DJs, Drum Circles and Dubstep

I read this article and then came up with this rant.  Enjoy…

well, that is indeed disc jockeys have been doing since their inception during the radio boom. Of course personality played a huge role until radio’s decline in recent years (they still try, of course – god bless ’em). And of course these dudes who sit behind various devices for 6 hours while people spend way too much money on drugs and alcohol and “dance” and try to get laid can vary wildly. On one end, we have dudes with a WinAmp or iToons playlist and try to dance a round and pretend to do shit. On the other, we have true performance artists and musicians who combine live-played synthesizer, electronic drums and vocals with pre-recoreded bits. Of course key tools in the arsenal of any live disc jockey would be the mixing board and simple effects/filters. In order to keep a party going, the disk jockey or “master of ceremonies” (MC or emcee) has to make sure the transitions between songs doesn’t interrupt the flow of the evening. And they have to look for similarities in songs so that the vibe is kept up all night. Some play a bunch of genre songs with a “disco beat” over the top, while others select pre-recorded elements and combine them as they see fit. In any event, the live element of any disc jockey truly more in a directorial capacity when it is compared to something that any traditional “musician” would do on a stage. HOWEVER, I would like to think/assume that there exists decent disc jockeys out there who know their harmony: the circle of fifths, the overtone series, binaural vs. monaural, how certain frequencies affect human hearing at certain sound pressure levels. But there you have it! As long as there are people who enjoy dancing to mostly tonally monotonous, driving 4/4 beats for hours on end while plastered off their tits, we will have live disc jockeys. As long as those disc jockeys exist, we will have people producing electronic music for said mass consumption. And as long as we have that, we will continue to have musicians who will try (and most of them will fail) to write, record and perform their own tunes. Perhaps in the future there will be more electronic composers as traditional ones. Some keen minds have even alluded to this: Frank Zappa, John Cage, John Lennon, and I’m sure a host of others I’ve forgotten at this late hour.

If we look at the history and evolution of music, we can see a relatively clear picture. While some may argue that music came out of need for communication (evolving from verbal language/bodily communication and the predecessor of spoken language), others might argue that music evolved after spoken language, as a way for humans to relax, philosophise, and enjoy the world around them free from the bonds of theoretical structures such as language and mathematics. Regardless of which magazine you subscribe to, most agree that early music was very rhythmic and social. While many early musicians probably started practicing their instrument, rehearsing between performances and slowly creating rules and methodologies to be able to more effectively communicate through music, it wasn’t until WAY later that music first started becoming more personalised and egoistic. Fast-forward to the feudal ages, where a few wealthy intellectuals ruled over the masses of illiterate, sickly peasants. Here we see a clear-cut definition that still holds true today (although the lines become increasinly blurred). We have skillful minstrels hired to soothe royalty and stroke their egos. A sign of a cultured and wealthy lord was his ability to hire the best musicians as well as having an ear for what is to be considered “good” music. Then there were the peasants who used music as an both escape from peasant life and as a way to communicate through the generations. Actually, we saw some of this in the times of the ancient empires as well. However, the ancient Greek and Roman “peasants” had a considerably higher-quality life than that of the pre-renaissance peasants. Music, theatre, and indeed all artforms were considered important for society and for the human psyche/soul/spirit/animus. Of course the human ego took over in all aspects of life and led to the eventual downfall of this society.

So, we’re back in the dark ages. We have music as the ego-centric and cultured art-form for the aristocracy, as well as communication and escape for the masses. Perhaps the lines got blurred during the renaissance, and as a renewed interest in mathematics, physics and natural sciences sprouted up, so did the general interest in music and the arts. This cycle would continue for the next few centuries until the advent of recording technology. Once people started being able to move around more freely, the exchange of global knowledge became of the greatest importance. This time around, the aristocracy knew it would be best to play along, and close the gap between them and John Everyman. Governments started forming, and the people were treated to free or inexpensive concerts, operas, plays and soon, silent theatre. Literacy went up in the Western world, so the need for music as a communication tool went down. A few Western pioneers travelled the world recording the various musical traditions (as well as all forms of culture) and brought them back to the West.

