Something that has been annoying me recently is the insane amount of DJ worship that has slowly arisen thanks to the advent of “rockstar DJs”, where the DJ has become the focus instead of the music that they play. It doesn’t matter if they play a predictable, stale set because hey, it’s your favourite DJ! It’s becoming apparent that this type of mentality works its way into the minds of producers and DJs and it really strokes their ego.
All of this is going to sound very cynical, and it only really applies to the uprise of popular styles of dance music that has occurred in the past year or two. The average punter probably doesn’t know, nor do they really care about most of this, but they’re the ones that are the problem for those that do care. Some of this mirrors what I’ve said previously, so excuse any crossover.
There’s an easily recognisable formula for tracks that are produced by the big names of any of the genres that dominate the big stages at festivals. For the big room house sound that’s popular at festival mainstages, it’s: make a big melody using supersaws, maybe a chuck in a piano, add some cheesy vocals (autotune optional, but preferred if you’re after mainstream success), build it up, then either keep the melody going, or drop it into a zippy, buzzy noise that becomes tiresome after 8 bars. Two weeks later, edit the chords, change the sequencing of the buzzing and release it again for another instant hit and your echo chamber of fans will keep it going, no matter how derivative and uninspired the track is.
Before I dive into the trance bit, where most of my frustrations reside, I’d like to mention Madeon, the young lad that quickly rose to fame because of his viral Pop Culture mashup video, and Deadmau5 noticing his remix of Raise Your Weapon. Madeon has only been prolific for a year or so, but already the bizarre amount of attention and the pressure and scrutiny that comes with that has already reached an insane point.
I saw someone’s post on a message board the other day, saying that Madeon’s new stuff was missing the magic of his “older stuff”. Older stuff? The kid only has a couple EPs worth of tracks to his name, most of which are from the past year so they hardly count as “old”. Ease up on the guy. Not to be a “hater” (good lord, I hate that term), but I don’t even feel the hype is justified in this case. He first rose to fame because of the Pop Culture video, which had little to do with quality production, and more with cleverly prearranged samples. It did exactly what it says on the tin. Taking age out of it, Madeons tracks are good, but I find them very formulaic and feel the mixdowns are somewhat sloppy.
The modern formula for trance is a little more open, but follows similar patterns. Make a track with a gigantic breakdown, stick a vocal over the top of it, slow it down for mass appeal and boom, you’ve got yourself a certified #trancefamily hit. Above & Beyond‘s latest album Group Therapy is a perfect example of this, almost every track is vocal, and they’re all around 130bpm. They’ve half-jokingly dubbed this ‘trance 2.0’, though it’s plain to see that more and more house elements are creeping into it. However, this doesn’t matter to the average trance fan. Above & Beyond are playing it, so it must be trance, right?
Big room house is the future of trance for those that blindly worship the big names. Unfortunately a lot of these people that do aimlessly follow these names are the ones who are new to the genre or EDM in general, and have trouble distinguishing the difference between genres. They don’t have much to base it off, so they just take Popular DJ X’s tracklists and infer whatever information they can from that.
The trance scene is rife with DJ worship. Believe it or not, Gareth Emery is not a trance DJ anymore, but he doesn’t want you to know that. Nor do many of these other names that are slowly but steadily creeping over to the veritable gold mine that is big room house. Artists like Ferry Corsten, BT, Dash Berlin and Arty are a couple more artists that are profiting, whether it’s from genuine confusion of inexperienced listeners, or just blissful ignorance for those with a little more knowledge.
“Never be a prisoner of your own style.”
– Armin Van Buuren
This quote is Armin Van Buuren‘s famous mantra. I don’t want to say it’s an excuse to sell out or slowly move into a different genre per se, but it’s awfully convenient in times like these, where the DJ is the brand, and especially a brand as big as Armin Van Buuren. He’s dipped his toe into the waters of the increasingly desirable genre of house a few times now, first with his Usher remix and then the Kirsty remix. There was the inevitable backlash from the traditional trance fans, but then the mindless masses fought back, more than happily reciting his opportune “prisoner of your own style” quote. The term ‘haters’ is thrown around, they’re told that the music is evolving, and that they all need to keep up or get left behind.
Though Armin hasn’t produced a lot of his own music, and that has sullied his reputation in my eyes, I’ve always admired that he’s been pushing trance for so long. He’s an extremely likable personality and pushes a very positive message, which is a great thing, obviously. He’s one of the stalwarts of the trance scene, one of the biggest supporters of trance over the years, and all these things combined, nobody can be blamed for liking the guy.
Armin has done a lot for trance over the past decade, nobody can argue with that. However this is part of the problem, in that he has too much influence. Because of all the infatuated fans that take his taste as gospel, and because he is the most popular ‘trance’ artist, he has an incredible amount of power to alter the direction of the scene. Because of his obvious vested interest in Armada and it’s sublabels, I feel the music he selects for A State of Trance is often skewed to incorporate a lot of these tracks, meaning a lot of great, lesser known labels go largely unnoticed by the masses because they aren’t included in the Armada stable.
I’m not trying to target Armin or Above & Beyond, all they’re doing is making music and playing sets, it’s just the marketing that surrounds them, and what ‘being a DJ’ means now.
My point in all is that Armin Van Buuren is not a god, nor are Above & Beyond. The faux religion that’s formed around Armin and Above & Beyond and their radio shows is bewildering and overbearing. They’re simply men like you or me. Decent producers and DJs that host popular long running trance radioshows. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a producer or DJ’s work, that’s the entire point, just don’t be so over the top about it.