As part of Idolator’s continuing effort to geekily analyze every music chart known to man, we present a new edition of Project X, in which Jackin’ Pop editor Michaelangelo Matos breaks down rankings from every genre imaginable. After the click-through, he breaks down the departed British dance magazine Muzik‘s Top 10 Singles of 1999:
Dance music in the late ’90s was utopian in a different way than that of the early ’90s. The difference was between living for the moment because things were going to get better if you just believed they would, and living for the moment because the party was never going to end; between the future is before our eyes and right about now, the funk soul brother; between “we’ve got nothing to lose” and “we’re rich!“
But even if the late ’90s were, musically speaking, a holding pattern, that doesn’t mean the glitter at its edges–or truthfully, holding its center–didn’t shine. Here’s the now-defunct British dance magazine Muzik‘s Top 10 Singles of 1999:
1. TLC: “No Scrubs” (LaFace)
2. Basement Jaxx: “Rendez-Vu” (XL)
3. Sasha: “Xpander” (Deconstruction)
4. Pete Heller: “Big Love” (Essential)
5. Whitney Houston: “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” (Arista)
6. Mr. Oizo: “Flat Beat” (F Communications)
7. ATB: “9 P.M. (Till I Come)” (Sound of Ministry)
8. Isolée: “Beau Mot Plage” (Classic)
9. The Aztec Mystic: “Knights of the Jaguar” (Underground Resistance)
10. Michael Moog: “That Sound” (Strictly Rhythm)
Two years before this list was compiled, during what the critic Will Hermes dubbed “the great electronica scare of 1997″ (he was joking, though history proved him right anyway), the stuff most heavily pushed in America was that which felt most like rock (or in drum and bass’s case, like hip-hop), whatever its breakbeat or 303 clothing. Then and now, nobody would mistake these house and trance tracks for rock. But even at the time, “Xpander,” “Big Love,” “9 P.M. (Till I Come),” and “That Sound” felt more like arena anthems than the obvious Chemical Brothers or Fatboy Slim hits. Not because they were being bellowed in stadiums–as if “Block Rockin’ Beats” or “The Rockafeller Skank” were. But what Sasha and Heller and ATB and Michael Moog aimed for was gigantism-for-its-own-sake; they expanded the cold throb of German trance and house’s disco roots, making them big and chewable, the way Led Zeppelin did the blues.
And just as Zep was built for arenas, from their titles on down, “Xpander,” “Big Love,” “9 P.M. (Till I Come),” and “That Sound” were built for superclubs. These tracks were the sound of money being spent–on ecstasy, on champagne, on jacked-up entrance fees, on alimony, on jet fare to Ibiza, on new laptops, on a business market with what, at the time, seemed like no bottom–and no top either, for that matter. Their basic ingredients, from the icy synth arpeggios of “Xpander” to the freeze-dried soul cut-ups of “Big Love” and “That Sound” to the bendable Skunk Baxter-outtake guitar of “9 P.M.,” are designed to whip around the perimeters of cavernous, tricked-up night spaces, to bounce off the large men with security earpieces guarding the exits, as eyes roll to the backs of heads on the dancefloor, all doubts dissolving like a sample through a low pass filter, hands aloft like lighters during “More Than a Feeling.” These records are precisely a feeling–a specific, fleeting one, one as evanescent as their moment.
Sometimes that’s enough. It’s certainly more benign than the emotions the two R&B records here evoke. Both “No Scrubs” and “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” fit sonically into their superclub-ostentatious surroundings, especially the much-remixed Houston record, and so do their treatment of money. With Whitney it’s more offhanded. Not only does she not need her live-in fuck-up’s shit anymore, she doesn’t need his pockets, either: “I can pay my own rent,” she spits in the middle of reading him the riot act, and it’s as essential a piece of information as which area codes show up on his caller ID. TLC just demand a mansion and kick the fuck-ups to the curb to simmer. “No Scrubs” is a brilliant piece of work I’ve never had much feeling for. But its blunt classism is the underside of Sasha et al’s anthems if anything is.
For some reason I find it hard to hear Basement Jaxx as part of this version of 1999, which is strange, given how evident their excesses are: “Rendez-Vu” is easily the most maximalist thing on this list. But it sounds less like expenditure-without-return than a free-for-all where everything works–the kind of party where cost isn’t the point. It’s the warmest track on the list by some distance, though the silly-putty bass line of Mr. Oizo’s “Flat Beat” is its equal in playfulness.
The Isolée and Aztec Mystic singles are playful, too. From this vantage, “Beau Mot Plage” is the most forward-looking record in the bunch; Philip Sherburne has fingered it as a key early microhouse track, and its mysterious, minimalist guitar flurries bounce around its invitingly greyscale sound field as modestly as the Sasha contingent preens over the VIP area. “The test of time” can be as false a determiner of worth as anything, as anyone recently subjected against their will to (for example) The Wall can tell you, but it does say something that “Beau Mot Plage” is the track on here you’re probably most likely to hear in a current DJ set. The second likeliest is probably “Jaguar,” the Aztec Mystic B-side, whose gurgling synth shapes are moored less to their year than to their style, classicist Detroit techno.
“Knights of the Jaguar,” by the way, refers to the Aztec Mystic 12-inch in full, not to a track title; the astringent A-side is titled “Ascension.” Which reminds me: why do dance-music people insist on calling every 12-inch an “EP”? Forgive me for being a crotchety old man about this, but really, it’s simple: if your release has fewer than three songs on it, it is, by definition, not an EP. It’s a single; I don’t care how long it is. Like using text-message shorthand in place of actual English, or alphabetizing by first name, it violates the natural order of things. And yes, I know I’m a dinosaur. Why else would I bother to write about music as, like, ancient as this list?