I love post-rock. I write sad, heavy music. There is a nerdy teenage boy inside me who urges me, as a grown woman, to be an aspiring metalhead. And I’ve learned to never bring up the likes of synthpop in any heavy music scene, for fear of being hammered with verbose judgement. But fuck the hegemony of scene decree – I also love dance music. So without further ado, here are 10 dance tracks that fill me with shameless joy:
M.I.A – “20 Dollar” (Kala, 2007)
In 2007 I was deep into Constellation Records when Kala hit it big. I intentionally didn’t pay attention, as the scene I was in rebuffed anything mainstream. When I was in grad school a few years later, I was grading assignments for a global popular music course and several papers in tribute to M.I.A. came across my desk. The more I read them, the more my cynicism melted away. By the time I saw her 2018 documentary, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., I was totally enamoured. And I realized what a jerk I had been. With a shout out to the Pixies, “20 Dollar” is one of my favorite tracks on the album.
New Order – “Temptation” (Substance, 1987)
No compilation of dance tracks is complete without New Order. I would kill to go back in time to 80’s Manchester to see them at the Haçienda. It was tough to pick just one New Order song, but for me it came down to these lyrics: “Each way I turn I know I’ll always try to break this circle that’s been placed around me”. And then also: “Oooooooo” – a juxtaposition of lyrical melancholy and sonic fun that epitomizes the quintessential dance formula.
Arthur Russell – “Arm Around You” (Calling Out of Context, 2004)
This part acid house-esque track, part pop song, part experimental composition is a beautiful love song. Or it’s about masterbation. Either way it’s potential meanings are as disparate as Russell’s exploration of genres. He was so singular that he didn’t achieve the recognition he deserved until over a decade after his untimely death. Both his work and life were tragically beautiful, and he has left a fascinating legacy worth delving deeply into.
Princess Century – “Sunrise 101/Last Disco” (Progress, 2015)
Maya Postepski’s prolific body of work was the soundtrack to me falling in love. I sent him tracks by Austra and TR/ST, he sent me a DJ mix from a set she played in Berlin, and we discovered Princess Century together. This song is imbued with the memory of dancing late into the night in his basement apartment filled with coloured lights. It was a two person dance party and I can see the image of his face, blurry from our close proximity, glowing from smart lights and happiness.
Juana Molina – “Ay, No Se Ofendan” (Wed 21, 2013)
Juana Molina was introduced to me by an old musical soulmate back on Vancouver Island. Molina is almost 60 and is continuing to produce incredible music. She is singular like Russell and wears the lines on her face with pride. A woman in the industry who ages with confidence and without gimmick while continuing to remain relevant is, unfortunately, radical. Molina does just that, and “Ay, No Se Ofendan” is emblematic of her best work.
Anna Meredith – “Calion” (FIBS, 2019)
At the dawn of the pandemic, my roommate and I jumped in a rental car and drove from Toronto to Vancouver Island in three days. We were both in a bad way, needed to be safe from our heads, and were seeking the refuge of our home in the woods by the ocean. At some point in the prairies, around the same time we witnessed a migrating flock of snow geese that must have been a hundred thousand strong, this song came on. It ingvorated me. It felt magical. I continue to return to “Calion” to bring me strength.
Boards of Canada – “Nlogax” (Hi Scores, 1996)
This one’s a slow burn, but man does it get there. I have danced to this alone in my living room many, many times. I discovered this song while dating a man who had amassed literally 70 houseplants in his studio apartment. We inevitably broke up because I couldn’t compete with the plants, but “Nlogax” remains.
Jenny Hval – “Accient (feat. Laura Jean)” (The Practise of Love, 2019)
In her beautiful book All About Love: New Visions, intersectional feminist and social activist bell hooks writes: “The practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control”. I was reading this work when Jenny Hval’s The Practice of Love was released last year. It was a powerful time for me. I was preparing myself to love again after years of loneliness and limerence. I was going through an existential awakening, and listening to Hval croon “I was just an accident, even to myself” repeatedly ensconced me in shivers.
Robyn – “Honey” from (Honey, 2018)
As with New Order, every dance playlist must include Robyn. I also had a profound road trip moment with this song when I was driving alone from B.C. to Toronto. I had been travelling all day though dreary, off-season sleet in Northern Ontario and was feeling the weight of my isolation. As the day came to a close, I blasted “Honey” at a decibel that violently rattled the windows and doors. I suddenly had a massive sense of regeneration of the spirit as the city felt within reach. Revitalized, I pulled into Wawa to check into my two star motel, arriving to find I had accidentally booked the last smoking room in Canada. My night was spent with the ghosts and effluvium of smokers past, which strangely quelled my loneliness.
Silver Mt. Zion – “Any Fucking Thing You Love” (Hang On To Each Other, 2014)
I’ll always be a Constellation Records loyalist. Seeing Silver Mt. Zion on their support tour for Horses in the Sky at a tiny venue in Victoria was a pivotal moment in my musical existence. For some reason the show was booked at a sports bar, so half the audience wasn’t there to see the band and was talking, loudly. Finally Efrim had enough, and resorted to flipping off the crowd for a full minute, screaming. I remember simultaneously thinking “what an asshole” and “this is awesome”. In 2014 the band released Hang On To Each Other, reimagining the lilting original track in two “not remixes”. “Any Fucking Thing You Love” is an 11 minute banger that, other than it’s length, is a delightful post-rock departure for one of the genre’s most beloved bands.
Gillian Stone’s Music: https://soundcloud.com/gillianstone/bridges