Are you man enough, big and bad enough? / Are you gonna let them shoot you down? / When the evil flies and your brother cries / Are you gonna be around? / Someone needs a friend, just around the bend / Don’t ya think you should be there? / Are you man enough when the going’s rough? / Is it in your heart to care?
“I know nothing about EDM,” Sillerman admits from his Manhattan office suite, which looks out over a bustling Broadway. “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.
“But I sit in the meetings, to the extent that they are [meetings]. I meet the people whose places we’re buying. And I haven’t a fucking clue what they do or what they’re talking about. Not a clue. And I love it. I just love it.”
You never spend clean money on a dirty dame…
In 1973, the Four Tops released “Are You Man Enough,” a track for the soundtrack to now lightly-regarded blaxploitation film Shaft in Africa. Hitting #2 on the Billboard R&B charts and #15 on the American Billboard Hot 100, its longer shelf life as a favorite selection for early disco DJs and breakdancers being its greatest place in the annals of music history. However, in its lyrical content, the early dance classic asks questions that Robert FX Sillerman – the chair of soon-to-be dominant EDM live event and lifestyle marketing brand SFX – must be asked in regards to his intentions in becoming the most dominant name in the fully mainstreamed electronic dance music? If Sillerman can answer the questions posed 40 years ago by the Four Tops in a manner agreeable to the guiding tenets of the scene, lifestyle and culture that he plans to inhabit, then he is more than adequately prepared for being in the lead of dance’s wild new reality. However (as many suppose), in seeming to lack the prerequisite character traits and branding goals of peace, love, unity and respect, he may indeed be man enough, but absolutely the wrong man at the wrong time.
Foremost, the notion that Robert Sillmerman wants to buy into dance music – as well as make his company publicly traded - in 2013 is arguably a terrible idea. It’s a case of a very wealthy man unable to see the forest in spite of some very tall (and very green) trees. A well-studied financier would advise that while dance shows growth as a market, that if you study the industry itself, that its volatile and in a period of tremendous flux.
The internet has destroyed the concept of “genre,” thus destroying the notions by which stars were traditionally made in the industry, and also causing strange new moments with unknown mainstream potential growth for dance as a whole. Avicii’s True is a record inspired by country music. Flosstradamus‘ blend of rap-friendly trap music invaded the once peaceful trance and balearic-vibe friendly “white isle” of Ibiza this summer. Zedd’s making top 40 pop music that best appeals to teenage girls who just three years ago loved Justin Bieber and wearing rubber bands on their braces. As well, the underground is littered with music from red, brown, black, and yellow people who, for the purposes of the America that Robert Sillerman inhabits, always finds a white person to recreate them. To that point, yes, America’s post-racial, but it’s not post-ignorant (as Miley Cyrus sticks out her tongue and twerks into the room). These are all potentially problematic notions for the forthcoming Sillerman empire that need to be, and possibly may not be addressed.
As well, Robert Sillerman’s bringing clean money to a VERY dirty game. Asking if he’s man enough to be the face of dance music when for as much of the culture is mainstream, that there’s still one-off parties, underground raves, parties and festivals that will fall outside of his company’s purview is a great question. Yeah, handling the Electric Zoo tragedy would’ve been easy for SFX. However, what about the college rave at U Mass-Amherst and party in Manchester, NH that were cancelled recently due to “Molly” fears? What about when having to care about the “public health risks” and “inherently dangerous ‘underground’ allure” attached to rave culture affect a company’s bottom line? What about the blatant sexism recently displayed on Spinnin’ Records’ Twitter account? What about if/when public anti-drug unrest causes a public backlash against “EDM?” What happens to Beatport, the dance track purchasing portal that SFX now owns, if fewer mainstream people than before want to buy dance tracks?
It’s an entirely arguable point that EDM as a culture best exists in the ether and the dark corners, and that placing dudes in slick suits as the managers of corners that they don’t understand sets a potentially dangerous standard. In what one not intrinsically knowing being something that one cannot ever fully understand, SFX exposing dance’s dark corners to the light – especially in this era – is a most troublesome idea.
Sillerman has again, already admitted that he knows nothing. Maybe would be man enough if he appointed the right people to the right positions. Yes, he’s buying out the right people at the top, but if you’re going to work in and around dance culture, it’s the people at the bottom – the retired DJs, the club owners, the scenesters and journalists who push and cover the culture, who truly matter. Those with a stake that is not financial first in the sustainability and development of the culture should have already been identified, hired and been placed in the front lines of the Sillerman EDM army. Those who are fans with the added benefit of intellect, pride and the…wait for it…respect of the culture itself should be more actively involved. If Sillerman wants to invest in an out-of-control industry, being armed with a team of people who understand not just what is happening – but what will or can happen – is important.
In being equipped with the invisible hands that guide the development of EDM as a culture, he would be able to best handle the worst of his problems – drugs. Working with DanceSafe is a wonderful notion, and the company should be involved. However, keeping partiers safe is a bigger issue than just making sure that they’re not popping tainted molly. This is where the peace, love, and unity come into play. In working with people who have a history of advocating for, and excelling in the development of strategies for peace, love, and unity in dance culture, maybe there’s a way to set a culture of safe, yet spectacular in place for dance’s future. An investor in a suit who’s never seen kids in a cuddle puddle, or can’t really understand what happens when you’re 18 and hear Mayhem and Antiserum’s “Brick Squad Anthem” for the first time can’t begin to understand just how those situations occur because of, or are amplified by the use of foreign substances. In fighting not just these – but all of the various stigmas affecting dance-at-present – it’s the acts of a both well-armed and well-informed militia that will win the war.
Ultimately, we’re left with the main question from before. Is Robert Sillerman – while unwisely “spending clean money on a dirty dame” – man enough to see EDM through its brightest, yet strangest hour? Or, in truly knowing nothing about peace, love, unity and respect is he cataclysmic step away from his ignorance being his downfall? One thing to remember is that those who forget (or don’t know) the past are doomed to repeat it.