Last Friday I stumbled into a musical experience completely foreign to me. While the musical accompaniment to a typical Friday night amongst fellow musicians usually includes guitar-related music of some kind – blasting metal in the car on our way out, cock rock emitting out of a jukebox at the pub, a so-so bar band pumping generic rock covers – this particular Friday night contained none of that. In fact, the night's soundtrack didn't involve any "real" music at all. Uncharacteristically, all I heard that night electronic dance music.
I know that the majority of you in here aren't particularly fond of electronic music, but allow me, a lifelong rock fan, to share my EDM experience.
Recently, some chill doctoral dental students moved in next-door. A cool group of people, their musical tastes generally overlap with my roommates and myself, hence we get along effortlessly. But the dentists-in-progress also happen love of EDM and participate in what one could describe as rave culture. Inviting me to party with them last Friday, I figured why not check it out and see what the scene is all about? I’ve always been curious about the ecstasy-laden rave world but have been too busy and boozed up in the rock/metal realm. First time for everything, right?
So EDM played constantly throughout the night and at a relatively high volume. House, trance, dubstep – I can’t really tell the difference between these subgenres, just like any non-metal head would have a hard time discerning the difference between thrash and death metal, but throughout the night, I suppose an altered state of mind and an openness to experience new things helped me finally “get” the music.
The whole idea is the creation of a hypnotic effect thanks to lengthy tracks and repetitive drum loops. Songs constantly build up, add and take away layers, pan frequencies in circular motions while spewing inhuman-like melodic textures. Believe it or not, certain songs featured catchy and harmonically satisfying chord progressions, and I was told that many EDM artists had classical backgrounds. Pretty legit. In all, let’s just say the music is suitable for a very specific setting. EDM is definitely not something I’ll be playing in my car routinely, but in the right mindset and setting, it’s just fine.
Although I’m easing up in my dislike toward EDM (it was a fun night, after all), there’s still that side of me that favors "real" instrumentation and the human element in music.
As a musician, I’ve always shied away from EDM. Save for maybe listening to a little Daft Punk or Paul Van Dyk back in the day, I’ve always tended to side with the "real instruments or GTFO" mindset when it comes to my musical outlooks.
Musicians who gravitate toward rock, classic rock, metal, jazz, classical, folk, or pretty much any other genre that originated pre-1980, tend to feel that electronic incorporation stifles the emotional quality and diminishes the integrity of the music ("it’s just pushing buttons" is a common argument against you hear). I’ve also heard it described as "gay".
But as we’ve seen clearly as time moves on, more and more electronic elements are taking hold of the music we listen to, and more and more technology is being incorporated into musical production to make it sound... well, more "perfect".
As you read through the news roundup, keep these questions in mind: What are your honest thoughts on electronic dance music? Do you find it to be a positive direction that contemporary music is going in, full of creative experimentation and artistic progress, or do you see it at the death of organic music, void of expression and true musical talent?
Loaded questions, huh? Let’s dive into some music news headlines this week that pertain to the incorporation of technology and electronic elements in rock music.
Stop Texting, Ya Wanker!
In a chuckle-worthy live video posted earlier this week, Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson called out a concertgoer who was excessively texting during an Maiden show and called him a "wanker". Although the white-shirted dude was probably texting his friend about how proficiently Maiden was sexually destroying the audience with their musical greatness, Dickinson’s insult calls out a sad reality that not only pertains to concerts, but in current everyday life in general.
People text/Instagram/Tweet too much at shows nowadays. They constantly feel the need (I admit, I’ve done it too) to TELL other people what they’re doing, how awesome their lives are, what cool shit they’re up to, instead of being fully immersed in the event that’s unfolding in front of them. Cell phones have replaced lighters during live slow jams and there’s an underlying and ever-present digital filter that we live our lives through – a digital extension of our selves that make us not only live our lives, but feel the need put it on public display to enhance our virtual identities.
Personally, I’m not a fan of our increasing dependence on technology, which seems to have grown exponentially in the past 5 or so years. Yet, I’m aware that I am completely dependent on it. I couldn’t live the life I’m living now if it all were to vanish tomorrow. So while it’s easy to curse and see the downside of the role technology plays in our lives (and for us musicians, our music) it’s very much present and it’s not going to go anywhere. You’re putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t accept it, and if you’re a musician, not having a thorough knowledge of current music technologies can be a setback.
No wonder why we want to blame technology for the dissolution of the traditional music business. Technology is a sign of change, but it’s also a sign of potential danger. We’ve seen it open windows, exposing us to more music than ever before, but we’ve seen hard working musicians lose money due to online music piracy. Advancing technology, in and out of the music world, can be both a blessing and a curse.
Thus, it’s hard to convince a lot of musicians why current technology will have a generally positive impact when incorporated into music, and when non-electronic musicians decide to involve those inorganic elements, well, people get an uncomfortable bunching of the panties.
