There’s no genre on Planet Earth that owes more to its vocalists than house music. It’s virtually embedded in the DNA code of this music — the soaring, uplifting voice that drives dancefloors like no other force of man or nature, while calling back through the ages of music captured in song, to its predecessors from R&B, from gospel and of course from disco.
So why have the vocalists become almost invisible in dance music coverage?
It’s a question worth asking. Certain publications can go months or years without shining a spotlight on the people whose voices define our music and have given it its soul, its shape, its spirit. The press, though, are following the lead of the industry. Some labels and producers go so far as to deny credit — sometimes publishing, but also in the case of some of the biggest vocal tracks of the last decade even visible credit — to the vocalist. On some older recordings this anonymity is total — the name of the vocalist is now completely unknown.
It’s kinda shit. But how did we get to this state of affairs?
There was a time when vocalists were pushed hard as underground crossover artists, not least of all by the bigger indie labels like Tommy Boy and Om Records. But as the pile of money shifted from one set of hands to another, so did the coverage. Most of the coverage in dance music these days is pushed and in large part created by PR companies that deliver a constant barrage of pitches to writers and editors. They frame stories in the following manner: the “genius” producer, cooped up in his “lab,” turning out amazing and timeless “bangers” that also happen to feature this or that vocalist.
It’s not really surprising, though going along with this nonsense is criminal neglect on the part of the press. Nine times out of ten, it’s the producer or the label that pays for PR. Whoever pays is usually the one that wants to reap the benefits, and that is measured mainly in the rolling dials of Spotify plays, bookings and the ego-gratification provided by our free and friendly press. All too often, the contributions of the vocalist are denigrated as disposable, no more or less important than a nice piece of modular gear or a plug-in.
It also has to be pointed out who has suffered the most from this erasure. For many years, if you met a female POC involved on the creative side of this industry, they were far more likely to be a vocalist than a DJ or producer. That imbalance is (slowly) changing – witness, for instance, the gist of this piece from eight years ago. But we have to point out that Black women in particular were a creative force in this industry from the start, and have almost always been written out of the script.
o o o
We didn’t know any this when we started 5 Mag fifteen years ago. Being ignorant of how this shit worked, we put legendary vocalists Barbara Tucker and Dajae on the cover of two of the first five issues we published. We did it because to us — as fans rather than “industry” — they were the stars.
Today, a new world and perhaps a new industry is being made under our feet and amidst the carnage is a fleeting chance to rebuild something better. We need to recapture that blissfully ignorant logic of 2005, because it was right and it was true.
Because these commitments often get fuzzy around the edges, we’ve started a new regular feature, #TheMic, which is only showcasing vocalists. We want to shine a light and explore the unique challenges and experiences of vocalists in the underground, both as well known as Barbara and Dajae and the ones who are new to you.
There’s really no reason why we can’t include this in every issue, and for the time being we’re committing to doing so. That’s how much we want to see this happen. That’s how important we think these people are.