There was plenty of good music in danceland in 2002, but it just wasn’t selling. So record labels large and small cut back on dance product and cut loose dance artists, if they didn’t go out of business altogether. The factions making up modern dance music showed increasing signs of merging, as mainstream, vocal-flavored house incorporated elements of drum ‘n bass, techno and especially trance. House’s mutant strands (progressive, ambient, soul, global, garage) were also caught dancing with one another periodically, and newer varieties were hyped, from chillout to electro.
Out on the dance floor, we had Mary J. fighting drama with drama, Whitney stirring up drama in a battle with the press, and Madonna blipping and pinging her Mirwais way through a dance with the devil. We heard from other divas, but Denise and Barbara Mason were the most memorable: Denise with her euphemistic ode to a "yard man" in Masters at Work’s brilliant “Work," and Barbara with a Junior Vasquez-remixed tale of her man cheating on her with “Another Man.”
The year’s worst trend was the American Idol-fueled parade through the past two decades of pop purgatory. Let’s hope it’s already run its course — certainly Do’s "Heaven" and Mad’House’s “Like a Prayer” have. In many ways, this retro rehash was the logical flip side to the year’s best trend, the inspired revitalization of ’80s post-punk, synth-pop sounds known as electro and led by Felix da Housecat and his crazy Miss Kittin. Electro was also assisted by mainstream nods from the likes of Missy Elliott and Justin Timberlake (really, Timbaland and the Neptunes).
Felix was just one of several DJs creating his own kind of music this year. It didn’t always work (see Thunderpuss). Still, 2003 will be for the better if their output increases (here’s to you Tony Moran and Thievery Corporation). Let’s hope we also see more impressive full-length albums from dance acts than we did this year (we want more Morel, Underworld, Funky Green Dogs, Daniel Bedingfield and Puretone, to name five). Original work would fill the void of what’s sure to be a gluttony of mixed CDs, which in 2002 too often took a "Jack-Ass" tone: flamboyant noise, boastful adolescent talk and uninspiring behavior. Hex Hector repeatedly proved himself the year’s best remixer, and several upstart DJs positioned themselves as promising successors to the tiring celebrity DJ throne — though Dave Dresden needs to teach DJs Escape and Encore how to inject personality into their otherwise fetching mix CDs.
Kylie Minogue had her best year ever in America, and she captivated us with the winningly slinky come-on of "In Your Eyes.” Unfortunately, there’s a certain other bumbling song of hers in our heads that we just can’t shake. How she managed to crack the Top 40 while other deserving dance-pop artists (Moby, Amber, Kim English, even Cher) didn’t — well, some things we’ll never understand..
Soundwaves at High Tide…
Global Groove: House, Tony Moran
Remixology, Hex Hector
“Work It,” Missy Elliott
A Night In with Boy George: A Chillout Mix, Boy George
Kittenz and Thee Glitz, Felix da Housecat
“Two Months Off,” Underworld
“No More Drama,” Mary J. Blige (Thunderpuss remix)
Our Time Is Coming, Masters at Work
“Alive,” Kevin Aviance
…and at Low Tide
“Open Your Box,” Ono
Sound Factory Uncut: Thirteen on Thirteen, Jonathan Peters
“Head,” Thunderpuss & Barnes
Absolutely Mad, Mad’House
Round Trip, DJ Dan
“Amanda,” Brooklyn Queens
Party Groove: Winter Party (Disc 2), Manny Lehman
“Underneath Your Clothes,” Shakira
J to Tha L-O! The Remixes, Jennifer Lopez