Decline is visible everywhere in the West, in every cobwebbed corner, lurking in every scene. For those of you who don’t know, my other life is spent in Goth clubs, spinning a blend of Dark Trance, Industrial and EBM music for a crowd that is best described as somewhat alternative. These small microcosms in the music industry are really the last bastions of creative art left in the industry. Yesterday’s post on the End of Beauty should serve as a warning, but in these smaller niche markets, some beauty still remains.
I have been a DJ and occasional producer under various names, most lately as Dystopic. You won’t find me on major festival lists and I don’t share the fame of some of the greats, like Imperative Reaction, Mind.in.a.Box, Combichrist or XP8. But my contribution exists, and whatever else, I enjoy the originality of the music and the creativity of this scene.
Dystopic. Philosopher by day, steampunk DJ by night.
It is, however, of the latter band whom I wish to speak. XP8 is one of my go-to groups when I’m DJing. For those who have some experience DJing, I am not what is known as a playlist DJ. I mix (and remix) live, I learned to beatmatch the old fashioned way on turntables and old Pioneer CDJ500s back in the late 90s. And so I never really know what I’m going to spin until I spin it. Often times, I let the mood of the crowd guide me. Other times, pure whimsy. On occasion, however, I am left without any clear idea what to do, and it is in those moments that XP8’s music has saved me and my sets.
It’s a sort of default setting, music I can always rely on to be good, powerful and accepted by the Industrial crowd. And so the end of the XP8 project is something that saddens me. The duo declared the end of the project, and the end of their music careers by naming their final song “XP8 Is Dead.”
XP8 is Dead. No drama or actual death involved. They have decided to move on.
Bands and Artists fold all the time. What makes this different, you say? What does this have to do with the Decline of the West? A lot.
This interview explains an awful lot. Marco Visconti explains it thusly:
I guess the reasons can be already glimpses from the reply I gave above, but there’s more to that… music genres have life cycles, and I simply realised the time for “industrial dance”, that weird mix of dancefloor beats with a more gritty approach, was simply over. I said it elsewhere and I repeat it here, we had it good for fifteen years, that’s a long period of time: I went from being in my early 20s to the gates of my 40s, that’s a huge chuck of everybody’s life right there. Nothing stays forever, surely not a super niche genre like ours. And it is always wiser to understand when it is time to move on, because no one wants to be the old guy in a room full of kids looking at you like a dinosaur: I remember vividly making fun of those old goths that simply didn’t want to get the fuck out of MY clubs a decade ago, and the last thing I wanted to become was one of them.
I strongly suggest all the people of my generation to consider doing the same, because this scene was supposed to be young and vibrant, while nowadays anytime you walk into a goth/industrial club or festival, everywhere in the world, the average age is 35 and that’s simply wrong.
There’s a hint in here of what is going on. Music has always had a sort of cycle to it. Consider it a sort of generational affair, where young people, educated by the masters of old, introduce new ideas, then, in their turn, become the new masters to educate the next age.
Only today’s masters, unlike Marco, are unwilling to give up their throne to the new crowd. As a DJ, I have seen night clubs become progressively older in demographics. An endless series of comeback tours ensue. It’s like Toys r Us commercials used to tell us.
I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys r Us kid.
XP8 took the high road, ending their careers at a penultimate moment with, perhaps, the best releases yet. Marco explains it:
We played a very successful gig here in London last August, at Slimelight, to a sold out venue. That was our swan song, and I have some very nice memories of it I will forever treasure.
And so as Marco moves on with his life, he’ll remember ending his music career on a high note, to appreciating aficionados who truly enjoyed his craft. He won’t be a dried-out has-been, a Metallica releasing Reload, and challenging Napster. He won’t be Madonna, plastered in makeup, sounding like a chain-smoking gas station attendant humming off key in the shower. He definitely won’t be this:
He and Marko Resurreccion, the other half of XP8, were masters of their craft, a Kings of a very small little niche kingdom most of my readers probably never even heard about. But more important than that, they knew when it was time to step down.
They knew when it was time to grow up.
Sometimes I feel that my DJ career, a much smaller affair than XP8, is similarly limited. I have a few more years left in me and then my time will come too. Music production is a game for the young. But the clubbers will go on, getting older, long after I exit. 35 year olds, 45 year olds…
Perhaps in a few decades, the night clubs will look like nursing homes, wrinkled fists pumping in the air like nobody cares, the scent of beer and liquor mixed with mothballs. We live in an era where no one grows up, nobody moves on. It’s a perpetual adolescence, cradle-to-grave stunting of personal growth.
We live in an era where the King thinks he can not only stand on the shore and order the tide to stop, but that he can order Death himself away with but a wave of his hand.
I cannot tell you how much I admire XP8 for having the moral courage to do what others in my industry could not: move on and grow up. I will miss their music, nonetheless.
Musical innovation is full of danger to the State, for when modes of music change, the laws of the State always change with them.
