Why the underground should drop the grudge

It’s Sunday night, and the Tomorrowland festival is in its final stages in the De Schorre National Park in Belgium. Berlin-based dubstep and techno producer Paul Rose, aka Scuba, obviously feels like stirring the pot a little. He retweets a photo from Nicky Romero, taken from behind the decks as David Guetta plays to a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands in in the final few hours of the festival, the Frenchman holding up a recording device up as a sea of punters raise their hands in the air.

Scuba’s posts are a little less effusive, though. “Could there be a more undeserving person on stage who records what he sees on a camcorder? If you’re on stage you’re performing, you’re not a tourist….perform, don’t take photos or video of the audience.”

Next, Scuba’s attention turns towards another of what he terms an “easy target”, Calvin Harris, the very same person the Wall Street Journal took to task in its infamous attack on ‘EDM’ culture for producing “cliché-riddled, white-bread house that don’t represent the best of the genre”. Scuba promises to share an “amazing story” about Harris for 100 retweets; within no time, he’s racked up over 150, he’s trending in the UK, and the revelation is dropped.

Scuba’s tweets are about as irreverent as they come, but they highlight one of dance music’s interesting dichotomies: the ‘Us vs Them’ tension between the ‘underground’ and the ‘overground’ (or what’s nowadays pretty much slapped with the term ‘EDM’). The argument is nearly as old as dance music itself: the ‘authentic’ underground steeling itself against the mass-market players responsible for polluting their subculture. It’s a contradiction that’s defined dance culture since its first peak of popularity in the late ‘90s.

Dance music embodies both the most creatively uncompromising and the tackiest elements that any music culture is capable of. On the one side, you’ve got the heads-down ‘underground’, driven by the supposed purity of its artistic integrity, producing music that’s impenetrable to anyone not already deeply entrenched in the culture. On the other side, you’ve got DJs popping champagne bottles and flying in private jets, surrounded by girls, glitz and glamour. They play a watered-down derivative, made by producers-for-hire and slapped with the name of the bankable DJ for mass consumption. Or so the story goes.

That narrative was given yet another whirl recently when Deadmau5 published his notorious ‘We all hit play’ blog post, later echoing similar sentiments when he graced the cover of Rolling Stone (who’ve all of a sudden discovered a newfound love of dance music, after pointedly ignoring it for decades). The comments actually ignited a fairly interesting debate, with everyone from A-Trak to Bassnectar weighing in with measured commentary.

What was more interesting, though, was some of the vitriol it inspired from the underground house and techno scenes. London stalwart Mr C had only recently lambasted DJs as “fakes & charlatans” for standing “with their arms raised in the air”, so it’s hardly surprising he was less than pleased. “FUCK YOU IN EVERY ORIFICE,” was the conclusion of his message to Deadmau5.

A Guy Called Gerald’s most recent Australian tour was in late 2011, though his history in dance culture stretches back as far as the ‘80s, and his response was equally as vitriolic. “You come into our system that we have nurtured for the last 25 years, trick hardworking people into giving you their money, con honest promoters, take large sums of money out of the system and then spit back into our faces that YOU are tricking everyone,” he wrote on his blog. “I agree there are loads of people like you who do fake it. It is easy with the software you are using. Don’t worry we are going to find ways of stopping you. You greedy rat head fuck.”

Next page