A recent Mixmag interview with Machinedrum has prompted my assessment of EDM. I was impressed with Machinedrum, aka Travis Stewart’s balanced observations of underground dance music and EDM. Being such a driving force in the underground, it is refreshing to see someone like Machinedrum speak on Mixmag, without even a hint of attitude or territorial ego. You don’t hear an us vs. them argument, which I think is vital for the healthy development of electronic music as a whole.
This attitude especially connects with me, because my journey with electronic music has gone through many stages. With close to zero knowledge of electronic music up until the age of 18, I saw Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 show in Seattle. From there I saved up for DJ equipment, and by February 2008 I was practicing in my dorm room, without any sort of a community of like minded people. Soon after I was invited to my first rave, with the funny name “Hakuna Matata” (it was year 4 or 5 of their series, I can’t remember which). This began my entrance into the rave scene. Having grown up never attending house parties as a kid, and also having been completely sober up until that rave, it was a big moment for me. I was hearing electro house, breakbeat, drum & bass, happy hardcore, psy-trance, and eventually dubstep which started to slowly find it’s way into the parties. Rave culture was very influential to me, for the freedom it gave, the ability to soak in the dynamics between the DJ and the audience and the overall loving and accepting attitude that I got from people at those parties.
Eventually, that particular area of partying faded for me, but my devotion to DJ’ing continued on. Eventually I was putting on shows with my friends and exposing myself to styles not presented at the raves. Later, I found myself working for USC events; A Seattle-based, EDM focused group putting on large-scale electronic events hosting artists like Nero, Calvin Harris, Porter Robinson, Afrojack, Sub Focus and Tiesto. At the same time I also started and continue to work for Decibel Festival; an international electronic festival working more in the underground area, bringing artists such as Amon Tobin, Flying Lotus, Addison Groove, Autechre, Trentemoeller, Four Tet and James Blake. I find myself straddling EDM and the underground and have come to understand that’s perfectly fine. I don’t take the stance of, “Oh I’m over here doing this underground stuff I’m done with EDM”, or “It’s all about EDM”, I have taken influence from all of it, and certain styles and communities made sense to me at different times.
I speak about this, because it’s important for me to always understand where I came from. I came through the EDM/rave scene, but that was one piece of the puzzle, one element in my overall development as an artist. Everyone comes into electronic music at their own level, it is important to respect that, and at the same time analyze what you’re seeing. In my case now, I push forward so that the music and the community around me remains strong and interesting.
That being said, EDM seems to be having some sort of identity crisis. A lot of the artists I adored during my rave days have in my opinion, stalled creatively. I see a lack of progression now, a lack of a narrative, and too much a focus on partying. In the long run, this combination of factors, if they remain the same will burn out the audience and the artists. As I said in my review of EDC 2012 in Las Vegas, only a small handful of artists seemed to be bringing that fresh, distinct feel to their performances (Afrojack, Feed Me, Porter Robinson). A shining example of an artist bringing a strong narrative and music that works at the party and home is Nero’s debut album, Welcome Reality, a concept album which debuted at #1 in the UK charts. I have yet to hear another recent album within this EDM category with such style diversity, emotional range and distinct atmosphere. Nero is especially close to my heart for several reasons; their Essential Mix is arguably one of the best ever produced for BBC Radio 1, I had the honor of working for them when they headlined USC’s Resolution 2012 (New Years Eve) and I interviewed their vocalist, Alana Watson for Disco Droppings at the beginning of this year. That interview, week after week, month after month all the way through to today, has pulled more views than any other post I have ever written for this blog. I have the utmost respect for Nero, and at the same time, I see the difficulties they now face. They may have produced one of the most solid albums in the EDM community ever, but that community seems to be falling out from under them. There just don’t seem to be enough like-minded artists pushing things forward. I’m very interested to see what a sophomore Nero album will sound like, being as smart as they are, I hope they are foreseeing these issues with EDM, and planning to once again change up their game.
You may be unaware, but there is a battle for control over EDM on the business side. I picked up the September issue of Billboard Magazine with the title “Inside The EDM Arms Race; Robert F.X. Sillerman Has A $1 Billion Plan To Conquer The World Of Dance Music“. Before he set his sights on EDM, Mr. Sillerman took a network of individual concert businesses and combined them into one single massive empire, SFX Entertainment. That company was sold to Clear Channel for $4.4 billion in 2000, which eventually became Live Nation. Now, this approach of buying up smaller companies and merging them into one focuses on the electronic dance music in America, which has grown into a gigantic money maker. Sillerman’s SFX Entertainment has begun buying up different companies within the EDM community, from Disco Donnie Presents (promotion company for Middle America events) to Live In Color (Florida based promoter for co-ed paintball parties, formerly known as Dayglow Productions). If all goes according to his plan, 18 other EDM entities, from promoters to ticketing groups to venues will all be under Sillerman’s ownership. By the end of this experiment , over $1 billion dollars will be spent to acquire over 50 companies, marking the largest EDM conglomerate ever. It’s quite sad that someone doing all this has no actual passion towards the music. In Sillerman’s words, “I know nothing about EDM..But I sit in the meetings, to the extent that they are (meetings). I meet the people whose places we’re buying. And I haven’t a fucking clue what they do or what they’re talking about. Not a clue. And I love it. I just love it.” That right there, is fucked up. He will eventually flood America with big-scale event after big-scale event, and given that EDM is already looking unsure of itself music-wise, I predict this huge boost in shows will burn out the audience, due to exhaustion, overstimulation and lack of money. The party will be over. So I call on those in the EDM community to move towards something that transcends the party. I also call on the underground community to drop the territorial attitudes, and realize that so many more people are now open to electronic sounds, and eventually many of those people will come searching for you.
I’ll end this post with some of my personal favorites in EDM. At its most positive, I feel it has opened up a very big sonic quality, and several artists have produced some savage tracks that I have held onto. Please excuse any youtube artwork that’s cliche; one of the most annoying aspects of EDM online are pictures of chicks in their underwear, tits being covered by headphones..let’s please move on from that.
– Jimi Jaxon