Monday, 8 June 2015

Electronic Dance Music is Not Your Friend

Witnessing last month’s trailer for Warner Bros. We Are Your Friends, one can be forgiven for having the utmost cynicism apropos millennials’ attitudes towards dance music.

The high-concept plot could’ve been scribbled on the back of a fag packet: Zac Efron plays a muscle-bound 23-year-old DJ handsomely called Cole, who catches the attention of an established thirtysomething record producer boringly named James (played by Wes Bentley), who wants to mentor the aspiring youth, but things get complicated when the latter’s younger girlfriend dreamily called Sophie (portrayed by Blurred Lines model Emily Ratajkowski), falls for the former and his musical ambitions. Routine stuff happens. The end.
One guesses that the aim of this forthcoming release is to cinematically define a culture and sound that seems entirely new to young Americans, but has been commonplace in Europe for the last twenty-five years or so. Due to the fact the trailer lasts over three minutes, demonstrates that perhaps those who’ve made the film are themselves struggling to figure out how exactly dance music has characterised a generation of American youth stifled by a depressed job market and mollycoddled by modern parenting methods which ill-equip them for life in the real world. The actuality that Working Title Films, a British production company behind twee rom-coms, produced this American rave flick, along with French film company StudioCanal, goes to further highlight how potentially clueless and misguided this movie might be.
The notion that in order to become rich and famous one can simply upload a derivative dance track onto their USB stick and fly around the world raking in fortunes, is, frankly, disturbing. Rather than creating a plot concerning creative ambition and graft, We Are Your Friends taps into a scene where expectation and entitlement seem prevalent pillars. The characters showcased in this trailer spend more time discussing the need to get rich through music rather than actually making quality records.

Britain in the ‘90s was a period when dance music was both revolutionary and progressive. The illegal rave parties at the start of that decade were  feared and criminalised by the establishment, yet it was also a scene where young people of different ethnicities and social strata came together to dance and experiment. The close of ‘90s club culture developed big beat groups who took dance music to international heights while still maintaining a cerebral edge so as to ground the tracks in intelligence and integrity. Heck, one still recalls a time when The Prodigy declined an offer to perform on BBC’s flagship Top of the Pops even though it would have boosted their sales hugely. Dance music used to be about credibility and rebellion, whereas it now means absolutely nothing other than mindless partying and moneymaking.
In the light of America’s embrace of dance culture, worryingly, the UK can be argued to be lowering its standards too. Warp Records, that northern powerhouse who is home to electronic music revolutionaries like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, is busily touting its latest signing Hudson Mohawk.

Hudson Mohawk, a DJ of a similar age to the character Efron plays in this movie, is said to be a master at turntables and sonic smashing, which may explain why Warp signed him. But Mohawk’s latest release Scud Books seems as empty as anything channelled in We Are Your Friends. Dance music should always be about innovation and boundary pushing, not chasing sales. The apparent reality that electronic dance culture has become a benign steppingstone to insignificant infamy and soulless profitability speak volumes about how disposable this scene has become.
Who knows, We Are Your Friends may be this generations Saturday Night Fever, a movie that uses a popular music scene in order to hold a mirror at America’s deeper and darker social issues. Chances are, however, it’ll be as crap as the trailer makes it seem.

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