There is no doubt about it, electronic dance music, or EDM, has taken over the world. It first crept out from small underground venues and into small rooms in big clubs. Then, hip-hop DJs in big rooms started playing it and now, I can’t remember the last time I walked into a club and heard hip-hop. Where did all the 50 Cent’s go?
They’re probably crying over what happened to mainstream music. But so are a lot of electronic music fans. The genre has exploded, but at what cost? Sure, it’s brought a lot of attention to the genre, but it’s also become tremendously commercial. As with most things, when something becomes too popular, it soon gets played out. So is EDM on its way out, or is it just getting started?
Sitting comfortably somewhere near the top of everyone’s favorite EDM DJ list is Zedd, real-name Anton Zaslavski — although he considers himself a musician rather than an EDM artist. And I’m inclined to agree with him. The musical began to play musical instruments at age four, and has been creating music ever since.
“I’ve been a musician for over 15 years, so I’ve probably been around longer than most DJs. I’ve just spent more time learning instruments and ‘understanding’ music instead of deejaying,” said Zedd in an interview with the Taipei Times.
It’s this formula that landed the 23-year-old in a powerhouse position for the genre. And this is a good thing, because it’s people like him who will influence what happens to EDM next.
“I think electronic music is always going to be there and it’s always going to change rapidly and evolve. Especially EDM, which is so much based on sounds that change as fast as technology.”
Zedd also says he sees EDM going in a more musical direction. “Less beats, more emotion, and more organic — real instruments,” he said.
This is something that he is already doing in his DJ sets. He plays a lot of his own music, makes his own mash-ups and creates a full visual show. Even if he plays the same song, he says it will always be a different experience because of all the other dimensions he adds to it.
EDM is getting blasted from all sides of the spectrum for sounding a little too similar. Even EDM DJs are blasting EDM. At the SXSW music conference earlier this year, techno legend Richie Hawtin talked to Deadmau5 about how EDM has become “homogenized.” Mixmag highlights bits of the talk, like when the pair discussed how EDM has become too diluted as a result of mass popularity. Mixmag also noted the irony, since Deadmau5’ trademark ears epitomize EDM.
Zedd actually opened for Deadmau5 when he played in Taipei in 2011, where many fans said he outplayed the man donning the mouse ears. Zedd played again in Taipei in 2012 when he opened for Lady Gaga, as well as a sideshow at Luxy. He plays in Taipei again on Wednesday, but this time he is the star of the show.
When asked if he thought that being a producer made him a better DJ, Zedd said “absolutely.”
“Lots of DJs don’t understand how keys work and how transitions work musically. They only hear the beat, the BPM (tempo of a song) and although the beat matches the drums, the melodies clash. I think being a musician gives you the ability to create way more interesting song transitions.”
“It’s a lot more difficult to be a good producer than a good DJ,” he added.
Zedd has reworked songs for Lady Gaga, produced songs for Justin Bieber and released his debut album last year. The album’s third single, Clarity, is currently popular all over American radio stations. “That doesn’t make the song any better or worse, it just means that electronic dance music has become so popular that it is just as big as what we used to call pop music. EDM has become pop because people love it.”
As for the rest of EDM, we just need to hope that there are more musicians like Zedd who will pave the way into the future.
Zedd plays Wednesday at 10pm at Luxy, 5F, 201 Zhongxiao E Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市忠孝東路四段201號5樓). Admission for men is NT$800 all night, which includes two drinks. Admission for women is free before midnight, and NT$400 after. Tickets are available at the door.