Stop Confusing EDM With All Electronic Music, Already

You’re embarrassing yourself.

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Aug 1 2016, 3:25pm

Hey, have you heard that EDM is dead? Yup, it died. But that doesn't mean that electronic music died too. No, contrary to what a lot of well-meaning but under-informed journalists will have you believe, EDM and electronic music are not one and the same thing.

Last week, The Spectator, a right-leaning British news magazine with a history of hating on raves, ran a piece about the death of electronic dance music. There were some legitimate points in there, chiefly that EDM is in trouble because one of the companies that owned many of its biggest festivals and distribution mechanisms, SFX Entertainment, has gone bankrupt. That's pretty much accurate.

But the piece falls into the same trap that so many old-guard publications do when waxing lyrical about a youth culture they have no real insight into—they mix up the entirety of electronic music with the garish genre-cum-industry that's come to be known as EDM. And then, because they can't be bothered to report on it properly, they declare it's dying. Laptops and synthesizers will all be swallowed up because "like an old sun, [dance music] got too massive."

As if it still bears mentioning, EDM and the rest of dance music made using electronic instruments are not the same thing. The etymology of the term "EDM" isn't fully known, but according to critic Joshua Glazer (who is also a THUMP contributor) writing in Cuepoint, it's a "corporate term used to envelope disparate sounds into one easy-to-market department" that was coined in 1985 in the US, but didn't gain notoriety until the late 2000s.

At around the same time, EDM, in the musical grouping sense, came to designate a variant dance music characterized by big drops and high production value, typically played out in huge arenas; it was popularized by artists such as Skrillex, deadmau5, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Axwell. Those artists rose to fame in the 2010s, but club music has been around since the 1970s, when disco came to the fore in New York.

As most THUMP readers well know, EDM represents only a small fraction of electronic music as a whole. Techno, house, and dubstep—and even more out-there genres like nightcore, witch house, and schranz, to name but a few—all sound different, have different followings, and originated in different places. I actually can't believe I just had to type that, but for some reason it still hasn't quite registered with those who pen apocalyptic op-eds in mainstream papers.

It's parachute arts journalism at its worst. Swooping in to examine a scene based solely on the fact that it's making some people super rich (clocking in at $66 million, Calvin Harris was the only DJ on Forbes' richest musicians list last year), and because its fans are dying from drug overdoses at festivals (something harm reduction experts explicitly state isn't accurate wording), isn't good reporting.

An obvious reason why EDM has become shorthand for dance music is probably the fact the generic name itself tends to generate confusion. EDM: electronic dance music. Taken at face value, the term is actually a decent description for the whole electronic genre. We are talking about electronic music that's largely designed for dancing, after all. So it's forgivable, but nonetheless inaccurate. Because for those in the know, muddling the two like that makes you look like a goober. It's like when your dad calls you and says: "Hello, it's Dad here". Yeah, I know it's you, dad, because modern phones have a digital screen that display the caller's name.

The most pressing reason this (lack of) reporting is such a bad look is because of the impact it has on people who know very little about dance music. Because ultimately when someone who is embedded in the electronic music world reads something ill-informed, they just laugh about it. But beyond the confines of that world, misinformation is spread and myths perpetuated. The history of dance music is at risk of being rewritten. We're going to end up with a whitewashed commercial variant of the genre that disregards its origins in communities of color. Just because people are making music with electronic tools, doesn't mean that music has to have corporate ambitions, or result in young people dying at festivals. You wipe out scores of young producers who are using modern tools at their disposal to express themselves.

Ultimately, I think technophobia is really what's going on here—a fear of computers and a fear of music that sounds weird because it's different and listened to by people who wear funny clothes. You wouldn't take that approach reporting on any other community or cultural phenomenon. When someone—be it the media elite, or anyone for that matter—doesn't understand something, it's all too easy to just dismiss it without seeking to understand it. All I'm trying to say is that it we should all try harder at figuring shit out rather than shitting on things.

Anna Codrea-Rado is THUMP's News Editor. She's on Twitter.