Maybe I’m alone in this belief, but soon I may not be the only one. There’s a certain inherent arrogance that has permeated the bottle service and big business realm of electronic dance music for quite some time. The stereotypes of seemingly vapid and socially ignorant people gleaming from spray-on tans and being just one liposuction away from their skin being torn asunder are based in reality. These are also the same people who are painted with the broad strokes of being considered rich assholes, the type of people who live for VIP, popping bottles, and the thrill of hearing music that for them will likely be here tonight and part of tomorrow’s wicked hangover. However, the negative side effects of said arrogance – an apparent acceptance of the inherent ills of EDM’s economy and the denigration of women – in two separate moments snatched from recent EDM headlines, may meet up with some possibly unexpected side effects that will lead to a need to practice humility, or face an eternal struggle.
The mainstreaming of EDM can be considered 2013′s quickest rising news story as everyone from Arcade Fire to Waka Flocka headed to the dance floor. However, it’s possible that 2014′s quickest rising story may involve EDM’s relationship to rising social justice concerns. Yes, as much as we may appreciate concepts like the RED campaign, the flippancy seemingly apparent in newly VERY wealthy Beatport CEO Matthew Addell stating that he does not “care what happens before the speaker. As a fan I only care what comes out of the speaker” regarding pre-recorded DJ sets is clear and present. As well, EDM becoming popular in America’s ultra-mainstream circles certainly can be argued can be linked to the rise of concerns regarding the lack of female DJs getting a fair shake in the industry. The United States’ history is intrinsically tied to social justice, as the plight of black, Native American, Latino, gay, and other marginalized races and cultures is arguably intrinsically more a part of the history of the US than of any other country. Whereas citizens of other nations have evolved to the point where they can view DJ Mag‘s recent “joke” regarding women DJs as benign, we as Americans are hard-wired as a people to rise up and fight. The interaction between DJ Mag and Do Androids Dance on Twitter regarding the issue was an intriguing study in this possible global cultural disconnect, and as America’s influence on the global dance market continues to rise, issues like these will be of a particular interest.
Raising issues of social justice as a concern in a culture that is should be so inherently social is strange, indeed. Moreover, the crowd of voices pushing for social change may need to accept the hard facts of what happens when the underground reaches the mainstream. Foremost, the obvious truth that “PLUR” is dead and gone must be considered. “PLUR” was applied to the happy hardcore scene and arguably should never be used in any way to describe the connection between people and dance in this generation. “PLUR” came from a culture that existed with raves often happening in fields and nightclubs where segregating practices involving velvet ropes and bottles with sparklers did not exist. Even on the underground (the place that birthed “PLUR”), the scene now has raised the DJ to a level of being more important than the event itself, any night at your favorite indie-favoring nightspot is certain to feature as much jostling for iPhone videos as breaking it down on the dance floor. Overall, these presented clear evidence that EDM is a culture driven by achieving disposable dreams and feeling fleeting euphoria – ’80s crack cocaine era notions updated for the millennial set instead of the story of unified community of people wanting to achieve social freedom through feeling vibes.
Thus, when we contemplate the ideal of achieving social justice goals in an era wherein EDM exists in a world that may not value who’s making the music, playing the music, or how the music is being played, it changes everything. Yes, Matthew Addell comes off like an enormous douchebag when he says that he doesn’t “care what happens before (the music plays from) the speaker.” But by comparison to his boss, SFX Chairman Robert Sillerman, he’s a sweetheart. Regarding EDM, Sillerman told Billboard: “I know nothing about EDM,”…“I really don’t. Of course, I’ve listened to it and I understand its appeal. It’s borderless, it’s free, it’s energetic, it’s a party, it’s a party in your mind-and I understand that.” As well, DJ Mag posts images that are demeaning to female DJs worldwide, but even more egregious continues to promote a yearly fan voted poll for the world’s best DJ that has withstood years of complaints surrounding possible voting fraud. Yes, while so many of us obviously care, the numbers of those who obviously don’t outnumber us in money, power, and influence. This sets up what would appear to be a forthcoming epic struggle for balance, understanding and respect.
It’s amazing to be writing this piece after the death of Nelson Mandela, a man who suffered immeasurably for his belief that “social equality is the basis of human happiness.” Insulting women and insulting the intelligence of a fan base that is in some cases digging very deep into shallow pockets to enjoy this fascinating music certainly don’t fit a stellar profile of socially responsible culture. However, as with all things inherently contentious and social, it’s probably apropos to look at this as the beginning of a struggle that will have a prolonged and provocative narrative.