Of course electronic music isn’t a threat to culture
Source: Bret Cameron
Last week, Varsity printed an article asking whether electronic music ‘is any good’ – or, in the online version, whether it is a ‘threat to culture’. The status of electronic music is a surprisingly regular concern for music journalists, but for a number of reasons it is a ridiculous one. And the question’s not exactly new either, with electronic music appearing in in the charts as early as the 1970s.
For a start, articles discussing electronic music tend to focus on a very narrow range of sub-genres, such as EDM, trance, and techno. They often malign electronic music as a whole on the basis of the characteristics of these particular types. But electronic music should not be considered a genre at all. It is music in which the majority of the instrumentation is synthetic (produced on digital or analog synthesizers), and therefore includes a huge variety of different styles, as well as virtually all the songs in the charts at the moment.
I love electronic music because the range of possible sounds and textures it allows for is almost limitless. Although it can be difficult for producers to artificially create the emotion and dynamic variation of a recorded performance, this is certainly possible, and the best producers make music that is both emotional and unique.
The article published last week highlighted a few common misconceptions. The first is that technology makes it “easier for the unskilled musician to create”. But to create what, exactly? Bad music? I think that “the unskilled musician” is equally capable of creating bad music whether they’re using a laptop or a 17th-century Stradivarius.
It takes years to perfect playing an instrument, but it also takes years for most producers to reach an equivalent level. Production is a skill that requires both technical knowledge and creativity, and any notion that it is easy is extremely naive. If as many people experimented with production as try musical instruments, very few would come to the conclusion that it is a simple task.
Furthermore, any sympathy for the opinion that electronic music has a “degenerative effect on the quality of music being produced” ought really to be sympathy for people whose lack of musical exposure has prevented them from encountering brilliant electronic artists. Flume, Daft Punk and Alt-J are just a few profoundly interesting electronic musicians, while other influential artists such as Bon Iver, David Bowie and Radiohead have at times depended very heavily on electronic effects and instruments. Hans Zimmer’s first two film scores for Hollywood movies, Rain Man (1988) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989), were predominately recorded on synthesizers (Zimmer still spends at least as much time on his computer as he does on his piano). And that was almost 30 years ago.
“The unskilled musician is equally capable of creating bad music whether they’re using a laptop or a 17th-century Stradivarius”
The fact is, unless you’re regularly going out to see live instrumentalists and singers, (and this generally counts only for those performing without speakers, amps, and microphones) almost all the music you listen to has been processed, to a greater or lesser degree, in the digital world – through mixing and mastering techniques if not through samples and synths.
None of the differences between electronic and other types of music are as significant as is often suggested. Electronic music can be done badly, but it also has the potential to be brilliant, emotive and complex. That’s because, at its core, electronic music is just music.