My interest in this subject was brought up again after watching the UK’s X-Factory winner James Arthur destroy his own career through his egotistic and insecure ramblings. His debut album went from the top of the iTunes chart and plummeted all the way down to 31. Of course, his own actions may have been a part of this but the fact that it was a bit shit wouldn’t have helped either.
But again, what has this got to do with EDM? Upon finishing the original article, I felt a pang of writer’s remorse after I realised I didn’t go as far down the rabbit hole as I should have done. After vaguely looking at the success of Disclosure and Avicii, I concluded that while many pop artists are suffering, our EDM counterparts are in fact doing relatively well. But that should be a given obviously; you don’t need me to tell you that and it’s not like True and Settle were the only albums released in 2013. It’s been a big year and the next is set to be even bigger. But were there really EDM albums released in recent years that will stand the test of time? In 40 years time will we be bombarding our kids with Monstercat and MoS links via telepathic microchips in our heads? Telling them, “Oh no son, THIS is real music. Wait until you hear the drop in this one…”
It would be better to ask, if there is or will there be a merited EDM album?
It helps to even know what an album is. Some think that an album must have artistic merit or a theme. My favourite album is the debut from The Buggles: The Age Of Plastic. It’s a blistering debut that heralds the new age in pop music and was produced by Trevor Horn, the man that’s been credited as to ‘inventing the 80s’. The songs are inspired by classic sci-fi stories and the albums just drips with futurism. It’s a digital masterpiece from the dying age of analogue and I like that.
So you’d be forgiven for thinking that some albums do not fit that ‘artistic’ description and are a mere collection of ‘killers and fillers’. But even a successful album like Thriller, has themes running through it that helps keep it together. Although it sold millions, Thriller has social commentary and ghosts of paranoia running through even it’s more popular songs.
Now, I mentioned The Buggles because I wanted to. I mention Thriller because it has a parallel counterpart in EDM. Calvin Harris’ 18 Months, was not even one of the biggest EDM albums of all time but rather, one of the biggest albums in recent memory. It sold over 650,000 copies in the UK alone and, like Thriller, provided hit single after hit single. It’s reception from critics as an album however, was far from amazing:
“But for all the pop divas he has roped in, there’s a veneer of cynical, laddy EDM, resulting in the kind of tracks Skrillex might come up with on an Ayia Napa booze cruise. It’s sure to spawn even more singles than it already has, and that’s likely the primary intention.” The Guardian
That was written in 2012 and in the harshness of hindsight, maybe the author was right. But would that be a bad thing? Clearly this album was of merit or we wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. Or maybe that is a bad thing.
But it would be hard to nit-pick every single EDM album by it’s sales and reviews and bemoan whether the artist is looking to earn a quick buck. Matt Zo had a good album released this year. So did Feed Me and Chase & Status. But do they all contribute to the argument that the album is a dying art form? By taking a more grassroots approach, it appears that things do not bode well for EDM:
#3 Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
#11 Jon Hopkins – Immunity
#43 Darkside – Psychic
#59 The Field – Cupid’s Head
#81 James Holden – The Inheritors
Now that, was a list extracted from the Top 100 albums of 2013 as selected by the Rate Your Music users. The ones I picked out, are the only albums considered to have electronic tendencies, bar a few more labeled ‘electronic’. However, none would be considered EDM. In fact, to find an EDM album you will have to scroll all the way down to #288, to the brothers Disclosure. Of course it never helps to seek counsel from people on the internet but it’s unsettling (sorry Disclosure) that we don’t see any EDM albums, let alone masterpieces. Even Daft Punk let us down and failed to impress. But this is THE age of EDM, so is there an album to go with it? Where is our Revolver or our Nevermind? Is there a reason that we would never get an album of that quality, that would spearhead this movement?
In a recent DJ mag feature, several producers were put to explaining the horrific paradox that faces almost every single DJ out there. If you want to make a living producing music, you’re running a fool’s errand. You are going to have to spend endless days travelling and performing as a DJ to support yourself. If you want to be a successful DJ, you’ll have to spend endless days trying to produce a great song that will get you booked, a song that clubland would want to see you perform.
“When you become a DJ, you are no longer on a 9-5 work day; where you can schedule time to work on music and time to spend on with family. You’re travelling to and from gigs, on planes, trains and in hotels – this will take up the majority of your life.” (Dennis Ferrer, DJ Mag, Issue 526)
This happened of course after the industry changed seemingly overnight. Producers realised that their tracks were being downloaded on the fly on MediaFire. DJs realised no-one gave a toss about you unless you had a Beatport hit or a large Twitter following. A dangerous balancing act has been created and perhaps not only the album art form will suffer, but the art of DJ-ing as well:
“With technology the way it is today, people think they can just run out and buy Traktor and use sync for two hours and that will make them a good DJ.” (Huxley, DJ Mag, Issue 526)
So. What would you do? Hire a ghost-producer and unleash a lethal DJ set upon your adoring fans? Or hone the perfect track (or album) and get yourself Traktor and hope for the best? The industry has changed and as always, it’s survival of the fittest. The issue here is clearly time and some DJs have been able to produce amazing tracks and EPs over the past few years. Through clever marketing and shrewd self-promotion (another curse of the new age) there have been countless success stories and more will follow.
But what about the music? Will EDM finally unleash it’s creative powers? Or will there be Beatport hit after Beatport hit? As I said before, 2013 was a big year. 2014 and beyond… Will be even bigger.
“You go and shout from the mountaintop loud enough to be heard and eventually someone will yell back, ‘What the fuck do you want?’ The magic is in how to keep the conversation going…” (Dennis Ferrer.)