Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why EDM matters

Before reading this post, please go and read "The Trancecracker" cartoon, from which the above picture is taken. Not only did it popularise the brilliant term "trancecracker", it also is seriously funny and contains a bit of truth that is relevant for what is being discussed here.

The whole "Electronic Dance Music" (EDM) phenomenon crept up on me. Perhaps Japan has been a bit more insulated from it here, I am not sure. But it is only just recently that I have come to learn about who Skrillex is, exactly how big a chump that David Guetta is (how do you become such a famous DJ without even having basic DJ skills?), who the #asianjesus hashtag refers to, and what "molly" is. And the more I have learned about the EDM, the more I am simultaneously shocked and amazed. It is kind of like seeing a guy suck his own cock - you can't help but be impressed at what he has achieved, while still finding it super nasty. If you haven't heard it, I really encourage you to listen to Skrillex's "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites", which at the time of posting has been listened to on youtube more than 77 million times and is kind of like the musical equivalent of a guy sucking himself off:

I think for most of us something like this instinctively offends us, and our immediate reaction is just to say "this is fucking shit" and go back to ignoring EDM. But I am coming to the opinion that we may have to seriously engage with EDM, for better and worse. Whether we like it or not, it is people like Skrillex and Deadmau5 that have become the flag bearers of electronic music in popular culture today. And I think the potentially negative ramifications of this are far greater than simply a lot of people listening to shitty music after having had too many shitty energy drinks.

Perhaps the most obvious problem is the way EDM has taken, and essentially re-appropriated, fundamental aspects of dance / rave culture. One example is the way '90s rave culture - the glowsticks, the fluro, the lollypops and so on - have all been resurrected in a way that looks like it is a joke but actually seems to be genuine. While they have taken the trappings of the rave era, certainly many of the worthwhile ideals and ethos are missing. I always found the whole PLUR and TAZ stuff pretty bullshit, but in certain contexts there was - and still can be - a kind of powerful communal feeling that can be shared. What I find interesting, and troubling, is how deeply individualistic these EDM events seem to be, perhaps best symbolised in the figure of the DJ placed high above everybody else. In a strange way it seems that EDM simultaneously raises the position of the DJ to some kind of superstar god, while at the same stage completely devaluing and removing the art of DJ'ing. When you check these guys on youtube it is amazing that most of them can barely even mix - at best it is a crossfade, at worst a proper trainwreck, or some choose the Peter Hook route of letting the CD do the mixing for them. For one example, look at the video above of David Guetta in action. That is truly amazing. Try not to think about how much he is being paid to suck that bad. For another example, check this horrible track by Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke (this one has been viewed only 15 million times). If you can get over (a) how bad the music is, (b) what complete douches they are, and (c) how cheap their tacky dress up costumes are, try to focus on the way the CDJs and mixer have essentially become little more than props. They aren't even plugged in for most of the clip! On a side note, I find it interesting that most of these artists use CDJs - is it perhaps because the computer doesn't look as cool?

The larger point is that these people are presenting a very different image of what a DJ is, and should be. To take another example - in the video below, shot at the recent Ultra Music festival, Steve Aoki throws cakes at people in the crowd during his performance. I mean, what the fuck? I honestly have no idea why the fuck this dude is throwing cakes at people in the crowd while he is supposed to be playing, and understand even less why the people in the crowd seem to think it is a great idea. And with EDM moving into the mainstream this is the image of the DJ that is being transferred and promoted in the public realm, which is something I find rather disturbing and problematic.

But even if these complaints are valid, so what? We are living in a post-modern world and the way EDM reappropriates elements of 'traditional' electronic music fits within that. Complaining that "this is not what a DJ is" or "that is not how a DJ should act" might simply be a bit anachronistic. Cultural artifacts being taken, changed and used or interpreted in a new or different way is something that is constantly occurring, this just happens to be a case that rubs me - and presumably many of you - the wrong way. Where I do think there is potentially a serious problem, however, is some of the consequences that may come from mainstream culture and society taking EDM - a horribly superficial and banal phenomenon - to be representative of what electronic music is. While most of us prefer the "underground" locale of our music, it does create problems and it does make the scene vulnerable.

