The year dance music was expected to break through was 1997, when major labels took notice of electronic sounds (the Prodigy went No. 1 in the U.S.) and The Recording Academy decided to add dance categories to the next year's GRAMMY Awards. In 1999, dance music did break through with Moby's Play, but the sound from then on was always an also-ran, particularly as the clean-teen pop sounds of Britney Spears and 'NSYNC took over. Until 10 years later. 2009 was the year dance music finally hit the mainstream thanks to Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West, all of whom incorporated electronic flavors into their repertoires.
It's no coincidence that the last time dance music was this huge — the late 1970's disco era — the economy was in the same kind of doldrums and people needed to get out for a night of release. This time around, the nightlife spirit is more eclectic (A-Trak) and hand-raising (Deadmau5). Younger audiences — cool kids in candy-colored Ray-Bans — are flocking to DJs and artists that have broken out of dance music's previously linear groove in favor of an irreverent, punk-like stance. M.I.A., Diplo, Spank Rock, and Amanda Blank are their gods. In fact, the cool kids bounced to everything from trance-pop (Calvin Harris) to dub-flavored grooves (Major Lazer).
In the super-clubs, where thump-a-thump DJs still rule the roost, the mood is more serious, even tribal. On the underground level, the spectrum was just as diverse as what happened above the surface: Rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs made an uptempo mixtape with electro DJ Felix Da Housecat. DJ Hell collaborated with Bryan Ferry. MSTRKRFT hooked up with John Legend. But the hottest movement in clubland in 2009 was the brooding, bubbly dark wave of sounds (Hell, Radio Slave, Loco Dice) coming from the after-hours bacchanalia of Europe. Even Combs acknowledged it, testifying via his collaboration with Hell called "The DJ," that club jocks have to "hit 'em with that 13, 14-minute version." In other words, they should be true to the feral groove of the dance floor.