meta-script"Hack The Planet!" An Oral History Of Hackers' Soundtrack & Score |

The cast of 'Hackers'

Photo courtesy of IMDB / MGM/UA Distribution Co.


"Hack The Planet!" An Oral History Of Hackers' Soundtrack & Score

25 years after the cult classic's release, the film's director, composer, actors, costume designer and contributing musicians look back on the soundtrack’s emergence from a new wave of club music

GRAMMYs/Sep 15, 2020 - 09:57 pm

Twenty-five years after the release of Hackers, two things outlived the time of crushed cans of Jolt cola, skateboarding megavillains, and Matthew Lillard's braided pigtails: the vibrant community of electronic music and rebellion against those attempting to shut down information. It’s a world where payphones are essential technology, floppy disks play into high espionage and Marc Anthony is a secret service agent. It’s a time when the four most predictable passwords were "Love, Secret, Sex and God." But truly unprecedented was Hackers' mercurial soundtrack and score, a beguiling coalescence that mirrored the face and sound of an era. Much like the hackers’ experience of breaking through societal barriers, the film’s music winds its way through a bramble of wires before reaching techno-nirvana. The synergy of hackers and a new wave of electronic musicians came together powerfully, pushing into new, undiscovered territory, and sharing in the discovery as a community. From The Prodigy’s "Voodoo People" scoring a first meeting to Massive Attack’s "Protection" soothing a romantic scene: the Hackers soundtrack was a rapturous primitive trip for outsiders who were insiders.

Hackers follows a crew of high schoolers led by a very young Angelina Jolie and Johnny Lee Miller (under the codenames Crash Override and Acid Burn) fighting against The Plague, a hacker turned corporate tech security expert framing the kids for his own malicious schemes. At the dawn of the internet as we know it, that meant visualizing the inside of a computer as buildings fading into circuit boards. Furious typing is matched with twisted synths, and breaking through firewalls is scored by opening up the ambient heavens a la the Math Lady meme.

Director Iain Softley and composer Simon Boswell’s conjurative imagination of what the present was and what the future could be fused invention and innovation, psychedelia, trip-hop, and electronics into a hallucinatory heroes’ journey. The film harnessed a burgeoning scene taking over the U.K. and Europe and introduced it to outsiders in the U.S. The music was so beloved that the film spawned three soundtrack releases, two of which included tracks inspired by the film. However, some of Boswell’s compositions and other songs used in the film remained unreleased—including a surprise appearance by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. That changes, though, with an upcoming Record Store Day release, a double-vinyl set in support of the film’s anniversary.

To honor the cult favorite film’s invigorating exploration of a musical movement on Hackers’ 25th anniversary, the film’s director, composer, actors, costume designer and several contributing musicians reflect on the soundtrack’s emergence from a new wave of club music, the film’s prescient themes, and the feeling of community within and resulting from Hackers.

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The Birth of a New Rebel Music

Ian Softley, Director: I grew up being absorbed in music as much as I was with film. Growing up in London, music was everywhere. And then when I went to work in television in Manchester and Liverpool, I would see bands all the time, whether it was New Order or various blues bands or reggae. That was the first inspiration for me to write about music and I was really happy for Hackers to be a way of carrying that on. My assistant for the film, Gala Wright, was a sort of creative collaborator. I was listening quite broadly, but she would help out by suggesting tracks. The music supervisor, Bob Last, was looking out for bands that had more profile, hence Prodigy and Massive Attack.

Rob Birch, Stereo MC's: At the time it was [seen as] rebel music. It was the young years of this exciting wave of electronic music, which created what we have now.

Renoly Santiago, Actor, The Phantom Phreak: That music was just part of my everyday life. That era felt like the launch of what we today call electronic dance music, or EDM. Back then we called it dance music, or raver music. I really was like a club kid listening to house music.

Roger Burton, Costume Designer: I was very familiar with the electronic music scene in the U.K. and Europe, but then I went on a trip to N.Y.C. and got inspired by the club culture. The fetish and cross-dressing scene and all these subcultures fuelled my creative decisions, so Hackers is loaded with subtle fashion references that people still enjoy spotting.

Laurence Mason, Actor, Lord Nikon: Coming from New York, I've always been into the club scene and the fashion scene. Trip-hop, acid house, rave, tribal, all this music has a primitive element to them, a universality speaks to everyone. They weren't using traditional instruments, but they did still have that primal thing. And then of course Iain definitely brought some of the ‘60s psychedelic into it, which was going on as well. I actually even helped with security for [Stereo MC’s] first appearance in New York City. I grew up with Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Deep Purple, so for me to rebel, I got into Prodigy, Tricky and Massive Attack. I've always been into science-fiction. I was a big fan of William Gibson and cyberpunk.