One issue that we don't discuss enough is space. One of the great threats to our music is the space that we need disappearing. Gentrification is the hidden killer of techno music. The spaces where we can listen, dance and enjoy music are slowly being eaten away. Clubs are disappearing as more and more apartment blocks and shops appear everywhere. More noise complaints, stricter licensing laws, property developers - these are things that will be taking away our places to dance and share the music we love. So what exactly does this have to do with EDM? I want to suggest there are two main ways that EDM can negatively impact upon this dynamic. The first is the point I suggested above - that EDM is becoming taken to be representative of what electronic music is, which I think most of us would agree is a deeply misleading situation, one that further increases misunderstanding and miscomprehension over what electronic music is and how it operates. If people think that electronic music equals Steve Aoki, it is hard to mount a convincing argument for why it is something that should be respected, funded, supported and granted social space for. The second aspect is that from what I can tell is that these EDM events - like this god awful Ultra music festival the clips are from - are presented primarily in the form of festivals. These are big events, the club is removed from the equation. Instead these EDM acts are in the form of spectacles - huge stages, enormous lighting rigs, massive video screens, even fireworks. If mainstream society comes to understand electronic music as taking place in this format, there is the danger that there might be even less patience and space for clubs. Meanwhile these festivals will lack security and continuity - each year they have to apply for all the necessary licenses and permits. Look at the history of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival for an example of this. And these large festivals are parasitic - they do not build or maintain scenes, they are not there every week providing space and opportunities for locals and up and coming artists. Either you've made it or you are in the audience. Not much space in between for these mega-events. Perhaps I am wrong, but I am concerned that if mainstream society does come to understand electronic music has taking place largely in the format of festivals, it could have seriously damaging consequences. This problem of gentrification is one that we will be increasingly having to deal with. It is worth thinking about it now, before the spaces disappear.

Maybe this is all just a case of me being overly precious. I must admit that I do hate the idea of somebody thinking that what I am listening and going to is this. But beyond this, I have a serious concern with EDM coming to represent a much greater, deeper and more significant cultural phenomenon, something with far greater value and depth than this garbage. And if EDM does come to represent and speak for other forms of electronic music, not only is it all a big embarrassing for us, it makes it even harder to make the very valid argument that there are serious, valuable forms of electronic music that deserve to be supported and given space in our societies.


  1. Valid concerns. However, the most important aspect of all this is that many people who are making the music that we all enjoy are, on the whole, doing ok out of it. Sure, they're never going to make the $ that these technowhores are, but then they haven't sold their artistic soul to Mammon.

    Take someone like Dave Moufang. A few years ago, no-one gave two hoots about him after his mid'90's albums - he was virtually forgotten. Now, take a look at him now - he's gigging everywhere across the world and is a celebrated DJ. He's probably making enough dough as a performer to not work 9-5 and more importantly, the information tools are there for everyone across the world to log on and check what his last DJ set was like by going to his soundcloud. Or perhaps relative old-timers like Octave One - they are gigging a lot and it's not cheap to book 2 or 3 guys from Detroit. The fact is that the technology has allowed a lot of people who made music in the 90's to finally realise what they could do on stage etc. Mike Parker is another person who a few years released records that virtually no-one knew about. Now he can do his day job as an art lecturer and go and DJ at Berghain on his holidays. That just wouldn't have happened a decade ago.

    The fact is that there are enough places like Berghain, Fabric and Labyrinth that have the infrastructure to accommodate "underground" (I don't even know if we should really use that term anymore - UDM) stuff, pay DJs and live artists the wages they require to sustain themselves. Sure, there is always going to be an issue with regard to how long a venue might stay legal or open or whatever, but then that's the crux of what makes techno so great - the fact that it's not meant to be permanent and makes dancing in that space a bit more exciting.

    The internet has given UDM a stable platform with which to give musicians a good career in performing even if record sales aren't going to be enough to sustain them.

  2. EDM is just a corporate term for big, commercial, pop dance music. It has nothing to do with house and techno and I try to treat it as such -- I honestly don't get why you, Sherburne, or anyone else are paying attention to it.

    Here in the States this EDM stuff is unavoidable, yes, but in the way that pop music always has been, and I've never cared what Rhianna or Lady Gaga do or what the mainstream listens to. It's funny -- Guetta has been around forever but it's only since he and others have gotten big in the States (land of corporate influence) that I've seen people in the house and techno scenes comment on him -- he used to just be ignored, and that is how we should go about it.

    I think it's funny that you mention that you don't want someone mistakenly believing that you listen to this shit when you say you listen to dance/electronic/house/techno music. I dunno how it is elsewhere, but when asked what I listen to this kinda shit has always been what people think I mean, even before the likes of Steve Aoki and Justice were big names in the US. I didn't get into house and techno to impress anyone else though, so I really don't give a shit what people's misconceptions are.

    Sorry if this comes off as a bit aggressive, I just really don't get why people are all of a sudden taking any notice to what's going on in mainstream music like it has anything to do with our scene. It's kinda like how people have started to use EDM to refer to house and techno -- for as long as I've been listening I've never called what we listen to EDM or seen anyone else do so, and now that shit with that tag is getting really popular we use it and lump our stuff in with it? Fuck that.

  3. I'm not losing any sleep over it. Yes, it's utter sh*te and yes it looks similar to things that we love that aren't sh*te.

    But a small proportion of the people who get into EDM will explore a bit deeper and find the good stuff still going on in small dark basements with killer soundsystems and proper party people. And of the sub-group who find the real stuff a still smaller sub-group will understand it and love it and join our gang. So I'm not going to get angry at it, I'm going to keep it at the periphery of my life and revel in the good stuff.

    See you down the front!

  4. Agreed with the above. Why are you so concerned about what other people think? Are you in it for the wrong reasons?

    a) People used to assume, once you told them you liked electronic music, you were into 2 Unlimited or the Prodigy (both of which I like, btw);

    b) Electronic music has never been as great as when it had to rely on resistance and subversion. Wide recognition of it (and anything) leads to bland and boring dross. The less accepted electronic music is, the better for its own sake.

