Electronica Is Dead

Well, that’s what we’re led to believe by XLR8R in the article “Entertain Us: The State of Electronica.” The piece begins with Moby explaining his reason for discontinuing stadium-sized touring in favor of spinning in smaller clubs.

“At some point during the Hotel or 18 tours, I came to the realization that I was miserable,” says Moby. “Which is weird, as it seems like every musician’s dream is to do big venues and long tours, but the bigger the venues got, the less I enjoyed touring. Performing itself was fun. I just didn’t enjoy waking up in a parking lot on a bus every day and being away from home for six months.”

To restore some semblance of order to his life, Moby did the unthinkable. He returned to his late-’80s roots by DJing at small New York City clubs such the postage-stamp-sized Alphabet City haunt known as Nublu.

“I quickly realized that I had more fun DJing records for 75 people at Nublu than going on tour and performing for 10,000 people a night,” explains Moby. “I can imagine if I have children at some point, they’re gonna say, ‘Okay, college is $200,000 for four years and you need to pay for it.’ And I’ll say, ‘Maybe I could… if I’d toured more instead of DJing at Nublu.’ From a financial perspective, I’m an idiot.”

From there, we get the thesis.

Moby’s newfound credo is simple: Spinning records for an intimate crowd is more fulfilling than entertaining a faceless, seething mass of thousands. But let’s be honest; it’s also troubling/telling in terms of what it says about electronic music’s place in American popular culture these days. After all, if Moby, a one-time activist/tea peddler/concert promoter/restaurateur/producer/DJ won’t do the music industry’s monkey dance anymore, who will?

That’s a lot to put on the back one Moby for deciding to play in smaller clubs. It continues:

That’s what we set out to examine on the eve of XLR8R’s 15th Anniversary: whether the Top 40 takeover “electronica” promised in the mid-to-late ’90s ever amounted to anything. As it turns out, some of dance music’s biggest icons are more ambivalent about their fame-and the hype surrounding electronic music-than you might think.

The icons they talk to include the Prodigy, Underworld, and the Chemical Brothers. This is where it gets most interesting:

“I remember hearing the term ‘the new British invasion’ [in 1997] and thinking, ‘We don’t want a part in any invasion, let alone this one,'” adds [Underworld’s Karl] Hyde. “Something about that era in the ’90s seemed like the kiss of death in a way because British electronica was held up to be the next big thing to replace grunge. It was really, really odd that people chose something that was so not guitar music to follow something that was straight-ahead guitar music.”

In many ways, this is where the media broke the ground for electronica’s early grave-the second some know-it-all critic gave a stack of dance music niches one homogenous name. As it turns out, the American public was mostly interested in dance tracks that played like rock or hip-hop songs, rather than the intricacies of jungle, house, techno, and trip-hop. Remember the “Buzz Clip” status of songs like “Block Rocking Beats,” “Setting Sun,” and “Firestarter”? How about MTV’s Amp show and its accompanying compilations? The trajectory of electronica’s rise and fall somewhat mirrors Amp’s greenlight in 1996 and eventual cancellation in 2001, as KoRn and Limp Bizkit captured the interest of frat boys and future Tiësto fans. It’s also telling that while the heavy metal-centric show Headbanger’s Ball was killed in 1995-just before electronica’s supposed takeover-and resuscitated in 2003, Amp has never seen a resurgence in any way, shape, or form.

This feels a tad purist, analogous to citing a handful of rock dudes from ’92 and saying rock’s dead because their bands aren’t as stadium-filling popular anymore (um, Limp Bizkit?). What about the electronica-based and hybridized genres that are dismissed as less complex than “the intricacies of jungle, house, techno, and trip-hop”? Is there no Justice? Seems strange not to talk about developments and bifurcations in a scene and instead to hold up a particular period and the sounds from that period as the valid “electronica” definition. The piece ends:

But, XLR8R reader, did you ever want this music to go totally mainstream?

“I don’t,” says [double Platinum selling artist Liam] Howlett [of the Prodigy], when I ask him that same question. “It’s meant to be underground and in the clubs, where people are taking drugs and escaping.”

“Rick and I used to say dance music in the late ’80s and early ’90s was ‘more punk than punk,'” explains Hyde. “Because kids were making music in their bedrooms on their computers and filling warehouses with 10,000 people, not just a squat with a couple hundred. The cool thing about the scene is it was no big deal. It was one foot in front of the other-sell more 12s, tour, get on with it. For goodness sake, MTV didn’t matter to us. In fact, the problems came when they started to play our music.”

What do you think? Is electronic music dead? Hey, you, dude with the laptop … not you, Trent.