I almost didn’t go, if you want to know the truth. A full two hours after the start time of the first house party I’d been to since the pandemic began, I was swiping lipstick and changing my shoes, still deciding if I’d show up. See, by the time June 2022 rolled around, I’d been living inside a wadded-up ball of grey, woollen grief for over a year and a half—and I’d forgotten about how even little things like an all-night rager could be a glimpse of technicolour.
Soon, of course, the bass thumping in my collarbones, the shouted introductions over party jams and cocktails in red cups, reminded me. But true believers in the power of parties don’t need such reinforcement of revelry’s powers. They know that a good house party isn’t just an act of community and an exercise in life-affirming fun. A good house party can, in fact, change the world.
Before you offer to hold my shoulder steady during such a big reach, let me provide the proof: It was at a Bronx house party on August 11, 1973 that Clive Campbell invented hip hop music, by building an entire playlist out of breakdowns from popular dance songs. The genre’s very foundations—formed by Campbell, AKA DJ Kool Herc—are based in shoving over the couch to make more room for dancing, in the up-to-no-good fun that can only be had in a kitchen with speakers blasting; in standing on my friend’s apartment balcony and gossiping with strangers.
If there’s anyone in Halifax who understands all of this intrinsically, though—someone who isn’t only the biggest believer in house parties, but also their disciple—it’s the rapper, singer and musician Lance Sampson. Sampson, who performs under the moniker Aquakultre (sometimes with a band, sometimes with backing singers, sometimes with neither) has been securing star status in the city’s music scene since 2018, when he won the prestigious CBC Searchlight Competition (the country’s top prize for unsigned musical talent). He parlayed that well-earned hype into a Polaris Prize-shortlisted effort, 2020’s flawless, neo-soul Legacy. Then, this July, he delivered his highly anticipated follow-up, which doubled as his major label debut on Forward Music: The roiling, rollicking Don’t Trip.
All the press materials for Don’t Trip talk about this being a love album, charting the blossoming romance between Sampson and his partner. But it’s clear from the album’s first boom-bap—from Sampson’s opening rallying call of “I need everyone to report to the dance floor for a special presentation”—that what you’re listening to, really, is the ultimate house party.
This is clear in its number of guest features that balloons to 20 names long, almost more an invite list, really. (Everyone from The Sorority alum pHoenix Pagliacci to Halifax up-and-comer Zamani has RSVP’d across the album’s 13 tracks.) It’s in the endless, audible influences that span from disco to funk to golden-age hip hop (AKA every genre that launches a gathering firmly into party territory) and the constant callbacks to great grooves of the past. (Sampson name-drops all his usual suspects of sonic inspiration: D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill and Erikyah Badu, while the songs themselves either allude to or bring to mind a smattering of R&B gems—think Al Green sweet-talking, Jermaine Dupri-style production, shades of Usher’s edgier moments and the sonic DNA of jams like Jodeci’s “Freek’n You”).
By the time the bass line hits in “Milk & Honey”—a powdery pulse-check that Quincy Jones would adore—the bones in your body will be radiating neon yellow. The grooves will be marrow-deep, lighting you up from the inside like your skeleton was swapped for a series of glow sticks. When Sampson croons “it must be some type of magic”, you’ll remember that having fun almost always is.
Sampson, of course, isn’t the only one who’s reminded listeners of the power of deeply danceable music during the pandemic: Disco had its biggest resurgence since the genre’s inception with blockbuster albums from everyone from Dua Lipa to Doja Cat to Kylie Minogue while Studio 54-era nostalgia took hold (see: Netflix’s series Halston and the return of flared pants via TikTok). Even Beyonce’s latest, Renaissance, is shaped by ballroom and night club culture.
All of these albums—Don’t Trip very much included—serve to show that dance music, whatever it sounds like, is about much more than just ass-shaking (though it also reminds of the joy of just that). They point to the weak fault lines in the snobbery around what genres are taken seriously. Case in point? Don’t Trip’s standout single, “Africvillean Funk,” is an updated reminder of the message first taught by OutKast: Music can make you move *and* have vital social commentary.
Don’t Trip doesn’t just chop and scramble the sounds and vibes of dance music from the last 50 years, though: It serves them up in an offering that feels like an a la carte playlist for your next wild night in, the distilled essence of those late nights of a well-wasted youth (and later, if you’re lucky).
“Ain’t felt this alive in a minute/We got somethin’ I won’t let go,” sings a reverb-soaked Sampson in on the album’s apex, “Lunch.” The morning after my friend’s party, she Instagrammed a photo of the crowd. I noticed a tall woman in the right of the frame, clearly having the time of her life. It took a second to recognize her wide smile was my own.