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"Original Bedroom Rockers"

Paul Hartnoll, Orbital: I was raised by wolves! I taught myself in the backwaters of the middle of nowhere in Kent. [Laughs.] We had no idea what we were doing. I was into electronic music, and back then you just decided to copy what you like. You might have completely the wrong equipment, but you don't know that, so you get it done anyway and it ends up sounding different. If people ever say, "How'd you get your original sound?" I say, "I tried to copy other people and got it wrong." People always think I'm joking when I say that, but I'm not.

Peter Kruder, Kruder & Dorfmeister: It's actually just bedroom producers on the Hackers soundtrack. Everybody who's on that soundtrack literally made their music at home, from Orbital to Prodigy. It's probably one of the first movies that just had music made at home. We literally learned everything by doing it ourselves because there was no internet to learn from. We did everything by trial and error. It was a lot of work and a lot of hard stuff to learn in order to sound like other records. Most acts at that time were doing everything themselves. Everybody had their own label. We were always sharing information with other people, meeting at clubs or festivals. It was always an open community helping each other. That vibe stayed with people from that generation.

Richard Dorfmeister, Kruder & Dorfmeister: We actually lived in the studio. We were all like bedroom producers, just constantly programming and doing music. We were very dedicated and motivated by the fact that it was possible to do something without going to the studio, just to do it yourself with this electronic bedroom revolution.

Simon Boswell, Composer: I started composing in 1985, around the same time synthesizers and samples were becoming the thing for DJs. So, technologically, that’s what I was doing all the way through. It was actually something of an accident that I got to be a film composer. I'd been in various bands from punk time onwards. I was in a band that was less punk and more pop and toured with Blondie, but we weren't very successful. None of the bands I was in were very successful, so I became a record producer. I was working in Rome, producing Italian pop stars and rock stars, and was introduced to a horror director called Dario Argento at a party. He had seen my band play in Rome and asked me to help out on this first soundtrack, which was a movie called Phenomena. And it just went from there.

It's not normal that the film composer gets hired earlier on, but Iain knew me. So I went down to the studios just outside London where they were filming. I passed Angelina Jolie in the corridor and I stopped to introduce myself. I said the most stupid thing I've ever said: "Oh hi, pleased to meet you. I really love your dad's work." And she just looked me up and down and walked off because she and John Voight weren't getting on. [Laughs.] Also, Johnny Lee Miller owes me more than one beer. He got cast in Trainspotting because of me. Danny Boyle came down to set because I'd worked with him before, on Shallow Grave.

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A Timeless Trip Through A Cyber Hallucination

Softley: My first film was called Backbeat, and music was hugely important to that because it was partly about the Beatles in Hamburg. We had a great soundtrack for that, with Don Was producing and an amazing grunge supergroup with Dave Grohl, Mike Mills, Dave Pirner, Thurston Moore and Greg Dulli. So when Hackers came next, we had a screening with a number of record companies where we had early cuts of the film and they were like, "We thought it was going to be indie guitar music, grunge. Nobody in America listens to techno." And I said, "Well, that's the music that's right for the movie. It's a cyberpunk movie trying to anticipate the internet as a sort of equivalent for that generation’s rock and roll." The music had to be futuristic and ambient. The film was sort of like a cyber hallucination in the minds of the people involved and the music was completely integrated with the storytelling of the film. And the more time passed, then the more people realized that and those bands started to become more famous.

Mason: Iain’s love of music fueled everything, but it didn’t end there. I went to meet Iain in New York and I guess I got lucky because there was a newspaper on the seat next to me on the train ride there, and there was a story about some Nigerian hackers pulling scams. So, I think I actually had something intelligent to say while I was there. It was serendipitous. But Iain cast it perfectly. He knew exactly who we were or at least who we could be and he put those colors or those flavors together. Training-wise, we had some hackers help us at least make it look like we knew how to type and we had a New York Rangers professional hockey player teach us how to skate. None of us, aside from maybe Matthew Lillard, could skate at all.

Santiago: Iain also gave us copies of the book Neuromancer and talked about the outlandish costuming and sense of genre in the film Brazil. He would talk a lot about music and the effect of music on culture. To him, Hackers was like "finding the new rock and roll," which I think really correlates to the soundtrack.

Softley: There was that searching for new frontiers, a mix of music and technology. The idea for the film was that it was like they were in a band, so we actually put guitar straps on their laptops.

The film is a technological trip in many ways, like a hallucination, a fantasy world of data and technology. The costumes reflected that and I wanted music that evoked that sense of being transported. It's very dreamlike in many ways, as well as an amazing driving dance that takes over your whole body. That combination has been consistent with house music over the years. You have these bass beats that vibrate through your body, but then laid on top of that is this almost orchestral, hymn-like, mercurial, mysterious nature. Even the older people that were involved in the early days of the internet had been the hippies in San Francisco. I also went with the designer and the costume designer to [London nightclub] Ministry of Sound.

