09
Sep 2012
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EDM – the worst thing that has ever happened to electronic dance music?





“Who’d have thought three little letters could make dance music look so wanky?”, fellow blogger Clive from UK-based music blog Electronic Rumors asked on Twitter a few months ago. “What’s happened to dance music?”, Haezer asks his fans on Facebook. London music blog Too Many Sebastians recently declared the beginning of EDMageddon on Twitter.

In the meantime, Tiesto is still touring US universities for his Club Life College Invasion tour, Steve Aoki is still surfing underage crowds on an inflatable raft and David Guetta is still selling out every single show he plays. Skrillex and Avicii can still be heard blasting out of every kid’s iPod, the top ten tracks for electro house on Beatport still have cheesy trance vocals and synths in the breaks and Rihanna or Pitbull’s songs still sound like big-room club anthems. Madonna still keeps appearing at Avicii’s shows. Sebastian Ingrosso of Swedish House Mafia still thinks SHM are the new Beatles. And above all, Paris Hilton still thinks she’s a DJ now. What has electronic dance music become? Or is EDM just electronic dance music for douchebags?

After an entire summer spent traveling from one EDM festival to another, I obviously could go on for hours here, but let’s just forget about all that for a second and step back to take a closer look at this thing called EDM. A few years ago, EDM had been a collective term for all kinds of electronic dance music (rather than a genre on its own), ranging from techno over house to drum&bass, and all other kinds of music created on computers and synthesizers with the purpose of making people dance. Except for some new genres (like dubstep or moombahton) that have recently joined the family, EDM is still the catch-all term for electronic dance music. So what exactly has changed, and why are so many people (including me) so upset about it?

“EDM has become an entire generation’s pop music.”

If you ask someone what kind of music they enjoy and the answer is rock, you can go on asking which kinds of rock music, and you would probably get stoner rock, indie rock, hard rock or any other kind of music with guitars as an answer. If you ask today’s average EDM fan the same question, they will most probably have a hard time naming you three sub-genres of EDM they’re into. If you don’t believe me, go check the line-ups of dance events a few years ago: never before have artists such as Tiesto, John Dahlbäck, Richie Hawtin and Steve Aoki constantly shared stages, because each of them represented a different style (trance, house, techno, electro, etc.) back then, with completely different crowds. Today, it’s all just EDM. For a large number of (young) listeners (mainly in the US), EDM has become a new genre, it seems. A genre characterized by simple melodies that immediately get stuck in your head and catchy vocals that you can sing along to after the first listen (wait, isn’t that pretty much a definition of pop music?). Add a big drop with lots of bass, gritty synths and white noise to that, and you’ve got a pocket definition of 2012′s idea of EDM. I recently asked on Twitter “What has dance music become?”, and one answer I got was from Andrew of Harder Blogger Faster: “One word: predictable.” I couldn’t agree more with this, remembering Skrillex joking about one of his fans commenting “Nice song, but where’s the drop” after the prince of dubstep posted a video of Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker on Facebook.

How could it have come to this, though? For years now, electronic dance music has been growing bigger and bigger, finally making the jump from music made for clubs to receiving attention on mainstream radio – outside of clubs. This process was sort of kickstarted between 2006 and 2008 when some emerging artists managed to build a big hype and make electronic music “socially acceptable” for people who have never been into dance music before: somewhere between alternative rock (which was huge back then) and dance music, indie dance was born. Think of: Justice’s remix for Simian’s We Are Your Friends, the early days of The Hype Machine, blog house, Kitsuné, the Ed Banger generation, Crookers, MGMT’s Kids (Soulwax Remix). In fact though, this process has been going on for much longer, though: electronic music has always been drawing influences from other genres – think Bloody Beetroots collaborating with hardcore punk bands such as Refused. After this big hype back in 2006 – 2008 though, it started actually influencing other genres itself. For years now, electronic dance music has been influencing mainstream pop music – I don’t think I need to give examples for that.

Today however, the situation has changed. Electronic dance music is no longer influencing mainstream pop music. EDM has become mainstream pop music.

