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Electronica v dance music

November 12, 2012

A few days back, Generation Bass blog posted an interesting video interview with electronica legend Derrick May: EDM – THE REAL FAKE BS GENRE = ELOQUENT DUMB MUTHA’F’S – DERRICK MAY
Have a look. About seven minutes in, he goes off on one about the term EDM and the people using the term. Got me thinking about what we do in Broken Drum Records and whether we have any connection with dance music – or anything, really.

Yesterday, I was browing through my collection of ancient Straight No Chaser magazines and came across an interview with Jeff Mills in the Spring 2003 edition. Here’s a couple of the questions and his answers:

SNC: Do you still think there’s a gap between electronic music and dance music? Do people still believe all electronic music has to be dance?

Well I’ve been saying this for about a year now. I don’t know if anyone is listening but people are dancing less. They come to the parties, sure it’s crowded, but when you actually look at what they’re doing their movement is becoming less and less. And the DJ has to try and get reactions in different ways. I think that it’s follwing the same road as rock’n’roll. It started off as dance music and then gradually became something else.

SNC: Why do you think this is?
I dunno, techno seems to be pretty overwhelming, the lights, the music, the hours. I don’t know if people want to dance for eight hours any more. From a DJ perspective you see people and they’re just standing listening and taking it in. So I see it becoming like rock’n’roll now, with people just standing listening to the guitar, to the drums, etc. Maybe in the future most electronic music will be more listenable and less made for the dancefloors. I have to add that most people who buy electronic music , most people listen to it, and are not out in the night dancing.

Interesting! This , to me, raises a whole heap of questions.

  • Was he right and is it still that way?
  • Was it because listeners were getting older? Has the music reverted to being dance music since then? Has electronic music simply matured with its audience? (Is the term EDM part of that?)
  • Is there a place for both ways of making electronica?
  • Do we really acknowledge that most listeners to our music are not in clubs these days, but listening on their phones while walking or on the bus or train to work?
  • What are the implications for our music writing?
  • Is the situation different in different genres? Is the house music scene different from the dubstep scene? Are US and UK versions of the same genres different?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2012 11:02 am

    “Reaching back to grab the grooves of ’70s disco/funk and the gadgets of electronic composition, Electronica soon became a whole new entity in and of itself, spinning off new sounds and subgenres with no end in sight two decades down the pike. Its beginnings came in the post-disco environment of Chicago/New York and Detroit, the cities who spawned house and techno (respectively) during the 1980s. Later that decade, club-goers in Britain latched onto the fusion of mechanical and sensual, and returned the favor to hungry Americans with new styles like jungle/drum’n’bass and trip-hop. Though most all early electronica was danceable, by the beginning of the ’90s, producers were also making music for the headphones and chill-out areas as well, resulting in dozens of stylistic fusions like ambient-house, experimental techno, tech-house, electro-techno, etc. Typical for the many styles gathered under the umbrella was a focus on danceable grooves, very loose song structure (if any), and, in many producers, a relentless desire to find a new sound no matter how tepid the results.” source:

    In short, I don’t know why this is still being debated. Back in the 90s electronica was dance music (for the most part). Mostly straight-forward and danceable, very much tied up to rave culture. Now? Definitely not. How the hell does one dance to future garage, anyway?Electronica and its features have permeated into a wide range of foreign genres. And this is all right. Music moves forward; it evolves. It’s natural to expect it and how its experienced to change. As for me, I do enjoy the occasional all-nighter at a club, but I mostly consume my electronic music via headphones, laying back, eyes closed with a spliff in hand. Who knows, maybe I am indeed just getting older.

  2. November 14, 2012 11:35 am

    Thanks Oscar. I think that acknowledging that electronica isn’t tied to a dance beat is a very liberating thing for a music writer. The beat is no longer a tyrant but becomes something malleable and fun to play with.

    We’re still pondering the implications of the fact that most music is heard in earphones while people are going about their daily lives. Does that affect the way we might write tunes? It possibly should but I’m not sure how yet.

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