TikTok: the perfect antidote to boredom. With this generation chronically online, and concentration spans shorter than the length of this article, TikTok established itself as an excellent timewaster – a place to invest half an hour of spare time injecting data into an algorithm’s tailor-picked content. Yet, in this space thrives forums of numerous sub-cultures, not least those within music. As with the creation of internet chat rooms in the early 00s to discuss everything music, TikTok arrives as another venue to engage, share, and create in these scenes: the underground, in many ways, (again) spreading online.
The UK dance scene, with everything from drum and bass to bass music, footwork, house and garage, is no exception. Newcomers and old heads have found a place alike in the TikTok realm, promoting staple tracks in the scene with a new creative edge to an ever-expanding audience. PinkPantheress is the most obvious example. After all, her break-out track Break it off heavily samples the drum and bass classic Circles, released in 1997 by Adam F. It is a fantastic cut: PinkPantheress’s sweet and glossy vocals compliment the backing breaks, set at a slightly faster tempo that gets you up and moving. Big on TikTok with numerous audiences outside of drum and bass, the song also had an extended life in the dance scene. I vividly remember the audience chorusing its enchanting hook when Four Tet unleashed the track at Brixton Academy back in October 2021. Garnering this kind of recognition from established acts confirmed PinkPanthress had struck a winning formula.
PinkPantheress’s success, riding the waves of the dance scene into mainstream consciousness, shows the vitality of TikTok as a music-sharing venue. It is not original in this regard, but the potential global audiences that can be reached is nothing to be sneered at considering the cultural porousness of virality. It seems, across multiple online platforms, there is extensive access to different music scenes as these numerous scenes migrate onto online spaces. Listening to the sounds of a PinkPantheress can seamlessly lead fans to a Nia Archives, to labels like Lobster Theremin, and other flavours of UK dance music outside of TikTok. Artists and promoters in the scene have been quick to take advantage. Bristol-based Keep Hush regularly releases clips from its raves and promotes DJs fresh on the block, from the relative newcomer Hamdi to Dr Dubplate and so on. Other bedroom DJs and old heads rinsing vinyl classics using TikTok’s Live feature fleshes out the peripheries of UK dance within the online space. Not bad for an app used initially by cringe lip-syncing teens.
Mindlessly scrolling has transpired into random points of access, a view in brief spurts to numerous electronic dance scenes, with moments captured in each serving as windows into these disparate styles. TikTok can even be a place for new sub-genres to thrive. Nurtured on the likes of Aphex Twin and laying claim to broken breakbeats, a strange ambient sub-genre centred on cutting breaks has emerged in TikTok’s interstices. At once nostalgic and modern, the sound is distinctly familiar yet entirely of its own. In many ways reminiscent of LTJ Bukem’s Logical Progression series, Wax Doctor’s classic Selected Ambient Works, 94-96, or Photek’s timeless Ring’s Around Saturn, the audio scape is more dystopian in its dreaminess, maintaining a clear visual aesthetic to match the sound. With visuals appropriated from Wong Kar-Wai films alongside genre-defining anime series like Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, the mood is futuristic and ethereal. Some example tracks include: BAKGROUND – Gotham Love, TOKYOPILL – E T H E R E A L, Sewerslvt – Cyberia Lyr1, and (described as “breakcore”) Xxstarlit – Fleeting Frozen Heart.
Strange, niche sub-genres built on ambient breaks, filtering up to breakout names like PinkPantheress, suggests that TikTok is another incubator for sub-genres much in the same way that Boiler Room was for post-dubstep and UK bass on YouTube in the early 2010s. Working on a level of rapid exposure born from TikTok’s algorithm-generated “FYP” (for-you-page) and short video format, it seems that contact with what is new and hot lies a single passive scroll away. Of course, the flip side to a story like this is the problems of data protection, data harvesting, and targeted advertising. But it seems that, despite this, these mechanisms have in some small way been appropriated by niche groups to promote and flesh out fresh takes on electronic and dance music. Either way, the next new artist promoting a new sound could appear at any moment in TikTok’s endless library. It is definitely a space to watch.