In the competition world, a small group of musicians has attained almost cultlike status, with choreographers turning to their tracks over and over. We know how we feel about these bangers—there's a reason we can't stop dancing to them—but how do the musicians feel about us? We caught up with three contemporary artists whose music has dominated the competition scene recently, and gauged their reactions to the dances set to their life's work.
Bishop Briggs (photo by Eric Ray Davidson, courtesy Bishop Briggs)
When Galen Hooks and Tim Milgram released a class video set to Bishop Briggs' "River," it was instantly clear that the song would become a competition hit. Since then, choreographers at studios around the country have tried their hand at the song (not to mention the rest of Briggs' music), layering their interpretations on top of her smoky pop beat.
On discovering her dance-world popularity: "It's been surreal to find out what people have created out of my music. I'm really active on social media, so when I see dance videos set to my music, I watch them and comment on them. I stalk! I've met people completely out of the blue who've told me they've made a dance to one of my songs. That's the coolest thing."
On making musical discoveries through choreography: "There are so many different beats that dancers pick up on that I wouldn't have thought of as the obvious choice. My favorite thing about the dance community is they're giving my songs new life. My original goal as a songwriter was to make people feel less alone. So the idea that dancers are taking a song and using it as their security blanket—or their reason to let go of that blanket and be fully themselves—it's just every dream of mine."
Watch Bishop Briggs React to a Competition Dance Routine Set to "River"
On choreographers who cut or change the arrangement of her music: "Nothing rings negative to me about making it your own. In terms of changing a song or using a remix version of a song to do a dance to, that's all part of expression and creativity. I think it's really flattering."
On what makes her music so danceable: "I hope there's something about the beats that makes people want to dance. When I'm writing, it's coming from a place of releasing something from my body, whether that's pain or sadness or joy or anger. When I think of dance, it also seems like such a release. Maybe that's what people are drawn to—it's a similar form of self-expression."
Ryan Lott (photo by Zenith Richard, courtesy Ryan Lott)
Ryan Lott of Son Lux
Son Lux incorporates elements of post-rock, electronica, hip hop, pop, and even classical—an ideal piece of clay for choreographers to shape. Songs like "Change is Everything," "Dream State," and "Cage of Bones" have blasted through competition speakers so often, we all know each detail by heart. Founder Ryan Lott is no stranger to the dance world, either: He collaborated with Travis Wall on Shaping Sound's show After the Curtain.
On discovering his dance-world popularity: "My niece is a dancer, and at one point years ago, my sister told me she kept hearing Son Lux songs at dance competitions. Around that time, my wife, who teaches dance at a university, also observed that auditionees were dancing to Son Lux. Then we started getting requests to use our music on 'So You Think You Can Dance,' and our Instagram started to light up with young dancers moving to our music."
On how he feels about said popularity: "I think it's rad! I appreciate anyone who spends their precious time listening to our music. And there's something even more special to me for those who choose to move to it."
On making musical discoveries through choreography: "Happens all the time! It's one of my favorite things about experiencing choreography to my music. Once it's made, it's no longer mine. Music lives its own life apart from its makers, and watching dance to my music often reveals this truth."
On what makes his music so danceable: "There's an internal dynamism in Son Lux songs that is relatively uncommon in pop songs. And there are relatively few lyrics in our average song—the instrumental aspects are always doing most of the work. I know a lot of choreographers look for these traits when seeking out new music. I'm not a dancer, but I've been writing music for dance—apart from the Son Lux stuff—for a very long time now. There must be something about movement that has made its way into my creative voice generally, even when I'm not writing explicitly for dance."
Jack Garratt (photo by Jake Wagner, courtesy Jack Garratt)
Dancers around the globe gravitated to Jack Garratt's 2016 "Surprise Yourself," with its powerful message, soaring vocals, and intricate beats. Since then, competition studios have created innumerable pieces to a range of Garratt's songs. And Garratt loves the dance world right back. In fact, his campaign for his latest album, Love, Death & Dancing, features eight videos full of him doing nothing but dancing.
On the role dance plays in his music: "Dance is a hugely important part of the reason I make music. It's always been part of my life, and is an important storytelling method. As someone who makes a form of dance music, the highest compliment I can get is to have someone choreograph to it."
On his personal relationship with dance: "I'm not a trained dancer, but I used to dance when I was a kid. I like music that makes me want to move. Moving is such a vulnerable act."
On his dance-world popularity: "I was aware of it a bit, because people tagged me in videos on Instagram, where my songs were being used in dance competitions. They were geo-tagged in different parts of the world that I'd never even been to, let alone known there was an active dance community there."
Watch Jack Garratt React to a Competition Dance Routine Set to "Surprise Yourself"
On making musical discoveries through choreography: "Whenever I watch a performance to a song of mine, it's amazing to see the details in the music I hadn't spotted myself. Jillian Meyers did a duet to a live performance of a song from my first album called 'The Love You're Given.' She and her partner were able to create moments out of lyrics I didn't realize were as poignant as they showed them to be. It was a story I could never have told myself, because it's their story, even if my music is the base of it."
On watching work set to his music: "You have to separate yourself. This is not my song at the moment, it's theirs. It's very important that I'm able to distance myself from songs once they've gone out and are helping other people, or are being extended by people in different ways."
On what makes his music so danceable: "I think the reason people like to choreograph to my music is because there's a deep well of rhythmic information within it. I layer things up with cross-rhythms, counter-rhythms, and syncopated rhythms. I produce as well as write my songs, so I'm creating the sonic world that surrounds them. And I like to consider the 'movement' of a song—how does it exist in a visual space? The easiest way to do that is to think about how people could dance to it."