An open letter to Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not A Gadget.
It’s your deepest fears realized, Jaron. There’s a MASSIVE wave of creativity happening in the music industry and you’re too busying whining and complaining like a grumpy old man who missed nap time to notice. I think my blood pressure skyrocketed to unacceptable levels after reading “Retropolis” in your book, You Are Not A Gadget. You claim that we’re in an era of “musical stasis” – that digital culture has killed a creative storm. You rant that the pop music of today doesn’t have a distinct style and that it doesn’t provide an identity for us, the “young people.” You believe everything is just retro, retro, retro. The music of today is just nostalgia rather than pushing the boundaries of creativity. You annoyingly complain about not being able to complain about new pop music (because apparently there isn’t any). You touched me on such a deep level when you said that “trying to summarize the power of music leaves you breathless.” I could not agree more. But you subsequently ruined that rosy, happy feeling I got when reading such a profound statement when you questioned if “the hive” (a.k.a “wisdom of the crowd) has stopped the process of the reinvention of life through music. Let me tell you something…
Obviously you’ve never been to an EDM festival (that’s electronic dance music to you old farts). Supposedly you know all about electronic music – you even reference dub, house, and trance in your book – but if you had truly experienced this music firsthand, you would not be making such ludicrous claims like this one (taken from your website):
Digital music usually comes off as sterile and bland. Listen to a lot of what comes out of the university “computer music” world or new age ambient music and you’ll hear what I mean. Digital production usually has an overly regular beat because it comes out of a looper or a sequencer. And because it uses samples, you hear identical microstructure in sound again and again, making it seem as if the world were not alive while the music was playing. But hip hop pierced through this problem in a shocking way. It turns out these same deficits can be turned around and used to express anger with incredible intensity. A sample played again and again expresses stuckness and frustration, as does the regular beat. Hip hop was a great example of a new technology inspiring new esthetic invention that expressed its time in a way that went beyond words. That’s what I’m talking about when I’m talking about a new style!
I don’t think I can put into words the sensation of listening to electronic dance music. You think it seems the world is not ALIVE while that music is playing?! I have never felt MORE ALIVE than I do at an EDM festival. Goosebumps literally cover my body when I listen to it and I’m left breathless by the end of a set. I have seen people cry at live shows and complete strangers brought together purely for the love of the music. You’ll probably argue that that’s not the point you’re making – that I can appreciate this music and that’s fine because that’s my particular taste – that the real point you’re making is that this music just isn’t new. Yes, I understand that electronic music has deep roots in history and has been around for decades…but it was always underground – in empty warehouses or in dark basements with trippy lights – the “rave” scene. But have you realized that it’s the mainstream now? It is our pop culture. Belgium’s Tomorrowland drew in over 65,000 people to Boom to celebrate dance music, Electric Zoo in New York saw over 110,000 crazy fans, Ultra Music Festival in Miami was filled with over 165,000 souls in Bayfront Park earlier this year, and EDC Las Vegas entertained over 300,000. EDM Festivals draw hundreds of thousands of people to one place for one reason: for the love of the music. It is defining our culture and is impossible to escape. It’s in a Kia Soul commercial, for crying out loud. You cannot get more mainstream than that.
But just because it is pop culture, doesn’t mean the creativity has been killed. If anything, artists are more determined now to push the boundaries of what electronic dance music truly is and strive to shock the audience with mesmerizing new sounds and leave them in awe, wondering: What the hell did I just listen to? How did they DO that? And it’s not just mash-ups of old songs or a new spin on some hip-hop song from the 9o’s. There are so many original pieces out there now that have an entirely new sound..and not just new pieces, but entirely new genres. Ever heard of moombahton? Have you heard the evolution of trap music with dub and techno layered in? I know you probably believe that it is just all mash-ups, which is yet another laundry list item on your agenda of “Bullshit To Complain About,” but that does not comprise the whole EDM scene. And even if there are remixes, bootlegs, mash-ups…whatever you want to say…what makes that any less creative? It is somebody’s reworking of an original, a fresh new take on something that already exists. Sometimes the mash-up is so inspiring that the original artist will use the REMIX in their own sets. Kaskade recently wrote about his thoughts on remixing, I suggest you take a look).
So Jaron, you may have moments of pure wisdom and some ideas that I truly respect, but when it comes to your view of music today…I think you have completely missed the mark. You are so ignorant to this amazing evolution. Open your eyes and find something new to complain about.