Electro Swing is the thing

Rave’s refusal to die must rank as one of the great imponderables of our time. We, the rave generation, are now in our forties, our children are growing up fast, and yet still the beat goes on. And on. And on.

Hippiedom lasted a good ten years before being ritually put to death by punk. Punk, in its turn, drowned in a pool of its own bile, until rave bounded along like a puppy with its infectious doof doof, had us all bouncing in baggy trousers and dayglo t-shirts, gurning to the rising sun. As a rule of thumb youth movements last about ten years before the next generation finds a new way of pissing off their immediate elders. But if rave began in 1987 (give or take) then it was still going strong in 1997 and again in 2007. It looks set fair to be with us in 2017.

This remarkable longevity must have something to do with its Dr Who-like powers of regeneration. Detroit techno became British acid house, which morphed into jungle, drum and bass, gabba, hardcore, happy, handbag, progressive, dubstep, hubcap, Pugh, Pugh, Barney Mcgrew and a million other genres, separated by a hair’s breadth, gone as quick as the flightiest will-o-the-wisp. But with its latest manifestation, electro swing – 20s and 30s jazz and swing, cut up to a skip dap diddly doo wap beat that is simply the cat’s meow – all pretensions that this was ever a spiritual movement have now evaporated once and for all.

Rave’s most pernicious and ghastly manifestation, its Sylvester McCoy moment (to continue the Doctor Who theme), was surely goa trance. Never has there been a musical genre so overwrought, so pregnant with over-signification and self-satisfaction. Each squiggling synth line, cosmic drone and Indian vocal sample mawkishly proclaimed that gap year shenanigans on a tropical beach somehow added up to a karma-cleansing direct line to nirvana. Goa trance is about as tantric as a grope in a hot tub. Electro swing is refreshingly honest about its hedonism. It is good, old fashioned, head down party music, a divinely decadent mashed up mash up.

But apart from loving this new/old music (I dare you to try keeping still, go on, just try), I think this deliberate harking back to time when music, dancing, sex and drugs combined into a subculture of forbidden pleasures (didn’t the 1920s give us the word ‘rave’ in the first place?) tells us something about rave’s longevity. Swing, jazz, speakeasies, burlesque, illicit moonshine: they were all the product of prohibition, the mother of all ill-conceived, self-defeating drug policies. The harder the authorities clamped down on alcohol, the harder people partied. The logic of prohibition still obtains today: what is the entire global rave-festival scene if not its creation?

Any thinking person knows that the way to reduce the harm that drugs cause (however much you or I might use them sensibly) is to abolish prohibition. I like to think that intelligent life can still be found amongst the political classes, in which case perhaps the present situation suits them rather well. If the masses spend the weekends of a long, hot summer, kettled into festival sites, partying towards the edge of oblivion, then sure as hell they won’t be marching on the streets, burning banks or throwing well-aimed bricks at the offices of BP.

Perhaps the recession, austerity culture and the return of the Daleks, sorry the Tories, will foment a new radicalism, but in the meantime I'd be lying if I said that electro swing wasn't such awfully good fun. A snifter? Don't mind if I do. Crank up the gramophone Jeeves!


  1. Electro Swing really was the thing at SGP! A new discovery - I was vaguely aware of a couple of tracks, then suddenly there's this festival with it everywhere and people playing entire sets of it... Agreed with your most of your comments, although I would put in a line of defence for Goa trance. For me Goa was a bit like Led Zeppelin - megalomaniac, operatic: brilliant at best and awful in the moments of self-indulgence. I think today's psy-trance is the heavy metal of electronica descended from Goa, much like metal was grand-sired by mssrs Page, Plant et al...

    The thing I find fascinating about electro swing and the strata of hedonism and culture at play at SGP, is this whole English tradition. Pass the gramophone Jeeves and give us a snifter, as you say - I had a clearest sense I've ever had walking around SGP of the fusion of lineages, between English aristocratic debauchery and 21st-century psychedelia - summed up very neatly and precisely in the sound of electro swing, a perfect balance. Not very spiritual though...

  2. Love the comparison of Goa with Led Zep! Yes yes, totally agree.

  3. Hello,

    Just wanted you to know that there is a new SF based monthly Electro-Swing event called Gaslight that takes place every second Saturday at Medici Lounge. We also play a lot of classic Cabaret, Chanson, Chamber-Pop, Ragtime, and other Vintage beats.


    My co-DJ Aaron Delachaux has been spinning this music for years, but it's brand new to me! So I'm eating it all up, and just can't get enough!!

    Josh (DJ FACT.50)



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