LWE 2Q Reports: Top 5 Overrated Tracks

“Don’t Expect Anything” by Erik Marinovich

As a music critic I’ve enjoyed examining both lesser known and difficult to avoid singles. Critiquing the latter category can be more challenging because reviewers need to sniff out a record’s appeal (and to which audience) while judging its merits with a fair and even tone. I find it interesting to target tracks whose popularity has ballooned because they’re more likely to be heard by club-goers and sometimes they just need to be punctured. “Popularity” isn’t the best metric for the quality of a track anyway, not least because what it accounts for an open question: How and why a DJ has “supported” or charted a record often goes unsaid. (Sales charts are more useful, revealing more about music’s actual buyers — people buying vinyl on Juno have much different taste from those who buy mp3s on Beatport.) Can 500 DJs and thousands of dancers be wrong? For their circumstances perhaps not, but on my reviewing stack? Quite possibly. With that in mind I’ve endured a great deal of popular dance tracks from the first half of 2010 to pick out five whose acclaim seems most at odds with their merits. Most of them are not intolerable and some of them you might even enjoy — all the more reason to figure out why they punched above their weight.

NUfrequency ft. Ben Onono, “Fallen Hero”
(Motor City Drum Ensemble Remix) [Rebirth]

For all the unimaginative, trendy tracks gobbled up each year there’s usually one vocally driven song, remixed by that year’s au courant producer, which breaks through the loops and asserts its dominance. For example, 2009 lifted up Johnny D’s remix of 2020 Soundystem’s “Sliding Away”; 2008 was fond of Henrik Schwarz’s rework of Ane Brun’s “Headphone Silence”; 2007 plumped for Wahoo’s remix of Ben Westbeech’s “Hang Around,” and so on. “Fallen Hero,” reworked by the white hot MCDE, fits the mould. Inspiring damp eyes in synthetically emotional clubbers with Ben Onono’s reedy soul vocals laid across the mawkish strings and generic guitar strums decorating its newly installed house beat, its predictability is both the driver behind its bloated popularity and the reason why it turns me off. Regardless what platitudes spill from Onono’s mouth, the track feels like a bloodless facsimile of an emotion dreamed up by a house music focus group. Tick enough boxes and you’ve got yourself an annual vocal anthem.

Try instead: The beautifully sung and benevolently remixed “Feed Your Mind” by Sandman ft. Jeremy Ellis, remixed by John Beltran & Riverside.

Butch, “No Worries” [Cécille Records]
The funny thing about repetition is the difference between too much and too little varies widely from person to person and generally depends on what’s being repeated. Get it spot on and you’ve got a dance floor moment audiences won’t want to end. Get it quite wrong and only the patient and intoxicated won’t use your track for a beverage or bathroom break. With top billing in RA’s June charts, a respectable showing on Beatport’s top 100, and bold faced DJs including Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano dropping Butch’s “No Worries,” one might expect the Mainz-based producer had hit the nail on the head. At the very least dancers are being perpetually bludgeoned by slightly garbled looped speech (from First Choice’s “It’s Not Over”), a demanding ramble made only slightly less onerous by its trotting house beat. Sprinkle a few “ooh baby” vocals for good measure and you’ve got a lobotomized stab at early Chicago house. I won’t deny there’s a slightly earworming quality to “No Worries” that some are quite taken with; but with all the charm of a nagging customer who has too much free time, it feels like a chore to enjoy and a cue to migrate elsewhere.

Try instead: Nebraska’s sublime use of repetition on “Vicarious Disco.”

Joris Voorn, “The Secret” [Cocoon Recordings]
It’s hardly a secret why Joris Voorn’s latest single has blown up so big — you practically already know it. Its basis is a rolling synth and bass arpeggio evoking Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and its most noteworthy chord change borrows from Psyche’s “Unveiling The Secret.” Tapping into dancers’ fond memories of past hits is hardly a new tactic, and yet it irks me how heavily Voorn relies so dance music touchstones to pave his own path. He pitches up the familiar groove and filters it frequently, dubiously attaching the spiky, upstroke chords of dub to provide a rigid techno backing. It’s almost as if he balked at the idea of playing the actual “I Feel Love” in his sets and so assembled his own edit. Regardless, “The Secret” almost seems like a cynical calculation of crowd-moving potential and evidence that Voorn isn’t pushing himself creatively like he has in the past. Let’s hope he’s as charitable when another upstart producer appropriates prime bits of his tracks for their own gain.

