By Aino Vaino
Here At NadaMucho we’re all about trying new things. That’s why we’ve decided to look more carefully into the nefarious world of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and share what we’ve learned.
Our guide is music blog thingsthatbump, a directory of sorts to the best songs among the EDM genres, which was created and maintained by an individual we trust. The site makes the case for why EDM is good and also gives some pointers on running a popular music blog and sifting through the melee of songs online to find the ones that appeal to listeners.
We chatted with the site’s founder, who asked to be identified as thingsthatbump.
NadaMucho.com: What’s the background of the blog, when did you set it up, and why?
thingsthatbump: I started the blog about two years ago now. When I was working in an office I would always be listening to playlists I would make on YouTube or SoundCloud. I pretty much just started the blog as a way to keep track of the stuff I liked. Next thing I knew, people actually started following me and it kept growing from there.
NM: You migrated to Drum & Bass, Techno, House from Punk Rock. Why the switch, how did it happen?
thingsthatbump: Difficult to answer for a number of reasons – why do we listen to music to begin with anyway? My switch was certainly not over night and took place over a period of many years, but I will do my best to explain.
I’ve always been attracted to music associated with subcultures – pop just doesn’t do it for me. For punk, I think it’s pretty apparent what (and who) that subculture is. For dance and electronic music, I don’t think the history is as widely known.
Electronic dance music really started in warehouses in Chicago, Detroit, and New York and was always heavily associated with the “queer” community (please note I am using that word as respectfully as I can, no derision intended). This was the music of the voguers and drag queens, the kids who couldn’t go home because of what they truly were. That’s what attracted me to the music- the wild energy. I understand that others don’t see it that way, that drum machines are just that – machines. But to me that energy is the same no matter the genre.
To give an example, I used to DJ quite a few house parties and events in college at one of the most liberal schools in the country. When I started as a freshman, my sets could maybe be 20 percent Electronic dance music (EDM) and the rest had to be hip hop stuff. Despite the school’s outward political stance, I couldn’t even begin to remember how many times I was told that the EDM was “gay” or “faggy.” I think people who listened to punk in high school and wore what they wanted and colored their hair like they wanted can relate to this. For another, more historical example look at the backlash in the US during the late 70s against disco, a cousin genre of EDM if you will. While you could argue there were many facets to this, I think one was certainly a macho, straight, masculine attitude angrily directed toward the subculture from which disco originated (although, granted by that time disco was pop).
I’m sure a lot of people are thinking here: “wait a minute, Daft Punk has one of the biggest selling records of 2013 and I see kids all over the place listening to Skrillex. That doesn’t sound very non-mainstream to me.” That’s all very true. Right now electronic music is quite popular, but I would make a couple of points.
Firstly, music popularity, like many things in this world, is cyclical. Right now electronic music is in the popular part of its cycle. Within a couple years I doubt very much it will be at the same level. The same thing happened to punk music in the early 90s (e.g. Green Day) and 2000s (Blink 182, Sum 41, Avril Lavigne, etc.). Secondly, every genre has artists that many fans of that genre do not like. So in the same way that I’m sure many people reading this are saying “Green Day (at least the later albums), Blink 182, and Avril Lavigne are not punk!”, I say that Skrillex is not electronic music, or at least not the kind that I like. It’s pop to me. It’s all just a matter of taste in the end of course though.
The album that introduced me to the Dubstep genre was Burial’s self titled release in 2005. To say it sounds nothing like Skrillex would be an understatement. It’s ethereal and ambient and has nothing to do with “sick bass drops”. I’d encourage anyone reading this to find it online and give it a listen, just to see how diverse the genre really is.
On a more personal note, back in the early 2000’s the newer punk sounds (in general) just were not appealing to me. This is just a matter of personal preference though. A friend of mine at the time gave me a copy of DJ Shadows’ Entroducing and that was when I gained real respect for DJs and DJ culture. That started me on trip-hop, which through a long road has lead me to where I am today. I’ve listened to almost all EDM subgenres along the way (although trance was never really my thing), but house especially was one of the first. It’s the one that will always be with me. The first house CD I ever bought, House Nation America by little Louie Vega and Eric Morrilo, is still one of my favorites and I put it on all the time. For a CD that I bought maybe 12 years ago, I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth.
NM: The way many people consume music is to sit down with an album and read lyrics and consume it in a nearly physical way. Can you do that with electronic music in the same way? How would you dissect the experience of listening to electronic music?
thingsthatbump: Well, I think that’s the way some people listen to music. The music market has oscillated between being a “singles” and “album” market from when they started to press records. I agree though that it varies by genre, the proportions of consumption between singles and albums that is. In punk I would agree that, at least modernly, the focus by consumers is on albums. But remember split EPs? Or just EPs in general? These were effectively singles, many times pressed that way due to financial constraints. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure most of Minor Threat’s songs were released as Single EPs before they were ever in albums. Same goes for Operation Ivy and Black Flag.
