It’s that time again, when we, the middle-aged and semi-hip, inform you, the old and out-of-touch or young and easily misled, as to what musical tastes you should be cultivating. This week’s incursion into the boundaries of taste: electro swing, also known as retro-electro, in which the jazzy, snazzy tunes of the old world are repurposed by the 21st century innovators to make music mean a thing. That’s right, you’re enjoying the future-vintage beat of neo-swing DJ dance apocalypse!
For your benefit, we’re mostly going to forego the folks who mostly just slap their tech beats over slice-and-paste versions of old swing numbers, and look at the people who are taking the best bits of the past to build a future of music.
While Stelar might be a patently obvious choice, it would be ludicrous to make this list without including the genre’s originator and still its brightest talent. He doesn’t make it look easy, but he does make it look natural, producing a body of work as varied as it is voluminous. Muted trumpets and scribble-dabble beats that never touched a drum weave together to make his music irresistible to the feet. Case in point, his most famous track, Catgroove. Or this gem:
Also known to partake of the gypsytronic sound for their creations, Dutty Moonshine is perhaps the most electro of this gathering, but their bonafides are well established, and certified by their collaboration with Mr. B the Gentleman Rapper, whose feud with Man Cave favorite Professor Elemental is yet another reason why the chap-hop scene is so much fun.
We have no idea what these guys are saying, but we can’t stop our heels from pounding the cobblestones in this ultra-catchy dance number that encourages any man to put on his Chuck Taylors and grab a flight to Sweden. And hey, there’s a intrigue over a stolen diamond, so you’ve got your whole itinerary planned when you get there.
Is it fair to include Movits? They’re like 3/5 hip-hop and of the remaining 40 percent, 5/16 of that is swing. What remains is some kind of rock-electro goodness. But hey, this is a nascent sound, and if some rocking Swedes with great hair want to expand it while making it sound irresistible, who are we to argue? Brothers Johan “Jivin'” and Anders Rensfeldt are making something new and wonderful with saxophonist Joakim “One-Take” Nilsson.
This band also dabbles in gypsy jazz because…cripes, why not? We’re deep into whatever pleases the ear here. Supposedly they formed after some of them were hired by a mysterious source to provide the soundtrack to a silent pornographic film, but that can’t be true because the year is no longer 1919. Anyway, they’re five kinds of aces in a four-suit deck. Just listen to how “Clash” grows from an audio sample passed through a wobbly filter into a humming electric distortion field. They wrought music out of several nouns and adjectives that do not describe actual music. That’s what art is, friends.
While she definitely falls on the “retro” end of the spectrum rather than the “electro,” Francis is a true artist, mixing modern styles of both music and appearance as needed. Her music mixes whimsy and high emotion and every note she sings without a troupe of thirty dancers in front of her enacting her vision is a crime of neglect. It’s self-aware that it’s play-acting the past, but there’s enough going on to imbue it with its own identity. Unlike most of this list, she’s not a DJ, and you can hear the different developmental origins in her sound before she was welcomed into the genre.
Honorable Mention: Postmodern Jukebox
Scott Bradlee and his rotating assortment of groovy guys & gals focus primarily on modern pop hits filtered through older genres, including motown, Irish folk, doo wop, etc. BUT–other DJs are fond of remixing their stuff as electro swing, such as their vintage-style cover of “Thrift Shop,” which should intrigue your friends enough to get you to say, “Well if you like that, listen to this guy Parov…”
There are loads more musicians for you to find, like G-Swing, The Electric Swing Circus, or The Correspondents, but part of the fun of exploring new sounds is discovering them for yourself. Enjoy!