Music for a new generation

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An inside look into the world's fastest growing music genre

Dietrich Neu
Features Editor

“The new generation’s music will have a synthesis of other music genres and some third thing that will be entirely different. Maybe it will rely heavily on electronics or tapes. I can kind of envision one person with a lot of machines, tapes, and electronic set-ups, singing or speaking, and using a lot of machines.” –  Jim Morrison, 1969

As technology continues to evolve and grow, so does the world. People socialize through computers. They read books on iPads and Kindles. Standard phones are archaic if they cannot connect to the Internet, accept voice commands, and tell you where the best sushi restaurant is. With ever-advancing technology permeating the earth, the tidal wave of “machines” hitting the music scene is inevitable, and it has.

Electronic music, a genre that is hard to define, is undoubtedly the most significant contribution technology has made to the music scene worldwide. With innumerable subgenres falling under the umbrella term of “electronic music,” the easiest way to define the genre as a whole would be to say that it is music made using electronic musical instruments and technology.

Although the roots of the genre date back as far as the early 1900s, many people think electronic music is a relatively recent pop-cultural phenomenon. With the influx of mainstream producers, such as Deadmau5 and Skrillex, the world is slowly becoming exposed to a new, diverse, form of music that takes bits and pieces from other traditional genres and blends them with new sounds that are only possible with the use of, as the Doors’ Jim Morrison noted, machines.

Known for its danceablility, electronic music is attractive for DJs to use in their sets, clubs, and raves. The genre produces music with entrancing rhythms, which many proponents had compared to the roots of human music; at a time before physical instruments were in play, humans often struck objects together to create the sound of music. Some theorists believe the beat at the core of electronic music emulates these sounds ingrained in the human psyche.

The Carillon recently had the opportunity to sit down with three of Saskatchewan’s local DJs and electronic music producers, Emilio Del Canto, Jono Cruz, and Kris Jones, to discuss the electronic music scene.

The three are part of a larger group called FUSE collective, a gathering of DJs and producers with the common goal of spreading local music and making the electronic music scene accessible to anyone who wants to be involved.

In addition, both Cruz and Del Canto are partners in a DJing and production group called Locke N’ Shift. The DJing duo has had success spreading their music, as well as putting on shows and growing as one of the better electronic music acts in the province.

As electronic music continues to exploded in popularity, the music culture throughout the world will begin to change. Radio stations will play different songs, people will start wearing different clothes, venues will change in appearance, new venues will open, and undoubtedly, legions of people will step forward and express their hate.

“They’re not artists because no one can play the guitar”

As seems to be the case for any new trend, electronic music has been greeted with adversity and criticism as the genre has slowly become more and more mainstream. Some critics claim that electronic music is not music at all, and others believe that real musicians need to be playing physical instruments live. However, Del Canto believes this is simply the natural progression of music with the ever-increasing technological power that is available to artists.

“Nowadays, a music producer has more power now than a musician has ever had, or ever could have,” Del Canto said. “We have at our disposal the entire repertoire of all of the music that has ever been created. We also have access to all of the instruments that have ever been used. Not only can we use those elements, but we can also manipulate them into something else.

“So in that sense, we are more like composers. So you are kind of comparing apples to oranges when you are comparing a musician to a producer.”

Jones was quick to add making electronic music also requires a deep understanding of musical theory.

“For myself, I grew up playing the piano for ten years,” he explained. “I’ve played guitar and taken vocal lessons. As for what I’m doing now, a lot of people would say that it has nothing to do with music, but I definitely disagree, I use all of the skills that throughout that time when I’m producing and DJing.

“It is a big asset.”

Nonetheless, there are certainly more than enough people willing to criticize the genre, the listeners, and the people who produce the music. Brian Sutton of Spinningsounds.net wrote on his blog, “[These songs] are not considered as music. It’s just a bunch of stupid computer generated sounds,” and “It’s impossible for a piece of electronic music to have soul. It’s definitely not music, more like sound effects all mixed together.”

