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Delia Derbyshire To Deadmau5 In 39 Steps? Why EMI Are Wrong
Rory Gibb , June 27th, 2012 11:41

Want a vision of electronic music's future? Imagine crap trance riffs and recycled one note basslines stomping on a human face, for ever.

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"Is guitar music dead?", asked the Guardian music community yesterday, recycling for the umpteenth time the age-old dichotomy that journalists seem to love to impose upon the worlds of rock and dance. A thoroughly redundant question to ask at this point, certainly, but on one level at least its underlying sentiment has a point: electronic music seems to be worming its grubby way everywhere at the moment, with a host of synthetic variations lapping their way right to the shores of the mainstream.

Some are excellent, some markedly less so. It was heartening last year to witness the success of Katy B's On A Mission album, a smart and witty synthesis of the last fifteen years of UK urban and underground dance music. On British shores, varying strains of two-step informed indie have emerged in the wake of dubstep (well, in the wake of Burial, let's be honest), making for a refreshing - if already formulaic - alternative to 'Peter' Doherty's snide and narcissistic urchin indie and Later... style weepy balladry.

Elsewhere, though, the hoovering up and spitting out of ten year old trance riffs and massive, bolshy builds has been tearing the fabric of pop and R&B to pieces and making merry in a total vacuum of meaning or emotion, in a tendency Dan Barrow identified last year as 'The Soar.' That appears to have reached its nadir in the unprecedented rise, in the States, of what people are referring to as 'EDM': Electronic Dance Music as shorthand for Skrillex's grotesque, splattery dubstep, the predictable stadium electro-house of Deadmau5 and the knuckleheaded lumberings of the (thankfully now disbanded) Swedish House Mafia. It's something that veteran electronic music journalist Philip Sherburne has been covering in some detail in his column over at SPIN, an archive well worth reading through for coverage of what's turning into an increasingly global phenomenon.

These are clearly the thought patterns that lie behind EMI Music's launch of their Electrospective campaign last week, accompanied by a statistic from their consumer research department that "dance/electronic music [is] the third most popular music genre globally, with particularly high interest among 16-34 year olds". From now until November, EMI will be running a multimedia campaign "celebrating the development of electronic music since 1958 and the earliest days of technological innovation at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop", via a double CD compilation, promotion of classic albums, a round table discussion event in London, competitions, articles, et al.

The Electrospective website has already launched, and features a chronological list of what it deems to be key albums and events along the way, from the forming and debut release of German pioneers Can, through the development of the Moog synthesiser, to classic records from Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Frankie Knuckles and so forth up to 2012. Given the proliferation of easy-to-acquire music software and an attendant explosion in the number of people producing and releasing electronic music, or at least using minimal means to maximal effect, it seems a reasonable enough time to take stock of where the development of synthesised sound has taken humankind by the year 2012. The inclusion of pundits like Mute boss Daniel Miller and Detroit/Berlin techno minimalist Richie Hawtin lends the project extra weight, as does the inclusion of the body-battering likes of Nitzer Ebb, and those, like Yazoo and Duran Duran, who skillfully straddled the worlds of pop and experimental music.

One question worth asking off the bat, though, is whether the idea of encapsulating nearly half a century's worth of technical and compositional innovation in the space of a double CD and a slick marketing campaign is fundamentally flawed. Certainly the use of the term 'genre' here as an attachment to the label 'electronic/dance music' sets off warning alarms; with a term so broad now as to be functionally useless, where will Electrospective's curators decide the boundaries be drawn? The gaping holes in the compilation's tracklist speak for themselves. Although the project's stated remit is broad to the point where The Beastie Boys can rub shoulders with Paul Oakenfold and Jean Michel Jarre, and its aim is to "[bring] together the key moments in the development of electronic music", from the 90s onward its worldview noticeably narrows, and in the wake of the Chemical Brothers' stadium dance descends into an increasingly insipid series of chart-bothering megahits: Moby's Play; Daft Punk's live album and Tron soundtrack; David Guetta.

The problem is partly inherent to the subject matter, of course: how could one single list possibly hope to represent so many different narrative strands? But the real issue with this timeline - and the tracklist of the CD that it extends to - is that it presents electronic music since the mid-90s as a monoculture, a single lineage which has supposedly reached its pinnacle thus far with the glassy eyed, vaguely misogynistic rock star antics of Swedish House Mafia. For anyone with even a passing interest in electronic music in the last ten years, the idea is so ridiculous as to be laughable. It's like defying commonly accepted laws of physics by watching evolution unfold in reverse. Or, indeed, like using the term 'guitar music' to encapsulate every different form that's ever incorporated a six-string player, then suggesting that its best representatives from the past decade were Kings of Leon, or Mumford & Sons, or Kasabian.

