30 December 2012

New York Times 2012 Pop Music Retrospective: The More it Changes the More...

Happy 2013. I just read the end-of-year 2012 pop music retrospective roundtable at the New York Times, featuring new findings and some old thinking.

American pop music, the NYT critics have found, is more and more affected by the Internet and electronic music. Social media, viral videos and music sharing have stunned the industry with some quite unknown artists, embarrassing underperforming stars backed by multimillion marketing strategies.

As another weird trend, American mainstream electronic music in 2012 has strangely departed with the multicultural core of its youth (45% of American millennials are Latino, Black or Asian). Whereas the will of minorities was loudly felt in Obama's recent victory, the nation's electronica has taken a sharp turn towards White European beats, as NYT pundits have noted. Why? I suspect that, in particular, psy trance (the "whitest of electronic genres", according to Simon Reynolds and several others) has been honing and bubbling for a while, so it's no surprise that its effects are being now felt. More deeply however, Hebdige and Kerouac have argued, already back in the 1960s, that White music is in direct dialogue with Black culture, and in large part reflects and reacts to transformations in African-British and African-American cultures (a relevant topic to be resumed another time).

I couldn't help but feel vindicated and also disappointed with the NYT pop music retrospective. I'm glad to see some prominent pop culture pundits catching up with some of the thoughts we've been sharing here for a while now. But also disappointed that their discussion merely rehashed some well-known assumptions about how electronic music evolves and permeates the mainstream, not to mention some awkward references to post-modernism (Baudrillard, simulacra, pastiche) as in a 1980s college classroom. Check the NYT article. After all is said and done, the more it changes the more it stays the same... In any case, enjoy a happy 2013.

13 August 2012

Is Advertising Killing Dubstep?

Ad industry publication Adweek posted a video gallery of TV commercials  featuring dubstep as background music. Though a capitalist news outlet, the  magazine regrets the co-option of underground music by big brands, while complaining about its formulaic use in mainstream media. The Adweek article is suggestively titled "10 Ads that Killed Dubstep".

Given the variety of EDM genres, why dubstep, one can ask. Maybe sounding a bit tautological, dubstep has gained popularity in recent years by being absorbed in pop music while keeping an urban edgy hip-hop vibe. (British creators have complained that Americans have deformed dubstep with aggressive unsynch overtones, pejoratively called "brostep"). Whether in milder or edgier forms, dubstep currently is one of the most popular EDM genres among the global youth generation, termed Millennials in marketing parlance: anyone born between late 1970s and early 2000s.

Indeed, dubstep is played in commercials promoting products for this youth segment: cereals, alcohol, candies, electronics, and video games. Though people of various ages consume these products, big brands must define a “target audience” working as the core demographic segment to be courted by marketing strategies.

Check the ads featured at Adweek to assess how congruent (or dissonant) dubstep is currently used by big brands in their messages to connect with Millennials. Is advertising killing dubstep, or, maybe, the excessive play of dubstep will eventually turn off Milleanials as "uncool"?  Feel free to leave your comment.

05 August 2012

"How Rave Music Conquered America". Really?


An article written by Simon Reynolds is a serious thing. The most respected and influential dance music journalist has just published his fatwa "How rave music conquered America" in The Guardian (August 02, 2012). His analysis is not essentially different than the majority of press articles on the recent growth of EDM in America. Likewise, he employs analytical categories he forged in the late 1980s, elaborating on aspects of the cyclical trajectory that electronica traces from underground, to popularization and massification, as multiplication leads to fragmentation. What's special about his article is the descriptive (albeit sometimes verbose) depth and the authoritative weight he brings to the table.

The rise of mega festivals with super structures and inflated fees is, according to Reynolds, the main indication that EDM has become mainstream in America. I am surprised, because this is the type of evidence that outside journalists and some naive insiders have been using for over 10 years now. But maybe this time it is different. Really?