  5. in response to the comments so far: what i was trying to get is that there are reasons i personally dislike this EDM trend - that the music is shit, that it can lead to misconceptions about what i listen to and so on. but what i was trying to get is that separate of these individual concerns, there are some reasons why collectively it *could* be a problem that techno/house is being mis-perceived as part of EDM (in retrospect perhaps the title of the post should have been more tentative). what i was trying to suggest that if mainstream culture fails to comprehend the difference, it could have flow on consequences for the music that we do care about. so i am not sure simply ignoring it is the best approach.

  6. Great post, Chris. I think you're spot on. One related thought I've had is the way that the culture of mainstream EDM (IMO) privileges consumption over creation. When it's a culture of headliners and traveling festivals and major labels, there's really no room for local scenes, independent producers and even what you might call the "farm team" of up-and-coming artists to fill out the roster. Everything goes through big-$$ A&R executives and promoters, rather than a more "organic" network of independent labels, artists, bookers, etc. I think a corollary of that is the enormous amount of SoundCloud (and other services) spam we see shouting to the rooftops, "Listen to my music!" Not to sound like grandpa, but I think there's a collective knowledge that's being lost; you've got all these kids wandering around in the wilderness, desperate to get discovered, rather than coming up in a scene where they might learn the ropes from more experienced peers. (I should note that that's all conjecture; it's just my hunch.)

    One note about that Guetta video: I'm pretty sure it's a spoof. The sound quality doesn't seem correct for a live recording. There are bits of voices bleeding into the mix at one point, suggesting a camera phone, but it's been shot on pro cameras (with multiple angles), and the "It's raining men" portion sounds like it's coming straight out of the boards. I don't know, it just doesn't scan as authentic to me. Nevertheless, I don't see how Guetta could claim to actually be mixing when he's not even using headphones.

    One final note to MFaraday: the reason I'm paying attention to this stuff is because it's happening, and it's interesting. I don't just write about the things that I like. (Look at it this way: as a reader, I read a ton of news about Republicans, but in no way am I a Republican.) Also, I'm not really interested in "us" and "them"; I don't believe the world breaks down into binaries quite that neatly.


  7. i gotta agree that guetta clip is not 100% real. i don't care for edm either but that has nothing to do with how crappy these "fuckdonuts" dj or perform. it's the music, stupid.

    edm is clearly about rock star dynamics. it's what was always shitty about the music industry machine. the music industry only knows how to market stars. we have already seen this 15-20 years ago with techno, rave, etc. "electronica", right? shit, here's madonna again right in the middle of edm, just like 15 years ago. so already, this music is like 4 months old (jk) and we have the grammy's jump the shark moment. Consider the downslope has arrived already.

    i grew up in the midwest usa in the 80s/90s and i'm good with there being good techno and shit techno. it almost always comes down to something as simple as - if it has somebody's too pretty face on it or somebody "dancing" on it, it's probably music machine bullshit and not real techno. shrug. every scene has its litmus test, even our "real" scenes. hiphop has a thousand of them. clearly lil jon knows them inside and out.

    what i'm trying to understand is why edm is compelling as music to support this star factory. the music is all dynamics: build, drop, build, drop, yell to the crowd, angry bassline riff. it all signifies something, but what, I have no idea. i don't know why the music is so hyped, it's just delirious. which sonically, i'm interested in it, but it's... not good. it's just fast then slow, with some aggressive synth textures or some ethereal vocals floating in or out of the mix.

    it's like jungle, slowed down without any rhythm but with, i don't know, george michael pretending to tweak a low pass filter. i guess that is interesting to somebody but it's pretty old news. it reminds me of the story of diana ross singing upside down with chic and not being able to sing on beat with all that syncopation. somebody is always going to want to put a pretty face on what "the kids like to dance to..."

  8. I'm not sure what the general perception of EDM culture is from the outside. I would argue that in the last few years a lot more people have begun to understand how it happened and that the history is a complex one - e.g Kraftwerk, Disco, Detroit, Chicago, Berlin etc etc.

    It's going to take a long time to break the common perception - if you talked to the average guy in midwest America and said that techno was first made by black guys in Detroit, then they'd probably laugh at you. Or in the UK they might think it's Sasha and Digweed. Or that Skrillex invented dubstep.

    I'm not sure what the perceived damage done by people like Guetta could be. EDM is basically functional - it is pretty shallow in its creation, composition and value (it's there to dance to and that is basically it - all the other emotions we derive from it are essentially abstracted from that), a peculiar byproduct of commercial pop music.

    Over the years we've superimposed a lot of precious value on these records. They've formed part of a culture that might have been local, but is now very much a global one.

    Perhaps the concern is that EDM amplified in this nature to stadiums and megacunts like the Swedish House Mafia is that it lays bare the music we love - this is the natural evolution of dance music into a commercial entity.

