“Music is the emotional life of most people” – Leonard Cohen
It was the year 2009 when I had the first sleepover with my friends. We had started late in the evening and went on till early morning. Throughout the 10 hours we had spent, we listened to a variety of music ranging from Green Day to Lucky Ali, Floyd to Rahman and Cobain to Euphoria. We all had different taste in music. Yes, we listened to Altaf Raja as well, early in the morning.
Fast forwarding to 2016, in all the sleepovers that I have had with my friends in the recent months, the only music that I have been listening to is Electronic Dance Music (EDM). Today, inarguably, the most popular genre of music in the entire world is EDM.
EDM is an amalgamation of techno, house, trance, hardstyle, drum and bass, dubstep, metal house, trap, jersey club and their respective subgenres. It’s not the ‘E’ or the ‘M’ that people are interested in, it’s the ‘D’. The dancing element of electronic dance music is what makes the genre so prevalent. It is said that disco died on July 12, 1979, when rock fans gathered in thousands in Chicago to burn and explode numerous disco records. Nothing so histrionic has happened with EDM though, but the drop in interest for other genres is unquestionable.
As record sales for rock and pop, musicians have reached an all-time low all over the world, tickets for concerts and festivals are the main source of revenue for almost all artists now. EDM happens to be a genre that specifically demands live attention, hence, its popularity has ballooned in the past decade with DJs like Calvin Harris, David Guetta and Tiësto, leading the pack. From festivals to radio airplay, social media and even collaborating with A-list musicians like Madonna, EDM artists are getting a lot of attention and since pop music now frequently features them, EDM has become the new pop.
Thanks to Sunburn which started in 2007, India today feels at home with names like Avicii, Dash Berlin, Armin Van Buuren and many more. The new economy and the exploding night-life, with Indian minds turning comfortable in their own skin, has helped EDM become a part of the Indian psyche. No wonder why Swedish House Mafia sold 18,000 tickets in Mumbai though they were priced at a premium of Rs 4000. Of the coveted world’s Top 100 DJs list released annually by UK-based magazine DJ Mag, at least 60 have played in India over the past three years.
However, India is no stranger to electronic music. Music composers like RD Burman had begun dabbling with electronic music gear as early as 1977. “Dhanno Ki Aankhon Mein” is the first Hindi film song that featured flanger machine effects, which Burman picked up on a visit to the States. Not to mention Bappi Lahiri who brought in the ‘disco’ music in Bollywood in the 1980s.
From leading the charge of experimentation in the ’80s by introducing the sounds of disco to bluntly copy-pasting the EDM formula on Hindi film tunes today by music producers like Honey Singh, Badshah and Pritam, Bollywood has been quick to acquire the new wave of electronic music.
Perhaps India’s EDM moment came with the Bass Rani album launched by the Delhi-based artist Nucleya last year. His signature Indian street sounds and pop-culture references with slabs of raw bass has hinted to a new future of EDM in India.
But all said and done, what happens to music as a whole? People say that this is the digital age and technology has taken over music. But are we really progressing at the time when music stores are getting bankrupted?
Although being a Rock music fan, I basically prefer listening to music where real instruments have been used. Starting from the Bird to Led Zep, Clapton to Guetta, I respect all of them for what they have achieved. But if I were to judge, I would never go with the DJ.
Most of the EDM songs follow the same format. Artists ratcheting up musical tension in anticipation of the ‘bass drop,’ where the structure of the song changes and heavy distortion blasts through. EDM music tends to become monotonous after a certain time frame. The only artist I like in these musicians is Avicii, who mixes good vocals with badass electronica and bluegrass folk.
Be it Coldplay or Cohen, Dylan or Beatles, their songs have deep and meaningful lyrics. The last famous EDM song I heard that had good lyrics was “Don’t you worry child”. Well, I am not comparing, though.
Yet, the huge craze around EDM never dies. Our culture has changed dramatically focusing on partying and raves. Due to the level of competition starting right from the school level, kids are sent for IIT tuitions since the sixth standard. Today, Mtech or an MBA degree after a Btech is a must to survive in the market. Summer breaks have become the period when students opt for internships in order to add more value to their resumes. The notion of a 9-5 job is archaic now. People prefer to stay back in office for getting an early appraisal. In this fast moving and competitive society, there is hardly any time to stop, listen and appreciate the likes of Steve Vai, Dream Theater or Lennon. People are more interested in going to a night club during the weekends and forgetting all the work pressure momentarily and partying. No party qualifies as ‘great’ unless it comprises ‘dance’. And what better music to dance to than the EDM which sets the mood and helps to live up to the maximum.
I am not against this genre of music, but I feel that in a generation of live parties with psychedelic laser shows, we will never witness a Beyonce duet with a blind fan from the crowd again. Fans clapping along in complete unison to songs like “We will Rock You” and “Radio Gaga” with Queen at Wembley Stadium will become a thing of the past. Frontmen like Eddie Vedder diving onto the crowd from a huge height will become unnatural to come across.
“Rock and roll can never die,” Neil Young claimed in 1978. Six years later, James Cameron released The Terminator, where it showed a future where machines nearly wiped out mankind. There might come a time when machines will wipe out all musical instruments.
However, there is no need to justify electronic music, by comparing it to other types of music. Sound design, DJing, sequencing, drum programming, turntablism are also art forms in and of themselves. Nevertheless, if given a choice, I still would prefer an Agnee performance like the one in my school fest or a Cactus Performance in Jadavpur University over today’s DJ nights.
As a conclusion, I would want to paraphrase Steven Wilson by saying, “I’d rather hear Dave Gilmour playing one note and break my heart, than hearing Guetta pushing 300 buttons and not touch me in any way at all.”