One of the best pop songs of 2012 was Disclosure’s “Latch,” a throwback house track flavored with some of the smoothed-out funk of turn-of-the-millennium UK two-step and a synth part that salvages the last little bit of class that the dubstep wobble bass had left in it. Plus it was topped by a gorgeous part by guest vocalist Sam Smith that nails the 90s club-R&B vibe they were going for with almost frightening exactitude. Released in the UK in the fall of that year, it took care of most of the groundwork for transforming Disclosure from underground dance-music heroes into full-on pop stars overseas—their 2013 debut, Settle, which includes “Latch,” just went platinum in Britain.
As with most things dance music, the U.S. is lagging a bit behind the UK here. “Latch” just barely made it onto the most recent Billboard Hot 100 chart, debuting all the way down at number 100. Disclosure’s been making some bigger moves Stateside recently, including a team-up with Mary J. Blige, and the particular kind of YouTube musician who likes giving sad cover treatments to electronic pop songs seem to have taken to “Latch” with some avidity. (If an acoustic version by a Voice contestant with a seriously annoying Joanna Newsom vocal inflection sounds somehow appealing to you click here.) But it doesn’t seem to have had a big viral moment or made a notable appearance in a car commercial or anything. Despite the song’s immediate hookiness and accessibility it’s had to grow organically, which seems odd for such an obvious hit, but who ever knows with these things.
Sam Smith actually has another single on the Hot 100 right now guesting for another act, British producer Naughty Boy, whose “La La La” is up to number 60 after four weeks on the chart. It’s a less skillful song than “Latch,” but its hiccuping vocal sample and use of the “Amen” break give it more in common with the original wave of two-step, aka garage music, that sprung up in the late 90s when British producers started combining drum ‘n’ bass with pop and more than a little Timbaland emulation. Americans are probably most familiar with the sound through Craig David’s “7 Days” and “Fill Me In,” which made it to numbers ten and 15, respectively, on the Hot 100 back in 2000.
Those were really the only times that two-step had much of an impact with an American audience, and that feat’s contributed immensely to David’s reputation as the style’s king. But if success is measured by the U.S. Hot 100, Smith’s coming up on him fast. The first time two-step came around we obviously weren’t interested, but nearly a decade and a half later America’s finally catching up.