Trumpets and Turntables: An Introduction to Electro Swing

By Hannah Wisterman
Music Journalist

In 2013, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby hit theaters. Almost immediately, the “Roaring 20s” theme spread like wildfire from event to event. Fringe dresses, flapper-style headbands, and fonts to replicate vintage typography ran rampant. Among the fads, was a genre of music that had previously only gotten a brief spotlight in one-off TV commercials and background tracks: electro swing.

Electro swing is basically what it says on the tin. It combines the bass and beats (the “wub-wub,” if you will) of house and EDM music with the shuffle rhythm and big-band sound of swing music. The blending of these elements creates a high-energy, engaging sound that all but demands movement and dance. In fact, the ease with which one can dance to electro swing has spawned a style of dance that follows the same formula as the music—shuffling as one would to house music on the downbeat, and adding swing dance flavor on the upbeat. But fear not, specialized dancers: electro swing’s blended nature means that traditional swing or traditional hip hop dance can fit to the melodies just as well on their own. With these two elements, music and dance, at the forefront, electro swing has brought about new venues and festivals, and has slowly gathered momentum on the outside tracks of the music scene. While it’s not for everyone, it can bring some brightness to day-to-day life.

Electro swing’s (surprisingly long) history deserves acknowledgment and respect, but given the many, many DJs and artists who experimented with it and contributed to its growth, it might be more time-efficient to just present you with some entry points to the genre. Electro swing is particularly predominant in Europe, where the genre was pioneered. Thus, most of its top artists are European, such as electro-swing trailblazer Parov Stelar, an Austrian DJ with such songs as “Booty Swing” and “Catgroove”. You’ve more than likely already heard Stelar’s music in commercials already.

Another electro swing icon is Caravan Palace, a personal favorite of mine. While newer to the scene, debuting in 2008, the French band’s music has already graced So You Think You Can Dance and Later with Jools Holland. Most of the line-up plays both traditional instruments (violin, trombone, saxophone, to name a few) and electronics. Lead vocalist Zoé Colotis often takes energetic dance breaks during performances. Combine that with their music videos, which are often quirky animated mini-stories, and you have one charming and deftly talented electro swing band.

While Stelar and Caravan Palace are Last.fm’s two top-billed electro swing artists, there exists a deep cornucopia of other musicians and DJs dedicated to the scene, and I highly encourage exploring those that are lesser known. An excellent compilation of such artists can be found here. Whether you’re an EDM fan looking for something with a little more flair, a jazz enthusiast looking for something for your friends, or simply a music fan looking for the soundtrack for your next Gatsby-style party, try giving electro swing, well, a swing.

Featured image via Carstor, via Wikimedia Commons.

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