    It might be best for us to turn off our mobiles and laptops for a while.

  9. there's no way that david guetta video is real. gotta be fake.

  10. Bravo Chris, braVO! I agree with all of your points wholeheartedly. I've never, EVER been ashamed to proudly announce my love for all things techno. Not even when people scoff at the mere mention of the name, and proclaim they "hate techno!". I don't listen to music for any reason other than it makes sense to me. Other people's mis-guided perceptions do not dissuade me one bit.

    However, as much as I have been able to brush those kinds of comments asunder in the past, it has become increasingly worrisome to me that so many people now immediately assosciate any forms of electronic music to the utter rubbish you have "highlighted". Again, I do not care what people think of the music I love, but I do believe that it cannot be good for the scene in the long run.

    Back in the late 90's/early 00's, the mainstream took notice of EDM in a big way. It suddenly was heard from the speakers of minivans and frat houses; accompanying every-other commercial; and featured in the spotlight of magazines. The difference between now and then? The artists receiving all the attention were honest-to-goodness musicians: Moby, Fatboy Slim, and the Chemical Bros to name a few. Sure, I may not have been a huge fan of those guys, but at least I wasn't embarrased with them being at the vanguard of the mainstream coverage.

    When I think of the garbage that is in the mainstream now, it almost breaks my heart. I do not want the smaller or underground scenes to eventually be swallowed by the shit-monster of EDM. If young folks are discovering the music we love via Skrillex or Steve Aoki, as opposed to Aphex Twin, UR, or the three I mentioned above for example, the future begins to seem a bit more bleak.

    Certainly, there will always be people who will "get it", and try to separate the wheat from the chaff as they begin to gain a greater love of electronic music. But those percentages of people will more than likely diminish just based on the very nature of the shit-monster overwhelming the true musicians.

  11. sadly it seems like north america (the US in particular) is the focal point of this explosion of "EDM." i think many of us are hoping that, in the next few years, the young, rabid fanbase here grows up and begins to crave more challenging music.

    anyway, here's another perspective from the NY times that might be worth a read:
    "If you’re 15 to 25 years old now, this is your rock ‘n’ roll" ... yuck.

  12. This isn't unique to dance music or 2012 though is it? It's the well trodden and inevitable process of the musak industry (mis)appropriating music. A Tribe Called Quest and and Black Eyed Peas are hiphop. Crass and Greenday are punk. Ron Hardy and David Guetta are house. John Coltrane and Kenny G are jazz. Whatever.

    While I'd agree with Philip that, in general, the world doesn't break down neatly into discreet "us and them" style categories, I'd argue, like some of the other guys who posted allude to, that in this case it kind of does. How many of the acts who play/punters who go to UMF (had never heard of it before reading this)or its international equivalents are the same acts/punters that frequent, say, Berghain? Close to none I'd say.

    Following on from that, I wonder if Chris could elaborate on how the rise of EDM might impact? I'm not sure I fully understand how it could change things. You mention gentrification, but I don't really understand how that might work out practically. I mean, did Kiss concerts affect punk clubs?

  13. probably should have checked the guetta video more carefully. there was another one i had seen which i was looking for (perhaps also fake, i don't know), but i couldn't find it so just posted this one. should have checked it better. i guess i'll just leave my mistake in the post, but i don't think it changes the point that most of these DJs are not doing much DJing.

  14. very interesting piece. one thing i will say though is ... they do seem to be enjoying themselves being caked dont they?! sure aint for me tho... am on a no sugar diet for a start!

  15. Great post, lots of agreement here.

    At the same time, there are positive elements to the 'rock star' thing. How many kids picked up guitars after watching Jimi Hendrix on stage? I guarantee you there are a lot of kids being inspired to create by the likes of Skrillex. It was big bankable DJs like Sasha and John Digweed that first ignited my interest in electronic music. Years later they sit on my shelf next to Alva Noto and Carter Tutti - that's a progression many young fans of Deadmau5 may also make.

    I'd also note that 'our scene' (reductive, I know) is not entirely innocent of DJ worship - e.g. Dozzy's reverence as 'Our Spiritual Leader, he is Techno's Conscience'. But, importantly, we're pretty comfortable with that because Donato is such a humble guy. In the trance world, someone like John 00 Fleming gets similar adoration from fans, in part because he prefers to play from a simple booth hidden off to the side of the dance floor.

    So I think it's the posturing, the CLAIMING of stardom that many of us around these parts are uncomfortable with. After closing Labyrinth, PvH made the comment "the only headliners here are the crowd and the sound system", as if he was nervous he'd been mistaken for a star. And if you look at David Guetta's recent moves to start a non-profit club focused label, or Deadmau5 running a production clinic instead of playing at Ultra, etc - I'm hoping some of those nerves might even be creeping into the 'EDM' world as well.

