The Merits Of A Rapid Growing Counter-Culture
As Electronic music continues to work its way into the Billboard lists, such as Calvin Harris at #31 this week, Harris is just one of a handful of artists that are making a handsome living off their EDM-based careers. According to Forbes, Harris pulled in $46 million this year, making him the highest paid DJ of 2013, with Tiesto following behind him at a modest $32 million. With so many high-ranking individuals within the scene, it’s no wonder how quickly the industry is gaining traction. If there is one thing that strikes me as "unique" for this scene, it is the fast pace in which is progresses. Big Room and Trap have both seen a huge boom in popularity as of late, but it wasn’t too long ago that it was Dubstep, Moombahton and Electro which were the big buzz words in and around the scene. Why is it that EDM can build and break sub genres within years, if not months? This phenomenon is dissimilar to every other genre of music around, but there are some pretty notable factors that come into play when analyzing its trends.
Upon some reflection, as a musician who has dabbled with a wide variety of instruments including the violin, drums, piano, and guitar, the one thing I could never grasp was how to produce a full song or DJ in front of a crowd. Working with a software to create sounds just felt unnatural in my head, and although my stint in producing only lasted around 2 weeks, I quickly realized that I should probably stick to more traditional forms of music. One thing I did learn from this experience was that there is a pretty significant difference between learning to produce EDM and learning to producde other genres of music. Besides the obvious differences in instrumentation, when you begin playing an instrument you generally start off by learning how to play other artist's songs. This form of learning is one that preserves a certain style of music throughout generations, as seen in rock and roll, folk, and country. These genres have been around for decades without much variation on the basic structure of how a song is composed. When taking up producing, no one tries to compile a track that sounds like another artist's. This puts the creative license directly into the hands of the producer, who then can put his/her own twist onto any genre he likes, or even create a completely new genre all together. This “start from scratch” method is, in my opinion, one of the leading causes of why the scene changes so rapidly over such a short amount of time.
Not only do artist start with their own material from the get go, but the rapid changes of this movement can be contributed (to a certain extent) to the influences of consumer culture and mass media markets. In 2014, there are more social media platforms, music blogs, and news sources than ever before. This rapid influx of information that youth culture is constantly consuming has to come at quicker intervals, with more “flash” and “pizzazz” than the mediums before it. Generally speaking, the attention span of the youth has dropped drastically, so to make something stick, or to make something memorable, it has to be unique and carry a certain amount of “oomph” to catch the consumers attention.
Of course every artist has a drive to be unique and stand out in their field, so this is where an issue develops. The issue is that within the scene one must constantly strive to get that next big sound, without ever perfecting the predecessors. This could single handedly be one of the biggest killers of the electronic dance scene. This model of constantly moving forward too quickly is completely unsustainable, and we have seen it present in the world around us in other areas like manufacturing goods, economics, and even politics. We encounter economic “booms” followed by recessions all the time - take “The Great Recession” of 2007 or “The Celtic Tiger” in 2008 as recent examples. When the U.S. created a “housing bubble" by rapidly increasing the supply and demand of housing, it was completely unsustainable, and had to burst. According to Karl Marx, recessions are unavoidable in free market capitalism, a system which we work within every day. Even in an article published in Rolling Stone magazine, Sean McElwee said it best stating, “We produce and produce until there is simply no one left to purchase our goods, no new markets, no new debts. The cycle is still playing out before our eyes: Broadly speaking, it's what made the housing market crash in 2008.”
If this model of rapid succession and collapse can be applied to so many other facets of ordinary human life, then why can’t it be applied to music as well? After all, music is just a human creation, like factories, housing bubbles, and consumer culture. As the current model stands, with everyone trying to pull the EDM pie in a million different directions, there will only be short term gains and no one will be able to get a piece for the long run. In order to preserve Electronic Music as a medium that everyone can enjoy, especially in generations to come, everyone needs to respect the history of our culture and move forward in solidifying its place in the scene - before hopping onto the next bandwagon.
Written by Gabe Gilker