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Good Music Or Musical Noise

By: Lumko Leqela Johnson

There’s been a gradual change in music for the past five years or so where a lot more artists, who were genre loyal, have shifted in the direction of electro-dance music. A musician who has run the rnb game for years such as Usher has made various visits to the electro sphere. 

Since being introduced to us in 1992, he sold over 10 million albums with his 2004 Confessions album, has won seven Grammy Awards in his life time, yet it was only with his sixth studio album Raymond VS Raymond (2010) that saw him venture into a different direction with singles such as ‘’OMG’’, which featured Black Eyed Peas front man Will.i.am, and ‘’DJ’s Got Us Falling In Love’’ which he brought Latino rapper Pitbull to join him, that we experienced an Usher conforming to the movement that many deem a musical noise.

Electro Dance Music, or EMD as its fondly known around the music circles, is a music genre that is created primarily for the night club setting or any environment that revolves around dance based entertainment. The music is created by DJ’s specifically for such situations, where they would include the music in their DJ sets. 

The term was born from a 1990’s America that fused music genre’s stemming from production methods commonly used in disco music, techno music, house and trance music, such music popularly known around the 80’s club and warehouse party scenes. 

The late Donna Summer’s Bad Girls album with a track such as ‘’Sunset People’’ used the same production value with electronic instruments like synthesisers, drum machines and sequencers. Its more mainstream appeal worldwide can be dated back to UK acts such as The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim who were associated with the 1990’s American electro revolution .

More than fifteen years later  in the late 2000’s, Spin Magazine reported that the genre has made a more international penetration through musicians such as David Guetta, Avicci and Calvin Harris whom we’ve seen collaborate with Rihanna, Kelly Rowland, Chris Brown and Flo-rida to ensure their music reaches a wider audience. The worldwide appeal of this kind of music led music executives to believe that it is what the youth is listening to; it is what’s being played in city clubs, urban parties and campus gatherings. 

As a result their artists are channelled in that direction as to meet market demand, that is where Rihanna cashed in on her 2010 hit album LOUD which was plagued with music that contained a similar sound, Lady Gaga’s two studio albums The Fame as well as Born This Way , Beyonce’s ‘’Radio’’ or even ‘’Sweet Dream’’ (I Am…Sasha Fierce 2008)can be said to have featured traits known for dance music and more recently Jennifer Lopez’s come back hit ‘’Going In’’ featuring Flo-rida as well as Nicki Minaj’s ‘’Pound The Alarm’’ are also following in that direction. 

Music videos also began to depict pretty much the same thing, the proverbial club scene, street parties, fast paced dance sequences are well attended concerts.

Obviously this would then influence the local music scene, South African artists who seek a more international appeal will then be compelled to be blown by this wind. As we have seen with 2010 Idols runner up Lloyd Cele whose SAMA winning debut album One featured tracks singles that had an electro influence, as well as his latest single ‘’Hero’’, from his second album, have a similar sound. Cape Town based twin duo Locnville, rap outfit ICU, the Tamara Dey led Flash Republic, current musical it girl Toya Delazy and not to mention the number-one-pantsula himself, Kabelo Mabalane in his track with beatboxer George Avakian ‘’What You Need’’ ,is influenced by this movement. 

This was never a problem for me, when I was much younger, as in my late teens (I’m not that old), I enjoyed a bit of this music, I have fond memories of sitting in the bus from school bumping to David Guetta’s ‘’When Love Takes Over’’, which can probably still get me on the dance floor at a party. But I only began to have an issue with this music when it was announced the Freshly Ground, whom we’ve all grown to respect as creative, cross-over alternative music makers, went that route and are releasing an album that will veer in this direction. WHY?!

They brought us classics like ‘’Dooby-Doo’’,’’ Pot Belly’’ and my all-time favourite ‘’Fire Is Low’’ and now what is to follow? A bit of electro noise and Zolani’s enchanting voice haunting the sound in the back ground? I began to feel let down, almost as though they were selling out to a more commercially viable system so that what, they can play at bigger shows, sell more copies and chart on a variety of music charts? I understand the need for that, but I’ve always proud the band as one of the very few arty-hippie acts that can perform at Oppikopi as well as a lake festival in the township and still have the same amazed response from the crowd.   

The reason many, well those I’ve spoken to, say this music is noisy is because of the fusions that are heard and to some who have not developed an acquired taste for it, will be slightly annoyed by it. Then I wonder; could it be that this is an actual evolution of pop music as we have come to know it? Could it be that the 90’s pop that I grew up on, your Back Street Boys, NSYNC or even Britney Spears, has evolved to this – a more electro-dance sounding pop?

If that be the case, then I am sad. Who is making good pop music if everyone is going the same route? Granted, it’s a little naïve of me to expect music to still sound the same way it did in the 90’s, but should the difference be as vast? I also feel as though musicians are not sincere in their choice to make dance music, it’s almost as though it’s a career rescue mechanism, as opposed to a genuine desire to master that genre. So in an attempt to still remain relevant, you find musicians suddenly making dance music to attract a younger crowd. 

Then that shows a blatant disrespect to those artists who have always been loyal to the genre, when Usher or Rihanna wake up one day and decide to jump into their turfs. I don’t know why Freshly Ground is making a dance album, it does not seem like an inevitable progression but the signs of a record company making a decision that they perceive is the only option to increase album sales. I will, however, buy the album because I am a fan, then you and I can discuss whether I am impressed or depressed by the work. This matter remains open, pending my response to this album.

Follow me on Twitter @Call_Me_Lumko

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