Masked idiot pretends to DJ and we all die a little inside. Again.

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By now you’ve probably heard about it. A particular masked “DJ” recently made the dance music world a little worse. Also, someone dressed as Colonel Sanders got on stage at Ultra Music Festival and ushered in the undeniable beginning of the end of the EDM bubble.

But really folks, is it all that surprising? Other than it took until now for something like this to happen, that is. Let’s break it down to the core, shall we? Someone paid money to get up on stage in a lighted mask and play formulaic music while bobbing around a bit to garner awareness for a brand image. We’ve really never seen this before? This is a pearl-clutching level event? Reality check, this has been happening for a long time. The only difference was that it was done overtly and for a brand image that isn’t directly related to dance music.

Selling the brand image

Let’s have a moment of honesty, shall we? The Colonel’s caricature was spot on of the actual caricature of what the big room/festival/EDM/main stage has become. The helmet (whether it be a rodent, dessert, robot, or master of chicken) represents a brand image that is pushed forward for recognition and sales. Something that has become more prevalent in a world where the music is so saturated and homogeneous that visual branding has become a primary vehicle for these kinds of artists to set themselves apart. Because, god forbid, it be musically (and yes, I am aware that your favorite helmet wearing artist actually has talent and blah blah blah, shhh… I’m talking about the other helmet wearing artists). Even the talented likes of Daft Punk still have a brand to push, one that involves helmets, that helped set them apart (especially since they were the first in the dance music arena to do so, and also you know, did make music that not everyone else was making at the time).

And the music, was it really any different from what gets played up there normally? If we took out any chicken references and played it in the middle of some else’s main stage set would anyone notice? Hell, leave the chicken references in there and it probably would have been labeled genius coming from anyone not dressed as Mr. Sanders.

Those advertising dollars

DJ Sanders isn’t the first one on stage as a result of lining someone’s pockets, directly or indirectly. Do you really think it is chance or the pure will of the people that some of these DJs musicians people wannabes with questionable talent, a dream, and a sizable label, agency, and or manager invested in them end up on the stage or in the charts? Money buys ghost writers, studio time, advertising, exposure, and yes, stage time. Music doesn’t need to be the best to make it to the top, it just needs to be marketable. We’ll dive deeper into that in future posts, for now let’s continue on about how the King of Chicken is the natural result of our follies.

Corporate sponsorship for events and artists is not new, but this is about as far as you can take the advertising during a show. Short of the DJs playing an ad during their sets. New white label? Nah, just a new ad for Alka-Seltzer, plop plop fizz fizz untza untza. What I want to know is how many people were in that long line of a decision-making process that green-lighted this thing. Not one person of authority said “probably not a good idea”? On KFC’s side I get it, a great new opportunity to get in front of a ton of Millennials (the current target demographic for most brands). But Ultra, come on, what were you thinking. How much was the check that bought whatever last bit of integrity you had? Did they have you under duress? Your puppy at gunpoint? Is there some fried chicken mafia I’ve never heard of? Was it drugs? Is weed legal in Miami yet? It was drugs, wasn’t it? You were high, eating chicken and went, “You know what would be funny….”

This:

 

The indignant

One last thing I’d like to address: the shock and indignation that has been expressed by some about this, as if this was some unjust act thrown upon the dance scene. This didn’t just happen overnight, this is the result of what we’ve allowed and supported for years. This is what happens when you let business dictate the music instead of the music dictating the business. And no, this five-minute mistake wouldn’t have changed anything were it given to some “worthy up and comer”. It didn’t mar the industry, that was done long ago to allow something like this to happen. I just hope this forces people to face what the industry has become. Maybe it is time to wake up, support local events, local artists. Remember what the underground was about. In part, freedom from B.S. like this.

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Dumbing down music, one location at a time

Unsurprising news, DJ Shadow was kicked off the decks at Miami nightclub Mansion for playing music described as “too confusing”. Yes, this is the same place that kicked Dennis Ferrer off the decks for not playing “commercial enough”. While some will defend the move claiming that the promoter shouldn’t have booked him at a top-40 club to begin with (and there is some truth to that), or that DJ Shadow should have adapted to the crowd, or that this is simply the nature of the game in today’s music industry; in reality it calls attention to a much bigger problem. Dance music is being dumbed down.

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Every genre of music has its share of crap flooding its respective market. As electronic/dance music finds its way to the mainstream, however, our culture is seeing an unprecedented flood of sophomoric tunes unlike any other genre of music. Naturally there are many factors for this. Music creation has never been as easy, cheap, or convenient as it is today. Anyone with a computer and a little Internet savvy can find the software to make a rudimentary piece. With the plethora of musical templates out there, making a “song” can be as easy as selecting which preselected sounds you want to plug in,  sometimes even easier than that. Further, once your masterpiece song is finished, it doesn’t take much effort to find a label to get your song up on music distribution sites, or even do it yourself. Music has become a volume business and the industry favors quantity over quality.

With push button production methods along side push button DJ options, it is no wonder that many seek dance music as the route for a quick buck and 15 minutes of fame. Make something easily accessible to the masses, easily consumed, throw some money behind it, create as many opportunities for repetition as possible so that people become accustomed to hearing it and boom, hit track. That’s not to say that this formula is how every song becomes a hit, some actually make it to the top because they are legitimately good. But let’s be realistic, that is becoming more and more rare. It has gotten so bad that people constantly scramble to new sounds en masse just because they are new, trying to feed their desire for something more meaningful, never truly realizing what they are actually hungry for. No matter what wrapping you put on a rice cake, you’ll never find yourself satisfied.

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While there will always be those that appreciate and push for the more complex and heady sounds, sadly, those people are clearly out numbered in today’s culture. Even what is left of the underground environment is buckling to the pressure of playing the more accessible sounds for the sake of the numbers game. So who cares? Anybody who sees the value of this music as an art form. Anybody who wants to see our music have any continued longevity. We applaud DJ Shadow for taking a stand and maintaining artistic integrity, not only for himself, but for all of us.

The sad part in all of this is that you can make art and money at the same time. If more people understood and valued that concept, we would not reward the people who flood the market with an inferior product. Less formulaic sound-a-likes, and more sounds from the heart please. I am not naive in all of this, nor am I unrealistic. I know there will always be those that just want to get drunk, listen to a jukebox, and play the mating games. I also know that just because something is called art doesn’t mean it is good, but neither does a song’s popularity. I just want to encourage as many people as possible who see a better path for our music to push harder. I want the consumers of music to challenge themselves and see past the easily consumed, develop your palate. Let’s all have artistic integrity, no matter what sound drives us.