By Simon Slieker
Recently I have been subjected to a series of recordings, video from a dance music festival held in Miami called Ultra. First I was so appalled at what I saw I found myself with mouth hanging open like someone struck dumb. Later, with mobility restored, I had to overcome the vomit reflex, gagging and spluttering about my business.
I will refrain from going into great descriptive detail, as the link below to David Guetta’s set is perfectly reflective of THE WHOLE THING. Honestly, every set is as bad or worse, with the same nauseating appeals to “put your hands up”, in all their derivations, and appeal after appeal to worship me” whilst perpetrating vile assaults to the senses.
Problematic content, in no small part due to idol complex, overt sexist displays, a DJ console that dwarves the DJ to such an extent that he (deliberate) is rendered comparatively invisible, and thus resorts to jumping on the console, which only further highlights the extent or not, that he (still deliberate) is actually doing anything up there.
Never has DJ’ing required less skill via the technical enhancements on display, and yet demanded more idolisation, and lets be frank: worshipping.
Everything is an overt display of HYPERBOLE. I know we’ve been barreling down this path for quite some time, But I didn’t know it had become quite this bad. This is really bad. It is shocking, and it raises the question for me: is this incarnation of DJ less an artist and more an evangelist in the electronic cult of celebrity? And if so, because the question for me is clearly rhetorical, is this incarnation of DJ doing more harm than good?
- Assignment 1.
Okay, interactive section, open this link and have a look: WARNING: do not watch beyond 3 minutes, serious risk of disillusionment and vomiting.
So whilst you try and recover, let’s go back to the question: is this doing more harm than good? Well to talk about that, I have open up about my own perspective, which requires a shift at this point from piss-take critique into vulnerability.
For me it is such an affront to the senses in this realm, this culture, because of what I have perceived this realm to stand for. I have to own that this is my own narrow perspective and as such not a given, and not necessarily something that anyone else should think.
Nevertheless, it is definitely true that for many people an approach to moving beyond idolisation and into shared, less hierarchical experience has been important. Why? For what this experience suggests about who and how we are as a culture and as an expression of mutuality, affinity and unity.
Not unity in the face of a ruling force, but unity as shared experience, being part of something, which inspires the notion that each of us can contribute something. Contribute via a groundswell of adoption and extension of ideas, social equity: to dance with one another…um in multiple directions, not just the front. Admittedly I’m just throwing these terms out there without defining or going into great detail. It’s a start.
- Assignment 2.
Antidote to lingering affect of Assignment 1. Topical relief for disjuncture in belief in humanity.
But at the same time this raises a worrying question: If mainstream media can line up dance culture in it’s sites and so beautifully and exactly critique and satirise it, what does this say about the nuances of the culture. GONE.
True, part of the catastrophe you’ve witnessed on screen in Assignment 1 is no doubt due to the U.S mainstream finally grasping something about the magnetism of dance culture and then proceeding to do what they do so well: throttle it with a nuclear dose of overkill.
Still, I think we’ve all seen enough in the portents of this in our own society, our own events, which subscribe to the same dumbing down of entertainment.
- Okay a couple of qualifiers.
- As I suggested above my own take on how dance culture can positively interact with society is one perspective, which doesn’t make it right or preferential.
- This is what happens. And indeed this is what has been happening on a gradual ramp up since the inception of dance culture in the late eighties. Organisations and industry will profiteer from artistry and entertainment and you could argue that there will remain some common good in this. There is no doubt that the people in that video are having a good time, with their phones, and instagram, and glow sticks and flags. And all the Tweets for the memories and for posterity and for the WIN!!!
HOWEVER, there is something else possible. And I guess this is the point I’d like to make in this article and returning here to my own impassioned plea for culture.
- How it can be: an impassioned plea
- In dance culture there is the possibility for union of shared experience, which does not have to focus solely on the entertainer at front of house.
- As a dancer, or watcher or listener, venue owner, promoter, performer and artist, you are a participant in this shared experience and how you conduct yourself in your interactions with the event and the other participants, effects and creates the space, the environment and the nature of the experience.
- This requires that the attendee, the venue, the promoter, the performer and the artist all agree upon this as a foundation possibility in an exchange in which no one of these elements is philosophically and socially greater than the other.
- This is mutuality and equity in the social construct of electronic dance entertainment.
This is what I believe and this is what I have lived for 22 years whilst wearing all of the hats described above. I am all of these things. And so I make an effort to remember what it is to be any part of the experience. Which makes it easier to empathise and be respectful of “the other”.
- In conclusion
It is my belief (in the possibility described above) that takes a hit when I see some of what goes on in the meandering sprawl of dance culture. It’s easy to spit disdain and clutch at cynicism and grandiosely reflect upon yesteryear. It’s a bit more difficult to push through this and voice an alternative perspective.
What I have come to understand is that it matters little to have beliefs in the way things can be, if you are not willing to take responsibility for them, propagate them and invite others to interact with them/you.
