International Music Summit Questions EDM Toned Down For the Masses

You can read an overview of IMS Asia-Pacific here or watch it here if written text intimidates you (why are you even reading this).

Held over an entire afternoon, IMS Asia-Pacific was surprisingly, more enlightening than expected. As far as industry and business-orientated forums went, the IMS was surprisingly willingly to engage in culturally related discourse. There wasn’t much room for depth – but it did cover a surprisingly large range of angles of topics concerning EDM. Everything from the drug use and artist royalties to the future of EDM in the Asia-Pacific region.

So let’s put down that champagne glass for a moment to talk seriously about dance music and it’s associated cultures.

Despite technically only standing for “Electronic Dance Music”, there are people who spit out the term “EDM” like bile in their mouths. These are surprisingly, the older people who love what would be generally termed “EDM” – people who worship bass and have spent large fractions of their lives existing in dark warehouses exposing themselves to strobe lights and the smell of redbull and cigarettes. To them, EDM stands for the homogenized hordes of under-thirty neo-ravers, shirtless D-bags and bleached-blonde barbie festival goers who crave ostentatious drops and cookie-cutter progressive house. Party-goers with zero patience and culture who sully their ideals of “dance music”.

Go to the comments section of any pre-2000 house track on Youtube and you’ll find people waxing lyrical on “old school is the best” and how all new dance music is “garbage”. It’s like people all forgot that Eurodance (i.e ahbeng techno) ever happened. Commercialization means further simplification to cater to even larger groups of people, which leads to an inevitable dilution of the culture and music.

Perhaps due to the large amounts of criticism and vitriol aimed at mainstream DJs who pre-mix their tracks or/and throw cake, many DJs have stepped in to comment on the dumbing-down of DJing and dance music culture.

Some, like EDM’s resident troll Deadmau5 and champion of the underground Seth Troxler constantly criticize the festival circuit and the mainstream, while others like Laidback Luke and IMS panelist Steve Angello are much more forgiving- believing that the widespread proliferation will in fact be good for EDM as it will eventually reach the people who will dig deeper and grow with the culture.

This has happened before – the trend we see now is the similar to the one that lead to Eurodance saturating the market in the late 90’s and early 2000’s as musical trends tend to be cyclical. The only reason why it has become such a big deal is because of the unprecedented worldwide popularity of dance music in the recent years. As with the ebb and flow, we will move away from this massive gamut of commercial blandness as the culture and industry matures – which was the general sentiment throughout the entire IMS.

I could be throwing out cliched keywords at this point – passion, heart, love, creativity (which was repeated rather often throughout the conference). Not that these things aren’t important, but what matters most is really compromise – the most avant garde, mind blowing sets and productions won’t matter if no one knows about them. Genius is known as such only if it’s recognized. In addition, at the end of the day – it’s still a business as the culture needs an industry to sustain itself. Zouk’s owner Lincoln Cheng admits that – that the main room is to draw in the crowds, while Velvet is to “educate”.

So where do we find the common ground? How do we ensure both growth and maturity?

The summit seems to be going in the right directions – supporting local acts, digging deeper into the culture and sustainability. Disparate topics, but a good balance.

Unlike its previous incarnations, today’s dance music culture seems to have taken a …healthier slant for lack of a better word. It is a major shift from the primarily underground, drug-centric eras of happy-hardcore ravers and acid house. Depending on who you ask, drugs have always been a major problem or the driving force behind dance music (as the saying goes – taking drugs to make music to take drugs to).

But this is dance music as experienced by the inexperienced. Because of the diminished association of new-EDM, the people who jump into the deep end of the pool sometimes end up drowning because no one told they that they needed to know how to swim. Despite the strict drug laws seen in the Asia-Pacific region, we are still not exempt from drug-related mishaps as shown from the 2014 Future Music Festival. Echoing sentiment from several Asian representatives during the summit – there needs to be education on the drug issue in addition to threat of punishment.

What needs to happen now is to give space for both the industry and culture to mature and grow – to educate and give those kids puking on themselves outside clubs the chance to maybe step out of their pop-house comfort zones and wander into the deeper and more culturally diverse aspects of EDM culture.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and not everyone has the age or chance to know what the Balearic beat or who DJ Shadow is. Give them a chance, because the kids are (possibly) alright.

Image credits: ZoukOut 2014 and IMS Asia-Pacific


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