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How The Harlem Shake Is Influencing EDM

The internet meme, which went viral this month, has turned the spotlight to trap music

Anurag Tagat Feb 26, 2013
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Photo: Creative Commons/Leah Gair/Flickr

Trap music artist DJ Baauer. Photo: Creative Commons/Leah Gair/Flickr

Move over Gangnam Style, move over dubstep, the Harlem Shake internet meme is doing more than just livening up the drudgery of an office work day [as our peers in Rolling Stone Indonesia have testified, see video below]. As tough as it maybe, if you look beyond the crazy pelvic thrusts, the music of “Harlem Shake”  introduces listeners to Baauer’s genre of trap music, which is as catchy as the now-famous sample voice heard on several trap music tracks saying, “Damn, son, where’d you find this?”

Trap music, characterized by crisp snare drums, rapid percussion and loops, has in turn, all been borrowed from hip hop and crunk, which is influenced by drum and bass. The genre first found mainstream acceptance with rapper T.I.’s 2003 album Trap Muzik, which stuck to the hip hop side more than the dance side of things. Like most things discovered on the internet, even the Harlem Shake meme has a few misconceptions. Firstly, the dance performed in the spin-off videos is nothing like the original Harlem Shake, which was introduced in the Eighties in Harlem, New York. If you’ve seen any videos, it’s not even remotely influenced by the original dance style. Secondly, Baauer said he heard the phrase “do the Harlem shake” as a sample from one of his DJ friends and wanted to use it. Clearly, it’s not the dance that’s being revived; it’s ushering in the relatively unknown genre trap music into dance clubs all across the world.

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That’s one upside to this viral video trend: if the Harlem Shake meme stays as infectious, trap music will go mainstream, a la dubstep. Although we’re not really certain Baauer will lead the lot. A compilation called All Trap Music released this month, omits “Harlem Shake” but includes Baauer’s song “Dum Dum.” The album also features 21 other trap tracks, including remixes of songs by hip hop DJ duo Flosstradamus and British dubstep group Foreign Beggars, who performed in India last year.

In his recent interview with The Daily Beast, Baauer spoke of beefs with Azelia Banks, who called him a faggot for taking down her version of “Harlem Shake” since it was uploaded by Banks without Baauer’s permission. Baauer released the song as a single in May 2012, but it took off only after the meme exploded, topping Billboard charts. There are cover versions even by hip hop artists such as Pitbull. Baauer meanwhile has snagged himself a spot at the Coachella festival in April, though this was confirmed a few weeks before his internet fame.

One thing the trend has proven is as long as there are bass drops, trap music and dubstep will continue to rule dance clubs.

While we wait for trap music to get bigger than the meme, here’s one of the most popular versions [35 million views] of the Harlem Shake meme as performed by the Norwegian army. 

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Rolling Stone Indonesia’s version of the “Harlem Shake”

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