At festivals, shows, and parties, there is no denying the magnetic energy that attracts individuals to one another. It’s not just the sensual movement of dance, it’s the act and recognition of dancing together to a common language. In that moment, our existences are in harmony with one another, and we are all the siblings of sound. This kinship is often short-lived after we retreat to our homes and recount the evening on the internet. The very next day, those same people flock to their computers and flee to their respective corners of the internet, as if their commonalities had extinguished overnight. At the middle school dance that is social media, a line is suddenly drawn between those with mainstream mono-taste and the underground elite, like girls and boys standing at opposite ends of the gym.
The dance community has a second home in social media, and it is often used to challenge eachothers’ opinions as if our conscience of taste is a needle that can be pointed in any direction. Surely, those that only sail down the dance music’s mainstream could do a better job of opening their minds to lesser-known artists, but the artform isn’t getting much help from those representing the underground either, and our division has displayed a weakness that is ripe for exploitation.
In order to ease into this argument, let’s start by clarifying what constitutes ‘underground music.’ In a general sense, it is any sound that doesn’t serve a commercial purpose. It is music for anyone that can relate to it. It is distinguished from the simplified variety that aims at mass appeal. Some argue that the underground is the most valuable form of music in terms of contributing to the evolution of the craft, largely due to its lack of constraints and potential for discovering unprecedented sounds.
Followers of underground music tend to turn their nose up to the vanilla flavoring of the mainstream for its lack of originality. In doing so, they also fail to acknowledge its roots. All mainstream music at one point originated from the musings of the underground. The underground is essentially the mainstream’s waiting room; every genre has a number that can get called at any time. The major labels that perpetuate the mainstream don’t create it, they find it. They take it home with them and blend it up with fillers and preservatives. They then slop it across a lunch line, knowing that there is an endless supply of customers ready to take whatever ends up on their plastic trays.
While the underground is indeed a precious gem to the musical conversation, every so often a unique sound bubbles up from the trenches and makes its way up to the surface where there are millions ready to turn the sound into a diluted trend. Go ahead and proclaim that genres X, Y and Z will never make it into the mainstream, but it happens all the time. Imagine explaining the concept of dubstep to someone 10 years ago. They would claim that you were high. Imagine telling Johnny Rotten in 1979 that fifteen years later punk rock would be played on the radio. He would spit in your face. Crazier things have happened, and knowing that history repeats itself, let’s prepare for the inevitable now.
Electronically produced dance music is a revolutionary expressive medium that has perplexed capitalist enterprises’ previously established methods for exploiting nuanced artforms. The reins of the industry, for which major labels had secured control over for decades, have been freed from their grasp and all are scrambling to seize the ship’s control. As a result of the confusion, the dance music community has a unique opportunity to rise up through the fog and direct its own passage through the sonic echos of music’s history.
Previously, popular music existed within the context of a simple equation: labels found the talent, connected them with skilled producers, ran the tracks through expert mastering engineers, and then passed them off to popular media entities. This process became a necessity, as the technology required for producing and mastering music had cost unfathomable amounts of money for any starry-eyed kid sitting at home with dreams of success and 'making it big' in audio production. Suffice it to say, times have changed. The cost of such equipment and production has been drastically reduced, and we are now living in an age where everyone from your least favorite cousin to the mailman are making beats.
This is an exciting time for the independent musician because those major record labels are still blindsided and frantically scrambling to figure out how to apply their staple equation to contemporary electronic dance music. Some might say this has already occurred, citing as evidence the overwhelming number of gargantuan festivals, but realistically, the worst has yet to come. If EDM follows in the footsteps of rap, punk, or alternative rock, then we are still at the foothills of a monetary mountain that is about to rise out of the ground and crumble at our feet like Bill Cosby’s precarious reputation.
Now, more than ever, does the community of this progressive artform need to rally and get on the same page as far as how to communicate the biography that is currently being penned. For this reason, it is time to identify where a rift in our culture has occurred and the fans’ contribution to the division. When we take opposite ends of the court as ‘the committed underground’ and ‘the lackluster mainstream’ in incites aggressive rhetoric whose only function is to perpetuate our own demise. We can make a conscious effort to refrain from tugging at the communities’ seams through casting stones at those with opposing tastes and begin reflecting on how our individual energy contributes to the culture as a whole.
