It all started with a drunk basketball fan in 1980s New York. Then at the end of January 2013 a vlogger known as Filthy Frank posted his own version on YouTube, which was picked up by a group of Australian high-school students.
Now, it is everywhere.
The Harlem Shake has been imitated hundreds of thousands of times on the net, and probably millions of times in student union bars, offices and bars in just about any country with an internet connection.
The Harlem Shake began as the ‘Al B’, named after Albert Boyce, who performed his arm-flailing dance during the half-time break in basketball matches at Harlem’s Rucker Park, circa 1981. His style came in part from his heavy consumption of alcohol. The ‘Al B’ then grew a following around Harlem, before spreading to neighbouring districts.
Its migration beyond Harlem brought it the name ‘Harlem Shake’ and it remained very much a local phenomenon until 2001, when a New York-based hip hop artist featured it in a music video.
Slowly but surely it came to the attention of more and more people until BANG, Filthy Frank took it to YouTube with the music supplied by an American DJ called Baauer (the original heavy bass track was released with little success initially in August 2012).
Filthy Frank’s video caught the attention of the Australian students. It was they who brought in the Harlem Shake as we know it: a lone dancer in a room of uninterested people, then a jump cut and bass drop to a room full of Harlem Shakers.