  16. This has been a huge pet peeve of mine since I discovered the "David Guetta" phenomenon. Admittedly, I have only listened to proper house/techno since I moved back to Tokyo in 06. I wasn't fully educated but I had kind friends who egged me in the direction of the likes of chemical brothers, norman cook, orbital, underworld etc. Since then progressing to Carsten Nicolai and Dozzy and the bunch (Life changed at Labyrinth 08).
    I went to UMF twice in 09-10. First year I actually DID have fun. Saw friends, saw new artists and got to chill in a city I had never been before. 2 days. I dont know what happened the year after that but when I returned all I could notice were the plastic angel wings, the pink pacifiers and the tacky costumes. Not to mention the candy kids huddled in groups of 20 giving each other massages in the middle of the dance floor. I was properly repulsed.

    That being said, I agree with all the comments above (even the ones that contradict each other). It DOES dehumanize our culture, it WILL hurt the real scenes that we love; but I like to think that underground music exists because of the prevalent main stream crap. Sort of a one-cannot-exist-without-the-other kind of thing.
    Chris is right about the diminishing "space" for a local DJ to perform. The organic feeling of actually going to a club to see a certain somebody play a certain set is dwindling thanks to the mega festival productions like UMF (along with electric daisy carnival and electric zoo 'EZOO' or whatever). That needs to be dealt with and quick. But thanks to the generation there are other mediums like soundcloud and youtube for young up and comers to prove themselves - although BECAUSE its so easy and accessible now theres a lot of bullshit floating around so you have to really be committed and patient to find gems - which unfortunately the sad truth is that everyone (especially mainstream listeners) will never look that deep and always be satisfied with the surface. For fucks sake I can find better non-copyrighted music on if I spent 2 minutes!

    I think however the comic strip is a little unfair albeit pretty funny. Not one of those tiesto followers will denounce their faith after reading that. It will probably fuel their obsession and we would be farther away from the point. Also, we must stop using the word trance to describe their music!!

    I really dont care about what other people say, that maybe I'm not open to it, but no matter how many times I try it just sounds like someone is pooping in my ears.
    I'm attempting to make a documentary about the gap of the scene now and how thats happened with the focus on Japan. I'm really glad you brought this up Chris, and I am inspired to blow the lid on this.
    What matters is that there IS the small community of dance music-lovers to appreciate the journey that Dozzy and the Orb takes us through and its with these people that I choose to dance along with. We cant ignore the EDM fad anymore, but its more the reason to dance harder to what we love. Someone will notice.

  17. I don't care about mainstream 'electronic music' and I also couldn't care less what other people's musical preferences are. If you enjoy paying hundreds of dollars to see some cartoons playing shit music and getting a fucking cake thrown in your face in the process - then enjoy it. I couldn't care less.

  18. Wow, thanks a lot Chris ! i didn't know Skrillex and now i feel totally enlightened and rejuvenated. Also, your very graphic metaphor about his sound will be stuck in my mind along the 'ruler tattoo' on this guy's forearm in Berghain (that is for measuring anal fisting, FYI).
    This introduction to pukestep also made me realise what lacked in the Voices from the Lake album : the "drop" ;-)

  19. this pop-dance-EDM is ultimately fatiguing to the ear, only die hard fans of this squishy plush-step trance nausea will care about skrillex in more than 2 years. same as "rockerfeller skank" has fallen into the sublime obscurity of time. it was fun, but ultimately much too annoying for the casual radio listener. music like this is sort of a gift-card at the cash register type of deal, to be glanced at but to always lack real existential meaning.

  20. As somebody who agrees with the sentiment, but comes from a different, perhaps more "post-modern" perspective, I'm always fascinated by these discussions the strong protective emotions that they seem to provoke.

    I think I'm of a younger generation than most posting here, so I'd like to offer my perspective as somebody who missed the "authentic" dance music scenes of the 90's. I also grew up in a very small town in the ocean, though I'm told we had a rave scene of our own back in "the day".

    I never knew a time without Tiesto. I grew up on Warp stuff, but EDM was always something in the air. For everybody around me, that's what "techno" was. I remember when "Sandstorm" came out. After that, it was hopeless telling anybody what I was into. "Oh, you mean like 'Sandstorm'?"

    I got into EM early (6th grade or so) and developed my tastes more or less on my own. As I got older, I got into more experimental things. The internet was just becoming content-rich and I was able to listen to music and participate in various electronic music communities that were a kind of surrogate for a real scene. From the beginning I was producing music, so I found myself in communities of older more experienced guys (not “fans”) who very much handed down the proper ethic. Throughout all this, I had this "trance sucks, I listen to real electronic music" attitude that's being promoted here. I'm pretty sure I even read that Ishkur cartoon when I was 15. I was young and impressionable and that’s what I was told to think.

    What fascinates me is that this attitude, for me, was really not something that developed organically in me. It was something I inherited from the previous generation. Blogs weren’t so much of a thing then, but it was shorter posts and quips along the lines of this article that defined my opinion... (continued below)

  21. [...] When I was about 16, something completely unexpected happened. One day at lunch, totally out of left-field for me, a bunch of my friends were all like, "yo guys, we had a rave, it was awesome". Apparently they had set up a strobe light in a room and played a bunch of poppy hard-trance / happy-hardcore stuff and had a good time. I didn't even know that they knew what "rave" was, but for me this meant two things:

    1. Holy crap this is awesome, maybe we can start a 'rave scene' and I could finally live this beautiful culture that I missed out on and
    2. wait, you're listening to that crap? Let me show you the good stuff.

