“Electronic dance music (E. D.M.) is the ungainly name for a genre so wide it almost defies description”, writes Sasha Frere-Jones in his piece “On the Floor” in the most recent issue of the New Yorker. In this he picks up on a theme that he has been trumpeting for years as he followed the rise of Kanye West and Lady Gaga. (See, for instance, this early review of Gaga: or this early identification of the ‘marginal phenomenon’ ). He discusses the origin of the genre in 1980’s dance clubs and, along the way, mentions artists like Deadmau5 and Daft Punk. The appeal and influence of a band like Daft Punk, he suggests indicates the permanence and ‘validation’ of this genre.
But, is dance music a genre in the traditional sense? The qualities and shape of these songs seem almost too far flung too be coherent (although the same could be said for rock n’ roll.) True, Frere-Jones does well to outline the common beats and shared instrumentation (categories that serve to distinguish, for instance, reggae from rock); equally useful is his focus on the use or venue of the art form. The form’s translatability from performance space to radio and its influence on pop in all likelihood strengthens its identification as a self-contained genre.
What I don’t get from the article, as is typical from Frere-Jones’ work, is how he feels about E.D.M. and its conquest of the air waves. (This is Frere-Jones’ talent as an writer—he can write descriptively and persuasively about any artist or genre.) Why do I want to know how he feels? Because I respect his ability to articulate the nature and nuance of music, I yearn to hear more about his taste (in the narcissistic hope that it will be like mine…)
I really despise E.D.M. I do not despise its artistry or even the accomplishments of its greatest practitioners—but rather, its effect on pop music and its watered-down ‘offspring’. At its worst, it offers cheap, disposable and forgettable music. Good for a night out, but ultimately bereft of the traction and gravity that makes for good memories and transformative meaning.
When it comes down to it, I am probably the one who is inflexible and expects too much.
What do you think, my brother? Am I being an old fuddy-duddy? Do I expect too much and credit too little? (And, whatever the case, check out the work of Mr. Frere-Jones.)