt Cox for the final hour.  As I mentioned above I’d had the pleasure of dancing to Matt’s fabulous music at his Serene Sunday Tea Dance.  This had been a mix of very contemporary chill-out music.  While Matt had varied the beat from slow bluesy and even slower expressive to mid-tempo funk-infused floor fillers, it gave me little idea of his main room DJing credentials.

I needn’t have worried as he pitched his mix perfectly for the last hour of a freestyle.

He gradually took the pace down from Kane’s up-tempo vibe and skillfully kept the floor filled right to the very last track.  One of the genres he used really well was contemporary funk, and he started out with one from 2018 by a dance music legend from the ’80s – Chaka Khan.  This fabulous track, straight out of Funk Central, is getting a lot of plays now, but this was the first time I’d heard it.  Listen out for the sample of The Fatback Band’s Are you ready to do the bus stop which gives the track added funkability.

A little later Matt would play my Record of The Weekend.  Again it had just the right vibe for the last hour.  So good was this 2015 track, that I was on the stage asking Matt what it was.  He would play it again on Saturday night (where I’ll feature it) and I found myself back on the stage asking what it was again.  That’s how good it is was.  First though, here is Chaka Khan.

The Competition Soundtrack

On Saturday the Competition started in earnest.  Kane was joined on the decks by Head DJ Pete Flood.  These two now worked tirelessly across the whole day and into the evening providing the soundtrack for the dancers in their heats and finals.

Both Pete and Kane must have put in hours of preparation because their playlist had to be suited to so many different styles of dancing and ability levels.

They had to provide music for Competition First Timers and, at the other end of the scale, had to find tracks that challenged the very best dancers in the country.  I had wondered what genres they would draw from.  It’s fair to say that there was more modern music.  That didn’t surprise me, as I’ll dare to suggest that the more serious dancers amongst us have a preference for contemporary music in all its forms.

I’ve featured four tracks from the competitions themselves but sadly my note-taking didn’t cover what category they were used for, except for the last track. 

Kane Jenner and Pete Flood provide the Competition soundtrack

5: Better (no clues remix) – Khalid (2019)

This track is so new it is still in short pants.  Released only weeks before the Champs it shows just how on top of the new releases Pete and Kane were as they put together their playlist.  Khalid is one of the modern R&B artists that Chill-out DJs turn to for up to date tracks, ever since he broke through with Location.

This new track has a contemporary beat that connects with the funk function in your dance brain.

The fact that contemporary tracks like Better give you and your partner opportunities to express your musicality is one of the appeals of this genre of music, and a reason I suspect why it was chosen as a competition track.  Of course, Khalid’s music is not for everyone but I’m sure that as new dancers watched on from the sidelines many will have been inspired to learn the new moves and techniques that these tracks require.

6: Call your name – A.M.T. (2016)

Chill-out DJs love contemporary music, but it’s the lifeblood of our very best main room DJs too.  I’ve chosen to feature this track because I’d never danced to it before and I’m a great believer that if this wonderful dance scene is to remain vibrant it has to keep surprising us with fresh new sounds while offering something to a younger cohort of dancers:

This track has youth stamped all over it.

Call your name is packed with modern production techniques and has that feature that I’m always writing about – the way it builds from a gentle vibe into a crescendo that takes you with it.  Dancing is a channel for escapism and losing yourself in the music at that point when the bass drops is, for many of us, a mark of a great dance track.

7: Sex – Cheat Codes & Kris Kross Amsterdam (2016)

Sex is built around the chorus of the 1991 single Let’s talk about sex by Salt-n-Pepper, but American record producers Cheat Codes and Dutch DJs Kris Kross Amsterdam add in a whole host of contemporary electronic production techniques to great effect.  Just listen how they all kick in when the bass drops at 1 minute in the video.

I don’t believe any serious dancer can fail to connect with this track’s modern instrumentation.

This track also has changes of tempo and mood.  Add in some wonderful breaks before the bass drops and this track is a great example of what modern dance music is all about.  Just great that Pete and Kane were able to find a place for this contemporary gem in the competitions.

8: Gravity Leo Stannard & Frances (2017)

Gravity has become a standard for Chill-out DJs and I heard it at many of the stops on my Tea Dance Tour.  It’s a wonderful piece of chill-out music with two distinct musical moods.  The first is the verse where the vocals are accompanied by low key instrumentation.  But there are other much stronger passages where the instrumentation comes to the fore and you feel a need to add a little more energy to your dancing.

This contrasting musical structure makes it an ideal competition track

Instead of embedding the music video I’ve featured the recording of the dance itself in the Champs.  The category was Pro-Am advanced.  The couple closest to the camera is dance teacher and Champs DJ Matt Cox and his amateur partner Maryanna.  Matt is a well-respected teacher of smooth slotted dancing, and he and Maryanna show just how well this style of dancing is suited to this very contemporary track.

The track for the second dance  is Undress rehearsal by Timeflies

9: Omen – Disclosure, featuring Sam Smith (2015)

Pete and Kane also provided the musical background to the medal ceremony.  That was some shift, so when the last winners had been called to the stage they handed over to Matt Cox for the final three hours.

It wasn’t long before Matt played the track that had me running on to the stage for the second time in two nights.

So what was it about this track that had me writing AWESOME in my notebook?  It was the funk-infused bass, or rather the synthesised electronic pulse that lit up all the right buttons in my dance brain.  To steal a line from Meghan Trainor – It’s all about the bass.  Let me try and explain.