For the sake of time, we’ll fast-forward to just after WWI. Hoardes of Europeans pour into the USA in search of the all-elusive “freedom” and the chance at becoming part of something great and new. Hollywood is born and thrives, the Jazz scene starts up, and we find ourselves back at the beginning of music history, perhaps. There are no longer government-sanctioned pieces written by sons of rich lords – we have a world music and art culture (albeit mostly Western) that have all found themselves being led by the Africans who now found their home in the US (and no longer as slaves!) The origins of man take the reigns and just play whatever, whenever. It doesn’t really matter why – they just get up on a stage in a smoky bar, play on the street, on their back porch, while riding a boxcar across the country. And the rest of the Western world followed suit. The industrial revolution brought on a small, albeit important renaissance that would revive 18th and 19th century philosophy and mathematics, and the “rules of music” started being broken, re-written, if you will. In essence, we have members of the new Western global tribe leading their fellow man, as well as the chieftains, in song and dance – for no other reason than “it just feels good.”

Fast-forward a few decades, and we now have radical new forms of popular music emerging: bebop, swing, rock ‘n roll, bluegrass, and soon acid, psychedelic, rock, singer-songwriter…. The powers that be took the lead of Hollywood and really got the Western music “business” up and running before 1970. Now all of a sudden we have schools to teach you how to play, write, perform, record, produce and sell music to the masses. Don McClean alluded to “the day the music died” as the day music no longer became “for the people, by the people” and started becoming a commodity in which the greatest nations of the eartch traded and compared themselves. We saw how that turned out in feudal times, but hey – at least we got the Beatles, Jimmi, Led Zep, Doors and a whole host of others from it.

Fast-forward to the 1990s – now the industry is “gettin’ me down” (Lordy sen’ ‘dat ‘ol chariot for cummin’ t’take me hooooome). While there is no longer any governing power or slave-driver against whom to protest, the new role of music is for the individual. We need to feel special, different, and need to have deep personal convictions. We also like to further this with a very niche musical taste. “I like modern rock, but the grunge scene is really picking up.” “Post-modern grunge is OK, but the neo-psychedelic elements just aren’t my thing.” “Track 10 is good, but #11 sounds too over-produced”

THis is all well and good, but we’ve strayed somehow from the earthy, “it feels good – let’s do it” humble beginnings of music. Or, rather, we have been divided into two camps again. We now have the music elitists who prefer musical analysis to “getting down with the funk” or “chasing the a-train and boogie-woogie-ing all night long”.

This is where it gets subjective. I personally believe that at the end of the 1990s, the two camps became so firmly defined, that there is no way back in the foreseeable future. On the one hand, the charts have been filled with easy-to-digest “people’s music” that incorporates everything we’ve learned about “good” music throughout the ages, and whose main purpose is to allow the listener to have a good time, move their body (shake your baaaahdaaay), and just let loose after a boring, blue-collar day. Then there are the few bands who survived from the 60s/70s super-creative heyday, and the various sub-genres and sound-a-like bands they produced. There are huge markets in both, and they both survive. It’s extremely difficult to get top-10 producers and writers to write and produce a pop-record featuring your vocals/dancing, as it is equally as hard to find some decent musicians with whom you can traverse the sonic landscapes of the innermost depths of human emotion. Micro-trends are seen, and genre popularity rises and falls quickly (from boy-band to diva in just three short years).

And then it happened.

The terrible electronic music of the 1980s combined with the groovy dance-driven funk, soul and disco of the 50s 60s and 70s combined into the future of music: techno/electro/minimal/DJ/club/euro/insertphrasehere/dubstep/whatever music. It seems to have single-handedly re-united people from all walks of life, niches, and genre-followers. Every band has to have some elecronic parts in it these days. Everyone is a “producer” (yeah, I can use FrootyLoops and ProTools on my FagBook) and even the hardest of hardcore fans goes to clubs and discoteques and shits themselves when the “bass drops” *throws up a little in mouth*

I guess it’s good… I mean – we’re back where we started all those years ago in Africa or wherever the hell we’re from. Is it OK for me to absolutely hate this shit? YES!!! Is it OK for the once hardcore punkers and skankers to fall head-over-heels for this shit? YES!!! But we can’t go pointing fingers or labeling people/genres. That is the next stage of human evolution: the true convergance of the self (id, ego) with the populous. It is totally OK to like/dislike something. Some feel best when they fit in, others like to be different – but we’re all in this wacky amusement park called “reality” together, so we’d better start enjoying ourselves while we can.

Moral of the Story? I dunno. I guess – just think before you criticise others’ musical “tastes”. And whenever things become unclear, just sit back, relax, throw on some Pink Floyd or Ke$ha or JBiebs or Skrilex or T.Rex, and just travel the universe in your mind, where it all begins and ends anyways.

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