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THE GREAT EDM DEBATE By Main photo by Rukes.com

12 January 2013
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THE GREAT EDM DEBATE

This week, Ed Simons of The Chemical Brothers publicly slated Swedish House Mafia as being "drivel" and said that intelligent dance music is being killed.

His comments are symptomatic of a feeling that is becoming ever more widespread. Respected heads such as DJ Sneak, A Guy Called Gerald and Scuba have all taken pot shots at EDM artists and that respective scene over the course of the last year.

It's clear that a bitter rift is slicing the dance music community in two. On the one side are those who think that EDM is diluting dance music and failing to introduce ingenious sounds to a mainstream audience, on the other are those who believe that EDM is truly revolutionary and buzzing with creative energy.

These opposing feelings are spilling into the public sphere with increasing regularity thanks to social networking platforms through which leading artists and tastemakers speak their minds.

Ed Simons' comments were sparked by Tommie Sunshine, a long-serving US DJ who has become something of an online spokesman for the EDM scene. The pair had an argument on Twitter, followed by Sunshine becoming embroiled in another discussion on the merits of EDM with Ben Gomori, dance music journalist and DJ/producer.

beng

Words: Ben Gomori
Ben Gomori is a freelance music journalist who has written for Mixmag, The Times, Music Week and Resident Advisor. He is also a DJ/producer and helms the Eastern Electrics podcast (photo by Patrick Duce)

“Why is everyone from the roots of this music so fucking salty about the ones who are going mainstream,” American DJ and producer Tommie Sunshine asked Ed Simmons of The Chemical Brothers (who have scored five UK Number One albums and 13 UK Top 20 singles) on Twitter this week, seemingly without a hint of irony. He and others have totally missed the point. Ed - and people like myself - don't have a problem with artists “going mainstream” if they continue to make good, heartfelt, sophisticated, challenging music. Daft Punk, The Prodigy and Basement Jaxx all did it successfully and maintained both a degree of underground dance music cool plus global chart and mega-festival headlining success. Alas, in these super-manufactured, low-rent days of X-Factor and laptop producers, it's a balance that is struck less often.

What we have a problem with is the current raft of identikit drivel that soaks up the chart; anaemic facsimiles of music we love. We have a problem with the music not being the focal point. We have a problem with dance music being used as a template for pop music if it has everything that made it so good for dancing to sucked right out of it. 

Commercial dance music from the mid-90s to early-00s stands the test of time because in most cases, tracks crossed over from the clubs into the charts unintentionally. Armand Van Helden wasn't thinking about the UK Number 1 spot when he remixed Tori Amos' ‘Professional Widow’ in revolutionary fashion. Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter and his Stardust cohorts can't have anticipated what would have happened to their vinyl-only pressing of ‘Music Sounds Better With You’. Josh Wink's ‘Higher State Of Consciousness’ in the Top 10 of the UK chart? A track with acid squeals so shrill it's almost painful to listen to and the smallest hint of a vocal? Can you even imagine an instrumental track of any kind making it into the charts these days? And this was before tracks could gain popularity through the internet. 

Major labels were investing tons of money in that era to scout and sign dancefloor fillers with crossover appeal. As a result, dozens of quality, credible classics remain in the collective consciousness of people who grew up in those years – whether they were listening to their siblings' ‘Now’ compilations or clubbing themselves. This bubble burst not long after the major labels decided to exploit the sounds they had found so much success with and attempt to reverse-engineer chart hits with supposed club sensibility. These chart-dance hits became contrived and increasingly tacky and experiments in applying electronic cool to pop stars' careers only seldom yielded positive results (The good: Madonna's Mirwaïs-produced Music; the bad: anything by Sophie Ellis-Bextor). 

In the USA mainstream, dance music is once again being exploited. By that I'm not trying to be dramatic; I simply mean that I don't believe that many of its most commercial protagonists give a flying fuck about it or its long-term future. As we've seen with hip-hop, the American music mainstream has a way of taking something incredible that it originally created and bastardising it almost beyond recognition.