Underground music has been influencing mainstream music for as long as music exists, probably. When underground music actually becomes mainstream music, though, some problems arise: long-time members of the original scene will feel irritated with lots of new people suddenly claiming to be part of the movement when they obviously have no idea what this scene is really about. What better example than old-school house legend Mark Farina being removed from the decks in Vegas after the club received complaints from its bottle-service VIP crowd for “too much house music”? Or deadmau5 ranting about Madonna, and his “we all hit play” statement, and Boys Noize tweeting “if you see a dj that uses a mic and screams ‘put your hands up’ throw a banana at him”. Furthermore, artists who used to define and shape the scene for long years will start to “sell out” because of the big money that suddenly can be made when a genre blows up. These problems and others are of course typical side effects of a genre’s commercialization, and no EDM-specific phenomenon.

EDM in the USA – a booming industry.

With the hype exploding and still growing, EDM has evolved from an underground movement to a big target market for all kinds of enterprises, attracting the attention of big companies who started pouring lots of money into the scene, hosting bigger, louder, crazier festivals all over the world (think Holy Ship, Ultra, EDC, Tomorrowland etc.). “It’s just a marketing term to sell various genres of dance music to the US.”, Clive of Electronic Rumors once tweeted, and he’s totally right about that. With the massive marketing firepower of the entire event industry as a strong tailwind, EDM is getting bigger and bigger. In fact, the bigger it gets, the bigger it gets – a vicious circle.

Obviously what I’m talking about here is largely a US-based phenomenon. Of course it’s swapping over to Europe, but the real big hype hasn’t actually arrived yet (and I’m not sure if it ever will): even at European mainstream EDM festival like Tomorrowland you will meet more North and South Americans than Europeans combined. This is due to a strong, independent scene and a long tradition of electronic dance music in Europe: French house in, well, France, drum & bass and dubstep in the UK, techno and deep house in Berlin – just to name a few examples. There are lots of big artists in Europe who firmly stand against the EDM hype, who have always chosen quality electronic dance music over cheap music for the masses. I’m not going to do some namedropping here – if you’ve been following this blog for some time chances are that you already know who the good guys are. After being asked in an interview why Europe seems to be constantly ahead of the US when it comes to electronic dance music, techno legend Richie Hawtin explains that the club scene in Europe has not only a much longer tradition than it has in the States, but also complains about the mentality of the US scene: “I think music in America, and this emanates across the world, everybody wants to be a superstar. Everybody wants to actually cut themselves off from people. Everybody wants to be on a pedestal. [...] It’s a little bit disappointing how that’s happened in America. It’s really like the whole rock star, hip-hop mentality. You know, these unreachable people.”

Having said that, EDM’s poster boys are of course in no way inferior when it comes to producing and DJing (except for some of the obvious douchebags), in fact I have all the respect in the world for artists like David Guetta: every single piece of music this man touches immediately turns into solid earworm gold. Also, he’s French, so obviously I’m not just hating on the US music scene here, just to be clear about that too. The US music scene is clearly breaking new grounds with EDM at the moment, so obviously there are lots of people who are new to electronic dance music – and of course they can’t be expected to immediately know and appreciate the more elaborate and sophisticated facets of electronic music, as Hawtin explains: “If you just got into Calvin Harris or you just got into Afrojack, great. You’ve stepped through the door, but there’s so much more to learn.”

This is the end?

However, at some point in the near future the EDM hype will probably collapse, as new (or old) genres will eventually start replacing it again. I remember asking Olle of Dada Life in an interview I did with them back in 2009 if he thought that electronic dance music would ever become as popular as indie rock, and he answered: “It already is, in some ways. On a regular weekend more people are partying to house and electro than rock. They just don’t know what they’re hearing at the club. I don’t think that will change, but that’s fine!” Obviously it did change, so why shouldn’t it change again? Hopefully for the better, this time.

In my opinion, while quickly gaining lots of fans, electronic dance music has become less credible in the course of this big EDM hype. The (bigger part of the) underground clubbing scene (where it has been all about the music) has turned into a commercial hype focusing on festivals, fireworks and rockstar personality cult rather than on the music itself. It has become harder to spot the most interesting artists, and it has become harder for talented artists to reach an audience if their music is not big-room compatible. While introducing massive crowds to electronic music, this thing called EDM has been a major setback for electronic dance music, as it has changed the public’s perception of dance music to something that dance music never wanted to represent.

Having said that, the scene has always been sort of re-inventing itself – and the bigger EDM becomes, the more up and coming artists start rejecting the hunt for the hardest drop, slowly developing a fresh underground scene, where it’s all about the music again – for example the future techno movement. Facing the rapid commercialization of mainstream dance music, these small underground scenes are rapidly gaining fans who are fed up with the EDM hype. So let’s all just sit back and wait for this whole thing to repeat itself again in a few years. Eurodance, EDM – I wonder what they will call it the next time.

