If our scene is going to continue evolving, we need to be ready to look for great ideas everywhere. Not just where we expect them. Chandler Shortlidge makes the case against snobbery in dance music.
We’re all cultural snobs these days. We’re foodies, cinephiles and photo-connoisseurs, capable of critiquing anything and everything we feel passionate about. The world is at our fingertips. And with information everywhere and endless options to fill our every need, becoming critical and snobbish about what we consume has almost become a survival mechanism.
Never before in human history has music been so easy to make, listen to and buy. This has meant a revolution in electronic music, with more great labels and artists than ever before.
But—as many have previously pointed out—even more is awful. Separating the wheat from the chaff became a herculean task. And in this hyper-evolving state, fans can hardly be blamed for trusting their biases before investing time in new music, or rediscovering the old and forgotten.
People grow and their tastes evolve, and everyone loses interest in certain brands and trends. And when once-great labels or producers start churning out clunkers, dismissing them forever only feels natural. But not all snobbery comes from a place of learning. Sometimes we hand-wave away a track or idea based on little more than where it came from. Conversely, we’re more apt to gush over music we think has been made by someone we like and respect. Or when we think we’ve stumbled onto something secret and new, something those with more cultural capital have been long since discussing in private.
Never before in human history has music been so easy to make, listen to and buy.
This makes sense. Music, like art, is an esoteric thing. You can’t hold it or taste it, and even though it satisfies some of our most basic appetites—working through regions in our brains in the same way good food or drugs do—it has no obvious value to our survival. Everyone needs to eat, and even the most pretentious foodie may find it difficult to resist the siren song of a greasy late-night burger after a few too many IPAs. But feeding yourself when truly hungry is not like hearing a song for the first time.
The first time you listen to new music, plenty is happening inside your brain. You’re categorizing it and comparing it to everything you’ve known before. Does it fit the scales you’ve been familiar with since childhood? Do the rhythms indicate garage or break beats? Or is it something different altogether? And while a certain amount of raw emotion is at work, brain scans of people listening to a song for the first time show that your logic and emotion circuits are in constant communication. Great DJs know this, even if only subconsciously. They tease with more “difficult” tracks—songs that are harder to connect to a reference point from the past—then later reward you with easier-to-identify songs, or songs that play more heavily towards your emotions. This play between reasoning and feeling is at the heart of any great song, and why people who take music seriously tend to get into weirder and more difficult-to-categorize sounds as time goes on.
But we can easily shortcut the interplay between logic and emotion, and we do it all the time, skipping over certain artists or labels when shopping for new music because we think we already know we don’t like them. Again, this makes sense. Why waste precious hours listening to music you’re certain you’ll hate when there’s an endless amount you’re kinda likely to enjoy?
But there’s a danger in this thinking. Music fans are supposed to be open and flexible. Letting new sounds in doesn’t always come easily, and as Jeff Mills recently complained, artists in electronic music sometimes feel stifled from exploring new avenues by fans and the media because they only ever want more of the same. “We pay a price for this,” he said. That price, he says, is stagnation.
Why waste precious hours listening to music you’re certain you’ll hate when there’s an endless amount you’re kinda likely to enjoy?
Keeping an open mind means remaining aware of personal biases. This is true in almost every arena of society—politics or morality—and in music, where the pleasure of discovery may require listeners to suspend beliefs about what they think they already know. It comes naturally when looking forward, in places where breaking barriers is already the norm. You’re hoping and expecting to be surprised, and already primed with an open mind. It’s a little more difficult when looking to the past, exploring the places we’ve already moved on from, the labels and artists we’ve since left behind. Though it’s most difficult when listening to something we’re ready to hate, when our biases are working overtime against us, pulling our logic and emotion into places that are rarely if ever escaped from.
The music you hear won’t always be great. And dropping our biases is rarely easy. But evolution never is. If our scene is going to continue evolving, we need to be ready to look for great ideas everywhere. Not just where we expect them.
Chandler Shortlidge is a dance music journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.
Interesting article. Could you elaborate on the following, “Or when we think we’ve stumbled onto something secret and new, something those with more cultural capital have been long since discussing in private.”? Can you provide a specific example? You dropped a massively interesting hint without any real follow-through. If it’s super top secret just let me know and I’ll provide a private email address.
“If our scene is going to continue evolving, we need to be ready to look for great ideas everywhere. Not just where we expect them.” What do you mean when you say not just where we expect them? Do you mean mature record labels, artists and/or popular scenes/DJs?
I don’t mean to pick apart your article, it’s a great topic. I just need clarification on a few things. Last one, “Keeping an open mind means remaining aware of personal biases.” Are you speaking to DJs here or just ourselves or both? At first glance it would seem as though you mean to censor the music you love and enjoy listening to when you’re around certain types of people. Which may be perfectly okay, I just want to understand.
I hope music will remain borderless. But now that I think about it, perhaps it never was. Hmm.
Great article! First one I read in 2019. I´m from Brazil, this is day 1 of a extreme right wing government and I´m scared. This article remind me of how people tend to be closed minded, full of biases. The result here is the election of this new president. Sad! Anyway, let´s keep on making good and new music. Thanks!
Is this a new theme hear? ? all these SJW articles (or at least the Title) …WTF!!! Your little peace is more harmfull than whatever your on about. Just saying. I find it strange, everyones so “save the day” …but knowone will even look in thw villians direction. Its sad. You have hardcore violent murderous thugs (or there ontarage) making music on mainstream radio…. Gangster Rap concerts filled with CHILDREN.etc. WAKE THE FUCK UP
No one understands what you wrote here. Trying to make a point? How about avoiding misspelling half of the words.
Ya whatEvr!! ….Snobs talking about Snobbery LOL
Maybe YOU dont understand what im saying, whats all this “no one here…” bullshit lol. Its not that hard, im sure you can figure it out.
…but a’lass, im talking about children and your more concerned with my spelling, go figure.
Oh man, I totally agree. It’s beyond stupid…there are way too many retarded articles out there like this. The issue with these SJW articles is 99% of them will never point to something like rapper (gangster or not) because of one reason, they are African (American or somewhere else). In their retarded world, black thugs raping women and shooting each other is simply societies (other peoples) fault. Not only that, but according to these SJW’s if there happens to be a majority of white dudes making good music at the moment, it’s racism because there aren’t enough women or black folks involved…thing is, most people (regardless of race or gender) want to do their own thing and do not appreciate the SJW’s trying to implement a “diversity quota” on every single subject…beyond ridiculous…borderline retarded IMO….LOL…
Wow, someone actually hears what im saying!! Im not the best with writing/grammer…but i have a heart, and weight for iiiittt, Actual Experience!! I grew up in this crap. ……your %100 on point with the “diversity quota” BS, this is ART, meaning a CREATION from the ARTIST, and how they feel! ….like Movies come from Theater, not the white house!!! Wtf! …this is all Comunist Agenda. They attack artist’s viciously. Cant have free thinkers making things people are atracted to! Lol, FUCK! …of course theres a connection between gangs/thugs and communists/islam ….its Free vs Not Free in the end. Im an artist, i will NEVER bow to abuse
Im greatfull for your honest response dude. We need to focus on how it sounds and feels not what it looks like. So should we not get better at our craft, so everyone can feel included? And only white people? Lol. Not that hard to see whats going on
Great article! Finally you spell it out – you’re snobs just like the rest of ’em. Thanks for not even answering my mails. ;(