The Electronic Dance Music (EDM) genre is at it’s most prominent stage ever right now, with more and more DJ’s reaching unparalleled heights as chart topping superstars, but are they going about it the right way?Acts such as The Chainsmokers and Marshmello are enjoying a vast array of success with their brand of trendy dance music with friendly radio airplay sounds, as can be seen by the charts over the past couple of years. These acts are global stars, with millions of adoring fans and a whole host of popular songs. We are already seeing these acts basically kiss goodbye to the idea of albums and full projects, instead opting for a barrage of singles to remain relevant in a highly competitive field of the music industry. The question I am asking here isn’t anything to do with their success because I’m in no position to criticise that, just look at the streams and money being made by these people; what I am exploring is the quality of the music, the craft itself as opposed to the superficial aspects of the business side of things.
Let’s start with the roots of the EDM genre, the flagbearers of this immensely popular style of music. German outfit Kraftwerk are without doubt the most influential of them all when it comes to important and influential dance music. They have critically acclaimed records and a huge repertoire of groovy dance anthems, filled with creativity and wacky hooks. Their level of influence over the years has known no bounds, with artists as colossal as David Bowie crediting Kraftwerk as major factors to their musical ventures. Albums such as The Man Machine and Trans-Europe Express stand the test of time as not only some of the best dance music of all time, but the best across all genres, showing innovation beyond many of their contemporaries.
Another EDM powerhouse is of course Daft Punk, who have gained universal acclaim in their near 20 years of musical service, producing Grammy award winning music and even helping modern artists along the way to stardom. Their work with The Weeknd on his 2016 album Starboy remains fresh in the memory, as does the sample of their huge hit Harder Better Faster Stronger for Kanye West’s monster hit Stronger in 2007. The French funk duo have reshaped the way you listen to music as a whole, ensuring us that artists do not have to stay in a lane to prosper. Discovery and Homework are staple projects of that era and the group’s 2014 return album Random Access Memories won the Best Album award at the Grammy Awards; true powerhouses of the musical sphere.
Another group I would like to take a look at is The Chemical Brothers, who have SIX number one albums to their name and a whole host of awards since forming in 1989. They are still going strong today but their true heyday came in the late 90s-early 00s era when such songs as Block Rockin’ Beats and Hey Boy Hey Girl were dominating the music scene, propelling the genre to whole new levels of fame alongside the likes of Daft Punk. As a group the Manchester based duo really pushed the envelope when it came to dance music and often explored more house elements than just big beat groove. In a city where guitar bands prospered (Oasis, The Stone Roses etc.) The Chemical Brothers were stand alone triumphs of their city.
These three are often considered as the main pioneers of the genre when it comes to influencing others and just standing tall at the top of their competitors. You also have a whole host of other names such as the legendary Aphex Twin and The Prodigy whose sounds defined a generation of happy hardcore and rave culture. Now ask yourself this, do The Chainsmokers or MK have that drive and that unique style to push this genre forward? Or are they in fact just riding a wave of popular culture and profiting on a fairly gullible system? I would have to side with the latter on this one because 90% of modern dance music, to me at least, sounds extremely similar. Sure you can have a dance when you’re drunk because they are easy listening but where are the icons of this generation? Those inspired by the greats that came before them to do something great for a genre which has an obvious gap in the market.
Speaking of riding waves, Calvin Harris has had an absolute rollercoaster ride since joining the music scene. His first couple of albums sold well with a blend of understated but trendy dance music, particularly songs like Flashback and The Girls. His third album 18 Months broke countless records in the charts and he did all of this without the need to sell his soul to the musical devil, he decided instead to do that with his next album which is some of the most overproduced dross you’ll hear. Even Calvin himself claims to hate it and felt “so uninspired” by it, so the fresh rebrand he has made for himself with 2017 album Funk Wav. Bounces Vol. 1 is amazing to see, someone who knows doing the music that you want to do is the most important thing.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, we do have some shining stars in the darkness of EDM music, the likes of Justice, Disclosure and Mura Masa come to mind with their incredible spirit and the ideas they bring to the table. We can only hope these acts can continue in their ventures to make EDM great again because at this moment in time, bands like LCD Soundsystem are making cooler and categorically better dance music than Marshmello ever could.
Will we ever see an EDM renaissance of sorts? Could the beacons of yesterday help guide the stars of tomorrow to force change in a fairly stale genre? Or will we be resigned to the likes of Tom Zanetti ruining such a magnificent forward thinking genre with their polar opposite morals? Only time will tell, but if the leaders of your genre are people who are only there to ride a wave, the signs hardly look great.