Think back to all those Motown classics that still find their way on to Modern Jive DJs playlists.  Tracks like The Temptations Get Ready or The Isley Brothers This old heart of mine.  These tracks were driven along by two key members of The Funk Brothers, the Motown Studio Band.  They were Benny Benjamin who drummed his way through many of Motown’s greatest hits and James Jameson who created some of the greatest bass lines ever (think, the intro to The Temptations My Girl for a start).

With the death of Disco in the ’80s, a new type of dance music emerged called House.

This so-called House Music (named after the music played at The Warehouse Club in Chicago) saw the introduction of electronic sound effects, and sampling that made many studio musicians redundant.   Now listen to the electronic pulse that gives Omen its irresistible funk-infused beat.  It is a great example of how House Music has evolved to be the driving force of contemporary dance music.

As I said in my introduction I’m a great fan of Motown and ’70s Disco.  Bassist James Jamerson, along with Niles Rodgers is a Dance Music God, but we need to move on, and I for one am happy for my dance brain to get its bass fix from a new and more contemporary vibe like the electronic pulse of Disclosure’s Omen.

10: Money – Leikeli (2016)

Just like Friday night Matt introduced more and more modern chill-out classics like HAEVN’s Bright lights as the night entered the early hours, but I want to feature another funk-infused track from Matt’s playlist.  I heard Leikeli’s Money several times on my Tea Dance Tour and its a great example of the way modern record producers still manages to keep our interest with their creativity.

The first time I heard this track I described it as being ‘Straight out of Funk Central’.

It is, but it’s more than a great funk offering, for it has something else.  That something else is attitude and one that will resonate with younger dancers.  I’ve said it many times that this dance scene has to attract young people if it is to sustain itself.  Young people can still appreciate the joy in Motown and Disco dance tracks, but they want their own music too.   That’s why we have to embrace contemporary music at all our venues.

11: Freedom – Guts (2014)

On the Sunday Matt Cox got another chance to take to the stage as he span the tracks for The Tea Dance.  Surprisingly the floor was almost as packed as it was on the Friday and Saturday night, and it must have been great for Matt to look down from the stage and see the dancers loving another dose of his wonderful music.  I got to chat with him about his experience DJing at The World Champs.  He told me this:

I’ve DJed at some amazing events Paul, but I’ve never had a gig like this.

In my first article about The World Championship (see link below) I spoke about how special it was for someone like me to dance in this iconic dance hall.  I now see that it must be the same for the likes of Pete, Kane and Matt to provide the music for us all, as we experienced the joy of dancing where so many famous names had gone before.

Once again Matt put together a mix of mainly contemporary chill-out tracks for our dancing pleasure.  Here’s one that stood out for me.  Freedom is a mellow mix of reggae and funk.  Now I’m a sucker for a funk-infused beat, but this is something special.  The reggae feel takes this funk fix to a new level and I was lucky to get a partner who connected with the joyous vibe in equal measure, and it gave me one of the best dances of the afternoon.  Nice one Matt.

12: Delicate – Taylor Swift (2018)

As with any Tea Dance, Matt mixed in some chill-out classics.  I asked him for three of his own favourites from that afternoon.  He listed two that I have on my own favourites list – Charlie Puth’s River and Ed Sheeran’s Bloodstream, but I’ve chosen his third choice to feature as it’s new to me and it’s so delicious.  Actually, I’m surprised that I’ve not heard it as, like all Swift’s releases, it’s achieved great success and has had a third of a billion hits on YouTube.
I must have danced to it, but it’s just not registered.  Again I’m surprised because it’s everything you want from a chill-out track.
But this is the wonderful thing about much contemporary music.  You see, there will always be something new.  Something we dance to for the first time.  It might take a few listens, but eventually, we’ll have that enlightened moment when the track connects with your dance brain.  You can not beat that experience.
I don’t want to knock the classic older tracks.  Their familiarity has it’s advantages and you can’t beat dancing to a track you love.

It helps when you know every note of these well-loved classics, and when the changes of pace and breaks are coming.  I mentioned in my introduction the club anthem The Bongo song.  I know every passage of that track.  I know when it slows down and the exact moment it explodes back into life.  My familiarity with this track has given me some wonderful main room dances.

But I’ve also loved listening to Taylor Swifts Delicate on repeat through my headphones, as I’ve written this section.  I feel I want to request it the next time I’m at a chill-out venue.  That is the excitement that new music can generate, and I wish it for all of us.

Make a pilgrimage to The Tower Ballroom

The contemporary flavour of Blackpool’s music was a surprise for me, but as I’ve written about each of my twelve featured tracks, I’ve convinced myself that there is a case for hoping that we get to dance to more of it.  However, I acknowledge that everyone has their own personal preferences when it comes to music, and it’s important that we are offered a choice.  It would be wrong if every venue dominated its playlist with contemporary tracks.

I’m lucky in that I get a chance to travel around and I can mix up the music I dance to, but I know that many people don’t have that choice locally.  So if you like the idea of being introduced to some great contemporary music, it’s a reason to make the pilgrimage to The Tower Ballroom next March.  You’ll get to dance to many of your favourite tracks, but I guarantee you’ll also be served up the very best of the latest contemporary sounds.

Related Links

Read my review of  The World Modern Jive Championships at The Tower Ballroom.

12 Chill-out Contemporary Tracks

Listen uninterrupted on Spotify