Friday, July 27, 2012

Essay: EDM is the New Rock, but it isn't all good

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I read with interest an article recently that suggested that electronic dance music is ‘the new Rock, Hip-Hop and Jazz’, comparing it to other ‘new’ musical movements of the past.
The article tries to defend electronic dance music; even though its author doesn’t really seem interested in specifying exactly what it is he’s defending.

The reason why he doesn't know is two-fold.

One, electronic dance music is such an all-encompassing term. I dare say Daft Punk, Tiesto, Skrillex, M83 and Caribou would hate to be described as making the same type of music, however in this article they totally are.

Two, he slyly side-steps any mention of music criticism and good/bad quality, other than to say that there is a ‘backlash’ against EDM, and that the music warehouse/rave music of Skrillex and Co is preferable among ‘youth’ than David Guetta, Red One and their ilk.  I think Philip Sherbourne or any respected music journalist would wince at the idea that someone could claim that all electronic dance music is great.

That said, I totally agree that EDM might be the ‘new Rock’, but what does being the new anything even mean?

Hip-Hop in the 90’s was pretty ground-breaking and created some timeless classics, but for every Public Enemy there were a dozen Vanilla Ices.

Skrillex may be the dominant entity of his movement, but so were Limp Bizkit and MC Hammer, two extremely popular yet critically reviled acts of their day.

Skrillex appears to aim for something more, channelling avant garde talents like Aphex Twin; however his aesthetic out of the gate has been more like the Foo Fighters.

He has skilfully avoided a fair chunk of critical appraisal by not releasing an album, unlike fellow dubstepper Rusko, who released a glut of genre-defining tracks before putting out a couple of middling albums (based on critical appraisal).

Like Pitbull and Swedish House Mafia (and indeed, Limp Bizkit and MC Hammer), Skrillex has a schtick, and it's this schtick, whether it's the maximilist sound, the bass-drops or the visual accoutrements of their live shows, that have the haters riled.

The ‘backlash’ from purists and nostalgist’s is a completely valid, yet somewhat redundant commentary on generational musical transitions.

Great music can come from anywhere (I have a weakness for Avicii’s ‘Silhouettes’), but to claim quality from a whole musical movement is ridiculous. In that respect, the fogey’s have it right.

Comparing musical era’s is fraught also, especially now when it’s even harder to claim ‘commercial’ music is strictly bad and ‘indie’ music is uniformly good. Indeed, ‘Indie’ music is more of a description of the music’s sound these days, than its position in the industry. Indeed, the old music system is dead, so how can we compare the old and new when the models of distribution aren’t even the same!

Instead of aggrandizing articles claiming something you can’t possibly confirm (that EDM is the new rock and its all great), lets continue to do what we’ve always done: Search for the innovators, those who have the ability (for even just one song) to fuse together old styles in a way that we’ve haven’t heard before and yet in a way that makes us feel to the extreme that we can.

Let us praise tracks like Ushers ‘Climax’, for its unconventional restraint, and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ for its unique perspective on alcohol abuse and addiction.

We’re in an era where we get to choose what we want to hear. The cliché ‘all killer no filler’ has never been more apt.

Don’t be fooled into rushing out and buying that Ministry of Sound album, just because it’s representative of that all-encompassing ‘new rock’ sound.  Go out and do a little research and find all the odd and innovative sounds that are at your fingertips.

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