The voracious encroachment of entertainment big business in the U.S. rave scene is a relatively new trend, as noted by Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Reynolds briefly mentions that the popularity of EDM has been facilitated by electronica being gradually incorporated into pop and hip-hop aired across the radio and TV mediascape. At a macroeconomic level, I wonder how the current global recession (along with the positive “Obama effect” afterglow) may have played a role. In his prior publications, Reynolds argues that the rise of house and techno back in the mid 1980s was a reaction to economic downturns of Thatcher and Reagan eras. Just like back then, current EDM events are about escapism, but a main difference lies in the lack of rebelliousness or questioning by participants today.

The EDM music being played in mainstream clubs and festivals in America is not "pure" electronica but rather strong fusions of pop and hip-hop in a big tune formula, often leading to undanceable (unbearable?) dubstep. Psy trance, deep house and tech house remain largely circumscribed to underground micro parties from San Francisco to Goa (and maybe that's a good thing). Teen sexiness - without any ironical undertone or twist - has emerged at full swing, suggesting that Millenials have succumbed to material consumerism. As Reynolds explains, the term "festival" has replaced "rave", a loaded taboo in America for it conjures hysterical images of drug overdoses and harassing sheriffs backed by draconian legislation. Party promoters thus avoid the word just like "that disease" was used in reference to cancer generations ago.

Underground critics have a point in noting that mega festivals are sterile, preformatted events regulated by vested economic interests. Not that drugs have disappeared. In fact, ecstasy has a new street name: "molly" (molecular) as new users claim that powder MDMA is more pure than pills. Beyond legality or health concerns, the point here is the lack of freedom or grassroots spontaneity in these EDM festivals. Techno counterculture was about creating a world that departs (and maybe transforms) the constraints and drudgery of modern life. Displays of fashion and flesh without the underlying playfulness or transgression intent of former times suggests that the scene has lost its critical edge, and is becoming more mainstream than ever. Within regulated structures of mega festivals, even Deadmau5 regrets that DJs may no longer be allowed to improvise tracks on the dancefloor, but are rather compelled to hit the 'play' button for a preset track list; a real sacrilege for any virtuoso DJs. The studio is thus becoming the site of creativity and experimentation; quite a departure from times when the dancefloor was an improvisational DJ lab.

The future is unknown. Currently the American EDM scene is an "unstable coalition" of dubstep (Skrillex) and feel-good trance (Kaskade), with the majority of DJ artists lying somewhere in between (Deadmau5). Twenty years from now, Simon Reynolds may use the same framework to understand the situation (from underground, to mainstream, to fragmentation). Though such festivals may provide some escapism, they do miss that grassroots questioning of "the system". Or worse, they just provide conformist, self-contained, pricey entertainment in commodity form. The genuine experience of self-transcendence and redemption is missed out: the Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ) that arises in quasi-sacred electronica rituals for a secular youth in search of spirituality and connectedness. Perhaps the title of Reynolds' article would better be "How America conquered rave music". Perhaps.

27 April 2011

Sonar Festival: DJ Gig Auction on e-Bay

I received this today from Sonar PR Central. They are selling DJ gigs if you want to play at Sonar Festival in Barcelona. Gigs are being auctioned on e-Bay. We live in a capitalist society in which everything becomes commodity (unfortunately). In the spirit of PLUR, I think it would be revolutionary if raised funds were donated to charity or some noble cause. Some millionaire DJs would be motivated to pay even more to participate and help people. See below:

Sónar 2011 is up for auction with 2 extraordinary passes:
Introducing the DJ PASS... Is performing at Sónar your dream? Now you can achieve it with DJ PASS. This is a unique and unrepeatable offer enabling you to buy a 50-minute slot in the booth of the new SonarCar stage, at Sonar by Night (Barcelona) and perform in front of thousands of people. Prepare your set, visit ebay from Monday 2nd May onwards and start bidding. SonarCar is waiting for you.

Opening bid price: 1€
DJ PASS includes: 1 50-minute DJ set on the SonarCar stage on Friday 17th June at Sonar Barcelona + 1 festival accreditation.
...and Introducing the EGO PASS :: Buy your 20 seconds of glory! Do you have something to say to more than 15,000 people? All the screens on the SonarClub Stage on Friday 17th June at Sonar Galicia and Saturday 18th June at Sonar Barcelona can be yours for 20 seconds. Record your message and we will project it after the headlining concert. Visit ebay from Monday 9th May onwards and start bidding for your 20 seconds of glory.