Try instead: Lindstrøm & Christabelle’s “Let’s Practise.”

Addison Grove, “Footcrab” [Swamp 81 Records]
If you were one of the hundreds of DJs or thousands of fans who caught the “Footcrab” I’m afraid I don’t have a cure for you. Unleashed by Addison Groove, better known as Headhunter and apparently a student of Chicago’s juke scene, the jabbering stepper is so persistent it’s difficult to avoid having its chant rattling around your brain. There are even a few hints of organ chords between endless torrents of “footcrab!” and “insane!” and slender percussion. I can’t shake the feeling, though, that this is bass music’s gimmick track of the year, a novelty that seems a bit sillier in hindsight and belongs to a distinct place and time. That’s not enough necessarily a bad thing, as it’s admittedly clever in its relative simplicity. Still, I’m already anticipating the day when the “Footcrab” outbreak has run its course.

Try instead: DJ Bone’s world beating “No Sleep (True To Da Roots).”

Carl Craig, “At Les” (Christian Smith’s Remixes) [Tronic]
Frankly, I’m a little offended Christian Smith thought “At Les” still needed remixing. That’s probably not a good position to start with in a review, but it’s true. “At Les” has appeared on dozens of comps and it’s only been remixed once, by Russ Gabriel, and released by Planet E. I know art, especially music, is a living medium where little is sacred, but it takes a lot of chutzpah if not outright hubris to think you’re going to put a fresh spin on one of the best songs ever written. Not surprisingly it’s Carl Craig who speaks the loudest on Christian Smith’s remixes, and where the Swede’s contributions do stick out — the obnoxious polish gleaming on its progressions, its uncouth percussion — I want to push them back inside. Of the two, “Tronic Treatment Remix” (streaming above) is the most proggy yet faithful; the “Hypnotica Remix” streamlines the majority of the track before briefly experimenting with a gruffer tone. It’s telling that Smith put out the record on his own Tronic label — it’s a cheap stab at notoriety that Planet E and Carl Craig would never release.

Try instead: Don’t mess around, get the original “At Les” by Carl Craig.

Jordan Rothlein  on July 9, 2010 at 12:33 AM

I have to admit, I’m kiiiinda with you on “Footcrab.” The B-side from that 12″, “Dumbshit,” is way way way more tolerable, but maybe just because it hasn’t gotten nearly as much (if any?) play. Anyone else missing “Hyph Mngo” right about now?

Sotek  on July 9, 2010 at 12:34 AM

That Christian Smith remix of At Les is horrendous indeed.

harpomarx42  on July 9, 2010 at 1:07 AM

Really, I expected more from Joris than simple plagiarism. For shame.

petepete  on July 9, 2010 at 5:24 AM

i can see why you would pick these tracks when you’re sitting in an office going through promos, but i wouldn’t call them overrated. there’s a reason these tracks were made and there’s a reason these tracks are being played. how can you call a track overrated when they do exactly what they’re supposed to do? the people on the floor aren’t rating these tracks, they’re enjoying them. in the last few weeks i’ve heard 3 of them outdoors in the sunshine at various parties and people go nuts. what’s overrated about that?

bootsy colin  on July 9, 2010 at 8:37 AM

people go cuckoo for cocoa puffs Christian Smith go home

cb  on July 9, 2010 at 8:38 AM

that butch track is the worst attempt in
“music-making” i’ve heard in years….

Anton  on July 9, 2010 at 10:11 AM

@petepete I’m glad someone brought this up right away.

how can you call a track overrated when they do exactly what they’re supposed to do?

I think it’s important to distinguish between the effectiveness of a track and its quality. Yes, all these tracks accomplish what they set out to do, but that can be said for even shittier, less notable tracks. In many circumstances, especially big outdoor gigs, dancers are not a picky bunch: if it’s got a solid 4/4 beat and isn’t painful on the ears it’s probably going to keep the crowd moving (check out our editor’s DEMF report for further evidence of this). That being the case, is keeping a crowd moving an indication that a track is good or worthy of constant play? I believe not.

