“Real creativity is forever diminishing”

It must be said that there is a fine line between reviving a sound that belongs to a certain decade, such as 90s house, and endlessly mining a popular stylistic framework like dubstep, but ultimately the outcome for listeners is often the same: boredom. Undoubtedly at the forefront of the New Jersey house revival are Bicep. The Northern Irish duo were some of the first to turn collective attentions back to labels like King Street: we had no problem with that and the world lapped it up, but because of the lazy plagiarism by many in their wake, the sound has now been spoilt for all.

“It’s the same with each popularity shift or flavour of the year,” they reckon. “When minimal techno became popular again around eight years ago the first releases of that genre were amazing. Eventually every kid jumped on board and we were left with 1,000 tracks with bleepy rims and white noise build-up. Exactly the same for the disco edit scene a few years ago. The best tracks usually come before everyone starts doing it.”

Bristol’s Eats Everything echoes this sentiment: “The cycle for a new sub-genre – or whatever you wanna call them – is so short nowadays because everyone has the capability to replicate it, sometimes in a sub-standard way, so it dies in a matter of months. Because of the internet and software and stuff, up and coming producers of the day can almost perfectly replicate what their heroes are making, and so real creativity is forever diminishing. It’s easy to become a producer these days, but I think it takes years to become an artist.”

The cycle for a new sub-genre is so short nowadays because everyone has the capability to replicate it.

“They see our success and try to recreate it without putting the work in”

How do the originators feel that their music’s being used as a jumping-off point for younger artists’ careers? Is it somehow less authentic or less valuable? Pierre believes that revivalism is encouraged by the nature of the modern scene, where plays, chart positions and a vague notion of ‘being popular’ are held in higher regard than originality, sonic invention and, frankly, musical braveness. “I just think people lack the faith in themselves to just create,” he says. “I think they see our success and try to recreate it without putting the work in or even finding out who they are as artists.”


DJ Pierre: “I feel like a proud dad knowing acid is even stronger now than ever.”

Heard continues in a similar vein: “For me, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in making something from scratch as opposed to taking elements from one song and another song and another song. Those people you admire – they did it all from scratch.”

Archer also points out another difference between the first days of dance and the modern world. “I kept an Altern8 scrapbook ‘cos I thought it could all end any time. When I release a record, having it in my hand is nice; I don’t want anything else really. That’s how the scene has changed: that innocence has been lost. I think the younger generation has been brought up thinking if you want fame this is how you do it, boom, boom, and everyone seems to strive to be famous rather than being an artist.”

He makes a vital and all too forgotten point: music is an art and, even with the functionality of dance music in mind, those creating it should strive to break borders, ask questions and even challenge us as listeners. One of the success stories of the last year or so has been aforementioned production, live and DJ collective Pittsburgh Track Authority. One of the members, Thomas Cox, is a vocal figure on internet forums and social media and someone who clearly has a deep understanding of, and untold appreciation for, many forms of dance and the early pin-ups who created it. You can hear an explicit reverence for 70s disco and 80s house in the music PTA make, but importantly so far, they never sound derivative.

“There are so many things to take from a great track if it’s done well,” offers Cox. “You can take a feeling, you can take an arrangement or mixing trick, you can take an effects routing. Unfortunately it seems like more and more are content to take everything and just try to make something that is impossible to discern from the old track. I honestly can’t tell what the intent is for some of these producers whose sound is basically a homage to someone else’s, but it definitely lacks creativity.”

More than just creativity, it’s a matter of integrity for Moeller: “I wanna be a musician that leaves a signature and a mark and can justify calling myself a musician. I want to feel good about it and not just that I was a laptop producer.” This sentiment again, if indirectly, touches on the subject of fame and financial gain as being a driving force amongst the youth of today who can see clear routes to the top given the near daily arrival of the next big thing, all off the back of copying the sound of yesterday’s next big thing. The blame doesn’t solely lay with the producers, though. Promoters, labels and even punters can also help make a change in this regard.

“Unconsciously it happens to people where they see what it takes to get into a big venue or work a big crowd,” Moeller says. “It’s certainly not experimentalism and fresh ideas. I often hear DJs complaining that they have to go play and can’t just do what they like. In a way it’s all just our own fault for giving the punters in these clubs the simplicity and lowest common denominator sound. Now it’s at the point where promoters are playing it super safe. I’ve been asked a number of times, ‘What the fuck are you doing? Can you play some tech house?’ Promoters are not afraid to do that. I’ve heard DJs of significant power being told what to do and this doesn’t help [engender creativity].”

It’s all just our own fault for giving the punters in these clubs the simplicity and lowest common denominator sound.

