How 90s Dance Pop Shapes Today’s Culture

Remember the 90s? If you do, you’ll probably find a lot of today’s (ahem) youth culture, to use our parents’ language, quite familiar. You know – boys with curtains and moustaches, girls in gold rimmed glasses and high waisted stonewash jeans? Perms? Massive – and we mean massive – jumpers?

multi coloured music cassettes

Sure, the 90s were a whirlwind of raving and weird fashion. But at the heart of it all, there was dance pop.

It wasn’t (and still isn’t) just a genre; it was a cultural phenomenon that left an indelible mark on the world. But what’s truly fascinating, to us at least, is how those beats, sounds and trends of 90s dance pop are found throughout today’s culture. And no, it’s not just the clothes and hair. It’s the sonic signature of 90s dance pop that has become cool again. And we want to examine that – because for a lot of us, erm, “elder millennial” types, the 90s were the decade of our coming of age. The time we became teens, and latched on to the music that would guide us through the good times and the bad.

Hearing it all come flooding back? It’s a trip and a half.

The tech is back

Before the 90s, music production was pretty much owned by professional studios with hefty budgets. But the 90s saw relatively cheap hardware explode onto the scene – like the legendary Roland TR-909, and the often emulated but never imitated Yamaha DX7. With the rise of MIDI and sequencing, home studio amateurs could make pro-level music, without access to a million-dollar recording studio.

That tech is back on the scene. Younger generations coming up as producers and artists love the sonic aesthetic of 90s gear; that homemade-yet-slick sound, that raw and authentic feel of just slightly bitcrushed samples… 909s are back in style, for sure. The Roger Linn designed AKAI MPC series is still going, in one form or another.

Maybe DAWs just aren’t as inspiring anymore. Maybe the tactile feel of hardware makes tunes come faster. Maybe it’s just… cool again.

Whatever it is, we like it. It’s so nice to see the old gear we remember from mates’ garages, dusted with cigarette ash, coming back out to make heads bob again.

It’s not just the tech though, it’s the mentality. The “make do with what you’ve got”, post-punk-post-hip-hop DIY mindset. If it sounds good, it is good. If it sounds new, then it’s even better.

Despite what a lot of people think about pop music today, it’s unbelievably exciting to hear what people are doing right now. Dua Lipa, just as an example, has blown genres apart to create true classics of dance pop – marrying disco, neo soul and 90s production moves into undeniable modern bangers that jump generations.

Believe what you want. But this is a good time for music.

The scene

The 90s dance pop scene emerged as a subculture that quickly took over the mainstream. Underground raves, “colourful” fashion and a spirit of liberation. Those halcyon days are definitely over, but the spirit is alive and well. Maybe just with fewer references to old Ebeneezer Goode…

Rave culture exploded in the 90s. And if you read the news at all, it’s pretty much back with a vengeance. What started as underground (often illegal) gatherings has become a global phenomenon –and while we’re not exactly advocating illegal raves, we recognise that this is where a huge chunk of dance pop culture got its rooting.

The fashion was as bold as the music. And 90s fashion is absolutely back in style. Old fashion brands are making a comeback after 30 years. So are trackies and white trainers, bucket hats and bomber jackets, and high energy colours… it’s all out on show again.

It’s uncanny, and at times walking down the street, you’d think it was 1996 if it weren’t for all the iPhones. But even tech has taken a turn for the 90s – remember when everything from Gameboys to landline phones were made of clear plastic, and you could see all the gubbins inside? Yeah, even that’s back in style.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, and kids who came of age in the 90s are finally financially secure enough and old enough to want to relive their youth. You can see it in the cycle of movie franchises, TV shows and video games – right down to the artists going on tour right now.

Another 90s thing? The rise of superstar DJs

Superstar DJs, here we go. 

Today’s EDM culture owes a lot to the 90s dance pioneers who brought dance music into the limelight. Those earlier originators, like Darude, Ferry Corsten, Paul van Dyk, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers… They paved the way for artists such as Calvin Harris, Hardwell, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Marshmello, Lost Frequencies and every other heavy hitter smashing the airwaves today.

The 90s dance pop era was about more than just music; it was a cultural movement that reshaped the way we create, experience and appreciate music. The echoes of the 90s still resound in the sounds, styles and trends of today.

And we are absolutely here for it.

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Urban Rebel delivers pop music marketing for the most exciting emerging talent and established acts.

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