Electronic Dance Music is dying. You may not have noticed. It may not affect you directly. But it’s a really big thing and, unless your teenage children have already told you, then you heard it here first. In fact, your teenage children are probably still in denial about it, so go and tell them. Get them back for scratching the car or vaping in the kitchen or whatever pitiful infractions pass for rebellion these days. Tell them: sorry, but electronic dance music is dying. Your rave is going to its grave. Ibiza now exerts the same cultural pull as any other barren 220 square-mile island, including the Isle of Man. The DJ has been hung, not by Morrissey as some of us hoped, but by his own corporate greed.
Yes, for music that goes bleep-bleep-bong, 2016 is like 1977 was for disco or 1980 for punk. Only the diehards will stay to fight. I’d like to think that my young children can now grow up in a DJ-less world, but alas this will not happen. For unlike other youth cultures, EDM (as it’s called) is adaptable. It mutates, like flu. It will be back, bigger and more godawful than ever. And so there’ll be new DJs; more DJs. And in case you hadn’t noticed, there is already a plague of DJs. Last year there were festivals featuring 300 DJs, all jumping up and down with one headphone can pressed against an ear and jabbing a finger at the heavens in the belief that they belong up there. No, the EDM collapse and 2016’s Summer of Anything But Love will be a mere hiatus. But it gives us a chance to ask ourselves: why do we tolerate these people?
If you care, the dance-music scene is collapsing because, like an old sun, it got too massive. SFX Entertainment, which ran dozens of DJ festivals and dance events, went bankrupt in February. The paychecks demanded by superstar DJs (the top ten made $268 million between them in the zenith year of 2014) were such that the genre couldn’t suck in enough new fans to pay the wages and the whole thing collapsed like a piled-up Ponzi scheme. A lot of people died from drugs, too, but that’s not going to put our children off wanting a starter set of decks from Maplin. If we’re to put kids off DJs we need to tell them the truth: disc jockeying was invented by a mad paedophile during austerity. And since then it has only become more grittily unpleasant.
There was a point in the early 1990s when the DJ became beatified. No longer did the term conjure thoughts of some local entrepreneur with a record collection fielding requests from a drunken hen party. Suddenly, that hard-graft DJing was only for freaks and weirdos. The DJ kids aspired to was no longer someone in the midst of the dancing but someone on a platform, on a balcony; these days halfway up in the sodding sky where they relay their musical manna in a state of unassailable, self-appointed pomp. For decades different movements — rock, punk, electronica, indie — had worked to the same iconoclastic end: tear down the barriers, make the whole venue a stage, get as close as you can to the people. Cheap electronics, computers and home studios had promised us the greatest ever revolution in musical democracy. And then, suddenly, we had pricks in puffa jackets way up there in the artificial clouds behaving like pilled-up Elmer Gantrys.
DJing has always been about drugs, but also about control. Back in my youth the drugs were sold by the DJs (some of them now millionaires) and their baseball-capped cohort. The fact that it was a truck-shop monopoly was bad enough. But what made it worse was that everyone would have their own stuff confiscated with the explanation that the DJ wanted everyone ‘on the same wave’ or ‘to keep the vibe crunchy’ or some such rubbish. We were entreated not to have a good time necessarily, but to have the exact sort of time some guy with a messiah complex wanted us to have. We were legion, they were few, but which of us was going to fight this tyranny? Nobody who hugs sweaty strangers is going to fight tyranny. These days the DJs are too wealthy, and too busy, to sell people drugs but all that’s really changed is that new layers and middle managers have been added to the narco-corporatist model.
If DJing is still cool, it’s hardly progressive. In most entertainment fields — acting and comedy, certainly — the inclusion and importance of women is constantly addressed and reassessed. But there are as many women in the top flight of EDM as there were in gangsta rap, and the imagery with which the culture sells itself has almost as many bikinis, boobs and butt cheeks. But it’s the sheer cynicism that’s so offputting; so contrary to the vital, guileless impulse of youth.
Deaths in Las Vegas, Kuala Lumpur and Buenos Aires have resulted in cancelled events and increased drug searches. The industry reacted. Concerning five deaths in Manila, where he’d played, DJ Matthew Koma explained that he enjoyed the music without drink or drugs, and others should too. SFX music events boss Richie McNeill said, after two deaths at one of his festivals, that he was ‘sick of seeing festival organisers being blamed for the idiot, stupid behaviour of narrow-minded individuals that are taking poison’. Nobody is responsible for anyone else’s behaviour, but let’s address the elephant in the disco: this music is unlistenable without drugs unless you’ve had a lobotomy or you’re six.
Go on to YouTube and find Canadian superstar Deadmau5 playing his ‘big room version’ of ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, and then tell me that you could listen to that without help. If my children one day insist on seeing a superstar DJ, I’ll tell them, for God’s sake, take plenty of drugs. As long as there are DJs we will also need drugs, and people will die, not from heatstroke or dehydration or heart attacks — that’s just detail — but from trying to cut off that part of their brain that knows the music is bollocks.
That’s not to say I don’t believe DJs can be clean-living. I’m sure most of them are. Because compared with their peers in rock, rap, heavy metal — whatever — DJs have remarkably low rates of wastage where drug death and misadventure is concerned. They don’t tend to choke on their own vomit, or drive Rolls-Royces into swimming-pools like Keith Moon, or even run themselves over with their own Mercedes in Walthamstow like Brian Harvey. They mostly just turn up, do their thing and get paid like the cynical, corporate shills they are. This is not music for rebels. It’s for tyrants and drones.
Liam Mullone is a writer and comedian who spent his schooldays in Hong Kong as ‘the only punk on the colony’