it was with much excitement that the music industry welcomed CNTRL: beyond EDM – the first ever DJ tour that fused the performance and party aspects of music culture with the technical side of electronic music. conceived by mastermind and industry legend richie hawtin, the CNTRL tour hit dozens of cities in north america, with two-hour long seminars during the day and an all night long (sort of) party after the fact. CNTRL’s mission is to promote a deeper understanding of electronic music by encouraging discussion about the future of techno and technology, lead by the industry’s leading DJs hawtin, loco dice and ean golden, along with a different guest speaker in each city. true to form, i was unspeakable amounts more excited for the seminar than the party, because i am a huge hopeless nerd and i love learning.
this review will cover the seminar portion of the tour – since i’m pretty sure you can all make an educated guess as to how dope the music was at the SAT later that evening. the seminar was planned as a panel discussion, with the floor opening to audience questions at regular intervals. questions were also accepted via twitter with the hashtag #CNTRL.
unfortunately i couldn’t find any of the sets from the montreal edition online, so check out this set from loco dice at london music hall in toronto
montreal’s edition of the tour passed through concordia university, where, sadly we had to subject the world’s leading DJs to sitting in the cramped, dingy space that is the db clarke theatre in the basement of the hall building – where, embarrassingly enough, the fire alarm and safety announcement started blaring just as loco dice started his demonstration. our guest speaker was montreal native tiga, who ended up being a welcome surprise thanks to his dry sense of humor and his constant shut downs directed at ean golden (unfortunately, no one was too interested in what he had to say because he’s not as well known as the rest) (plus he made a joke about skrillex x richie hawtin…that’s where he lost all credibility, at least in my eyes). here are my discussion highlights:
the EDM gold rush phenomenon of 2012
the first topic of the evening was the so-called EDM gold rush, and the idea that (as tends to happen every decade or so) not only is EDM increasing in popularity at an almost alarmingly fast rate, but more and more companies and other industries (and even the EDM industry) are trying to capitalize on this phenomenon – and it’s incredibly clear almost anywhere you look. EDM has indeed become “financialized”. everyone wants a piece of the EDM pie – the fashion industry is jumping on board (tiesto x guess, anyone?), the film industry wants in (cue the tron soundtrack), the art world is taking notice (the xx coexist exhibit with sonus studios). a gold rush, indeed. inevitably, we all wanted to know if this was problematic. for a leader in the industry and more importantly, a veteran in the industry, like richie hawtin – the answer was a resounding no. there was some solid discussion around the fact that every so often america “gets it [EDM]“. this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a gold rush in this scene, and it surely won’t be the last. the people who are in it for the right reasons will last, while those who aren’t will inevitably fizzle out.
“electronic music is so big now because it has taken so long to get here” – richie hawtin
the downside of the EDM umbrella
this stemmed from kind of a bizarre discussion about the root of the CNTRL tour itself – the goal being to promote a deeper understanding of electronic music as opposed to segregating listeners into “music lovers” vs “musically elite”. the panel talked at length about the difference between commercial electronic music and – for lack of a better word – underground electronic music. despite the fact that richie hawtin and loco dice are by no means underground, there’s an unmistakable difference between, say, david guetta’s music and loco dice’s music, even though they both fall under the same category of EDM, which, as tiga put it, is where the problem lies.
“it’s a fact that everyone falls into the same category. no one compares coldplay to garth brooks. the nature of EDM in and of itself leads to unhealthy comparisons” – tiga
and isn’t that exactly the reason that terms like “musically elite” are becoming commonplace in this industry? if we didn’t have to compare someone like david guetta to someone like loco dice, the problem of segregating listeners or fans wouldn’t even exist. we wouldn’t have to defend what’s what (or what’s good, for that matter) in EDM because the music that falls into the “david guetta category” would be in a completely different realm entirely. food for thought.
this was the part of the seminar that i wish the panel had spent more time discussing. the talk circled around what makes a good performance good, and, as listeners and bootyshakers, what makes experiencing music so powerful. ean golden talked at length about the “frisson” phenomenon (or “shivers” to you non-frenchies), which he correlated to experiencing something unexpected, or experiencing a kind of communication. i believe the phrase he used was “performance as magic“, which i honestly believe is true. anyone can beat match, choose all the right tracks, be technically flawless….but to take those tracks and drop them at the exact right moment, that’s an art. poetry is often defined (by lit nerds like me) as the best possible words in the best possible order; isn’t that just as true for DJs? discussion turned towards performance from a DJ perspective: improvisation vs planning. the consensus was that all the planning in the world can’t prepare you for how the crowd will react, and for DJs like richie hawtin and loco dice, feeding off the crowd is an essential component to the magic of performing. both agreed that longer sets provide you with ample time to understand the crowd and the direction of the night. in what was probably my favourite moment from the seminar, richie hawtin defined musical performance:
“performance is like making love. you play for an hour or so until you find that sweet spot…and then you go deeper and deeper” – richie hawtin
we also got to witness a demonstration from ean golden about performance, which was pretty eye-opening (ear-opening?) from a listener’s perspective. he did a live demonstration (on the db clarke’s surprisingly solid sound system) to show that even though you can choose all the same tracks to play in one night, how you choose to put them together is what makes a performance.
“even though i’ve played these two tracks before, i’ve never heard them sound like this. and neither have you” – ean golden
the deadmau5 “we all hit play” debate
even though they seemed kind of over talking about it – i was still pretty interested in their answers and the discussion got pretty lively about this one. surely you all read the article published by deadmau5 on his personal blog, admitting to the fact that all DJs simply press play – attempting to emphasize the lack of skill it takes to be a DJ these days. full disclosure, i was the one that tweeted in the question so i was pretty embarrassed that the overarching response seemed to be exasperation! richie hawtin opened with “well…we all press play, otherwise there would be no music” to a good chuckle from the audience. but the debate opened to a heated discussion about beat matching; of course, all the DJs on the panel know perfectly well how to beatmatch but the concern was geared towards, again, the art of performance. whether or not you know how to beatmatch, you can still rely on the sync button and absolutely rock the house, and in the end, it’s all about how you innovate and how you use your creativity to make your set incredible. the question seemed to be “what is the big concern with beatmaching?” interestingly enough.
“there is no right or wrong way to DJ” – richie hawtin
and that holds true. every DJ uses a different program, a different set up, a different style. and in the end, the discussion came full circle as the panel ended up back at the same topic of commercial vs intellectual EDM, top 40 vs innovation. there was a lot of talk about making music and what makes music good or bad, and the deciding factor is, of course, you. music is there for people to enjoy, and if someone enjoys it – then its accomplished its mission.
“it’s unfair of us to say what’s good and what’s bad. in the end, it’s you that decides” – loco dice
success, music and popularity
a good question was raised by a montreal DJ and friend of mine, destro, concerning whether or not it’s possible to make it internationally based solely on musical talent. i think we all prepared for some hearts to be broken but it was a pretty inspirational moment went richie hawtin’s immediate answer was yes.
“yes. but it’s not going to be fast. it seems more and more like you need a gimmick, but you have to do what you love and believe in it. there’s room for everyone in this scene. the binding attribute here is that we all love music” – richie hawtin
check out richie hawtin’s review of CNTRL’s second week on the road