Opening bid price: 1€
Sonar Galicia Ego Pass Auction for Friday 17th June from 9th May onwards.
Sonar Barcelona Ego Pass Auction for Saturday 18th June from 16th May onwards.
EGO PASS includes: projection of a 20-second video with your message after the headlining show on the SonarClub Stage + 1 accreditation for the festival.

*Offers only available to natural persons. Companies and brands may not participate.

31 March 2011

Doc: ElectronicAwakening

Sorry for the silence, my friends. I've been too busy with other dimensions of my life, but here is some good news. My colleague Andrew Johner is about to release his new documentary on electronic dance music spirituality "ElectronicAwakening" and is raising some funds to put it on road of festivals and distribution.

He interviewed and video-taped me during his doc research in 2008 (yes, that's a while ago...). I haven't seen the full documentary yet, so I can only hope that my work and myself are featured in a nice light. :-)   I recall that Andrew's ideas centers on scatological beliefs about global transformation related to 2012 Maya Calendar. Will it happen? I don't know. Let's wait and see. In the meantime, you can sit back and enjoy the trailer of "ElectronicAwakening":

13 December 2010

"Tron Legacy": Daft Punk's Digital Symphony

Daft Punk's amazing soundtrack for "Tron Legacy" at times resembles Avatar's lethargic soundscapes, but more so evokes "Dark Knight"'s psychological dramaticity. (I actually didn't know the French duo had co-produced "Tron Legacy" with Hans Zimmer, who greatly enjoys the Bethovian-style doorknocks we insistently listen in Batman sequel movies). I'll leave it to music critics and ethnomusicologists to extract genealogies of artists and sounds that make up the album universe, and will rather place some notes on social implications and multimedia connections.

One of my main concerns has been to assess to what extent electronica emerges/pops/arises onto the mainstream, via popular culture or media industry. Is "Tron Legacy" an example? Somewhat but not quite. Daft Punk arguably is one of the most well connected underground artists in terms of media/entertainment industry appearances (e.g., Sony cell phone, DJ Hero soundtracks, etc.). From their origins in 1990s French House, the duo Homem-Cristo and Bagalter does a great job in laying ambient electronic with orchestral symphonics arrangements for Tron Legacy, creating engaging digital soundscapes that is well suited to the movie's digital dreamlike sceneries.

However, don't expect any smashing sounds from the underground, but rather a softer version of ambient music occasionally peppered with hair-raising "acidy" sounds (I wonder if Roland 303s are still used at Disney high-end studios). In sum, this is no underground resistance music, but some interesting exercise (gym) for your mind, with a sentimental touch.

The movie? Well, this is Disney: child-oriented father-son drama; no blood (yet some robot busting), no sex (but some sexy chicks). It looks as though like an interesting view into digital imaginaries of the future, now.

29 November 2010

"Eat Pray Love" and "Global Nomads"

The best-seller travelogue by Elizabeth Gilbert has a book precursor (actually many precursors), such as “Global Nomads” by Anthony D'Andrea (Routledge 2007). Both cover the same topic: educated and successful professionals who are existentially unhappy and decide to “drop out” (at least temporarily), traveling globally and experimenting in search of one’s own self.

In fact, there has been a spike in sales of “Global Nomads”, which can be explained by a few factors: a) the start of academic year in the U.S. and Europe (with the book being included in classroom reading lists), b) the gradual popularization of the book (as academic titles may take a few years to take off), and c) as an effect of  “Eat Pray Love” phenomenon played by Julia Roberts.

If you like “Eat Pray Love”, you will probably enjoy “Global Nomads”. As main differences, “Global Nomads” addresses a more marginal countercultural experience of lifestyle migration, connected to Gilbert’s story but more radical at times, as it depicts New Age spiritual practices and Techno rave experimentalism across Spain and India. A more sociological take on disaffected expatriates is another differential of “Global Nomads”, as this book is based on a PhD thesis in Anthropology at the University of Chicago, published by premier publisher Routledge in their premium series: International Library of Sociology (founded by Karl Manheim, currently directed by John Urry).

