There’s a joke concerning a group of certain well-known electronic musicians: how many members of Swedish House Mafia does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Three; one to screw it in and two to stand next to him, pretending like they’re doing something.
We Americans stand at the beginning of a potential new era in our country’s music. The rise of EDM, or Electronic Dance Music, in mainstream, middle-American culture has been both swift and widespread. Musicians formerly restricted to the realms of house and electro – Calvin Harris and David Guetta spring to mind – now produce regularly for pop stars, and the overwhelming popularity of songs like “I Gotta Feeling” suggests that electronic sound has caught on. Outdoor festival lineups, formerly the near-exclusive domains of acoustic indie and hip-hop, are now saturated with artists spinning danceable tunes. You’ve probably heard at least a few people enthusing about the latest Avicii/Alesso/Axwell/insert Swede whose name starts with “A” here concert they attended in the last few months. For better or for worse, electronic dance music is now a common part of many an average American’s life. But are we doing it right?
The Europeans don’t think so; apparently we’re screwing up the plurals of the recreational drugs we choose to take while at concerts. The purists don’t think so; debate any “real dubstep” fan on the virtues of Skrillex, and you’re in for a tongue-lashing that will probably include the terms “shitty brostep” and “rooted in Jamaican musical traditions of reggae and dub.” I maintain that for all its faults, our country’s infant electronic scene definitely has some redeeming qualities – and please, it’s young, so cut us some slack. But there’s one area that we completely, utterly, indisputably fuck up: live performances.
Hence the joke at the beginning. Save your complaints about the candy bracelets, the neon hats, the pacifiers, the fact that at most of these concerts you can’t move two feet without running into the textbook definition of a douchebag. No. The real issue is with the performers, many of whom, while often talented producers in their own right, are incapable of doing much more than hitting play and making minimal tweaks for the duration of a live show. Deadmau5, indisputably skilled producer that he is, has argued in a million online rants that shows are essentially no more than an act of twiddling knobs on the part of the performers. And yet – in what’s maybe a holdover from America’s era of fascination with rock stars – while they’re up at the podium, we treat them like deities to be worshiped. Most of them don’t really deserve it, with a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is playing at Spring Weekend.
Along with his sizeable collection of original tracks and remixes, his collaboration with Armand Van Helden under the moniker Duck Sauce, his production for the likes of Kid Cudi and Kanye West, and his founding of the Fool’s Gold record label, A-Trak is known for being a really, really good DJ. So good, in fact, that he won the DJing title of DMC World Champion at age 15, soon after which he won several other major DJing competitions. So good that he singlehandedly developed an entire notation system for scratching. He is a DJ in the oldest, grittiest tradition – one of reading the crowd’s mood and controlling it via his turntables. He has spoken out against pre-recorded sets and the mindless repetition of the latest electronic hits; instead, A-Trak is known for seamlessly integrating hip-hop and electronic sounds in his sets, playing songs that the audience may not have heard before to craft a genuinely unique experience for each one of his live performances. Just listen to his collaborations with rappers he’s signed to Fool’s Gold, many of which are electronic beats over which the likes of Juicy J (of Three Six Mafia fame) eulogize about popping molly.
More importantly, for the Brown student body, A-Trak is a compromise in the truest sense of the word. Those for whom electronic music is the genre of choice will likely recognize A-Trak as a musician dedicated to his genre and to his craft, while those only marginally interested in the genre can appreciate his more well-known danceable hits (including the ubiquitous “Heads Will Roll” remix, which will probably make an appearance at some point in his set). More than any “big-name” artist could have – and he is no small name – A-Trak will surprise and thrill the crowd. Here is American electronic music done right (even if he originally hails from Montreal).
That said, leave the candy bracelets at home anyway. You look like a dumbass.