    I quickly jumped on the opportunity and. with the help of some enthusiastic friends, threw the first proper rave for all of my friends (this was the "alt/hippie" crew) in a basement. I "DJ'd" with another friend (which meant playing from an iTunes playlist), took care of the "sound-system" (Dad's speakers), etc.

    It was here, however, that I learned a very important and lasting lesson. As I cued up tracks that I liked, I realized that everybody would lose energy. On the other hand, my friend seemed to intuitively know what everybody wanted to hear. And what was that? It wasn't the worst trance in the world, but definitely full-on progressive/anthem trance music a la Tiesto.

    At first I was kind of mortified, but I realized quickly that what I was feeling wasn't really authentic. I was hating on the music because I was told to by my online communities. I knew that it was kind of cheap, but then I could not deny that this was what made the crowd move, as it were, and that I was going to have to learn to love and play this stuff. (It helped that I had a bit of a thing for melodrama.)

    And that's what I did. We pooled together a bought a proper PA and a fog machine, I taught everybody what "PLUR" meant, and I started collecting all manner of anthem trance, psytrance, genre-less early 2000's hardcore anthems, etc. What's worse, I started to really get into EDM. Albeit the vast majority of music in these genres is terrible and I had to be very selective, but I really didn't resent it at all.

    The scene – if you can call it that – that we put together, I think, was very much in the spirit of what rave should be. We did it out of love for the music and each other. We did lots of crushed up Adderall, danced our hearts out, and made some of the best memories of our lives. All around tracks from Tiesto, Above & Beyond, BT, Armin van Buren and a whole world of artists I'd been taught to hate by the old school, and that I'm still not allowed to like in public.

    More recently, I heard all about it from my friends when Skrillex came out. The first time I heard it was when my girlfriend was like "yo, listen to this crazy shit". It got old fast, but at the time I liked it for what it was. It was like listening to Hollywood sound effects, which, honestly, I get a kick out of... (continued below)

  22. So what does all this mean? I suppose I hope that by telling this story I might paint a picture of what it looks like to grow up in these times. Things are perhaps a lot more complex than they used to be. Thanks to the Internet, people – and a lot more people – get exposed to things in myriad different ways. Diverse communities of people you'll never know about pop up in small places. My story is one of rave culture anachronistically fusing with EDM to create a little micro-culture in the middle of nowhere. One of my friends from our little scene is now producing wobbly dubstep on the West coast. These days I mostly spin tracks that I've never once heard anybody else play. There is no scene. This is the Internet generation. This is advanced capitalism. It brings good and it brings bad.

    What I can definitely get behind is that local techno/house scenes are not what they used to be. I've lived in Montreal for the past few years and there's definitely no cohesive underground scene to speak of. There are splinters, but the best time I ever had here was when Justice was big and I could go to a club and have a blast with a bunch of kids in rainbow colors with emo hair. I dearly hope that one day I can again find myself part of a scene that (1) maintains some sort of ethic and (2) is about people who love the music coming together to dance. I'm not sure I can really hope for this though. I get the sense that the old idea of the lived, local, real-life "sub-culture" is very much dying. But then maybe that's ok.

  23. For me the biggest issue is the effect that the mainstream exposure of this type of electronic music will have on the "underground"/"good" stuff that we enjoy. When people see these festival vids and the crowds at these events, I imagine the scene won't get much respect or recognition as a musical art, and I also know that the general public lumps this crap together with the proper techno and house DJs and producers that we pay attention to. I get frustrated having to explain to people that I don't listen to the Guetta types.

    But the bigger issue is what will happen to the good clubs that foster a positive atmosphere for musicians and audiences/participants to come together, experiment, create, and risk success or failure. The comment about gentrification's threats to club spaces is all too real. The sterile city that our societies hope to construct have no place for the types of spaces we desire, and without a voice in the discussion, and without the respect of the general public and decision-makers, our spaces will be pushed out.

    Many cities are losing these unrecognized and underground spaces because people don't understand them, or are misinformed with negative stereotypes. No, there aren't enough places like Berghain, Fabric, and Labyrinth. There are techno-heads all over the world, and they deserve to participate in this scene as well. Fortunately Berlin's decision makers recognize the value of these clubs and are pledging to support them - if only the rest of the world would follow suit.

    Thanks for the post! Thought-provoking as usual.

  24. Just want to point out EDM is a term used for high brow dance music too, not just the bad stuff which we collectively hate in an act that is more cohesive than anything in the so-called underground dance music community. ie this scholarly book from 2006.

    Therefore, I don't really see the value of getting scandalized over an umbrella term which is sometimes useful in order to express the variety of styles and genres that are electronic and made for dancing.

