This 12-Year-Old School of Seven Bells Song Still Hits Like It’s New

School of Seven Bells Ghostory on vinyl
My vinyl copy of School of Seven Bells’ 2012 album, Ghostory.

When a song isn’t instantly recognizable, you can see it on the faces in the crowd. They’ll shoot befuddled glances around the room, scope the scene and see how many people look like they know it. They half-dance, as if they’re still deciding whether or not to stay on the floor. 

In the DJ booth, this is a tense moment because there are a few ways that the scenario can play out. They might leave the dance floor, taking a handful of people with them. Or, someone who is equally bold and clueless might come up to the booth with the “play something I know” request. In the best possible instances, they stick with the groove and keep moving.

I see people cast the “I don’t know this song, should I dance?” glance whenever I play “Low Times” by School of Seven Bells. The song is 12 years old, and I’ve been playing it for just as long, but it still hits as if it were new. Even though it’s not a song that people automatically know, they keep dancing. Every time, the crowd grows and energy builds alongside the heart-pounding rhythm and breathless vocals. 

“Low Times” is a strange song because I can’t prove its popularity by any sort of metric that is expected today. If I direct you to Spotify or YouTube, the numbers would leave you unimpressed. I can’t cite any instances of viral success. The stats that convince the extremely online that something is worthy of attention just aren’t there. But, numbers are deceptive and online trends have little-to-no relevance at indie clubs. So, unless you go out often enough to see that influencers don’t actually draw crowds and TikTok hits wipe dance floors clear, I probably can’t convince you that, for over a decade, “Low Times” has been serious dance floor heat.

Instead, you’re just going to have to trust me when I say that, as “Low Times” plays, some will come up to the booth and ask about it. Once in a while, they’ll mention that they do remember School of Seven Bells. Maybe they saw them live once. More often, people semi-covertly pull out their phones, not realizing that I can see all from behind the controller and that I don’t care if you Shazam-and-dance. “Low Times” might fall into the category of what DJs call “secret weapons,” the kind of song that prompt some to hide the label or track ID, but I always thought those shenanigans were stupid. If I didn’t want you to know what the song was, I wouldn’t be playing it. Besides, neither “Low Times” nor School of Seven Bells are obscure. Like most good music, it’s just buried under the piles of crap that algorithms throw our way. 

School of Seven Bells existed on the cusp of the ‘00s and ‘10s, first as a trio and then a duo, releasing three albums before member Benjamin Curtis (who had previously been in Secret Machines) died of cancer in 2013. “Low Times” stems from the album Ghostory, which was both School of Seven Bells’ first album as a duo and the last one to be released during Curtis’ lifetime. (In 2016 surviving band member Alejandra Deheza released their final album, SVIIB.)

At what was essentially the end of the music blog era, Ghostory was a buzzy album. Search for it online and you’ll still turn up a handful of good reviews dating back to the time of its release. While “Low Times” wasn’t one of the singles, it is the best song on the album. (Even The Independent agreed with me on that in the paper’s album review.)

Reviews from the time note that Ghostory is a concept album involving a character named Lafaye, which is also the title of its first single, and ghosts. When I listen to the album in full, “Low Times” sounds like it’s part of a supernatural tale. It opens with a crisp slap of a beat that practically echoes across the room. The tempo is fast and, when Deheza’s vocals come in with the line, “Who watched me lose my light,” it sounds as if she’s catching her breath. While listening to this song at home, I can see a chase through a dilapidated mansion with hidden passageways, where every turn around a darkened corner is followed by a glance over your shoulder. It’s intense. 

I can’t explain why some songs do well at the clubs and others don’t. Music either makes you feel something or it doesn’t and trying to break these things down into a listicle of so-called “best practices” is setting up the musicians and DJs who google “how to make a dance hit” for failure.

What I can say is that the reason why I love “Low Times,” and the reason I think it works so well in the sets I play, is the same reason why it’s overlooked online. It’s a song that doesn’t neatly fit inside a genre or vibe or trending topic. The vocals have an ethereal quality, but the music is too stark to be considered shoegaze or dreampop. The tempo and metronomic beat is closer to what you would hear in an ‘80s hiNRG track or on early ‘00s International Deejay Gigolo singles. That’s an unusual combination, so you do have to put some thought into what songs you can place around it. 

Moreover, though, what makes “Low Times” great for club play and probably terrible for playlisting is that it’s a visceral song. It’s not a nice piece of music that can play in the background when you’re working on your laptop or dining at the restaurant that was designed for Instagram or hanging out at the mall-turned-Elevated Shopping Experience or whatever it is that passes for living life in 2024. It’s music that’s made for triggering real human emotions rather than appeasing the needs of a platform and that’s the real reason this song still gets so much play in my sets.

Liz O. is an L.A.-based writer and DJ. Read her recently published work and check out her upcoming gigs.

Keep Reading: