Although my somewhat insular environment in university oftentimes excludes me from more popular trends it would seem that the amateur DJ has finally arrived in Providence. This phenomenon of part-time party starters would seem to be a somewhat recent occurrence due either to EDM’s complete shift into the mainstream of pop music, the falling cost of DJ equipment that has virtually no learning curve such as products like Native Instrument’s Traktor S4, which can be had for under 1000 dollars, or perhaps a combination of the two.
Compare this DJ in a box setup to the cost of what is still the club standard, the CDJ-2000 with a mixer and software which combined totals around $5000, not to mention the time spend learning how to beat match and transition and DJing would seem to become not just easier, but more affordable than ever.
The much lower barrier to entry, both in time and money, has brought forth a new breed of DJ from the video game generation. Whereas the DJ was once a member of the gay New York party scene, an underground house aficionado, or a music nerd who had the time to learn the requisite skills–which often included much time spend crate digging–the new DJ is an everyman. The new DJ is a banker by day, an artist by night. In the current world of underground dance music led by artists Maceo Plex, who will blend everything from techno to deep house to Steve Reich in an hour-long mix that has unique ebbs and flows the primary goal of this new form of DJ the artistry amongst this new crop of DJ’s seems to be focused on delivering the maximum amount of energy in the shortest time possible. The focus on high energy, commercial dance parties has led to sets that are often filled with pop mashups and the omnipresent four on the floor beat. As an example of this let’s take a look at 3Lau’s Chicago opening for Porter Robinson and Sebastian Ingrosso. When, only a few years ago, the opening DJ’s job was primarily to warm up the crowd for the headliners, the DJ would often play less recognizable songs with the primary goal of building anticipation for the main act. However now as can be heard below, 3Lau jumps right into big room house, popular dance songs with heavy, in your face beats so the party is pumping the instant the audience walks through the door.
Although it is still a somewhat recent phenomenon, the rising popularity of the “video game DJ” already seems to chart a shift from the way in which dance events are curated. Before this new crop of younger DJ’s, events were often created to be almost public exhibits of performance art in which each DJ crafted a progression not only in his own set but within the overall arc of the night as a whole. Now, it would appear that EDM events, at least the mainstream ones, primarily consist of DJ’s playing relatively similar sets, with each DJ’s branding and light show creating the night’s progression.
Just as this new crop of DJ’s are changing the face of EDM events they are also charting a shift in how the electronic music industry works. Whereas before up and coming artists would be drawing attention because they were on to something a new, or had an original sound, now it would seem artists are being discovered not for having an original sound, but rather a “current” sound, something related to a topic I have previously discussed the ubiquity of Avicii. While in pop music, it is a well known fact that many artists don’t write their own songs whereas in dance music, the producer/dj often was the artist that handled every aspect of the production. In the majority of Avicii’s popular songs including “Levels”, the writing credits are shared almost always with his manager, Ash Pournouri, who would appear to be in many ways “the man behind the curtain”. The fact that many of these “up and coming producers” are clearly following his lead is interesting, as his music certainly has at least some design for commercial appeal, in contrast to the harsh sounds typically favored by EDM producers. To understand how Avicii is helping lead this new legion of artists let’s examine his single as well as those by the aforementioned 3LAU and Fareoh both young producers, the first with 45,000 fans on facebook, and the latter withdd about 10,000. If we are to look at Avicii’s latest single, “Sillhoutes” and then look at the the latest singles of the other two artists there is a remarkable similarity in styles.
Considering that both young artists are signed and doing quite well, it is interesting is how a style created in part by a businessman, has spread not only so prolifically amongst younger producers, but also the promoters who book shows, leading to a transformation in EDM events around the world.