Tropical house is the music of our generation: mindless, meaningless and complacent
Think twice before you turn on that Kygo track
Tropical house is a sub-genre of the deep house that originated in the fjords of Norway a few years ago. It takes the usual characteristics of the genre, but adds some steel drums and marimba, pumping out hugely catchy synthesised major chord progressions to make you feel like you’re on a tropical beach. Apparently.
You’ve probably already heard Kygo’s “Stole The Show”, Felix Jaehn’s “Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better)” or SeeB’s remix of Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”. If not, you’ve definitely heard Justin Bieber dabble in his banger “What Do You Mean?” And his other song “Where Are Ü Now” comes with dolphin squeaks.
I was introduced to tropical house working on a summer camp with Spanish and Italian students last year, when its UK breakthrough was beginning. The Friday night discos got pretty heavy, and I actually had to pull some kids apart from each other when the mind-numbing lyrics reached their repetitive climaxes.
Tropical house artists aren’t going to be reviewed by Pitchfork any time soon (in fact, the music site described the genre as “a bunch of white Europeans layering acoustic guitars and major-key melodies over wan Garageband beats”). But it definitely hasn’t had its time. This summer will be full of it. SeeB’s remix, released last year, is the UK No. 1 for the second week running – its rise from 69th place in mid-February must had something to do with the sun coming out, and the hordes of wannabe yuppies jamming with their Beats on the way to school.
The rise of the genre tells us something about ourselves. Tropical house is self-consciously meaningless and ironic. Even the name of the genre is a joke: a friend of Thomas Jack described his music as “tropical house”, and the name stuck. One of the biggest artists of the genre, Matoma, was originally a classically-educated pianist, before someone put on some “deep, nu-disco and tropical music” at a pre-party for a Calvin Harris show. He said he was “blown away by the feeling and mood it got me in”. No artist in the genre really ascribes any meaning to the sound, nor do they have to.
And in this way, it’s perfect for an instant gratification, post-recession generation that needs to distract itself from just about everything. It makes you feel good, you can dance to it, and it tends to be very well produced.
But there’s something more to the meaninglessness. Our generation has come of age in an era in which more people are killed by selfie-related deaths than shark attacks, and where you can buy Shoreditch air for £20. These days, what starts as a joke swiftly becomes enjoyable. We’re an online generation that combusts anything worthwhile into an outward spew of validating “ironic” nonsense. Kygo’s synthesised steel pans chucked on top of Martin Gaye’s Sexual Healing make a pretty good soundtrack to our lives. Liking music you know is meaningless is in.
Compared to the British counterculture movement of the 1960s, and the second summer of love with the house generation of the late 1980s, we definitely lack innovation. You won’t catch anyone chewing their face off to tropical house in a Berlin warehouse. The rise of Thatcherism killed off counterculture, while the rise of acid house in the second summer of love coincided with the poll tax riots that killed off Thatcherism.
True cultural movements don’t come out of complacency: our generation’s lack of interest in anything beyond the immediate and banal creates this post-ironic nonsense. We’re scared of sincerity: we prefer Facebook-induced endorphins hit derived from posting dangerous selfies. Our instant-gratification generation no longer ask what things mean, but why it matters what they mean. Our intense interconnectivity has brought conformity to its zenith: complete complacency.
And that is where tropical house finally finds its meaning.