Are We Ready For A Bloghouse Revival?
Musical nostalgia for the 2000s has never been stronger—but that may have more to do with missing MP3 blogs than anything else.
Art for A-Trak's "Bloghaus Revival Mix."
In the mid-2000s, dance music hit a wall. The gnashed-teeth noise of electroclash had sputtered to a halt several years previous, and minimal techno's bloops-and-bleeps aesthetic was wearing out its welcome. In a 2006 installment of his since-discontinued Pitchfork column The Month in Techno, music critic Philip Sherburne noted that minimal's rise in big tent culture was causing the underground to reject the term entirely. And perhaps, in nomenclature alone, they had a point: "The problem...is that no terms have come along to supplant 'minimal,' and it's come to mean as little as 'progressive,' a genre misnomer if there ever was one," he wrote.
This is where bloghouse comes in, a genre defined by...wait, what is bloghouse? The answer—or, at least, an answer—is that bloghouse wasn't so much a genre as it was a trend, an informal grouping of electronic-focused artists who rode a wave of buzzy success off of coverage from small-scale MP3 blogs. Bloghouse grouped together a mishmash of veteran DJs, indie bands who had recently purchased samplers, remix-focused aesthetes, and careerist musicians looking to reinvent themselves at a time when the bookish, folksy sensibilities of early-2000s indie culture were falling out of vogue. The point of intersection in a Venn diagram of "dance" and "indie," bloghouse combined thumping beats and streamlined melodic sensibilities at a time when dance music was too inscrutable for the mainstream and indie was too boring for the party kids.
The origins of the term itself are hard to trace, but many first learned of bloghouse through meta-satirist and accidental tastemaker Carles' Hipster Runoff blog. "I am unsure if the definitive characteristic of BLOG HOUSE is that the artist gained steam thanks to blogs, or if it 'just sounds a certain way,'" Carles wrote in a 2008 post titled "WTF is Blog House?." "Is BLOGHOUSE about sounding a certain way, or is it just like 'a lot of ppl searched for it on hypemachine and downloaded it, and they got remixed since people wanted free versions of their songs so much[?]'" Arguably, bloghouse artists had very little in common beyond the presence of electronic elements in their music and the role that the internet had in growing their audience.
And so bloghouse cast a large umbrella: an incomplete survey of the genre could include French buzzsaw-electro titans Justice; MSTRKRFT's sweet-toothed muscle-flexing pop; begotten dance-rockers Does It Offend You, Yeah?; Australian emo-techno bro Muscles; the reformed British rockers-cum-techno scientists in Simian Mobile Disco; the down-and-dirty electro of France's Ed Banger crew; and more remixers than you can shake a Beatport chart at. "There's a couple different shades of bloghouse that evolved over time," music critic Meaghan Garvey, who's written a considerable amount on modern dance music for Pitchfork, stated during a phone interview. "It's hard to describe the sound without all the aesthetics and context."
Bloghouse wasn't the first instance where the tastemaker economy of MP3 blogs exerted a considerable influence on listening habits at large, and it wasn't the last, either—that'd be the 2009-2010 rise and fall of chillwave and witch house. Still, it emerged at a specific sweet spot in the e-tastemaker era, one where refreshing sites like Big Stereo and Discobelle and spending hours trawling for remixes on MP3 blog aggregator Hype Machine was as much of a scene activity as hitting up now-defunct venues like Brooklyn's Studio B or Los Angeles' Cinespace with the hopes of ending up on party-pics blog LastNightsParty. "What ties together a lot of bloghouse is how we discovered it—MySpace and blogs," Fool's Gold founder, DJ, and producer A-Trak explained to THUMP over the phone while in Miami for Art Basel. "It was a point in time where a lot of people and influences converged. There was an openness to what the sound really was."
A-Trak is more or less the reason why, nearly six years after bloghouse tapered off, we're talking about the genre at all: last month, he dropped a mix titled "Bloghaus Revival," compiling choice cuts from the genre's 2007-2009 peak and cheekily adding in the SoundCloud description, "If you ever wore a neon-colored all-over hoodie you can probably relate."
"What ties together a lot of bloghouse is how we discovered it—MySpace and blogs. It was a point in time where a lot of people and influences converged. There was an openness to what the sound really was."—A-Trak.
"It's something that I had in my head for a while," A-Trak said, adding that he found time to throw the hour-long session together while working on his Beats 1 radio show Day Off Radio. "I could sense the time was right in the musical climate for that kind of throwback. Even in some subtle things I hear in newer electronic music, I can hear hints back to highlights from that era. I wanted to go all the way there."
