Last week Simon Cowell, abject ruiner of both musically talented children and their hapless parents’ morals, announced that he would be bringing his X-Factor brand to the world of DJing.
UPDATE: Steve Lawler takes the piss (the Hawtin moment is the best), open up wide Cowell… here it comes:
Seems like a natural progression here in America, right? Afterall, Skrillex is splashed all over the Grammy billboards and LMFAO is practically everywhere else. SoCal-based Insomniac‘s Electric Daisy Carnival is the biggest party on the planet, flying in the face of the European scene that supposedly does it better and always will. And Burning Man, which most attendees evangelize as the best party around, was made in the good ol’l U-S of A.
But the announcement of the show caused quite a stir among dance music aficionados. Anyone with a remote claim to the electronic underground was instantly up in arms, portraying this as one step removed from the Four Horsemen coming and castrating the entire scene in one fell swoop.
And those candy-clad poster children (and I mean children) of the nouveaux rave scene, who everyone in the underground largely demonizes as inept music fans (“where’s the drop, bro?“) didn’t really pay much attention.
But to the rest, it hit as a definite sign of the times. The DJ that was the iconic underground anti-hero for so long had finally achieved superstardom and people felt downright betrayed. This was the last straw.
Just like when older scenesters first saw Paul Oakenfold sitting next to Jack at a Lakers game, a different level that we weren’t comfortable with was breached when this show was announced.
Ironically, one of dance music’s most polarizing figures in terms of success vs. embodying the sell-out weighed in when deadmau5 posted a note to his millions of fans on Facebook.
It’s a well thought out post, I gotta say. The one glaring thing wrong with it is that despite his perch atop the mainstream mountain, the man in the mau5 is far from the dance music ambassador that he thinks he is. And he’s indulging in a bit too much exhaustion if he thinks his sound has some dramatic evolutionary arc.
(It’s more like a shitty electro wobble of a trajectory)
The reality is that this show will allow the big artists to be even bigger and those who are already making obscene amounts of money will just make larger piles while the underground artists continue to struggle with day jobs and fuel their music on mostly passion. I’m ok with that, that’s why the line will always exist and why I’ll always know what side I’m firmly planted on. The underground could use a bigger chip on its collective shoulders these days anyways.
But the show will fail for the most utterly practical reason imagineable.
To appreciate someone playing a musical instrument, it requires very little technical knowledge to equate the performer’s hand movements with the sound that is produced. Appreciating a song being sung requires even less. The audience response can be completely emotional as a result.
But DJing is on the opposite side of the nerd spectrum. Those who love it have spent countless hours mesmerized with a DJ’s motions during a set, initially just because it seemed like such unaccessible wizardry, and later because you had cracked the code and could actually decipher what was happening with each subtle twist of a knob.
The mystery eventually unravels only for those who put in the time to understand it, however, and that is a small minority compared to those who can casually appreciate a song. Even with universally respected DJs as judges offering sound commentary, it will still be hard for a TV audience to connect what they saw with what they heard.
Sadly, if this show does one thing and one thing only, it will further the notion that personality reigns supreme in the realm of DJ talent. Nothing could be further from the truth. How else could the Germans wield such tastemaking influence?
(I kid. But not really.)
Yes, it’s a bore watching someone who can hardly be bothered to dance to the music they expect everyone else to. And seeing Diplo crowd surf in a svelte blazer while “Pon de Floor” plays definitely sends people into a frenzy.
But by and large, I have to believe that most people go to listen and dance, not to watch. The performance aspect is what comes through the speakers more than how hyped the DJ is, as much as Skrillex would like to think otherwise. It’s why some guy can get paid $30,000 to stand up there in a mousehead for two hours, never even showing his face.
Unless, of course, we’re talking about turntablism, in which case, everything I just said is worthless.
Oh, and then there are all of the tedious sub-genres of dance music, splintering your audience from the get-go.
And what is DJing, really? Will they allow Ableton? Will they allow digital systems like Traktor? Controllers? Two man teams? DJ with live instrument combo?
DJing is playing music and making people dance. However you get there, as much as it would pain many purists to admit this, it doesn’t matter as long as that end result is achieved.
Or, in simpler terms, DJing IS music. The number of ways you can make it are as infinitely varied as the sounds you can make. Good luck capturing that essence on TV, Mr. Cowell. I’m fairly certain this is a genie that can’t be bottled.
Having said that…I almost want to watch it just to see the (wait for it) trainwreck, which is why we watch these shows to begin with.
So full circle: will it make good television? I’m sure Cowell will find a way to extract something watchable to the legions of young, new EDM fans and the parents who are baffled by their children’s obsession with some guy who can’t even spell cascade right.
Will it mean anything to the EDM/dance community at large or dramatically alter any perceptions of DJs and their culture? Will it continue to ruffle the feathers of the underground denizens with nail-on-chalkboard music they wouldn’t touch with someone else’s tone arm?
I think the right answer is “who gives a shit?”