Dance music has often had a difficult relationship with television appearances (mostly because it’s music made by pushing buttons and clicking cursors, which doesn’t make for the most exciting onstage performance). In the real live setting, of course, performers have made up for this deficit by creating gigantic visual shows synched to the music, but these spectacles tend to lose a lot on the small screen.
So when has dance music made its mark on the small screen? Here are 10 television performances throughout the decades that are definitely worth watching.
Orbital – “Chime” (on Top of the Pops, 1990)
At the height of England’s acid-house movement, scores of chart-topping acts made their way to the infamous Top of the Pops stage. While we had several fine clips to chose from, this one of a pre-light-goggled Orbital caught our attention for the fact that not only is their gear not plugged in, but the Hartnoll brothers seem to mostly stand around with their heads down, not even faking to flip switches, while the audience hoops and hollers to their hit.
Kraftwerk – “Robots/Radioactivity” (on French television, 1975)
Done up in their finest mannequin make-up, the four members of Kraftwerk barely move a muscle while performing live renditions of two of their classics. What we really like is the vintage ‘70s electronic contraption in the middle of the stage—which presumably does nothing, but looks mighty cool.
Foo Fighters & Deadmau5 – “Rope” (at the Grammys, 2012)
2012 marked a major turning point in the popularity of dance music, with Skrillex scoring three Grammys. But it was Deadmau5 who did the heavy lifting, appearing onstage with perennial rock faves Foo Fighters.
The Prodigy – “Breath/Funky Shit/Firestarter” (on MTV’s Fashionably Loud)
Before there was that controversial “EDM” term, there was “Electronica,” the ’90s big-beat movement that promised dance music would take over America. And for a moment it seemed like that prediction might come true, especially when MTV paired The Prodigy with Vivienne Westwood on their Fashionably Loud special. This footage of the band performing live while supermodels Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Bridget Hall, Helena Christensen, and Eva Herzigova walk the runway is a super-dose of pre-Millennium nostalgia.
Mike Ink – Acid (on Housefrau, 1995)
While most American renditions of dance music over the years require some sort of rock instrumentation, Germany had no hang-ups about showing the music as it’s actually made. Which is maybe why this clip of acid-techno titan Mike Ink performing completely live on a drum machine and 303 is so cool. It also might explain why Mike Ink is certainly not a well-known name outside of serious techno circles.
SBTRKT – Live at Maida Vale (on BBC 6, 2012)
Over the course of this excellent 45-minute performance, SBTRKT and collaborator Sampha offer an intimate and inspiring lesson in how beautiful and sophisticated electronic music can be performed in front of the cameras.
Westbam ft. Nena – “Old School Baby” (on Top of the Pops, 2002)
On the other hand, when Westbam took the TOTPstage for his hit song, “Old School Baby,” he made the very old-school decision to have his drummer mime the performance. How can you tell? Well, for one thing, he continues to play eighth notes even when the drum tracks kicks in to doubletime 16th notes. Strangely, Westbam’s own “beatboxing” into the mic seems real enough.
Justice – “D.A.N.C.E.” (on Jimmy Kimmel Live)
Determined to avoid any authenticity issues altogether, French duo Justice declined to even stand onstage during their first and only American television appearance, instead recruiting a motley crew of celebrity impersonators—Michael Jackson, Prince, Rick James, Rod Stewart, and Stevie Wonder—to lipsynch their song.
Cookie Monster – “Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco” (on Sesame Street)
An accidental entry, really. We’re not even sure who actually deserves credit for this timeless disco tune, but we’re certain some savvy DJs have worked it into their sets over the years. And if not, consider it our gift to you.
Portishead – “Only You” (on Saturday Night Live)
Considering it’s been on the air since 1975, it’s shocking that there’s been pretty much zero dance music featured on SNL. Portishead comes the closest, although there’s nothing danceable about their brooding and brilliant “Only You.”