Why the underground should drop the grudge

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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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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.....


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), :)


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.