Thursday, May 16, 2013

Musings: Is EDM dead?

I'm usually a fervent supporter of EDM. I think there's a large amount of good electronic out there that's fun, danceable, poppy, and catchy, and a lot of music within the blanket term should be treated with the respect it deserves. I'm willing to defend my opinion most of the time, too. I remember a discussion I had with Sputnikmusic mod and electronic music whiz Deviant about this topic, where he referred to EDM as "a term being used to sell a trend, nothing more...It's just more bandwagonning of a sound that's been dumbed down and mass produced. In the words of Deadmau5, it's 'minimal effort for maximum return.'" At the time, I was peeved that someone would think of a general blanket term I identified with as "dumbed-down." How was that possible, I wondered? After all, I enjoy big, earth-shaking wobbles and snarls for the most part. Plus, even as promotion channels like UKFDubstep and labels like Play Me and OWSLA began to lose their savor, I still found many positives in the scene which so many find so abhorrent.

There are two songs in particular that inspired this article, two remixes so bland and derivative from producers I used to respect that I started to wonder if there was more truth to Deviant's words than I originally thought. The first of these was Zedd's remix of Empire Of The Sun's "Alive," and the second was Hardwell's remix of Krewella's "Alive." Neither song really deserves much description, but suffice to say that both use the stereotypical big-room house vocal/poppy electro line beginning, both cut away the drums just in time for whoever's using the song during their DJ sets to raise his hands to the sky while the crowd cheers wildly, and both have a buildup/drop/post-drop section so derivative and boring that the sections honestly make me angry. Seriously, both songs are so faceless and boring that there's no real reason they should exist, much less gain the traction they either got or will get.

The reason I feel compelled to write this, then, is it seems as though this is becoming the new norm for the "EDM mainstream." It's not enough for aspiring producers to throw together shoddy remixes of popular songs and post them on SoundCloud, earning deservedly little attention; over the course of the past year or two big producers have been realizing people will buy their music based on name only, regardless of quality. We've seen these two almost non-entities from Hardwell and Zedd, two producers who have releases in their back catalogue I honestly enjoy, we've seen almost the entire Internet jump on every single song Afrojack releases, we've seen Porter Robinson's silent estrangement from his genius mentor BT (view BT's story here), we've seen Deadmau5 almost unintentionally embrace the phenomenon he so despises.

The point I'm trying to get at is this: the whole idea of "minimal effort for maximum return" has gained an unfortunate amount of traction among both big producers and record executives. After all, why waste talent on coming out with a high-quality remix when there would be virtually no difference with a release of far cheaper nature? It's things like this that make me question the eventual fate of EDM. Hell, it might already be saying its last goodbyes in terms of originality. The beast will inevitably go on while there's still money in the scene, but the number of solid releases in the general area is decreasing at an alarming rate.

Of course, there's still hope. Songs like 7 Minutes Dead's "Sidewinder" display there's still some room to grow, with its almost unheard-of complex rhythms and harmonies. Nari & Milani continue to impress with their tactic of building a song up with an excellent trance-like bridge and then dropping a stunning minimalist section on the unsuspecting audience. And, of course, neuro producers like KOAN Sound and Joe Ford show that within the realm of techy drums and machine-like wobbles there's still some life. However, I fear for the "mainstream" of EDM. Seeing these two aforementioned remixes is honestly frightening, and they bode poorly for the future of the term.

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