This article previously appeared at TheHundred.co. Full disclosure: I also blog for those guys.
We live in an age in which music is a commodity. You–the consumer–are a commodity. EDM, especially, has been targeted by corporations and music conglomerates in recent years as a
consistent growing source of income, be it via sponsorships, ticket purchases, or digital downloads. Companies like SFX and Live Nation are snapping up every electronic music-related business they can in order to fully capitalize on the industry some say is worth $6.2 billion annually. SFX alone controls about 10% of the music you listen to, the festivals you attend, and the way you purchase your music either directly or indirectly.
This monetization and consolidation has been both good and bad for true fans of electronic music. On one hand, we’ve seen an explosion of fresh talent, innovation, and unprecedented exposure to our favorite artists. The immense and relatively sudden popularity of all strains of dance music has made the internet an invaluable resource, whether communicating directly with your favorite artist via Twitter or finding that rare Jaymz Nylon vinyl you heard spun at a basement party back in 2000. That there’s money to be made means that–no matter where you are–you’re likely to find a good party with a big name within driving distance in a safe, clean venue. This wasn’t always the case.
The flip-side of this, of course, is that record labels are churning out a ton of garbage to cash in on the trend. Creators of bland big room tracks dominate the annual Forbes list of very, very wealthy DJs. Really, can the average listener tell the difference between Zedd’s latest track and Hardwell’s most recent collab with Amba Shepherd? Can you? That won’t stop tens of thousands from attending this year’s Spring Awakening Music Festival, with a just-announced line-up featuring both acts and even more that are doing the exact same million-dollar thing. Even genres like deep house that have seen a rebirth recently–in part as a reaction to the commercialization of electronic music–are quick to be cast into the EDM crucible and emerge molten into the same monotonous lineup.
As the old heads reminisce about secret desert raves and dank parties thrown in decrepit warehouses and factories, the “True Underground” is revered–when parties and festivals weren’t overrun with trust fund babies, fratboys, and Silicon Valley millionaires; when our “sound” wasn’t so damn commercial.
You know, when music actually meant something beyond dollars and IPOs.
It’s easy to forget that this was never the case. Not really, at least.
20 years ago, on January 1st of 1995, Alec Empire, the German creator of digital hardcore and founding member of Atari Teenage Riot released an anarchist techno manifesto entitled, “The Capital Noise Manifest.” He did it 1995-style proper: Apparently typed on a typewriter with all typos simply covered over with special characters. In typical manifesto fashion, all caps statements and odd singular capitalization within words abound while strong statements fly. It really is a sight to behold and you can check it out above, or at his Facebook page.
The manifesto was distributed around the world to DJs, musicians, and promoters by fax.
*#$BoRedom seeMs to be eternal … but DEATh takes place like LigHtning and afterwards notHing is ever thE same aga i n !!!!!!!#.!!! yes, WE ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE 90tieS — the only excitement on tHe rad1o and MusicTV is THE ADVERTISING!!!!!###!???**XXXfuck THAT’s NOT A COINCIDENCE ! MUSIC IS A WEAPON.!”
He goes on to textually annihilate the music culture of the 1990s, linking music and its power to Nazi Germany and the LA riots. His most agitated ire, though, is aimed squarely at the commercialization and monotonizing of electronic music, and its “volksmusiktype” productions:
There’s a reason that probably the most untalented DJs, for example Marusha or Westbam, with their VOLKSMUSIKtype productions are in the media so in the charts. EVERY BUSINESS MAN KNOWS THAT ONLY THAT WHICH SEEMS WELL KNOWN AND FAMILIAR WILL BE BOUGHT!
Sound familiar? Alec Empire then goes on to pronounce a “new underground DJ generation” that would abide by four new rules:
1. ENTERTAINING IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE POLITICAL MESSAGE
-MC verbalizes the radical atmosphere of the music, when it’s instrumental, and in this way creates a connection between DJ and Crowd.
2. HARD-CORE IS NOT DEFINED THROUGH SPEED, BUT THROUGH AGGRESSION
-ATTENTION: If one is screamed at then one closes up the ears pretty quickly! This is not a shock…this is boring!
3. NO “STANDSTILL” ON A TEMPO OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME
-A development is then far too slow so that only boredom occurs
4. ATMOSPHERE-QUICK BUT RELEVANT CHANGES
-Reach many peaks, and not just one wearing half hour ecstasy
Oddly enough, most of these decades-old rules are still being followed today, even if the artists following them don’t recognize their origins. Today’s EDM scene is pure entertainment, its festivals defined by big builds and manic changes in atmosphere and tempo. With very little “standstill.” And even if hard core hasn’t quite seen the renaissance other less-known genres like deep house and acid have recently, the dubstep phenomenon absolutely held to the aggression vs. speed dogma.
Twenty years on and many are fighting the same battles while abiding by the same rules. There is no “new” in electronic music. There just is.