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Franz Ferdinand

Dancing to Disappear

Nov 01, 2008 Photography by Crackerfarm Year End 2008 - Best of 2008
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It took a few years, but as the lines between genres and cultures have blurred, it seems like we’re now finally at a place where fans of loud guitars and shouted vocals can admit to liking dance music. Hot Chip, Of Montreal, Girl Talk—these are all acts that have designed songs for the dance floor only to be accepted and celebrated by the kind of listeners who likely once would have cringed when rock bands embraced disco. But as the short rise and fall of dance-punk and electroclash indicate, the stigma that dance music celebrates style over substance no doubt lingers on some level. The serious listener is still likely to be uncomfortable with the idea that the same music that requires sober analysis and close listens can also whip a crowd into a frenzy of sweaty bodies and tangled limbs. Testing the durability of those taboos, Franz Ferdinand has made a dance album.

“If there’s a stigma, I don’t give a shit,” says lead vocalist and guitarist Alex Kapranos. “It’s not one that I feel or care about. Some of the heaviest tracks of the last few years have been dance tracks. When I say dance music, I don’t mean just contemporary electronic dance music. I refer to Greek rebetika from the 1920s as dance music, because it’s music with a rhythm that makes you dance. I’d refer to rock and roll as dance music. The J.B.’s, Ethiopian stuff—that’s all dance music to me.”

At the end of a long day of press in New York City, Kapranos is in an undeniably good mood, speaking quickly and excitedly about his band’s third album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. For a man whose band’s last album, 2005’s You Could Have It So Much Better, debuted at the #1 slot on the U.K. album charts, he’s an incredibly humble and approachable figure. But as much as he seems to be a man who truly loves every aspect of life as an international rock star, he admits that after three and a half years of tireless recording and touring, the members of Franz Ferdinand badly needed a vacation. To that end, Kapranos went to Vancouver to produce an album by The Cribs. Guitarist Nick McCarthy disappeared into South America for a few months. Drummer Paul Thomson played with Scottish band Correcto. But, ultimately, they found their escape in the rhythms and grooves of dance music.

“There were a couple of things we were listening to, like the full version of ‘Sex Machine’ by James Brown,” Kapranos explains. “It’s like a 15-minute song, and the single is three minutes edited down from those 15 minutes. Same with ‘Ghost Town’ from The Specials. I heard the master tapes of that, and the original is about 20 minutes long, and they’ve obviously cut out the raw elements of the song from one long jam. That’s one technique that we’ve used, particularly because we were trying to do songs that were of a slower tempo, the tempo of your heartbeat, the tempo that puts you into a trance and hypnotizes you.”

Recorded in an old town hall in Glasgow over the course of a year and a half, Tonight is not a modern dance album by any standard. There are no drum loops or processed vocals. There are no hip Pro Tools production patches or click tracks. In fact, the band often recorded around one microphone, attempting to capture the sound of the building’s many rooms and the interplay of their instruments as they lost themselves in extended grooves that were edited down to three-minute songs. But while dance music often confirms its detractors’ worst suspicions, Kapranos was careful to construct an album that would reveal new layers with each listen.

“It was the antithesis of a concept album, because a concept album is something that you determine before you start recording, and this was something that we realized after we were finished,” Kapranos explains. “We realized the songs could be structured to represent the progression of a night out or the progression of a night of abandonment, of hedonism. It’s supposed to peak like that with ‘Lucid Dreams.’ That electronic departure toward the end of that song, it’s supposed to be like that chemical rush you can get on the dance floor. Then afterwards, ‘Dream Again’ and ‘Katherine Kiss Me’ is coming down from that. ‘Katherine Kiss Me’ is the kind of mood I would take on when I was at home with dawn coming through the chink in the curtains when it was all over.”

Along the way, there are songs about kissing someone for the first time, and songs about proclaiming that you want to be alone though you know you’d be miserably lonely. There are songs about the bonds of friendship and the rejection of God. There are unfinished thoughts and ambiguous spaces. But in an album so driven by the pulsing energy of beats and hooks, will that nuance be lost?

“That’s the danger, I suppose, of making dance music,” Kapranos admits. “Maybe sometimes people won’t see anything but the beat, and that’s fine. I don’t think you can be precious about your music or dictate how people will respond to it,” he says, an artist who still seems to see himself as a member of the crowd as much as the man on the stage. “It’s just up to us to wait and see what people say.”


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