For younger listeners having a quick listen through Electrospective, it's as though entire past two decades of UK hardcore continuum music might never have happened at all: the rave movement of the late 80s/early 90s is only hinted at in the bristly percussion of Future Sound of London's 'Lifeforms'; jungle, still the most extreme and futuristic form of dance music ever to move a club crowd, doesn't appear at all, save as a ghost in the fluid drum & bass of Adam F's 'Circles'. Similarly, UK garage and 2-step, grime, dubstep, funky - all are notable by their absence.

Although it's never made explicit, and though it's not like earlier inclusions like the late, great Fad Gadget were ever particularly commercially successful, the list admittedly seems to focus more intently on the moments when electronic music seeded in the underground made inroads into the mainstream. That would explain why Chicago and Detroit's house and techno pioneers barely get a look in - save Kevin Saunderson's brilliant 'Big Fun' - even though their eventual descendants dominate the latter half of the list.

But even then, what makes Goldfrapp, The Beastie Boys and Gorillaz worthy of inclusion where Wiley, Missy Elliott and Timbaland are nowhere to be seen? In the 90s, Stateside R&B producers were infinitely more sonically and texturally innovative than the majority of people who would happily have labeled themselves 'electronica', and its influence has loomed large over club music since. Similarly, of all the music that emerged in the wake of UK garage, it was grime that hosted the most dramatic reinventions: Wiley's ice cold early instrumentals set the template for a brittle, alienated and future-shocked form of dance music whose inventiveness, wit and importance has been sadly downplayed thanks to media hyperbole and over-zealous police activity. If you're tracking the development of smart and uniquely British electronic pop music since the early days of Mute, Wiley's pairing with Dizzee Rascal on Boy In The Corner was a truer descendent to the caustic sounds of The Normal or Cabaret Voltaire than anything represented in post-millennial Electrospective. (A reminder: it also invaded charts and mainstream clubs, won a Mercury Prize and established Dizzee as a festival-headlining household name.)

For fans, critics and musicians alike, the appeal of electronic music over the past few decades has been in its breaking down of established boundaries. Technology is certainly one facet of that, something alluded to on Electrospective's timeline, which as well as the Radiophonic Workshop has included the likes of Beatport and ubiquitous performance software Ableton Live. But the opening up of technology to an increased number of people, and its implications for human interaction, have had revolutionary consequences in the past: disco and house was born in gay black communities and was catalysed by social injustice, poverty, oppression and illness; club culture took the rockist emphasis off the DJs and onto the crowd.

Combined with ecstasy - especially during the rave movement - that turned places of performance into open spaces where different strata of society were able to collide. That set of conditions enabled UK dance music to develop into the glorious, multi-limbed hydra we see today, whose roots and interests stretch from London to the US, Jamaica and Africa. Here, that vitality is boiled down to a list of acts accustomed to playing to audiences of tens of thousands, representing rigid and increasingly formulaic approaches to an already well-worn sound. Where did it all go wrong? Fuck it, just hit 'stop' halfway through the second disc and save yourself from having to worry about it.

There's nothing essentially wrong with the Electrospective project. Though it's clearly a neat way of drawing together the back catalogues of EMI, Mute and Virgin for some extra sales (via their online shop), there's no shortage of gems in their collective archive, incorporating a far wider variety of great artists than those included on the compilation. And don't get me wrong - crimes have been committed in the name of so-called 'intelligent' dance music, so the argument here isn't that there's any intrinsic problem with stadium electronic music or those who listen to it. But these later examples on the CD are inherently musically conservative, and to place them at the post-2000 end of this lineage is to misrepresent the open-minded approach of those that preceded them.

By painting the last few years as an evolutionary dead end, they do a disservice to the volumes of recent music that keeps the attitude of its forebears intact, and still manages to capture the interest of listeners well outside the confines of the underground. Instead of choosing Deadmau5's Random Album Title for 2008's nominee, for example - an album well summed up by its tossed off title - how about Portishead's Third, which pushed past the trio's 90s output into caustic and claustrophobic territory? Or perhaps better, The Bug's London Zoo, whose combination of bass weight, firestorm distortion, razor-sharp pop nous and biting social commentary on multicultural urban Britain has made it an acclaimed modern classic? Or for 2007, Burial's Untrue: nominated for the Mercury Prize, made the subject of an unmasking campaign by The Sun, and one of the best albums of last decade?

