Why the underground should drop the grudge

Image for Why the underground should drop the grudge

It’s Sunday night, and the Tomorrowland festival is in its final stages in the De Schorre National Park in Belgium. Berlin-based dubstep and techno producer Paul Rose, aka Scuba, obviously feels like stirring the pot a little. He retweets a photo from Nicky Romero, taken from behind the decks as David Guetta plays to a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands in in the final few hours of the festival, the Frenchman holding up a recording device up as a sea of punters raise their hands in the air.

Scuba’s posts are a little less effusive, though. “Could there be a more undeserving person on stage who records what he sees on a camcorder? If you’re on stage you’re performing, you’re not a tourist….perform, don’t take photos or video of the audience.”

Next, Scuba’s attention turns towards another of what he terms an “easy target”, Calvin Harris, the very same person the Wall Street Journal took to task in its infamous attack on ‘EDM’ culture for producing “cliché-riddled, white-bread house that don’t represent the best of the genre”. Scuba promises to share an “amazing story” about Harris for 100 retweets; within no time, he’s racked up over 150, he’s trending in the UK, and the revelation is dropped.

Scuba’s tweets are about as irreverent as they come, but they highlight one of dance music’s interesting dichotomies: the ‘Us vs Them’ tension between the ‘underground’ and the ‘overground’ (or what’s nowadays pretty much slapped with the term ‘EDM’). The argument is nearly as old as dance music itself: the ‘authentic’ underground steeling itself against the mass-market players responsible for polluting their subculture. It’s a contradiction that’s defined dance culture since its first peak of popularity in the late ‘90s.

Dance music embodies both the most creatively uncompromising and the tackiest elements that any music culture is capable of. On the one side, you’ve got the heads-down ‘underground’, driven by the supposed purity of its artistic integrity, producing music that’s impenetrable to anyone not already deeply entrenched in the culture. On the other side, you’ve got DJs popping champagne bottles and flying in private jets, surrounded by girls, glitz and glamour. They play a watered-down derivative, made by producers-for-hire and slapped with the name of the bankable DJ for mass consumption. Or so the story goes.

That narrative was given yet another whirl recently when Deadmau5 published his notorious ‘We all hit play’ blog post, later echoing similar sentiments when he graced the cover of Rolling Stone (who’ve all of a sudden discovered a newfound love of dance music, after pointedly ignoring it for decades). The comments actually ignited a fairly interesting debate, with everyone from A-Trak to Bassnectar weighing in with measured commentary.

What was more interesting, though, was some of the vitriol it inspired from the underground house and techno scenes. London stalwart Mr C had only recently lambasted DJs as “fakes & charlatans” for standing “with their arms raised in the air”, so it’s hardly surprising he was less than pleased. “FUCK YOU IN EVERY ORIFICE,” was the conclusion of his message to Deadmau5.

A Guy Called Gerald’s most recent Australian tour was in late 2011, though his history in dance culture stretches back as far as the ‘80s, and his response was equally as vitriolic. “You come into our system that we have nurtured for the last 25 years, trick hardworking people into giving you their money, con honest promoters, take large sums of money out of the system and then spit back into our faces that YOU are tricking everyone,” he wrote on his blog. “I agree there are loads of people like you who do fake it. It is easy with the software you are using. Don’t worry we are going to find ways of stopping you. You greedy rat head fuck.”


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JackT said on the 23rd Aug, 2012

Some really interesting insights in here Angus from the guys you spoke to! Dug it a lot.


CircusMidget said on the 23rd Aug, 2012

No one is dancing to guetta, there is no room to do so. As such, it can not be classed as dance music.


mjm_fm said on the 23rd Aug, 2012

Interesting read - great topic.


beyondandabove said on the 23rd Aug, 2012

Great read! I've often felt that dance music fans more than any other seem to really foster this Us V Them attitude and I have always been disappointed about that. I'm glad that both sides of the argument were presented too. Top work!