He makes an interesting point. Music changes with the times. It is reflective of the society that brings it about.
Music today is on the decline. Now, every generation believes that new music is worse than the music which preceded it. Certainly when Elvis was performing, there were detractors who disliked the new sound. When Beethoven’s symphonies were first heard, there were undoubtedly those who felt his music was too new and edgy.
That is not what I am writing about. The decline in today’s music is less subjective than that. I remember a late night party where a bunch of 40 year old people were dancing and singing loudly out of key to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’. What struck me was how the crowd was so hyped up with the lyrics and the familiarity of the song. It wasn’t the musical quality which made them fondly recall the song. They weren’t appreciating the intricacies of the artists’ work, they were reliving some mysterious moment in their lives when they were younger and having a good time, and this song happened to be playing because it was a “hit.” The song could have been anything so long as it had been hugely popular at some point when they were doing something memorable.
Another incident I remember was DJing a local Tampa dive bar, spinning some House music (Industrial isn’t my only thing), and this woman came up to me demanding to hear Rihanna’s Birthday Cake, because it was her birthday. The song’s musical quality (or lack thereof) was irrelevant. The music was appreciated only because it was popular and the lyrics coincided with a life-moment for her. She was very insistent, and actually quite rude when I explained I had been hired to spin House by the promoters. So I played Deadmau5’s Attention Whore instead, using another song’s lyrics to send a completely different message.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was part of the problem. The music wasn’t about enjoyment of harmony and intricacy. It wasn’t an appreciation of the deeper, almost mathematical precision of it. I couldn’t even claim to be mixing the song because I felt some soulful connection to the thumping beats and repetitive leads. It was simply about sending a message to an obnoxious woman.
So much of today’s music is like this, from Tupac’s rapping to whatever it is Miley Cyrus was doing on stage. The music is about the lyrical message, it’s about listening to some celebrity lecturing you about how to live your life (usually quite poorly, I might add). The songs are about associating moments of your life with a melody. This is your first dance, this is your song as a couple, this other track is what was playing when you were drunk on your birthday talking to transsexual prostitutes in a strip club with your frat buddies.
For most people, the music is just a means to an end, the soundtrack playing in the club while you troll the waters for your latest sexual conquest or drunken act of stupidity. It isn’t about the music itself, the innate complexity of it, the precision, the soul. And since this is true, we see everyone from garage bands to bedroom DJs trying to get a slice of the good life. Put on your Raybans and deliver the wub-wub to the proto-yuppie spring-breakers on South Beach.
Music used to bring attention to the most talented, to those who worked the hardest to understand it. In the words of Coone and the Gang, you would have to be a nerd to become a DJ. Beethoven and Mozart were mad geniuses, the uber-geeks of their age. But the Pop Culture age changed all that. It’s hard to a put my finger on exactly when this happened, but it was already in play by the time Elvis appeared on the scene. In him you can see an early prototype for the pop stars that followed.
Today it’s about who makes you belt out bad popular melodies in front of drunkards at the local dive bar. It’s about who can twerk on stage or who can deliver the most offensive, controversial lyrics possible. The actual composition and writing of most of the music is outsourced to shadowy producers, some of whom never get any credit.
Music composed, performed and mixed for its own sake is a dying art. Should we be surprised, then, that so much of it is terrible?
Some people in the electronic music community bemoan that computers and modern mixing equipment have made music too easy for everyone, and that’s why so much of it is terrible. This is an outright lie. I’m sure someone bemoaned the piano when it was released, for it was far easier to learn than many of the previous instruments. The problem is not the equipment, indeed it has never been the issue. If anything, this may help more talented musicians to discover their abilities.
Go to a big concert and you will begin to understand the real issue. You will see fireworks and massive light shows. Lasers and fog will be everywhere. A stadium will be filled with 50,000 people, all singing along and bobbing their heads to the beat. The lead singer will glance at someone in the crowd, and assume the famous Jesus pose. The lyrical messages will echo across the venue, telling you not to stop believin’. You’re special, you see, and it’s all about you. It’s your birthday cake, it’s about your poker face, you’re all shook up.
Concerts today are the equivalent of a well-produced religious service, and the crowds are the devotees, hanging off every lyric. The actual music is a distant memory, and that’s why when that drunken moment comes 20 years later and someone relives the great concert of their youth… they can’t even sing a single note on key. It was never about the music.
Today’s musicians provide the soundtrack to life. And as life becomes increasingly shallow and disposable, we should continue to expect the vast majority of music to follow.
Digital DJ Tips muses about the absence of notable female DJs in the scene. And it is, indeed, a question worth tackling. Recently I discussed the stupidity of Paris Hilton scoring a residency in Ibiza, and it’s definitely related.
Music creation and production has always tended to be the domain of men. Go back to Beethoven and Mozart for examples of talent in that arena. Of course, feminists will be quick to point out that women are strongly represented as singers and pop artists, but let’s put that aside for just a moment and ask why men are so interested in becoming musicians.
