What happens when you mix a Luke Bryan song with one from Eminem? Or take a Carrie Underwood ballad and infuse it with a touch of electronic dance music? It sounds like a riddle invented to enrage traditional country music fans, but there's actually a very simple answer: People dance.
It's a fact that club DJs have known for years, and Nashville record labels and producers are eagerly working to bring it to the mainstream. Remixing and mashing up songs is nothing new, but country is the latest genre to discover that behind a thumping techno beat sits a lucrative opportunity to breathe a second life into songs by turning them into dance tunes.
The concept has taken off recently, buoyed by the release of "Country Club," an EP from longtime nightclub DJ/producer Dee Jay Silver on which two scorned-lover tales (Carrie Underwood's "Two Black Cadillacs" and Dolly Parton's "Jolene") get spliced together, while Alabama's 1983 hit "Dixieland Delight" features guest vocals from Southern rap group Nappy Roots.
"Country isn't some slow music about a lonely guy - it's party music," said Silver, currently on tour with Jason Aldean as the DJ tasked with getting the crowd hyped before the show. "We're keeping the music, but just giving you a different way to listen to it."
While pop versions of country songs have been around for years, producers say that blending elements together for a remix presents a different challenge. It's about adding more accelerated dance beats, drums, maybe keyboard and electronic sounds - every process is different, and sometimes it's critical to keep the original guitar track and melody to maintain the country root of the song.
The dance mix concept is expanding from country nightclubs to bigger concerts. These days, the Rascal Flatts tour features a group called the "Dance Y'All" country crew consisting of dancers who get down to amped-up songs between acts; Miranda Lambert enlists a trio, Jukebox Mafia, to entertain the crowd with beatboxed remixes of country hits before she goes on stage.
Among those not surprised by this trend is DJ DU, who just celebrated his first commercial release, an electronic dance remix of "Little Umbrellas" by up-and-coming Nashville singer Sarah Darling.
"With the younger generation, there's such a big trend toward the hip-hop and EDM and dance music markets," DJ DU said. "I've noticed as much as people want to two-step and waltz all night, there's a lot of people who just want to shake it. If you can combine them both together and make a party out of that, I think that has a great future."
Scott Borchetta, president and chief executive of the Big Machine Label Group, says the growth of dance-heavy music is a natural progression with the emergence of younger artists coming up through the ranks, and their diverse musical influences.
"When you look at the current crop of country singers who are getting traction the last couple of years, they grew up listening to hip-hop as well as country. It's coming out in their music because it's in their DNA," Borchetta said. "Look at Florida Georgia Line - you listen to the cadence of a lot of their melodies, and there's a natural hip-hop element to that."
Florida Georgia Line, of course, is the new duo who saw the inescapable hit "Cruise" become even bigger this year with a remixed version featuring rapper Nelly. Likewise, Jason Aldean's "Dirt Road Anthem" got a second act on the charts with an appearance from Ludacris.
Both success stories underline another major reason for alternative song versions, beyond just helping people have a great dance party. Average Joe Entertainment CEO and longtime producer Shannon Houchins, whose flagship artist is Colt Ford - a country rapper who often guests on remixed country tracks - points out that the new track can expand the fan base. Or, as he added: "You just doubled your profit by doing a remix."
Borchetta's label is behind the "Dance Y'All" project, which features the new single "Two Step," a song from Laura Bell Bundy with a rap by Ford that's heading to radio Aug. 19. Bundy, a Broadway performer-turned-country singer who appears on the Rascal Flatts tour to perform the song, says it's amazing to watch the reaction when the "Dance Y'All" troupe shows up.
"What the remix is doing is allowing people to freestyle to country music," Bundy said. "It doesn't require a line dance. It doesn't require a partner dance, and it adds a beat. It has much more of a party vibe to it ... and it's widening the genre a little bit."
Sometimes expanding the genre may seem a bit risky. A few weeks ago, Anthony Allen, the assistant program director at Big 98 WSIX-FM in Nashville, enlisted Dee Jay Silver for a weekly 15-minute segment on-air every Friday at 5 p.m., consisting entirely of his remixes. The station had been toying with the idea for a while, sensing that the songs were becoming more popular.
Still, Allen braced himself for unhappy listeners who might not like a heavier beat behind a Darius Rucker song. "I thought I would get emails saying, 'Hey, this is stupid, this is not country,' " Allen said.
Instead, people warmed to the party-themed music at the end of the week. "We have had nothing but positive feedback from Day One," he added.
Silver, meanwhile, is well aware of how much liberty he can take, as he balances keeping country roots while adding the new remix flavor.
"I'm not trying to make a Deadmau5 version of Lady Antebellum," Silver said. "That's not country music."