In 2021, the JUNO Awards announced the introduction of a new dance music category, Underground Dance Single of the Year. Sparked by the lack of recognition for underground dance artists in the existing dance and electronic categories, the underground dance community approached CARAS with a proposal for a new award category.
“For the past 10 years, all you’ve seen is mostly popular EDM-type records being represented in Dance Recording of the Year and nothing that was authentically underground was being represented at all,” explained electronic producer and Underground Dance Music Advisory Committee co-chair Joanne Hill.
Now, Underground Dance Single of the Year is in its second year of submissions with HNTR taking home the inaugural award at The 2022 JUNO Opening Night Awards Presented by Ontario Creates this past May.
“There are hundreds of people doing this sort of music across the country so it’s about time that it got acknowledged and recognized as a separate genre…”
– Mark Quail
Characterized by slow builds and hypnotic and repetitive arrangements, underground dance music differs from mainstream dance music in a number of key ways. “We don’t focus on major chords or happy melodies in underground dance music. It tends to be sort of darker,” shared entertainment lawyer and fellow Committee member Mark Quail.
“It’s not necessarily made to be played on the radio,” described Hill. “[Underground dance] is focused on the low-end of the record such as the drums or the baseline. Whereas other forms of dance music records like EDM usually focus more on radio edits and the higher-end of the record such as choruses and verses.”
Over the past few decades, dance and electronic music have grown increasingly popular. Around 2010 electronic music started to really take off during what people refer to as the EDM bubble. “It’s kind of grown into two worlds: the mainstream style of music which is EDM and the underground style of music which is very very true to its roots,” said Hill.
“When dance music and electronic music was born it was all underground. The music, house music specifically, was originally invented in nightclubs in Chicago and New York City and techno was invited in Detroit by people of colour and the LGTBQS+ community. This music was made for people to have a place to go and dance to feel united with each other,” continued Hill.
“A lot of people are talking about where [underground dance music] came from, what the cultural impact of this music has meant, and now it’s starting to get its own spotlight shined on it.”
– Joanne Hill
Although underground dance music has stayed true to its original sound, like all music genres it continues to grow and evolve. “Whereas perhaps in the 90s when the genre was coming up it was a little more rough around the edges and while that can be a virtue, and some still strive for that today, today’s stuff is more defined and cleaner sounding and overall better produced because of the technology available,” shared Quail.
“A lot of people are talking about where [underground dance music] came from, what the cultural impact of this music has meant, and now it’s starting to get its own spotlight shined on it,” said Hill. “It’s actually becoming, I don’t want to say mainstream, but it’s becoming extremely popular and selling out huge festivals and nightclubs all over Canada. So I think it’s really important to note, even though it’s called underground it’s still an extremely popular form of electronic music.”
So what is the significance of having an Underground Dance Single of the Year award at the JUNO Awards? What it all comes down to recognizing the artists and ensuring that the JUNOS are best representing Canada’s diverse and ever-evolving music industry. “There are hundreds of people doing this sort of music across the country so it’s about time that it got acknowledged and recognized as a separate genre and this can act as a tool to bring these artists, producers, and composers to the attention of the public,” explained Quail.
“[The new category] gave so many different artists from all walks of life, all over the country the opportunity to finally get recognized in something that they worked so hard on all year long. I think it’s really important that our community is recognized because all of our artists work just as hard as any other musicians in Canada and it’s really important that the JUNOS and the rest of Canada see that,” shared Hill.
The 2023 JUNO Awards Submissions Presented by TD are now open until Friday, October 28, 11:59PM ET. For more information visit junosubmissions.ca.