Last Friday, 10 April 2015, veteran DJ and host of long-running dance music radio programme The Essential Mix (amongst others), Pete Tong, penned an interesting opinion editorial in Billboard magazine. In it, Tong (writing for a primarily American audience) highlighted the rapid rise of Electronic Music, particularly within a “mainstream” acceptance context. With that, Tong also points out how the scene is quintessential toward the millennial generation’s accessibility to technology, digitization, and (perhaps, most importantly) global interconnectivity. Furthermore, the question was raised: What will the newfound global popularity of Electronic Music ultimately leave behind, beyond simply the music and events?
Pete Tong has been championing electronic music for some three decades, assuming roles spanning the gamut of the scene, with respect to its undoubtable framework as business and industry. “I’ve watched it (Electronic Music) grow from Chicago basements to mainstream festival stages, and traced the DJ’s evolution from background club curator to modern-day rock star,” Tong says. As a DJ, label boss, radio host, and International Music Summit founder, Tong has found his reach and influence is especially strong regarding issues of dance and business. With that, Tong proclaims a certain distaste for the placement of Electronic Music within a wider cultural dialogue, focusing specifically on visual, entertainment media. “It frustrates me that we haven’t made an impression in film and TV the way that genres like rock, hip-hop and R&B have. There’s no shortage of award-winning documentaries or films scored by electronic producers — so where is the cinematic reflection of our culture?“, Tong exclaims.
Citing African American Film Directors John Singleton, and Spike Lee, as well as seminal disco era snapshot Saturday Night Fever, Tong takes particular issue with the notion that studio-driven content creation seems to “come from a generation that dismisses EDM as a fad, and DJs today may not have the same sort of underdog appeal seen in, say, 8 Mile.”
Tong brings up how the current generation seems to believe that Electronic Music began with the rise of EDM and contemporary Las Vegas nightlife, but points out a distinct lack of appreciation (née, knowledge) on trailblazing artists even from their own country, like Frankie Knuckles or Derrick May, not to mention institutions like New York City’s Twilo and Paradise Garage. “In my native United Kingdom, the rise of dance music in the ’90s was a cultural milestone akin to punk rock in the late ’70s. But many in the United States believe it all began with the current boom in Las Vegas,” Tong says, to give some context to this geographically based canyon of character.
*Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg spoofing big room EDM DJ’s as “Davvincii”
But it’s not all bad for Tong and he does see a bright side to (at least) the possibilities, which abound. “Inspiring music is being made and compelling stories are going untold. The clubs of Ibiza, Berlin, London and New York are rich and vibrant settings,” he says, going on with, “[Our] history is rich with colourful characters and tales.” It simply is not exclusively defined by “fist-pumping DJs blowing things up onstage.”
There is something to be said about the steady rise, however, of independently produced content, which is gradually embracing Electronic Music as culture, more than simple ad. Perhaps the best example of this, with respect to cinematicism, as well as legacy, comes from French Director Mia Hansen-Løve, who’s Daft Punk inspired film Eden, has earned rave reviews from Cannes to Sundance. Additionally, a smattering of documentaries have been trickling on the festival circuit, mostly associated with specific events like Under the Electric Sky (Electric Daisy Carnival) or Limelight. Still, though, a wider cultural acceptance through visual media depiction remains significantly lacking.
So, with all this in mind, what do you think? Where does the ultimate legacy of Electronic Music and the people, places, and personalities associated fall within a wider cultural context? What can be done to harness and promote the roots of the scene? What kinds of representations already exist? Hopefully Tong’s explicit call to action will, not only, garner some quality Electronic Music based cinema/TV, but will also bring to light these issues of legacy, especially as there is a rich one to highlight, promote, and respect.
Read the entire Op-Ed in Billboard Magazine