Some era-defining bloghouse tracks were themselves throwbacks to dance music of an earlier era, from disco's airy spangle to the French touch's gleaming synths. In particular, Gallic vets Alan Braxe and Fred Falke enjoyed a new level of popularity through their sterling reputation as remixers. A-Trak, for his part, certainly isn't shy to recognize Braxe and Falke's place within bloghouse's legacy: his mix seamlessly blends Falke's classic remix of Swedish indie band the Whitest Boy Alive's "Golden Cage" into Falke and Braxe's punchy take on Kelis' "Bossy"—two neon-streaked cuts that could arguably be considered in the top tier of the canon.
It's surprising, then, that Falke professes ignorance towards bloghouse full stop. "It doesn't ring a bell," Falke says sincerely, claiming to be a voracious internet user who doesn't pay much attention to modern electronic music. "I come from that French scene, but I do my own stuff—the music is the way I like it." The 42-year-old producer just released Alpha, his first EP of original material in five years, and has a new full-length on the way. His re-emergence is one of a few stirrings coming from France's electronic scene suggesting that a full-on revival of one of bloghouse's signature sounds is in the works.
"Bloghouse was such a late-2000s hipster thing that when the idea of what a hipster was started to be totally meaningless, bloghouse started to lose any sort of meaning."—Meaghan Garvey
After years of relative inactivity, Justice is returning to the stage on New Year's Eve at a "secret" Brooklyn performance space; and film director Mia Hansen-Løve's recent nostalgic drama Eden looked at the past and present of French house and techno, from Daft Punk's humble beginnings to the present-day. 2016 will bring a new album from Ed Banger associate Breakbot, and on that label's recent Essential Mix, it was revealed that there's a fresh long-player from French house geniuses Cassius on the way, too.
On the US tip, a synthy tang and forceful sense of rhythm has graced overground pop singles like Jason Derulo's "Want to Want Me" and the Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" (both of which owe a bit to the nü-disco revival kicked off by bloghouse OGs Daft Punk's "Get Lucky"). Even EDM is starting to sound a little bloggier these days: the radiant stutter-and-thump of Zeds Dead's remix of Tink's "Wet Dollars," in particular, sounds like an explicit callback to bloghouse's days of yore.
So are we about to undergo a bloghouse revival? The stage certainly seems set for it, aesthetically. While underground dance music is currently brimming with ideas, the fields of house and techno have been gripped by a sense of stasis not unlike what it underwent in the days of minimal fatigue. Even when measured by its own standards, EDM has also become culturally adrift, the genre's economic bloat (and possible implosion) paired with a stymied creative landscape.
"There hasn't been a banger—there hasn't been one song that everyone plays," A-Trak says, pointing to Martin Garrix's massive 2013 tune "Animals" as the last all-encompassing big-room hit in recent memory. "As for the underground, I'm not sure what the underground even means anymore...Everyone's working with songwriters and vocalists to make pop songs now, which is bringing back a sense of melody—and one thing about bloghouse is that it was very melodic."
Even so, there's something standing in the way of a real-deal bloghouse revival: the general decline of the small MP3 blog as a tastemaking force, with major publications and social media influencers stepping in decide what's cool and what isn't, often relying on tips from an increasingly underground-minded coterie of publicists. "There are still a lot of cool indie, underground and lesser-known artists out there making the modern equivalent of bloghouse," Dev Sherlock, the Director of Outreach/Artist Relations at Hype Machine, told me over email. "But it's harder for them to break through the noise now, because the industry has established a firmer grip on distribution and promotion than they had between 2005 and 2010."
Indeed, the end of the previous decade seems to be an agreed-upon point at which bloghouse's luster lost its shine. "By 2010, it was hard to care anymore," Garvey confesses. "Bloghouse was such a late-2000s hipster thing that when the idea of what a hipster was started to be totally meaningless, bloghouse started to lose any sort of meaning. A lot of the pop music that came out in the past year gave me bloghouse vibes, but I don't know if it could come back in any legitimate way. That moment of the internet is dead, and it can't be recreated. All of the fun shit now seems deeply cynical."
Of course, it's possible that some of the sonic attributes we associate with bloghouse—clean melodic lines, rock-leaning song structures, Gallic influences—will come back, but any genre revival is always bound to provoke cynical reactions, mostly due to the nature of revivals themselves: why should we focus on the past when some of the best music and truest artistry turns its eyes towards envisioning a new future? Perhaps it's best to view bloghouse's re-emergence in the conversation as pure nostalgia—and to enjoy it as such.
As Garvey points out, there were plenty of good times to be had as a listener in the days of bloghouse: "Looking back, it all feels so stupid and ironic, but at the time I thought, 'This is what music is all about.' Part of me truly fell in love with music through bloghouse. I had never participated in music culture that was so all-encompassing. It made me feel so alive." At the end of the day, more than the warming sounds of bloghouse itself, maybe that's what A-trak was chasing when he made that mix and started the whole thing: a feeling.