History Repeats: “It Takes No Talent to Perform Electronic Music”

First, let me quote from

Let’s just cut the shit for a minute and say it: electronic dance music is the stupidest music on the planet. It even has a fittingly dumb name, EDM, which makes me cringe every time I see it. More so than the acronym, though, the reason it sucks is because the amount of talent required to perform it is precisely none.

Case in point: Paris Hilton recently made her DJ debut in Brazil. She can’t give a competent on-screen blowjob—Christ, you just put it in your mouth and spin your head around like Linda Blair—but she sure can throw down Gotye remixes and Avicii tracks to big crowds. Hilton even pushed a few buttons and it looked like she knew what she was doing. The best part about the whole spectacle was how it showed that trotting out some attractive and vapid idiot with no qualifications to DJ, other than that they have a following, isn’t exclusively a Vancouver thing. (Hi, Mayor Gregor Robertson. I loved your set!)

At about the same time, one of the genre’s biggest stars, deadmau5, came forward and said what we’ve suspected all along: DJing is fucking easy and all the knob-turning that goes on at a “live” EDM show is a sham. The refreshingly candid man behind the mouse mask claims that if you’re remotely tech-savvy you could learn how to do his show in about an hour. It’s just pressing play and that’s all there is to it.

Surely this means the current dance-music craze is done.

Funny, but I’ve heard this song before.  As synthesizer technology improved and became cheaper in the late 70s and early 80s, a different breed of young musician emerged.  They were fascinated by the infinite sounds that could be produced and replicated by these new keyboard devices.  Learn a few programming tricks and even a rank amateur could sound like a pro.  

It was all very punk, too.  The original punk rock scene valued self-expression and outspokenness over virtuosity.  Synth technology just added some new tools to that attitude and aesthetic.  The result was an explosion of new and interesting music that was all somehow very stylish and futuristic.  We still hear the echoes of those early 80s experiments today.

But it wasn’t an easy ride for these bands.  Traditionalists (i.e. rockers who believed in guitarists who could play and drummers that weren’t circuit boards) hated techno-pop.  

“You’re not real musicians!” they screamed.  “All you do is press a button and dance to pre-recorded electronic crap!  That’s not music!  You’re cheating!  You’re fake!”  Etc.

It was tough in the early days for Depeche Mode who were pilloried for playing to a backing rhythm track on a reel-to-reel machine.  OMD took a lot of stick for their all-electronic approach.  The Human League was booed off a tour with the Talking Heads.

Yet we got used to it.  Electronic music–however generated and performed–became assimilated into rock and all its genres.  A couple of years after the Human League lost their Talking Heads gig, everyone began to use the new Apple Macintosh to program heretofore unbelievable forms of music.

So forgive me if I don’t get all wrapped up in this “EDM is crap” and “Deadmau5 just pushes ‘play'” bitching.  I’ve seen this movie before.  And guess what?  It all works out and everyone ends up playing nice in the end.  Sorry for spoiling it for you.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38452 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

8 thoughts on “History Repeats: “It Takes No Talent to Perform Electronic Music”

  • I think the point that the author on is making is that the act of DJing an electronic music set does not take a great amount of talent. Not the act of creating the music itself. The Mode, OMD, Human League and Deadmau5 all created their own music. Paris Hilton going up on stage and pressing play on an iTunes shuffle does not require the same level of talent as crafting a song. I think people are justified in their resentment of wannabe DJs that do nothing but "push play".

  • good thing anyone that listens to that is too smashed on E or MDMA or ABCXYZ to really care that thier money is going to a talentless tool.

  • I'm now wondering if the authors intent was to troll or wind up people. The comments appear like they were selectively edited to just approve people who were obviously pissed off

  • It's all in the headline. It doesn't take talent to perform it, but it does take talent to create it. Simple really

  • It's an awfully broad brush he's painting with. EDM/DJing and "electronic music". Tomita? Wendy Carlos? Locsil? Synergy? Pretty broad range and I can't see anyone labelling them "not musicians".

    Gotta be troll bait.

  • I'm not going to defend all DJ's, most are crap and so was I. DJ'ing has meant various things to me throughout the years. When I was young I idolized Chris Shepard (Yeah thats right!). It was before his techno days in the days of anything goes Chris Shepard's Club 102. Sure he was a raving lunatic, but it was fun, and most importantly he opened my world up to so much crazy music that I still haven't found anyone that knows the same songs as me. Yes there was DM, OMD, Erasure and numerous other sytnth/pop stuff, but there was also Ministry, Skinny Puppy, NIN, Nitzer Ebb. The later it got the crazier the music got. So that was one defintion of DJing for me. That ideal was shattered during my highschool co-op at the local AM station. Who knew, it's a business.
    During my college years I started DJing myself. I quickly found that the crowd didn't want to hear what I thought was cool but rather the crap that still plagues my brain. But hey it was a job and a party, and it prepared me for the hell that is mobile DJing, also known as the dreaded wedding DJ, and an interactive one at that. So that was the second ideal for me, it's a job, it pays the bills.
    Unfortunately all that crap DJing ruined my enthusiasm to find new interesting and crazy music. I spent years trying to find a mixtape that didn't suck Ben Wah balls. At some point I gave up and just made my own but listening to your own mixes gets boring. So back on the hunt I went.
    What I have found in my renewed searches was that the best mixtapes were made by musicians, acts like Chemical Brother, Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, Groove Armada, etc. Then I heard Soulwax's "2many DJ's"and I was a happy camper, for awhile.
    The search continues.
    Recently I have been enjoying the sounds of DJ's Wood 'N' Soo.

    BTW: It's very ironic that the bands that brought EDM to the forefront 30 years ago can't produce a top 40 dance hit these days, especially considering all that retro sound that's being imitated.

    Oh, and when are they gonna put horns back into rock.

  • More so than the acronym, though, the reason it sucks is because the amount of talent required to perform it is precisely none.


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