Electronic music, contrary to popular belief, needs live events to survive, and the current pandemic is calling on electro professionals to rethink their profession. The book Electronic cities that I edited with Damien Charrieras and John Willsteed analyzes the influence of cultural development policies linked to urban planning on these scenes, as well as the impact of the pandemic on this sector. A theme that is in line with my research work on spaces of creativity in the city.
If this style is less demonized that in the past, this type of music has not yet been fully integrated into cultural development policies; in some countries it is still a marginal style. A sign that its recognition is progressing: in 2019, a large exposition at the Cité de la Musique was dedicated to this musical style.
Electro, what is it?
Electronic music is characterized by a gender diversity, of which 153 were identified by an online site which is based, for example, on the analysis of specialized magazines or the release of new records. To simplify, we can distinguish two branches that influence each other:Your EDM club music (made for dancing) and theintelligent dance music (IDM) more open to experimentation, in particular promoted by the independent label Warp Records founded in Sheffield, England in 1989.
Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada or Björk are associated with this genre. This type of electro is more conceptual, made to be listened to at home, with an often slower rhythm and softer, more harmonious sounds than the type of electro made for dancing.
Even though new production techniques make it possible to produce electronic music from anywhere, this type of music remains linked to the city. The first live techno gatherings in Detroit in the 1980s took place in disused industrial hangars during a period of deindustrialization and economic decline.
The origin of the electronic genre goes back to the compositions ofEdgard Varese, as “Electronic poem” an electroacoustic piece from 1958, with works by Pierre Schaeffer –Instruction engineer– or Stockhausen, but also more recently, from Italian Giorgio Moroder. Among the pioneers is the legendary Kraftwerk group, born out of the Düsseldorf scene in Germany.
The first real bastions of this kind were Chicago where techno was born in a context of economic crisis and deindustrialisation, but also Detroit and New York which are at the origin of style house which itself comes in several variations. This style will be updated in the 1990s with the French touch.
In Berlin, the birth of this scene coincides with the fall of the wall in 1991. Today electronic music is a worldwide cultural phenomenon which highlights female artists even if the techno world remains very sexist. Artists such as Grimes in Montreal who started out on independent labels like Arbutus Records are now enjoying international success.
A pleiad of DJ women occur all over the world and collective are trying to change mentalities. In Australia, in 2017, women were only 16% in the programming of electronic music festivals while in the world this proportion has increased by 17 to 21% between 2012 and 2019, this proportion was highest in Sweden with 42% of female DJs in the programming between 2017 and 2019.
Cultural policies and the world of electro
Most of the scenes studied in the book Electronic cities were born without government intervention; the authorities are often repressive in the case of scenes that we qualify as underground, in particular as regards the use of illicit substances or club closing times.
However, electro music can be used by local governments to promote a new image of the city.
In the same vein, the city of Montreal has incorporated this type of music with the Mutek festival, just like Lyon with the Nuits Sonores festival. Small underground clubs in capitals, such as Club 414 which has long hosted parties acid techno in Brixton, in the suburbs of London, are victims of gentrification and are most often forced to close their doors under pressure from developers who buy them back in order to favor more lucrative real estate operations.
A office tower is going to be built on the site of this club which has historical and cultural value, but which is not protected by the planning regulations in place. The case of this club and the urban alternative cultures have been studied in detail by Stephane Sadoux from the University of Grenoble.
It is not uncommon for several types of scenes to coexist within the same city: more commercial events such as the Techno Week in Detroit are supported by local authorities and serve cultural tourism, while other more underground scenes prefer to occupy disused spaces on the fringes of centers.
The future of electro
The last report IMS on the electronic music industry states that 350 festivals have been canceled or postponed as of April 2020, preventing 8.9 million people from participating. The alternatives are the use of online platforms such as Twitch or even Zoom for this type of practice to continue. In Australia, drive-in gigs experienced for live music persist, all genres combined. A other solution which allows “dancing at a distance” is currently being tested.
The underground parties (illegal raves) continue to take place as recently in Brittany and elsewhere (Berlin, Tottenham ou Manchester). At the moment, there is no direct assistance for electro artists and to support this sector of activity, the only solution for the time being is to join virtual events and continue to buy music online.
In the book Electronic Cities, Mark Reeder, the musician and electronic music producer, in an interview with John Willsteed, declares that, according to him, following the pandemic, electro music will become less festive, more introspective and composed to be listened to at home rather than on a dance floor.
Of course, the arrival of the vaccine can change the situation: tomorrow, the electrovirtual and real scenes will certainly continue to invest the spaces of the city, in a legal or illegal way.
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