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Publication: Sunday Times Style, June 2005

Disco Makeovers: how recycled Eighties pop make dance music fun again

Who says dance music is dead? Not only is it alive and thriving, but the charts are awash with a new strain of gloriously superficial ‘makeover music’ with a deep affection for the worst of Eighties pop and soft rock. It is fun. It is now. It easy to make, dance to and dispose of. Hurrah!

Who says dance music is dead? Not only is it alive and thriving, but the charts are awash with a new strain of gloriously superficial ‘makeover music’ with a deep affection for the worst of Eighties pop and soft rock. It is fun. It is now. It easy to make, dance to and dispose of. Hurrah!

As Brian Eno predicted, pop will eat itself – and it is now going back for seconds. In March not one but two updated versions of Boy Meets Girl’s saccharine 1988 smash ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ handbagged their way to the smarter end of the Top 40. Last year Swedish DJ Eric Prydz scored a UK No. 1 with ‘Call On Me’, a record of fabulously minimal genius that looped the chorus line from Steve Winwood’s 1982 ‘Valerie’ 31 times on the trot, ensuring even the most addled clubber could remember the words and caterwaul along.

Following years of pseudo-intellectualism and laddy bravura, dance music has violently reverted to type and a new generation of producers have embraced the over-emoted Eighties as if the past 15 years in music just didn’t happen. They plunder ‘Now That’s What I Call Loft-Style Docklands Apartment Classics’ vols 1-23 and are producing ruthlessly efficient and relentlessly euphoric dance tracks for a generation who can barely recall their first Filofax. This is Ikea dance music formulated specifically for your inner Sharon with absolutely no regard the diktats of the cool issued by the NME.

‘I Love this stuff,’ says pop producer Pete Waterman. ‘Dance music to me should be Sharon and Tracy music – it belongs to everybody. You hear that Eric Prydz record and go, “I wish I’d made that”. I’ve got nothing against the Chemical Brothers, but sometime it can be too introverted for me. If you got down the pub and tap your foot to a song, that’s what it should be about.’

Hardly a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the superclub generation, ‘Call On Me’ is nevertheless Rachmaninov next to 2005’s likely summer hit. Mylo’s ‘In My Arms’, a steroidal remake of Kim Carne’s 1981 erection-section slowie ‘Betty David Eyes’, is likely to pirouette all the way to the top spot like Leroy from Fame.

That is, of course, if Max Graham’s remake of Yes’s 1982 anthem ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart, released on May 5, doesn’t get there first. Or that The Freeloaders ‘I’ve Got So Much Love To Give’ – which reprises an obscure Eighties production by Liverpool funk dudes The Real Thing – doesn’t do likewise. It could alternatively be Cool Collective’s spruced-up disco version of Foreigner’s ‘I’ve Been Waiting for A Girl Like You’.

Eiether way, dance music is now reflecting what fashionistas have known for ages: the Eighties were fun. Much more fun than the austere Nineties and the Coldplay Noughts.

‘Everything in music is cyclical,’ says Mixmag’s Ralph Moore. ‘For the people making these track the Eighties are what they grew up with. Lots of people don’t know they original, so record companies can flog them back to a new audience’.

‘It also shows that people are still buying into dance music, and dance music is about having fun. The Eric Prydz record opened the door for these of big, European stompers, and there will always be a market for plinky-plonkiness.’

With unabashed plinky-plonkiness in the place of pretention and seriousness, the new vogue for makeover music also leads to a further conclusion: anyone can now make a number one record, given a few rudimentary guidelines. ‘Technology makes it easy now,’ says Ralph Moore. ‘Any catchy Eighties record you think of, you can run with it.’

Follow the rules below to become the next Daft Punk.

1. Choose a track to makeover
Google ‘Eighties pop nostalgia’ and select the song with the most memorable and nagging chorus. ‘The real trick to this to be clever,’ Peter Waterman says. ‘Clubbers will only except a cool chorus.’ If it keeps you awake at night, you’re onto something. The success of your track relies on music fans with a lingering memory of the original. As the wheel of nostalgia turns, it’s a safe bet mid- to late-Eighties tracks will be next for the disco makeover.

2. Going for a song - classic tunes ready for a disco makeover:
Jermaine Stewart – We Don’t Have To… (1986)
Tiffany - I Think We’re Alone Now (1988)
Kiss - Crazy Crazy Nights (1987)
Five Star - System Addict (1985)
Fleetwood Mac - Family Man (1988)
Starship - Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now (1987)
Irene Cara - Flashdance (What A Feeling) (1983)
Van Halen – Jump (1984)
Belinda Carlisle' - Heaven On Earth (1987)

3. Remove everything except the chorus
Diminished attention-span clubbers have no time for the sophisticated, emotional choruses: they get plenty of that from Dido or Keane. Use only the most memorable hookline in the song. In 1999 Norman ‘Fatboy Slim’ Cook outlined his approach to songwriting thus: ‘Chorus and a groove - don't bother writing the verse.’ Norman has had four No. 1 records and is very rich.

4. To sample or re-vocal?
When Eric Prydz approached Steve Winwood to clear the vocal copyright for ‘Call On Me’, the crumbly rocker insisted on singing it afresh. Bear in mind the major beneficiary of royalties will be the owner of the publishing copyright. So choose wisely – you are doing them a favour.

5. Loop and add a disco beat
Enlist your younger brother to help with the technological trickery. Remember that Dizzee Rascal wrote his debut single, ‘I Luv U’ on a school PC in half an hour.

6. Think of name for yourself
Choose a phrase suggesting audacity and cheek, and add a Eighties twist, eg: Pillage People, Crook Shields or Margaret Snatcher.

7. Sell your soul
Ignore credible indies and sign to a record company with a strong commercial instinct such as Ministry of Sound and All Around The World.

8. Make a Video
Theme should mirror the track’s shallowness, preferably featuring girls in leotards - Eric Prydz’s workout video ensured major MTV rotation. Other themes could be ‘Fame’, ‘Flashdance’, yuppies, ‘Dynasty’, Sloane Rangers or the Falklands war.

9. Release
Sit back and watch the royalties roll in. Congratulations: you are the new Daft Punk!

© Kevin Braddock


All content ©2004 Kevin Braddock

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