Burton: At the time, the internet was relatively new and unknown to most people, and I became interested in it through Wired magazine, as well as the growing electronic music scene and club fashion particularly in London and N.Y.C. I envisaged this exciting underground movement of hackers who lived by their own rules and dressed in an eclectic array of styles that were drawn from many different subcultures and zine and pop culture references, but were somehow timeless. 

Santiago: They wanted to go far-fetched with the costumes, but now even the stuff we wore looks a lot more normal. For instance, the leopard suit I wore! Guys hardly ever wore that. You might've seen leopard on Rod Stewart or maybe Mick Jagger. But there were some people that dressed that way and still do, so we were celebrating that. The whole cast went out to the club together, and then another time we went to a Pink Floyd concert. David Gilmour was involved in the soundtrack and he did such a beautiful job. Even Marc Anthony came along to the concert. We sat in the V.I.P. section and went to a party afterwards.

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"I'm Gonna Get Myself Connected"

Boswell: For almost 10 years before Hackers, I’d been doing electronic scores more in the vein of Tangerine Dream. Iain and I both realized that my film music was converging on this new kind of club scene or rave scene in the U.K. And when he asked me to do Hackers, he was going out to clubs and really quickly picking up on the EDM music scene. Iain was playing me all of this stuff by the Prodigy, Orbital, Underworld, all of this quite aggressive but moody EDM music.

Alex Paterson, The Orb: I looked at the soundtrack, and it was a bunch of mates of mine from the clubbing days back in London. We never really got picked up to do film scores. We’ve never been able to be pigeonholed, and that’s the fun of the game for me.

Kruder, Kruder & Dorfmeister: We heard about the film’s story and it sounded like a pretty good idea. We prefer things that are a little off and this idea was a little bit off because it was probably the first movie that put nerds on a higher level and celebrated being a nerd.

Jesse Bradford, Actor, Joey: I don't tend to rewatch movies that I'm in, but I avidly listened to the Hackers soundtrack from 15 to 17 years old. Growing up in semi-suburban Connecticut, it was a great compilation of the emergence of a new style of music, early electronic or whatever a devotee would choose to call it. At the time I remember listening to the Prodigy and it made me feel, amongst my peers, like I caught wind of something a little early, something inspiring.

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Birch, Stereo MC’s: When we were asked if we'd be up for putting the song on the soundtrack, we had a vague idea of what the movie was about. At that point, I didn't have a computer and I didn't really know much about the internet. I thought hacking was something the government and the police did. Let's face it, they were all doing it as much as anyone else was—and they still are. We used to have our recording studio in the living room. Nick [Hallam] would be watching TV with his girlfriend and I'd have the headphones on, putting beats together. We just couldn't get an idea for the verses and all of that. There were those race riots in America, when Rodney King had been brutalized by police officers, and we finished it at the same time as that. That was in the atmosphere when we made that record. It was a very unsettled social climate.

Boswell: No one knew what hackers were really, but subsequently so many people have come up to me, saying, "Oh, Hackers was my favorite movie. I grew up with that film!" And many of them are nerdy programmers who told me they liked that my music was quite psychedelic because they used to take acid and do programming. When we go inside the computer in the film, I was using backwards guitars, strange psychedelic electronic music. I got to use my favorite sounds I've loved ever since the '60s, which is the Mellotron sound in "Strawberry Fields Forever." I had to tie these different acts together and give the movie some emotional heart. My job was to make you care about these kids. Film music is the consciousness of a movie. That gives it a resonance, a depth. My job was also to make some of the drama and the darkness of the bad guys in it. Most of the soundtrack with those bands is kind of what you imagined the kids were listening to. My job was to be the stuff they weren't listening to, but more like what they were feeling. There are really cheesy moments in Hackers, which is probably why people like it as well [Laughs], but it was incredibly prescient in its vision of the future.

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Hartnoll, Orbital: Hackers came along at the same time as we got asked to do a piece of music for the very first PlayStation system for a game called Wipeout, which they'd feature in the film. [Angelina Jolie and Johnny Lee Miller] play a kind of souped up, fictitious version of it. Hackers was one of the early adopters, a film that wasn't afraid to use dance music in the score. Up until that point we complained that even though dance music was sweeping the world, film music was really old-fashioned. I created "Halcyon" after a big Saturday night out. On Sunday I was sitting around drinking and smoking with friends around my house, where my little studio was. I just said to someone, "I'm going to have a go at making a pop song." It was all done on a 909 drum machine, an R-8 drum machine, a Korg Wavestation, the Yamaha DX100 for the bass line, and an Emax 2 sampler. I sampled Kirsty Hawkshaw from the beginning of "It’s A Fine Day" by Opus III, because she was a friend of mine and we'd always said we'd do a track together. And then my friend Paul Isaac said, "Why don't you turn that voice backwards?" and we both said, "Oh, that's really good. That's good."

