Retro genre swings listeners back to the ’20s

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Originally published in Eastside’s February 2020 issue

The first time I listened to electro swing, I was falling down a YouTube rabbit hole. I had jumped from Panic! at the Disco to Frank Sinatra to a video called “The Andrews Sisters – Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Alfonso Swing Remix)” by the YouTube channel Beyond Radio.

I was instantly hooked.

Electro swing is a relatively new genre that originated in the late 1990s with the rising popularity of sampling vintage music in modern songs. The genre (sometimes referred to as “swing house”) combines swing and jazz music from the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s with elements of hip hop and electronic dance music (EDM).

When researching electro swing, one band pops up over and over. That band is Caravan Palace, a French group that seems to encapsulate the electro swing genre. Their music is upbeat with noticeable jazz influences and a liberal use of samples from vintage songs. Some of my favorite songs of theirs are “Dramophone” and “Jolie Coquine.” My favorite thing about these songs is that the band keeps large swathes of the vintage music they sample while still modernizing it with EDM and hip hop flair.

Another musician I’ve enjoyed is Jamie Berry. He’s much smaller than Caravan Palace, boasting only 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify to Caravan Palace’s 1.5 million. While most of his music is less jazz and more hip-hop, my favorite song of his is “Old Records.” The remix samples “Get Out Those Old Records,” a song originally recorded by Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians in 1951, while also adding a pulsing beat that makes it near impossible not to dance along.

One final song — “Bei mir bist du schön” by Osundi. I stumbled across her while trying to find a remix of Bei Mir Bist Du Schön that I could listen to on Spotify — as the song that first interested me in electro swing was not available on that streaming platform. (While there is a lot of electro swing accessible on Spotify or Apple Music, there are also many songs only accessible on YouTube or SoundCloud. I assume that those platforms are looser when it comes to copyright restraints and thus easier to upload remixes to.) While I don’t enjoy the rest of Osundi’s music, as it lands pretty firmly in EDM territory, the song brought me full circle.

I’ve never been a huge fan of swing or EDM or jazz or even hip hop. But something about electro swing pulled me in. There is something beautiful about making the old new again, about repurposing music for the modern dance floor that would have only been listened to by vintage enthusiasts or tucked away in the back of record shops. The live brass bands and improvisations and fast tempos of swing and jazz might seem like a far cry from modern dance music. But that energy, that excitement, has never gone away.

It’s just been reimagined.