Yesterday we posted about Deadmau5's impromptu rant about Justin Bieber, Skrillex, and the his feelings about making music for pop stars. He made some crucial points about authenticity and integrity that I felt warranted additional discussion.

To be honest, the first time I gave Purpose a proper listen, I had a moment that recalled my first listen of Justin Timberlake's solo debut. Much to my annoyance, I had to admit that it was actually a pretty solid record. If I turned off all of the context and history that would slant my opinion against it and just listened, I couldn't help but appreciate some of it. And it seems like a lot of folks in the music industry had a similar reaction. As an album, absent context, it's surprisingly decent. But as someone who has dedicated most of my life to electronic music, I refuse to judge the album without considering context. And context is precisely what Deadmau5 is so pissed about.

For those who can't understand the mau5's frustration, hopefully I can shed some light on his perspective.

For most of its history, electronic music has been defined by pioneering creative minds who use technology to create sounds and styles the world has never heard before. The earliest examples of electronic music often featured instruments invented by the composer - and this innovative, DIY spirit of creativity has always been at the very heart of electronic music. The legacy of great electronic musicians is of creators who don't simply write or play or sing sequences of notes, but also synthesize/record/sample/engineer the sounds that make up their compositions. Deadmau5 speaks on his own sense of this as an electronic musician:

This is the sense of empowerment that I get as a musician, this is what I get out of this: is that I can go in that fucking studio, and click and make things, and sample and play synths, and sequence shit, midi stuff, and then I can put together a whole fucking song, just doing that… And you've all seen me fucking do it, ya know what I mean? And then I can do eleven of those, and I can compile them, and I can even do the own fucking artwork for the shit, ya know and I can package it… And I can - I can take this fucking thing, and I can go 'This is me', like 'I made this, this is mine, and I - this is my fucking shit, this is what I do with my life, ya know and here, I want you to have this'.

Creating and engineering all of these sounds requires an intense level of skill and dedication. Until fairly recently, the sheer amount of work involved in creating electronic music, combined with the likely outcome of zero financial success, kept it limited to those of us who truly love it. Wrangling the patch bay on a perpetually out of tune Moog modular, or learning Fast Fourier Transforms to time-stretch samples in Csound aren't things a person is likely to do unless they really give a fuck about making art.

Pop music is not art. Pop music is a product, created for the purpose of making money. So it's nauseating to see our art form, which has always been defined by authenticity, innovation, and work ethic, co-opted and exploited by someone like Bieber - or by ghost-produced pop EDM DJs. It's nauseating to see manufactured pop stars put their names on music they didn't create, when you've poured your soul into building the culture they casually adopt to prop up their own false credibility.

Now of course there are some electronic musicians who don't see it this way. I imagine someone like Skrillex is just stoked to spread his sound into the pop world, and doesn't get hung up on this stuff. And I can't hold that against him - honestly a part of me is happy that someone as innovative and talented as him is influencing pop. But I couldn't stomach it. And to paraphrase Deadmau5, paraphrasing The Dude - It's just like, my opinion, man.

Those who label Deadmau5 a hater, or say he's just bitter or jealous, will cite the fact that pop has been co-opting underground styles of music forever, and that Purpose is just the most recent example of this. And they are not wrong. There have always been, and likely will always be opportunistic record labels and managers that happily exploit underground sounds for profit by pairing them with pop star puppets. And sadly, there have always been and likely will always be masses of consumers hungry to be spoon-fed soulless drivel garnished with a sprinkle of "edgy".

But does the inevitability of a shitty thing make it less shitty?

Deadmau5 is a smart guy, and he obviously knows that he can't fix pop music, or make it go away. We all know that we can't fix pop music. But we also know that we live in a different world than previous generations of musicians. In decades past, when it was jazz, or funk, or reggae, or hip-hop, or metal being exploited by soulless pop trends, there wasn't much those musicians could do to speak out in the broader culture. Radio, TV, and print media have always been controlled by the same forces that benefit from pop appropriation of underground musical styles. But today, cultural discourse isn't limited to one-way, corporate controlled media. We have Twitter, and Facebook, and Twitch, and SoundCloud, and blogs, and a host of other outlets where we can speak out, share knowledge, and start conversations.

I have huge respect for Deadmau5 for his willingness to speak out so bluntly on this topic, because he gives voice to something that a lot of folks have been thinking, and his comments open up a conversation that our scene needs to have. Whether it's Bieber, or big name EDM DJs using ghost producers, there is a huge problem with creative integrity, authorship, and transparency in the modern music scene.

We'll be coming back to this issue again, so we'd love to hear some of your perspectives. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Here's the video again for anyone who missed it:

Image: TicketCrusader

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Chris Cox

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