Going Viral

Clubs Editor Dan King talks you through the musical meme, exploring its ties with subgenres of electronic music

If you were to ask people what a meme was five years ago, I expect that few people could have told you. How times have changed. Today, the word meme is now firmly established within the vocabulary of our generation. On the internet, memes are ubiquitous, and our ever-shortening attention spans condemn dank memes to the dishonour of being called dead memes as quickly as we can say Man’s Not Hot.

But the very fact that we have developed an appetite for newer, funnier, and sometimes edgier memes indicates the status they have within youth culture. The world of music promotion has cottoned on to this. It has been argued that a key part of pushing a successful single in today’s market is by ensuring that it has a certain virality to it – where Soulja Boy’s Crank. That once stood out as an example of early success propelled by internet obsession, DJ Khaled’s bizarre, catchphrase-laden snapchats piqued interest for his 2016 album Major Key. Drake’s Hotline Bling is better remembered for memes of the rapper playing Wii Sports and twirling lightsabers than for the video itself. The aforementioned Man’s Not Hot has won comedian Michael Dapaah festival bookings around the world, and unquestionable celebrity status (for the time being at least).

Whilst the most notable examples of memedom can generally be found amongst hip-hop, electronic music has also had its fair share. Remember the Harlem Shake? The Oceanas, Pryzms, and Gatecrashers of this world were awash with jagerbomb-fuelled teenagers flailing around to the track’s massive EDM-style drop in 2013. Cringe. But this only came about due to the thousands of homemade videos uploaded to Facebook and Youtube that featured the track. The Mannequin Challenge had similar notoriety. Snapchat filled with videos of teens and adults alike attempting to stand still for the duration of the intro to Rae Stremmurd’s Black Beatles in various poses, as the iPhone camera shakily panned across the scene. One for the history books.

Later, Bristolian house duo Blonde jumped aboard the Will Grigg’s on Fire bandwagon in June 2016, releasing a club-friendly version of the football chant-stroke-meme that rung around the terraces that summer. Sandstorm by Darude needs no further discussion. And if you think these examples didn’t pack enough novelty, cast your mind back to May 2005, when the Eurodance hit Axel F by Crazy Frog sold millions worldwide. This was a meme before we knew what a meme was.

All of the aforementioned tracks have all sold well, and are backed by labels, strategists, and writers that belie the seemingly accidental nature of their successes. But the very nature of internet culture, which affords niche communities space to grow and collaborate, has brought about a series of tracks that blend genres like hardcore, donk, and bassline with all manner of meme references, no matter how niche or tasteless. Soundcloud plays host to songs such as ‘She Shit Down My Arm’, a DnB track which can probably lay claim to being the only song in the world that samples dialogue from The Inbetweeners. There are at least ten tracks, spanning dubstep, house, and DnB, that feature the dulcet tones of Hull’s most famous road rager Ronnie Pickering. The Wealdstone Raider and Gordon Ramsay are both commonly sampled, too, as heavyweights of the British meme scene over the last few years.


I’m being kind if I say that it’s unlikely that these tracks are to be celebrated for their contributions to their respective genres. Whilst some songs have a touch of genuine appeal to them, often the songs offer little apart from an initial laugh. But this doesn’t matter. Despite the widespread popularity of techno, the genre is conspicuous by its absence in the weird world of meme-infused music. If commercial tech house is seen as unpalatable, one cannot help but feel that the uber-cool, chin-scratching online community surrounding Techno would struggle to enjoy these tracks in the lighthearted manner in which they were intended.

Recently, there has been something of a backlash against those within the electronic music community that just take the whole thing too seriously. Young Marco gained some notoriety last summer for playing Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ at Farr Festival, as did Moodymann for playing Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex on Fire’. Just last weekend Four Tet played ‘Bippity Boppity Boo ‘(from Cinderella) in Glasgow, whilst closer to home Mumdance and Happa closed their set at Hifi with some Kelly Clarkson. If the tastelessness of meme- infused DnB isn’t something for the world of ‘serious’ electronic music to follow, maybe its sense of humour is something to learn from.

Dan King

Image credits: Apple Music