We have all been there. You’re in the middle of a discussion about music, or any art form in general and the ages old argument is brought up – “Electronic music has no emotion because it’s made on computers and doesn’t use real instruments, so it isn’t “real” music.” Just last week I had not the first, and definitely not the last argument with my dad about this, no matter how I explained it, or how I made him try to realise that not all electronic songs are for a dancefloor and party vibe, it simply wouldn’t change his opinion. And he definitely isn’t alone in this opinion either.
This popular misconception with dance music and electronic music in general stems from it’s appearance in pop music, as dance music has stormed the charts. Typically it can be hard to find much emotion or feeling in pop songs other than a happy or party vibe. Take Martin Garrix’ worldwide sensation and the big room track everyone loves to hate – “Animals”. It’s hard to really see any deeper feeling or emotion behind this track, and that’s completely understandable and acceptable, but that’s not what this tune is trying to do, however just because a couple of tracks are like this, doesn’t give anyone the right whatsoever to write off an entire genre for “lacking emotion.”
Just as a guitar is strummed, a computer can be programmed to create whatever breathtaking melodies or goose-bump inducing synths the user desires, and believe me, it isn’t exactly easy to produce a good track. It’s something that takes a huge ammount of knowledge and hard work before your tracks even sound remotely professional, and to try to add your emotions or feelings on top of this is a whole other world in itself. Forget creating a guitar solo, try programming your synthesizer to replicate the exact sound design you have in your head.
As someone who’s life revolves around electronic music, it can be sometimes hard to convey the genre as a legitimate form of music to those uneducated in the music when there are hugely popular EDM acts who are quite frankly ruining the genres status (see: Vinai) and making it sometimes embarrassing and hard to show that electronic music is full to the brim of real human emotion and not just party tunes. Now I’m a huge fan of big room, and I’m not in anyway attempting to slate it at all, but there is more to this music than just the typical party anthems we hear and love every day. Even more so, many big room mainstage productions are also deeply emotional *cough cough* “Don’t you worry child” which some people are just ignorant to see.
Now emotion comes in many different forms, from happiness, sadness, melancholy etc. and while we’re on the topic, the swedes are one popular group of musicians who can really convey emotion through their productions. What has to be my favourite quote of all time originated from the Swedish legends, and it’s not only something that applies to music, but which applies to life as a whole-“The goosebumps never lie.” Something which was always important to all 3 members of the mafia, and which is definitely heard in their solo productions as well as together is that feeling of goosebumps, whether it’s from the absolutely massive rave synths of “One”, to the heartbreak of “Don’t you worry child”, the Swedes knew what they were doing and looking back into their past days gives us an even further insight into the emotions of 3 men who were just chasing goose bumps. Take Axwell for example, in an SHM interview from 2012, he sums up electronic music beautifully, saying “We make music on our computer, so in a sense we play every instrument.” Not limited to a single instrument, electronic music producers have a whole world to explore when it comes to composition, and this allows them to transfer the feelings across like no other genre. Axwell himself has a saying which rings through for dance music as a whole- “turn off your brain and turn on your heart”, as a genre it allows us to express ourselves in any way imaginable, and at any event we always get that feeling of love. That euphoric rush, that feeling of love and connection to the music and everyone around you, the hairs standing on end are all what Axwell stood for, and just listening to what has to be his best solo track “Open your heart” conveys all of these emotions in one. It’s hard to listen to this track and not to reciprocate some sort of emotion. For as long as I live, I will never forget standing watching Axwell ^ Ingrosso perform at Tomorrowland this year, it was my first ever festival, and my first chance to see 2/3 of the Mafia play live and to experience some of the songs which originally got me into dance music in the beginning in a live atmosphere. Around half way through that seminal set, and seemingly out of no where they dropped the Axwell mix of “In my mind.” For a brief moment I was suspended in time as I couldn’t capture what exactly was happening around me, but a split second later I suddenly realised what I was being exposed to, and I broke down into tears of happiness as 60,000 people at the mainstage all sang along in tandem, I felt as though I was surrounded by 60,000 of my best friends, and that we were all experiencing that same feeling of ecstasy and joy at once. For anyone who has ever cried tears of happiness, you will know how it feels and it is a very odd sensation that can be impossible to describe. The next morning, I sprinted to the middle of the mainstage after hearing the opening of Arty and Mat Zo’s masterpiece- “Rebound”, and when the massive synth line came in, as the rain was pouring down around me with only a small crowd gathered I knew that no matter what hardships I experience, I’ll come out of them alright, and when things get tough I always think back to this moment of felicity. It’s a moment which I will bring with me to the grave, and one of those small moments that life is made of. To say that electronic music has no emotion feels insulting after experiencing something like that.
