Pop Essays #3: Scent, ‘Up and Down’

Hello all, welcome to this week’s Pop Essays – I trust I find you all well? I’m quite well aware of the fact these seem to be the only posts I’ve been doing with regularity on here recently but I think I’ll cut myself some slack for once. Unusual times and all that! Shall we get onto today’s lost pop classic…?

  • Artist: Scent
  • Song: Up and Down
  • Release Date: 09/08/2004
  • Writers: Amanda D’Arcy / Andrea Mazzali / Daniele Davoli / Orlandi Giuliano
  • Producer: Daniele Davoli
  • Chart Run: 23 – 36 – 49

Dance music is always something, I must confess, I have had a bit of an on-off relationship with over the course of my 31 years on Earth. Into every Goldfrapp, Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx, into every life affirming, barnstorming and genuinely brilliant floorfiller, a little of the what-I-call less salubrious tracks and names must fall. 2004 was undoubtedly the zenith of the latter. I always had and still do consider the 90s to be the golden era of dance music, something which happily carried on for the first 18 months of the 21st century at least.

Alas, in dance music terms, by the time we got to 2004, it was becoming less defined by the quality of the track than it was by what made the masses sit up and pay attention, usually of the crassly visual variety (more on which further down), something that I dare say had a factor in why I am writing about this week’s featured gem here and not say, in a glittering (albeit theoretical) The Story of Pop: 2004 entry. To tell the story behind this one though, we have to go back to the year I arrived in the world: 1989.

Just a few short days after I was born, Italian dance collective Black Box were sitting proud at the top of the UK charts with the club classic ‘Ride On Time’. One of their number was Daniele Davoli, a Bologna born DJ and producer, who in the 15 years after, would continue to be a well known and respected name in the dance music world. It was he who was the brains behind another Italo-house project, called Scent. The lead vocalist on the track, Irish born Amanda D’Arcy – known by her stage name of Miss Motif – had first caught Davoli’s eye as a finalist in a DJ competition sponsored by Heineken beer.

It was the fact she sang live vocals over her set that impressed him most, and so after coming second in said contest, she was duly recruited by Davoli to provide vocals for the demo of a track called ‘Up and Down’. As is typical with most dance tracks however, its route from clubland to a commercial release was protracted to say the least. White labels of the original mix had first appeared in DJ sets from the end of summer 2003. It was to be twelve whole months later before renowned dance label Positiva were to snap it up and license it for a full UK release.

It’s a treat for the ears from the first few seconds; very much from the spangly ‘dancing around your handbag’ school of early 00s disco that Moloko and Sophie Ellis-Bextor helped to popularise, all swooshy synths, Nile Rodgers-esque guitar and an irresistible, playful melody line that gently burrows into your brain with each repeated listen. In fact, it was a good contemporary to ‘Lola’s Theme’, which Positiva had not long taken to number one for Shapeshifters that same summer. Maybe the choruses, which consist of a lot of ‘La la la’-ing (and Lord knows there were other 00s floorfillers that had been full and plenty of them) don’t necessarily work in its favour, but they’re distinctive enough without being derivative when taken out the context of what was happening at the time.

What was happening at the time was an inevitable mutation from what had been happening since 2002, when most commercial dance hits that went onto populate the top end of the charts were cheap and cheerful remakes of 80s pop nuggets, almost always recorded by the brigade releasing on labels like All Around the World or Ministry of Sound’s Data imprint. Here’s looking at you DJ Sammy, Flip and Fill and Soda Club, usually with guest vocals by Karen Parry and/or Kelly Llorenna.

Instead came the ‘looping house’ craze, where isolated segments of said 80s hits were – as the name might suggest – looped into a sort-of filtered house sound, and almost always accompanied by a music video designed to grab what we shall politely call the ‘FHM lad’ market, who almost certainly weren’t buying it entirely on the basis of it being heard in their provincial town nightspot, but because they’d also seen it soundtracking some buxom ladies in various states of undress on The Box or MTV. Eric Prydz‘ ‘Call On Me’ and Sunset Strippers‘ ‘Falling Stars’, hello to you.

All these factors combined – a protracted route to release, perhaps being a little out of step with what was filling up dancefloors and what was generally the trend of the moment – is what caused Scent’s one and only single to land just a few places short of the UK top 20 when released in August 2004, disappearing into the great pop ether thereafter. But for me, ‘Up and Down’ works in spite of all those things; it’s quite simply as unadulterated and sparkly a dance track as you could hope for from the early 00s, the kind which Dua Lipa has just bought back into recent fashion. We dare say in an ideal world that a cover version from her would rectify matters and see it positively reassessed as the classic it deserves to be known as, but a man can dream.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new Pop Essays playlist on Spotify, which includes all the songs we’ve written about. What are your memories of this week’s featured song or band? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or message us on our Instagram.

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