When Mattie Safer, bassist for the Rapture, answered the phone, he'd just arrived at the Motown Museum in Detroit. He seemed a little preoccupied, and rightly so; as he puts it, everyone is a fan of Motown in one way or another.
"It's kind of like not being a fan of ice cream," he said.
The same might be said for dancing. Everybody's a fan of it in one way or another, whether you like to two-step, tango or watch from the sidelines. (Unless, of course, you're a member of one of those religious sects that think dancing is akin to Satan worship and a deviant act of sexual misconduct.) But dance music, as in electronic dance music--pulsing techno beats and hypnotic bass lines designed to work your limbs into a satanically deviant sexual frenzy--is an area of contention. What makes good dance music? Why is most of the good dance music from Europe? And can a live rock band make good dance music?
These are all questions that inform The Rapture's music. Since singer and guitarist Luke Jenner joined with Vito Roccoforte to form The Rapture in San Francisco in the mid-'90s, the band has weathered a move to New York, made several changes in lineup (settling on Safer on bass and his cousin Gabe Andruzzi on keyboards, sax and percussion), released Mirror on Gravity Records, signed with Sub Pop, released a breakout dance hit ("The House of Jealous Lovers") with the assistance of the DFA (Death From Above) production team, were dropped from Sub Pop and signed to a subsidiary of Universal Records.
A new record, Echoes, was released last month. Since then, they've graced the front cover of nearly every rock music magazine, which could explain why Safer has such an articulate idea of The Rapture's ideas and goals.
"(We're) looking to make records that could be played in clubs that could stand up to and demolish dance records," explained Safer.
The Rapture make dance music from a "band perspective, not a DJ/producer perspective," said Safer. "It's a pretty natural thing ... ultimately, that's what it comes from--drum machines are programmed instruments."
Many dance artists don't play instruments that make their music, said Safer, so The Rapture adopted a "late-'70s dance music-like focus," since "nobody was doing an update ... playing and making dance music."
Echoes finds The Rapture playing and making dance music at the intersection of Manchester in the '80s and today's New York City. The Joy Division and PiL correlation is hard to ignore, especially on the title track and "Sister Savior"; Tony Curtis would be proud.
"The House of Jealous Lovers," which was released as a single last year and ended up being played alongside more traditional dance club artists, is on the record, along with the electronic "Olio" and "I Need Your Love." "Heaven" is straight out of Williamsburg rock a la the Liars and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
But as soon as you think you've pegged The Rapture as another New York Gang of Four-inspired rock band, they slip "Open Up Your Heart" under the door. This is a standard, slow love song, with a Beatles-esque bassline, piano and lyrics like "kill your fears today."
A few songs even have an experimental jazz edge to them. When the keyboards and bass hook launch in "I Need Your Love," it becomes clear that Echoes is a one-stop prom playlist complete with crazy flail-your-arms-and-freak-your-date songs, slow songs and straight-up rock songs to bob your head to while you refill your plastic Dixie cup with punch.
What could help Echoes become a classic dance record is that tension between songs and inside individual songs--keyboards versus drums versus saxophone versus screaming punk rock vocals. Despite the variation from song to song, The Rapture's focus links the record together.
It's "more of an idea in terms of how to make music," said Safer, so even if The Rapture sounds like a sentimental pop band one minute and super hipster dance rockers the next, every song is beat-based and bass-backed music you can cut a rug to, without annoying repetitive noises made on a $3,000 machine.