The list could continue ad infinitum; the last ten years deserve better than Guetta, Angello, Prydz and co, and if any casual listener were to extrapolate forward from that rabble, the view of what's to come would be grim indeed. A friend of mine is fond of paraphrasing Orwell's 1984 when talking about the proliferation of done-to-death drum machine facsimiles in current bass music, but it's as easy to do the same here. Want a vision of the future according to Electrospective? Imagine crap trance riffs and recycled one note basslines stomping on a human face, for ever.

Richard
Jun 27, 2012 4:18pm

Does Bleep's new compilation score higher?:

https://bleep.com/stream/a+guide+to+electronic+music

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Rich M
Jun 27, 2012 4:32pm

Given that you could fill two CDs just with different versions of the Doctor Who theme no compilation is going to be able to do the subject justice. The Bleep one is closer but I'm sure we could play Spot the Glaring Omission or Why the Bloody Hell James Blake until Aphex Twin releases a new album

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John Calvert
Jun 27, 2012 4:57pm

great read.

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Sam Hunter
Jun 27, 2012 5:35pm

It seems illogical that people want to categorise all electronic music as a kind of whole genre. It completely bypasses other genres such as soul, funk, reggae which arguably have had more influence on the later stages of EMI's list, than say the ambient work of Brian Eno. For example the rhythmic influence of the Amen break on jungle/ drum and bass. Musically it doesn't make much sense.

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Rooksby
Jun 27, 2012 6:25pm

For starters:

Can's early inclusion is rather spurious - Delay 1968 (which wasn't actually released until 1981 anyway) is essentially a jazz-rock record, surely?

Kraftwerk's experimental Philips/Vertigo recordings directly inspired Cabaret Voltaire's embryonic Attic Tapes, but Ralf & Florian don't appear in this chronology until 2 years later, circa Autobahn.

Nitzer Ebb, but no D.A.F.?

And everything listed after 2000 is b.o.l.l.o.c.k.s. anyway (& that includes James Murphy).

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Jun 27, 2012 6:26pm

In reply to Rooksby:

And where the fuck are Autechre?

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Simon G
Jun 27, 2012 6:59pm

Yes- where the fuck are Autechre? I'm glad not to be the only one who draws comparisons between Wiley and Cabaret Voltaire/The Normal. I spent ages jibbering at mates playing Eski/Mute 12"s B2B in hope of proving my theory. A good read.

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M
Jun 27, 2012 7:17pm

as you say, it's just a marketing campaign to sell their own products. it's not meant to be authoritative. it's not worth worrying about, let alone promoting (i didn't know about it until you wrote this)

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Micah Stupak
Jun 27, 2012 7:32pm

If they're gonna give us big room stadium "EDM", then, shit, give us the original stadium house. What Time Is Love, EMI?!

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Apop
Jun 27, 2012 7:49pm

Throw in a song or two from the Toronto scene from the last couple years and this article wouldn't be needed.

Also, Electronic Music since 1958 on 2 CDs? That's just 2 CDs you said? Moronic. Saw the tracklist, far too many omissions to discuss tho I believe Prodigy was the first band dubbed merely 'electronic' to have an album debut at #1. Seems a bit of an oversight. Don't even get me started on the Aphex omission.

Seems reasonably priced tho.

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Rooksby
Jun 27, 2012 9:15pm

In reply to M:

You have a point there - I'd not heard of it 'til I read this article either... (Hmmm)

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Minalst
Jun 28, 2012 12:53am

Just a bad selection of tracks of already available material glued together with a spurious 'concept' that attempts a narrative that isn't really there... another product that doesn't have to exist, just boring and irrelevant, avoid and ignore.

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Ben D
Jun 28, 2012 5:05am

Why aren't influential acts x, y, and z on said EMI compilation? Umm, because they aren't on EMI...

That said, obviously this wasn't and can't be done well as a rule. Mates justifying their salaries.

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samhmk7
Jun 28, 2012 7:59pm

Whoever wrote this is a twat. I can't be bothered to go into the reasons why, but to so brazenly and brainlessly disparage any talented producer who happens to have been met with a modicum of success ('the last ten years deserve better than Guetta, Angello, Prydz and co') just reeks of bitterness. Probably bitterness at how a new clubnight nearby is garnering proper attention and success while the author's mate's badly-organised, musically snobbish weekly continues to make losses. Or bitterness at still not making good enough music to get a record contract.

'I'm going to go on these rants on the internet, because I know I will never amount to anything and I need to make myself feel better. So when I'm not high on cocaine, I'm gonna sit in front of my computer till the cows come home, pouring shit on artists who are actually living out their dreams, 'cos I never will'--Deadmau5

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Johnny Nothing
Jun 28, 2012 11:36pm

There's about as much point in getting riled about this project as about any of those bloody "Dad Rock" or "Music For Running" type compilations. An utter irrelevance and anyone with any real interest will know where else to look.

