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Meme nation: How dance music rediscovered its funny side

Big bag of memes for everyone

  • Patrick Hinton
  • 28 December 2017

We’re surveying 2017 across a series of features. Next up: The year in memes

2016 was like a hangover in year form. From the Brexit and Trump votes to the endless celebrity deaths and flimsy house dominating the charts, there was an unwavering sickly feeling, accompanied by an internal prayer for the end and hope for pastures new. Alas. If 2016 was a hangover, then 2017 was a comedown. A pit of unfathomable gloom, as the effects of political change plunged the world back towards the dark ages.

But even in the bleakest Sunday evening despair there’s comforts: blankets, ambient mixes, orange Lucozade. You seek light where you can. Among the swirling murk of 2017, hordes of dance music fans have turned to memes - a trend that has swept the house nation.

In October 2016 we ran an editorial titled Let's face it: Berghain has become dance music's biggest meme. It was a light-hearted look at how the revered dance institution is regularly the subject of internet jokes, worth commenting on because it was somewhat novelty for these worlds to cross paths. But in 2017, dance music itself has becomes dance music’s biggest meme.

All areas of the culture have been squashed into low-res jpegs and structurally formatted tweets. Any time a new meme has arisen to viral status it’s been appropriated for relatable content about The Sesh, hating EDM and producer problems - that face when you spend half an hour quantising a kick drum then Ableton crashes am I right?! Prominent scene figures have also spearheaded meme movements with their influencer cache. Pages such as Humans Of The Sesh and Ketflix & Pills have exploded in popularity, lording over their own URL and IRL empires, helming club nights and clothing brands, and inspiring fashion movements. Ghostly’s after dark/night manager on Twitter has run riot.

They say bad times make great art, but they also make great memes. (Even Barack Obama got in on the act, wishing his friend and former VP Joe Biden happy birthday in meme format while coming to terms with western democracy’s collapse.) When a dancefloor no longer feels like an escape, solace is at least guaranteed in the revelry of internet humour. In the timeline below, we look back on how the biggest meme of each month helped music fans find the yang within the yin of 2017.

January
Salt Bae

The year kicked off with a deep fascination for Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe aka Salt Bae and the grace with which he salted his finely carved meat, winning fans such as Rihanna and Danny Welbeck. Naturally, his image also became the perfect foil to mirror the mastery of DJ Sprinkles, or poke fun at DJ Khaled’s catchphrase obsession, and describe that feel of fine-tuning a mix.

February
Roll Safe

Here is a meme that emerged from the world of music and its intersection with comedy. Kayode Ewumi’s character Roll Safe caricatures a fledgling, delusional MC, first appearing in the 2015 mockumentary #HoodDocumentary. The hilarious short shot Roll Safe to fame, with BBC Three producing a follow-up clip that dropped in June 2016. Early this year a screenshot from the sequel of Roll Safe tapping his head became a vessel for people across the globe to dish out life advice, whether that was parodying genuine rapper Travis Scott’s bars, used in edited form by genuine grime MC JME, or being real, bleak, questionable and so on.

March
Expanding Brain

The Expanding Brain format shows the path to enlightenment via a series of linked steps/activities. Irony runs deep in this meme, and it’s commonly used to mock one’s own unshakable bad habits or other’s archaic ways, such as the types of people who comment “I’m only 7 and I love Led Zeppelin!!” on YouTube videos. (Discover rap music, losers.) Our favourite dance music related edit ragged on tech snobs, see above.

Holy fuck!

A post shared by deadmau5 (@deadmau5) on

April
Szechuan sauce

Rick & Morty’s April Fool’s double bluff, that saw the premiere Season 3 episode drop four months early, sent the show’s passionate/deranged fan base into a clamour for a 1998 McDonald's promotional Szechuan Sauce. Seems like it was basically barbecue with a bit of soy sauce mixed in or something. Anyway, the obsession rolled through the year, and then prog house superstar deadmau5 bought a bottle for $15,000, taking time out from his wedding weekend to do so. Weird. Here’s hoping Rick & Morty gets cancelled soon so its showrunners aren’t able to weaponise their army of meninist creeps for more nefarious aims.