Music is often broadly defined as the artistic combination of sound and silence. Considering that, it would appear that electronic music clearly makes the grade. Sutton’s criticism fails to recognize that all music, whether it is rock, hip-hop, or country, is essentially just a bunch of sounds mixed together in an ear-pleasing way.

However, Cruz believes the criticism is a moot point.

“To me, it just doesn’t really matter whether or not what I‘m doing is really ‘music,’” he stated. “All I know is that I love it, and a lot of other people love it too.”

Playing a set, feeling the crowd

An interesting departure electronic music makes from other traditional forms of music is in the live performances. Unlike rock, classical, and other traditional music styles where musicians play physical instruments live, electronic music does not require a living human to play the sounds. Almost all electronic music is made with the use of computer software such as Ableton Live, Logic, or FL Studio. When the track is completed using the computer software, it is done; it simply needs to be played on a listening device.

This brings up an interesting question: what exactly are DJs doing during a live performance? Anyone who has been to an electronic music show, or seen footage of other artists in concert, can clearly see that the DJs are behind the stage, fiddling with knobs and buttons.

To put it simply, the DJs are mixing the tracks together to provide a seamless transition from one song to the other. This keeps the flow of the music going, and it allows the attendees to continue dancing, uninterrupted. However, as the DJs from FUSE Collective pointed out, playing a set is far more than simply getting on stage and pressing play. As they put it, many factors go into a good performance – not the least of which is the relationship between the crowd and the DJ.

“If you ever pre-plan a set, that could be considered blasphemy by some people,” Del Canto laughed. “When you pre-plan a set you are almost taking away the allure, or the moments that a DJ has the opportunity to create for the crowd, and you are taking away the interaction with the crowd.

“It is a DJ’s job to perform and entertain. But it is also to react to the crowd and have this reciprocal relationship with the dance floor. A dance floor is its own organism; it has feelings and moods that are affected by external influences.”

In the current age of electronic music, live performances have become a way for DJs and producers to connect with their fans on another level. At a time when many electronic music producers such as Knife Party and Locke N’ Shift are giving much of their music away for free, often live shows are the only method to make money and gain exposure. With people paying good money to walk through the door, it is the job of the DJ to give the fans a unique and memorable performance. According to the members of FUSE Collective, this involves gauging the crowd’s energy level and their reaction to the music, then altering the tracklist to fit their needs.

“You need to earn the dance floor’s trust,” Del Canto said. “By playing the music that they want to hear; but also what you want them to hear, because you are leading them where you want to take them based on how they are reacting to the music and developing that relationship.”

In addition to watching the crowd and creating a dynamic set based on their reaction to the music, Del Canto’s DJing partner, Cruz, also pointed out that a good DJ needs to manage the crowd’s energy level the while playing a set.

“Let’s say you found a new high-energy electro track that you really wanted make the climax of your set,” Cruz said. “But you’re not at that point yet. If you can see visibly that the people on the dance floor are really working up a sweat and putting everything into their dance moves, you know as a DJ that realistically they won’t be able to keep that going for ten more minutes.

“At that moment, you need to drop the energy level down a little bit and play something a little less intense so that they can coast to the beat and take a bit of a breather. And then that, in turn, gives you the opportunity to play that big electro smasher that you wanted to finish up with.”

The group all unanimously agreed that understanding the concept of energy level was a huge part of putting on a successful show. They pointed out that electronic music has a vast range of styles and sounds. Some songs, such as “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” by leading dubstep DJ Skrillex, have very intense, in-your-face, basslines, while other tracks have fewer elements and a more repetitive melody, which evidently brings the energy level down, allowing the crowd to refuel for more high-energy song down the line.

