2010. Man, what a huge year for house.
This past year was clearly monumental for EDM as a genre. Artists, DJs, and everyone else involved were busy year-round as the market for the music we all love grew larger and larger. Outside of its traditional grounds in foreign clubs, EDM was granted big exposure in the United States in 2010. Songs like We No Speak Americano, Stereo Love, Take Over Control, and Bulletproof all found major airtime on the largest radio stations. Swedish House Mafia performed at the American Music Awards. Deadmau5 was nominated for a Grammy and played at MTV’s VMAs, while David Guetta won his own Grammy. It’s safe to say that 2010 was the year where house officially made its way across the pond – in huge, panty-dropping fashion.
The influences of EDM have become both obvious and pervasive across genres. From rap artists like Chris Brown sampling Calvin Harris to Britney Spears’ new single with its dubstep drop or Enrique Iglesias using Afrojack-style sound in his hit ‘Tonight,’ the signature beats from the EDM world are making their way across boundaries into all mainstream music. For all of us longtime fans and house junkies, that’s pretty damn cool. I imagine this is probably how the founders of Google felt when they realized their invention was going to make them infinity dollars – all of the sudden, (American) EDM fans are thinking “man, life is about to get awesome; we’re going to take over the world.”
So what does this surge in the popularity of house music mean for the genre as a whole? Well, if ‘underground’ music forms going mainstream in the modern era follow patterns – and they do – there are some pretty good indicators of the direction that EDM is going to take. Namely, it shouldn’t be too long before we start seeing Tiesto on children’s lunchboxes.
Ok, so maybe that statement is a little hyperbolic. After all, house and electro are geared towards a more adult fanbase (though songs like Barbra Streisand could easily be nursery school favorites.) Within the age-range of potential house fans, only the real ragers can be counted on to become reliable listeners. EDM is a reflection of its associated lifestyle – a love of partying, living hard, fast and loud, unapologetic euphoria… That means that, for the most part, you won’t find your average indie-hippies, ghetto gangsters, or cowboys suddenly throwing down their old ways and lining up for the Electric Daisy Carnival. Still, 2010 showcased the versatility of house and its ability to cross into other genres. It’s very likely that the subset of adults who steadily listen to EDM will grow outside of the confines that currently limit it, much the same way rap evolved from a gangster-only fan base to a widespread cultural phenomenon and made its way into the headphones of middle-schoolers and old people.
I want to preface this by noting briefly that this is a distinctly American-centric perspective on EDM. Many DJs who may be famous globally are only recently making their mark on on the American charts, and it is still taking time for house music to make its way into clubs across the nation. My own exposure to house is similarly recent, like that of the US. I first learned what EDM was in 2003, when visiting a cousin in Serbia who DJed for a house radio station. Two years later, I saw Felix Da Housecat perform in front of over 100,000 people at the Exit festival in Novi Sad. It wasn’t until the last couple years however that, like so many new American fans, I became immersed in the genre. I note this to avoid confusing people with this editorial by implying that EDM is by any means a new genre; it isn’t – it’s been in clubs for well over a decade now. This article is more of a commentary on its recent ascendant exposure on a global, but especially American, level.
The one guarantee of the rise of house music is that the sounds of EDM will continue to evolve and change rapidly as artists deal with increased exposure, marketing, and interaction. Fans typically resist these movements, and not without reason. Though it’s exciting to hear Snoop Dogg and Pharell collaborate with big names in the electro world, this shift in sound compromises the ‘purer’ original sounds of house that remained unscathed because house music before the 2000’s didn’t have the kind of mainstream exposure it has now. This isn’t to say that house came out from the underground this year. EDM has been a global force across dancefloors and radio stations since the 1990’s. There is nothing new about the genre or about its popularity. What is new is that house music is starting to replace other genres – including the most stratospheric ones like rap and pop.
Fans are usually upset when their favorite musicians gain wide exposure, not only because it normally results in these artists changing or compromising their sound, but also because it cheapens the value of being a fan. One of my close friends, a longtime La Roux fan, is constantly irritated by people who just discovered her songs now because they get mainstream radio play. In the modern era of music, this didn’t happen as much in the early rock period (think pre-Beatles rock & roll or blues musicians) because the mainstream was everyone’s primary exposure to music. As such, at the start of ‘popular music’ in the post-World War II era, there were no underground fans or subgenres waiting to blow up – there was what the radio played, and people either liked it or they didn’t.
