N.B. I wrote this blog post almost 2 years ago now, and only just stumbled across it i my drafts… I think it’s still somewhat relevant today, even though things do *seem* to be changing slowly… I think it probably needs to be said at this stage that I actually have nothing at all against Deep house (that is, House Music that is actually “deep”). I was there the first time around, and I’m happy to hear its revival… to an extent. HOWEVER, it appears to me that 99% of the so-called “Deep House” is actually just a simple 909 drum beat looped, with an FM8 (or DX7 to those of you who remember) bassline, and some basic “jazz” chords but used rigidly with absolutely no soul and passion, maintaining the intervals in every chord. For me, this is not what music production was ever about. With all the music production gear out there in this day and age, I can’t hear anything but laziness in the vast majority of this “music”. Even the vast majority of mixdowns are poorly thought out and over-compressed. With other past genres that exploded on a global level (Dubstep, Electro, Big Room House, etc) there were at least some great production values to be heard, whether you liked the genre or not. People were pushing the boundaries of sounds and techniques, and that was something anyone could/should appreciate.
Aside from that, I know I’ve pretty much quit DJing as a profession for the last two years, so that I could focus on running the studio here, so I may be a little out of touch scene-wise, but if that’s the case I’d love to hear from you in the comments. 🙂
Let me just set a little bit of history here first, for those of you who may not know my background, before I tell you why (specifically the UK at least) club scene can do one: I first started DJing in the early 90s, but back then it still wasn’t really seen as a very “cool” thing to do, at least not where I grew up. Really, the cooler people were the ones having the time of their lives on the dance floor, while us DJs were the more nerdy ones who preferred the darkness at the back of the room. But that’s also one of the reason’s I got into it all, aside from being a music addict, it was the buzz I got from making cool people dance and have a good time. The spotlight wasn’t on me, it was on the dance floor… and that probably explains why so many famous DJs you see in interviews are absolute morons: We’re not “personalities”, we’re just “music nerds” at best. 😉
The world of DJs has become a world of image-conscious celebrities. Sure, but that’s just down to the fact that electronic music has [re]entered the mainstream, so that’s bound to happen… But there’s a huge problem here too… I see so many people moaning about the Hiltons and the Guettas of the world, but what you don’t seem to realise is that you’re not really doing anything different to them! You’re not experimenting with new sounds, you’re not remaining faceless and letting the music speak, you’re not even attempting to push any kind of boundary. You’re stood on a stage wearing your fashionable clothes with your fashionable haircut surrounded by your identically fashionable friends with their identically fashionable haircuts, playing your uniformed music to a uniformed crowd of people stood around trying to impress everyone else with their uniformity on Instagram.
We all know the history of House music itself – I know, I know, how many times do people my age have to lecture everyone on this – Everyone knows it all begin in America but due to it being predominantly embraced by the black and/or gay community (and laced with narcotics), the police quickly [and literally] stamped the scene out. However, the scene carried on in the UK in a big way, and basically shaped my entire life. The spirit of dance music was always about the hedonism of going out and dancing your tits off with people you’ve never met before while being introduced to new musical journeys. It didn’t really matter if you were into House, Trance, Hardcore, or whatever other new genre there was at the time, because most clubs had more than one room and each room would cater for a different energy level, and quite often one room alone would vary between styles over a night. It didn’t matter what you wore, it didn’t matter how you danced, so long as everyone was happy and smiling, then it was all good. See that’s the thing that kept the scene alive for 20 years, that openness and freedom to have a good time, something that normal society didn’t always offer.
And this is where I reach the point of my lecture… WTF has happened to the UK club scene that’s made it so pretentious and judgemental that it’s now become a cloning factory of the same hipsters from city to city every weekend? It seems to me that the UK has somehow become so jealous of America’s EDM explosion, that it’s gone out of its way to take an opposite direction, even if this goes against everything the club culture stands for. It’s now become almost a forgotten time, when I could go to a club and not hear the same 50 “Deep” House tracks over and over again. Since when did it become ok to stop trying new things, and to just imitate someone else’s success? I recently [2 years ago now] contacted a bunch of UK club promoters looking to add some gigs to my calendar (shock news; “DJ approaches promoters for gigs”) in a last ditch effort to try and find some current club-nights putting on Tech-House/Prog nights, and literally EVERY SINGLE RESPONSE back was “Sorry mate, we’re doing Deep House only now…”. Now I get that the whole “Deep House” thing has become mainstream nowadays, but fuck me, is there seriously no room for anything else? Has the dance music scene become so image-concsious and fashionable now that there’s just no room for pushing boundaries or experimenting with new sounds/genres/technology?
Now I know that the club scene is always going to be partly shaped by drug culture, and since Ketamine/Mcat/Coke/etc are somehow the choice club-drugs in the UK, then music will remain as nothing but background noise for the citizens of Mongoland to climb the walls to. (Although I have recently read that some people making ecstasy these days have found a new way to make it stronger, cleaner, and cheaper, so who knows maybe that’ll start to shape things back again some day in the not-too-distant future.)
I guess what I’m trying to say, is a little piece of advice to all the new and upcoming electronic music producers out there: Innovate, don’t imitate. I know that’s something you’ve probably been told a million times already, but it’s something we really need to start thinking about right now. It feels like so many people out there are getting in to music production purely for the fame and fortune. I don’t care what your reasons are, but if it really is fame and fortune (good luck with that), then let’s take a real world example of someone who shot to fame… Skrillex. He shot to fame, not just because he was an already well-known and talented musician/producer with solid label-backing and a great management team, but also because he changed the face of a genre. Dubstep was happily bubbling around in the Room 2’s of this world, deep under ground until Skrillex came along and played with new sounds and unorthodox techniques, pushing the boundaries of what was accepted. He was different to everyone else out there (until everyone else out there started copying him).
So maybe it’s time to stop reaching for the same old sounds we’ve heard everyone else using. Maybe it’s time to start doing it all wrong? Maybe we should embrace the wrongness? I know I do.
Throw away everything you’ve learnt, and have some fun playing with all the amazing tools we have at our disposal.