If it's done well, dance-meets-pop can be interesting and exciting while maintaining widespread appeal. Much of Madonna's best work rooted its feet in the dancefloors of New York, for one notable example. In terms of contemporary success, Chase & Status have injected new energy into Roc Nation's biggest names, bass and garage-minded producers are helping the likes of Jessie Ware proliferate and dubstep had moments of genius via La Roux and others before it become just another pop beat template with none of the vigour and bite that made it so exciting in the first place.

The most exciting thing about electronic music is its lack of limitations and how it has lead the way in musical innovation since the 1970s. From the dance scene being the first to adopt digital downloads en masse to being the only area of music to truly evolve in the last 40 years in terms of technology, composition and texture, it's something we dance lovers should always remember, promote and cherish. I implore producers in the USA to be inspired by the countless electronic innovators we can claim. 

The potential is there for commercial dance-pop to sound a lot better than it does now, but few are daring to tap it up. If this is the beginning of a brave new world that sees electronic pop take more risks and become more sophisticated, then great. If it provides a gateway into less commercially-minded, more underground dance music to millions of young Americans, then even better. But at this point, I don't feel hugely sanguine about the situation. I see an increasing polarisation, with EDM continuing to become a caricature of itself until it implodes into nothingness.

tommie

Words: Tommie Sunshine
Tommie Sunshine is a long-serving DJ/producer who has completed over 300 remixes of artists such as Peaches, James Murphy, Felix Da Housecat and Arthur Baker

In my lifetime I have not witnessed a more inflammatory acronym than EDM. The kids who are new to electronic music burn with passion for it and the majority of the old-skool producers and fans are filled with seething hatred for what has happened to “their” music. These are artists who’ve won Grammys and made some of the most important records in the history of this music, people who have been dedicated to this culture for years, yet they are worried about kids in their early twenties who are having a good time breaking through just like they once did. The youth have always had the power. Adults think they have power over kids but they never have and never will. These are outdated power structures that have been eliminated by digital culture.

Sure, the music has changed but so has every single other thing in the whole world. Old people and purists always cry about how everything was better before. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs in the late 80s and witnessed house music birth itself to the world. It was an amazing, special time and I was very fortunate to have experienced it. However, my eyes look forward to the rest of my life. Nostalgia has no place in my day. The music and how it’s made has changed a dozen times since then. But, unlike the past, we are now taking over America’s commercial airwaves, shutting down metropolitan cities for festivals and invading the whole of American youth culture; it’s working, finally. I couldn’t be a happier man and am proud to be a part of it both socially and professionally.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say that I’ve always wanted to see dance music become pop music in America. No country needs the lessons laid out by our culture more than America. Europe has had this for two decades now and there the “underground” is clearly defined (or so you’d think). I watch Boiler Room videos where adults all but push each other out of the way to get in the lights behind the DJ, no different than the kids at a Tiesto show. I would guess that there isn’t one more sloppy kid on drugs at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas than there is at The Warehouse Project in Manchester. Berlin has a lot more in common with Los Angeles than anyone involved would ever dare to admit. That being said, we all share a common interest in the desire to lose ourselves and our egos on a dancefloor to the music of our choice, in our own personal way. So why is it that we must fight about it?

I feel like there are more amazing producers now than there ever were. I do not see anything lacking and when I do, I turn to the left and there is a whole new genre with a supporting scene intact to keep it more than. I have nothing but hope for the future of this music, of this culture. Being a part of it is the only thing in my life I’ve ever found outside of love itself that I’ve never turned out being bored of.

There are countless tracks from countless scenes that right now are bound together by our very strong love for this culture. Please consider taking a second look at what you may first dismiss. I bet you’ll be surprised by what you’ve disregarded. Keep an open heart, an open mind and remember that EDM is three letters that mean whatever you want them to. If they anger you, call your house, house, and get on with your life. The world is full of chaos and our time here is too short to warrant such banter.

Check the video below to see DJs such as Richie Hawtin, Markus Schulz, Loco Dice, Frankie Knuckles and Alesso respond to the topic, and Tweet us your reactions #EDMDebate.

We've picked some of the best Tweets so far, which you can see here.

Tune into our weekly DJ Hangouts and get lots of other video goodness over on MixmagTV.

TAGS: ARGUMENT / BEN GOMORI / DANCE MUSIC / ED SIMONS / EDM DEBATE / TOMMIE SUNSHINE

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