Andy Stott, the Manchester-based producer of hauntingly beautiful dub techno, is one of the most interesting artists working in the vast terrain of electronic music. “Numb,” video above, from Stott’s latest record Luxury Problems, out now on Modern Love, opens with a weaving together of cold, distant, indecipherable vocals. Minimal sounds punctuate the syllables from underneath. The song is beatless for this opening part, but you can still feel the tempo and you get the sense that the song is going somewhere but it takes a whole two minutes to get there. And then, suddenly, at about 2:20, an ominous yet cloudy beat drops in, sounding like footsteps marching on top of the vocals.
The effect is mesmerizing and shows the artfulness of electronic music. There are two kinds of electronic music: the artful kind and the commercial kind.
Turn on your television set and I guarantee you’ll see some commercial playing a hot new song by an “it” electronic dance music or “EDM” artist. You know the culprits — David Guetta, Daft Punk, Skrillex, etc. On the one hand, I’m so excited to see DJs becoming superstars in their own right and reaching a level of success and commercial recognition in their production. But on the other, the growth and commercialization of “EDM” seems to cheapen the creative power of electronic music.
We’ve all been to clubs giving us electronic party music with divas singing and soaring above beats, but that music always gets old to me after a while. Like, I enjoy it for maybe 30 minutes tops but then I get bored and need to hear other music, something a little more creative.
On the video for “Numb,” above, one YouTube commenter said they prefer Stott’s “drop” in lieu of a Skrillex drop any day.
What record labels and music people are now calling “EDM” is electronic music in it’s most commercial, predigested form. But is it interesting? You can hear electronic dance music at music festivals around the world. That’s because EDM is a major trend in pop music right now. Want to create a hot new artist? Why, just throw some electronic beats at her, run her voice through some dumb machine and watch the cash roll in! Almost every song on the radio now features classic EDM traits, all squeezed into the standard pop song time formula of three minutes — strong, computerized beats, mechanized vocals or a “drop” of some sort where the song swells up to a climax and then, whaam, the beat drops.
This kind of music is not challenging. I like challenging music. People like Andy Stott, whose music employs vocals only very rarely, and even then as more of a symphonic texture than the central focus of the music, show the artistry and even compositional/composerly structure of electronic music. It is hard to listen to because it is not as obvious as commercial electronic music.
Overall, the beauty of electronic music is that it’s a really vast field that includes stuff by obscure composers and composer-like DJs and singer-songwriters playing with genre but also hardcore DJs who make banging dance music. The kind of music you like is always a question of taste. How many of us have raved and raved about a song that basically gave us a head-to-toe orgasm and when we shared it with our closest friends they were just sort of like “meh,” filling you with rage?
Your musical taste reveals a lot about you — what you’re interested in, what you like, and how much you enjoy finding new music or if you just like listening to stuff you already know.
I don’t want to shit on the kind of music people like — that’s not what this is about. But it is to say that for all the emphasis music culture puts on commercial electronic music, a world where certain producers and DJs capture millions of dollars and endorse products and headline the most important festivals on the planet, we’re overlooking some of the most innovative, creative, and interesting producers who aren’t selling their souls or creativity to capitalism.