Comments appreciated.


Photo credits: Drew Ressler, rukes.com.

  • :P

    Not all EDM has that booming bass drop. There’s stuff like progressive house and drumstep(which kind of does) but dubstep is the one with all the toilet sounds I can’t stand. Glitch hop is “ok”

    • Snowmonster

      Then you must have recently learned of dubstep because dubstep wasn’t always like that

    • DMZ

      “but dubstep is the one with all the toilet sounds I can’t stand”

      spoken like a true ignorant

  • Scott Bod Rodwell

    I went to the Miami WMC this year and had an amazing time listening to the likes of the Kings of House (Mr Morales, Vega & Humphries) and spent a great day indulging in some soulful powerhouses headed by the wonderful Barbara Tucker. It was an incredible experience and amazing music. Then, on the day we left Miami, the Ultra festival kicked in. What a steaming pile of horse s**t. It was all over the radio for the next three/four days. It actually made me feel physically ill everytime I had the misfortune of catching a song by accident. They even dedicated a digital channel to play Ultra live. The only saving grace is that the “DJ’s” talked so much over the tracks (“Put your hands up” “Every muthf***a scream”) that it partially drowned out the “music”. It just sounds like a robot raping a cat to me. Frankie will be spinning in his grave. RIP the legend Frankie Knuckles

    • Jota

      Thats an excellent point a view. Finally someone talks about the names WMC or House (Music). Seems like they have disappeared just by magic ou so. Thank Gog EDM is actually a style nowadays and not “all of us” as Pete Tong said recently. And, as a style, it will eventually come down the stairs as time passes by. And people will go on with that. True House Music has absolutely nothing to do with EDM. A (new) track made by Copyright or David Penn is still an House Music tune for sure. But a track made by ROmero or Hardwell, you know.. it’s that same 3 or 4 years old EDM tune probably made win half an hour with 10 ou so samples. Respect for the “old?! guys” is a beautiful thing to have. But these new kids on the block seems like to have completly lost it. Shame on you when talking about House Music.

  • DR

    “EDM” was cool…until it infiltrated pop and hip-hop music (Thank you Usher and David Guetta). Now EVERYTHING is made in EDM because everyone wants that pot o’gold. Like Disco in the 70′s and Electronica in the 00′s, over-commercialization has cheapened the genre. The annoyance with most people is that this over-saturation of the market has cheapened music in general. Instruments are no longer in vogue. Even artists’ voices are made electronic (via autotune) to match the robotic nature of the music, which has been robbed of its soul. Commercial money churns this machine and invests endlessly in it because of it’s cheapness (you only need a laptop and a qualified basement nerd to work the controls) and mass appeal. Kids buy into the hype because it’s new for them, and they see their favorite artists singing on these tracks, and Mollie has become this generation’s Ecstasy and Cocaine. What changed the former scenes is that the music morphed into something different, which brought it back underground. EDM will inevitably do the same. History always repeats itself.

  • jasonbot

    I used to frequent electro parties at a place in Joburg called Town Hall (this was back in 2011). In 2012/13 I didn’t really go to the place anymore as my friend groups changed. I used to love it because of the underground feel, the crowd was unique and people enjoyed the music for what it was.

    Tonight I went to a party at a similar venue where a number of electronic artists (including Haezer) were playing. At first I felt as if the event didn’t have the same feel as in the past. When Haezer went on and I got into the middle of the crowd I realised that this whole EDM scourge culture had overtaken the venue- it was as if Jersey Shore had taken over the venue to shoot some new episodes.

    I guess this article explains why I felt the way I did. Sigh.

  • fuckpennyfinders .

    Its weird how asians in america always played some type of electronic back in the 90s, ironically it was the Viet gangsters thing back than..always shootings in them cafe shops

  • wcb123

    Crunk / trap did the same to hip hop. Sucks seeing these a holes naming themselves a part of the culture.