One word: sex. DJ Coone tells us in his famous song that people who think DJing is an easy way to get laid should just fuck off. It’s about the love of the music, he says. And that’s definitely a factor. Creative expression is what makes music authentic. If you don’t enjoy doing it, you won’t be any good at it.
But sex is still the dominant factor. You have to do something in life in order to satisfy a woman’s hypergamous impulses. You could be a politician or an actor, a drug dealer or a DJ. Either way, however, you must prove your value to a woman, and becoming a musician and/or DJ is one of the most visible ways to do it. Some musicians are less aware of this than others, but the drive still exists.
Now, fast-forward back to a lack of female DJs. Women don’t have to impress men with anything but being attractive. A dumb woman without any measurable skill or talent can still land a valuable man if she is hot. That isn’t to say there isn’t value in a woman having talent and skill — obviously there is — but the sort of single-minded determination to succeed that’s necessary in the highly-competitive world of DJing just doesn’t exist in most women, because they don’t need that level of personal success to land reproductive success. And only the most determined in this industry will generally succeed. Another way to put it is men are desperate for success, and that serves as one hell of a motivator.
This, incidentally, explains why female singers are much more common than female DJs. Pop stars and lead singers get a disproportionate amount of attention in the spotlight, more so than DJs, and their job is essentially to be beautiful. Granted, this beauty is in the auditory sense, but nonetheless it fulfills a woman’s drive to be attractive and the center of attention. Women will work tirelessly for that. And nevermind that most pop stars at least start their career as attractive women. DJing in a sweaty, beer-stained club, on the other hand, does not appeal to most women. If they could fast forward, like Paris Hilton, to instant success in Ibiza, then more women would be interested in DJing. But as a DJ, your career will begin in the most divey of dives, and for most DJs it will probably end there too. It’s not the glamour-filled world women crave. Even the aspiring singer belting out a number in the Karaoke bars will generally have a better time of it than DJs when their career begins. At least the audience generally claps after the singer finishes. There is no such recognition for the DJ.
DJing isn’t sexist. In fact, real women DJs tend to score gigs easier than their male cohorts, especially if they are attractive. Nothing makes a club owner or promoter see dollar signs like a hot piece on the stage. Most women will tire of the work, however, and move on to something more interesting. Men will stay and put up with the absurdly low pay, clouds of noxious cigarette smoke and terrible song requests, because we must. The “be hot” career option isn’t available to most of us.
It’s a divey career. But as a DJ, you’re still the king of that dive, and for men that has value. This is especially true if, like DJ Coone tell us to, you really love the music. DJing isn’t an easy way to get laid — but it IS a way.
My friend, DJ Velz, pointed out that Nina Kravitz has been slamming the “sexism” of the electronic music scene. One of her complaints is the typical feminist claptrap about objectification. She slams critics who were pointing out that her semi-nude and nude photos were just “taking a bath” and tasteful photography. But you don’t see male DJs posting nude photos, then complaining about the resulting objectification. Nina Kravitz wants to be the center of attention, and wants to be appreciated for her body — electronic music is a distant second in her list of priorities. But since she’s an attractive woman, the industry lowers the bar for her. Once again proving that for most female DJs, it’s about being beautiful, not about music or success.
Since 95% of my readership, as of this writing, know me personally, you should be familiar with my status as a local Tampa DJ. A great deal of my perspective on the decline of our culture’s quality was gained from the view of the DJ booth. It’s certainly an interesting exercise in human nature to watch the club from up there.
So, naturally, when a moment arises to both demonstrate the depths of stupidity to which our culture has sunk and blast fake, attention-seeking celebrity DJs, I embrace that opportunity with open arms.
Tell me what’s wrong with this picture:
Yes, that’s Paris Hilton behind a DJ booth “rocking” the same gear I use in my shows. It’s rare for the antics of most celebrities, as disconnected as they are from reality, to genuinely piss me off. Congratulations Paris, achievement unlocked.
Wealth has always conferred privilege, that is simply the way of the world. I don’t begrudge Paris Hilton her money, nor the right to purchase any audio gear she doesn’t know how to use with said funding.
I do, however, think it’s a sign of our times that not only would club owners and promoters actually put a trainwrecking celebrity figure who doesn’t even know how to DJ in front of a DJ booth… but large numbers of people actually show up to watch every agonizing moment of that trainwreck in slow motion!
Celebrity worship in our society has reached the point of absolute lunacy. Asking Paris Hilton to DJ on stage in Ibiza is the functional equivalent of asking Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to compose for the Boston Symphony. It does not compute.
Would it be different if she had been hobbyist DJ, using her wealth and connections to parlay it into a successful professional career? Absolutely. But as the link above shows you, there is no DJing talent or acquired, practiced skill anywhere in Paris Hilton’s repertoire.
To Native Instruments, the manufacturer of her mixing controller, I can only say this: I’d send this woman a note with a request to stop using your products, along with a sample of free products from your competitors. It would be a great PR move.