Speaking of small moments in life, who could argue that electronic music has no emotion after hearing, and even more so, after seeing Above & Beyond live, a group of 3 trance producers who are quite well known for people crying at their shows. For anyone who asks me why I am so into dance music, I always point them to this video, which sums up why this culture is so good, and which provides a deeper meaning to life in general. Above & Beyond’s productions are stunning, with heart felt lyrics and songs so poignant, they have been played at funerals. Pretty impressive for something made using a computer.
One particular artist who probably has a larger discography than any other dance musician and who can transform feelings into his music is none other than deadmau5. It would be nearly impossible to write an article on the emotions of electronica without discussing the works of Joel Zimmerman. Now I could write all day on the mau5, but to look at a few of his tracks gives you enough of an idea to see how “real” electronic music is and how much emotion can be poured out into tracks. One such track, a lesser known mau5 tune is “Monday” and listening you can experience the sadness Joel must have been going through at the time during a point in his life when he was probably very much on the brink of giving up music completely (2006). Looking at a song written for a massive mau5 fan who sadly passed away: “Bleed” is another example of the sheer power of music and shows exactly how the synthesizer can be programmed to delve into the meaning of life itself. Then there are other deadmau5 productions which quite simply can not be described in any form possible. The sort of songs so far down the rabbit hole that they can only be experienced to be understood. Music and notes which bring out a sheet of shivers all over our bodies and which give us a deeper understanding of ourselves and our connection to music. “Strobe” is one of these songs. For anyone who hasn’t heard it, prepare yourself for the greatest dance song of all time. A ballad of electronica which gives a much larger meaning to dance culture, from the good times and the bad, bringing us through exactly what and why we love this music, and why this is such an integral part of our lives, the goosebumps never lie, and are only brought out during a moment in life which is very real and very human. That’s what this song taps into. That real human feeling of life itself.
Delving deeper into the electronic relm, we find artists like Aphex Twin who’s ambient tracks such as “Rhubarb”, with it’s trance inducing and relaxing pads take us to a dark and melancholy place, where we ponder on our entire lives and everything that has gone right and wrong. What has to be the best Aphex tune, and the best ambient recording of all time is “Lichen,” you’ll be extremely hard pressed to find any song at all from any genre that elicits emotion like this. I can only picture lying on my deathbed, looking back at the events of my life and all of the equally happy and sad moments, the moments that gave me goosebumps, the times I broke down uncontrollably, and the times when I was so filled with happiness, so filled with euphoria and exhilaration that every problem in life seemed so insignificant in comparison to the joy I was experiencing. Life has its ups and downs and that’s just part of the journey, and listening to Lichen makes me feel as though I’m at the end of that journey-but not in a sad way. That is what an artist aims for, that is why art forms are held with such high esteem among humans, and to slate an art form such as electronic music for “lacking depth” is beyond ridiculous. It would probably be more accurate to say the person themself lacks depth for being unable to see the beauty in electronica, for not being able to look past what’s popular, and for sadly not being able to understand and experience the same feelings we all derive from dance music, from the times when the music has helped lift us, to when it has helped to console us. No matter what the feeling, there is always an electronic song out there, and to say otherwise is downright absurd.