Column: Scotland’s Sound – Ultimate DJ and the EDM Appropriation

by Chester Cornford

Simon Cowell and his evil team of corporate goonies are out to ruin music for everyone, or so the internet would have you believe. Ultimate DJ, Cowell’s new DJ talent show, has been met with ridicule, disbelief, and panic. Scanning the comments of various websites sharing the story we find the death threats directed at Cowell for his mastermind role in destroying underground dance music once and for all.

The show will be broadcast online – correct, it’s not even worthy of being televised – and will feature aspiring DJs battling to earn a record deal with Sony Records and the chance of headlining a major festival. The entrants must prove their production skills online as part of the entry process. A DJ show, hosted by someone who isn’t relevant to DJ-ing, with a judge known for his faked sets and cake stunts, that judges contestants ability to produce music. It could be a Wunderground article.

I’m not sure whether the prospect of watching Cowell and judge Steve Aoki chat about the merits of a no doubt theatrical performance, or listening to more people moan about how EDM is killing the scene is a more tedious thought. I am not debating the quality of EDM or its value as a musical genre, but the idea that it is diluting the quality of underground music for everyone.

Firstly, if the fact that underground music has nothing to do with EDM and Martin Garrix not being booked for Subculture isn’t enough to rest the case, let’s look at the idea of appropriation. The cries of appropriation are not ill-founded. EDM seems to give no reference or tribute to its distant roots in earlier genres of music, such as jazz and disco, where modern dance music comes from. Appropriation has always existed in music. Simon & Garfunkel did it with their single El Cóndor Pasa” in 1970 and Saturday Night Fever appropriated dance music in 1977 when it made a disco film full of straight white people. Crossover hits from artists like Duke Dumont brought the world of deep house (in its popular and modern sense) to pop music. All these numerous acts take something away from the original content; they saturate and water them down to match more popular tastes. Some nod back to their roots, some ignore them entirely, but most importantly, they bridge gaps.

Everyone has to start somewhere. EDM has introduced many people to dance music who have never listened to it before. They may stay happy with EDM, and never explore its roots, or the other genres out there. But some of them will, and some of them will discover a whole culture that they were never aware of.

Underground dance music has never been the mainstream, so EDM cannot be replacing it.

Like every other genre, EDM will go out of fashion; it might evolve, fade, or die entirely. It has never been in danger of killing dance music forever and replacing it with a single commercial genre. The only thing EDM will be capable of killing is itself, and with flavourless processed television garbage like Ultimate DJ, it might just well do that.

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