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




UPDATE: as there are remarks in the comments on how this post missed to cover recent developments: please note that this article has been written in 2012!

“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.

  • WeAreFromTheFuture

    EDM is a virus,such a toxic and ’empty’ music never existed before…when I hear it,I shit like a fucking hypo…no seriously when I hear it,and all that crowd (on event) with hands up…like: ‘wow listen this thing it’s so damn awesome,this guy(“DJ”) is a fuc**ng genius” and I was like: “damn….what a bunch of mentally retarded people”…they just think it is good,they r deceived by those sound,toxic frequencies…EDM is just an illusion of goodness and beautiness,but its sound and those ‘downs’ without flow and repeatable rhythm are rape of the human soul…I don’t wanna judge or hurt those EDM fans,it’s not their fault why they r lack of gift…yeah…gift…it’s blessing and gift for underground fans to understand,feel it on the deepest level…their mind is able to process such a deep and complex thing as underground sound is…in other case you move to simpler things and become EDM fan…No Underground Sound,no party and no real experience and magical journey…Real art (any form of art) is not for the masses to understand,then it would not be an art… For art you need time to create,time for inspiration to connect with your mind,time for developing it…that’s an art…and those ppl who make 3+ tracks for 7 days are just deep into the system,it’s serial production and there’s no quality and no art at all…

    • Mike Twangling

      Well said

  • Declan

    An odd article, considering the U.S., according to Wikipedia’s list of electronic music genres article, has created or co-created about 75 electronic music genres, more than any other country. Also, considering rave culture started from acid house and house and techno parties in Chicago and Detroit, and remained thriving in the underground scene for years, this article is extremely patronizing and insulting.

    The U.S. has one of the best electro/rave scenes in the world. They sort of invented the entire category/subculture. Give them the credit they deserve.

    • tom

      no they are not maybe 10-15 years ago but not in today world

    • dotaboi

      i would give rave scene to the uk tbh
      also, most of the U.S mainstream edm, as we talk about it, is just shit

  • Gayan kalana weeraratna

    Fantastic we have massive party in Sri Lanka all are welcome

  • Derek Janni

    Nice song, but where’s the drop” after the prince of dubstep posted a video of Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker on Facebook.

    It was actually Flim.

    Other than that – spot on article – though it doesn’t take a genius to look at this scene and see that the wave has already crested. “Normal” people think EDM is douchey, soulless and plastic – it’s really only teenagers and college kids (and those who wish they were still in college) who listen to it.

  • Dan Kuc

    I completely agree with this article, As a TRUE EDM listener there are some new styles I can’t take such as trap. While dubstep can be catchy at times it can also be very repetive. More than anything I enjoy to listen to deep progressive house tracks that are around an hour long while i am at work. That being said the deep house I listen will never be in the top 40 or hit the U.S. As big as dubstep and trap have. Trap and dubstep i call 90s kids music, as I was born in 1987 I may not have much room to talk but atleast I have a good ear for music to say the very least.

    • Spectralbuttplug

      Trap?

      • Andrew Sprague

        Yes Trap. It sucks dick. I stopped going to electronic shows pretty much all together because of the obsession with trap. Went to see Glitch Mob…they played Trap the whole the time.

        • Spectralbuttplug

          Do me a favor and listen to houe music of the 90s instead of glitch hop.

    • gram parsons

      please just start calling it dance music. it is not called edm.
      other than that i totally agree with you

      • dotaboi

        thats ridiculous. its edm, or electronic dance music, because its centered on being electronic as well as dance music. you can make a dance song without it being mainly electronic.

    • Andrew Sprague

      You are totally right. Deep House is also probably my favorite. The guy below telling you to call it dance music. LOL. I remember about 10 years ago people telling me to call it EDM and not whatever else I was calling it.

    • dotaboi

      dont trash on trap and dubstep, its A, not your style, or B, you found the “generic” artists. if you look hard, you can find plenty of good trap and dubstep, but dont look for the people that pump out tunes by the week. excision’s old stuff, and his new stuff is great, but i cant say the same for most of datsiks stuff. too many people saturate themselves in the genre and lose inspiration, but its not bad.

  • ratamacue76

    Great read … and agree with most of it, even though this was written a few years back. I can’t really get into the stuff that is popular today, or even at the time this was originally penned. My preferred style is techno, although I also enjoy some Prog House/Trance from the late 90’s/early 00’s with the occasional DnB set thrown in for good measure.

    Classic Dj’s like Frankie Bones, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May are still out there throwing it down, and DJs like Chris Liebing, Adam Beyer, Gary Beck and Nicole Moudaber are putting out a steady stream of quality sets. Creating on the fly, reading the crowd and selecting tracks accordingly … they don’t have time for antics like throwing cakes or generally bouncing around like a five year old hopped up on sugar, but I digress.

    And then there are live performance gems like this one, which I discovered the other day https://soundcloud.com/awakenings/karenn-blawan-pariah-awakenings-festival-2015-day-two

  • Herman Hammond

    The thing that I am concerned about is, how did the typical build-then-drop model of EDM develop, like, who were the first music producers to put drops into electronic dance music? And why did this type of electronic dance music become so popular?