I invite you to join me in this discussion and, equally I invite you to critique or dialogue with each other and me. It’s an open book and so am I. Forever changing, growing and having to admit: I do not have the answers. But I can, at least identify, some of the questions. And in that, feel into what it is that drives me.
On a positive note, this mainstream drivel gives what we might consider undesirables other dance related things to do on the weekend .
True. But then, the ideal is that more people have the opportunity to be positively affected by the aspects of dance culture that have positively affected us. Siphoning them off to “flytrap” events isn’t necessarily generating that chance. But yes, I’ve thought the same thing about Big Day Out, which has functioned as a massive diversion, running on the same weekend as Rainbow Serpent.
right on man, I have to agree with you!
I have been listening to the electronic music since a young old age and have been producing since.
the thing that bothers me the most is that people who the masses listen to just aren’t trying to do anything different or personal. So many great artists go unheard and unnoticed because they won’t get behind whats popular.
The only one i can think of who has broke the chain was skilled who despite being disdained by many, actually busted out some really nary stuff and people loved it.
Yes I agree Josh. It seems that some artists, whilst knowing their choices may preclude a grab at fortune opt for this. Which I guess comes down to the motivations for making the stuff in the first place.
I’ve been a lover of music since i was a kid, I only consider myself as having anything more than fleeting flirtation with dance music in the last year or so. But i find that the parallel drive that draws to me to any form of music (whether electronic or otherwise) is always personal expression. if the act or artist isn’t expressing their personality then i am left flat (whether it may be a producer, band, dj or singer). Well said simon.
Thanks John. I feel the same way.
My humble opinion:
EDM taking over hip-hop and becoming mainstream is what happened to Rock Music when Hip Hop took over. Mainstream Music culture seems to be the reflect of our current society.. Populism culture never have anything to do with quality unfortunatly.
It is sad to say that david guetta is worshipped like the Beattles were in the 60’s, an it is also sad to say that the quality and creativity declined considerably. Its now the: “you copy me I copy you”, “you sample me i sample you.. the more mainstream the less creative or inovative.. like you compare an organic apple with the one you find at Coles (after spending 8 months in a fridge emptyed of all goodness) but nevertheless bought and enjoyed by the masses.
Good music doesnt necesserally belongs to the underground and only reserved to an elitist crowd.
I think the problem is here: mainstream popular music/culture is now too close to our “underground” music/culture and we dont want to associate lame dance music with cool and creative electronic music. the love we put in our events or productions or mixes to be associated with that bulldozer heartless EDM music and events.
least we forget that EDM is a money maker business, quantity before quality and dont you dare put some soul in it …
Awakening festival is the bigger and best an underground event can be or reach..
but wait and see its a cyle .. look at I LOVE TECHNO Festival and compare mid 90’ts to 2010
What is fashion is no fashion anymore.. what is underground is no underground anymore.
lets create some new so the mainstream can surf on it and make more money in 25 years.
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I love the apple metaphor. I think my point is also that these massive events are an extreme, but in every event we attend or host, there are nuances of this behvaviour. It is up to all of us to determine our conduct and our motivations and make choices about how we want to be in the space. I have seen really small “underground” events with really terrible attitudes driving them as well. My encouragement is that we don’t just blame the “overground”, but that we use it to identify what we don’t like, and make choices in the face of it.
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Totally agree with this. And also love Seb’s apple metaphor!
The more this goes on the more it saturates the audience, and yes, even the underground to a degree. The commercial has trickled down the vines and has embedded itself in this article itself. It’s what the “money makers” want to see in the end. Bad publicity is still publicity.
So to discuss these things, we sometimes promote what some people see as terrible music/art. It affects both the DJ and Producer world equally.
As someone who spends most of his free time producing “whatever i feel like at that moment” i often forget that bad music trends exist (keeping in mind, you have to stay off the internet during these creative sessions). Sure things pop up in our facebook pages or up on youtube, but if we turn our eye and refrain from clicking on the link then it doesn’t have as big of an impact on us. If only we could all do this and carry on sharing the music we all enjoy in various environments and social contexts. If only…
Not everyone has the exact same taste as the next person, and their idea of underground and “above ground” will be completely different to you and I.
The general fan base for commercial EDM smothers the voices and opinions of international and local underground acts/events. It doesn’t just hurt our eyes and ears… it also changes the way we act. It can make some people angry and this anger is not the best utility when trying to be creative. Don’t get me wrong, it can be used (at times), to create something unique and askew in terms of art. But not always. I for one do things better when I’m in high spirits and block out the bad vibes.
So in my opinion, i use the utter filth that is commerical EDM as a kind of solace. I say “hey, at least I’m not that guy” and it pushes me in a direction to be different. I feel that if my music reaches its way to someone through all the utter crap, then they have become the perfect “ear” for my music. And it makes the production process more inspiring. Being an underdog will always spark creativity.
My 2c on the matter 🙂
Thanks for another solid read Simon!