There are many travelogues out there, in erudite and pop versions, usually written by expatriates who decide to reminisce over their travel or diasporic experiences. There is also a growing literature analyzing such travelogues from a more academic perspective, including topics such as imperial travel, lifestyle migration, global trekking, global wellness resorts, etc. But “Global Nomads” is well connected with “Eat Pray Love” for they share a contemporary concern with modern dilemmas of a troubled, affluent individualism.

"Global Nomads" can be found at Amazon, Routledge, or any other good online book store, in affordable paperback, durable hardback, or in digital edition for Kindle/Ipad e-readers. Enjoy!

27 August 2010

SONAR CHICAGO 2010 - a Preview

A press release from Sonar HQ (Barcelona) reached Chicago today (Aug 27). It states [with my edits]:

"On September 9, 10 and 11, Sónar will be staging the first Sónar Chicago
, a festival that (...) bases its artistic personality on the DNA of the [pivotal] festival in Barcelona. (...) Sónar Chicago has an ambitious and wide-ranging line-up with plenty of electronic experimentation, in its derivations and mutations and in collision with other genres. [It] will present more than 30 events, including concerts, lectures and screenings." And I must add, it is all FREE (except Smart Bar Sonar nights which are only $5 to $10 anyways...)

I saved you some time and digested Sonar's highly complex website. The festival indeed showcases the cutting-edge of electronica internationally, yet from a peculiar modernist Catalan viewpoint. This means that Sonar unfolds upon a tension, between an experimental/minimalist pole which mainstream crowds will find hard to swallow, against a more emotion-oriented pole hosting danceable, really awesome music (house, pop, dub, even techno).


PROGRAM - SONAR CHICAGO 2010:


Thursday 9th during the day @ Millennium Park provides a general overview of Sonar philosophy, starting with some trippy experimental music (Faraon, Bradien), going into a really crowd-pleasing rap rock (The Slew) followed by a deep tech-housy ending (Martyn).

Friday 10th during the day @ Chicago Cultural Center will feature veeeery experimental stuff. That's "intelligent" music, and if you are expecting to dance, you'll be disappointed with "sound sculpture" (Lesley Flanigan). Still, I highly recommend watching with your ears and eyes Nosaj Visual Show, an amazing blend of music in sync with dynamic visual projections.

"Sonar at Night" (Friday Sep 10th), as always, is unmissable, and you will be amazed with the line-up playing @ Smart Bar, which includes the likes of trippy funk Space Dimension Controller, Black Devil Disco, and the eclectic house of Cosmin.

Saturday 11th during the day will again have experimental music @ Chicago Cultural Center. This is music for head-strong artists into minimalist effects. I recommend it if you are a vanguard aficionado or music composer, to see Chicago's own Flashbulb, or delve into the depths of musical horror deconstructionism (Huan). PS: I heard through the grapevine that Sound Bar will host an ending party Saturday night...


Sonar Chicago program is listed below. (Gray marks indicate the ones I'm not missing...)

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Chicago music scene may not be the same after this 30 top-quality-event-line-up festival which intends to become "annual" in Chicago. Sonar has been shaping the electronica scene since the late 1990s, not only in Barcelona, but throughout the continent as well: it is "the largest multimedia festival in Europe", as I've witnessed with my eyes in various editions. Let's wait and see if Sonar will really make history in the Windy City.


