A recent social media spat between Deadmau5 and Afrojack regarding creativity in EDM caught my eye. A quick summation of the debate was that Afrojack said you just needed your track to be ‘good’ to be a success and Deadmau5 retorted that all EDM music sounds the same. There’s a lot more to this debate than might at first appear, and it gets to the heart of a lot of the problems with the current EDM craze.
For the record, I used to be a gigging dance music producer and DJ and had a few singles and remixes to my name. My (incomplete) discogs entry is here, and my Soundcloud page is here (with new and old stuff). When I was releasing music, dance was a far more underground genre that was just reaching its first decade as a movement. It had already ossified into its main genre groupings and the excesses of superclubs, the super star DJ and brand partnerships were all beginning take effect. But despite this it remained a sub culture that was clearly distinct from the mainstream. The recent emergence of dance music as a mainstream movement has transformed the picture entirely. Driven by artists like David Guetta and the Swedish House Mafia dance has acquired pop sensibilities and in doing so has finally broken through in America. Unlike in Europe where dance has two decades or so of cultural roots, it is effectively year zero for the flavour of dance music that is currently being marketed to the US. Hence the adoption of the previously nerdy tag ‘EDM’.
While EDM was a useful rebranding exercise for dance it now risks doing more harm than good. The type of artists and music that fit the EDM brand are at the commercial end of the spectrum, with music that owes as much to pop as it does dance. This risks polluting the broader dance scene, but there is a simple solution: recognize EDM for what it has in practice become, a genre in itself. EDM is pop-dance, it is not a term for dance music as a whole.
This means no disrespect to the likes of David Guetta or the Swedish House Mafia – who incidentally all paid their dues as hard gigging DJs before breaking through – but the majority of music that they produce is not dance music, it is EDM. Unfortunately too many dance producers have tried to jump on the EDM bandwagon, and consequently too much dance music is sounding just too similar. With up to 15,000 dance releases every week, it is understandable why so many producers will do whatever they can to try shorten their odds of success and they know they won’t get many opportunities. If the life cycle of the average band is akin to that of a butterfly, then for a dance producer is more like that of a Mayfly. But the result is that far too much dance music averaging out to a safe, consistent and bland norm rather than creating an undulating tapestry of creative diversity. It is time for the wider dance music scene to reclaim its identity and instead of trying to chase the bright lights of EDM, get back to its roots and true identity.