EDM sucks. No big news. It’s been said thousands of times in the past 5 years. But does it really suck SO badly? Is it the music itself that annoys us? Or is its success?
Electronic Dance Music
Doesn’t mean electronic dance music.
“EDM” is the acronym for “Electronic Dance Music”. You already knew that, right? But the thing is, NOBODY thinks of EDM as electronic dance music. At least not solely nor literally.
If EDM really meant “electronic dance music” ONLY, we would talk about, let’s say, Donna Summer & Giorgio Moroder’s cold-as-ice cosmic-disco 1977 smash hit “I Feel Love” as avant la lettre EDM. And we don’t, do we?
If the word REALLY meant what it is supposed to mean, Fingers Inc., Jeff Mills, Phuture, or even Underground Resistance, to name just a few, would be EDM. But they are not.
Actually, from the noisiest, raspiest industrial techno to the most mellifluous, soulful deep house, almost everything we’ve been dancing to for the last three decades should be tagged as EDM. If it only meant electronic dance music. But it doesn’t.
EDM is mostly used as a referral to a very specific kind of electronic dance music. Or best, to a certain way of marketing it.
Strictly speaking, you can not even define EDM musically. You just can’t. Skrillex. Guetta. deadmau5: rock-fuelled, mid-range-obsessed brostep armageddon; mammoth-sized synthetic-silk progressive house; hyper-compressed epic electro-trance drama. None of them share many common music elements. Except that they all sound quite easy, slightly cheesy, extremely punchy and very, very BIG. And it’s easier to remember the guy behind the knobs’ face —or the Molly-wasted Mickey Mouse mask— than the music itself.
EDM is not as much a genre as its is a stardom. And THAT’s what really bothers most EDM haters.
The industry of jealousy
Face it: you’d like to be that guy
Most EDM videoclips remind me of those of the hair metal bands back in the eighties. As a teen, I could easily project all my hormone-driven party, booze and outrageousness’ wish on those videos where the whole focus were the supposedly everyday images of the bands members dealing with fame, luxury, girls and, yes, party, booze and outrageousness. Music was just a background. What really mattered was the lifestyle. The object of desire of the audience. The reason why all of us wanted to play in a band. It was not just about the music. Music was the medium to get things: sharp clothes, fast cars, suntanned big titted California girls and, again, lots of partying. Being successful in the music business meant being an untouchable, licensed-to-everything party animal. It was the ultimate worship of the rockstar, an obscene “look where I got and you never will” that we, pimpled idiots, loved to death. Everything was based on jealousy.
And jealousy is one of the main motivations on EDM’s marketing. As it has always been on the mainstream music plateau. Everybody loves success.
The ultimate reterritorialization
Stop moaning: things will never be the same again
Before social media and EDM, electronic dance music was faceless. Sure, you got your Ritchie Hawtin, your Fatboy Slim, your Tiësto. But they were the exceptions to the rule. No one cared too much about WHO did it, but about WHAT he/she did. Or WHERE he/she did it —labels used to be important, as a guarantee of a particular sound. It was all about the tracks.
No faces. No Instagram. No selfies. Even today, not many know what they danced to during the original UK rave scene era, circa 1988, when DJs played mysterious, nameless dubplates. There was a whole ethos based on anonymity. Anonymity was a statement, a sign of confrontation against mainstream music’s rules of marketing. Deliberate ignorance of who made the music we loved —or at least how he/she looked like— was, as some post-structuralists would put it, a deterritorialization of the leisure industry; a revolutionary occupation of a symbolic space originally conceived as a controlled environment for marketing.
All that ended with EDM. EDM is the ultimate reterritorialization. It is a ferocious, brutal appropriation of a collective imaginary conveniently adapted for massive consumption. It’s the electronic dance music mythos for your 14 years old nephew.
But who’s to blame? The artists? The music? None of them. Not directly, at least. EDM is the music industry forging ahead regardlessly. When there’s nothing much left to sell to a certain target, you got to move on and create a new market. Create a need. Today, EDM covers most contemporary teenagers’ needs without referring to music that even their parents like —pop, rock, hip-hop, r&b. It makes them feel different. It makes them feel themselves. It is all about identity. It is tribal marketing. Plain and simple.
Why EDM sucks
Some haters’ reasons
A lot about —and specially against— EDM has been said in the last four years since the whole phenomenon started (as some specialists have pointed, I’m taking Swedish House Mafia first public play of “One” at Ultra Fest on 2010 as the “official” big bang of EDM).