You’re right, “the people on the floor aren’t rating these tracks,” but that doesn’t invalidate music criticism any more than the fact that U2 continues to sell out stadiums around the world or that Miley Cyrus is a top selling artist. Music should be judged on its merits, not its accessibility.

Taken on their merits, the majority of the tracks mentioned above (with a partial pass for “Footcrab,” strangely) are weakly composed, gimmicky in nature, and not deserving of being played frequently or by so many DJs. But a lot of producers and DJs don’t care about writing quality music, they’re just doing the job, man, doing whatever it takes to appeal to the throngs of people. So when anyone wants to praise these tracks, I want to tell them: it’s overrated, populist dreck.

Spons  on July 9, 2010 at 11:05 AM

Good call on the secret, it’s so utterly uninspired it’s almost offending.

Si  on July 9, 2010 at 11:18 AM

that DJ Bone track is absolutely class…good shout

c_  on July 9, 2010 at 11:46 AM

good to see that writers still have balls 😉 nice one !

aggle  on July 9, 2010 at 12:07 PM

The writer sounds salty, picking out and picking on what’s ‘popular’ but hey it’s just their opinion.
I’ll continue to like Footcrab (I find it’s Juke roots & simplicity appealing)and Fallen Hero(to me Feed you mind sounds like the generic deep house played on the radio/trax) just because simply -I like them.
Whether while out or while riding the train, let’s go out and dance

petepete  on July 9, 2010 at 1:39 PM

“So when anyone wants to praise these tracks, I want to tell them: it’s overrated, populist dreck.”

i agree to some extent. i wouldn’t buy any of these records, and i wouldn’t play them in my set, but i don’t mind hearing some of them at a party. they’re populist, sure, but it’s not like these tracks are getting critical acclaim, so i wouldn’t call them overrated. they’re just functional dance tracks that work well during the summertime and DJs play them because they know they’ll do the job. i saw villalobos play last weekend at a big outdoor party and he played that butch track and lots of other ‘populist dreck’ and people loved it. later on he played the musaria remix of larry heard and almost cleared the floor, even though it was my favorite track he played. so it’s a fine line, especially at these big parties. you need these tracks to keep the parties going. at small clubs you’ll never hear these tracks, but not even villalobos can keep a big outdoor party going by playing STL tracks and all the other shit the purists love.

petepete  on July 9, 2010 at 1:46 PM

and i’m not trying to invalidate music criticism, i just think this feature should have been called something like “tracks that get played a shitload but aren’t actually very good”, which to me is something different than overrated. and yeah, music should be judged by its merits, but in the case of all these tracks, the merits are the fact they’re accessible.

Anton  on July 9, 2010 at 3:19 PM

yeah, music should be judged by its merits, but in the case of all these tracks, the merits are the fact they’re accessible.

That’s certainly true, I shouldn’t have considered accessibility a separate category or whatever. I guess my point is that accessibility is the first and foremost thing I heard when evaluating these tracks. Not clever or fresh ideas or executions, but a visceral appeal that isn’t trying for much more than instant recognition and acceptance.

As both a person who enjoys going out dancing and as a music critic, I want dance music that asks a little more of audiences and often gives more. That almost certainly puts me in the minority, but I’m OK with that because it’s genuinely what appeals to me.

That said, I can’t say that all populist dance music is a turn off — there are lots of big tracks from big names (and not so big names) that I like just as much or more than the super rare limited edition Theo Parrish what have you. Hector’s “Hang On” is a good example of a track based in really populist methods that just appeals to me. Some other recents favorites include the latest Wax A side and The Gathering’s “In My System,” both of which are huge. I don’t place myself above populist music and I certainly know that it has a purpose and a genuine appeal to a lot of people. I also have higher standards than I imagine the majority of clubbers do and apply those same standards to music that appeals broadly.

