Thursday 1 October 2015

Duke Dumont @ Koko

Duke Dumont @ Koko

When is a dance act actually a pop act?

No, this isn’t a joke in need of a punch line. Looking at the charts today, it’s a legitimate question. Dance music is having something of a renaissance at the moment, with the likes of Calvin Harris, Sigala, Sigma, Kygo, Disclosure and Duke Dumont all hitting the charts. Yet when dance music is aimed squarely at mainstream pop audiences rather than rising from underground club scenes, is it really dance music in the same way? Or is chart-friendly EDM becoming a genre in itself?

It’s a debate that Duke Dumont is in the centre of. Back in 2013 he hit the top of the charts with breakthrough hit Need U (100%) featuring A*M*E, and followed it up last year with another number one (I Got U) and a number two (Won’t Look Back). Current single Ocean Drive is sure to follow suit. There’s no doubt these tracks sound like dance music, but they’re also pop bangers geared towards mainstream tastes. The British producer’s style merges 90s house, deep house and tropical house – basically everything that’s popular in dance music at the moment – into short, easy to swallow three minute packages. It’s vibrant, colourful and bass-driven, with heavy beat drops, vocal samples and catchy hooks. Essentially, it’s pop music.

Yet, at this one-off gig in Camden’s Koko, it seemed he was trying to distance himself from his pop breakthrough. Spunking his load far too early, he opened his set with Won’t Look Back followed by Need U (100%) – his two best songs – before settling into a dance set of space-age synths, bleeps, bloops and monotonous beats. Perhaps he’s craving credibility as a dance artist, but this extended dip in his set lost momentum and only served to highlight the pop power of his hits, a fact cemented by his final three tracks: a remix of Haim’s Falling, followed by his other two singles. Of course, he’s yet to release a full album, but if it follows the sounds of this gig it could well end up a mixed bag.

There’s a further issue in this debate though: when is a gig actually a club night? Dumont’s performance was essentially fist-pumping from behind a set of decks before a backdrop of psychedelic visuals and some great lasers and lighting. But does this really constitute a gig? For much of the middle portion of the night, his set was essentially background music to the dancing, drinking and conversations of the crowd, that incessant pumping fist his only interaction. The lack of featured singers not only accentuated a lack of “live” elements, but also a lack of personality. Who is Duke Dumont? After this gig, we still don’t know.

All this isn’t to belittle either genre. There is great skill in mixing and DJing; likewise it takes talent to write a pop hook. Duke Dumont seems to have both – few songs have the power to whip up a crowd like Need U (100%) – but here he operates in neutral middle ground. Dance fans will scorn his courting of mainstream tastes; pop fans will tire of the lack of personality. If Duke Dumont can favour both sides, he could be on to a winner, but that time is still yet to come.


Listen: Current single Ocean Drive is available now.