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….”
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.