You, Me, and Avicii — The State of EDM in 2013
Posted by Spice on January 24, 2013
January 23, 2013. 12:13 p.m.
Up until five minutes ago I was having an utterly unremarkable day. In fact, had someone asked me about my day five minutes ago, I would have responded with something along the lines of, “well, you know, it’s really cold out.” Or, “I had soup for lunch.” In other words, up until five minutes ago, my day was filled with the mundane but generally inoffensive things that define the 9-to-5 hours.
But then the following tweet happened. And just like that, I became a bitter, angry person with a white-hot axe to grind against the world and everything in it:
— Tim Bergling (@Avicii) January 23, 2013
For those of you who don’t follow the baby-faced Bieber of EDM, the man (boy? guy?) better known as Avicii recently launched a large scale initiative to crowdsource his next “hit single.” AVICII X YOU styles itself rather magnanimously as the first ever “global collaboration” in dance music, inviting You, The Aspiring Producer, to join forces with Tim Bergling in creating his next anthem.
Here’s how it works. You, The Aspiring Producer, dream up a melody and submit it to AVICIIXYOU.com. Then you wait on tenterhooks as everyone votes, but that’s all for show because in the end Avicii’s just going to pick his favorite. Then a bassline follows in the same manner, then percussion, then a break, and finally, on February 7th, “effects” (a truly vague delineation which I’m personally choosing to construe as more cowbell).
Thus, a song is born.
Reading between the lines, I have to say that this is the laziest and most brazen gimmick I’ve ever heard of. “Hey, kids! Here’s a neat idea! Come up with a catchy, unusual chord progression, a bassline and some kicks, package them all up and then send them over to AVICII X YOU! Avicii will throw it all in a blender and in just a few short days, he’ll turn it into his next song!”
Uh, of course he’ll turn it into his next song, bro. All of the fundamental song building blocks were just imagined, constructed, and laid out for him by a large enough pool of Aspiring Producers to ensure that a handful of submissions would be something special. By now a goddamned baby could turn this project file into Avicii’s next song. ONTO THE MIXDOWN, BABY!
Proponents of this sham will invariably try to argue that AVICII X YOU is “creatively democratic” — that Avicii is merely engaging his fan base in a unique, 21st century way. “Why Spice,” they’ll say, “he’s just leveraging social media to treat his audience to a fun and personalized experience! What’s wrong with that?” And perhaps they have a point. Months from now, when our Mixdown Baby goes to play “Seek the Silhouettes of LE7ELS #Hashtag” at EDC, everyone will get to feel that they were part of the creative process that went into it. Their hearts will swell, their eyes will close, and that oft-touted feeling of cosmic togetherness will descend like a warm cloud over the Vegas Motor Speedway. What’s so wrong with that?
Well, a lot’s wrong with that, actually. For starters, soliciting the Internet for all the original grist that goes into composing a song is creatively lazy (at best) and shamelessly exploitative (at worst). At the end of the day, it plays us all for suckers on the most fundamental level. To be clear, I don’t think Avicii is entirely to blame for this (I think our boy is suffering from a bad case of writer’s block, a little post-“Levels” performance anxiety, and the tendency to accept questionable career advice). Rather, the full thrust of our anger should be reserved for the schmucks who devised this whole moronic gambit in the first place, who are laughing en route to the bank because they think they’ve unearthed a groovy new way to harness our generation’s consumption of its music.
Their problem — and their failure — is that in trying to harness our generation and our music, they’ve completely missed the point of our music. Electronic music isn’t compelling because seven nonspecific stems come together in one Ableton project. If that were the case, every schmo with a MacBook and a DAE would be Skrillex. To be compelling and awe-inspiring, the end result by definition must be greater than the sum of its parts. I suppose that’s the expectation for AVICII X YOU — but forgive me if I seem skeptical.
Music — truly good music — should never (and can never) be subject to the kind of “social media best practices” that LinkedIn writes about in email blasts. Sure, sometimes creating good music may require collaboration –- but that typically consists of two or three or ten people locking down in someone’s basement to bat around ideas and search for the magic. Sometimes it may require the touch of a strange and visionary genius — a Lorin Ashton or a Richard David James or, yes, a Sonny Moore. It may even on occasion require a Mau5 and an unsuspecting Internet Guy to happen upon each other over talk of Ray Bradbury. But you know what it usually never requires? Facebook. And 10,000 of your closest “friends.”
This is why AVICII X YOU and its final product are fated to fade into the background once the dust has settled. It’s why the formulaic builds and drops of today’s commercial progressive house are not enough to sustain anyone’s interest for more than nine months. It’s why pre-fab reality show bands like Eden’s Crush will always fail — why they’re dead on arrival. All of these things are intrinsically reductive; the stuff that stands the test of time is the stuff that has the capacity to transcend its very self. That feeling of cosmic togetherness I mentioned earlier only makes itself known when you’re in the presence of something real and powerful.
And here’s the kicker. The real and the powerful are rapidly being subsumed by their sticky-fingered third cousins: the cheap, the easy, and the profitable. And this — this notion right here — is why people are lamenting the state of electronic music in 2013. It’s why there’s a growing backlash against the very term “EDM.” It’s why Mixmag and other outlets are staging “Dance Music Debates” on Twitter and why suddenly everybody has an opinion. It’s why somewhere, six months ago, a focus group decided that AVICII X YOU was a good idea.
It all boils down to the fact that a whole lot of people are willing to spend a whole lot of money on the pursuit and consumption of electronic music. The real and powerful feelings we get from great electronic music are just that intoxicating. Unfortunately, our willingness to pay is rapidly making us all complicit in the attempts of a select few to run the scene through a giant cost-benefit analysis and achieve economies of scale.
Unlike some of the more stridently underground folk, I don’t believe this process to be an inherently bad thing. Different strokes for different folks — I love Armin van Buuren, you love Seth Troxler, the chick across the hall loves “Don’t You Worry Child” and everybody loves going to Ultra. That’s all fine and good. We only encounter problems when the select few I mentioned above don’t respect the integrity of the genre, or don’t bother to understand why we’re going to Ultra in the first place. (For the record, AVICII X YOU doesn’t try to do either.)
Of course, this struggle is nothing new. So long as there’s been music, there’s been a guy trying to profit from it and another guy bitching about how the first guy is killing the vibe. Does that mean we shouldn’t have this conversation — because it’s been had a hundred times over? Absolutely not. We have to have this conversation periodically, if only to prevent the world from turning into one nightmarish AVICII X YOU competition set to a Taylor Swift dubstep song and filled with people in YOLO trucker hats. From time to time, it’s important to remind ourselves what we’re really doing here. Otherwise, things might spin out of our control.
For the record, I don’t think things are going to spin out of our control. And here’s how I know: when all is said and done, we’re going to listen to the music we like and tune out the rest. We’re not going to submit any cowbell “effects” we might have at our disposal to the dingbats on Team Avicii. We’re going to do everything in our power to prevent the schmucks and the select few from selling us something that only suckers would buy. We’re better than that.
Because at the end of the day, finding something real and powerful to lose ourselves in is absolutely, utterly, and unquestionably worth it.