The Musical Transformation of Calvin Harris

The Musical Transformation of Calvin Harris

The name Calvin Harris has become associated with vibrant, high-tempo house, with tracks like ‘Summer’, ‘Feels So Close’ and ‘This is What You Came For’ acting as strong evidence of his signature musical style. This year, however, he’s doing things a bit differently. Not only does Harris intend to release 10 singles throughout 2017, but also he’s moving away from his traditional house sound and towards R&B and nu-disco. Although the Dumfries-born DJ has released his new material across the usual music buying and streaming services, as of yet he’s only released previews of these songs on his Youtube channel with no accompanying videos, letting his new music speak for itself.

Harris’ first new single of the year arrived on 23rd February. ‘Slide’ is a collaboration with Frank Ocean and Migos that serves as the first indication of Harris’ new musical approach. The track opens with a gentle piano melody, and Ocean’s distorted vocals singing “I might empty my bank account and buy that Boy with a Pipe,” a reference to Picasso’s famous painting Garçon à la pipe. It grows into a groovy R&B number, taking elements not from house and EDM, but instead from nu-disco and hip-hop, to create a track that’s sunny, upbeat, and much more relaxed compared to Harris’ previous output. You’d easily be mistaken at first for thinking that this was a collaboration between just Frank Ocean and Migos, as ‘Slide’ is a radical alteration in Harris’ signature sound, but this transition feels very smooth, and Harris demonstrates his ability to craft dance music that’s more chilled out. Second new single ‘Heatstroke’ features Young Thug, Ariana Grande and Pharrell Williams, and is equally calm and understated. Much like the single’s cover suggests, it’s a 90’s inspired sunset track, tied together by Grande and Williams’ cheery chorus, and again shows glimpses of R&B, rap and disco. Meanwhile, ‘Rollin’ is the perfect blend of soul and hip-hop, featuring bassy, minimalist production, the talents of Atlantan rapper Future, and the expressive vocals of Texan singer Khalid.

In spite of many reports suggesting that Harris wouldn’t be releasing another album, in early May he announced the upcoming release of his new LP Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. This being said, the title suggests that this release will be considered more of a playlist than an album, in a similar vein to Drake’s More Life – further evidence that Harris has placed greater emphasis on creating singles rather than long plays. In addition to the likes of Frank Ocean, Migos and Pharrell, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is set to feature a number of other big names from the worlds of pop, hip-hop and R&B, including Katy Perry, Big Sean, John Legend and Snoop Dogg, so we can expect a continuation of this new stylistic shift. In addition to these new collaborations, another reason behind the change in Harris’ sound can be found in his utilisation of older instruments. Tracks on the new release build from Rhodes Piano, Gibson SGs and Wurlitzers, and this has helped to give his new songs an authentic retro feel.

Overall, Calvin Harris’ change in musical style this year is a bold and confident decision. It has enabled him to create a new brand of dance music, and to have greater room for experimentation. Even though Harris is branching out into new genres, he’s still committed to collaborating with some of the biggest names in the music industry, and Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1. promises to be a funky and intriguing record. A lot of dance music this year seems to have a more relaxed tone to it, and Harris is leading this trend with great success.

James Baker