"Halcyon" is quite seductive in a friendly and all-encompassing way. It’s one of those instrumental, abstract tracks that really affects people, especially with its slow, ambient lovely beginning. Hackers starts off with a sad moment, but then it comes in with the beat and you think, "Yeah, maybe there's some hope here."

Kruder, Kruder & Dorfmeister: All our tracks took pretty long to do, in general, because it was rather difficult to get the songs the way we wanted them. That whole way of working was difficult. Now I can make a beat in five minutes, but back then you had to set the record, cut it up, and loop it, and each step took a million years. And then you went through the whole process, and sometimes you found out that it didn't really work and you had to scrap it and start again. But we really enjoyed it. It was a challenge to conquer the instruments that we used and to make things sound proper and professional.

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Mason: One thing that I thought worked really well was the last cut, by Squeeze, with Johnny and Angie in the pool. It's such a special moment, and a departure from the rest of the soundtrack. Obviously those two were deeply in love at that point. Who knows how much acting was involved. It's just very sweet. It's these two outsiders that found each other. These weren't the mainstream kids, the in-crowd. It's hard being a young person, but if you can find your tribe, you can have a good life and you look at things a little differently.

Softley: We did a limited soundtrack to accompany the U.K. release, which was about six months after the U.S. release. Those acts already had a following in the U.K. so that made a lot of sense. But for some reason we weren't able to get the rights for the tracks that Guy Pratt did with David Gilmour. We're thrilled that that's now on the re-release for Record Store Day. And also for the first time we will have an album that's released on double-vinyl, and it has great art that accompanies it.

Angelina Jolie (left) and Jonny Lee Miller (right)
Photo courtesy of IMDB / MGM

Every Generation Has Its Tribe

Mason: It is a movie, at its very essence, about youth. Each generation that sees it, it speaks to them. It just taps right into that spirit. All I can do is smile. I just feel very lucky I got to be a part of it. People constantly ask me, "When is number two coming out?" And I say, "Ask Angie." [Laughs.] Cause we're all still here, thank god. I mean, they should hurry up! It's still very relevant and a sequel would do really well.

Softley: I attended this technology and techno festival that was full of people that are high up in these multimillion-pound companies, and many of them said they were hugely influenced by Hackers or they associated with it. It felt like somebody was understanding who they were. And they turned up at the festival dressed like Acid Burn, with piercings and tattoos and crop tops and spiky hair.

Burton: Like Rebel Without a Cause, it deals with teenage angst that kids of that age can still really relate to—in fact so much so that even 25 years on I still receive regular emails and fan mail about it.

Boswell: The film [gained a cult following] because it didn't conform. That's probably why it wasn't successful at the time as well. It was such a brave new world. A lot of people just didn't get it. It wasn't familiar to them. They thought, "Who the f**k are these kids? What are they doing?" They weren't a subculture that most people were familiar with. The story does work on a thriller level. The thing about Hackers was it was quite brash and fresh, a history lesson.

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Bradford: The fact that it’s held up so long says a lot about the vision of the people that wrote it and conceived it, from director to soundtrack to costumes. In other words, maybe Hackers showed up at the right time, sort of like the Sex Pistols relative to punk music, to help define what that look was going to be. If you get in early enough, you help define something.

Birch, Stereo MC's: Although some electronic music has been absorbed into the corporate mainstream, the vast majority of good electronic music is still being made outside of the corporate mainstream. Most of the musicians and artists, even quite well known ones, still release on underground labels. People that are making electronic music still exist on the boundaries. They're still outsiders, even if a lot of people want to hear them. Most people that are involved in dance music, the whole vibe of it is very much one of consciousness. We're still outsiders.

Mason: Every generation has their tribe. And for the ‘90s, because the technology was really starting to kick off, there were some people ahead of the curve—and those are usually the leaders, whether it's music or fashion. All young people are about freedom and rebellion, and the added thing is the hackers were also about freedom of information, and that might've been a new element to a very common generational thing. We want to be free. We want to rebel against the powers that be, and you actually can't do that without information. I look at today and I'm so proud of these young people protesting. It just reminds me that there's always something to rage against.

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Franc Moody
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

billy idol living legend
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring


Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With

Graphic of 2023 GRAMMYs orange centered black background
2023 GRAMMYs

Graphic: The Recording Academy


Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2022 - 03:01 pm

Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.

Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.

Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."

Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business. 

As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.

Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"

In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.

Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt." 

There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.

Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"

Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.

After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon. 

"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"

Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.

In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."

Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall. 

Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"

When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.

Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production. 

Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.

Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"

Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."

Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar. 

Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List