And thanks for your reply Matt. I come to the end of what you’ve written and I breathe a sigh of relief because I actually feel uplifted by your opinion. This is definitely preferable to propagating loathing. Or as you say giving free airtime to something we have a problem with. So good on you. And thanks.
When did it become ‘ about the DJ ‘ and not about the music?
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Hmmm. Perhaps we are failing to address a simple yet fundamental aspect of this entire debate, and that point relates to the age and experience of the EDM consuming demographic.
Everyone must be given the opportunity to discover an entry point into whatever it is they eventually dig once their tastes mature.
I can’t speak for other people, but when I was young, I only had the radio, and commercial radio at that, to provide me with any exposure to music.
As a consequence, my preferences were geared exclusively towards mainstream pop.
Viewed with benefit of hindsight, there is no doubt that what I was listening to was utter rubbish, produced as a product, marketed to within an inch of it’s life, and lacked depth, soul, artistic integrity, credibility etc. But it was all I knew.
Eventually I saved my paper round money and obtained a cassette deck which enabled me to play mix tapes obtained from friends, and I was exposed to music I had never heard before, like NWA, Bomb The Bass, Sonic Youth etc. Mindblowing stuff for a kid raised on Casey Kasem, EON FM and 3XY
When I got a little older, I discovered community radio, vinyl and going out to local gigs.
As a consequence, my tastes shifted and I started to form my own opinions and learnt to investigate linkages between acts, producers, labels etc, but this was an organic process and it took time.
If we look at EDM and it’s concomitant mega festivals as being the pop/pop-festivals of today, we can hope (or pray!) that a certain percentage of individuals that consume it will
be lead towards something of greater substance. Yes, we know David Van Buuren Guetta or Deadwell or Axemouse or whoever it is are shit. We all agree. But the audience are kids. Of course they don’t know anything and can’t discriminate between Jeff Mills playing vinyl on three decks and Steve Aoki pressing play before (allegedly) injuring punters with his antics.
As they gain more exposure to the background of some of the tracks played, artists sampled or acts on the festival bill. Maybe seeing Sven Väth @ Future might lead them to Accident In Paradise and the DJs that used to play it.
Maybe Derrick May & Kevin Saunderson being on the Stereosonic poster might lead them to Good Life or Kaotic Harmony on YouTube.
And that’s when they being their own journey…
Yep well said Ben and valid point. Comforting point. I’ve thought similarly about some of the New NRG events I’ve witnessed that I’ve put in the same ballpark, and thought, of course the kids will be attracted to the lights and glow and obvious breakdowns, as moths to a flame. And it is true, that once experience is gained and breadth is perceived, tastes diversify. I’ve seen in, so I’d have to agree with you, the same can happen and be said of the uber commercial. My trajectory into electronica was similar to yours and over a similar time frame, one in which EON and 3XY existed. Fortunately I also discovered 3RRR in my teenage years and that was the game changer for me. Thanks for contributing your perspective.
No worries, Simon.
Basically I agree to what has been said already.
I remember when I was a kid I believed that a musician must be some kind of god to be able to create these amazing sounds. And to a certain point I still believe that 😉 But this way of thinking prevented me from having a go at it myself for much too long actually. Now that I’m trying it myself I totally respect and admire even more what some people are able to create even if I don’t like it. Because the thing is you have to make the effort and get out there and expose yourself big time without knowing if others will like it or not. All my respect to everyone who’s able to that! But this can lead to complete self-absorption as we can see in the first video which I couldn’t even watch for half a minute. I totally get that youngsters fall for someone like that who’s been but on a huge throne surrounded by all these lights and his name is written all over the stage in completely oversized letters. Plus he is so far away from everyone and detached from his audience that the illusion of seeing someone untouchable and special is perfect. I wonder what would happen if he was on the same level as the audience and right in the middle of it. Would he still be so admired and his music been appreciated that much?
A big dream of mine is to create the perfect dance club. But I always saw the DJ desk in the centre of the dance floor without being raised so that people face not only the DJ/performer but also themselves rather than looking up on a stage most of the time. Not only would the DJ get all the love (and hate) instantly, also the audience would be able to watch and appreciate much more what he/she does. And everyone could see that in the end it’s a handicraft mixed with an artistic intention and not some kind of magic. I could imagine that this might be a good way of identifying the actual musically driven and passionate people and those who use music as an outlet for their narcissistic stream. I guess natural selection would be a good side effect of this kind of scenario plus a bit of education for the audience which can only lead to more understanding of what good music and DJing is. Of course this is taste dependent but can be identified even if you don’t necessarily like what you hear.
So, I’d say more connection, education and understanding is needed. Unfortunately nobody can prevent the world from musical exploitation but you can do your own bit to reduce it a little if you want to. I’m glad to see that people like that do exist as I found out here on this site. That gives me a lot of hope that I won’t be forced to get my music fix from DG one day!
I love this response Markus. Thank you for your clear and articulate musing.