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The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Electronic Dance Music

Musician-critic Philip Sherburne guests on the Sound Opinions podcast.

To discuss the rise of electronic dance music, musician and critic Philip Sherburne was interviewed recently on the Sound Opinions podcast, which is hosted by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. It says something about the status of electronic dance music in the broader realm of pop music that an outside critic needs to be invited in to explain it. Even if, to the session’s point, musicians like David Guetta and Skrillex have brought electronic music to a wide pop audience, the circumstances of that rise are remote and specific enough to still push the knowledge threshold of everyday critics, even ones as experienced as DeRogatis and Kot (MP3).

[audio:|titles=”Sound Opinions featuring Philip Sherburne”|artists=Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot]

Sherburne, in the interview, himself says the rise of the popular manifestations of so-called dubstep took him somewhat by surprise. The hosts note at least one earlier instance of electronic music’s burgeoning prominence, back in the big-beat years of the mid-1990s, when major record labels banked heavily on the likes of Aphex Twin (whose Selected Ambient Works Volume II came out on Sire, home to Madonna and Talking Heads, in 1994), Fatboy Slim, Moby, and others. Sherburne lists several possible reasons for why this music is crossing over in a way it hadn’t previously: that the acts being signed have more star-power than their recalcitrant and shy DJ predecessors, that ubiquitous computer usage has diminished the matters of authenticity that once divided rockists from club kids.

I’d propose at least three more:

¶ One is simply time, what I think of as the “hip-hop cop factor”: at some point the kids whom cops found suspect because they listened to hip-hop eventually grew up to become cops themselves, thus diminishing a genre’s negative associations.

¶ Another is the rise of text messaging; as I experienced during a late-2008 rave in Tokyo, at a Richie Hawtin show, the constant contact provided by cellphones has radically altered that kind of concert-going experience, making it more internally clique-ish, less of a “let’s get lost” scene, than it had been 15 years go. This has made raves significantly more social, and helped them to be perceived as less unsafe.

¶ A third is the received understanding that producers are the music-makers; from Timbaland to the Neptunes to Dallas Austin to the Matrix, it’s widely understood, even if only at a casual level, that the majority of what it heard on the radio is, in fact, more the product of the people behind the mixing board than behind the microphone, and today’s generation of electronic dance producers benefit from the suggestion that they, in fact, are the true music stars.

More on the podcast, which aired June 8, at

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comment: 1 ]

One Comment

  1. Paul
    [ Posted December 26, 2013, at 2:47 pm ]

    I think major labels signing djs like Zedd to produce pop artist albums like Lady Gaga’s newest, is what is flooding the scene with the same bland sound. They all want that beatport top 10 hit, so they all produce music that sounds exactly the same.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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