The key to all of this is understanding your music. DJs need intimate knowledge of the songs they play. While many casual listeners simply become entranced in the flow of the beat, good DJs need to have strong knowledge of the technical aspects of the songs they play. A skill built by attentively listening to music, a lot of it.

“A lot of it has to do with how much music you have,” Del Canto said. “Really what is comes down to is having the interest in actually listening to the music and not simply playing it. That’s how you get to know it.”

Jones was also quick to point out that it is not only how much music a DJ listens to, but also how the DJ listens to the music.

“You have to be listening for certain things,” he said. “A DJ needs to know where certain elements, such as the drop, are in a track. When you know where all of those elements are, you can be more creative with the techniques you use on stage.

“The more you are listening to the various elements of the track, the better you become as a DJ.”

The local electronic music scene

In the case of music, attention breeds growth. Like almost every location on earth, Saskatchewan is experiencing an expanding level of public interest in the electronic music scene – thanks in part to the overall success of the genre in the mainstream.

Electronic music used to be associated with raves, drugs, and several components that are not associated with music at all. Now, the public have begun to appreciate the music for what it is: music. The Saskatchewan electronic music scene has certainly benefited from the mainstream acceptance of the genre.

“I think it has been building some momentum for some time now,” Jones said. “A lot of that has to do with new clubs that are opening and bringing in more mainstream music to the public. It exposes people who have not listened to the music before to electronic music. From there, they are encouraged to come out to some of the smaller shows and check out what we are doing.”

Mainstream acceptance allows people to take the music as it is. As a more people  begin to listen to electronic music, the stigmatic lines associated with genre begin to blur as the diversity of the listener base begins to grow. Cruz, and the other members of FUSE Collective, recognize this change in public opinion.

“People used to think, ‘Electronic music, that means raves, drugs, nonsense, and clubs being shut down,’” he said. “Now what people think of electronic music is, ‘Skrillex, Deadmua5, cool influential people are playing this music.’ People are actually opening up to it.”

“In the past, there has been a lot of stigmas attached to the electronic music scene, what it involves and the kind of people who are a part of it,” Del Canto added. “At this point it is becoming a lot more glamorous and a lot more desirable on a lot of levels. And that’s due to the exposure that people are getting at these shows.”

This exposure has, in turn, allowed FUSE Collective and Locke N’ Shift to develop the local electronic music scene from a grassroots level. Through show after show, the members of FUSE are allowing fans of electronic music to enjoy what they love, as well as providing newcomers with an avenue to explore their interest. The members of FUSE are trying to do this through a fun and inviting atmosphere.

“The whole idea of these events, and electronic music, is to have a good time, and get together,” Del Canto said. “And that’s what we are really trying to do with FUSE, is encourage and enforce that kind of ideal. Just have a good time.”

In terms of the Saskatoon-based FUSE Collective, accessibility to the public, bringing people together, and pooling their talent, seems to be at the forefront of their ideology.

“We call it FUSE Collective, because it is basically a bunch of people who love the music; all of us are DJs, all of us love the music,” Del Canto said. “We really just want to make things happen in this province. We want to move things forward, because we all love electronic music.”

As with many local artists, FUSE Collective aims to bring a different flavour to the table. While mainstream electronic music does bring exposure with it, it also brings the accustomed egos, and elitist attitudes, alongside. This is something that FUSE Collective is trying to change.

“All of us together can do greater things than any one of us separated could,” Jones said. “I think that is what it is really about: bringing the scene into bigger spaces, making it more accessible.”

“We are all friendly guys,” Del Canto added. “There is none of this ‘we are trying to be headhonchos.’ It’s about bringing everyone together and everyone sharing the moment that we have all worked to create.”

“I think a lot of DJs who want to get into the scene have run into this brick wall,” Cruz said. “There are people in power who think that they are superstars. It is really intimidating, and it really shouldn’t be.

“That is the whole thing behind FUSE Collective; we want to get rid of all the politics and drama. We want to open the doors for people who want to be involved.”

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