pinkenbajedi said on the 23rd Aug, 2012

i think u have done a good job with this artical... but th whole thing seems silly really.... pop music has always just taken from other popular styles and made it commercially viable and some ppl will ride th wave of that and make a shit load of money..... remember metallica fans cracking th shits back in th day because rock had gone pop.... meanwhile "real" metal bands ragged on them for being so pop sounding etc etc etc.... nirvanan anyone??? more to th point though.... does any of th shit these guys are rambling on about really mean anything???? these guys aren't curing cancer or designing advanced mathematical descriptions of th underlying nature of reality or anything.... they are musicians yes..... but nothing more than that... and although many of these ppl make cool songs their attitudes are immature and ignorant.... deadmau5 writes some rad music but half of his post are th ramblings of a dude with too much money trying to write off ppl who are half as successful but have more street cred in th underground.... and all th "underground" ppl are just ppl claiming to be fighting for their scene like it actually matters.....when in actuality they are just obviously jealous of th success of th likes of deadmau5, calvin harris etc etc.... if your so underground u should be happy that pop kids who know nothing about music are listening to them and not u..... isn't that essentially exactly what u were looking for in th first place... or is just that u are masquerading in this way but u actually wish rihanna would do a song with u??? if not... then shut th fuck up.... u got what u asked for!!!! none of these guys are concerned about th niger delta or th libor scandal but they speak out like they are actually involved in something just as important for humanity..... i think bassnectars rants was th most on th ball really..... sounds like a dude with half a brain..... maybe these kids will just make some music instead of trying to convince each other they dont have small cocks.... thats what it sounds like to me.....


rubbishtalk said on the 23rd Aug, 2012

There needs to more of this us versus them otherwise this horrible commercial so called EDM is just going to take over the world and swallow up any underground music in its path... we need to get back to the days when DJs were real DJs and producers made good music instead of churning out the same boring commercial shit to make money. The more people like Scuba point this out to the public, hopefully the more people will listen


Mjb86 said on the 23rd Aug, 2012

Awesome story Angy

I think a few artists need to take a page out of the Josh Wink handbook for underground gentlemen.

Odd comments though Pinkenbajedi... 99% of the world isn't curing cancer, doesn't mean there can't be a discourse about topics that affect them in some way. Artists have a hugely important role in society if you ask me, don't be so quick to disregard them. Not everyone can be Bono.


mitchpk said on the 24th Aug, 2012

The jaded hipsters of the dance music world...


boidy said on the 24th Aug, 2012

this has been around for years and will always be present. the underground scene and music will never be lost as that is where the true passion is


dirtyepic said on the 24th Aug, 2012

Awesome editorial - very thought-provoking.

I just had an awkward moment on realising I'm as a big a douchebag as Scuba is for blindly hating on the mainstream EDM scene. Love that dude's music, but golly gosh, dude needs to smoke a bowl and chill out or something. In particular, I think Josh Wink makes a fantastic point in asserting that mainstream success for EDM can only benefit the "underground" - I mean, shit, that's how I found my way into electronica, through listening to awful cheesy crap at thirteen and doing a bit more research when I wanted something more substantial. Sure, it grates on me every time my little sister says "omg LMFAO are the sickest dance act ever!" but that only means more opportunity for me to go, "here, have a Simian Mobile Disco album, I think you will really like this" and recruit more people into the scene - which is, for the most part, only going to benefit the artists, DJs, promoters, writers, and punters involved in dance music.


FrankRussian said on the 24th Aug, 2012

I perfectly understand Gerald's words, but I don't entirely agree with him. I, for one, am a young DJ (at least I hope I can call myself this way) and, as a high school student, I don't have enough money to buy two Technics or anyway two good turntables but with enough to buy a MIDI controller and Traktor. I struggle in my town to get bookings at private parties as I'm still new to the local scene, so that I'll gain experience and, most of all, to spread the electronic music I love, different from the commercial hits everyone listens to (I really admire the "educational" role of the DJ), with the basic equipment I could afford. I match tracks by ear as much as I can, but my controller hasn't got hi-quality pitch-sliders so I'm sometimes forced to sync the tempo (just that, nothing more. As regards beatmatching in terms of "kicks" and phrases I practiced a lot and got nice results, at least in my humble opinion as a rookie). The least expensive controller with that kind of sliders costs more that what I currently have in my pocket. When I have a degree and a job, I'm sure I'll have the money to buy CDJs or turntables or both. But, until then, could I ask, for me and for all the young people around the world who do their best as digital DJs to honestly earn the money to buy better equipment, a small bit of respect? I know, there are many out there who "fake", but maybe they prepare pre-mixed CDs (a friend of mine uses CDJs and did that more than once, while I would never; I embrace what I call "a honest DJ's moral code": never deceive the crowd unless you don't have the right hardware), and you can do that without any software; or they press "sync" without any willingness to learn the very skills of DJing but letting an algorithm do that for them. I don't want to be polemical, but perhaps the problem is not software. But ethics. I don't claim expertise from using a controller, I'm no-one in front of masters like Mr. Cox. But, please, don't call me a fake just because I use Traktor (or Serato or anything else). I just do what I can with the equipment I can afford while trying to keep my conscience as clear as possible towards my crowd and while waiting for the time to buy something better. I'm not trying to be more than who I actually am. Just honest. And I think honesty is still a great value. I'm sure I'm not the only one with this mindset and a controller in his backpack.
Thanks for reading (and sorry for the long post), :)