    Of course, the way EDM is being used as a marketing ploy is cause for discontent and debate, but let's focus our critique not on the descriptor but rather on those who have corrupted the utopic ideals of early house music and made them serve their mercantile interests. Only my two cents :)

  25. This reminds me of the first commercial wave of Techno during the early 90s (remember "Das Boot"?). It led to the point where everybody was listening to "Techno" by the popular meaning which had really little to do with the real thing.

    Or the entire Schranz-movement that alienated hordes of people from using the term Techno at all. (Still have the theory that this meme gave birth to people worldwide saying "Electro" when they actually mean "Techno").

    So, this current EDM-thing draws an entirely new audience towards the boundaries of "our" (or rather the longterm existing) music culture.

    But - is it a bad thing?

    Don't get me wrong, i also think David Guetta and the likes are simply pain in the ass to consume. But obviously these products satisfy a certain need for a yet uneducated, fresh generation of party people. At some point, they'll most likely discover what a good DJ is able to do, what honest and artisticly worthy music is all about.

    What you say about space and gentrification is right. BUT, i can't say that this current EDM phenomenon has taken much part here. Until the 90s you had clubs with resident DJs - people would attend because the music was good. Nowadays you need to book the big names to fill clubs.

    To be honest - 8 out of 10 top DJs can't fucking spin either. Granted, they won't throw cakes at the crowd, nor put in a CD and just pretend either. But they're nothing more than playlist maintainers, lining up tracks one by one at arbitary will without any character at all.

    Do the majority of clubbers care as long as there's a break every now and then and something is playing that they can hook up to? No.

    There is a wealth of unknown DJs who take it much further than the usual suspect that gets booked every week who will most likely never be heard. Because they don't produce whatever ranks any chart.

    That's the part of subculture gentrificiation in itself. Or rather in-scene commercialism - a simple supply and demand thing.

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  27. I don't understand why you fear so badly to be mistaken for a mainstream EDM fan - you mention that several times in the article ("I must admit that I do hate the idea of somebody thinking that what I am listening and going to is this").

    A few years ago when you were talking about "techno" in France, people imagined you going to a 90's style hardtek festival in a military outfit - and so what? Most people I interact with on a daily basis have no clue about what I listen to when I talk about electronic music. Some of them might think that I like Skrillex? Big deal.

    Do you need the music you listen to that much to define yourself? I enjoy the company of people who share my passion for quality electronic music, but as far as the outside world is concerned, I couldn't give less of a shit about what they think this music is really.

  28. Skrillex style dubstep and the trance before it seems to feed into this ultra-add way of listening to music - it is completely about recognition and anticipation, and there's a group acceptance feeling from looking around at the right times, dancing appreciatively at the right times, etc. I think it's a good challenge for the underground to take that on. For me, underground stuff is more repetitive, more like repeat the good bit and digest it rather than spoon-feed it and tag it. And that's a really rare, unexpectedly comforting listening experience to have, when it works. But the good bit's got to be really good. Even though I can't stand the dynamics, dubstep has more interesting sounds than dub techno, and if "the underground" completely ignores it they're limiting their palette.

    I also think, short of hosting massive festivals, it's good for underground events to try and interact more with audiences that don't get it. Book at a bar or a pizza joint, not just at a warehouse or basement that only "those who know" know about, because we didn't all start out "getting it", "it" is constantly changing, and there's not really much being communicated if you only preach to the choir. I'm thinking more of noise scenes here, but where are your standards or your challenges when the whole audience is playing at the next show?

    I guess my point is, there's a different kind of slightly-too-acceptingness to underground scenes, and if the mainstream is ripping us off we should see what we can learn by ripping them off too. Or, keep ignoring them, but just be really fucking good at what you do. That's what we're really going for, right?

  29. I think I meant ocd, or better yet, Pavlovian, not add. Clarifying that because I think that's really the cultural conflict here - conditioned response vs immediate experience.

  30. I remember in strat of 00's I was listening commercial trance according to older house/techno fans. But this music affect me to search other good stuff. So the situation with kids listeting to Steve Aoki can be the same. I don't see the Dj who can encourage them. For me it was Desyn Masiello. Who can do it for nowadays? Personally for me the problem is not on the side of Aoki, Guetta etc but is on the side of other Dj's. They have a church. In Berlin. They mimic music of Villalabos, Vath, Troexler. Play somthenig diffrent. How long you can listen thi looped house music?

  31. The points in this post have a terrible sense of deja vu - probably because exactly the same 'concerns' were raised during the 90s when we had cartoon techno acts like 2 unlimited singing 'techno techno techno' and superstar djs like fatboy slim - mentioned up-thread - playing to a few hundred thousand people in brighton beach. the difference this time is scale; as it's happening in the US, the numbers are bigger.

    Anyone who knows about electronic music is unlikely to confuse skrillex with peter van hoesen; the possibility is that some people who are into shitty Guetta EDM may eventually learn about about underground electronic music and the people who will always associate dance music with mainstream garbage will continue to do that because all they know is what they hear on the radio or what their teenage kids play them.

    to be honest, i'd be more concerned about the creative stasis and conservatism that bedevils most underground house and techno at the moment - it has the potential to derail the culture you cherish.

