2015 was a curious year for me. As someone who has always deeply appreciated esoteric, experimental and off-kilter electronic music, especially electronic music with a theoretical or conceptual framework which it works within, 2015 would have seemed to be an ideal year for me. However, something was off.
That something, if we’re being frank, was the boringly mundane celebration of capitalism veiled as though it were some sort of profoundly challenging bit of philosophy. Artists and labels employed PR campaigns, they co-branded with major corporations, employed flashy gimmicks and asinine product launches that resulted in, no challenging discourse, dialogue or engagement, but rather a time tested and worn thin method to gain visibility through articles, features, photo-spreads and reviews.
And this was where I found myself at odds with these acts and artists and frankly, with those writing about them. Because it seems so utterly obvious, so tediously banal and flat, and yet, time and time again, these artists and writers insisted that there was something profound and truly different going on. Unfortunately the reality was that it was just a half-baked, first year of college version of ‘underground’ dance music selling a Britney Spears’ ‘Britney’ album alongside a perfume, a Bratz doll, and a clothing line. This wasn’t rewriting anything, it was just a childlike re-purposing of marketing we should already be aware of and critical about. Acts like SOPHIE were not engaging in some critical philosophy of hyper-capitalism, they were just doing the same stupid thing we’ve seen happen for the last few decades from pop star acts.
But, for writers in dance music journalism, one got the sense that somehow, these artists had truly done something unlike anyone before them. And that’s where I began to get a feeling that we were hitting a peak moment of The Emperor’s New Clothes. But if 2015 showed me anything in regards to this phenomenon it was that we are nowhere near hitting peak anything. In fact, with barely any negative press (there is some, from surprisingly more mainstream press) it would seem as though these acts have quite a bit more gas in the tank before perhaps some of these absurd claims of Marxist critique (lulz) might be questioned by someone who actually gets paid to write about them.
For all the features, all the press, all the fawning write-ups about how these artists were truly changing the face of music there was something conspicuously missing from the year end lists of top tracks, albums and performers. And that would be, these artists. As the year progressed I started to wonder if this wouldn’t be the case. Because I realized that while music press will happily write endless pieces about these acts, they won’t, at the end of the day, be including them in their end of year roundups. Because, while these artists are amazing fodder for clicks, reader comments, returning readership, eyeballs and engagement on their sites (great stats for advertisers), their music wasn’t note-worthy enough for anyone to remember, let alone claim that they are worth putting on their best of lists. And for me, that’s pretty telling.
These groups have found ways to get attention, to sell albums, tracks, products, brands and identities. But that’s different than making music that people remember, appreciate, enjoy, respect and engage with for the long term. I’m not sure how long it will take people to recognize that the ‘profound’ theories of these acts is just a less polished version of a top-40 act, repackaged and sold to you via the same channels and methods which you would rebuke normally because it was done by Britney Spears. Hopefully people begin to ask these questions. But for now it would appear as though we’ll be left wading through the garbage as their PR machines gain steam and they release more schlock to even wider audiences via their new major label homes. At the end of the day, the end of year lists were telling for me in a way that was unintended. They revealed that, while these acts and labels are being heralded as important, essential and recommended, when rubber hits the road the reality is that for the most part, no one will actually stand by these claims in situations where their usefulness as a means to gain eyes and money are not as necessary.