There’s something really visceral about a dance floor. It’s where Madonna’s Confessions were, where Sophie Ellis-Bextor iconically saw murder, and—lest we forget—where Sean Kingston had to call 911 as a result of shawty fire burning. I’m really drawn to music that references dance floors and DJs explicitly; it feels like a cultural artifact straight from the 2000s. In a lot of ways, there’s a lot of comfort here, first and foremost from the nostalgia I attach to the music that raised me.
Weirdly enough, I used to have an aversion to this type of stuff. It was rooted somewhere on the spectrum between internalized homophobia and my Not Like Other Girls complex (chances are if you’re reading this blog, you’ve experienced one or both feelings). If you showed the tracklist to Kylie’s DISCO, one of my favorite 2020 releases, to an adolescent Taylor, he would’ve rolled his eyes. And then said something about Arcade Fire, probably.
As a queer person, there’s something innately alluring about the dance floor. All throughout middle and high school, I’d listen to pop and dance music in solitude while putting on the front of indie sad-boy (not to disparage those artists, though, I still love them. I just have the range.)
Chief among these records I quietly adored was Random Access Memories. As a lifelong Swiftie, I think I’m supposed to hate this album. Or at least I’m supposed to think it robbed Red of Album of the Year. This isn’t the belief I hold, of course (sorry, Taylor).
I’d on-and-off loved Daft Punk my whole life, as I’m sure a lot of us did. I definitely wouldn’t call myself a “fan,” but songs like “Technologic” and “One More Time” were huge for me. At 21, I’d hesitate to call these tracks avant-garde/boundary-pushing/experimental. But when I first heard them, it was like a jolt to my system—one that forced me to rethink how I thought about music.
It’s the same way I felt about SOPHIE when I got into her late in high school. The first time I heard her production on “Vroom Vroom,” it felt like my brain was short-circuiting. I wouldn’t be able to say I “liked” it immediately, per se, but there was something alluring nonetheless. It’s another impulse I shut down at first, something I kept to myself. I listened to real music, music with guitars and sad lyrics, the kind of stuff that didn’t require a studio to make.
But I kept coming back to the music that had changed how I perceived the entire medium. My Random Access Memories CD held permanent residence in my car, and whenever I put it on, I’d let it overtake me, finding something new to marvel at each listen. When SOPHIE’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides dropped, it began to occupy a similar space for me—as if listening to the likes of Daft Punk had primed my brain to receive her trademark balls-to-the-wall insanity.
There was always something about this that scared me—how unbridled it all felt, how revolutionary. I could never put my finger on it until I got to college, newly out, and started going out (at that point, only to Play because I was still 19). I’d compounded the sense of discovery we often experience at the beginning of college with the process of discovering my queerness, which led to several identity crises, more than a few flop eras, and lots of crying.
But I knew things felt right when I was on the dance floor or at a concert, surrounded by other queer people, all of us letting loose and making the most of the anonymity the dim lights provided. It’s probably the thing I miss most about pre-COVID life, the sharing of sweat from strangers’ bodies on all sides of my own, the mundane revolution of screaming every lyric of “Vroom Vroom.”
The news of SOPHIE’s passing really shook me. I’ve been thinking a lot for the past month or so about the impact she had on my life. Beyond just soundtracking my life, SOPHIE showed me what it meant to be rebelliously, gloriously queer, just as I was starting to figure out who I was. Her presence in the music scene was violent, destroying convention before proceeding to bulldoze it. We made its remains our dance floor, knowing that if only for a moment we could tear everything down.
Waking up to Daft Punk announcing their breakup brought up similar, albeit more distant feelings. And I’ll admit this should probably be two separate posts, which it would’ve been had I been actively writing upon SOPHIE’s passing. But I wasn’t and so here we are.
I listened to Random Access Memories on Monday straight through for the first time in years. Since high school, I’d largely moved on to newer, weirder musical concoctions. Every so often, I would find myself coming back to Daft Punk—like when “Something About Us” had prominent placement in Michaela Coel’s masterful I May Destroy You. But for the most part, my Daft Punk obsession felt like a blip more than anything.
Listening through the album anew, and for the first time really since embracing my queerness, it felt different. I remembered how alive this record made me feel in high school, those feelings I never really understood.
I realized that a lot of Daft Punk’s allure resembles what I feel about SOPHIE’s work. Songs like “Doin’ It Right” live and die by the groove; to listen is to actively reject order. Or, more aptly, to lose oneself to dance.
That’s an idea I regarded as trite for most of my life. I never really appreciated what it meant, even though I was still so drawn to it. The thought felt so base, so standard. Only recently have I come to terms with the fact that it’s anything but.
When all…this is over (what a concept!), I can’t even begin to imagine just how visceral my first night out will feel. How healing the mixture of tears and sweat on my face will feel. And, yes, just how gloriously destructive it will be to occupy a dance floor.