  32. "I imagine the scene won't get much respect or recognition as a musical art"

    a quote from one commenter which i think sums up a lot of concerns here - and i mostly agree with it. but remember, this electronic music that we all love - where has its home been over the years and decades? dark druggy parties in dark dirty spaces. should we expect respect for those sorts of activities?

    i mean, i can't stand skrillex's music. but in a world where recreational drug use is still mostly taboo, the true foundation of this 'scene' - underground parties - surely can't look much more respectable to an outside observer than a skrillex concert filled with kids finding "molly" for the first time, right? isn't that a huge reason why techno, house, etc has always had a problem asserting legitimacy to wider audiences?

    so then, maybe we should try (continue to try) what someone else said: take over the cafes, the restaurants, the bars, the gardens!

  33. I found msutherl comments to be quite interesting for their honesty if nothing else. They made me consider 2 points.

    1. Most of the public at large really doesn't like 'underground' electronic music, and they more easily relate to the Tiestos and skrillixers of the world. They don't want to challenged by their music. It's why pop music is, uh, popular.

    2. The underground can be just as biased and blind. There are certain claims-makers and voices within the underground channels that 'steer the ship' so to speak. But this is a much broader human condition. In these channels we are told what is 'fresh' and what is 'honest' etc. etc. Even if this steering guides us back to sounds from 20 years ago rather than towards sounds of the future.

    Can we all honestly say our chosen sounds are completely objective and have nothing to do with our chosen frame for listening to music and the frame with which we wish the world to view our musical tastes?

  34. Maybe just a little more clarity on point 2...

    The channels I'm speaking of are respected 'authorities' (not in the traditional sense) and curators of electronic music. Of which, this blog is an example. And I'm in no way taking a swing at the ssgs - love this site. But collectively claims makers such as yourself affect what the underground sees as good.

    And I definitely over-stated that the underground can be 'just as' biased. The 'underground' is definitely more informed, but biased and influenced all the same.

    We are after all human and part of a collective that relies on media (mostly the web)to connect.

  35. I find this blog to be a bit techno snobbish. If someone likes Skrillex, why should that bother you? Perhaps that will be their segue into EDM with a little more integrity. My first venture into dance music when I was 17 was via hard house (now dead & obsolete). Yes, Skrillex is too mainstream & pop-packaged for my current taste, but it takes time to develop an appreciation for nuances, innovation & ingenuity that make for great dance music.
    As for the term "EDM," I use the term to encompass a range of dance genres that I enjoy. People where I live use the term "techno" to describe anything from a Whitney Houston club mix to an apocalyptic Aphex Twin anthem. That is the main reason I don't use the term techno, although for the most part techno is what I most enjoy dancing to.
    We are the ones who have deified the DJs. And why not? I know I have found myself so caught up in a set that I marveled at the spell I was under. If someone can have that power & still stay grounded, that doesn't mean I wouldn't still be slightly star-struck if I had an opportunity to chat with them in person. Maybe I'm just not cool enough to play it cool. C'est la vie.

  36. You can peep more about our hero here in a good piece from the Guardian:

    1. I stand corrected. It was Paris Hilton's aspirations (article above) that did it, I think. I'm not even sure in what way, but I know I feel violated after reading that. I don't go to UMF or pay attention to what David Guetta or Skrillex are doing, but perhaps I should if I, in any way, am going to be seen as coming across like that article did. Garbage.

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  38. SHM/Niki Manaj/Guetta/DeadMau5 they are the Portal; book them and you get the masses to follow. And these people (DJs/Singers) are entertainers (display antics) at the level that draws that kind of attention; albeit from the efforts of a fan forums like this one.

    Bacardi/Heineken/Electric Zoo/Candy Festival ... they came up with a formula to steer the herd in their direction.

    It is sad, what we (I being almost 42) have been listening/partying to for years, to see; what seems to be an overnight sensation, take place.

    When I discovered HOUSE music (c. 1987) I fell in love with the sound and in time the DJ/Producer. And I stayed in this space because it was special, to the point that it would never make it to the radio stations. I wanted it to ...("be like roaches; always UNDERGROUND").

    The minute it goes commercial it gets stripped down and channeled through a select few (as mentioned above); thereby leaving any trace of history or the desire by the next generation to understand it's roots.

    All I can hope for is that the HOUSE DJ/Producer earns some respect amongst those being commercially promoted, because it is tough when you have an opportunity to set up and play (which I have here in my hometown) to even turn an ear in your direction, if you are not playing the "House" sounds of GUETTA/BENASSI/AOKI/Deadmau5. If they have not heard it before (on the radio, or some other commercial venue like the Grammy's, I wanted to throw a cup of hot soup at the TV, like Mick did in ROCKY II) then they don't want to hear you play it.

    Reminds me of the time when Paris Hilton had a conversation in a DJ booth, in Miami.

    Maybe that is what Sneak was trying to say all along, give respect to HOUSE, because it did not just appear it had to be BUILT!!!


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