"One of those moments when dance really took 'the song' back."
Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was -- the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period -- with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
Just as dubstep was on the verge of becoming the next massive wave in EDM, two brothers from Surrey, England decided to crash the dancefloor with a single song.
Howard and Guy Lawrence, better known as Disclosure, released “Latch” -- the lead single from their acclaimed 2013 debut album Settle -- in Oct. 2012. It was a sparkling deep house track that leaned more soulful than electronic due to the heartfelt vocals from a then still largely unknown Sam Smith. The duo met Smith through Jimmy Napes, a mutual friend and songwriter (known for his work with fellow Brits Jessie Ware, Clean Bandit, and Gorgon City). Their first studio encounter led to the birth of “Latch.”
“It was a fun process full of excitement and joy. We worked hard when we needed to, and went to the pub a couple of times when we didn’t,” the duo, who wrote the tune with both Smith and Napes in the studio, writes to Billboard. “We couldn’t believe Smithy wasn’t already famous. Sam had the personality, the look, the hair. You could definitely tell big things would be on the horizon.”
“Latch” was the complete opposite of what was occurring in the dance world at the time. As dubstep heroes like Benga, Bassnectar and Skrillex were pounding out intense bass drops and grimy synths, Disclosure opted for a verse-chorus-verse structure and poppier melodies. The more classic approach is what got radio DJs like Apple Music’s Beats 1 host Zane Lowe hooked on Disclosure’s sound.
“I remember when [BBC Radio 1 DJ] Annie Mac played an early demo from Disclosure and I was just blown away,” Lowe explains. “I was instantly like, ‘Who is this?’ I was super impressed by the fact that they were pulling lots of different influences: U.K. garage, a little deep house, R&B and pop.”
Like Lowe, many weren’t prepared for the “Latch” moment -- due to “Sam’s really big, diva-esque vocal with this beautiful vulnerability that was put over this thoughtful, modern hybrid dance music.” Yet the song didn’t make for an instant hit. It took two years after its release to peak at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. So why the long wait? “America's big, for starters,” explains Lowe. “It's a much longer hill to roll down.”
He credits “Latch” for changing dance music’s previous fan experience into becoming more personalized. “You didn't think, ‘I can't wait to go to the club tonight and lose my mind to this!’ You wanted to listen to it just as a song. [That sound] was something people didn't know they had an appetite for until Disclosure came along and reminded them.”
Once the success of “Latch” traveled across the pond and into other audiences, the song found homes in unexpected places beyond EDM. It peaked at No. 5 on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, No. 3 on Rhythmic Songs chart and No. 10 on Adult R&B Songs -- a rare occurrence for predominantly white British DJs at that time.
From party singalongs to wedding dancefloors, Disclosure’s “Latch” grasped listeners from varying ages who either appreciated its old-school style or were discovering house music for the first time. “It opened this hole that was waiting to be filled by vocally lead dance music,” the sibling pair notes. “Once America got hold of it and grew there, we knew that it would be a career-defining moment in time for us.”
“We didn't have a lot of dance music providing a canvas for songwriters at that point,” Lowe says. “[It was] one of those moments when dance really took the song back -- and Disclosure was really at the spearhead of that.”