When a teaser trailer for Muse’s upcoming album revealed a dubstep-like track, I was dubious concerning whether or not Muse was actually going to be incorporating dubstep on their upcoming record, "The 2nd Law"; I kind of thought they were trolling a bit. But it turns out that not only is the band really going to be dedicating full album tracks to the currently popular mainstream style, but they cite inspiration from none other than Skrillex.
On one hand, you could view this decision as Muse cashing in on a current popular trend to grow even bigger in stature, and by doing so, they lose artistic credibility. In the same vein as Korn collaborating with Skrillex, it knocks them down a few cool pegs to many people in the UG community. Rightly so, I’ll say. For the most part.
But I don’t think I’m entirely sold on that idea in this case; Muse conveys that because laptops take place of guitars within this style of music, the band aims to challenge the particular genre to see if real instruments can compete with the sonic drive of dubstep. This is a sentiment I can get behind. Why? Because Muse has always been about incorporating a variety of genres into its music and the band seems thirsty for a challenge. Who knows if it’ll work? It could very well suck more than "Lulu", but the fact that the band wants to challenge themselves and try new things means they aren’t hacks that are simply rehashing the tried-and-true formula that made them successful.
Just like classic rock bands started experimenting with new technologies as they came out in the 70s – hell, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin used the Mellotron, Pink Floyd jumped in on the Moog synthesizer – it’s that element of experimentation and progression that signifies that an artist has the creative juices flowing.
For the purists out there - check out this video in which Pink Floyd explains how the second track on "Dark Side Of The Moon", "On The Run", was created after experimenting with a synthesizer – a perfect example of how incorporating electronic elements can create fresh, unique musical awesomeness.
Welcome! You've Got Dubstep
But just when I think, "hey, maybe EDM isn’t that bad", I’m reminded of the many, many ridiculous aspects to the music.
Evidenced in this YouTube video in which a user created a dubstep-eqsue track using nothing but old school Internet dial-up modem tones, it’s easy to view this "music" as entirely absurd. When you see it this way, it hits home the whole idea that electronic music can be devoid of emotion and the human element. Programmed. Artificial... sounds like the soundtrack to robotic pornography. Bah!
Anyway, I’ll close out this whole EDM business with some insightful guest commentary from a more credible viewpoint on the current EDM scene; complements of my quietly brilliant little brother, Nate, I think his views sum up a lot of our sentiments toward electronic music:
"It's mostly very similar sh-t out there attempting to evoke the same 'get f--ked up and party your a-s off' vibe, although many will argue that it's a lot more. A lot of my friends are really into it and a few produce. Certain songs and the buildups and 'drops' bring out that euphoria, which is different than that felt in other types of music and ideal for many when partying or for dancing. I frankly don't get a lot of it nor understand why the EDM scene is so prevalent. These newer genres are more popular than trance and house because of constant evolving production technology and the ability to produce different sounds that appeal to younger crowds...
...I'm not hating on the genre. I listen to this music all the time. My roommate produces it and my friends play it all the time. I've heard Wolfgang Gardner hundreds of times. I even went to a Skrillex show last year (I was drunk and got a free ticket); however, I just don't see why I should sh-t my pants over some guy/guys that made a few tracks months ago and then tour the world by pressing play at the venue, maybe twisting a few knobs and transitioning their songs to a light show. I can listen to this music and many times enjoy it and I understand that it's hard to make, but my appreciation towards music is devoted elsewhere."
Well-said, little bro.
Pick of the Week: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – "Whipped Cream And Other Delights" (1965)
Because this is an abnormally long post, I’ll keep the Pick of the Week short and sweet. While this record may be strange to some of you, it moves completely 180 degrees away from anything electronic and into something completely organic.
Okay, so the key elements to this record: infectious and memorable melodies, brilliant arrangements, plenty of understated musical lines and a general catchiness that encourages multiple listens.
Although the guitar work on the album mainly consists of background strumming and a few lead lines on a bright nylon-stringed acoustic, the shining features on this record are Herb Alpert’s trumpet performances and the prominently featured, brilliant melodies.
For a cool challenge, try learning a few of the trumpet lines on your guitar by ear – good tracks include "Ladyfingers", "Whipped Cream", "A Taste Of Honey", and "Bittersweet Samba". Pay attention to the phrasing and dynamics and even play with your tone to capture a trumpet-like sound. If you want to write catchy melodies, here’s a great example.
But if hearing happy-go-lucky, melodic, Mexican-ish music doesn’t tickle your fancy, just look at the suggestive album cover. She’s hot... but maybe dead now. I’ll have to Google that...
On The Next It's The End Of The Week As We Know It:
In celebration of Mick Jagger’s 69th birthday, Jagger, Keith Richards, Jack White, Kid Rock and five Taiwanese strippers reserve a table for nine at Chuck E Cheese. Mayhem ensues.