So…how’ve you been?
Firstly, you might have noticed a change to the blog’s name. Whether we’ll keep it or not remains to be seen. As for why it changed, well, that’s a little bit more involving. Sort of.
When I first got into electronic music, it was still the aural equivalent of the wild west, a frontier of sound and thought where there were few rules and fewer expectations. It was a period when there was little interest in the codification and labelling of an entirely new world of sound. There was techno, yes, and house, and a widening cosmos of other genres, but they were fluid things, rarely remaining in one place long enough for anyone to say “Yes, this is what they are. This is their realm” With any degree of certainty. It was one of the things that made the music so alive.
At the heart of all of that was the concept of the underground; a spiritual, political, commercial, and artistic ethos which informed almost everything that was good to be a part of. As Thomas Aquinas said of the concept of time, “I understand it perfectly until I’m asked to explain it” and, likewise, the idea of the underground remains frustratingly, tantalisingly, distant once you attempt to verbalise it. We think about it obsessively, here in Our Thing; we hold it up as The Light That Guides, and yet we often fail spectacularly when we attempt to put it into words.
And it has got harder, particularly since the term, like so much else, has been co-opted by people who are its very antithesis. It has now become little more than knowing, smirking, argot; a currency with which to purchase credibility. A few years ago DJ Nippledick (might not be his real name) from childrens entertainers Swedish House Mafia upset a lot of people who should have know better when he suggested that what the word underground really meant was ‘amateur’. And you know what? He was kind of right.
At the same time as the word was appropriated to confer fool’s gold upon superstar DJ’s who are so far from the underground they might as well be clouds, it was being used by another legion of far less successful but equally talentless hacks to bestow the idea that their failure to make decent music, or make a mark, was somehow a deliberate political act. The underground became a shield for second-rate work which fouled up our drinking water as badly as the superstar DJs did. And the amateurism fed into something else, something worse; we began to see the slow disintegration of a mindset and a way of being, and the importance of the art and the artistic – and the cultural and social impact they could have – began to vanish right along side them. It wasn’t about standards – it was about meaning. All of that washed away by a flood of people who saw no reason to care about the music, nor its place in things, and who were only interested in what they could get out of it. And as the life-giving things dissolved, as we became inured against the slow march of the mediocre, the vultures descended to pick the bones clean.
The underground is dead. It is dead and stinks so badly that every time someone starts to talk about it in earnest, a thousand other people begin to feel sick. It is dead because they killed it, yes, But it is dead because we let them. We let them proliferate their cynicism and their greed. We let the Boiler Rooms, the Resident Advisors, the God knows what else, waltz in and take what they wanted, and sell it back to us while we pretended that EDM was the Bad Guy. EDM isn’t the bad guy, it’s just shit pop music, like the shit pop music they had in the 90s. It has nothing to do with us, and yet we pretended it did. And while we were moaning about American college students playing with glowsticks, the bastards snuck in and did one on us. We were told it was how things were, that it was progress, and that we should talk about the good stuff instead of focusing on the bad. That to raise issues was to somehow counter-productive. Well, screw that.
It isn’t the greed which should made you angry (well, it is), nor the rampant commercialisation, but the way in which a thing that belonged to all of us has been privatised, sold off, parcelled out to those who can afford to pay for the franchise. Homogenised parties stretching across continents because the best way to maximise profits is through one-size-fits-all. The revolution probably won’t be televised, but it will certainly be live-streamed, and if you want the sound at a decent bit rate, it’ll cost you a tenner a month. In the meantime, we’ll continue to be preached to by activists in conjunction with their running shoe partners, hear about how underground Our New Favourite DJ’s (TM) latest fragrance is, and marvel at the countless identikit festivals which seem to only exist so a small band of DJs can make money for their agents.
You are being sold a turd, you rubes. Stop pretending you’re not.
The hypocrisy, the bullshit, the rampant and sleazy desire to line one’s pockets are beginning to both sicken and bore me. I might not get angry if you sell your soul to the Dance Music Devil for a few quid, but I probably won’t have any interest in your career afterwards. Likewise, I will no longer tolerate people who stand up and proclaim their politics, and their ethics while falling over themselves to find on-brand sponsors, or bite their lip when commercial concerns might be threatened.
Through it all, though, there are those who are doing it right. There are those who are making a career, making a living, and making art without compromising themselves or the thing they love. It’s not impossible to hold onto your ethics and your beliefs. It’s not impossible to live in dance music without being an adjunct of virulent late stage capitalism. There are more than a few, in fact. Cherish them and the music they make because they need us as much as we need them.
So that’s why I’m changing the name to the Independent Electronics Commission; it’s no longer about mainstream and underground, it’s about commercialisation and independence. In fact, it always was. And when it comes to this scene, rather than being on the inside looking further in, I’d much rather be on the outside looking out.
Cheers for still being around. We’ll be back soon. Probably.