Hey Man, Slow Down
Forward-thinking producers free themselves from high tempos
In the worlds of house and techno, beats-per-minute counts have traditionally strained forward, assuming that dance-floor impact is directly proportionate to tempo. But now, several DJs and producers are reaching back to dance music's roots to focus on a core, hypnotic groove that has gone neglected in recent years. Though the late-'80s Belgian "new beat" sound — rumored to have started with a DJ playing 45 BPM acid records at 33 — emphasized this ethic, it largely disappeared in '90s subgenres like techno, trance, and even house. But today, it seems, producers are rediscovering the appeal of a slow, plodding, yet powerful 4/4 beat used in lieu of barnstorming tempos.
"Before house and techno became so dominant in the clubs, dance music ranged from below 100 BPM to above 130 BPM, with an entire spectrum of tempos and rhythms played within a night," says Greg Wilson, a hugely influential British DJ at the forefront of the early '80s electro-funk scene. "For me, one of the flaws with the dance-music culture of the late '80s and early '90s was that the majority of DJs began to believe that a record had to be uptempo and 4/4 to be suitable to play. As a result, a whole area of dance music was generally ignored."
A "faster equals better" sentiment has held true for much house and techno music produced throughout the past 15 years; jungle and speed garage offer obvious examples of dance music's desire to accelerate. Aside from disco nouveau producers like Metro Area and Danny Wang, who have never ventured far from disco's groove-based roots, it's been difficult to find many DJs selecting peak-hour tracks that fall below 130 BPM. One exception is Ewan Pearson, who says he "rarely goes over 126 [BPM]" and that "slower doesn't mean deeper or mellower; it ends up being quite hypnotic — trance-y, in the old, acid-house sense."
But more and more DJs and producers have started to rediscover the effect the sluggish, New Beat-inspired groove can have on an educated dance-floor crowd. The intensity of Motiivi:Tuntematon's "1939," included on Annie's DJ Kicks installment, is made all the more urgent by the fact that it never ventures above 110 BPM, setting adrift grumbling synthesizers and howling filter sweeps. Pearson's "Slow NRG" edit of Alter Ego's "Beat the Bush," meanwhile, is a techno anthem transformed into a lumbering, panting beast, and Sebastian's "Dolami" also shows that techno doesn't have to break the BPM bank to attain the same raw energy and intensity that faster records seek to achieve.
As to just what is it about these rediscovered tempos that makes them so appealing, Beats in Space host Tim Sweeney thinks slower selections add to the overall dynamic of a set, while Optimo's JD Twitch says that a 110 BPM track "gives a completely different bump and grind than 130 BPM techno. Basically, it's a sleazy, sexy tempo that engenders different dance moves." But Twitch also suggests a remarkably commonsense motivation: "It's also good to have a break from the tyranny of high tempos." (CJN)