Thursday, June 4, 2009


From Peter Chambers' Sounding Off @ Resident Advisor

Case study: big-box festivals

One of the key symptoms of the appearance pie shrinking has been the dramatic increase in big-box festivals. Ten years ago, large-scale 'super' events would have relied on one or two big name internationals, with the other slots filled by local DJs. But as the number of tour-dependent internationals has skyrocketed, greater and greater numbers of interstates and internationals are corralled into one event. Here, dance music has pulled a Walmart; everyone is sheltering under the umbrella of scale: promoters distribute risk by diversifying their portfolio and increasing their own profile by marketing the whole she-bang as a branded lifestyle event (and appear to be doing quite well, thank you very much); ex production-based artists receive the income they would formerly have received from producing; while audiences addicted to names, brands and spectacles increasingly reluctant to go out (but for the appearance of their favourite international producer/DJ) now happily fork over a three figure sum on the prospect of seeing him or her—and a few other artists they're kinda keen on.

Big box events like this have come to represent "good value" for punters, promoters and producers, and they've been very lucrative for the X Van Ys of this world, but they show in miniature how networked computing has destroyed the profitability of electronic music production, undermined the local DJ scene and forced dance music to become almost completely dependent on practices that are profitable because of affordable civil aviation; they're are also, for the same reasons, disproportionately environmentally destructive and ultimately unsustainable.

The dominance of this model as the profitable one, and the thorough un-profitability of electronic music that is exploratory, ambient, dissonant or in anyway incompatible with dancing (pushing it from a cottage industry to a closet industry) has meant that many producers who formerly could have scraped a measly living out of non-standard music have been forced to either adapt to the big box, surrender any hope of profit, or shelter in academia and government-subsidised sound art scenes—notice the evaporation of chill out rooms and the other small niches that supported those wee spaces for weird music. If you're a producer and you like both modes of music and are good at making 'em, this mightn't matter to you much. But if you are an electronica savant with dubious social skills, no interest in live appearances and a hatred of flying, sunglasses or VIP lanyards, you'll have some tough knobs to chew on, in your ample spare time.

Local DJs—those who don't produce—now find it more and more difficult to get high quality gigs, missing out on opportunities to build their profile without recourse to production. In all but a handful of cities (Berlin, London, New York), this has hollowed out the local scene, driven the over-production of mediocre tracks and labels, and forced a lot of talented people who are exclusively DJs to look for other work. These are sociological issues to ponder and questions of personal life choices for DJs and producers, but they pale in comparison to the third factor, the environmental question.

Thoughts on this forthcoming. Depressing, though, isn't it?

1 comment:

  1. yeah it is a pretty bleak appraisal, that sidebar! the article has a pretty upbeat conclusion tho :)

    i was excited to read what i took as a thorough and deep-running social critique of some of electronic music's hidden contexts. there are good writers & thinkers taking this stuff seriously right now, with different kinds of involvement (i've been getting a lot out of the mnml ssgs blog and the dutty artz crew on these topics). it's exciting, and also i'm building up a serious backlog of texts to read+link together!

    look forward to your thoughts/response :)



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Chicago, IL, United States
Writer, DJ, and a few other things surrounded by scare quotes.