    I mean, I really do agree with this article. Electronic dance music has originally been a type of music with lots of different genres. It was, and should be, real music. But ever since EDM became so popular, electronic dance music lost that musical creativity–it is now so predictable. I just really want to know the reason why it became like that. I think that can gove us a hint on how to bring back the real dance music that we long for.

    • Fr0ggy

      I wouldn’t even mind it so much if the drops weren’t so cringy and the mixing wasn’t so laughable. Every drop sounds like a bunch of transformers having sex. As for the mixing, doing nothing but playing songs in a certain order was fine back when Vinyl was still around. With today’s technology though, people should actually get creative with their sets, because they can. Its lazy enough to produce the same 4×4 buildup -> drop song in 20 minutes on FL studio. Its lazier to play those in a club without doing anything with them.

  • Jeremy Graham

    I agree with this article completely. Even though this article was written a few years ago it’s spot on. There are several different genres that fall under dance music, but today’s followers call everything EDM. Sad. Its just another trend the hipsters are pushing and promoters and clubs are riding the wave of cash until something else rolls in. I will most likely post this on my business page http://www.sanantonionightout.com
    My business partners brother is none other than producer/DJ Matthew Dear/Audion and I had a talk with him a couple months ago and he said the same thing. He said don’t call what he does EDM. He can’t stand that term.

  • Enforcer Music

    I recently joined the Electronic Dance Music community, and though I still collectively refer to all of the genres as ‘EDM’, I could name at least 20 or 30 subgenres, and what ticks me off is when people just call it ‘Dubstep”, no matter what genre it actually is. When anybody does this, I always step in and say something along the lines of “Dubstep is a type of EDM, but this is actually another genre called Glitch Hop, Harcorde, Electro House, Trap, Trance, ect. (I could list a few more). I do know the difference

    • Enforcer Music

      Also, anybody ever heard of this label? I think they try to stay out of mainstream and sign unique songs, correct me if I’m wrong please

      • Callum

        Yes Monstercat is my go-to source for EDM <3

      • Smaceman

        The label may try to deviate from the main stream (for example by putting a frame of different colors around every album cover that different color means different specific genres), but at least a distinct portion of artists under this label make regular EDM.

      • dotaboi

        they sign multi genre artists not ‘unique songs’. its not that they stay out of mainstream music, they simply find very good music artists and sign them, and they go for any and all electronic genres.

    • Fr0ggy

      I know exactly what you mean. I barely managed to restrain myself from going on an all out rant on my cousin for referring to deadmau5 as dubstep. I recognize that label: Monstercat. They were my go-to for electronic back when I first started listening in 2012. I streamed their compilation albums on spotify pretty much every day. I haven’t listened to them in a long time though since I got into classic trance (as in pre 2000). Last I checked, most of their producers make DnB, Dubstep, and Electro (Although It might’ve changed)

  • Johnny Canucklehead

    Edm to me is Edmonton as in either the Edmonton Oilers or Eskimos. Honestly, Extremely Douchy Music is more like it. Go download some Raveonettes or Allah-Las and support bands that make, ya know, actual original tunes.

  • Spectralbuttplug

    ZHU is the only house music producer that I know that doesn’t make commercial shit! By only I mean the only producer that has been in the mainstream.

  • James Kearnie Beaton

    so I still don’t get it. I have been Djin on technics 1210 mk 2’s since the came out and I was djing at my local club when I was 15 in 1989 at the birth of this scene before it was sanctioned by britpop but I have always had my decks and never went digital serato or the likes and have been producing since 94 using commadore then pc to drive the tb303 and sh101 101 being my first synth so after many years producing I have had to sell most of my big synths and some small but stil have my OG tb303 and sh101 and r8 drums. I sold 106, jupiter 4, nord lead two, moog, vocoders and much more to stay afloat and now have been using Jupiter vst and dx7 vst. does that make the subsonikbionik edm. I am not sure what all the fuss is to be honest . Music travels and so does time. My sound is bionik. Timeless. one for the other and two for the show https://www.facebook.com/TheSubsonikbionik

    • Astral Aural

      All those years and over-privileged hardware, and yet you still don’t understand how basic grammar and punctuation work. It really is a marvel, isn’t it?

      • James Kearnie Beaton

        go tidy your sock drawer preacher boy

        • Astral Aural

          Damn I was in a bitchy mood when I wrote that.

          • Jarret

            I know, even reading about EE DEE EM puts me in a shit mood, too

  • james

    As a producer who creates Hip-Hop music and EDM, I feel like this conversation boils down to this summarization:

    Old men who used to be young men who added innovative and groundbreaking contributions to music and went against the grain of what was considered to be the status quo, who are now complaining about young people going against the grain of what they consider to be the status quo.

    I mean look at any music genre, Rock, Rap, Country music etc. Every generation did something different or edgy to the sound. And purists and aging populations have always been complaining that it basically doesn’t sound like the music they remember. But the world belongs to the young.

    • dotaboi

      But nonetheless, modern EDM is very much becoming deprived of inspiration. Lots of music sounds too much alike, and most all of it takes the same kind of incredibly similar elements.

