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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Galvanize" both pumps me up and gets me dancing

The Chemical Brothers' hit mixes elements from both sides of 2000 into one of the most recognizable songs of its time.

Yesterday, my song choice was inspired by my lack of motivation. Today, I purposefully chose one of my favorite pump-up songs in an attempt to get me excited to tackle my short-term deadlines and keep moving ahead in a greater sense.

This track was released as a single in 2004 and on an album in 2005, and as far as my musical memory goes that means I can’t remember a time in my life without it. For years I knew it just by its main string figure, not knowing its name but being able to tell that the six-beat line was very different from the other popular music of which I was aware. When I finally stumbled upon its official video in the depths of a YouTube listening session in my middle school years, I 1) felt dumb for not realizing the Chemical Brothers had chosen “Galvanize” as its title, given the prominence of its every utterance by Q-Tip; and 2) began to appreciate it for everything it had to offer. The mix of a Moroccan string sample with a turn-of-the-century electronic and hip hop backdrop makes it both unmistakable and a reflection of the moment in which the track was released.

The music video — one which has stuck with me alongside my memories of the track it accompanies — also reinforces that early to mid-2000s moment. The kids’ juggalo face paint and the krump dance battle that emerges in the video’s climax are visual icons of an era I hardly remember, but one whose music continues to impact me.

However, “Galvanize” also owes as much to the 90s as it does the "noughties" (I love that term). Firstly, sampling may have emerged in hip hop in the 80s, but it was in the 90s that it took off in the genre’s first “golden age.” Secondly, the track sampled is itself from the 90s… though it’s admittedly an off-the-wall selection. The iconic strings in “Galvanize” come from “Hadi Kedba Bayna” (This Lie is Obvious), a song by Moroccan artist Najat Aatabou in the Chaabi style. The sample primarily stands out because it’s a six-beat loop, but it also has some non-Western tuning on one of the notes that, in a benignly colonialist way, gives off an “international” vibe.

But of course, the real 90s feeling on this one comes from Q-Tip. The signature high-pitched nasal delivery of the mind behind much of A Tribe Called Quest’s catalog is the voice behind the verses’ quick-hitting rhymes and the chorus’ more drawn-out repetition. In conjunction with the Chemical Brothers’ pulsating electronic beats — the combination of the guitar and octave synths is something else — Q-Tip provides the motifs that make the song one of my go-to pump-up tracks. Not to mention that the lyrics themselves are damn catchy, even at their fast pace:

(Don’t hold back)
‘Cause you woke up in the morning with initiative to move, so why make it harder
(Don’t hold back)
If you think about it, so many people do, be cool, man, look smarter
(Don’t hold back)

When I hear that and “World, the time has come to / Galvanize,” there’s little that can stop me from getting at it. The track will be stuck in my head, but I’ll be more than motivated to get my work done. And once I get it done, I’ll probably (try to) dance to that awesome beat, especially in the build-up after the bridge. Given that duality, it’s no shock that “Galvanize” is one of my most played tracks to this day.


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