Music Genres Are Getting Out of Control

When I was looking at my Spotify Year in Review I noticed one particularly hilarious segment: the list of the most popular genres of 2017.

I probably don’t even need to say much more on this because you can see my comments above. But…guys. I think we’re getting a little out of hand with our genre labeling. I totally get that it isn’t enough to have pop, rock, rap, and maybe a handful of others. It’s not just “house” it’s “deep house” or “tropical house” or “electro-house” or a bajillionty other types of house. But is there no end to the madness?!? WHAT DOES “SERIALISM” EVEN MEAN? “Vintage Swoon”???????????? Come on. Come ON.

I’ve written about the insanity of genre labels before, specifically when it comes to the dance music world. You can check out my handy-dandy very official “Which EDM Sub-Genre Are You?” infographic that tells you in absolutely definitive terms which genre you are as a person!

If anyone would like to recommend to me their favorite jumpstyle artists, I’m all ears.

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Nobody Listen to Techno (At Least Not Me)

A few days ago I was watching the incredible FKJ, or French Kiwi Juice, at work. FKJ is an electronic music producer who creates beautiful, mostly mellow tunes and who sings and plays a ton of different instruments during his live performances. He is an undeniably creative and skilled musician and even if you don’t like his style of downtempo music you absolutely cannot deny his talent.

As I stood there watching this show in awe I had the same thought that I often do, which is, “Why do people think I listen to bad music?”

Except I already know the answer. And that answer is “techno.”

“Techno,” I’ve come to realize, is the blanket term that people who don’t listen to electronic music use to describe electronic music. And I don’t mean that they use it to describe ALL of electronic music; just the type of electronic music that goes untz untz untz untz. Which, unfortunately, is what a lot of people think all of electronic music is.

What people don’t realize is that music produced electronically can, and does, sound like anything. Certainly there is untz untz as far as the eye can see but there is also electro-pop and electro-hip-hop and electro-rock which for whatever reason seems to always be called its full name, “electronic rock.” Electronic music is the chicken of the music world; you can flavor it however you like.

Which brings me back to techno. Though I do listen to a little bit of untz untz music I actually don’t listen to techno at all. Because you see, all techno is untz untz music but not all untz untz music is techno (we’re getting into some very official music theory terminology now so I hope I don’t lose anyone). So it is very true that techno, however broadly or not-broadly you want to define it, is not the crux of my taste in music. Yet this is what some people think of in reference to music that was created largely on computers. Occasionally someone might reference that I listen to techno, and, cool as the cucumber I am most definitely not I just let it slide even though what I would really love to do is guide people down the path of electro-soul or livetronica.

So people think I listen to techno but really they probably mean house music and even that is not even totally accurate because now I’m going to make it all official with a fancy Venn diagram that I made using very elite design software.

Here is the in-depth analysis of the diagram:

  • Not all electronic music is dance/untz untz music.
  • Not all dance music is techno.
  • Within the realm of electronica, not all of what I listen to is untz untz.
  • None of what I listen to is actual techno.

Acknowledging all of this, I’m still going to continue using “techno” the way the masses do, which is, to describe dancey electronica. Moving on.

I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with people thinking I listen to techno except for the fact that no one likes or respects techno except the people who listen to it. Whenever I read internet comments about electronic music events from non-attendees it’s never with a tone of excitement, curiosity, or anything remotely positive. No one ever says, “Man it was so great having that event right in my back yard, I got to listen to such cool music for free!” People who don’t listen to techno think it’s just beats or noise with no musicality and is listened to solely by shitty people, to boot (they are at least occasionally right with regard to any of the above points).

On the one hand, I totally get it – dance music in general is something of an acquired taste. Even after several years of listening to it I haven’t fully acquired it, which is why most of the electronic music I listen to actually just sounds like regular music and not like thumping bass and random screeching sounds. If I were able to indoctrinate more people into the land of the music I actually listen to instead of the music that they think I listen to, they wouldn’t call it techno anymore. They would say, “Wow, this is a pop song that happens to have been created on a computer and it is sooo great. You have excellent taste in music, Arielle!” (This is verbatim what they would say.)

So really what it all boils down to is that Eminem was kind of right in that NOBODY ACTUALLY LISTEN TO TECHNO because techno is not what you think. I’m kidding. Some people actually listen to techno. Just not me.

