By Liam Swan
With the terms EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) so liberally used in contemporary music journalism to segregate electronic music further than ever before, one inherently important question comes to mind; are the terms EDM and IDM legitimately defined and are they required?
Even in the early formations of progressive rock, Jim Morrison of The Doors undertook a very bold speculation on the future of music in the 1960s, claiming that eventually there would be ‘one person with a lot of machines’ to produce popular music. Ironically, the dawn of electronic music started ever so soon with the birth of artists and bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hailing their use of synthesisers to produce melancholically progressive tracks such as “Autobahn” to what could perhaps be perceived as colder, more robotic sounding tracks like “Numbers.”
With such artists eventually circuiting Europe and beyond, a popularisation of producing music through a heavy use of electronic equipment emerged quite rapidly leading up to the 1990s. Take “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division for example. Although defined by post-punk aesthetics of rock, the song essentially owes itself to its heavy use of synth to maintain its melodic rhythm throughout the song. Stephen Morris, the drummer of Joy Division, even went as far as stating that “if I ever start a band, I’d like them to sound like this” in reference to his first listening of the Krautrock band, Neu!
Following this circulation of what has been formally labelled as Krautrock & electronically infused artists from Germany, the production of music through an electronic means, to me, seems like a fusion of differentiating, or even similar genres to form new styles of sound through electronic instruments; the likes of which can be seen in bands experimenting with genre, much like Joy Division throughout the post-punk period of rock. However, although this defining structure of genre may hold true, for example, with rock being a fusion of country and blues music, the popular use of the terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ as genres promotes a certain ignorance of genre classification the music industry has never seen before.
When I say ignorance however, I don’t necessarily mean to undermine the intelligence of certain electronic music journalists, but instead to promote a certain awareness to the origins of artists placed under these umbrella genre definitions. As an example, FACT published a list relative to the usage of the ‘IDM’ term with what they claim to be the best ‘IDM’ tracks to have emerged from the music industry since the genre’s supposed conception. One of the many artists thrown into this pile, known as Apex Twin, made it abundantly clear that he finds such a term to be “really nasty to everyone else’s music” and that “it’s basically saying ‘this is intelligent and everything else is stupid.’”
To an extent I believe Aphex Twin is correct. Labelling one kind of music as ‘intelligent’ and another outside the genre creates a certain snobbishness surrounding what could be seen as a ‘higher’ form of music with a much more acquired taste. That’s not to say the genre was born with no reason. I can understand why the music journalism world required such a term when artists such as Aphex Twin emerged with tracks like “Come To Daddy” and even Squarepusher with “Come On My Selector.”
Tracks which, although produced through electronic means, do not conform specifically to genres such as ‘Detroit Techno’ or Chicago House’ which were becoming popularised around Europe during this period. Genre terms such as ‘Drill n’ Bass’ have been used to an extent in relation to such tracks, but when referring back to such artists, the term IDM is unrightfully so used as an umbrella genre term. With the term being so liberally used in music journalism today however, a certain skepticism surrounding such a dumbing down of genre classification comes to mind.
It is this, I propose, which is stifling musical growth inside and outside of the mainstream music industry. Think of it through the eyes of a massively popular artist like Aphex Twin; if you were a musician of such a calibre, would you like to be thrown into a pile of other musicians, whose music may not even remotely sound like your own? Or be labelled as ‘intelligent’ compared to other musicians who you may enjoy listening to?
When EDM as a genre term is considered, it fall under the same problems which IDM suffers in terms of classification alone; why is EDM labelled as ‘electronic’ dance music rather than just dance music? If this is such a concerning feat, why aren’t most popular forms of rock considered just dance music rather than rock? I alone have been to countless live rock gigs such as Echo and The Bunnymen this year and there were countless people dancing. Although I’m understanding (to an extent) of the genre classification of dance, it serves as an injustice to, once again, label certain artists under an umbrella genre when they may not sound remotely similar.
Artists such as Emancipator are more often than not labelled under the EDM genre term, when their sound is much more ambient and atmospheric than the kind which you’d want to get up and dance to. Seeing them in 2013 in Leeds, everyone around me demanded an encore of “Soon It Will Be Cold Enough To Build Fires,” which may seem strange based on the fact they don’t project a ‘dance’ sound through their tracks, but this is essentially why these people came to see them; to become lost in their music. Drug culture played an inevitable role in this through the smell of weed lingering in the air near the stage, but this aspect alone rejects the notion of the all-encumbering EDM classification through a relaxed vibe in the crowd. There was even a rejection of what is often seen as a mindless set through a willingness to be physical with their instruments; one playing an electric violin, and the other furiously hammering buttons to produce ambient drones.
In my personal opinion, as totalising terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ seem counter-intuitive to what they set out to achieve. Music journalists who use such terms should be ashamed of their own lack of respect and knowledge of the genres of music which they classify as these terms rather than what they’re actually influenced by. It’s a massive shame to see artists like Aphex Twin and Emancipator be viewed through a lens which distorts what their music is about, to what it’s not.
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