The 60’s marked a profound shift in the way music was exposed to larger and larger audiences. Suddenly, by 1969, the market for music was huge, festivals were cropping up in the developed world, and avidly following bands and musicians became incorporated into average peoples’ lifestyles. Still, the rejection of ‘mainstream’ as a cheapening of a band or genre did not become a common notion.
This idea that broad exposure harms music occurred much later with the punk scene, as music became a rejection of mainstream pop. The entire concept of punk rock, at its outset, was that the radio and record companies favored bands with empty populist sounds and messages. Punk took the idea of counterculture to the extreme – the music wasn’t only a message of its own, it was a blatant rejection of corporate rock and of the content of all mainstream music. Fans were defined by their espousal of underground bands and their distaste for ‘sellouts.’
But then something happened that would mark the trend in music for the modern era: punk became standardized. The Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Smiths, the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys… record companies slowly began to embrace the punk movement and buy up the acts, so that fans lost their claim of supporting an underground and independent movement. By the late 70’s and early 80’s, the counterculture had become the culture.
This same trend has been played out over and over again. Rap today no longer resembles rap of the 80’s or 90’s. The ubiquitous gangster rap of Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG is now almost nonexistent, replaced in the mainstream by club-friendly rappers who produce very different songs. The heavy metal movement of the 80s and grunge rock movement of the early 90s both followed similar trajectories. Independent artists would attract the attention of mainstream record labels, who in turn would market them to large audiences and somewhere in the process their sound and the purity of their content would be compromised.
Why is all this relevant? Because it is likely that EDM will follow the same path. Unlike rap, grunge, punk, and other genres, house music does not have an affiliate culture that rejects the mainstream. To the contrary, it seems that most house fans love the widespread nature of the genre and its popularity in the media. Seeing a local DJ sign with a big label or do a collaboration with a popular act is seen as a sign of accomplishment rather than a sign of compromise. EDM probably resembles disco more than any other genre, not just for its vitality and joie de vivre, but for its explosive ascendancy to the mainstream cheered on by its biggest fans, who want to see their brand of music become ubiquitous.
However, there are still gripes with the ascendance of EDM. SHM’s performance as a backup band to Usher, Will.I.Am’s attempt at DJing music festivals, Roger Sanchez adding Far East Movement to his singles… There have been many complaints from house fans that big-name DJs are taking the genre in the wrong direction in their pursuit of becoming mainstream. Just as with so many music movements before, some fans are beginning to feel that the genre is becoming cheapened.
Looking ahead, in all likelihood, there will be Afrojack singles with Justin Bieber vocals 5 years down the road. We will most likely hear just as much house on the radio as any other genre pretty soon. If the 2000’s marked EDMs ascendancy to the mainstream, 2010-2020 will most likely mark the genre’s dominance of popular music. This does come with its pitfalls however – namely, more rappers and pop artists trying to cash in on the house movement and changing the sound, culture, and visceral feel of EDM.
Then, 10-15 years from now, EDM will have passed its peak. In the shifting and evolving world of popular music, it is not likely that house will outlast other genres as a dominant movement. It will most likely be replaced in 10 years by a new genre that is less mainstream than the (soon to be) ubiquitous EDM.
The only counterargument to the short half-life of our beloved genre is its versatility. Unlike most musical genres before it, EDM has the ability to draw from any area of inspiration to combine unorthodox and traditional sounds in the formation of new music. The entire concept of ‘remixing’ – so central to EDM – means that it has the potential to incorporate other genres. You can see influences of such diverse musical styles as blues, disco, funk, and classical music in the tracks below. However, this aspect is not new to EDM. Many rap artists were lauded for sampling different genres of music in their songs, and artists as early as the Beatles frequently drew from a wide range of musical styles in their albums.
What does that mean for all of us house fans at this point? It means that the only thing we can do now is capitalize on this wave. Life is already very cool for house fans – but it’s about to get much cooler. We can expect to see MTV, Apple, and every other major music outlet heavily courting not only major but also lesser house acts, as the wave gets bigger and bigger. By involving ourselves in this genre, we are taking part in a movement that will continue to grow and change dynamically in the next decade. But, like so many musical forms before it, the growth of this genre is limited. And its growth will come hand-in-hand with a shift in the sound of EDM and a compromise with other mainstream artists and genres.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
(Note: the terms ‘house,’ ‘EDM,’ and ‘electro’ are used pretty interchangeably in this article to break up the monotony of the writing, even though they are somewhat distinct from each other.)