Again though, I agree that in electronic music there is a focus on singles (although there are great albums – Massive Attack, early Chemical Brothers, DJ Sprinkles, Burial, and early DJ Shadow to name a few off the top of my head), stemming largely from its dance floor roots where DJs were trying to get people to dance, not take them through the emotional variations that a full album can.
As far as lyrics go, I know it is one of the biggest sources of contention for people about EDM. The reasoning seems to be that if there are no lyrics the song doesn’t give you any emotion to grab on to, there’s no anchor, no meaning. Music, I think we can all agree, is, no matter the form, meant to trigger emotions and feelings within you. They seem to think that music without that vocal anchor lacks direction. To me though, this is not the case. In fact, one of the things that I enjoy about the lack of lyrics is the freedom of interpretation it gives the listener. Instead if me being directed to experience a certain emotion from a song I have the freedom to interpret it any way I like. Granted, it’s not like hardcore techno puts me in the same mood as Marvin Gaye, but there is much more latitude for the listener.
Lastly, I should make the point that while many EDM listeners do not focus on albums, they do focus on recorded DJ sets, live or otherwise (i.e. Continuous mixes).
These, I think, are really more akin to the traditional albums. While they may be playing music that is not their own, the practice of DJing is not the same as more traditional creative energies. I completely understand the argument that DJs are “just playing someone else’s music,” but when you DJ, songs are like tools or the instruments themselves.
An analogy would be saying that all songs played on guitar sound the same, but clearly they don’t. Sure, anyone can press play on a record player, but there are two important aspects of DJing (and making a DJ mix with the quality of a full album) that are overlooked in that statement. The first is mixing, that is, combining records. Making sure that two tracks are playing at the same beats per minute (i.e. speed) is the obvious standard here, but there is more to it. When you take two songs and make them into one you are creating something new and unique, not original in that you are using other’s material to do so, but it is a creative enterprise in the same way the photographer captures elements of a canvas already in front of him or a painter uses paints in pre-manufactured colors.
The second element is track selection and timing (sometimes called “programming” in the DJ world). Not only do you have to know what songs go well with each other in each mix, but also when it’s appropriate to play them. What kind of mood are you trying to convey to the crowd and when? It’s the same as deciding the track order for a great album. There’s a reason why :Great Gig in the Sky” comes on before “Shine on you Crazy Diamond.”
NM: You don’t post anything on your blog except for the music/videos? How do you build up a following for this kind of blog? How do you promote it? What kind of interaction happens on the blog?
thingsthatbump: Correct. I’ll post the occasional picture, but I do purposefully keep my editorialization to a minimum. There are a couple reasons for this. First, I never really intended the site to be a traditional music blog, more of a place you can go to to hear good tunes. Secondly, I used to read quite a few music blogs but I always found the reviews unhelpful. My impressions of the song were usually out of line with the review. Most importantly though, I just like to let the music speak for itself.
As far as building a following, this is thanks to Tumblr’s tagging platform. I’d say this is the one bit of editorializing I do. I’ll tag the songs by genre/subgenre and maybe their general mood. This has been pretty successful and I actually have some DJs and artists that I admire follow me. I don’t do any kind of promotion though. I think this interview will be the most promotion I’ve ever had.
NM: What’s the criteria you use to select a song?
thingsthatbump: Pretty simple really: if I like the song I’ll post it. Not much more to it than that. If it’s a song I know a lot of other blogs like mine are going to post I’ll probably not post it, just too keep some originality.
NM: How do you find the songs that you choose to post?
thingsthatbump: Many, many ways. To name a few, I subscribe to quite a few YouTube channels that post the kind of music I like and will post videos from them. I do the same on SoundCloud with artists. Also, there are record stores located all over the world who specialize in electronic music. Nowadays they’ll usually post 30 second clips of new releases. I’ll listen to these and if I find something I like I’ll post it on the blog. I’ve got some other tricks but those are the main ways.
NM: Why Tumblr? How do you generally post from your phone on the go or when searching through songs at home?
thingsthatbump: I like the Tumblr platform because it’s very simple and easy to customize, as well as post quickly and easily through browser plugins. I’ve thought about migrating to WordPress, but haven’t gotten around to it. Generally I post from a computer. I’ll have music playing while I’m doing something else and if I hear something I like I’ll post it.