The Maestro’s Corner: Echoes of the Jazz Age

The Rise of Electro Swing

Caravan Palace - Lone Digger

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Emma San Martin, Editor-at-Large

America in the 1920’s was a time of social experimentation and philosophical pioneering.  The world had just pulled through World War I by the skin of its teeth, and an entire generation of America’s young men and women had been exposed to the harsh reality of war.  From the ashes of the old American dream – one of hard work and modest success – rose a new ideology, one based around the gain of as much material wealth as possible.  There appeared a cynical attitude towards life, expounded in the idea that young people should party while they could, since they could die tomorrow.  Rampant drinking, wild celebrations, and a whole new host of fashions and customs (such as the flapper style and dance) emerged.  And with this era of spending and partying came a new kind of music: swing.

Swing found its roots in the catchy jazz rhythms of New Orleans.  It was often formed around a heavy bass line, voiced with contrabasses and drums, which made it well-suited to energetic dancing.  The lead section often featured a bright brass sound, with muted trumpets and trombones quickly becoming the favored instruments.  In larger ensembles, saxophones, clarinets, violins, and guitars joined the mix.  However, what characterized swing was not the sound, but the rhythm.  Its name and its feel arose from the sensation of movement created by the emphasis on the off-beat – the first widespread use of syncopation in music.

Like many other trends in fashion and music, swing has “swung” in and out of popularity.  Its heyday was the 1930s, and it remained the most popular music genre in America well into the 1940s.  Having been supplanted for a time by the beginnings of pop music, swing experienced a revival in the 1950s and ‘60s, in the bluesy, beguiling tunes made popular by artists like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

And now, swing is back again, this time in the form of a house/hip hop/EDM crossover genre called “Electro Swing.”  The foot-tapping rhythm and jazzy melodic patterns are still present, but they are showcased with a heavy electronic beat and a piqued feel that is well-suited to the modern dance floor.  While Electro Swing got started in the nineties, with the release of various swing-influenced hip-hop tracks, it didn’t emerge as a genre until recently.  As more and more people are looking for unique, unusual, and catchy music, Electro Swing is becoming more and more popular.  Is it really swing?  Not in the traditional sense.  It’s electronic music, and its rhythm is often the typical EDM throb.  But it retains an undeniable element of the Roaring Twenties, and this lends it a classy, vintage feel that is often appealing.

There are many different types of Electro Swing, from mixes of old swing songs to original compositions to swing-styled remixes of modern music.  The attached video features one of the most celebrated songs in the genre – Lone Digger by the production group Caravan Palace.  It’s an excellent ambassador for the genre.  If you like this song, you will probably like Electro Swing in general.

Electro Swing has yet to become the “next big thing” – perhaps it never will be – but it’s definitely worth a listen.  And one thing is definite – if the Great Gatsby was alive today, this is what you’d be hearing at one of his legendary parties.