On Art and Artistry (And Flying Lotus)

Have you ever looked at a piece of art – a painting, or a sculpture perhaps – and walked away from it, thinking, “I have no idea what I was just looking at, but I liked it…?” That was my experience after seeing Flying Lotus at Elements 2 weekends ago.

FlyLo is an electronic music producer, rapper and filmmaker from California whose music has a strong hip hop base but is also kind of all over the map. His work is experimental, and to see him live is to see only the tip of the iceberg of his brain. When his Elements set was over, all I could say for a few minutes was, “That was so weird.”

I should mention that I don’t actually listen to Flying Lotus, really. I saw him perform at a festival 3 years ago and, while I don’t remember the specifics, I just remember how intense it was. In the years since then I still hadn’t listened to much of his music, but I knew enough about him to know that I was in for…an experience.

FlyLo often performs with screens both behind him and in front of him, projecting images that range from the psychedelic to the truly terrifying. In the world of electronic music, incredible visuals are not uncommon. Yet the aesthetics of a Flying Lotus set are so much more than some pew-pew lasers. They are a work of art in and of themselves, carefully curated yet so far beyond the lay person’s comprehension.

Sonically, a Flying Lotus set sounds a lot like an elegant series of random noises, melding together with percussion to somehow, inexplicably, create music. Sometimes. Other times, it is actually just noises. There was a span of about 3 minutes during FlyLo’s Elements set where there was screaming. Just screaming. Screaming like we were watching a horror movie where a woman was running away from a murderer wielding a machete. It was so overwhelming I almost left the room. But then it was over and we were back to mellow, groovy hip hop. It was business as usual; which, in FlyLo’s case, is not very usual at all.

I spend a lot of time thinking about music; how it affects me, and how I relate to it. And what I’ve come to realize is that one of the many metrics we can use to describe creative genius is how accessibly it manifests itself in a person’s art. I used to think that Kanye West existed on a creative plane above most people. I still do, actually. But I’ve tweaked this theory a little bit to say that he isn’t necessarily more brilliant than other artists (though he is more brilliant than a lot of other artists), he just doesn’t care about whether or not other people understand it. I mean, Kanye is a commercial megasuccess, so on many levels, he’s reaching the masses and they are picking up what he’s putting down, so to speak. But part of me listens to his music or watches interviews with him and thinks, “Kanye exists in a completely different universe than I do.”

Flying Lotus is like this, but to an extreme. He hasn’t achieved the level of fame that Kanye has, and probably never will, because his work is far less commercial. Kanye maintains a healthy balance of weird and mainstream. FlyLo is far more skewed towards the weird. FlyLo is the painting in the art museum that clearly portrays so much thought and energy and talent. But stare at it as long as you want, you will never have any idea what you’re looking at. But it intrigues you, and so you keep coming back for more. I hope I don’t have to wait another 3 years before I get my next dose of whatever exactly it was that FlyLo was serving up that night. It was strange and exciting and even if I don’t exactly get it, I’m still all about it.

How To Watch A Band Blow Up

In May of 2014, I went to The Knitting Factory in Williamsburg to see a little band from Seattle called Odesza. The venue, still one of my favorites, holds roughly 300 people, and the show cost $12. It was a fun evening with a friend I don’t see super often. The band was great; the music was ethereal and poppy; the crowd dancing but well-mannered.

18 months later, Odesza sold out a 3-night run at Terminal 5, a space that holds 3,000 people. I considered myself lucky to get a ticket and was somewhat in awe of what this little duo had become.

It is now 3 years after my first Odesza show, and they just announced a concert later this year at the Barclays Center, a stadium that holds 18,000 people. There is no doubt in my mind that it will sell out. Odesza has officially arrived.

I have strange feelings about this. I don’t resent the band’s success, because they deserve it. Their music is light and fun and extremely catchy. If you’re able to stand up close during live performances, both members (Harrison and Clay) drum live which is really exciting. Yet it just feels so crazy to me. I have never been the hipster who discovers the cool new music before everyone else (I’m still not; I was invited to my first Odesza show by my friend Natalie – so if you want to know who the next huge band is, check with her).