Technology also has a lot to answer for depending on whom you ask. Pierre famously invented acid by mistake when arsing around with his 303, but happy accidents like that are less likely to happen on modern day, prescriptive software tools which, despite their endless options, can often leave producers feeling drowned by possibility if not totally lost at sea.

“We’ve recently moved across to a completely analogue set up, whereas previously it had been a mixture. It’s been amazing,” beam Bicep. “Restricting yourself to a few pieces of kit and their own limitations pushes you much more. It also helps develop more of a signature sound due to the fact the pieces of kit themselves have their own personality.”


Larry Heard: “There’s still an emotional attachment to things we enjoy from the past.”

Of course you can always go one further and do as Larry did back in the 80s, programming his own keyboards, writing his own patches and generally never using anything straight out of the box. “You can find great tutorials by great producers showing you tips and tricks, and that’s great – as long as you don’t morph into people,” he states. “Nobody needs duplicate copies. We don’t need duplicates of Prince or Louie Vega ‘cos we already have a Louie Vega that we like. Someone else coming along, it’s like, ‘Where do you fit in? Why should we just abandon the one we’ve been living with for a long time just ‘cos you showed up?'”

“Music is a social art form,” Heard reminds us. “From the time that I came up to now, it’s evolved into it being single individuals sitting in front of computer screens. For me that’s what’s drastically different. Back then it was a group effort with human beings, and now maybe it’s one human with three or four computers. You had people to bounce things off, you had camaraderie, friendly competition trying to outdo each other even in the same band.”

We know that retromania is rife in all walks of life, but electronic music is always championed as forward looking, futuristic and otherworldly, so you have to wonder if the two can coexist in peaceful harmony; if being a revivalist excludes you from artistic merit. Heard muses on the subject: “We always say things like ‘electronic music should look forward’, but for the public, producers and labels, there’s still an emotional attachment to things we enjoy from the past. In Chicago we had the Music Box and years later here comes a new Music Box, then another version after that… It’s more of an emotional attachment – an area of comfort, something we already know and like, something reliable in a way.”

Cox, for one, believes it is still possible to conjure up those feelings at the same time as innovating: “When done well, I think that old music is the lifeblood of new innovation. Ron Hardy is widely credited as being one of the originators of house music, and a huge number of the records he was playing were anywhere from five to fifteen years old. He was mixing them with new releases and bedroom productions to create a new context. Many genres and sub-genres have been birthed in this manner.”

Author Kristan Caryl
17th June, 2013


  • Really good read. Thanks for this.

    We seem to be in the middle of a really bad trend for retro music right now. It can’t be a good sign when “it sounds just like it could have come out on Trax in 87/Strictly Rhythm in 92/Dance Mania in 95” is the highest compliment reviewers can pay a new release.

    Sadly I think it’ll get worse before it gets better. The success of Disclosure is going to spawn a whole load more copycats. Wake me up when it’s all over.

  • Excellent article and I think it address the whole situation well.

    I think I’m too far gone to get completely annoyed by the trend of retroism, maybe that’s because I’m comfortable in loving old music as much as new stuff and some shamelessly retro stylings in new music is not always a bad thing either. When i was younger, sure, I was a lot more obsessed with seeking out stuff that was original (and more easily fooled by the concept that original automatically = good) but it’s all about striking a balance. Some in this article are doing it, some aren’t. As a label owner I’m interested in music that builds on what is already there, sometimes being more retro, sometimes less so, again, its a balance. And if it is retro, well stuff that maybe isn’t being oversatured by others.

  • Great article.

  • Good point, Kenny. I think the problem is a lot of these records are totally boring apart from the fact they use a few retro sounds. Change the M1 organ and the 909 samples for different sounds and you’re left with nothing interesting.

    If you’re 21 and it reminds you of hearing records blaring from your older brother or sister’s room when you were a kid that’s great, but when you’re older and you’ve heard it all before it’s not about the sounds so much as the substance.

    In a weird way the retro 80s Chicago stuff kind of makes more sense to me than the 90s revival. So much of that style was always about the aesthetic and the sounds rather than any attempt to create original ideas. Like Larry Heard says here, it was always basically just an attempt to copy disco using synths and drum machines. For some reason that approach still sounds good, even though you don’t expect anything new from it.

    I suppose retro jack trax in 2013 are kind of like the house equivalent of rockabilly revival or something like that – fun for the old blokes to reminisce over but nobody really takes it very seriously as far as being progressive, forward-thinking music.

  • Interesting one this – I know that as a producer, it can be very tempting when you get excited about an old record to head to the studio and end up making something that’s the wrong side of that homage/pastiche line. Obviously the important skill to learn is being able to spot that and take something of the idea and do something fresh with it.

