It is 2013 and some homies and I are FINALLLYYYYKJFLKJDLF about to hear some new Daft Punk. I am so ready for this. Their hype machine has adequately prepared me with numerous BTS videos and exclusive interviews. “Going back to move forward” said collaborator Nile Rodgers. Making music with “soul that a musician player can bring” said the robot. “Disco” they all proclaimed. I found it exciting that Daft Punk, whose roots are in House music, was going to create something that was more disco than anything they’ve ever done. After hearing their first single “Get Lucky” it was clear they were serious.
House music was a reaction to disco. After disco became popular in the 70s and 80s, DJs in the 90s distorted that music to make it less pop. DJs were using drum machines and synthesized bass lines to create a new kind of music to dance to. We didn’t need elite musicians anymore; all we needed was the technology. This was and still is a very exciting aspect to electronic music. A layman doesn’t need a whole band or a record deal to make a record. With gear becoming more accessible and affordable, you could do it yourself. Pretty punk rock, right? House music and its subsidiaries were answering questions like
“What does it mean to use a computer to make music?”
“What new sounds can we now create that were otherwise impossible?”
“How can technology change the way we express emotion?”
This attitude has since evolved into a diverse and enormous community now called Electronic Dance Music (EDM).
It’s 2013. EDM is bigger than 90s house ever was. DJs play at stadiums for crowds comparable to ones The Rolling Stones might draw. There is underground EDM, and there is mainstream EDM. There is trap and there is dubstep. There is Tiesto and there is Diplo. Pop stars like Rihanna now pay top dollar for DJ/producers like Calvin Harris or David Guetta to write their biggest hits… and it’s working. The suits at the struggling record labels have caught on and have already claimed their territory in the distribution and exhibition spaces. EDM is a full-blown money making machine. Much like any other underground genre that goes mainstream, there is now a LOT of it and a lot of the same. Entertainers outnumber artists.
Don’t get me wrong. I still have lots of love for electronic music, and there is still a lot of love in electronic music. “EDM is made out of love and for love,” says friend and fellow musicphile Cristie Andrews. “Part of being in love is feeling out of control. EDM is all about a huge ‘drop’ that makes you feel that way.” Preach, girlfriend. That feeling is universal and makes EDM so attractive to all kinds of people.
“EDM is the one who will accept the kids on the outliers, the ones who get bullied, the ones who feel like they may not quite fit in. This community is exceptional in its ability to bond all types together…”
There is still a lot of ^this^ in EDM. When the alternative role models are auto-tuned hypersexualized cool kids like Justin Bieber, it makes sense to look up to geeky kids like Porter Robinson whose success seems to rely on talent and technological skill. Electronic music is a great human triumph. EDM’s grandeur is a way celebrating that. We have come from cavemen banging sticks together, to pressing a button to make the same exact sound a million times louder. EDM’s rise to power is our generation’s rise to power. “LOOK AT US KNOW, BITCHES.” So, for this reason, it is completely reasonable that electronic dance music’s disco roots have become indistinguishable.
My RAM listening session is over now. “Contact” has come to its epic conclusion. The stars are more visible than on an average LA night, and I have consumed probably half a bottle of champagne. Even though I didn’t do much dancing, I am exhausted. I knew the mere existence of this record was enough for me to appreciate it, but I had no idea that was about to happen. Never had I experienced such sincere emotion so instantly while listening to a record for the first time. It wasn’t just disco, it was a rainbow of genres and imagery. It wasn’t just a record, it was catharsis. I was moved by the tenderness in the vocals and the masterful restraint in each song’s composition. I confronted memories of heartbreak, having-the-best-fucking-time-with-my-friends, falling in love… I thought about the universe and time and god, I examined my own mortality. It was as if each track was gently unleashing the taxing desires and emotions humans cope with. Then, there is the loose narrative that ties it all together: robots trying desperately to become human (a theme Daft Punk has embraced as their identity). The robots’ story triggered my own self-reflection. Their existential journey took me on a journey as well… and it felt so so sweet.
What? Sincere emotion in EDM?! But this isn’t EDM, is it…
Earnestness. I believe that is how RAM disrupts popular EDM. Earnestness is an essential element to the disco/pop music of the 70s and 80s. That sincere conviction gives you the confidence to dance with no reservations and to give into the foolishness of love.
Girl, close your eyes
Let that rhythm get into you
Don’t try to fight it
There ain’t nothin’ that you can do
Relax your mind
Lay back and groove with mine
You got to feel that heat
And we can ride the boogie
Share that beat of love
"Rock With You" from Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall
After all, the phrase “off the wall” is synonymous with words like crazy, campy, and DAFT.
There’s no such thing as competition
To find a way we lose control
Remember love’s our only mission.
This is the journey of the soul.
"Beyond" from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories
Today, listening to Off the Wall is ironic for many of us, when it should be sincerely evocative and exhilarating. It is difficult for contemporary EDM to achieve such earnestness when the sounds are so far from anything human. At the surface there is a lot of lyrical emotion found in EDM (“Clarity” by Zedd, for example). However, these messages can be undermined by synthetic sounds that act more as a pace-maker rather than a booty-shaker. “Don’t stop till you get enough” has turned into “I can’t STAHP weeweeeweeweewewwoooomp.” The intention seems to be about partying hard, rather than feeling something. Add some MDMA, and now you have all the feels you didn’t notice were missing to begin with.
RAM is effective and emotional for me because it completely separates itself from pop music and contemporary EDM. What is it that makes us move our hips while also clenching our fists singing that ONE VERSE that just makes our hearts want to burst?! RAM’s cinematic spine and disco inspired ecclectisim was a way of answering this question. It makes so much historical sense for them to create something with which you must experience with the same open-mindedness you do with Dark Side Of The Moon, Sgt. Pepper, or Moving Pictures. I think that is what makes it difficult for some to love RAM right away. We have been trained to be all IDGAF and go HARD for the night with songs made with textures and bpms evoking images of popping bottles in Ibiza rather than getting sexy and sweaty on the dance floor with a crush. Being in love is sooo not cool anymore, bro. But, why?
There will always be a purpose for the “fuck being polite” attitude of EDM, and I hope that never goes away. My hopes for RAM is that people approach it with the same mindset as they would Off The Wall and allow it to move them and take them on an emotional trip. Lyrically and musically, RAM is doin’ it right by holding a mirror to disco music, electronic music, and the people who love both.