May
Mocking Spongebob

Spongebob Squarepants has been a rich jpeg source for years. An image of the titular character acting like a chicken became flavour of the month in May, used alongside alternating lowercase and capital letters to indicate a taunting, derisive tone. Ideal for mocking those silly EDM fans; underlining your superiority with a children’s cartoon screenshoot and headache-inducing writing format

June
Big bag of cans

The Sesh and dance music go hand in hand. Threaded together with a bond stronger than DJ Sneak’s relationship with needless beef. Out of this marriage the ‘Big bag of cans’ meme was born, a term popularised by Humans Of The Sesh that hit critical mass in June when it appeared on flags at Glastonbury, played a part in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party making significant gains in the UK general election with the #cans4Corbyn movement, and was designed into tattoos, clothing, embroidery, other memes, and just about anything else you can think of.

July
Snapchat hot dog

Finally in July the Snapchat dog ears filter - that had ruled the roost for months and became more prevalent in social media avatars than white dreads at a crusty psytrance rave near Bristol - was knocked off its perch by the far cuter Snapchat hot dog. It’s sweet lil smile and breakdance twirls won hearts across the land. It made an appearance getting down at The Lab on our Snapchat channel, and transcended the Snapchat platform when people began editing it into famous album covers.

August
Distracted boyfriend

Distracted Boyfriend is surely one of the most popular memes in recent history. Not only is it a great format, it also unfolded as a gripping tale when more of the stock photos surfaced and painted a classic novel-esque narrative. It was used to joke about obsessive listening habits, jab at techno elitism (Berghain klaxon), and by us to cuss out Daft Punk’s decline. Some confused Twitter users reckoned we misused the format, but we object. Think about it, guys. A Daft Punk member is eyeing up their woeful new direction while a shunned classic album looks on in dismay. Guys. Think about it.

September
Big Shaq’s ‘Man’s Not Hot’

Much like Roll Safe, Big Shaq is a comedic character (played by Michael Dapaah) masquerading as a grime MC. In late August he performed a Fire in the Booth on Charlie Sloth’s BBC Radio 1Xtra show, spitting a roadman bullet spray impression that soon became an international sensation. It’s been quoted by Zimbabwean political protesters, by an MP in UK parliament, and edited in place of the chime of parliament’s famed clock tower. It’s also been tattooed onto someone’s foot, referenced to mock grime icon Skepta’s leftfield clothing choices, plus soundtracked a Shaquille O’Neal primetime US talkshow entry, and our parody of Jeff Mills going HAM on the ol’ 909.

October
This is where I recorded and mixed the album and all the gear I used

Four Tet showed the humble studio where he made his ‘New Energy’ album and then Twitter had a meltdown and everyone copied his caption with pictures of basically anything. Here’s some favs.

November
#280characters

In September Twitter announced it would be doubling its character limit to 280 in a bid to aid freer expression and greater detail in tweets. When the feature was fully rolled out in November, that power was used to joke about the repetitiveness of dance music. Thanks for your contributions.

December
If you play this song on New Year’s Eve

A Frank Ocean fan providing instructions on reddit detailing how to cross the threshold into 2018 alongside the transition in ‘Nights’ was the post that launched a thousand copycats. Once the idea made its way onto Twitter, variations followed by the bucketload. Scary ones, dizzy ones, salty ones that subverted the format to cuss out older memes. A personal favourite joked “If you play 'Bionic Sad' by Ricardo Villalobos in 2017 it'll still be playing on New Year's Eve 2019”. We’re gonna put that in a two-track playlist with ‘Fizheuer Zieheuer’ so nonstop Villalobos can take us through to the next decade.

Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, send him dank memes on Twitter

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