Regarding the term “overrated” and whether or not these tracks have been critically praised, I have seen positive reviews of “The Secret” and “Footcrab” at the least. But beyond that, my definition of overrated goes well beyond the critical sphere and encompasses all the DJs slobbering all over “No Worries” and “Fallen Hero” on message boards and in promo sheets and charts, not to mention their widespread acceptance among listeners. For some, this is as good as it gets and that’s disappointing to me when I know there’s so much more out there. Hence, overrated.

harpomarx42  on July 9, 2010 at 4:10 PM

“As both a person who enjoys going out dancing and as a music critic, I want dance music that asks a little more of audiences and often gives more. That almost certainly puts me in the minority, but I’m OK with that because it’s genuinely what appeals to me.”

Personally, I am inclined to agree with this statement, but do you think that the majority of people who go out clubbing, perhaps even more so in the big-name scenes, are going to even think about what is being played? Sure, I do a lot of trainspotting and delving into tracks, but that’s because it’s an interest to me. People go to these clubs to dance, (sometimes) get wasted, and get away from thinking and understanding, as if they ever paid attention in the first place.

Regarding At Les, I think that Trickski did a decent job covering the original, more decent than what Christian Smith did on the remix.

aggle  on July 9, 2010 at 5:48 PM

“For some, this is as good as it gets and that’s disappointing to me when I know there’s so much more out there. Hence, overrated.” -Anton

Fair enough point. I guess a thorough discussion/analysis is needed from time to time to separate the drivel and encourage quality. But sometimes with dance music -a banger is a banger.

bhbognar  on July 10, 2010 at 3:15 AM

This is a pretty interesting discussion.

I’m inclined to side with Anton on this one–these are some overrated tunes. Joris Voorn used to do things that were worth getting into (even his adventurous musical taste can be heard in his 2007 RA mix and the Balance CD), but recently “The Secret” and “Beach Ball” remix have been simply horrendous. A track “doing what it’s supposed to do” (what exactly is it *supposed* to do, again?) is a pretty boring outlook on music. Is it just get people to dance? Appeal to the most possible people? That’s lame–just like most of 1980s music, which got countless frat and sorority parties to do some seriously vapid shit in the early 2000s. But perfunctory good-enough music can be done by nearly anyone, and just because a ton of people like it doesn’t make it artistically valuable or interesting in the long run. Yeah, people like to go lose their heads at parties and don’t think too much about the music, but I don’t think that’s what this list is about–for that we have Beatport Top Whatevers.

But the negative bit aside–the thing I really liked about this post is the selection of alternatives. And those alternatives were offered based on refreshing ideas–for example, “repetition” meant that Nebraska’s tune is an option to Butch. I’ll have to go follow up on Sandman, Nebraska and DJ Bone.

It’s easy to find problems in things, but offering “solutions” is better. Thanks for the new directions.

Peter Skovgaard Andersen  on July 11, 2010 at 7:08 PM

I have to admit that I really like MCDEs remix of “Fallen Hero”. Otherwise I pretty much agree.

“It’s easy to find problems in things, but offering “solutions” is better. Thanks for the new directions.”

tom/pipecock  on July 12, 2010 at 8:04 PM

i do not hate “accessible” songs because i am a critic. i am a critic because the “accessible” music bores me to fucking tears and i want for more. just give me some SERIOUS shit, and it doesn’t matter how popular it is or isn’t. i love a good pop song as much as the next man, but i do not love or hate anything just because it is “pop” or “underground”.

Point Blank  on July 21, 2010 at 9:38 AM

The other thing with these overplayed tracks is that once they’ve gone through their ‘honeymoon’ phase in the clubs you can’t really come back to playing them without a sigh from the crowd, even if you genuinely like the track. Whereas with lesser known/heard tracks, you can continue to play them without the bother of them becomming tedious.

But yes, you can’t distinguish a track purely based on the fact it’s overplayed or obscure. It’s more down to gimmicky tunes. alas, ‘do the footcrab’ or a cover of a classic… although covers aren’t always a bad thing.

Terra Nullius  on September 11, 2010 at 10:28 AM

Calling these tracks overrated does not make one a good critic. It’s a cheap trick to get people to read your article. Where you succeed is offering alternatives and initiating a discussion.

Since these tracks have been played by many it would be interesting to critique how djs have used these songs in their sets. Move on from critiquing the track itself to critiquing their use. Now that would be interesting and make you a better critic.

simonette  on December 16, 2010 at 2:17 PM

totally agree with this


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