This past weekend I attended Electric Forest, my favorite music festival, where Odesza was scheduled to headline on the second night. Though there are 6 major stages (and a few minor ones) at Forest with constant music playing, it felt like everyone was planning on hitting this set. Out of curiosity, I checked the festival app, where you could see how many people had added any given act to their personal schedule. Bassnectar, an act so popular that Electric Forest has given him a permanent residency, had 21,000 people scheduled. Odesza, by contrast, had 22,000.

I was running late for Odesza’s Forest set, so by the time I arrived it was so crowded I had to stand so far back I was “in another state basically,” as I texted a friend who was trying to meet me. I finally settled in, and while I couldn’t see Harrison or Clay, I could see the giant stage setup and intense lights that are only afforded to a major festival’s closing acts. My view looked like this:

While Odesza is only two people, this show, and I imagine many of their other shows these days, now feature “The Odesza Horns” and “The Odesza Drumline.”

This teeny little band that I saw in 2014 at a teeny little venue now has a drumline. A drumline with a formal name. Absolute insanity.

I know a lot of people who are truly moved by music, but to be totally honest, there’s not a lot of music that really stirs my soul. I love music, of course, but the really emotional moments for me have typically been the connections I’ve made with people at music events more than the music itself.

Yet this time, as I stood alone watching this set progress, I was touched. By the end of the set, I realized that I was standing with my hands pressed together underneath my nose, in a stance of pure overwhelmedness (it’s a word; I say so). There were tears in my eyes, and I had no idea why. I couldn’t have told you if I was happy or sad or surprised or afraid; I was just emotional. The music was beautiful, the lights were majestic, and there was something, just something, about the horns that really tied it all together for me. And all I could think about was this little band from Seattle in this little venue in Brooklyn, and how far they’ve come. 50,000 people attend Electric Forest; it seemed like 40,000 of them were there at the Ranch Arena stage that night.

I was almost out of range when I realized Odesza was performing an encore, so I turned around to catch the end of the set and was able to see the full crowd from the side. There were totems and glow outfits as far as the eye could see and I managed to record a few seconds of the song that was playing, which ironically is not an actual Odesza song and is way more intense than their usual sound. Yet it felt big and important in that moment (it’s the horns, I tell you).

I’m curious as to where Odesza will go from here. As a band that has found an intense fan base that spans both the mainstream music world and the little electro-corner of the universe I reside in, it feels like they’re on the path to even more mega stardom. I feel oddly humbled just to even be a witness to their skyrocketing to greatness. “This is so surreal for us,” they said at the end of their Forest set. So I imagine they’re pretty humbled too. And there are a lot of us out there who are looking forward to whatever is next for these 2 guys from Seattle, who probably never saw any of this coming.

Meeting Odesza, June 2015

Should Live Music Be Epic or Should it Be Accessible?

Emotions are flying high in my little corner of the music community. The cause? A brand new, Pretty Lights-curated festival called Island of Light.

Island of Light is an all-inclusive, 4-day music-and-sun-and-luxury experience taking place this December in Puerto Rico. In addition to 3 sets of Pretty Lights with a live band, it boasts a lineup that is, for lack of a better word, incredible. It features a main stage on a private island that one can access only by boat. Poolside sets. Buffets. Drinks. Imagine going to a beautiful island resort and hearing your favorite music while catching some sun with thousands of people who either are, or could be, your close friends. People are pumped. Nay, ecstatic.

Yet Island of Light has made many hearts sink.  The reason being, of course, that when you factor in a flight on top of the ticket price (the all-inclusive part is not optional), it’s going to run attendees a minimum of $2,000.

Another recent Pretty Lights announcement has also led to some disappointment, albeit less. This summer, for the first time ever, PL will play at the astoundingly beautiful Gorge Amphitheater in Washington. This breathtaking yet somewhat inaccessible venue is a mere $500+ flight from New York City, so it took me (and others) just a few short minutes to go from “errr I probably can’t make this but let me at least think about it” to “WOMP.”

The Gorge

If you’re familiar with Pretty Lights, you know that over the last few years he has forgone the traditional multi-city tour in favor of fewer, yet more finely produced and curated weekend-long events, in addition to the standard annual slew of festival sets. While this is a huge bonus for those who live closer to the action – Colorado in particular is lucky enough to always have a Red Rocks show, and in both 2015 and 2016 had an additional weekend in Telluride just a few weeks later. Prior to the Gorge and Puerto Rico announcements, Telluride was unofficially considered the “premiere” Pretty Lights event. I was sadly never able to attend.

