Matthew Adell’s EMC Conference Keynote Speech Gets It Half Right


Six weeks ago, a plethora of major power players in the electronic music culture (EMC) industry converged upon New South Wales, Australia for the Electronic Music Conference. Recently, footage from the event – including a 40-minute keynote presentation by Beatport founder Matthew Adell – had been released. Described as a discussion of the “apprehension and the opportunities that come next, demonstrating how the evolution of dance music can continue to change the lives of many millions more,” it’s a wonderful speech given by an engaging speaker who effectively demonstrates his knowledge of the new landscape. However, insofar as effectively understanding just how dance music can “change the lives of many millions more” is where it falls short. In discussing the quasi-religious EMC movement, he forgets that as much as you can build a church (and even have the organist play the best music), it’s in creating sounds that invite all people into the space to connect in the church that truly makes the difference. In appearing to de-emphasize the unique humanity in having music connect to your experience in lieu of pushing the notion of the music itself and its effect on the people (simply broken down as audiology > psychology) it provided only half of the picture of defining how EMC will have its most lasting influence.

“I’m an old person, so I still call this ‘EDM,’” Addell said during his speech. “But honestly, I don’t give a shit if you want to call it ‘bacon.’” As well, he asks, “who has had a transcendental moment in front of a speaker that has changed [their] life? That’s why we’re fucking here.” As well, there’s the statement that as a fan of EDM (or ‘bacon’) that he only cares about “what comes out of the speaker.” Given that all three of these messages are in the same speech, we can address their contradictory messages and furthermore, attempt to gain some semblance of a clear vision of where dance music is headed in the future. In these statements arguably showing a) a devil-may-care attitude and b) a disconnect between people and music, there’s arguably very little worth in areas of his speech regarding a future wherein EDM is creating a global church wherein all can feel the fellowship of being one nation under a groove.

Earlier in his monologue, Adell recounts a story of being a white guy “with dreadlocks at the time,” checking out a party on the South side of his hometown of Chicago, Illinois filled with “black people [dressed] in their Sunday best. As well, he notes that the history of dance music in America involves a significant amount of black people making music in America that becomes popular in Europe, then travels back across the Atlantic Ocean to become enormously popular in the (non-black) mainstream. While yes, there’s a wonderful naivete to the sense that the sound coming “out of the speaker” erases a sense of rich, poor, white, black, brown, red, and yellow in the room, but what Adell does forget is that if you don’t enter that room pre-disposed to the idea that racial, social, and cultural unity is something that needs to be an immediate American goal, that the idea of either a) seeing a dreadlocked white guy in UFO rave pants or b) seeing a room full of black people in suits and dresses dancing to progressive Euro-house and American new wave is not a reason to be “fucking here,” but a reason to “fucking leave.” In conveniently forgetting that many live in a racial, cultural, and social reality forged by centuries of separation, what Adell’s speech does not advance is the idea that grooves need to be pushed on a mainstream level that will create points of synergy for everyone to achieve the communal unity that EMC ideally demands.

As well, his support of DJs “only playing the Beatport Top 10″ is intriguing, too. When one considers the idea that the Beatport Top 10 typically errs toward hard electro, trance, and progressive house, that means that there’s a lot of people who will be standing around outside of the church of EMC wondering exactly when they’re going to hear the sound that invites them through the doors. It’s an entirely arguable point that music has little to do with sounds, but rather how the sounds personally connect with the listener. Thus, the idea of championing the idea of pushing a limited spectrum of sounds to people is inherently flawed. In the latter half of Adell’s speech, he talks about the “fellowship” of hearing a Tiesto set. However, what about people who would hear this set and it would mean absolutely nothing? Making a bolder statement acknowledging those whose tastes exist (and deserve to thrive) outside of a limited spectrum of sounds would have gone far in giving Adell’s fellowship a far reaching appeal.

If you’re okay with eating cake batter out of the bowl or dining on wedding cakes without icing, then Matthew Adell’s speech is metaphorically tailored to your tastes. In being driven by his personal experiences, it’s incredibly eye-opening. However, in Adell being at the forefront of a church that’s growing with less-than-aware members seeking “fellowship,” it falls short in being a galvanizing presentation identifying what the future will be, and ultimately how the world will benefit. It’s entirely possible that this was not Adell’s intention, but it ideally should have been. With the spotlight of the world shining on what was once happening in dark warehouses in Chicago, he likely needed to shine bolder and brighter to a currently very intrigued universe. Again, it’s not so much in hearing the music – but in people and how they can uniquely respond to what they hear, and how it both applies to their experience and effectively creates a gateway to a new reality – that will define the future.

  • seth

    think you took a few of his quotes entirely out of context here and exaggerated the intent of them