Thursday 9
mysonar 12:00 pm :: Jay Pritzker Pavilion :: Millennium Park :: live :: Faraón
mysonar 05:00 pm :: Jay Pritzker Pavilion :: Millennium Park :: live :: Bradien
mysonar 06:00 pm :: Jay Pritzker Pavilion :: Millennium Park :: live :: Jimmy Edgar
mysonar 07:00 pm :: Jay Pritzker Pavilion :: Millennium Park :: live :: The Slew featuring Kid Koala
mysonar 08:00 pm :: Jay Pritzker Pavilion :: Millennium Park :: dj :: Martyn
Friday 10
mysonar 03:00 pm :: SonarHall :: Preston Bradley Hall :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: Faraón
mysonar 04:00 pm :: SonarComplex :: Claudia Cassidy Theater :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: Bradien
mysonar 05:00 pm :: SonarHall :: Preston Bradley Hall :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: Lesley Flanigan: Amplifications
mysonar 06:00 pm :: SonarComplex :: Claudia Cassidy Theater :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: Nosaj Thing Visual Show
mysonar 07:00 pm :: SonarHall :: Preston Bradley Hall :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: Oval

Sonar by Night
mysonar 10:00 pm :: Sónar Club Night by Red Bull Music Academy: Smart Bar :: live :: Space Dimension Controller
mysonar 11:00 pm :: Sónar Club Night by Red Bull Music Academy: Smart Bar :: dj :: Todd Osborn
mysonar 12:00 am :: Sónar Club Night by Red Bull Music Academy: Smart Bar :: live :: Black Devil Disco Club
mysonar 01:00 am :: Sónar Club Night by Red Bull Music Academy: Smart Bar :: dj :: Cosmin TRG
mysonar 02:00 am :: Sónar Club Night by Red Bull Music Academy: Smart Bar :: dj :: Appleblim

Saturday 11
mysonar 03:00 pm :: SonarHall :: Preston Bradley Hall :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: The Flashbulb feat. the New Millennium Orchestra
mysonar 04:00 pm :: SonarComplex :: Claudia Cassidy Theater :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: bRUNA
mysonar 05:00 pm :: SonarHall :: Preston Bradley Hall :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: Huan
mysonar 06:00 pm :: SonarComplex :: Claudia Cassidy Theater :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: Ben Frost
mysonar 07:00 pm :: SonarHall :: Preston Bradley Hall :: Chicago Cultural Center :: live :: Nicolas Bernier + Martin Messier: La Chambre des Machines

Ending party (Saturday night) @ Smart Bar?....

29 July 2010

Death in the Love Parade

Something went terribly wrong in the last edition of the Love Parade which took place in Duisburg (Germany's Ruhr region) on July 24. Massive crowds bottlenecked in one of the entrances, and 21 people were crushed to death and 500 injured.

Over the years, safety warnings have been issued, although only minimal incidents have been registered. The main problem has always been the huge mess and logistical chaos resulting from a concentration of up to 1.6 million revelers each year. In the early 2000s, Berlin curtailed its public services support (police, garbage collection, traffic control), and the Love Parade was moved to the post-industrial Ruhr region where its towns, looking for a new look and tourism, take turns in hosting the event.

But this year's Love Parade took place in an apparently compact area of a relatively unprepared town, as the venue was occupied by a long line of trucks with DJ music systems, whereto hundreds of thousands of people, as usual, concentrate. The safety controls collapsed against the massive crowd, which could not be hold back. Authorities could only pray for that the worst would not happen, but it did. More information can be accessed in the press, such as UK's The Economist.

As repercussions - it is unlikely that the Love Parade will be forbidden. But tighter regulations and professional organization will be certainly demanded by public authorities (- remember, this is Germany). The encroachment of public controls/commercial interests begs the question of whether the Love Parade remains a political carnival, a movement of critique of mainstream society. Certainly not.

Let's face it, an event that attracts 1.5 million young people and is sponsored ("co-opted") by a gym chain, structured nightclubs, and local mayors is by no means countercultural. That doesn't mean that it has no value, or that people can't have fun. Enjoying and taking it lightly is something that several countercultural subcultures have forgotten... In any case, minimal organization and safety must be provided, particularly at such massive levels of attendance.

26 May 2010

12-Month Updates - Fresh from Google Analytics

A few updates on Global Raver over the last 12 months, according to Google Analytics. This is what I found:
  • London overtook Calgary as the top city reading Global Raver.
  • UK overtook India as the second place in number of blog visits, after the US.
  • The most popular post now is "How to Find a Rave Party", overtaking the classic one on Pac Man quote hoax.
  • Lots of people in California trying to find parties around...
Stay tuned...