Just like its 90’s forbearer ‘Rap-Rock’, ‘Dance Punk’ was a genre that always seemed too good to be true. The term was bandied around a lot during the first few years of the Noughties, and whilst a lot of artists were grouped together under the term, the genre never really reached its full potential and sounded as good as the platonic ideal you imagine when hearing the phrase ‘Dance Punk’. The gap was just never fully breached on either side of the divide- most rock bands associated with the term simply tacked disco basslines and hi-hats onto their formulaic Indie songs, whilst dance producers used it as an excuse to add weak guitar lines to their plodding, indulgent electronica tracks. Even James Murphy, the scene’s godfather, was more interested in the pre-punk primordial ooze of Bowie, Television and Talking Heads than anything approaching conventional Punk Rock.
Death From Above 1979 though, seemed to be the only band in the scene that really, truly ‘got’ it. Doing what all the great punks and DJ’s did before them, DFA stripped their music of all pretension and boiled it down to its most primal elements- drums, bass, the occasional synth for a bit of colour and a barnstorming rock n’ roll attitude. Their one and only LP, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine is a modern classic because it manages to do so much with so little; utilizing nothing but thundering drums and a bass so loud and distorted it doubles as at least 3 other instruments, DFA effortlessly merges together all the best parts of hardcore, metal, DnB and house into a slick, sexy package that single-handedly justified dance-punks existence and provided a literal dictionary of riffs for a generation of bass players.
With their sudden re-emergence back onto the scene with recent single “Trainwreck 1979” and the announcement of a one-off show in Manchester this October, there’s never been a better time to re-listen to DFA’s slim but legendary catalogue. Here are five of their best tracks to whet your appetite.
5.Turn It Out
First track off the album and there’s really no better introduction to DFA’s sound than this, a pounding, riff-heavy monster that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you into the mosh pit. Listening with fresh ears, it’s easy to hear draw comparisons with latter-day EDM with the squealing bass drop and huge distorted riff.
You’re a Woman opens with the band at their most manic, so it’s only fitting that the album closes with them at their slowest and grooviest. Anchored by a sexy, plodding riff it lays on the swarthy charm thick and fast – breathy French female vocals, a pretty blunt statement in the chorus (“My friend wants to take you out then home, alone”) and tacky porno synths and cowbells on the way out. It’s not the filthiest track on the album but it’s damn close.
3. My Love Is Shared
A deep cut from their debut EP Heads Up, this showcases the band channelling Metallica’s Cliff Burton in a fierce way, throwing wall after wall of riffs at the listener at a breakneck pace. A thrash track to rival any other, this is the band at their most metal.
4. Romantic Rights
The band’s breakthrough hit, ‘Romantic Rights’ is pretty much the definitive DFA song, and a perfect example of the band’s ability to turn heavy metal riffing & screeched vocal into a slick dancefloor number. Full of hooks, pounding drums and a killer breakdown, it’s almost as if the term ‘Dance Punk’ was coined specifically to describe this track.
Rather than simply post the album track (c’mon, it’s not hard to find), instead here’s an awesomely chaotic live performance (sadly removed from YouTube) of the band on Conan in which drummer/vocalist Sebastien ditches his kit halfway through and almost misses his cue until they’re bailed out by…outside assistance.
5. Trainwreck 1979
Despite reforming in 2011, it’s been ten years since we heard anything new from Death From Above, until out of nowhere a new single and album announcement dropped into our laps last week. The riffs are tighter, the vocals are sharper and there’s an extra level of polish in the production, but by-god it’s them alright. Trainwreck is everything you could have wanted from a comeback single from these guys, and they delivered with aplomb.
Bonus Tracks & Miscellany
Luno (Bloc Party Cover)
Aside from a half-baked remix album, there really isn’t much in the way of supplemental material from DFA. This cover of Bloc Party’s “Luno” though, from their Silent Alarm Remixed album stands head and shoulders above the other tracks on the project, transforming the slightly precious original into a squealing, heavy bass monster.
Sexy Results (MSTRKRFT Remix)
Though the band disbanded in 2006, by then the roots of their influence had already started to infiltrate electronic music. Bassist Jesse’s post-DFA project, MSTRKRFT, had already started to make waves in the French House scene, and along with contempories such as Justice, Danger and Human After All-era Daft Punk, helped push dance music in the mid-noughties towards a harder, rock-influenced electro sound.
This remix of “Sexy Results” shows how closely intertwined the two movements were. Despite removing the heaviness of the original and replacing it with a sprinkling of disco, the core of the song remains essentially the same, no matter which style it’s being played in. Plus, the video has a really freaky pair of singing boobs, which is worth a curiosity click if nothing else.
CSS- Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above
Though they weren’t affiliated with the band in any way, Brazilian Nu-Raver’s CSS loved DFA so much they released an entire song paying homage to them (their debut single, no less). Though the namechecking may feel a little on-the-nose, this is still a great slice of airy indie-pop and holds up a lot better today than a lot of their indie disco contempories.
Death From Above 1979 play Gorilla Manchester on October 21st. You can buy tickets here.
Words by Tom Sanders (@Sanderrrsss)