This week the BPI confirmed that dance music has seen a streaming upswing. It follows Music Week’s analysis of the booming genre in our latest edition.
A key player in that upswing is Warner Records A&R manager Anton Powers. He signed LF System, who spent eight weeks at the summit with Afraid To Feel (847,160 sales to date - Official Charts Company).
Powers also co-signed Eliza Rose alongside Warner Records head of A&R, Keir Fullerton. The DJ and singer’s No.1 hit B.O.T.A. (Baddest Of Them All) with Interplanetary Criminal has sales of 496,577 (OCC).
Here, Anton Powers shares insights on the genre’s boom, the strength of the scene and the outlook for dance music…
It’s been two-and-a-half years since you joined Warner Records, how have you settled in?
“It was a bit of a tough start because we were trying to release dance music when there were no clubs open. That was the big issue in terms of dance music, because people need to feel it - it’s a tangible experience to share with friends on the dancefloor, whether it’s a festival or a club. It's great that you've got loads of DSP playlists supporting dance music and specialist radio shows, which are all brilliant at shining a spotlight on the music. But you can’t beat that feeling of people having music on a big sound system, in a field with all their mates or in a club.”
What’s behind the current dance music boom?
“I think it's a combination of factors really, which has created a big groundswell. The fact that the nightclubs and festivals are back again, after two years of no one being able to go out, it’s a massive scene and you see the shared experience of people out and about with friends and feeling the music. The thing to add to that as well is that there's a whole new generation of people that might be going out and experiencing these big events for the first time ever. Also, during the summer, you could see the spikes on the DSP platforms every time the weather was good.”
How does the current economic climate affect the dance sector?
“The situation we're in with the cost of living crisis, inflation sky high and - hopefully not - a pending recession… Dance has always been seen as a way to kind of escape the day-to-day shit that we’re dealing with of late. I’m too young to remember but during the ’80s, there was acid house and all the illegal raves. It's probably not to that level nowadays but that's definitely played a significant part [in the dance boom]. Whether people are just listening to Danny Howard [on Radio 1] or listening to me on KISS, or listening to danceXL on Apple Music, or whether they're going to Creamfields or a local club, more people are just engaged with dance music because of the other stuff that's going on in our lives.”
How healthy is the current scene?
“There’s great music around at the moment - it’s a really exciting time for dance music. There's great new talent coming through now with the likes of Patrick Topping, Ewan McVicar, Ben Hemsley, Jodie Harsh, LF system Eliza Rose, and established acts like Bicep, Calvin Harris and David Guetta are still putting out great music. So it feels like you've got the legends in the game bringing loads of great music to the forefront, but also the new talent coming through as well. So the combination of all that's probably created this dance bubble at the moment. And the fact that the likes of Drake and Beyonce and many others are using dance music a lot in their music is probably testament to that as well.”
Dance music is definitely out there in the wider culture right now…
“If you look at people like Becky Hill as well. I take my hat off to Becky Hill, because she's been on the scene a long time and she's absolutely worked her socks off. Between her, the manager and her team, she must have had so many lows and a proper rollercoaster, but she's riding the crest at the moment, she's been relentless and she deserves the moment she's getting. She's putting out brilliant commercial dance and it's working. So artists like that are just creating more noise for dance music, and also for the underground scenes to come through as well. Everyone looks at the chart positions, but there's a great underground scene coming through and they can start to cross over those records as well.”
The younger generation coming through now just love all kinds of genres of dance music, they're not music snobs
Can you feel the buzz now with the audience when you’re DJing?
“Yeah, 100%. Especially the younger generation coming through now. The older generation, the veterans so to speak, are quite pigeonholed in their love of a particular style of dance music - we just like house music or deep house music, or we just like tech house, trance or drum & bass. Whereas the younger generation just love all kinds of genres of dance music, they're not music snobs in that respect. If you look at Spotify or Apple or Amazon, those playlists are just focused on great dance music - you can hear a High Contrast record, next to a Four Tet record, next to a Bicep record, next to a Calvin Harris record. People don’t have that snobbery in terms of the music. So I think the younger generation are definitely forming a wider appetite for dance music from all different genres.”
We should acknowledge the power of TikTok. How important is it for creating dance hits?
“TikTok is obviously a massive platform. A lot of people said to me that they thought that Eliza [Rose] and LF System were broken from TikTok, but that wasn't actually the case. TikTok was a bit of a catalyst for those records, though. When I was putting out records a few years ago, for dance records to get from the clubs to high in the charts, it could take six to nine months quite easily. It was a really long campaign and had to have a lot of stuff going on all the time to get to that point. But nowadays, the campaign is much shorter. TikTok has been the catalyst for that, it’s really turbocharged the campaigns. These records [Afraid To Feel and B.O.T.A.] were obviously building anyway, but TikTok jumping on it just turbocharged it. Those records went from zero to 100 a lot quicker than previous dance records from a couple of years ago.”
You also joined KISS last year - has that show become a powerful platform for you as a tastemaker?
“I've been doing regional dance radio shows for many years in the north-west and, to be honest, I thought that was my ceiling as everybody was closing the door on me in London. The fact I wasn't based in London and didn’t have a London voice was a major factor. Thankfully, Rebecca Frank at KISS reached out and gave me an opportunity, and I will be forever thankful for her for that and for believing in me. I've always done A&R and radio at the same time, it has been like cross-pollination throughout the years. I've always been a massive fan of KISS over the years. And to be part of that, with two of the key shows on the weekend is phenomenal, really, it’s a great platform for me.”
You obviously can’t ignore massive records you might have worked on - how do you handle that at KISS?
“It’s literally a case of letting people know what records I'm working on. I'm not an anomaly - there are other people involved with radio stations who also have positions in record labels and management as well. There have been no issues so far. I've always been first and foremost a radio DJ over the years, completely impartial and making sure I support all the best new music around. I see myself as a gatekeeper because there's so much music out there.”
Subscribers can read the Big Story on dance music from our latest issue here.
And click here for our Eliza Rose interview.