Dance music was born in the heavy hearts of people who had been cast out of everyday society. We flock to dance floors to commune with our kind and heal our battered souls. It can be messy, sweaty business, but it's a euphoric celebration. Here, we shout out 10 electronic tunes that bravely face the darkest parts of our minds, inviting us to find peace in musical escape.
Rufus Du Sol, “Underwater”
When recording its third album Solace, Rufus Du Sol made a big leap from its native Australia to the music mecca of Los Angeles. It's a permanently sunny place full of breezy palm trees, golden beaches and glorious mountains, but it also comes with a shadow side. As the trio mentioned in a track-by-track with Billboard Dance. They lost themselves a little bit in the process, battling moments of disconnect and isolation. “Underwater” is a song that leans on the friends who know us best to save us when we need it most.
Rezz feat. Underoath, “Falling”
Themes of fear and anxiety have never been far from Rezz' gritty moods. The hypnotic hero behind the glowing goggles brings a heavy touch of doom to her psychedelic sound. She's got a song called “Paranoid” on an EP titled Something Wrong Here. Instability has been the vibe. “Falling,” however, is a much more vulnerable take, and not just because of Underoath singer Aaron Gillespie's throaty cries of “I don't wanna be like this.” Rezz uses fat synth alarms, heart-racing rhythms and dynamic textures to create a panicked atmosphere that erupts in chaotic relief. It marked an evolution of her sound and gave voice to the tension always bubbling under her music's surface. It's definitely a good one for belting and dancing out your uneasiest feelings.
Alison Wonderland, “Easy”
Once when I was about 12, I was talking to my best friend in a parking lot and suddenly burst into tears. Nothing about the situation was sad. We were having a rather cheerful, mundane conversation. I just had so much pain stuffed inside that it forced its way out in random bursts. When Alison Wonderland sings, “Walked into the bathroom just so I could cry/ Wish I knew why,” it resonates for me and millions of others. This song's sunny melodies and bare-hearted lyrics capture the surreal confusion and vast gray areas of depression. You can really want to be happy and find moments of abandon in the midst of what's otherwise an ongoing case of acute “can't get off the couch.”
Matt FX, “Vaquero”
When Broad City music supervisor Matt FX found himself falling into darkness, he fought back with sunshine synths and punchy beats. According to the producer, “Vaquero” was written during a “very, very dark time” in the early days of Coronavirus quarantine. “I was truly just trying to create some sonic catharsis for myself.” He drew inspiration from the memory of a day spent learning to ride horseback with some Mexican cowboys in the mountains of Tepotzlan. The result is an upbeat six-minute instrumental that glows with silver lining. There's a touch of melancholy in its bass lines, but it's so fun and silly, you can't help but smile. Released on Sorry Records, all proceeds support the non-profit Crisis Text Line.
Porter Robinson, “Something Comforting”
You don't have to dig further than the first lyric to find the emotional struggle in “Something Comforting.” Porter Robinson has always worn his heart on his sleeve, and his forthcoming LP Nurture is all about his journey out of a two-year creative block.
“‘Something Comforting’ happened at the peak of that struggle,” Robinson says in a video posted to Facebook. “I was trying for hundreds of hours a week to make something new, trying so many new ideas and just feeling unhappy with everything … I was really beginning to question whether or not I would ever be able to make music again. And that was a very, very scary thought to me. But it was during that time that I wrote this section of something comforting … this little instrumental hook.” The minute-long ditty gave him home that things would turn around. Let this be “Something Comforting” to you, too.
Yaeji, “Waking Up Down”
Radiohead's “Fitter, Happier” is one of my all-time favorite songs. The robotic drone listing all the markers that imply having-it-all-together as a modern human descending into disgust and madness just really hits the mark. Likewise, Yaeji's “Waking Up Down” parodies my checklist-driven adulthood, albeit in a much less sinister, much groovier way. The Korean American producer manages to create music and art, spend time with friends and family and keep her head above the raging seas of anxiety, and “Waking Up Down” is a defiant celebration of all those things (while leaving room for doubt, because you can not totally defeat doubt). Having my hydration, cooking and listening on lock makes me wanna hit the dance floor, and if anyone wants to tell you you're lazy or that your emptiness is your own fault, drown their hatin' voices with Yaeji's funk.
Krewella feat. Arrested Youth, “Anxiety”
Self-hatred is the worst part of being down. When your own inner voice turns on you, there's nowhere to run. We're living in a culture that simultaneously glamorizes and demonizes pharmaceutical drug abuse. On “Anxiety,” Krewella sings "My friend's got Xannys for anxiety / Some people are allergic to sobriety," and we all know that kind of numb doesn't remove an ounce of pain. Taken from the duo's 2020 album zer0, this song faces the void head on, turning guilt and anguish into aching melody. There's some pop-punk tinge with Arrested Youth's verse and frenetic rhythms in its big-hit drops. If you need something for your sanity, try rage dancing to this one when no one's watching.
Sophie, “It's Okay to Cry”
Look, life is overwhelming. We don't ask to be born into this world, and there are no right or wrong answers. We have to navigate this mess one day at a time, and if you find that the weight becomes a little too heavy, give yourself some room and have that cry. Sophie's lead single from Grammy-nominated album Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides honors that space and brings relief to life in grand, heavenly chaos. This is one of the most precious sounds the experimental producer has ever conjured, an ever-growing build toward mechanical release. Get caught up in its whirlwind and come out the other side a more whole-hearted being.
Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc, “SOS”
It's hard not to cry when you listen to Avicii. There's no greater symbol for the importance of love, understanding and awareness in the dance scene's struggle for mental wellness. Avicii may have lost his battle, but his music continues to bring light to millions of people around the world. In the wake of his death, “SOS” is a humbling song. It feels like a cry for help, and yet it's packed with all the hope and light of Avicii's most uplifting hooks. The synth lines soar high above the clouds, dancing toward a brighter sun that will never stop shining.
Griz feat. DRAM, “It Gets Better”
No matter how low your lows, you've got to keep a little flame inside your soul. That's the fire that reminds you hope is still alive. Take it from the millions of us who have clawed through the other side -- there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “It Gets Better” washes the darkness in bright horns and funky bass lines, while Dram and the kids come through with an inspirational hug. Life is never going to be easy, but it's not always going to be hard. Next time you're feeling down, play this song loud and know you're never truly alone.