We can start by widening the basin of underground music and better utilizing the resources provided by those in the industry. Enjoying underground music requires a larger effort by the listener. It is rarely presented in a neatly organized package and is often in stark contrast to what is widely considered to be acceptable. Fortunately, there are several platforms perfectly suited for the curation and discovery of new and exciting music on the interwebs. Unfortunately, people seldom make use of these methods, and the entire culture has suffered as a result.
One of the most widely dealt criticisms of online EDM news media is that there isn’t enough emphasis on the underground. This critique has created an “us” and “them” mentality between those that relish in the underground and those that prefer to stick with “the hits.” The underground elite attempt to bastardize EDM news media’s efforts on social media, and yet they fail to note the fact that there is little to no news in the underground. In order for it to stay intact, the media shouldn’t be reporting on it as news. Instead, the media should be reporting on it as music, which they do with diligence. Nearly every EDM publication does. Most people misunderstand the media’s role in the industry because they assume that social media can be used as a comprehensive portal for accessing any and all media. Nobody surfs the web anymore, or starts at a homepage. To gain information, they simply slide down their ‘news feed’ - a term that grossly misrepresents what is actually being presented.
While our intake of legitimate information is numbed by the force feeding of distractionary ‘news feed,’ we fabricate a breach in the relationship with our common dancer by convincing ourselves that our individual views and tastes are superior to our neighbor’s. The division often sounds like, “I only like these certain artists, and if I haven’t heard of him, he must not be worth my time;” or “I only like these artists that no one has ever heard of, and I’m tired of seeing all of these stories about celebrity artists.” This back and forth dialogue floods Facebook comment sections and fuels Twitter battles, all while the real battle is taking place under our feet.
There certainly is an “us” and “them” in dance music, but it is not between underground and mainstream dancers, it is between our forward-thinking music and those corporate entities that aim to tarnish its creative pedigree. In order to get on the right side of this discussion, one must look at where their talking points originate and if they are subscribing to the distraction, or if they are making a genuine effort to stimulate future sounds. As elsewhere in life, it is only proper that if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about who is in office, and a random Facebook comment will never count as a vote.
Social media is not capable of being a stable platform for instigating conversation on underground music, nor is it the responsibility of EDM publications to force the issue. The conversation belongs in the streets. It belongs on exchanged user-made mixtapes and playlists. It belongs with you. Instead of bouncing back to Facebook, spend a few minutes perusing through our homepage where you will find a primary focus on tasty music from every corner of the underground. Less than 1% of the tracks will come from a mainstream dance artist.
The underground conversation is alive and well, but if EDM media provides the initial gesture by researching new music, it is necessary for the fans to reply by actually listening to the music and continuing the conversation elsewhere. Create a profile and use our media player to make a playlist. Share it with your friends. We’ve already scoured the web to find that new new so you don’t have to.
Every track uploaded to EDM.com or The EDM Network has been passed through our tastemakers, and utilizing the genre-filter option will get you well on your way to making a personal voice heard through ‘plays’ and ‘likes.’ It would benefit everyone to refrain from that five wasted minutes a day bitching about if some Top 100 DJ uses a ghost producer. That time could be used to strengthen the foundation of underground music so that when those corporate labels come looking to steal what is ours, the artists have enough digital support on their tracks to say, “nah. I don’t need you. I have them”
If done successfully, we could play a vital role in cultivating a community that has no strict separation between mainstream dance music or the underground. We could all be dancing in a middle-ground that will give the corporate music structure a brain aneurysm. Too many artforms, from the musical to the visual, have amassed popularity only to fall down and be forced to retrace their steps at a snail’s pace for humankind to not learn from its mistakes.
As a cultural movement, we still have the power to take command of a craft that so many have worked to refine, but it will only happen with the respect and acceptance of the entire community. It’s ok if some people only like the big names; it hardly affects you and chastising them for their preference is a waste. It is futile to commit energy towards things that you cannot change. A majority of the divide created between the mainstream and underground on social media could be resolved if, as individuals, we acknowledge that we are all just swimming around music’s greatest melting pot looking for that next savory morsel that gets our feet moving. Just be proud that by participating in the dance culture, as a whole, you are one of the many that gets to lay your footprints in the wet cement of a primal ritual that will live on forever.