lawlietskyy said on the 24th Aug, 2012

Picture the underground scene as a religion and commercialism of that same scene science. Course' ya gonna get the us vs. them scenarios.


diet_coke said on the 24th Aug, 2012

“Fads and trends run their course,” he says. “But if someone gets interested in electronic music through hearing a Swedish House Mafia track, and next thing you know they dig deeper, go to Discogs and see that Steve Angello had a release on Subliminal Records; then they check out Erick Morillo, who had a remix on one of his albums from Josh Wink. Next thing you know, someone getting into music for its commercial dance appeal will find somebody else like me, Jeff Mills, Joey Beltram. You never know. So I look at it as a positive now.”

This described me many years ago. Got into electronic music through mainstream pop dance acts.

Now today I listen to "underground" house and techno.


jamwildway said on the 24th Aug, 2012

underground vs overground, who cares as long as the music is good


khaiyin said on the 24th Aug, 2012

This debate shouldn't even matter to the 'underground'. The 'overground' haven't stolen their fanbase, infact they're adding to it. There's plenty to go around and the underground just seems jealous that they've had the smaller, but more devoted scene.


Mindfull-1 said on the 27th Aug, 2012

Fuck off cunt.

Underground for life.


Mindfull-1 said on the 27th Aug, 2012

That scuba track is super euphoric. At least it doesnt put me to sleep like anything Armada music.

You see what you have to understand is that ITM presents stories on both aspects. All the fucking bullshit crap promo stories that you guys put up about mainstream artists are annoying. Sure I dont have to look at them, but they will be in my news stream.

NOW LISTEN. Anyone with half a brain can tell most of those stories are press releases or are orchestrated simply to promo some pop skrillex shit.

This pisses off people with musical integrity. That sort of promo should be on Nova FM.com.

Imo ITM has to decide, because the scenes have split, they are like night and day.

ITM are you all about the $$$$ or the MUSIC?


JackT said on the 27th Aug, 2012

Mindfull-1, from your many furious posts, I understand that you seem to hate 95-percent of what we publish, and never want inthemix to forget that, but the way you go about it is regularly far more abusive than it needs to be.


Mindfull-1 said on the 27th Aug, 2012

I had planned on the cunt being censored.

I don't think it would of come off as bad if it was censored.

I should be nicer. I guess I get offended easily.


Mindfull-1 said on the 27th Aug, 2012

Francesco. Fair point my man. It's just a lot of young djs think they are great when they actually suck real hard & need to get practise/learn/aquire talent.


lawlietskyy said on the 27th Aug, 2012

Whoever takes these artists' words for real, think about this - Do you really think most of the mainstage underground acts are going to speak out what they TRULY think about Guetta & Co. ? It's like an office environment, everyone has a different role but wouldn't speak out negatively about a co-worker, because you deal with these people at major festivals / events etc... Deep down they're thinking "what a fucking piece of shit i can't believe people like that track"

Human Nature 101.


Weinertron said on the 27th Aug, 2012

lol I remember when I first started listening to techno and breaks. You know what was playing on the radio at the time? A commercial trance remix of "Boys of Summer". There were heaps of these abominations doing the rounds.

The more things change the more they stay the same...


Kb75 said on the 27th Aug, 2012

Listen, I don't think there is anything wrong w/being critical overground . For those of in the US, it is still bit strange that dance music is popular. And while it is great for DJs, promoters and EDM noobs it sucks for those of us who liked it before it was cool. Ticket prices have doubled and tripled in some cases, the crowd has changed (w/ mainstreaming you get people posers), and some of the creativity in the music is lost.


SANDSHREW said on the 27th Aug, 2012



Mindfull-1 said on the 28th Aug, 2012

Great post kb75.

