When it comes to the music industry, never was there a more accurate statement than that of Sean “Puffy” Combs, when he wrote “the more money we come across – the more problems we see.” If you look at the explosive growth of the EDM industry and the resulting influx of money over the past few years, you can clearly see how that aroused the corporate beast. While this new form of expression is thrust into the public consciousness as something relevant to youth demographics, major marketing corporations see nothing more than dollar signs. Now, a movement that was once held sacred to a relatively small community is teetering on the precipice of either becoming publicly accepted as the newest form of serious musical expression, or a trending punch-line for late night talk show hosts with played out comparisons to disco. Though the public image of EDM will have little effect on its underground foundation, this castle we built over it can easily crumble once being touched by corporate hands. We’ve seen this happen before, and as a collective culture we need to do all we can to make sure that the money coming into EDM does not ultimately become its destruction. Unfortunately, those with the most responsibility/blame will be the ones with the most to gain.
For disco it was The Bee Gees, for grunge it was Nirvana, and for EDM, it’s deadmau5 (given name: Joel Zimmerman). These are not necessarily the inventors of their associated genres, but they certainly were the cause for the rise (and arguably the fall) of their genre in the popular culture. Recently, at the FutureSound conference in San Francisco, Zimmerman was asked if he felt protective of the EDM scene he helped catapult to cultural relevancy. In response, Zimmerman exclaimed:
“Burn all electronic music down, I don’t care. At the end of the day, scenes don’t evolve. Scenes are scenes. They’re there and they’re not.”
Followed, not much later, by this seemingly contradictory statement when asked about the overall health of the EDM industry:
“The way I see EDM right now, it’s a healthy industry for sure. Minimal work for maximum profit, right?”
We now see that one of the most prominent icons of EDM, hell, a face on the EDM Mt. Rushmore, no longer refers to it as a culture/movement/lifestyle – he calls it an industry. Zimmerman created something that he thought he could control, but with the all-corrupting touch of ample money, he cannot. And in the process became too arrogant to see that the EDM scene is bigger than just him. And if he thinks it (or any other music scene) hasn’t evolved, there’s a chance he has become lost far inside his own sad and delusional world.
In a way, Deadmau5 can be seen in this situation as Dr. Frankenstein: He helped create the modern EDM culture with intentions of creating ‘life’ out of things that were thought to be ‘dead’, but instead he created a monster that neither he, or the greater part of society, care(d) to fully understand. If the mau5 is not careful, he may ultimately be undone by the very thing he helped to create. You see, the mainstream artists are always the first to have fans turn their backs on them once they realize the music and scene they love has become watered down. Fans become disillusioned when they see an insurgence of newcomers who lack the fundamental understanding about the art they love, especially when the majority of said newcomers have no desire to develop such an understanding since they’re only in it because it’s the “cool” thing to do right now. The corporate monster uses these masses to milk scenes for all their worth, then move on to the next trending scene once the “cool” runs dry. If Zimmerman himself didn’t fall in that superficial category of the masses, he would feel protective of the art he is helping to destroy.
The next few years will reveal to us the climax of this saga and how “Deadmau5instein” deals with his ‘monster’ as well as how that will affect EDM as a whole. Even though deadmau5 may be the most transparently obvious symbol in this sea of changing culture, he is certainly not alone. And, in fact, a bigger part of EDM’s fate in America may have more to do with those on the other side of the pond.
It’s funny to watch the rise of so many European EDM producers in America due to the fact that EDM, in general, is mostly an American musical invention. It’s kind of like outsourced production, but let’s avoid debating that point by steering this trans-Atlantic vessel in the direction of one of the most popular EDM producers in the world: Avicii (given name: Tim Bergling). Like Deadmau5, Avicii expressed hesitant fear when asked in an interview with an Australian news outlet about the collision of EDM culture and the incoming money by saying:
“It’s up to the artist to make sure EDM doesn’t become too corporate… Obviously, people will want to get involved when there is a chance to make a lot of money.”
To this I immediately internally replied with the “Are you fucking kidding me?” meme. While Avicii says all the right things to save face, he’s doing quite the opposite. In this sense, Avicii is like John Lennon. Lennon wrote a song called “Imagine” in which he talked about not having any possessions while in reality he was living in a swanky New York penthouse driving a Rolls Royce equipped with a refrigerator and TV… in the ‘70’s. His success is not the problem, his hypocrisy is! Let’s face it: Avicii has earned his elevated status through “Levels”. Even he knows it – it’s why he named his label “le7els”.
To begin my dossier of evidence trying Avicii’s hypocrisy, as it pertains to “Levels”, is the fact that he gave Flo Rida rights to push the song closer to becoming a milquetoast vestige of what it once was. Yes, that same Flo Rida that made a song entirely about the online dating site Zoosk. This mainstream hip-hop artist had nothing to offer the EDM scene. The only thing he had to offer is more money for Avicii by exposing the track to a different subculture of mainstream music fans waiting to shell out cash every time MTV tells them to. This seems like solid evidence that Avicii is not only advancing the commercialization of EDM, he is actively pursuing it while offering up some borderline politician doublespeak when questioned in an interview.
For Exhibit ‘B’, we look at Avicii’s list of grievances during the interview, which include fact that he is now the Model/spokesperson/producer for Ralph Lauren’s line Denim + Supply. Your honor, I rest my case. It seems impossible that Avicii could do this without realizing the hypocrisy, but maybe he doesn’t actually realize it. Maybe Avicii is like Don Quixote. Traveling the world fighting windmills and asking inn owners to knight him in a world where it’s so obvious that none of these actions make any logical sense. It looks like Avicii thinks he is on the side of those trying to fight “the man” working to destroy the relative innocence of the culture, but he is doing the opposite; he is actually enabling its downfall, supposedly unbeknownst to himself. We can only hope that Avicii realizes the error of his ways, and comes back down to earth instead of burning out his fifteen minutes as a quixotic anti-hero.
When it comes down to the reality of things, we shouldn’t begrudge any artist their success no matter how much we disagree with what they are producing. There is no scalar quantity for the quality of artistic expression. Massive amounts of people are enjoying the expression, or else their success would not exist. There are also many benefits the scene experiences from its explosive growth, but what we need to pay attention to is the direction culture is heading as a whole. We cannot expect the EDM culture to stagnate and never evolve into something different. However, we must be sure that whatever that new thing is, it is controlled by those who are indelibly in love with the music and the culture, and are not simply looking for a conduit to add more zeros to their overall net worth. Bob Dylan said it better than I ever could:
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
Let’s all, fan and producer alike, do what we can to make sure that EDM’s future is one we can all be proud of, and not just (potentially) wealthy from/ashamed of. Remember, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.”