I was, however, fortunate to see Pretty Lights 3 times in 2016:

  • Night 2 of his weekend in New Hampshire (a 5 hour drive away, the closest of his weekend-long stops)
  • Meadows Festival in the Citi Field parking lot
  • New Year’s Eve 2-night run in New Orleans

Ask most PL fans to rank those and while you may have some debate between New Hampshire and New Orleans at the top, Meadows would almost certainly consistently come in third.

If I had to repeat any of those experiences, though, I would choose Meadows. There would not even be a close second. It’s not because I didn’t love NH or NOLA (I did). It’s not because the music was so much better at Meadows (it wasn’t, though it certainly wasn’t worse either). It’s because going to New Hampshire and New Orleans involved stressing over who my crew was, where I was sleeping, how much things cost, how I would get there, and a host of other stressful and expensive details.

When my friend and I went to Meadows back in October, we took ourselves out to a delicious brunch, hopped on the subway for the festival, danced all day, and hopped on the subway home.

There was no stress. I did not have to pack a suitcase or get on a plane. If my friend had dropped out of our plans, I would have gone anyway and had a great time without having to scramble for a replacement.

Such is the benefit of seeing live music in your own city. It’s easy. What you get out of it is lightyears beyond what you put into it.

Was Meadows an “epic” Pretty Lights set? I suppose not, compared with Telluride or New Orleans (where there was a WATERFALL on stage). But it was one of my favorite PL sets ever. I was in a great mood because I saw so much other fantastic music that day and the rain that was forecast for the day had magically held off. I was with one of my closest friends seeing one of our favorite artists and while it may not have been EPIC it was still incredible. No waterfall needed.

I love memorable experiences, I truly do. My one trip to the Red Rocks to see PL 2 summers ago is a life highlight for me. I crave the rush that comes with unique outings, which is why I’m excited to return to Electric Forest this year and which is why I chase every weird or fun event that exists here in New York. But there comes a time when I have to draw the line, when I have to say that something, even the most potentially thrilling event of them all, may very well not be worth the time and money that has to go into it. In this regard, I’m almost lucky. Because I can afford Island of Light – it would sting pretty badly, sure, but I could do it. I’m just opting not to because I know it’s not the wisest of decisions. Many other fans aren’t as lucky. They can’t even entertain the idea of going.

For me, this raises a question – to an artist, what is the value gained in creating memorable, unique experiences for fans at the expense of alienating so many others? If The Gorge or Island of Light were one option amidst other opportunities to see Pretty Lights at smaller shows with a lower production value, I think a lot of people would feel less upset at not being able to go. Because when it comes down to it, seeing an “average” (yet still awesome) set from your favorite artist is better than not seeing him at all. But with fewer, more expensive shows, many fans are precluded from being able to attend any shows at all.

Perhaps living in New York has spoiled me in that I’m so used to every artist stopping through here on their tours. Not only that, but they’re excited about it, because it’s NEW YORK. Sure, I choose to travel for music all the time, but until now I’ve never been forced to. If I want to see Pretty Lights this year, I have to leave the state. If I want to see Pretty Lights in an event that is not just any ol’ festival set, that is the result of an outpouring of creative energy and hard work and that Derek would probably look at it and say, “this is my baby,” I have to travel over 1,000 miles and spend over $1,000.

I would never want an artist to do anything other than express what’s in their soul. I firmly believe that you have to follow the path of your creativity, and I know this is something that music fans – or film fans – or whatever fans – don’t always like. When someone you admire takes their art in a new direction that you no longer enjoy, it sucks. But you must allow them to do what they want to do. Or need to do.

But you know what else sucks? Feeling excluded from something that once felt universal and open. No one should consider putting themselves into major credit card debt just to see live music (I have seen this). No one should consider skipping a friend’s wedding so they’d have more vacation time to allot to Pretty Lights shows (I have seen this too). Live music is a joyful experience that should be available to anyone who wants it. Luxury experiences – the EPIC ones to write home about – those can stay too. But there should be options at a variety of price points and locations.

Music can – and should – be both epic and accessible. Even if it’s not always at the same time.

I Want to Marry Into Vinyl

Some people strive to marry into money. I would love to marry into a good vinyl collection.