  • Luminol

    This isn’t the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last. Styles like techno or goa or d&b will never appeal to the masses without some pop star singing over the top of the track. I think what happened was that the music industry freaked out 5 or 6 years ago when they realized hip hop was growing stale. Rock couldn’t replace it and at the moment and country is not socially acceptable enough unless your from the southern U.S. let alone Europe, India or Japan. The music industry was looking into a future with huge financial losses without a new pop music and started desperately to try and find a replacement for hip hop. Synth pop 80′s music was this back then you had bass breaks like Sir mix alot and 2 live crew later, then Eurodance i.e. Robbins entertainment and now it’s Insert name of most hated producer here. Wala here we are today. Don’t worry though it never lasts more than about 5 years max. That may seem a long time if your 20 but if you really love electronic music you’ll still be here when your 40. Plus once the pop goes away you get really really good music. Think early to mid 90s house or mid to late 90s trance 98-02 progressive house MMM that stuff will never get old and it will come back again. For instance the first kind of music I got into was Goa. It disappeared at the turn of the century completely but since 2009 about 50 different Goa labels have popped up again for the first time in 15 years. The nails are already in the coffin of EDM pop. All we can do is help to hammer them down

  • Jaime Vqz

    so How do I call it then? or should I call it separately, I like deep house, Tech House, House, trance, Eurodance. if thats not Electronic Dance Music = EDM, then what is it? how do I call it?

    • DaVolf

      thank you.

    • No6655321

      Yes, call it tech house, trance, eurodance, acid, jungle.

      You don’t say, I’m going to a music concert you’re going to a rock concert or folk or country or rap, etc. You go to listen to techno, hardcore, drum and bass, etc. not EDM.

  • Flower Child

    EDM is beautiful. You’re definitely entitled to your own opinion but no one at EDC/UMF/TOMORROWLAND/any insomiac event or edm festival will miss you anyway, at least not with that attitude :) Don’t let the door hit you on your way out

    • Clint

      What is beautiful about everyone being about money and no one caring about the music? The beauty is hollow my friend… The scene was beautiful before it became saturated by future soccer moms and people that would have preferred NSYNC in the 90s over rage against the machine. There is beauty in people having fun and good vibes but not at the expense of everyone’s intelligence and knowledge of the music itself.

      • thankmelater

        EDM is the pop of Electronic music, basically invented by the media as a way to market everything popular electronic and turn it into a mone making machine…..

        at the moment it is embracing the new music breaking through to the larger audiences which is where EDM is living in order to stay relevant.. it doesnt really matter what EDM is, the media doesnt care that this is drum and bass and this is trance, they only care to maximize profits and go straight to the poin

      • Po

        Will anyone stop fucking judging EDM as a whole based on mainstream songs. Just look a little deeper into indie and you will find amazing producers. Noone seems to hear the good fucking part of it

  • Snowmonster

    I don’t agree with you when you say Dubstep just recently joined the scene. Dubstep has been around for a while and feel victim to the same commercialization we see here

    • Frankimus

      “Dubstep” has been around a very long time…in one form or another. Remember UK garage? Golden.

  • Phéna Proxima

    I looooove electronic dance music. Been into it since 2000, starting with trance, and steadily exploring and learning about other corners of the electronic music world. There’s always something else to discover, and always so much wonderful music out there. Which is why I hate this fucking EDM shit and find it incredibly depressing. It’s soulless, cheap, flashy, and utterly homogenized. To me, the emergence of EDM is like having a wonderful girlfriend of many years who decides, for no very good reason, to become a trashy, retarded skank. I take solace in two things; first, that there’s still and always will be fantastic and inventive electronic music, even if it’s underground (maybe rightfully so), and second, like a bad dream, this bullshit will eventually stop.

    • Backslap_Bob

      I listen to second wave Detroit Techno and I think trance is the same sort of soulless rubbish you describe of EDM.

  • MainstreamEDMSucks

    You all havent heard the good part of EDM. All these stupid mainstream producers dont deserve any fame. There are so many good indie EDM producers who put a lot of work in their tracks. They should be praised like the shitty Steve and others

    • August brooks

      Steve aoki is barely tolerable, steve angello is insufferable. Who are you referencing?

    • http://www.noansw.er Exceptionell

      You mean indie electronica? EDM is just a shitty term that record companies coined around 2008 when they reintroduced electronica in the US.

  • Damon Adrian

    i can’t believe downtempo isn’t edm. Downtempo is the best genre of elecronic

  • dpsttmpst

    EDM has unfairly but truly become a bad word associated with anything that is electro house, brostep, drumstep (brostep, again :P), regressive house (its not progressive at all :P), and similar music. Kids want the filthiest bass and biggest drops, but nothing else. The same cheap gimmicks found in Billboard Top Chart radio music. At the end of the day, what they are calling “EDM” is actually electropop.

