Back in the early to mid-2000’s, I was fairly active on a handful of music-related message boards. This was in a time before social media was a “thing”, and was pretty much the preferred method of online discussion for people with similar interests.
This was when I first saw the term EDM start to crop up. And it was absolutely meant to be an umbrella term. You see, fans of… erm… electronically-produced dance music, rarely stick to one particular style for their entire life. There’s a certain implied context when it comes to DJ-centric music that is designed to be mixed and played back in a club setting, and it makes sense to be able to refer to it all at once.
To me, the term appeared to come about as a result of frustration. We needed to call this overall idea of electronic music something besides “techno”, which was the go-to term for people out-of-the-know.
EDM: Early Use
Techno is its own individual style, with a rich history, a distinct culture, and a certain approach/attitude towards music. To me, calling all electronic dance music techno was akin to calling all rock music death metal. It was too specific to be used as an umbrella term. At the time, I welcomed this new term “EDM” with open arms. It was ambiguous, and it was meant to be.
For the first few years, I only heard the term used online. The first few times I tried it out in a real life setting, I got puzzled looks. A typical conversation might have looked like this:
Me: Yeah, I’m into quite a lot of EDM, actually.
Them: Wha….. what’s “ediem”? Is that a new band?
Me: No, no, no… E.D.M. It stands for “electronic dance music”.
Them: (puzzled look)
Me: …. (sigh)…. you know, like, techno.
Them: Oooooooh, okay. You mean like on (video games/The Matrix/Moby/etc.)?
Me: Well… I mean actually, it’s…. … … screw it, yeah.
Eventually, somewhere in the mid-to-late 2000’s, it got to the point where you could at least use the term within the music’s insider circle. To me, this is when the term reached peak usefulness. At least the music had it’s “hip-hop” equivalent. (Clarification: hip-hop as a musical style covers a lot of bases… dirty south, G-Funk, horrorcore, crunk, alternative hip-hop, and so-on.)
Eventually, the latest big EDM explosion started to come to fruition here in the States. I used the term for quite a while before I realized that it no longer seemed to hold the same meaning.
Me: Hey, nice meeting ya! So what kinda stuff do you play?
Them: Oh, you know… some house and trance, mostly. Occasionally some breakbeat. None of that EDM stuff though.
EDM: Modern Use
In recent times, EDM seems to refer to an actual specific new genre of music.
You know, big hard electro beats on top of catchy vocals that are easy to sing, and melodies that are very simple and memorable. (Once upon a time, you might have called that “pop music”.) Slap on a “drop”, some white noise buildups, highpass the whole thing and fill the bottom half of the spectrum with as much bass as possible. Now over-compress the whole shebang, and you’re square in the middle of modern EDM.
Let me be clear. I’m not trying to bash this style of music, specifically. It’s not my bag personally, but neither is country/western. That holds little relevance to the discussion.
So why do I think it’s a topic worth bringing up? Well, it’s a perfect example of how genres provide a layer of abstraction that only serve to confuse the issue. Something that I’ve written about a time or two.
Apparently, the same applies to groups of genres, too.
The Future of “EDM”
Look, I realize some people are going to write this off as useless whining about something that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Believe me when I say that I’m not losing any sleep over this.
It is, though, a mild irritant when someone (especially, an “outsider”) asks what it is I do or like and I have trouble giving them an answer. That’s just me being honest.
I also realize that the EDM bubble will eventually collapse when it reaches critical mass, and the west moves on to new and different sounds. And the underground will, once again, go back to influencing pop music instead of being pop music. In the meantime, I’m going to embrace the fact that this popularity explosion has infused my music scene of choice with new blood.
In a few years, a percentage of those people will feel the same way about this music that I do. After a while, they will get fed up with the pop-EDM hype, and the plastic nature of the most observable part of the scene. They will realize that there is real musical value to be had in these styles, if they are willing to dig past the fist-pumping Beatport Top 100 festival fodder.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep happily saying “dance music” and hope for the best. And keep a good mix or two handy to give to people wanting to know a little more.
This whole cycle will likely repeat itself in a few years anyway.