Once the money men get their hands on a product it generally turns to shit. Or if the money men get really excited about it, it probably is shit but they know it will make shit loads of money anyway.


miami_jim said on the 29th Aug, 2012

I agree with this totally, the 'Overground' scene will not be a bad influence on the 'underground' scene. The problem lies in some peoples perception of where loyalties lie. DJ Mag take a pounding for as some people put it "letting David Guetta be number one" I will not go into the whys and wherefores, but I know for a fact that the public vote via FB is done to reach the largest possible audience and to attract more attention to the Mag as it is a commercial enterprise. The fact that Guetta has the most FB likes of any DJ does not mean the poll is rigged it just means that he will be the most popular DJ. The magazines loyalties lie in what they produce month in month out and they do not cover commercial dance outside of the top 100 issue, yet last year received death threats to the mag staff and to Guetta and his family. I am not saying I like Guetta's style I don't but I hardly feel it is deserving of death threats.

I have given up trying to educate people who are not interested in being educated in what 'proper' Dance Music is, and even my views are subjective and focused on Deep House/Tech House so I am not nearly qualified to to lecture people on Techno or Hardstyle.

I play with a controller and Traktor, I mix live and use effects sparingly as I feel the music speaks for itself, I come form a 2 turntable and mixer background and use my set up accordingly. I play out in Europe and have DJ'd for over 20 years with a 5 year residency in London.

I work in a job very closely connected to the furore that surrounds the DJ scene and have been personally involved (on the receiving end of) with the vitriol that is handed out by certain sections of said scene #Trancefamily I am talking about you, however I believe the underground will flourish and in a few years the Overground Pop Scene will find another niche to rape.


87goats said on the 29th Aug, 2012

I love your article, but you need a Sub!


Achal said on the 30th Aug, 2012

hahaha "you greedy rat headed fuck"


Joffa said on the 30th Aug, 2012

the problem is people who have gotten into electronic music in the last couple of years and didnt really listen to it before have no idea what underground is or how to find better sounds and styles to progress in their own tastes to better quality stuff. We all have to start somewhere; for me it was Above & Beyond and TATW, from that found guys like Sasha, which opened up the world of quality electronic music, and now am a lover of, what i believe is, the best stuff out there, guys like Howells, Digweed, Babicz, Luciano, Saiz, Quivver, Telefon Tel Aviv, and the list goes on. Call it, prog/deep/tech house, that is where i have ended up and only wish everyone could as well and can if they wanted to seek out the best stuff which is; uplifting without being high-energy, with sound placements that will blow minds and the most emotional style of electronic music.
I guess people either dont seek out and dig to find better stuff out there or just dont know how to, sure getting people into electronic music is a positive but if they dont take the next step to open their musical mind and then funnel their taste into the finest the genre - if they dont progress - all is lost.


MitchhctiM said on the 1st Sep, 2012

My main gripe is people hearing Swedish House Mafia, Guetta & Co and thinking it is the epitome of house music when it isn't even house but rather pop. You can make the argument that people will eventually dig deeper but realistically how often is that going to happen? So many people are quite content with going out or going to a festival and hearing the dirtiest dubstep or big room electro house and then when they are played something of actual substance the reaction is "What's this shit? So repetitive, where's the drop, where's the vocals?".


ArmySniperDan said on the 1st Sep, 2012

David Guetta, the top 40 crap DJ whom like skrillex only pushes the play and stop button on his mac book while pretending to spin records on a platform that is turned off, Guetta needs to have his head shoved right up that no talented Nicki Minajs Fake Fat Ass


angy said on the 13th Sep, 2012

miami_jim, one of the most informed and articulate people making comments in here, agree with everything you said. Mindfull-1, on the other hand...


Menace said on the 6th Dec, 2012

I agree with this guy, that the dj's using traktor(and etc) and premade sets in which everything is already mixed are fucking posers, do you guys even know how to mix, becasue what you are doing sounds shit and you can't play to crowds becasue your set is already mixed before hand or you don't have the skills to actually mix other tracks in to your set. some "Dj's" these days have never even actualy beat mixed tracks and have only ever used the sync buttons on software top beat mix! come on winamp has a plugin that can do that, why are people paying these dickheads, its the club owners faults for paying these posers. Some of the blame lays on thepunters that actualy think these posers are good!