EDM: Three Little Letters That Mean A Whole Lot

E. D. M. There hasn’t been another three-letter abbreviation in a while that has had such a profound effect on American culture. Right now I am writing for a website called EDM Maniac, and there are hundred of other blogs with those three letters displayed on their homepage as well. What’s interesting is that if these blogs had undertaken such titles even a few years ago, most people wouldn’t know what those three letters meant when placed next to each other.

So what is it that happened to those three letters that allowed them to become more than an abbreviation for a style of music? Well, what happened was they lost their definition.

If you were to ask any random person what EDM meant, the chances are they’d say “Electronic Dance Music” because that is what they stand for, and they won’t be able to go much further. However, upon examining how the term is used within the scene, you’ll begin to notice that it’s not that simple.

As a writer, when I use the term EDM I am inclined to use it in the most literal way possible. Electronic Dance Music is any type of music produced electronically, with the intent of making those who hear it dance. This definition then applies to every single house track every made going all the way back to the 1980’s, and every genre of music heard at EDC Vegas.

There are numerous other kinds of music that are produced electronically, but not all of them are “dance music”. Take Flying Lotus for example. Other than his premier sample work, he makes pretty much all of that music electronically, but is it meant to be danced to necessarily? No. Dance music requires a solid beat and plenty of Flylo’s tracks don’t have one of those. Don’t get me wrong, I love his music, but it’s not EDM, and I hope you would agree.

There are also types of dance music that aren’t made electronically. Remember disco? Well if you don’t, it’s that music from the 70’s that every deep house producer on Earth is trying to imitate. So much that a new sub-subgenre called “Nu-Disco” has worked it’s way into the scene.

Seems simple enough right? Electronic music is dance music made electronically. The thing is, there are some people who would respond rather harshly if I posed that definition to them.

One of those people is renowned techno producer, DJ, and class clown, Seth Troxler. Seth has always been an “EDM” hater. He’s called it “sonic ear rape“. He’s called it “bad music“.

As he was referring to the music of Dyro in the latter example, my best guess as to what he means is the bigger and louder styles of house music, but then again, that kind of music isn’t all that different than what he makes. One might use flashier effects whereas the other is more minimal, but in reality they’re both based on a repetitive beat that was constructed inside a computer. If you really start nitpicking the differences within a genre, then technically every artist would have their own genre based on the fact that everyone makes music differently.

Maybe Seth’s version of “EDM” is simply what’s popular, but then again the trend in the electronic music scene has been moving towards the less extravagant styles for a couple years now. Tech house and deep house have been steadily increasing in popularity with a series of hit singles and breakthrough artists like Disclosure, Tchami, and Shiba San. Are those EDM? Were they EDM before they got popular? Even techno is starting to make comeback in the scene. The legendary techno DJ John Digweed played MainStage at Escape from Wonderland this year. Is he an EDM DJ now? Was he one before?

The question being posed in this article is not a new one. Earlier this year, Thump published a piece entitled “Here’s What 10 Old (School) DJs Think Of EDM”, the first line of which reads:

“Quick, what are the three dirtiest words in electronic music?”

Of course this question is referring to EDM, but what’s ironic about is the casual use of the term “electronic music”. What changes so much when you put the word “dance” in between them? Well according to the 10 DJs quoted in the article, it changes everything. None of the 10 had anything nice to say about except Fatboy Slim (“It’s fine as entry level stuff”) but there was one quote from the article that really stuck out. Unsurprisingly it came from Bassnectar:

“When it comes to most of the EDM DJs out there I don’t have any respect or interest in what they’re doing.”

Now, maybe I’m utterly insane, but other than the stylistic differences between artists that I mentioned earlier, Bassnectar’s music is very similar to the dubstep Skrillex was making earlier in his career. Very loud, lots of bright synths, with quite a bit of influence taken from rock, which makes sense considering both artists were guitarists before they were producers. Yet when Skrillex is mentioned by Aphex Twin in the article, it’s in a negative light, lending itself to his negative opinion of EDM. For some reason though Bassnectar is in a position to comment on these things even though their music is so similar.

The definition of EDM might not be clear anymore, but what is clear is that it has nothing to do with the music. It has become a term to describe anything negative or neutral thats going on in the electronic music scene. Older DJs use the term as a scapegoat for their discontent. Even newer DJ’s use it as a term to show how much they’re branching away from it. Producers like Calvin Harris and Afrojack (two of the biggest in the world) are proud to say that they make “pop” music and not EDM, but unfortunately for them “pop” is short for “popular”, and EDM is what’s popular.

This debate extends even further to the fans. Those ten “old (school)” DJs had some less than amicable things to say about EDM, but if you want to see a real shit show, scroll down to the comments section. As the generic internet user doesn’t have their image wrapped in what they say, and are likely posting anonymously, that’s where things start to get ugly. Obviously everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but the fact all these people get sore fingers typing angry words at people they don’t know is ridiculous. Especially because what they’re arguing about is music, a.k.a. something that only exists in this world to be enjoyed.

I think it’s important to remember that the term EDM, and the endless debates it has sparked, would not exist without the music. People hear the abbreviation so much they forget what it stands for: Electronic Dance Music. I think we should stand for the same thing.

Written by
Harry Levin

Hi my name is Harry Levin. I live in LA and I'm an absolute lover of music.

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