If you follow me on Twitter, you will occasionally see me lament the fact that I am not cool enough for vinyl. Which I’m not, sadly. The cool associated with a record collection is an effortless sort of cool. Being a vinyl collector says, “I have casual nostalgia but not a desperate attachment to the past.” It demonstrates an appreciation for the quality listening experience and an admirable level of music-loving.

I like to think that I’m cool (ish), but certainly not in a record-collecting, hipster sort of way. I’m cool in the way that I’ve set up enough apps on my phone that I can tell you what good (and bad) shows are happening at any given moment and I’ve found the right social media accounts to follow if you want to win concert tickets (which I do, and often). I am not, “welcome to my humble abode let me put on a record and give you a delicious local craft beer” cool. I do not have any craft beer in my fridge. I’m not even entirely sure what “craft beer” means.

There are other reasons why I’ve never started a record collection, and those are the reasons that are at the core of every New York problem – money and space (or lack thereof). The money I currently put into my music collection consists of the $9.99 I give to Spotify every month for my premium membership. And that’s it. Can vinyl top that, and by “top that” I obviously mean NOT top that, money wise? No. Furthermore, I have exactly zero space for a record player unless the floor has suddenly become an appropriate place for a turntable and also a place where I would not step on it resulting in injury to both foot and record player.

But the thing is, I really like music and love the peace and enjoyment that it can bring to my moments relaxing at home. I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful about how I curate my space, and after figuring out a good lighting scheme (candles!) and getting my essential oil diffuser going (there’s no better way to make your room smell like a massage parlor than by giving it a boost of lavender scent!), amping up my home listening situation (was that a pun? I think it was!) seems like it should be next on the list.

You know what makes you feel like a real music fan? Definitely not listening to music through your phone, that’s what. And though I’m likely never going to want to develop the infrastructure to get a vinyl collection going, I think if I magically inherited one, I would really take to it. It would make me cooler by proxy, I think. Almost as if you’re not cool enough to have a record collection until you actually have one, and then all of a sudden, you are.

The obvious solution here, of course, is to marry into some really good vinyl. I’m talking a quality turntable, not one of those dinky ones they sell at Urban Outfitters (no offense UO, love ya!) and a collection that spans the decades – some classics (Beatles, natch) and current albums that can only be truly appreciated on vinyl. I mean, how much better would this sound on a record vs YouTube (no offense to you either, YouTube!)??

Yes, obviously one of my first vinyl purchases would be Pretty Lights’ “A Color Map of the Sun” album.

Even though records cost more than my Spotify premium membership, if I had a music-loving husband to start off my collection I would gladly invest the money into expanding it. So if you know anyone, send ’em my way! As a thank you you will receive an exclusive invite to one of my listening parties where I will grace your ears with excellent music for an evening. And snacks. And maybe even some craft beer.

What’s Your Power Song?

I was working at a tech conference some years ago, listening to a Nike exec talk about Nike Plus, a pre-Fitbit fitness tracker.

He explained that Nike Plus allows you to select a power song. This is the song that pumps you up when you need that extra boost of energy during your run. Maybe you’re feeling sluggish, or maybe you’re about to head into the home stretch of a half marathon. You press one button, your pre-selected power song comes on, and BOOM – the little kick of adrenaline helps you get through. He continued:

“We at Nike collect a lot of data from our Nike Plus users. There is one song that people overwhelmingly choose as their power song. The next most highly selected song is nowhere even close to this one. And I will give a free Nike Plus system to the first person who can guess what that song is.” It took about 2 seconds before someone in the audience shouted out the answer and received a Nike Plus.

Can you guess? I’ll let you think about it.

*cue Jeopardy music*

It is…

Eye of the Tiger!

“Oh….duh,” you are surely now thinking to yourself.

Now, as a non-runner (thanks to a cocktail of a bad knee and laziness), I don’t have or need a power song. My exercise insists almost entirely of taking various fitness classes in which the instructor telling me what to do is motivation enough to keep going.  But today I was in a particularly intense boot camp class, the kind where sweat was dripping onto the floor and my quads were slowly (or quickly) turning into noodles. I was tired. And then a great song came on and I felt completely re-energized and continued doing my seemingly endless set of mountain climbers.

That song was this one:

SO GOOD, RIGHT? A classic. And while not officially my power song, it was, at least for today, pretty close to one.

Do you have a power song? Comment! Tweet at me! Send me an ESP wavelength or whatever. I’m so fascinated by this concept.