    That said, I don’t think all of the stuff that *does* cross that line is necessarily doing it in a cynical way. Probably a lot is just young producers getting fired up by the old stuff and getting carried away with emulating it.

  • How long before we see Swedish House Mafia tribute bands 😉 ?

  • “I don’t think you should set out to create your own sound,” he says. “That way it becomes too ‘heady’; there’s no heart or soul. I think great sounds and styles happen naturally, from within, not from outside in. Once you understand who you are as an artist then you can accomplish so much. We were created to create.” Yessss , Great read, thanks!

  • “You could find the Abstract listening to hip hop
    My pops used to say, it reminded him of be-bop
    I said, well daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles
    The way that Bobby Brown is just ampin like Michael”

  • How is it possible to make something totally new and fresh in 2013?everything has been done already. The more innovative attempts usually sound like some unlistenable/undanceble track that just some frustrated nerd can force himself to appreciate. Dance Music is about having fun, dancing in clubs, without overthinking. Its not made for nerd talk in forums, magazines and blogs.

  • @ Dance Music Nerd…

    stop contributing to blogs then ! 😉

  • i guess the point if not that everything from the past is bad… the point is to make a good track sounding old is less easy than use a drum from a records, a stab from an other, piano from the 3rd and put some vocals samples from the 4th…

  • Interesting well written article Kristan with good interviews.

    However we have a focus here on individual types of electronic music looking backwards.

    I think the most exciting current trend is for DJs to open up and play many different styles. This is in fact also ‘retro’ as it was originally much more like that before we got into these ever decreasing and restrictive sub genres. A welcome return to ‘retro’ values rather than concentrating on particular sub genres looking backwards musically.

  • Very well written article, Kristan. You weave the pros/cons of dance music’s cyclical nature effortlessly, and the placement of artist quotes is perfect. This is a tough issue to tackle because the benefits and detriments tend to overlap one another. Excellent work!!

  • Amazing article ! I think this site is already nr.1 for electronic music : )

  • Great piece ! Art will always inspire this kind of debate and is anything ever truly ‘new’ ? 🙂

  • Great article, and so relevant and important to the state of the producing scene today.

    I agree that dance music should be about evoking a good feeling and it should make you want to dance. With that being said, I don’ t mind hearing some so-called new music that sounds like a retro house song. But it will get boring fast. So make it your own. Learn from the classics, practice, and with patience, you’ll get the sound that you actually like. I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but I have been studying past artists myself. I believe you should just have fun making music, whether it is on a laptop (but try to appreciate a real instrument) and respect the past but look to make something new.

  • Is it just me, or do the ‘music media’ say this every year? I remember when I first really started buying house/techno on vinyl back in 2008. Back then I remember reading loads of articles saying, ‘oh the old 90’s sound is back’.

    They said it again every year since.

    My view is, people will always sample old classics and stuff that brings back good memories for them. I don’t think there is a real ‘movement’, if you can call it that, going towards a 90’s sound again as it has never really gone away except for maybe the minimal phase in the eary 2000’s.

  • btw.. my post wasn’t a dig at attack mag for publishing this. It’s a great article. just would be interesting to hear what others think.


  • Great article as always and a very interesting debate

  • Really good article. Got to say I agree in some way at least. Feel the scene is being taken over by too much which just sounds too similar, too recycled. I’m finding much of the tracks which are bigged up in this scene just get boring quite quick, which i guess is a product of something not standing out to me enough because it’s using the same techniques and not enough differences for me to really dig it.

  • Great article.

    But the best thing about retroism is, in my humble optionen, that people seem to more care about music and especially in Berlin there is this new young scene who are really into music and especially records. people seem to be more into the mood to spend some money on cool records rather then on just spending mp3s… they seem to care about skills and stuff and that makes me really happy since people have been laughing about me 3 years ago cause i was still playing records … jaja poor me i know :p

  • Dance music itself is “tiresome pastiche”.

  • Excellent work, what a brilliant article.

  • “The reality scares me because you have generations of young listeners who think mediocrity is actually brilliance. ”

    This has been going on for years…. think of all the people that LOVE watching Eastenders, Corrie, etc but put them in front of a ballet, play or opera and they wouldn’t appreciate it.

  • i bet that 99 percent of those people whining dont know how to write a proper song, innit?

  • yeah,,,I bet all the money in my wallet

  • love is danger . my life is so empty with out u

  • Thanks Saleem. Love you too.

  • Very well-written article and, for me, as someone starting out, an excellent exploration of the issues around learning to create effective/enjoyable electronic music with such an overwhelming amount of resources at our disposal.


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