Some of the reasons used by longtime electronic music listeners have been already treated in this post. But let’s take a look to what the non-specialized media said. Like Rolling Stone’s Italian edition did on its polemic “Rocker vs. DJ” videoclip.
1. EDM is not real music
“Electronic noises you’re trying to pass off as music”. Wow, wow, wow! C’mon, REALLY? After 100 years of electronic music —starting, at least conceptually, with Italian (!) Futurist Luigi Russolo’s “The Art of Noises” manifesto in 1913— and you STILL think that way? Tizio, you got a problem. And it deals with having your ears on hibernation for no less than half a century. But do not worry; a clarifying post about the music/non-music issue is on the way. Please, subscribe to our newsletter.
2. EDM is drug-driven/drug-inviting
Yes, EDM is drug-driven and drug inviting. Just like most rave music has been since 1988. Just like Disco. Just like Rock music. Punk. Heavy Metal. Psychedelia. Reggae. Just like any other popular music socially related to youth, party, gigs and clubs. You name it. Welcome to the real world.
3. EDM sounds all the same
No, it doesn’t. Unless you have your ears on hibernation for no less than half a century (see point 1).
Anyway, let’s try it again.
And then check this:
Do they sound the same to you? If they do, stop reading this and go to the otorhinolaryngologist. Urgently.
But hey, anything goes, so let me play the devil’s advocate. Let’s say that it sounds all the same. Actually, that’s what can be concluded after listening to the hilarious —and quite tendentious, I’d say— “Epic Mashleg” released half a year ago by Sweden’s Dahleri:
The mashup, featuring 16 different EDM tracks mixed in one single minute, is brilliant. And yes, it seems like they all sound the same. But couldn’t the same joke been done with 25 minimal techno gimmicks? Or 50 old school jungle tracks using the “Amen” break? Or 100 gabber hits? Yes, it could be done.
Once something is successful, shit happens and dozens of newcomer clones arise. That’s a pretty obvious market rule. It’s been happening for decades, both in the pop and the electronic music fields. They call it “trend”. You should know that. And, once more, so what? As someone wrote recently —sorry about the absence of credit: I honestly do not remember where I read it—, when talking about dance music’s value, “it’s not the shock of the NEW. It’s the shock of the NOW” that counts.
4. EDM is easy, cheesy and commercial
Yes, you can say that. Just like 90% of the music featured on the charts. It’s been like that since the music industry was created. What was Elvis but a cheesy, whitey-ass, middle-class take on rock’n’roll? EDM is a cheesy take on electronic dance music just like Blink 182 was to punk-rock. That’s the main difference between “underground” and “mainstream” music. It’s nothing new, not even in electronic dance music —note that I’m not using capital letters. What about the cheesy take on Hip-House that ruled the European music market in the 80s and 90s under the Europop tag? Italo-disco, anyone? Happy Hardcore? Trance? Progressive House? EDM is just another chapter in a long going story. What’s the main difference now? That it is happening in the States. And, although being the birthplace of House and Techno, the US has no commercial electronic dance music —no capitals, again— tradition. But it has a strong Hip-Hop and R&B market presence. So they should be used to electronic music —yes, surprise: most Hip-Hop and R&B ARE electronic music too!
The thing is that in the US most longtime electronic dance music listeners have been historically related to the underground. And we all know how you feel when your favorite flavor is edulcorated, commercially wrapped and sold to a much wider audience. It hurts. It hurts badly.
5. DJs are not musicians
That’s right, more or less. But who on Earth believes that partygoers give a damn about it? DJs have a goal: make people dance. And they do it pretty well. How many DJs think of themselves as “transcendent” art makers? Not many, I’m afraid. If you want art —as conceived under a 19th Century-minded view—, go to a museum. We’re talking about partying, here.
6. “No talent is required to perform Electronic Dance Music” (as read somewhere)
Oh, my! Again: REALLY? What are you expecting? Rick Wakeman playing for the dancefloor? Did you ever hear about punk? Where have you been for the last 40 years?
This kind of sentence reminds me of my mom when watching a Jackson Pollock painting says: “This could be done by a 3 year old”. As I use to reply when that happens: “Well, show me a 3 years old who makes Abstract Expressionism. I want to be his manager”.