EDM: Etiquette to Dull the Masses
EDM bounds styles too astute for its vapid pursuits
By Conor Walker,
11:30AM, Wed. Jul. 30, 2014
I have about as much respect for the term EDM as a head cold. The initialism condenses decades of “electronic dance music” into a marketing fad more aptly represented as an “etiquette to dull the masses.”
The term came into being as a means for hype-driven norms to fabricate a second wave American rave movement. Like the term “pop,” the acronym EDM exists solely to commercialize accessibility. As a catchphrase picked up by critics, EDM trickled into the 2010s in a typically uninformed fashion, striving to catch up with decades of sounds that were off the mainstream radar.
Rave’s first wave fizzled out in the late Nineties alongside the government’s war on drugs. Rave music never conformed well to a corn-fed Americana squirming across the bible belt even though ecstasy was utilized by fundamentalists to touch God. Techno was conceived and nurtured in Detroit, but its cultural reception paled in the face of Europe, where a network of interconnected cities unfurled the music like an emanating sine wave.
EDM shares common ground with the term “Hispanic.” Both identifiers attempt to absorb marginalized cultures into a rigidly fixed establishment. The word was devised during the Nixon administration for census purposes, becoming an invitation for Americaños with Spanish lineage to submit to Eurocentric colonial ideology by expunging their indigenous heritage.
EDM blindly bounds styles too astute for its vapid pursuits, from crystalline ambient dirges and industrial dub to tectonic minimal techno. Correspondingly, labeling 55 million Americans into a single group, from Tejanos and Mexicanos to Caribeños, Centroamericanos and Sudamericanos, is merely a white-washing stunt to perpetuate the status quo of Anglo supremacy.
Dating back to the Seventies, when electronic music left the ivory tower and nudged its way into the hands of the everyday producer, numerous styles widened into platforms for dance culture. Out of disco, New Wave, electro, house, and techno, a plethora of underground styles materialized with deeper motives than just partying. IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), an obvious predecessor to “EDM,” was distinctly named to distance itself from formulaic club patterning. Diametrically, EDM’s blasé underpinning strips the music of its intelligence, trying to market a music that’s purposefully unmarketable.
In 1978, Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter penned EBM (Electronic Body Music) to describe the physical attributes of the Man-Machine. Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft also described its sound as körpermusik (body music), solidifying the initialism as a danceable style of industrial. Although EBM repurposes experimental and industrial components for the dance floor, unlike EDM, it’s a self-identified term to chronicle an underground movement.
Underground electronic music works subconsciously to expose conventional hypocrisies. Jeff Mills’ “Growth” sounds like an offshore oil rig drilling into a polluted gulf. Rather than a national anthem for modern excess and the visionless expenditure of natural resources, it channels disarray. Likewise, Robert Hood’s “Stark Reality” doesn’t evoke a cacophonous GM assembly line as a means to give his hometown corporation homage. Instead, it exposes the unraveling of a post-industrial fabric.
EDM negates the seditious nature of the music it seeks to bundle by selling vanilla beats to the masses. Thanks to EDM, a frat boy vogueing to a house track no longer occurs as an anomaly. It’s etiquette.