What exactly is “Cheese”?

Cheese has to be one of the most widely used terms to describe music but what exactly does it mean? I was first made aware of “Cheese” back in 1996/7 when I started playing at University balls and bops. Oxford students would ask for Cheese, which generally meant party classics from the 70s and 80s covering multiple genres, but mainly pop. In 2017, Cheese is a very broad term indeed when it comes to describing music and is, more often than not, a matter of personal opinion! Here, I have tried breaking down exactly how Cheese differs and how it can often be misunderstood in so many ways, often with divided opinions….

In recent years, I have had brides requesting ‘No Cheese at our wedding please!’ and I’ll always ask to which extent. For many, Cheese is those cringeworthy novelty party dances such as the Birdie Song, Macarena, anything by Black Lace, Barbie Girl, Saturday Night, Gangnam style and such like. Basically ‘please get everyone up dancing but don’t embarrass us!’
To others, this extends to popular classics from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and now, even the 00s. These are the evergreen classics that are played at weddings and parties every weekend across the country, week in, week out. Examples include Do Wah Diddy, Build me Up Buttercup, I want You Back, Dancing Queen, I Will Survive, Blame It On The Boogie, Come On Eileen, Summer of ’69, Don’t Stop Me Now, Livin’ On A Prayer, U Can’t Touch This and many, many others, can be described as Cheese.

But in other extremes, especially from a clubbing point of view, Cheese can mean pretty much any song that has been a commercial success! I’m talking about those Dance Classics which became Top 10 hits. The likes of Robin S – Show Me Love, Black Box’s Ride On Time (which spent 6 weeks at Number One in the late summer of 1989), Darude’s Sandstorm, Energy 52’s Café Del Mar, (yes, Cheese can even include Ibiza classics too!) Pop and Dance besides, even Hip-hop and Rock aren’t safe from the Cheese Factor according to some folk. Think Run-DMC, Sugarhill Gang, and I hate to say it, even the likes of Aerosmith, Def Leppard and Guns’N’Roses! One good way of looking at Cheese is viewing it in the same way as the edible kind. From the cheap processed stuff through to a good mature Cheddar, a quality Swiss cheese (we all love a bit of Emmental, right?), Stilton (fetch me the Port and bicuits please!) and many others, you get the idea!

As a professional DJ, I have a few ground rules when playing at a wedding or other predominately adult function. The previously mentioned novelty party dances are on my banned list unless specifically requested, especially if there’s a number of kids present. At the same time, especially when a Bride has asked me so, the more predictable party classics can also be avoided. A good DJ will always have a few alternative classics up his or her sleeve, and with years of experience, will know exactly when and where to play them! But for those who want a full-on Cheese fest, who am I to stop them!? Some say a little bit of Cheese does you good, some hate it! Musical Cheese, is after all, as previously mentioned, a matter of personal opinion and I’m always interested to know what you class as Cheese in the meantime. I hope this helps define the overall perception of what we call Cheese! After all, Cheese can be a good part of a balanced diet, and the same can apply to music!