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TheScienceLaw
Jun 29, 2012 8:14pm

Faith magazine's newest foreword goes into quite an amusing rant about how the new EDM thing seems determined to whitewash all the black and gay out of electronic dance music which I agree should not be happening. Also maybe showing a slight bias here but only a cursory mention to what Chicago and Detroit have contributed just stinks of wrong to me.

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Jem
Jun 30, 2012 12:49pm

In reply to samhmk7:

Your bum smells.

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ItsAllTechno
Jul 1, 2012 12:42am

Really, complaining about overbroad/underinclusive genre classifications is the "EDM" community's own fault. 99% of the rest of the world calls what you do 'techno' but you have to proliferate meaningless subgenre titles and insist that any succinct way to describe them in common is a hate crime.

Also, tl;dr.

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Jul 1, 2012 10:29pm

In reply to samhmk7:

wow. you've clearly never read anything by rory, or anything on the quietus, or anything, ever before.

and you must have missed this exceptionally reasonable paragraph:

"And don't get me wrong - crimes have been committed in the name of so-called 'intelligent' dance music, so the argument here isn't that there's any intrinsic problem with stadium electronic music or those who listen to it. But these later examples on the CD are inherently musically conservative, and to place them at the post-2000 end of this lineage is to misrepresent the open-minded approach of those that preceded them."

there's nothing wrong with stadium house especially - the point is that it doesn't represent any of the innovation and experimentation of what's on the first half of the CD.

all the music that carries the flame of that early experimentation appears to have been left off the compilation entirely - jungle, grime, 2step, dubstep, etc etc. swedish house mafia in 2012 is not really on the same pegging as I Feel Love in 1977, is it?

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Chal Ravens
Jul 1, 2012 10:29pm

In reply to samhmk7:

wow. you've clearly never read anything by rory, or anything on the quietus, or anything, ever before.

and you must have missed this exceptionally reasonable paragraph:

"And don't get me wrong - crimes have been committed in the name of so-called 'intelligent' dance music, so the argument here isn't that there's any intrinsic problem with stadium electronic music or those who listen to it. But these later examples on the CD are inherently musically conservative, and to place them at the post-2000 end of this lineage is to misrepresent the open-minded approach of those that preceded them."

there's nothing wrong with stadium house especially - the point is that it doesn't represent any of the innovation and experimentation of what's on the first half of the CD.

all the music that carries the flame of that early experimentation appears to have been left off the compilation entirely - jungle, grime, 2step, dubstep, etc etc. swedish house mafia in 2012 is not really on the same pegging as I Feel Love in 1977, is it?

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Lola
Jul 2, 2012 11:10am

In reply to samhmk7:

deadmau5 is regurgitated crap from the 00's - going by the stuff I've heard

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Lola
Jul 2, 2012 11:13am

In reply to ItsAllTechno:

Newbie.

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Paul Garrity
Jul 2, 2012 10:24pm

God, it's a major label compilation with a fair amount of decent stuff on it for a fiver! Chill out! Anybody who has an interest in electronic music will have most of this stuff and will know how to find the more underground music, anyway. If it introduces the curious to electronic music then surely that can only be a good thing?

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bgeeeeeeek
Jul 3, 2012 12:36pm

What was Kevin Saunderson's "brilliant" 'Big Love' as mentioned in the article?

Are you sure you don't mean Big Fun?

Oh dear. That track sounds as good today as it did then.

More important omissions are Afrika Bambaataa's Planet Rock and Looking for the Perfect Beat, Stakker Humanoid (Yes, FSoL are on the list), 808 State, Aphex Twin, etc.

I'm not sure I would agree that Jungle was particularly futuristic either - a progression from the UK rave scene.

This article seems to be flawed in the same way the list itself is flawed, too.

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Rob NYC
Jul 9, 2012 1:36am

In reply to Paul Garrity:

Hear hear. Brow beating a major for anything, especially attempting an explanatory foray into a genre with psychopathically devoted fans and tendrils spreading into infinity, seems a futile exercise. If someone can gain an appreciation for CAN from this, more power.

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boomer
Jul 15, 2012 10:48am

Phaedra, 1967? Not.

Can't believe you even wrote about this. It's a shameless PR drive by EMI as they attempt to profit from the EDM popularity surge in the US. Let a multinational survey the history of electronic music, and this is the result.

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echorich
Sep 29, 2012 3:20am

In reply to samhmk7:

'EDM" really? The fact that Electronic Dance Music is the name of a music genre just proves that it is a "genre" as broad and bland as the name.

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