Electronic Dance Music has gone mainstream and there’s no denying it. What was once confined to the bunkers of an intimate 4am boiler room has catapulted onto the main stages of Coachella, a spot which was once saved only for rock legends or pop princesses. While many arguments thrown around about artists “selling out” their music to Las Vegas or the highest bidder may actually be on point, going mainstream and appealing to the masses in one way or another, however, is not necessarily the devil, if played correctly.
Adaptation in the music industry is completely natural- it’s the survival of the fittest instinct which should push artists to produce engaging and unique new music. Many of these big name artists who have made their name and claimed their unique slot within this dance music industry have hit the mainstream and never looked back. But let me be clear here, going mainstream does not mean it is acceptable to be complacent. Yes, Calvin Harris has created the perfect anthem recipe, and yes he is now the highest paid DJ in the world for the second year – but his complacency, and that of David Guetta, has not gone unnoticed.
Who could forget Deadmau5‘s infamous “We all hit play” posted on his Tumblr in 2012, an interesting read on what it was like to be a DJ/Producer in 2012. While it is often unclear of the line between “DJ” and “Producer”, in his signature Mau5
rant honesty, he expressed how, as an actual producer, “[his] ‘skills’ and other PRODUCERS’ skills shine where [they] need to shine…in the goddamned studio, and on the fucking releases.” Furthermore, he stresses that it is a DJ’s job to take a crowd “on a roller coaster…and connect with them.” Anyone who has seen Laidback Luke play live would understand the talent in gauging a crowd and adapting your set to get them up and pumping.
While I did say the mainstream is not necessarily the devil, it can trap young artists whether they choose that path or not. If we take Swedish DJ Producer Avicii as an example: Off the back of his Levels tour, there appeared to be no stopping the then 22-year old superstar. Producing hit after hit, and doing over 250+ shows in a year, it then came at a complete surprise when he tried to break out, acting out his own rebellion to a televised audience ad at Ultra Music Festival in 2013. What should have been commended as a great leap of faith for the young talent – creating a folk album full of unexpected tracks and bootlegs – in fact left him in an even bigger mainstream big black hole. But should he be punished for trying something different, is it his fault that everyone learned to love Aloe Black again?
All hope is not lost, however. There are artists who have managed to successfully slip between the headline set at Stereosonic, to the top of the charts, to producing a pop-star’s hit, and right back to the 5am unplanned sets at Bonarroo festival (I’m looking at you Skrillex), with little to no resistance. These are what should be better known as the “EDM Inbetweeners.” The clever adapters who have infiltrated the mainstream, our radio airways and our pop-charts, very often without you even realising. And the funny thing is, whether you admit it or not, or whether you know it was them, you love their work!
Here are a few EDM Inbetweeners who have caught our attention in one way or another.
Here’s something you’d probably find hard to Believe, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj‘s Beauty And A Beat was originally produced by Zedd for his album Grammy award-winning album Clarity. While Clarity proved to be a mainstream hit for the well-established Russian-German EDM artist, it was his production on this Beiber hit which solidified himself as a lovable inbetweener. If that was not enough for the 25-year old, then his collaboration with R&B girl of the moment Ariana Grande has proved his versatility and knack for wielding lolly-pop infused dance perfection which surprisingly appeals to a wide-ranging audience, myself included.
…But is producing major tracks for major pop-artists a sell-out?
The answer is no. Zedd has managed to put his name, and his unique sound, behind some of the biggest tracks of the last two years as a producer and as an adapter to the market. Bridging the gap between the relatively unknown and the superstar mainstream, without eventually pissing off everyone, takes incredible skill and understanding of the industry. For Zedd, it was about choosing a pop artist who is in their prime, but also someone who compliments their dance production style. However, sometimes this does not always work, and this is probably the cue that Avicii should have been given before collaborating with flailing come-back kids Coldplay.
This lovable prankster, born out of the Mad Decent crew, is quickly becoming the biggest non-mainstream mainstreamer of them all. His track this ‘Get Low’ alongside DJ Snake, has found itself in every movie trailer release of the last two months, plus landing him a headline spot at this year’s Sydney Field Day later this year in Sydney. To add to this, he as be caught teaching Zac Efron to DJ and earlier this week, and signing to major label Colombia Records in May of this year.
…But is signing to a major label a sell-out?
Although the signs may be pointing towards this, who can really call Dillon Francis a sell-out? While many fans were quick to jump on the “DILLONSELLOUTFRANCIS” Twitter bandwagon, if you take note, he has maintained his relationship with his origins at Mad Decent and remained true to his cheeky public persona throughout this accomplishment. Francis has etched his way into the mainstream by playing sets and producing tracks which are always a surprise to the system, and a unique Moombhatton sound. Furthermore, he has won our hearts with the ingenious use of social media to perpetuate his “I don’t give a fuck” attitude – a little nudge I’m sure Diplo gave him early on in his career.
Flume (+ What So Not)
It seems like a lifetime ago that we were introduced to Flume, a young Sydney talent who had a knack for using a launch pad and cutting and mixing the best of R&B samples. A game-changing album and a bucket load of ARIAs later, it’s hard to believe that he has managed to stay under the radar, meanwhile being the most loved and well-recognised electronic artists in the country.
…But is being endorsed by David Beckham a sell out?
He is a popular guy, there no doubt about it. But Flume lets the music do the talking – and that is how it should be. His unique sound has lasted the initial hype, but it his ability to adapt and continue to create is what has garnered him respect amongst his myriad of fans and industry professionals.
Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in (“Everything changes, nothing perishes”). Ingenuity is definitely key, and just last year saw him team up with relatively unknown Sydney DJ Emoh Instead, to create What So Not. This gold-mine of a combination, backed by none other than successful inbetweener Skrillex, has offered a new spin on his work, and kept any ounce of the distasteful mainstream out of the picture. The duo has gone from strength to strength, appealing to the masses of the clubs, while still separately standing on their own and flying an Aussie flag on a competitive international market. Above all from what it appears, he is a good guy with a clear level-headed head on him, even telling The Guardian last year that he will do anything “to avoid the poisons of success.”
This British duo have garnered an epic amount of success over the years, bringing the underground electronic sound to the mainstream and hitting the higher reaches of the UK charts with hits such as ‘White Noise’ and ‘Latch.’
…But is selling over 1 million singles selling out?
Since signing with big name label Universal, all could have been lost for the talented Lawrence brothers. In fact, it was quite the opposite. When signing with their label, they said told Billboard, “we had an agreement with that they could carry on doing what we’re doing and they could just let us get on with it, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Disclosure’s achievement should not be in anyway underestimated. This well-oiled machine continues to pump out talented vocal artist after talented vocal artist into the spotlight, whilst remaining themselves relatively unscathed – not through any act of god but through careful planning and commitment to their cause and their music. They have created chart-friendly dance music, whilst retaining underground credibility and not softening their sound to cash in on any current trends or the temptation of a Las Vegas $$$ slot. A crossover of old school house and garage culture, crossed with exquisitely produce instrumental electronica, combined with hooks to seduce a wide-ranging mainstream audience, they are truly building their style on top of countless dance acts who have gone before them and succeeded such as Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers.
When asked, “now that you’ve got a song in the charts, are you going to change your music? Are you going to sound like EDM guys?” Guy Lawrence aptly replied, without any arrogance, “why would I need to change what I do? You’re always going to get haters, but I believe the dynamic has changed this year in the charts.”