Calm down people. Dance music will be just fine.
Today I was looking on Facebook when Dani Deahl shared a recent article posted on inthemix titled Is America Killing Dance Music? In it, the author "angy" references a Wall Street Journal article posted a week ago on The Dumbing Down of Electronic Dance Music.
Both articles hit on the same topics of how America's recent embrace of dance music and DJ culture has in many ways become a problem with recent mainstream VS underground drama happening. Some now are concerned that electronic dance music is going to die out or worse from all this.
Like the title says...calm down. I've seen this sort of thing happen many times. Let's take a trip back into time...
I know some here have vivid memories, or foggy memories based on how many drugs you did. Many of the rest of you were either a child (like me) or a twinkle in your mother's eye.
Back in the 1970s, Disco had an upbringing similar to house music in the 80s. It was a predominantly homosexual music that eventually caught on to the mainstream world. Bear in mind though that before the glamour of Studio 54 and Saturday Night Fever, the image of Disco more came as dark hidden spaces pumping music to gays. Look up what the Paradise Garage or David Mancuso's Loft was like if you want the real picture.
Like the music now, pop culture jumped on to Disco as a big trend. You saw the Rolling Stones try their hand with Miss You. Rod Stewart had Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?, and even showtune legend Ethel Merman did her part to kill Disco very quickly.
Disco died in a big explosion at Comiskey Park, and yet years later it came back as House...ironically in the very same city!
The few times dance music blew up in the 90s
Shades of the 1990s: Club MTV
and A Night at the Roxbury
Again, at some point down the road, the mainstream world grabbed and embraced dance music as the flavor of the moment. I can name three times in the 1990s when this happened. Anyone remember Club MTV and how hip-house had caught on outside of Chicago? I remember the transition from WBMX-sounding street/urban house to polished clubland anthems that are still played to this day. Deee-Lite, Cathy Dennis, Kym Sims, CeCe Peniston, SNAP, Lidell Townsell, Madonna, etc.
Then rave techno blew its way in, casting away the barrage of of big-label house music, but that was short-lived. Just as fast as it blew up, it died down due to an oversaturation of poorly-made tunes. From that point we had the Eurodance movement with groups like La Bouche, Real McCoy, Fun Factory, Culture Beat, Haddaway, Amber...practically the whole soundtrack for A Night at the Roxbury.
In Chicago and perhaps LA, some could debate if the Hardhouse explosion was another mainstream point for dance music, or even the Big Beat sounds of Crystal Method and the Chemical Brothers. In any case, dance music seemingly didn't die when pop culture was done with it.
Trance, Euro, and Electro-House
When we reached the millennium, the scene had yet again been embraced by pop culture...several times. We came into 2001 with uplifting trance all over the place. This was followed by another trance-fueled explosion of Eurodance with artists like Ian Van Dahl, DJ Becca, Sarina Parris, and DJ Encore.
From that point, Benny Benassi came out with Satisfaction, and thus electro house was born. Deep Dish made Flashdance, and suddenly we would see loads of copycat tunes. In fact, throughout the 00s, I'd see dance music in a perpetual state of popularity. No long break where you can't play. Electro-house grew and evolved, progressive house got more mainstream, mashups exploded all over and I'd watch loads of old tunes be revamped, remade, and remixed.
Why we should not be concerned
I know lately I've been constantly addressing the issue of people complaining about new DJ technology, mainstream dance artists, politics, etc. I just think most of the "worry" or "concern" I see is either an overreaction or just plain pointless.
Music gets popular. It happens. I'll see some unknown sound suddenly blow up big into the mainstream realm and thus end up "watered down", "dumbed down" or whatever you want to call it. I've watched it happen for decades now, and yet each and every time when the music fell out of the mainstream, it did not sound its death or demise.
Look at the early 1980s. I remember words coming out as if Disco and dance music would be dead forever in place of rock, yet already the next generation of producers were playing with turntables, mixers, synthesizers, and early drum machines. If you listen to old mixes from Scott Smokin' Sillz or Julian "Jumpin" Perez, many of those early 80s dance tunes were as "Disco" as the 1970s...only things went more electronic.
Pretty much any form of music never completely dies. It only changes, evolves, and redefines itself. Just in this little history lesson alone you can see how much dance music kept evolving despite how many times pop culture drove it back underground.
I also want to add that while we hear stories of headlining DJs being pushed off the decks for someone who "plays the hits". Bear in mind WHERE this is happening. No offense to anyone who lives in or loves Las Vegas or Miami, but all these incidents happened in predominantly trendy image-conscious nightclubs. I'm sure someone can roll in here claiming how Mansion (Miami) or Marquee (Las Vegas) are pushing the envelope, but in the end they're still clubs that mainly pander to those who don't understand or embrace the deeper culture. Now if I ever saw a headliner pushed off the decks at Smartbar, then I'd say we're in trouble.
Why we should be excited instead
Just in writing this article, I came to realize just how much electronic dance music had not lost its popularity since 2000. We went from trance to euro to electro-house and progressive house with a splash of mashups and now dubstep. Usually there would be a 3-6 year period where you're going through hell just to play dance music in a club. Now it's all over and seemingly not going away.
So we can lament on how things seemed "dumbed down". Again, look at the past and how many times it was dumbed down for the mainstream. Now think about what happened to the many who gobbled it all up. I looked at the big hit of trance as an example. I remember many loving the epic/uplifting trance movement for a few months, but then later started to check out techno and progressive house. Suddenly these same people couldn't get into any new trance and thus felt like they outgrew it. The rest who never moved forward musically simply dropped out to settle down in marriage and kids.
Look at the state of dance music as a whole in the world and compare it to yesteryear. We have stations on satellite radio playing mixes, music, and connecting listeners with the global scene. We have scores of youth actually being creative in music. Seriously. Sift past the many who simply play pop music in sync (and nothing more) and look at those who push the envelope.
The big onslaught of electronic dance music will bring about new headliners. New names to be booked over and over to play, as opposed to the names I'd see booked to death for the last fifteen years. We'll see new producers rise up to make new sounds and innovate new ideas. We'll see technology grow to where those who felt technically inept can actually let their creativity flow regardless.
As for the masses, it'll be like it was 8-10 years ago. Most of them will settle down into marriage and family, never to be seen again in the scene. A few will dive deeper down the rabbit's hole and evolve into tomorrow's promoters and journalists to preach the gospel.
The music will change, get popular, lose popularity, and the cycle continues. The one good part is that it seems electronic dance music isn't going to go away or hide in the underground as easily as it used to anymore. So I'll sit back and watch the evolution.
What do you think? Are we headed towards doom? Or are we simply seeing a continuous cycle?