    • lukeclarke2006

      well I’m 18 and by no means old and i think the music produced today is deplorable. the shit they churn out now compared to the sheer masterpieces they threw out back then the contrast is incomparable.. seriously i listen back to 90s 00s “REAL” Trance music… one of tiestos old live sets and I’m in awe.. such raw emotion and power and passion in the sound you can hear it and feel it tap into your very soul.. i only drram. of being there in the 90s 00s. when it was about the passion not money! .. all this new bollox completely lacks any of that. there is nothing innovative or groundbreaking about it. i am of that generation and i think it’s just utter bollox? so that argument holds no ground

  • james

    And there is always going to be a mainstream vs underground debate. Always.

  • skhan

    Three years ago, I would very much agree with this article. Now, while I still mostly agree with this article, I have learned how to find good EDM, while mostly ignoring mainstream EDM.

  • Flag

    I was raving before EDM, I’m raving after EDM. I know my genre’s. I love hotels, drugs, EDM, and sex. Your nay saying pander is lost on me. But I can respect your opinions. If i hold my nose higher. But mostly is just have a great time and don’t care about labels, fake-ness, or any of that. I don’t care!!!!

    • Jarret

      You’re an idiot

  • SamerD

    Kids today love the drop of base whatever they are listening to , they don’t have a fucking idea if this is techno or electro they just hit off with the base. Not to forget that the main runers of the edm(and by that i mean the real edm including all genre of dance music) is advertising. With main websites like djmag and beatport mixing progressive house with shity avici music and placing them in the top 10 dj’s in the world , kids will get confused and won’t know the difference anymore.

  • https://soundcloud.com/alex-hamilton-12 Xander

    I am a producer. But at least I make virtually everything I do. A lot of people nowadays (not everyone… just a lot of them) buy their loops online and just use those to make hit tracks (seems like cheating to me. The only unfortunate side of making everything originally is that no one pays attention to you. Possibly because of all the high tech equipment that goes into making the very high quality loops that are sold in sets of up to 100 – 200 a piece.
    My favorite artists are all people who I think actually sound good and make their own shit. I recommend, Giorgio Moroder’s old stuff, Deadmou5, Daft Punk, Aphex Twin, Fat Boy Slim, Jack conte, Power Glove, Bombs Away (his stuff sounds like it was made with loops but it isn’t… most likely it’s presets) , Infected Mushroom and Opiuo.

  • https://discotek.club DiscoTek Club International

    Simple rule. If you feel the Vibe, continue to support the EDM movement. If you don’t, then look somewhere else for the Vibe. Performers spend time coordinating more than just music into the act. The total atmosphere plays into the game on how audiences react to presentations. And it doesn’t matter if you are selling a bad product. If your advertisement campaign is good, then you can sell anything! The amount of energy is definitely increasing in our new generation. If it takes EDM to keep that energy going, then let it go. Some people will spend a couple bucks for Red Bull while others will pay 100 dollars to Feel the Community Vibe.

  • Parasite_Unit

    this is not the first time this issue has occurred – anyone recall the use of the words “hardcore” and “techno-industrial”? Yeah, went the same way… for years we had lots of four on the floor with filthy kicks and epic hoover sounds…this then got “added” to by having someone from Europe half singing/talking over the top of it…keeping the music in a mainly and lo! techno-industrial was born. Sounded great for a few years… Then EVERYONE jumped on the same brandwagon (see what I did there?) and it became an overly homogenised lump of noise. It wasn’t really awful – but there was quite a lot of it that wasn’t that brilliant either.
    Techno-industrial then simply became a blanket for any music that was in a minor key and had a vocalist that sounded like they came from somewhere in Europe. The cross-contamination from other sub-genres that got sucked into this all encompassing cover all definition was staggering. The industrial scene (as far as I can see/hear) is still kind of trying to move on from this, but like a lover that you’ve got so comfortable being inside (or around for that matter) – the scene is finding it hard to let go…. The borrowing, softening and endless re-branding is always going to occur.

  • Shamoy Rahman

    90s Trance will remain the best FOREVER

    • Volkovinszki Mihai

      Couldn’t agree more!

      • Shamoy Rahman

        YES!!!

  • dotaboi

    I should move to the U.K, they have a Drum and Bass scene there. Over here where I live, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack while deprived of your senses. Not to mention EDM is becoming more mainstream, and listening to some shitbrain blasting fucking Tsunami from his head phones is like cancer to me.

  • Jarret

    Thank god for the global psytrance scene…. And no, Simon Patterson is not psytrance. Dig deeper, ya lazy fucks

  • John Champoux

    Pop EDM is music for the ADHD generation. It’s for people who have no attention span and have even less taste. Techno music used to be about (among other things) getting away from pop culture and pretension and the “in crowd”. It is now a haven for exactly the opposite, which we were all trying to avoid by going to these crazy parties in the first place back in the day. Like most on here, I also feel the abomination that is Pop EDM is temporary and will fade away into obscurity once the “in crowd” latches onto the next vacuous fad.