As my mother once told me, “Disco never died in Europe.” Although it is glaringly obvious that our transatlantic cousin continent has embraced electronic music more than we ever have, I was still taken aback by her statement. When I initially decided to study abroad, the last thing I expected to find was a time capsule of a 1970s discothèque in the heart of Prague. But there I was, wading through a crowd on that iconic glowing Tetris floor while loops of reverberating vocals flooded the club. Disco had, in fact, not died at this one hole-in-the-wall locale. It seemed surreal, but moms are typically always right — my case was no exception.
Anachronisms like this were relatively commonplace during my time abroad. For those of you who have been spared from my obnoxious stories, I spent this past semester living in France, soaking in as much culture and wine as any one person can hope to absorb.
I traveled to a dozen cities and tried to drink in all the culture I could before my visa expired. For me, music and food are the most important, so I conducted some field research while there.
All my questions stemmed from observations made a continent away. If you had asked me before I left, I would have guessed that Europe pretty much just listens to our mass-exported pop and occasionally songs in random languages that weren’t English. But would my hypothesis hold true?
This brings me to the question I traveled thousands of miles to answer: What even is electronic music in Europe these days? Is it the soundtrack of their existence, or is it simply molly-fueled Ibiza anthems? Or is it French post-Daft Punk deep house? Tech house in London clubs? I had no idea, but I was determined to find out.
I found these answers in interesting places.
The most telling was a concert I attended in a warehouse venue in London. When I hopped off the tube at Southwark, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d gotten myself into. Clueless and LTE-less, I wandered down the soggy streets in pursuit of the Great Suffolk Street Warehouse. Upon entering the white-brick arches of the venue, I knew that room full of sweaty twenty-somethings was about to show me a culture of which I knew nothing. Sure enough, the next seven hours of a future house rave was an unanticipated education in what people my age seem to listen to. Under that roof, I discovered an atmosphere similar to my imagined vision of the 1990s. Phones were put away for the most part, and the focus wasn’t so much on the blaring beats as on the community experiencing them. This was interesting to me — as with other music venues I visited in London, people were frequently told to put phones away and live in the moment.
Though the music is much more mainstream than it used to be, electronic still had that community-driven aspect reminiscent of other times. The true fans didn’t freak out to get as close as humanly possible to the DJ. Instead, everyone moved about in a way that I’d never seen here in the U.S. My conclusion was that house music is still alive, even if it isn’t the counterculture that it used to be. This was evident. The synths and sounds have changed, but the spirit of the bygone era is, based on what I saw, still thriving.
This was pretty much what I gathered as I traveled around more than just England. No matter where I was, electronic music was present in varying forms. From Calvin Harris tracks to the kitschy Dutch “Drank en Drugs,” popular club songs were vibrant and noticeably different from the typical American tradition of bass-heavy hip-hop and R&B. For the most part, the people listening electronic music abroad weren’t the kandi-wearing, hula-hopping EDC-frequenting type — it was a much more accessible.
It’s interesting to me that there was such a notable difference between the musical climate here versus over there. As pop and electronic continue to merge as genres, I think we’re all heading in Europe’s direction in the next few years. Electronic music has seeped into nearly everything we hear on the radio, and the two have most definitely become intertwined. Songs that explode here now almost certainly would not be charting two years ago (see: “Lean On,” “You Know You Like It,” “I Took A Pill In Ibiza,” etc.). In fact, “You Know You Like It” actually was released around 4 years ago. All of this goes to show that the way we listen is changing, and the music scene that seems so far away may not be much longer. Whether it’s the explosion of EDM or the fact every pop song having a sort of modified drop these days, two things are sure: disco never died in Europe, and it may be spreading here again soon.