    If electronic music such as Goa trance and progressive psytrance got a little more love nowadays, the big festivals would still have their variety and integrity just as they did back in the late 1990s & early 2000s. I wanted to be part of that that era of driving, deeper, atmospheric vibes, but I was too young to participate in it. I am a grown adult now, but I am NOT compelled to participate in today’s big name festivals because they don’t play the good stuff anymore. Just gimmicky rubbish equivalent to Kidz Bop. Psytrance festival have my eye now, but they are far few in the States compared to Europe’s vibrant psytrance scenes.

  • Oscar

    I live in Cologne, Germany and when I was like 14 I really liked dj antoine and other edm crap but then I found out about the citys great techno/house scene and ever since I’ve seen great artists like rødhåd and ben klock on a regular basis. I feel priviliged cause every weekend I have the choice between different brilliant djs. I cant image moving to the states because nowhere there is a scene like in germany. we go partying in order to dance and not to get wasted and hit on chicks! Thats the spirit. no need to dress up. and by the way, its not only berlin!

  • hate edm

    I HATE EDM!!! ALWAYS HAVE ALWAYS WILL, DIE DANCE MUSIC DIE!!! Music has really gine to shit ever since people have started to worship some scrawny stupid talentless whore wearing a retarded oversized mouse helmet, EDM has always been repetitive, too fucken tedious

    • FU

      KILL YOUR SELF YOU REDNECK GO LISTEN TO A FUCKING TORNADO SIREN GOING OFF AND GO SEE KILLING RAT WITH A FUCKING PALLET GUN YOU OLD FUCK

      • hate edm

        I’d rather burn myself alive than listen to edm, I cum on edm XD

  • really hate edm

    Pick up a fucken guitar and play something pleasant for the ears instead.

    • FU

      FUCK YOU U GO TO A FUCKING SWAMP AND SKIN A FUCKING CROCODILE YOU REDNECK FUCKTARD

      • hate edm

        That would still be more pleasurable than listening to edm

  • Katy

    Thanks for this article. I am new to electronic music myself (and I’m from the US) so I really don’t know anything about it, but this article has enlightened me and inspired me to learn much more about this music.

    • FU

      INSPIRED MY ASS

  • Thatguy

    Your right, because other music genres aren’t silly like EDM. I’ll take my bass, alcohol and dancing; over country talking about trucks, god and beer.

  • Thatguy

    ..

  • Chad Allen

    Why work so hard to put everything into a category. Wankers or not, I think they have the right idea. stop trying to put all the ducks in line!!

  • Ho Ho Ho

    EDM is bullshit. Typical America corporations trying to sell shit to the masses. People who say ‘music changes’. Gtfoh. Yeah it changes but the people who make the music should change it not some corporations and sell out artists. What the true House, Techno, Trance, Drum & Bass ect. fans want is for the music to progress on a natural path. Everybody saw what became of Rap music once the industry got a hold of it, and fans of Electronic Music genres don’t want a similar fate. But of course the pop music followers don’t care. Festivals are complete wastes of time, ones that were considered underground are now barely any better than Glastonbury. In the UK, you got underground clubs that are for specific genres. True fans come there, no pop music follower. Even the more mainstream Electronic Dance clubs have specific nights where a certain genre will play to attract underground followers of Electronic Dance Music. Then there is raves. I’m still a teenager, so I hit raves. Lot pf people there not only for drugs but to dance and here music that majority of teenagers there age ain’t into. So you got hardcore underground fans there. But these mainstream songs that reach top 10 in the overall UK charts are not really House Music but you have retards who have never used or heard of Beatport and Traxsource telling me otherwise. That’s what kills the genres and some of these clowns are trying infiltrate raves.

    • FU

      UR MOM’S SNATCH IS A BULL SHIT GO LISTED TO A FUCKING TORNADO SIREN GOING OFF YOU FUCKING AMERIICAN

  • mec

    being gay, i remember going to gay clubs where they mixed every pop songs from any genre with the exact same house beats. it got so bad that the only difference between songs were the lyrics. i have to say i hated that scene and i only tolerated the gay bars for the potential of meeting a hottie. since then i’ve been far removed from edm till recently when a member in my gay volleyball team started playing music from his ipod. it was the same shit i used to hear back in the late 90s early 2000 except this weren’t remixes, they were the original products. i had no idea pop music had descended so low and it’s all thanks to EDM.

    i quit the volley team that day.