Editorial: Dance music has gone mainstream, but it doesn’t have to sell out
Dance music has gone mainstream. There. I said it. Afrojack and David Guetta are all over the radio. Avicii “Levels” is in too many commercials to count. Flo Rida is rapping over “In My Mind.” I could go on and on, but there’s no denying that the influx of attention, money, and new fans has thrust a once “underground” genre into the national (and global) consciousness.
Here’s the thing though: This isn’t bad — it’s natural. It’s survival of the fittest. In the same way that people were clamoring for Lil Wayne and Kanye West tickets just a few years ago, now it’s all about snagging passes to Sensation, or EDC, or Electric Zoo, or any of the other hundred EDM events slated to go down in the next few months.
There is a bad thing happening now that EDM is so popular however: We’ve allowed the talent to get complacent. And that’s not cool.
The always outspoken Deadmau5 recently published a post to his Tumblr entitled “we all hit play.” If you read the entire piece (which you should if you care enough to read this one), you will appreciate his honesty and level-headedness about the realities of being a musician in 2012. He draws a fine line between the skills required for a live show and the skills required to be an actual producer, saying that “my ‘skills’ and other PRODUCERS skills shine where it needs to shine… in the goddamned studio, and on the fucking releases.” That’s the exact distinction that has needed to be made for some time now. It’s not a DJs job to make new tracks in front of a crowd — that’s borderline impossible — but it is a DJ’s job to take a crowd “on a roller coaster… and connect with them.”
“A DJ is a guy that comes into a room… scans it in… is like: ‘Okay. What do I need to do to get these people to go bananas?” – Sebastian Ingrosso
What worries me is not that DJs are simply “pressing play,” but that they’re pressing play on the same tracks in the same order night after night after night. There’s new music being released at a breakneck pace, but many of the big name DJs are still spinning the same freaking sets every time. They are playing the same bootlegs, making the same transitions, and delivering the same exact shtick every day of the week.
You would think that the DJs themselves would get bored of it, yet they continue to drop predictable, staid combinations like “Coming Home” vs “Quasar” in nearly every set they play. Maybe it’s because we’re still jumping around as ferociously as we did the first time or maybe it’s because they still get paid regardless of what they play. I’m not saying that these sets are bad, because they’re not. I am saying that they’re getting old.
“because this whole big “edm” is taking over fad, im not going to let it go thinking that people assume theres a guy on a laptop up there producing new original tracks on the fly. becausje none of the “top dj’s in the world” to my knowledge have. myself included.” – Deadmau5
The draw to see any DJ live usually stems from an affinity for their original productions, so their skills in the studio should be able to make up for the fact that they are going to just “hit play.” These guys get more music submissions than anyone on the planet; is it really that hard to find new material to play out? They spend countless hours on planes with their laptops and production tools at the ready; is it really that hard to put together a new mashup or bootleg before a set? I miss the days where I would say “Whoa, what is this?!” instead of “Ugh, this bootleg again?” As much as it sucks when Shazam can’t ID a track, it sucks even more when you know every single song being played.
If the current trajectory of DJ sets continues, it won’t be long before everyone catches on to what’s really going on here. In the same way that mainstream radio stations have killed songs by playing them far too often, DJs are quickly doing the same.
Luckily, this problem is easily rectified. Now is the time to capitalize on the momentum of the industry, to embrace the sudden infatuation with our music as opposed to shying away from it. People want to be surprised. They want to be blown away. They want a reason to keep liking it.
“you know what makes the EDM show the crazy amazing show that it is? you guys do, the fans, the people who came to appreciate the music” – Deadmau5
Playing the same stuff over and over is not the way to make that happen. That’s the way to turn people off. That’s the way to repeat history from the rap game — and dance music is so much better than rap.
So this is a message to all the DJs out there who read Dancing Astronaut (and to the ones who don’t too): Don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t be afraid to play a song that you released in 2011, 2010, or 1995 for that matter. Don’t be afraid to play a new song from an up-and-comer that has the potential to make people “go bananas.” Don’t be afraid to omit your latest single for once. Don’t be afraid to leave us wanting more.
If you do, we’ll keep coming back for it.